NA Author Leah Raeder Talks Black Iris, Queerness, Neurodiversity, and Unlikable Heroines + a signed ARC Giveaway!

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Here are some things I love: Great books. Great writing. Psychological thrillers. Dark contemporary. Brutal honesty. Kissing. More-than-kissing. Romances between guys and girls. Romances between girls and girls. Characters who are real and flawed and struggling and maybe a little atypical. Books that make you think. Books that feel necessary. Books that fill a major hole in what already exists for that category.

So, today, I’m featuring a book that is every single one of those things. Black Iris by Leah Raeder is an intense and sexy (and intensely sexy) psychological thriller about a girl named Laney and her dark journey toward both revenge and self-acceptance. Leah has made no secret of the fact that this is a very personal book for her, and I know (and know reviews will show) that others are bound to feel the same way about it. As such, I pried deeply into the unicorn brain behind the book for about as personal an interview as you’ll ever see.

And, bonus: there’s a giveaway attached – someone will win a signed ARC of Black Iris, and I think it’s pretty obviously you alllllll want in on that. See details at the bottom of the post for how to enter, and I’ll pick a winner at noon EST on Friday, March 6!

But first, here’s the official info about the book:

11032-9781476786421It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.

If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.

She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.

But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.

Which was the plan all along.

Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.

She’s going to show them all.

Pre-order it here: AmazonBarnes & Noble • Google PlayIndieBoundiTunes Powell’sSimon & Schuster

Sounds pretty freaking great, right? Spoiler alert: it is. Now, please welcome* to the blog author Leah Raeder.

*jk she already pretty much lives here

Let’s just address the obvious major question right off the bat. You’re pretty outspoken about – well, everything, but let’s go with the sad state of f/f lit. Why do you think it’s so lacking, both quantitatively and qualitatively?

God, I could write a book on this subject. I think the main factors in the dearth of f/f books out there are that romance fiction skews heavily heteronormative, and a majority of its readers are straight women who read mainly m/f and, sometimes, m/m. A lot of romance readers consume novels rapidly and seek out certain tropes/kinks (biker gangs, BDSM, 18th Century Scottish rapists, etc.), and so you have a situation analogous to the way men consume porn: select your kink, select your desired role-play, and get off. The audience consumes it fast, so it is mass-produced.

Obviously this raises interesting questions about the ways that romance novel consumption parallels porn consumption and the sorts of standards and expectations that sets up, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Why does f/f fiction often suck? I think mainly because there’s so little of it. There isn’t a rich canon to draw inspiration from, learn from, aspire to, etc. And often those writing it, while well-meaning, are more interested in moralizing and ticking boxes than in honing their craft to razor sharpness. Maybe it’s the social pressure. Maybe those well-meaning f/f writers think, “There’s so little lesbian fiction out there, I have to speak for all of girl-loving-kind with this.” And the lower demand and smaller audience means there’s less attention falling on it and less criticism and, inevitably, less improvement across the genre. The bigger a genre, the more diamonds you find in the rough, and the higher the standards rise for all work in that genre. Being so tiny, f/f has a paucity of both books and great books, and its lack of great books keeps new readers away. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

On the more positive side, what f/f would you recommend, whether to first-timers or seasoned readers? Any you particularly wish you’d had around as a kid? And do you think Black Iris will be a gateway book for a lot of readers?

I have no idea what first-time f/f readers should be reading. I knew I liked girls since I was a child, so I don’t know what it’s like to approach that from the outside. As a kid I watched every single episode of Xena: Warrior Princess in the hopes that Xena and Gabrielle would kiss. That’s how desperate I was to see girl-on-girl action. You’re asking the wrong person here.

But a few standout f/f novels I’ve liked are Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body (f/unknown gender), Paula Boock’s Dare Truth or Promise, Amanda Grace’s No One Needs to Know, and Sylvia Brownrigg’s Pages for You. There’s also this weirdo named Dahlia Adler who wrote a pretty damn decent one called Under the Lights.

When I was a kid, I would’ve loved YA/NA by Boock, Grace, Adler, et al. I needed to see portrayals of girls like me, portrayals that weren’t painfully stereotypical and that captured the fluidity of sexuality and attraction. I didn’t relate to characters who were 100% gay and never hooked up with or had wayward thoughts about the opposite sex. It made me feel like a “bad gay” on top of already feeling like a freak for being queer. There are plenty of kids out there who benefit from those portrayals, but there are also lots and lots of kids who fall somewhere between 0 and 6 on the Kinsey scale, and there are far too few books serving them. Bisexuality is arguably more taboo than gayness now, FFS. How the the hell did THAT happen?

And I needed to read books by people whose voices I could trust. For example, the word “dyke” makes me want to curl up and die. “Dyke” was always an epithet to me and I’m still deeply uncomfortable with it, and its usage by older queer women who are comfortable with their sexuality is jarring and unsettling. I’m in my third decade on Earth, and I’m still not at a point in my life where “dyke” doesn’t make my stomach clench and my pulse race in a queasy way. My first thought is always: “Are they talking about me? Please, please don’t let them be talking about me.” Sometimes adult writers forget that what they’ve fought so hard to understand and accept about themselves is something that younger people are still struggling with. That some of us will always struggle with, no matter how old we are.

As for whether Black Iris will be a gateway f/f book…I doubt it. BI is brutal and dark. It’s about bullying, internalized homophobia, self-loathing, and overcoming the self-destructive thinking/behavior society codes into us. It’s intensely personal and my experience as a queer person obviously doesn’t represent every queer person’s experience. But I do think pain and hardship and fear are fairly universal experiences for anyone who’s not straight, and it’s important that we don’t let that get lost in our desperation to show a light at the end of the tunnel. It annoys me when people say, “I want to see more LGBT+ books that aren’t about coming out or queer angst!” Yeah, well, I’d fucking love to see a world where those weren’t issues anymore. But they are, and it’s a PRIVILEGE for some queer folk to not have to constantly worry about those issues. It’s vital that we keep telling stories about the hardship of being queer until shit actually changes. It’s not a zero-sum game. We can have more sunshine-and-rainbow queer books alongside our gritty realism.

It’s obvious there are a lot of ways in which Black Iris is different from your debut, Unteachable. In what ways, though, do you think they’re similar? 

This is tough. There’s a lot of geography porn? Unlikable heroines? Pretentious metaphors about the stars? In all seriousness, it’s the coming-of-age stuff. Laney’s already in college, but like Maise, she’s struggling to carve out a place in the world for herself. And while Maise is torn between two age groups, Laney is torn between two people, and the two different facets of herself that they represent.

Also, Hiyam is in both books.

We’ve had the conversation before about sex in NA (and you’ve had it with Heather of Flyleaf Review in this great interview), and I know we’re both on Team Yes Please. Why do you think people object to it, and why are you in particular pro?

At the risk of pissing off huge swathes of the book community, I think a lot of the moaning about sex in New Adult is sour grapes. It tends to come from authors who don’t write about sex, and from readers who have no interest in ever reading about sex. NA, even the worst of it, sells well because sex sells. YA is far chaster, and so it’s not uncommon for a good YA novel to sell fewer copies than a crappy NA novel. It sucks, but it’s like complaining that people buy porn instead of indie films. They’re not your audience in the first place. They’re not taking sales away from you. IMO, the real issue is that people who don’t want to write about sex want to sell as many books as if they had written about sex. And as for readers who want books about people in their 20s without graphic depictions of sex, there’s an entire section of the bookstore for you called “General Fiction.”

The whole thing recalls the resentment that writers of adult fiction had (and still have) toward YA writers, when YA became ultra-hot and started outselling adult. Ironically, now it’s (largely) YA authors turning their resentment against the new kids in publishing, NA authors. I suppose NA authors will eventually turn on whatever comes next. Dinorotica, probably.

I’m pro-sex-in-NA because sex is part of life, and I live in a society that both fetishizes and represses sexuality. America is absurdly puritanical. We can depict graphic, gruesome murder, but show a nipple on TV (or in public!) and everyone clutches their pearls. Think about that. A nipple is worse than murder. How warped are we?

I’m tired of YA shying away from depicting sex. Especially when it comes to sex that isn’t hetero. That’s not real life. In real life, teenagers have sex. Gasp! If we’d like them to understand what it’s like (and shouldn’t be like, and theoretically can be like), we have to show it. Fading to black doesn’t teach or enrich a reader. It cuts out one of the most normal and vital parts of human experience. Which isn’t to say that every YA novel has to graphically depict sex, but that not enough of them are showing enough, and that’s why there’s a demand for it in NA. (I think NA is also basically the under-40 generation’s take-back of romance, but that’s another tangent…)

“Karma is a bitch, but you can call her Laney.” So sayeth your website about the main character of Black Iris, and…yeah, I’d say Laney qualifies to be an unlikeable heroine IRL. Was she a tough character to write? Or did the fact that you yourself are horrible help a lot?

They say “write what you know” and I know I’m a total bitch, so. (Blogger’s note: truth.)

Laney was a blast to write for about 90% of the book because she’s completely unapologetic. Unapologetic girls enchant me, IRL and in fiction. Women are socialized to be people-pleasers, to efface ourselves, be polite, be nice, smile smile smile. To walk around constantly apologizing and feeling bad that we’re never enough: not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not kinky enough, not happy enough. Writing a character who just says “fuck you” to all of that is incredibly liberating.

Until recently, women in fiction were rarely allowed to get revenge and be violent, ruthless assholes. Gone Girl heralded a sea change, and now we’re seeing tons of female characters with qualities that were typically reserved for males: angry, violent, spiteful, vengeful, methodical, relentless. Bad girls who are actually bad. It’s fucking glorious.

In addition to the hotness of having an Australian accent, Blythe in Black Iris also has some badass tattoos. If you got one in honor of the BI release, what would it be?

Man. YOU ASK THE HARD QUESTIONS, ADLER. I want to say a black iris because that symbolizes everything that is dark and sexy and queer about this book but…I’m also really drawn to the wolf imagery, and the way that Laney’s realization of her own power is symbolized by her identification with creatures who hunt. But wolves are so cliche. And so are flowers. So I’d get a tat of Teresa Palmer because hot Aussie girls are forever.

A lot of the discussion around Black Iris revolves around the hot f/f-ness, but it bears mentioning that it contains multiple characters – including Laney – who are not neuronormative. Can you share a little about that?

Confession time. As well as being queer, I’m bipolar. I have type II bipolar disorder, to be exact. My mental health history reads like a made-for-TV movie: meds, suicide attempts, hospitals. It’s pretty messed-up and sad. Like queerness, mental illness is something I hadn’t fully come to grips with until the past few years. I felt ashamed and, mostly, terrified of being looked down on or treated differently because of it. My books are really just me working through my own issues: Unteachable is about feeling young and old at the same time and figuring out what it means to be an adult; Black Iris is me coming to grips with being queer and bipolar, openly, in front of the whole world. I can’t say too much about this because of spoilers, and also self-consciousness, but yeah. There is a lot of stuff about mental illness in this book. Trigger warnings galore.

You have notoriously terrible taste in music. That’s not a question, but I guess if you wanted to talk about the awfulness you listened to while writing Black Iris, that would be okay.

I have “terrible taste” in music THAT SOMEHOW KEEPS ENDING UP ON YOUR PLAYLISTS. How…queer. (Blogger’s note: …shut up. *kicks dirt*) Also, anyone who calls 80s music “terrible” deserves to be locked in a room for all eternity with nothing to listen to but John Mayer.

Aside from the obligatory 80s stuff (Laney and Armin are both huge 80s nerds), I listened to all sorts of shit while writing BI: Chvrches, The Black Keys, The Naked and Famous, AWOLNATION, etc. My books usually form around the seed of one song, and for Black Iris it was Garbage’s “Vow.” Music is hugely important to my writing process, and I’ve got a playlist page on my site now. Also if you follow me on Twitter you WILL be regularly spammed with music vids (as recommended to me by my personal DJs/saviors, Allen and Cam).

As anyone who follows you on Twitter (or Facebook, or Instagram) knows, you are a mild fan of alcoholic beverages. What’s your writing drink of choice right now?

Lately I’ve been super into Knob Creek maple bourbon. Also your mom. (Blogger’s note: *extends middle finger*)

Most exciting thing and most terrifying thing about publishing Black Iris: GO.

Exciting: It’s a highly anticipated New Adult novel with lots of f/f in it!

Terrifying: It’s a highly anticipated New Adult novel with lots of f/f in it!

Seriously, I’m pretty much at exactly the same stage of horror/giddiness that I was when I first had this bright idea that went, “Hmmm, there aren’t any f/f New Adult novels…I should write one!”

You’re currently writing your third contemporary NA Romance, Cam Girl, about which, frankly, you’ve been pretty stingy when it comes to sharing information. What can you tell us about it, dammit?

According to Atria, it’s “a sexy romantic suspense novel about two best friends who are torn apart by a life-shattering accident…and the secrets left behind.”

Okay, you’ve seen the summary on Goodreads, right? Basically it’s like that, just add a bisexual physically disabled Latina heroine, gender dysphoria, hot redheads, and Cam Gigandet. Also, it takes place in Maine. Maine is pretty.

BTW, if you think Black Iris is gay, just wait till Cam Girl. Yes, there’s f/f in this one, too. Lots more. Also POC, trans, and gay supporting characters. And there will be more queerness, gender fluidity, people of color, disability representation, and general fuck-yous to the romance status quo in this and all of my future books. I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to tell stories about the types of characters you rarely see in NA romance, and I’m seizing it and running as fast and as far as I can.

You get to share one rainbow-themed picture right now. ONE. What is it? 

http://media.tumblr.com/e17edc1fee9e42305338ef5b35fb87bf/tumblr_inline_mjl10sIJgv1qz4rgp.gif

(Blogger’s note: I could not put it in the post itself for fear of losing every single one of my followers and also potentially killing any epileptic who laid eyes on it.)

What has no one asked you about Black Iris yet that you really wish they would?

“Your cover is totally a vagina, right?”

Just kidding, they ask that all the time. And yes, Virginia, it is.

Want to enter to win a signed ARC?

Haha just kidding, that was obviously the world’s most rhetorical question.

I’m not gonna do Rafflecopter because I hate that it doesn’t appear on this page (fun times with WordPress.com) so I’m just gonna tell you here:

  • Follow both Me and Leah on every social media site possible (I highly recommend then muting at least one of us on Twitter)
  • Obviously add Black Iris to your TBR
  • Most importantly (and mandatory) to enter, leave a comment below to tell us what has you the most excited for Black Iris! (And leave some contact method in your comment.)
  • Due to high international postage costs, giveaway is US only, though if you’re international and want to pay the difference in postage, you are more than welcome!

(Bonus points if you tweet us pictures of hot redheads)

Last List Bloghop: the Jaguar Stones series by P&J Voelkel!

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I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Last List Bloghop organized by the fabulous Kat Kennedy of Cuddlebuggery, highlighting the final Egmont titles before the US branch of the publisher closes its doors. I’m honored to have Pamela Voelkel on the blog today, talking about the research that went into their MG series Jaguar Stones, whose fourth book, The Lost City, released on February 10!

jag final layoutWith his parents in jail and his best friend ignoring him, fourteen-year-old Max Murphy was pretty sure things couldn’t get much worse. But that was before a parade of Maya monsters crashed through his house and the Queen of the Bats tried to sink her fangs into his neck…

Meanwhile, down in the Maya underworld, the evil Death Lords have realized they’ll never conquer the mortal world without conquering social media. So with the bad guys on a charm offensive, it’s up to Max and his Maya friend Lola to reveal the terrible truth before it’s too late.

This epic conclusion to the Jaguar Stones series takes Max and Lola on their wildest adventure yet, north from the teeming rainforest to the lost city at the heart of America’s past.

A TRAVELER’S TALES

Pamela Voelkel, co-author of the Jaguar Stones series with her husband Jon,
explains the impact of research on the books – and their lives.

You could say that Jon spent the first sixteen years of his life researching the Jaguar Stones books because he grew up in Latin America and the series was inspired by his wild childhood. But when we started exploring the Maya regions with our own three children, the story took a different turn. Of course, we were awestruck by the achievements of the ancient Maya, but we also became fascinated by the living Maya. The character of Lola, who is torn between respecting tradition and forging her own life, came out of conversations with modern Maya teenagers and their parents. I don’t think they would have talked to us so freely if we hadn’t been travelling with our own kids. There is so much misinformation about the Maya on the internet that we feel like we owe it to them, and to our middle-school readers, to be rigorous about research.For sure, I could never have described life in the rainforest for Book One, MIDDLEWORLD, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. The way different species work together to survive. The way the rainwater filters down through the limestone to a network of underground rivers and lakes. The way the howler monkeys send shivers down your spine with their terrifying growls. We’ve taken many trips to Belize, Guatemala and Mexico and every time we learn something new. I should stress at this point that I’m not an adventurous person. Like Max in the books, my idea of travel is room service and fluffy towels. I get vertigo every time I climb a Maya pyramid. Having fears of deep water, boats, darkness, bats and enclosed spaces, I thought I would die of terror when we canoed an underground river system. The only thing that made me do it was the need to be able to write about it – and the need to pretend to be brave in front of my kids.For Book two, THE END OF THE WORLD CLUB, we flew to Spain to research the true history of the Conquest and ended up in wild and windswept Galicia, the end of the known world to the Romans. Book Three, THE RIVER OF NO RETURN, is mostly set in the cold and watery Maya underworld. To capture its drippy, misty, bone-chilling malevolence, we explored the dank canals and spooky alleyways of Venice, Italy, in winter.

Publication of the first three Jaguar Stones books took us on book tours all over the States. So when we decided to set the fourth book in North America, we were inspired by our book tour travels. The story of the LOST CITY crosses the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans and up the Mississippi to the ruins of Cahokia in southern Illinois. Of course, the best guides to any place are local booksellers and librarians. So when we needed some very specific locations in New Orleans, we turned for help to Judith Lafitte and Tom Lowenburg of Octavia Books, and award-winning school librarian, Elizabeth Kahn. And so it was that a muggy June night saw the five of us scrambling up levees and inspecting old cemeteries in the dark. By 2am, Jon and I wanted to give up and just invent places, but Tom was outraged. “You have to make all the little lies as true as possible,” he said, “so readers can believe the big lie – which is your story.” After reading the first draft of the book, Elizabeth even took it upon herself to find the exact house and oak tree for our spooky inn in the French Quarter.

Travel has always been one of my passions.* But traveling to research the Jaguar Stones books has taken me to places I would never have dreamed of visiting and introduced me to amazing people that I never would have met. It’s not always easy to pluck up the courage to start a conversation with strangers. But I promise you that when people find out you write books, especially children’s books, everyone wants to help.

*Author’s note: As it happens, I’m traveling as I write this post and that particular sentence was tapped out this morning at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, as I happily waited for my flight home to Boston. Now, fourteen hours later, having got only as far as Dublin airport and being stranded here for the night, I’m feeling slightly less enthusiastic. Oh but wait, someone just pointed out that the Guinness bar is still open…

 Jon & family guatemala(1)Jon (with the buzz cut) with his brother and father at the market in Guatemala

Pamela and MariaPamela and a Maya woman who’s become a friend in Zinacantán, Mexico.

LL & Och a Lacandon Maya
Our daughter with a Lacandon Maya boy at Bonampak, Mexico
Plague DoctorA medieval Plague Doctor comes to life in Venice, Italy.

NOLAClimbing levees in the dark in New Orleans with Elizabeth Kahn, Judith Lafitte and Tom Lowenburg

Galicia coast of deathAnother stormy day at Finisterre – literally the end of the world – on the Coast of Death in Galicia, northern Spain

J&P at Calakmul biosphere, Mexico(1)

Jon and Pamela (J&P) Voelkel are the author-illustrators of the Jaguar Stones series; Pamela does most of the writing and Jon does most of the illustrating.
Their books tell the story of a city boy and a jungle girl – a mirror image of
Jon’s wild childhood in Latin America and Pamela’s altogether tamer
upbringing in an English seaside town. The Voelkels met in London, where
they both worked at the same advertising agency, and now live in Vermont.

To research the Jaguar Stones, they and their three adventure-loving children
have explored over forty Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico;
canoed down underground rivers; tracked howler monkeys in the jungle; and
learned to make tortillas on an open fire. Jon’s most frightening experience
was being lost in a pitch-black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid. Pamela’s
most frightening experience was being interviewed by Al Roker on Today.

AUTHOR LINKS:

• Twitter: @pvoelkel @jaguarstones

Facebook

• Website: http://www.jaguarstones.com/

**All photos by J&P Voelkel

BtS Sale, Giveaways, Events, and More!

Hey, strangers! I’ve been pretty lousy at this blog lately because as you may have noticed, Barnes & Noble got a brand-new Teen Blog, and I’ve been blogging over there like a mofo. If you haven’t already checked it out and followed on Twitter, please do! It’s a pretty awesome place with great posts and major emphasis placed on diversity and indie titles, so, I’m psyched to be a part of that and get to keep pimping my favorites.

But, since a lot of cool stuff is coming up and I’m terrible at sending newsletters, here’s what’s up!

First, Behind the Scenes is on sale for .99, and it’s finally got its beautiful new e-cover! This is the cheapest it’s ever gonna get, so whether you were thinking about buying it or just wanna be wonderful and supportive in the best way for a dollar, now would be a fabulous time!

BTS_Button1Second, I’m moderating my very first panel this week and it is a seriously great group of authors and books. Like, I have never mentally RSVP’d YES to an event so fast in my life, and to then be asked to moderate was a huge honor, so here’s hoping I won’t screw that up with all my fangirling and drooling.

Third, I’m doing my very first workshop on Sunday, for SCBWI MG/YA Romance Day, and I’m really excited (and nervous, obviously) about it! It’s gonna be a great day, and I hope to see some of you there! (Registration is here.)

Fourth, you can enter to win an ARC of Under the Lights and fifteen other 2015 contemporary YAs by some seriously incredible authors. Check out this post for information; the contest ends on Valentine’s Day!

B9W3A37IQAAwNpEFifth, you can also enter to win an ARC of Under the Lights, as well as four amazing contemporaries by wonderful debuts, in our #YALoveFest giveaway! Check out this post for details.

And finally, 2015 NYC TEEN AUTHOR FESTIVAL. I cannot express to you how excited I am to be taking part in this week-long bookish event this year as an author, after attending the last two years as a major fan. This is the festival where I met and got books signed by Nova Ren Suma, A.S. King, and Julie Murphy. This is the festival where I first heard someone talk about having a different notebook for each manuscript and basically changing the way I write on the go. This is the festival where Alison Cherry convinced me to buy The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar and it promptly went on to become one of my favorite YAs of the year.

Basically, I have a lot of warm feelings about this week.

You can see the lineup for the entire week here, but here’s the info on both the panel I’ll be doing:

FireShot Screen Capture #085 - '2015 NYC Teen Author Festival I NYC Teen Author Festival' - nyctaf_com_2015-scheduleand my signing slot at Books of Wonder, if you don’t yet have a signed copy of Behind the Scenes!

FireShot Screen Capture #086 - '2015 NYC Teen Author Festival I NYC Teen Author Festival' - nyctaf_com_2015-schedule*glances at list of people she’s signing with* *realizes just how much money she’s going to be spending in that half hour alone* *cringes a little*

SO, that’s a whole lot of stuff going on, not to mention lots more coming this summer, and I’m busy writing Right of First Refusal and the still-unnamed book 3 in the Radleigh University series, plus Under the Lights ARCs should be coming this month, so, busy times! I’d love any help spreading the word about any of these things, and I hope to see a bunch of you this week!

Top Ten Books I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read From Contemporary YA

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This is my most shameful of shame posts right here. THANKS, The Broke and the Bookish, for exposing my dark shortcomings! I try to be well read in contemporary YA but sometimes, you just fall behind, and things happen, and dogs eat your homework, and YOU KNOW HOW IT IS. So, here it is – my TTT of shame.

Clean by Amy Reed. In my defense, I finally actually bought this one, but I think I just don’t want to be done with her backlist, so I keep not reading it. Like, I’m saving it. Because I have issues. And it mocks me from my shelf. As it should.

Brooklyn Burning by Steve Brezenoff. “Uh, Dahlia,” you are saying, especially if you are Katie Locke, “this book has a genderless narrator, and you loved Guy in Real Life, and you just bought this one. WTF are you even waiting for?” And I shake my head sadly, because I don’t know. I don’t know.

Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia. Do you even know how long ago I bought this book? Me neither. Beautiful cover! Road trip! Why haven’t I read it? I don’t know, stop hounding me!

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen. So, I bought this one a long time ago because Emery Lord and I have such similar taste in books that when she originally wrote her book recs post, this was the only one on it I hadn’t already read and loved. But, because I love to blog about lesser-known writers, I’m slow as hell when it comes to reading the Big Ones.

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. Honestly, this sounds like such a Dahlia book, and I bought it such a long time ago, and I have no excuse for why I haven’t read it yet. SOON.

The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher. Same as above, except that I actually just bought it, so this is mildly less embarrassing.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry. I don’t know why I’m so slow to read these. They’re so my type of book, but I think they just remind me so much of the kind of NA I’m a little burned out on right now? But all things come back around, and I own this one too, so I’m sure I’ll be all over it once I’m back in the right mood.

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley. See: Uses for Boys.

Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald. This is actually one I am constantly tempted to pull off my shelf and then blogging gets in the way. In my mind, it’s the book I’m saving for when I’m in a bad enough mood to need something super fun and also to rage against the blogging machine and read whatever I damn please.

Golden by Jessi Kirby. I’m a little gun-shy about this one just because In Honor wasn’t as much my thing as I’d hoped/expected it to be, but this is the book that seems to be everyone’s favorite by Kirby and I’m anxious to try another one of hers. I actually jumped on it, like, the day it came out in paperback, and then promptly accidentally left it in my office and so never got a chance to read it. Actually, since I’m writing this right now, I am going to actually remember to bring it home! This was so useful! Thanks, TTT!

Top Ten ARCs for Which I’d Punch a Clown

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Look, if you give me a freebie Top Ten Tuesday, I’m going to choose something completely self-serving and that involves punching clowns. It’s just who I am. So! Bearing in mind this post makes me sound like a completely ungrateful brat, because I actually have a crazy number of incredible ARCs on hand right now, here are 10 more I am completely and totally dying for:

Anne & Henry by Dawn Ius. I don’t even know if ARCs exist for this one yet, honestly; I’m not even sure it has a pub date. (Though it does have a cover.) But ohhhh History Nerd Me wants this so bad, especially while I plow through my draft of my own historically inspired contemp YA…

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. OK, I actually do know ARCs don’t exist for this one yet, but I also know they will soon, and when they do, I am throwing myself on the altar of Balzer & Bray.

Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout. This one sounds so freaking cute and the cover is adorable and the concept is adorable and how can I not have this in my life until June?

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton. I keep watching with envy as people read their ARCs of this one and I need my fix of dancers and manipulative girls and diversity and all things promised!

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn. Instabuy author to the maxxxxxx, and she recently posted a pic of her ARCs which means they exist which means my hands get grabby at the mere thought.

The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi. Want want waaaant. I’m pretty sure these ARCs already exist, but…I don’t have one? And I want one?

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. Audrey, Wait! is forever one of my fave contemp reads, and in general, I love Robin Benway’s authorial voice. (I started another of hers – I forget which – and I put it down only because I had it in e-only form and I’ve found that doesn’t work for me well in YA, which is also why I haven’t downloaded even the books I have access to on Edelweiss.) Anyway, between that and the awesome-sounding premise, this is definitely on my 2015 Must List.

Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott. Teacher-student book? Nothing further need be said other than gimme gimme gimme. Don’t know if this book has ARCs yet but if it does… *goes clown hunting*

For the Record by Charlotte Huang. This book sounds like so much fun, and having enjoyed several celeb books last year for the first time in…maybe ever, I’m looking forward to some more in 2015, especially of the rock star-adjacent variety! Also love love love that adorable cover. Pretty sure ARCs aren’t available yet, since it’s a November title, but Random House, I know where you live…

And finally, slot number 10 is dedicated to those ARCs I’ve requested and hope are coming my way, namely The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Even After Everything by Michelle Levy, This Side of Home by Renee Watson, and The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. (And of course, Black Iris by Leah Raeder, with this lovely inscription.) A little cheat-y? I don’t care. THIS IS MY TOP TEN FREEBIE AND I DO WHAT I WANT.

What ARCs would you punch a clown for?

MARIEKE NIJKAMP HAS EVEN BETTER NEWS THAN LAST TIME!!!

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Yes, this is my personal blog, and that means that sometimes when someone is even dearer to me than myself, I give it up for a takeover for Very Important Reasons.

My glorious CP, Marieke Nijkamp, has Very Important Reasons. And no blog. So here she is on mine, with some VERY EXCITING NEWS THAT IS EVEN BETTER THAN HER LAST NEWS AND WHICH WE HAVE BEEN HOLDING IN FOR SO LONG WHICH WAS PROBABLY ALMOST AS HARD FOR HER AS IT WAS FOR ME. NOBODY KNOWS THE SELFISH PAIN I FEEL!

Soooo, voila! MARIEKE.

***

I’M SO EXCITED TO BE BACK HERE. Thank you, Dahl, the great and wonderful! <3

One Friday in Bath, not too long ago, you could’ve seen a writer wandering around town with a slightly frazzled, bewildered, deer-in-headlights look on her face. Her mission: find a quiet place for A Phone Call. Success rate: so far, zilch.

All week, the coffee shops had been relatively quiet and relatively empty. Which she knew because, after all, she spent much time caffeinating she investigated. That Friday afternoon however, every. single. coffee place was crowded, busy, and noisy as, well, a touristy place during weekends. But she had A Phone Call to make and also A Cold so she needed a quiet place.

As a last resort, we (featuring me as the slightly frazzled, bewildered, deer-in-headlights protagonist and Sarah as wonderful, amused CP) circled back to our starting place, an equally crowded, busy, and noisy coffee place only to discover that it was recently refurbished and there was more seating upstairs.

Even better, the stairs were hidden so well, no one could actually find them. Once we reached the second floor, there were only three other people there, and everything was beautiful.

Except.

We settled into two comfy chairs, I counted the seconds until the hour, and as soon as we reached the right time… my phone’s signal died completely.

No signal. Nothing. Noooooothing.

At this point, I was about ready to scream/run around/climb atop the nearest building to make sure the signal reappeared again. Instead, we performed a somewhat complicated version of musical chairs to the sound of my heart beating up a storm, and I folded myself halfway against the window and miraculously, my phone rang.

And then, everything really was beautiful.

The week before my spectacular agent sent me a DM late at night to ask if she could call (for the record, Jen, duh) and she said the magic words: an editor loved my book—loved it, completely got it—and wanted to offer and let’s set up a time for the two of us to chat.

That Friday, I did run around and scream. The next Friday, as I curled up in my chair in the corner of a half-abandoned coffee shop, I talked to the editor—my editor—for the first time, and I was blown away by just how well she understood the story and how much she shared my vision for it. I loved her approach of editing and publishing.

Afterwards I sent an email to my agent along the lines of ヽ(❤‿❤)ノ because I’m a professional, and we accepted the wondrous Annette Pollert’s offer.

Which means I’m honored and excited and absolutely delighted to announce that THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS—my school shooting book, former code name: Tragic Contemp Where A Lot Of People Die—will be published by Sourcebooks next year. Next year.

Deal

I have lots more to say about it, and no doubt I will over the coming months. But for now: I couldn’t have done this without the support of some amazing people. My critique partners and writing friends, who have been here every single day. My agent, who is as fierce about this story as I am. My editor, who’s pushed it to new heights. My WNDB team, who will change the world. My family and closest friends, who have put up with more than a decade of storytelling and continue to support me. Love you all.

And last but not least, this community. All of you dreamers, wishers, liars, hopers, prayers, magic-bean-buyers. Thank you for believing in and being passionate about stories. We will spin some flax golden tales together, and I can’t wait to share this story and the characters I love so with you all.

Guys. IT’S GOING TO BE A REAL BOOK!

(And if you want to add it on Goodreads, you can!)

Cover Reveal for Black Iris by Leah Raeder!

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii party people! Welcome to the cover reveal for none other than the infamous Black Iris, by my fellow menace to sincerity, Leah Raeder.

So, unfortunately, this book didn’t suck. Like, at all. In fact, it’s actually pretty great. So great that I actually blurbed it and everything. Voila!

“Raeder masterfully weaves a dark, twisted, dangerously sexy quest for revenge with a raw, honest search for kinship and self-acceptance. Black Iris demands your attention, your heart, and an immediate reread.”

(Or, as it will gloriously appear on her blog, “Dark, Twisted, Dangerously Sexy” – Dahlia Adler, aka the world’s greatest personal ad.)

Those of you at all familiar with my archnemesis are probably aware that she’s written some pretty epic blog posts about queerness and sexual fluidity, including this newest one about whether Black Iris contains f/f. (Spoiler alert: it does. A lot. And it’s absurdly hot.) Those hoping to see more of that in BI (hehehehe) will not be disappointed. I love New Adult, but it’s impossible to ignore that it isn’t yet nearly as diverse as it both could be and should be, especially when it comes to romances between girls and examinations of the LGBTQ spectrum. The fact that Black Iris features both, as well as different kinds of mental illness, makes it stand out in so many ways.

And that’s before you even get to the gorgeous writing (duh – you’ve read Unteachable, right?) and gloriously twisted revenge plot.

Basically, buy it, read it, love it. Then read it again.

And for a glimpse into how good it is, here’s a little excerpt before we get to the cover…

FIRST CHAPTER EXCERPT:

BLACK IRIS by Leah Raeder

April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot said, and that’s because it kills. It’s the month with the highest suicide rate. You’d think December, or even January—the holidays and all that forced cheer and agonized smiling pushing fragile people to the edge—but actually it’s spring, when the world wakes from frostbound sleep and something cruel and final stirs inside those of us who are broken. Like Eliot said: mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain. In the deepest throes of depression, when sunlight is anguish and the sky throbs like one big raw migraine and you just want to sleep until you or everything else dies, you’re less likely to commit suicide than someone coming out of a depressive episode. Drug companies know this. That’s why antidepressants have to be marked with the warning MAY CAUSE SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.

Because what brings you back to life also gives you the means to destroy yourself.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

It only took one moment of weakness for Laney Keating’s world to fall apart. One stupid gesture for a hopeless crush. Then the rumors began. Slut, they called her. Queer. Psycho. Mentally ill, messed up, so messed up even her own mother decided she wasn’t worth sticking around for.

If Laney could erase that whole year, she would. College is her chance to start with a clean slate.

She’s not looking for new friends, but they find her: charming, handsome Armin, the only guy patient enough to work through her thorny defenses—and fiery, filterless Blythe, the bad girl and partner in crime who has thorns of her own.

But Laney knows nothing good ever lasts. When a ghost from her past resurfaces—the bully who broke her down completely—she decides it’s time to live up to her own legend. And Armin and Blythe are going to help.

Which was the plan all along.

Because the rumors are true. Every single one. And Laney is going to show them just how true.

She’s going to show them all.

When I saw this cover, I immediately fell in love with it – I think it’s a perfect display of dark, feminine power, which is exactly the vibe that runs through the entirety of Black Iris. Also, yeah, it’s a little genital, which, you know, Black Iris.

For someone who started out with Rainbowface, this whole cover thing has actually gone pretty damn well.

BOOK DETAILS:

Atria Books | 384 pages | ISBN: 9781476786421 | On sale: April 28, 2015 | List price: $15.00 | eBook ISBN: 9781476786438 | eBook list price: $5.99

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Leah Raeder is a writer and unabashed nerd. Aside from reading her brains out, she enjoys graphic design, video games, fine whiskey, and the art of self-deprecation. She lives with her very own manic pixie dream boy in Chicago. Visit her at LeahRaeder.com.

Find Leah online:
http://www.leahraeder.com/
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

PRE-ORDER BLACK IRIS:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Books-a-Million * IndieBound

2015 Resolutions

I really hadn’t planned to list resolutions, but now I’m kinda doing it for mental organization more than anything else. I really like mental organization. And lists.

Reading Resolutions

This is actually the focus of my year, because it’s the area where I find my goals the most floundering. Every year I say I’m going to do this or that and then I don’t, because being a YA blogger for B&N means I’m constantly focusing my reading on things I can turn into posts. But this year, I am determined to find a way to make it all work, including:

  • Read five Adult books. Yes, this year, I am finally doing this. I keep buying them and not reading them and it’s getting ridiculous. So, this year: Dare Me by Megan Abbott, Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, Broken Harbor by Tana French, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris, and One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper. I have literally bought all of them already.
  • Read the Grisha trilogy. Yes, I already bought the first one.
  • Read the Throne of Glass series. Yes, I already bought the first one.
  • Read three sci-fi YAs. One of these will be Deceptive by Emily Lloyd-Jones, which I’m dying for since I loved Illusive. One will be Cinder by Marissa Meyer, since I bought it ages ago and still haven’t read it.
  • Finish the Lumatere Chronicles. I’ve read Finnikin, and just ordered Froi.
  • Read two nonfiction books: The invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler.
  • Read 175 books. That’s my Goodreads challenge, set to match about what I read this year. Right now my blog posts are about upcoming 2015 titles, so that’s where I’m starting! First on the docket: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera.

And actually…that’s kind of it. 2014 was a year I wrote my ass off, and I’m not sorry I did – I came out with my debut YA and NA, produced my next YA, and got a bunch of other projects started, partially revised, and forward-moving. But I have two YAs coming out in 2015, a project I’m very excited to attempt to overhaul, a YA ms I started during NaNo I’d love to finish, and hopefully I’ll be releasing Right of First Refusal at some point in the spring/summer, and the third book at the end of the year.

But honestly, I don’t want to “resolve” to do those things. I want to do them. I want them to happen. I want to put in the work. And honestly, I probably will do all those things – I work hard, I love writing, and I have a fantastic accountabilibuddy who pushes me. (And who actually does have my goals in writing.) But 2014 was a year in which my life revolved around writing, and as a result, I have at least two projects coming out in 2015 that I love to show for it. So in 2015, I’d like my writing to revolve around me. I’d like to grow in other ways, like by doing more events in-person. I’d like to take advantage of the fact that I’m not drafting from scratch on a deadline this year like I was last year.

As for blogging resolutions, I can make them, but it’s like putting “brush your teeth” on a to-do list; they’d be there just so I can cross them off. I know I’m going to feature more author interviews this year. I know I’m going to blog a ton about diverse YA/NA. I know I’m going to use my blog and everywhere I write for to support fellow authors, debuts, authors of color, QUILTBAG authors, under-the-radar books… I know. And I feel great about the fact that I know this. I feel good about what I’ve been doing, and I’m excited to do more of it.

I realize I just patted myself on the back for an entire blog post, but you know what? I’ve written enough about all the ways I suck for a while. I hope 2015 is a year we all embrace what we like about ourselves and what we’re doing. I hope 2015 is a year our voice dominates the others that make us feel like crap. I hope we all end 2015 liking who we are.

Maybe I’ll resolve to do that too.

Under the Lights and What’s to Come in 2015

UnderTheLightsDahliaAdlerCover-1Today is a very exciting day, because it marks exactly six months until the release of my second YA, Under the Lights. I am super looking forward to unleashing this book on the world, in part because honestly, I have so much curiosity about how it’ll be received. I’ve never had a book take this many twists and turns during the writing process (and before you say “Well duh, this is your second book, please note that Last Will and Testament, Just Visiting, and The Book of Esther were all written between BtS and UtL, and My Name is Everett and Once You Go Greek were written before any of them). While I love how it came out in the end, it is admittedly a funny little book, twisting the irreverent, douchey narrative of one character with what I hope you’ll think is as fun, sweet, and hot a romance as I do from the perspective of the other, united by…a friendmance, I suppose? I know there are some people who were really hoping UtL would be a romance between Josh and Vanessa, but it isn’t, and I think the book is a million times better for what it is; I hope you guys end up feeling the same way. (Also, if it helps, Van’s love interest, Brianna, looks like this.)

So, that right there is the thing I am most excited for in 2015. I have poured so much into that book, and it’s such a labor of love, and it continuously amazes me that no matter how many times I read it, I’m still not bored of it.

But 2015 is a long year, and there is a lot happening, and I’m excited about it all! Here’s what’s up:

General Updates: I’ll still be in all the usual bloggy places, but I’m also excited to be joining YA Series Insiders. It’s a bunch of fabulous ladies with some really great books out, and I’m looking forward to being part of the group!

January

  • On January 6, I’ll be hosting the 10:15 pm slot of Megan Erickson’s Make it Last release party on FB, and giving away e-copies of both MiL and Last Will and Testament, so don’t miss it!
  • I am so, so excited to be able to attend the launch party of my beloved CP and friend Maggie Hall’s amazing debut, The Conspiracy of Us. If you’re in the Albuquerque area, I hope I’ll see you there! (Debut is January 13; party is January 15!)
  • It’s also my birthday, but we don’t talk about that.

FebruaryI’m super honored to have been asked to take part in two events this month:

  • February 12: I’ll be moderating the Unconventional Love Stories panel at Books of Wonder at 6:00 pm, featuring some of my favorite author people and some books I am hellllllla excited about.
  • February 15: So excited to be leading a breakout session as part of the SCBWI Workshop on YA/MG Romance! It’s called “How Far is Too Far? Sexual Boundaries in YA Romance,” and it’ll focus on sexual content in YA, the language we use for it, where limits might lie and why, consent/lack thereof, and portrayals of hetero romance vs. LGBTQ romance. (Spoiler: I will totally be sharing scenes from my books that aren’t even out yet, so you probably don’t want to miss that.)

MarchTeen Author Festival! This is one of my favorite YA events of the year, and while I don’t know yet whether I’ll be attending in any authorial capacity, I will definitely be there as a reader and fan!

April – I’ve got nothing going on personally as of yet, but several of my absolute favorite favorite writer people have books coming out then – all books I’ve read that are utterly fantastic – so expect a lot of blog-raving from me that month!

May – BEA BEA BEA! Again, not sure whether I’ll be attending in any authorial capacity, but I live in NYC, so thankfully that means I’m around for much evening partying and general debauchery! Plus my CP Marieke will be staying with me, which is always the best thing <3

June – (See opening paragraph)(Also my beautiful CP Gina Ciocca’s debut, Last Year’s Mistake, releases on the 9th, and it is YA Romancetastic to the max. I love this book so much.)

July

  • Monday, July 6, 6:00 p.m.: I’ll be reading from Under the Lights for the monthly romance reading series Lady Jane’s Salon at Madame X
  • Thursday, July 9, 7:00 p.m.: Super excited to be part of a fantastic panel on LGBTQ YA with Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not), Becky Albertalli (Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Lindsay Ribar (The Art of Wishing and The Fourth Wish), and Michael Barakiva (One Man Guy) at McNally-Jackson!
  • Sunday, July 12, 4:00 p.m.: Obviously the above is such a great panel, we couldn’t limit it to just one, so I’ll be at Oblong Books with Adam Silvera (More Happy Than Not), Becky Albertalli (Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), Lindsay Ribar (The Art of Wishing and The Fourth Wish), and Robin Talley (Lies We Tell Ourselves and What We Left Behind)!

August – TBA, but hoping hoping to do an event in the DC area at some point!

September/October – hahahaha Jewish holidays every day don’t even think about anything else

November – my third Spencer Hill Contemporary book releases on the 17th! More on that soon….

December – STFU I can’t think this far ahead

So, when/where will I be seeing you??

Books I Think Should’ve Gotten More Attention in 2014

Hi, and welcome to a post I am absolutely 100% ripping off from Jamie at the Perpetual Page-Turner! I’ve already posted my End of Year Book Survey (also compliments of Jamie, because Jamie basically runs my blogging life, I guess?), which picked My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter as the #1 book I thought deserved more attention, so I won’t further go into that one, but here are a bunch of others I loved and didn’t see nearly enough people obsessing over. (All books listed have under 1,000 ratings on Goodreads at present. There are a few more I would’ve listed if I hadn’t decided to use that limit, but thankfully, Jamie has them covered!)

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi – A divisive read, sure, and not for everyone, but I totally loved (and cried at) this story of a girl at a degayification camp, while also really, really adoring the development of the relationship between the central couple.

The Fourth Wish by Lindsay Ribar – It’s one of my biggest frustrations as a blogger that I can’t get more people to read this duology. It is so, so good, and not because I love paranormal (I like it, but that’s neither here nor there) and not because it’s fluffy (it is, which I love) but because it’s so compelling and contains such interesting discussions on gender identity and consent and it’s just so sharp and funny and sexy and thoughtful and ugh, PAY ATTENTION TO IT, PEOPLE.

Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah – Okay, I have to cop to that I haven’t read this book since I read it as a manuscript, but I was in love with it then, and can’t imagine I wouldn’t be now. Such a compelling psychological thriller with sisterly love and well-drawn settings and so much spookiness and just so good.

Dirty London by Kelley York – I was on the hunt for good f/f YA romance and having never read anything by York before, I was totally pleasantly surprised by this one. I actually wrote a lengthy-for-me review of this one, so, check it out.

Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez – Yes, this was one of my favorite covers of the year, but I loved what was behind it, too. It’s full of twisty, turny suspense, and cool to see such a departure from Martinez’s previous stuff, all of which I’ve enjoyed a lot.

Fake ID by Lamar Giles – Totally just read this one under the 2014 wire (like, two days ago) but I really enjoyed it. Exactly the kind of fun, fast-paced thriller I enjoy with the bonus of a couple of well-placed dick jokes.

These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar – This was a really beautiful, heartwrenching book with one of the best brotherly relationships I’ve seen in YA. Also a great find for anyone looking to add more boy POV to their list.

Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore – I know people have been looking for more friendship books, and maybe they didn’t really pick this one up because it looks from the cover like the emphasis is much more heavily on romance, but I loved the building of a new friendship in this book, as well as the underlying themes. Plus, it’s just a really fun, fast read, which is always welcome!

Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John Brown – Literally the most underread, underrated NA of the year. I don’t think I’ve rec’d this to anyone who hasn’t loved it. It’s also my #1 rec to anyone who liked my own Last Will and Testament. Plus, it’s super cheap on Kindle, so, just buy it. In fact, I’ll buy it on Kindle for anyone who writes one of these posts and links to it in the comments. Just freaking read it.

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