Category Archives: Writer

A Rakkasan Christmas

OBE

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brian Boase, an intelligence chief, Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team “Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), delivers tennis balls dressed as Santa to the Military Police K-9 attachment on Forward Operating Base Salerno, Dec. 25, 2012. Boase dressed as Santa and delivered more than 200 care packages to the soldiers and civilians of FOB Salerno for Christmas. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Brian Smith-Dutton, Task Force 3/101 Public Affairs)

Lately I’ve found myself pulled in multiple directions and the one thing that has fallen to the wayside is my blogging.  My blog writing has become what we call in the Army world OBE or, overcome by events. I’ve felt guilty about it, made excuses, but I know I could have and should have spent some time invested in writing and expressing myself. But I have been quite busy lately.

So what I’ve been up to lately can be categorized into five categories:

1. Work: Yep, I have a day job that I’m passionate, committed, and which requires my full attention. My unit is going through an Inspector General (IG) Inspection right now. Preparing for the inspection requires ALOT of work. Unlike many, I like inspections because they are a forcing functionwhich results in the organization taking a hard look at ourselves.

I announced this past summer that the Army had selected me for Battalion Command in Germany, summer of 2014. Before then I must attend seven weeks of assorted classes to prepare for command. As I write this I’m nearing the end of a two week course called the U.S. Army School of Command Preparation at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas. I love the name of the school…..it seems so old school Army.

2. Family: Since I returned from Afghanistan in 2011 I haven’t done a good job of making my family my number one priority…….I’m working on that. My wife and little boy need me……..plus huge news I’ve yet to announce here…. My wife Megan is pregnant again. She is due mid-April. This week we are having an ultrasound to find out the gender! We talk a lot about balance at the School for Command Preparation; I need to start practicing it.

3. Preparing for an Overseas Move: Last time I moved to Germany (2001), I was responsible to get myself, and my possessions over there. Now I have a wife, will have two kids under the age of 2 1/2, two dogs, a car, and OUR possessions. If you are all interested in the complexities that go into an overseas move please let me know in the comment section……I will write an entire piece on that. I’ve put a lot of brain hours into this one though.

4. Revising Paws on the Ground: What you say, another round of revisions, I thought this novel was done? The book has been “completed” many times but is in a constant state of revision. My agent has received nothing but rejections from the publishing houses so far. So when an international best-selling author, after reading the novel, offered some suggestions for improvement, I sprang into action, and completed another round of revisions. This was PHD level stuff and took me almost a month to add 9.4K words to the novel. I’ll keep ya posted on what happens.

5. My Health: After being hit by a car while cycling in September, I endured seven hours of shoulder surgery. My doctor said that he’s completed thousands of surgeries and my shoulder was the SECOND worst he’s ever seen. I’m in constant pain still, rehab isn’t fun or easy, and finally a few weeks ago I was able to start exercising to lose some of that weight inactivity caused me gain. I do my physical therapy every day and go to a therapist 3x a week. I’m supposed to gain range of motion back this spring and strength by next winter.

These are the things that are dominating my world right now.

When I first researched how to blog there were folks that were adamant about consistency in blogging…..you must send out a post, weekly or whatever rhythm you established. Your readers will expect this from you.

Do you believe this is true?

I’ll tell ya, I subscribe to about five blogs and those ones that send out posts on a schedule are often times full of garbage. In fact, most often I delete them without reading. I’m committed to writing substance and not quantity. I shoot for every Tuesday but sometimes I become OBE.

Thank you all for following the site, my journey, and sharing in my life. You encouragement inspires me every day.

I’m going to spend the next few weeks working on continuing the dog team stories and developing some other ideas for this site. Happy holidays to you and your family…….. I’ll be back after the holidays. 

The command team of Company C, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), serve Christmas dinner to their soldiers at Combat Outpost Chamkani, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2012. Soldiers of Company C were treated to a day off and visits from their higher command during the Christmas holiday. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

The command team of Company C, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), serve Christmas dinner to their soldiers at Combat Outpost Chamkani, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2012. Soldiers of Company C were treated to a day off and visits from their higher command during the Christmas holiday. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Bonebrake, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

 

Please don’t forget about our 50K plus troops deployed in harms way defending your way of life this holiday season.

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Book cover

Back in the Saddle!

Surgery Update:

Two weeks has passed since my surgery and I’m doing much better. Thanks to everyone for your well wishes! I’m still having trouble sleeping because of pain in my shoulder but, it looks like something I’ll have to deal with for some time.

Physical therapy is on my own right now. I will see the doctor next week. He was pleased with the results of the surgery but there was a lot more damage than he originally had seen from the MRI- hence why the surgery lasted over six hours.

Last week I bought an indoor bike since I won’t be hitting the streets anytime soon. It’s not the saddle I’d prefer to be riding but it will do for now. I’ll be back on the road riding my bike next spring. Not on the bike that was destroyed though!

I’m still out of work but plan to pull myself up to the computer and write this week. Writing always makes me feel better!

Exciting News:

I’m excited to announce my first published work outside of my blog!

I am honored to be a contributor to, In Dogs We Trust: which was recently published.

I met Lonnie Hodge and his service dog Gander during the American Humane Association Hero Dog Award. Lonnie is a disabled veteran suffering from PTSD whose life was transformed by 2 1/2 year old Labradoodle – Gander, who is 72 pounds of pure devotion. They now travel the country advocating for veteran suicide prevention and service dog awareness.

When Lonnie approached me this summer and asked me to contribute, I didn’t hesitate. My contribution to the book is the true story of U.S. Army Specialist John Nolan and Specialized Search Dog Honza “Bear” who battle the snow, cold and Taliban to protect their Green Beret brothers from improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

Here is the trailer for the book:

This is a great book with a greater mission: Saving Dogs and Saving Lives…..

In Dogs We Trust: Tales of Unconditional Love, Inspiration and Sacrifice

A book by world class writers with 100% of the proceeds going to the Lt. Michael Murphy Scholarship Fund, rescue dog, service dog and trauma recovery charities.

Authors include: Trident Warrior Dog author Mike Ritland, LZ Grace Vets Retreat Center Director Lynn Bukowski, Writer and Soldier Kevin Hanrahan, Veteran Traveler Lon Hodge, Actor Bruce Littlefield, Dog Whisperer Paul Owens, National Mill Dog Rescue, Clear Conscience Pet CEO Anthony Bennie and many more…All donated their time and talent!

Buy now and say who sent you and 50% of the purchase price will go immediately to a cause. And Clear Conscience Pet will give you a $10 gift certificate, and you will get another $10 off the full print edition due out in December which will include luminaries like Dr. Patricia McConnell and Ted Kerasote.

It is available for download here:

http://veterantraveler.com/in-dogs-we-trust-3/

Or on the Kindle Store (no coupons): http://tinyurl.com/Indogswetrust

Discount Code: Honza

Note: Make sure you have an e-reader other than iReader. If not then you should go to the kindle store. Remember, 100% of the proceeds go to veteran and service dog charities!

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Hard Lessons Learned from an Aspiring Author

I know…….you haven’t heard a peep about my first novel, Paws on the Ground, in months.  Let’s just say my experience with my first literary agent wasn’t what I expected.

Last June, I had the moment many writers dream about, an offer of representation from a seasoned Literary Agent at a top Literary Agency.

So I leaped at the opportunity and signed an agency agreement.

Score!

Right?

I’m not going to go into great details in this piece about that experience, but simply put, this past year simply wasn’t what I expected.  I had an agent and a great agency, yet my project became buried in my agent’s slush pile.

I remained a loyal soldier though, believing in the system, afraid that this was my one chance at getting my first novel, Paws on the Ground, into the hands of millions of readers.

As the months passed, I stressed and began to doubt myself as a writer

I gained weight and was unpleasant to deal with it at home.

I allowed my focus, drive and passion for writing to be shaken.

Bottom line………I lost my way.

I knew in my heart since February what needed to happen, but was scared. Scared that I wouldn’t find someone else, scared that I was “lucky” to land that first agent and would never find another, scared I wasn’t good enough.

It is really hard to find an agent as I explained in my post What To Do and Not To Do During the Query  Process.

But my heart told me for months that I needed to fire my agent. I ignored the signals and tried to make it work. This whole relationship was going down the same lane as my first marriage, but that is a story and comparison for another time.

In mid-June I’d had enough. The damn book had been with my agent for a full year, so I contacted the delightful and talented author Barbara Longley for some counsel. Barbara, is a friend I met on twitter, and was my “nemesis” for two posts about editors and critique groups, Should You Pay for an Editor or Join a Critique Group (Part I and II).

I explained to Barbara what was going on and she didn’t hesitate with her response.

“Run away from that agent! Run away now!” she advised me.

You may remember from our posts that Barbara doesn’t hold punches. More importantly, Barbara assured me that I would find someone else- an agent that emotionally connects to my writing.

This is the relationship she has with her agent and is what I know I needed and wanted.

She also relayed a story about her friend who has a bad agent, how their relationship is rocky, and hasn’t gotten better over several years. This agent is bringing her friend down. That made me realize things with my first agent weren’t going to get any better, no matter how much I wanted to believe they would.

But still I had my doubts so I next contacted my mentor and friend- author, editor and writing coach Ginger Moran.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ginger was the first person to read Paws on the Ground, believe in me as a writer and coached me through the first edit, strategized and helped me find that first literary agent.

I guess I needed to hear it from multiple people, multiple times. Ginger had been telling me to move on for months now. She suggested this again and recommended I contact my editor, John Paine.

When I began working with John, he agreed to assist me with finding an agent at the end of the editing process if he felt really strong about my novel. (He would use his connections to at least get my foot in the door, but no promises of landing an agent of course)

John recommended I work through the list of agents who had requested submissions before I started using his contacts. This ultimately led to me landing that first agent so I hadn’t taken him up on his offer to assist.

It was reassuring to know John would help me. At this point I decided I was going to fire my agent. It was so liberating!

So I went to John who unbeknown to me was on vacation. He immediately responded, agreed a year was too long and said he would assist me when he returned from vacation.

I waited a day and then asked myself…..Why wait?

I dusted off my query letter, updated it and went back to work querying literary agents. Instead of the system I used last time, I used Query Tracker. I highly recommend using Query Tracker.

I can’t tell you how empowering it was to take back control of my project, my writing and my writing career.

The first day I received a submission request from a well-known agent at a very large agency. The second day, I received two submission requests, one from one of the largest literary agencies in the country. Seven submission requests in a week gave me confidence that there were “other fish in the sea and they liked what I had on my hook”.

My initial fears turned to excitement for my uncertain future. But it was the note I received the following Monday that really excited me.

“KEVIN:  enjoyed it so far … please send the rest of the novel.”

Wow, that was fast, this agent had requested a three chapter submission this past Saturday and already wanted the rest.

Thrilling.

It got even better though……he contacted me the next day, asked me a couple questions and then offered to represent me!

This agent had read my entire book overnight and loved it! Emotionally attached to the novel, believing in its’ message and me as an author, ready to make this novel his number one priority….. THIS IS WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR!

I wondered though, should I wait and see what the other agencies say? I mean, there were some A-list agents interested in my book.

So I consulted with my Consigliores’, Ginger, John and Barbara who confirmed what I was thinking. I’d already been signed with a large agency and ended up in their slush pile.

Maybe I’m better off at a well-respected boutique literary agency, with an agent just developing his list of authors, someone who LOVES my book, and is energetic to get it in publisher’s hands.

THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I NEED! The hell with those other agencies…..their loss!

So, I fired my old agent and signed with Literary Agent Steve Schwartz at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency.

Steve immediately made my project his number one priority. After a week of back and forth with the manuscript, my new agent has already submitted the manuscript to a host of editors.

Fingers crossed we find an editor who falls in love with it………

On to the next chapter in this story!

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New Years Resolution: Second Chance

Yes I realize we are way past the New Year’s resolution phase on the calendar….but hey…there is good chance you already blew those resolutions. So with this post I’m offering you a shot as redemption.

A clean slate if you will.

Let’s start over….. today.

I’ll go first….

Here goes…. but first….a thoughton why….. why resolutions are difficult to keep.

I believe that I know why many continually fail to meet their New Year’s Resolutions.

Why?

How many cliché resolution on Facebook did you skim through and not really read?

How many Facebook posts do you read and say, “Yeah right he will never lose twenty pounds by Easter.”

You know the ones….that talk about hitting the gym, quitting the smokes etc, etc, etc!

Why can’t they keep resolutions?

Why are some people already back up five pounds or smoking two packs a day by April?

What about that gym membership that hasn’t been used in weeks…… you know the one……the gym takes the money out of your account automatically….. you don’t use it…..but either are too embarrassed to cancel and admit failure or you have convinced yourself that you’ll get back at it next week!

All right I will tell you why I think this all happens.

It is because people haven’t cleansed their soul of these demons. They haven’t figured out the root of their demons. They mask the root and try to attack the behavior.

I’m not going to do that with this post. I’ m going to open my soul and show you my demons.

So here it is…….I’m gonna level with you….I need major work.

I need major work. You heard it here first and I am going to work on it as soon as I cleanse my soul here on this blog.

This year has been a blur as you can see from my year in review post.

I’m not going to lie to you…..I needed to reevaluate (which I’ve done) and do some reflection on how I can improve. I need to adjust some things in my life….. hence this post on resolutions.

Most of you know I am a Lieutenant Colonel in the active Army. I live and breathe service to the nation. More importantly (to me) I would lay down my life for by brothers and sisters in arms. The Army has been my number one priority for a very long time. But that has changed.

I’ve written a book I ‘m convinced is going to be highly successful, once it is published. I just finished the sequel. But none of this means anything without the love and support of my family.

You see……(most of you know) I became a father this year. Brady Thomas is now my numero uno priority.

So I’m struggling to balance (as I know most do) work and family…..and also my aspiring writing career. So I’m here today to cleanse my soul. Admit what I’ve been doing wrong at work and home and right myself before it is too late.

Wrong: Singularly focused on work.

Analysis: You come home from work (normally about seven to eight) and get on twitter and Facebook. Maybe edit the work you wrote that morning before work. You are too focused on goals, the challenge of something new. In this case publication, increasing web site traffic and working on your next novel.

Correct: Kiss my wife, hug my child and play with him until it is time for his bedtime. Assist my wife Megan with putting Brady to bed. Clean all the dishes while she lays him down. Fold laundry that she didn’t have time to fold because Brady dominates her world.

Bottom Line: Stop being so self-absorbed.

Wrong: Weekend work.

Analysis:  Every weekend you work on your aspiring writing career until 1200 on Saturday and Sunday. Even longer if you are on a self-imposed deadline. Stop being such a schmuk Hanrahan.

Right: Commit the entire weekend to my family. (As a concession I will be allowed to work on Saturday morning till Brady wakes or a little bit during nap time) Save weekend work until I am actually on a deadline from a publisher. Cherish every moment with my little boy and wife.

Bottom Line: Stop being so self-absorbed.

Wrong: I don’t read anymore. (I’ve only read six books this year).

Analysis: You don’t have time. Your wife Megan isn’t a reader so now you aren’t either. Yet you have time to watch Amish Mafia and Wicked Tuna. Really dude? You can’t sit on the couch with your wife when she is watching the Bachelor and read.  Seriously?

Right: Commit 30 minutes a day to reading. Keep track of it. Make it happen.

Bottom Line: You miss it. You love it. Get back in to it.

Wrong: Wage war with time sucking trolls on social media networks.

Analysis: Trolls get their kicks surfing the internet, twitter, facebook etc to cause havoc. They attack your position/ thoughts/ work and then begin attacking you as a person. They leave comments to your blog that don’t add value and question your manhood on twitter. This year you had an apithiny and deleted all Troll comments on your website. You even ignored the nasty comments on Business Insider when they published your stuff. But what is your issue with Twitter? Why do you allow them to suck you in!

Right: Ignore Trolls. Trolls, please be advised that you can’t win. I will ignore you once the conversation ceases to be a discussion of ideas and opinions. Not everyone will agree with me. I can’t please everyone.

Wrong: Be embarrassed when someone asks you when your book will be published.

Analysis: Now that you have a literary agent some folks expect to see your first novel on the shelf immediately. Did it sell yet? No. Why? It just doesn’t work like that Hanrahan! Why? The novel is going through a refinement process with your agent prior to submission. Why? So it sells and doesn’t sit in the publishing house slush piles.

Right: Be zen baby! Focus on my next novel. Work on my platform. Have fun connecting with future (hopeful) book buyers. Let the system run its course. Have faith in someone I barely know, but have a binding legal contract with. (I couldn’t resist that last one!)

All right folks…..those are my major issues.

I just read this post to my wife and it is by far her favorite. Affirmation for what we have been arguing about for the past six months.

So I’ve promised you a second chance at resolutions.

Who has a resolution they are working on?

Has anyone blown their resolution and want to start over?

Please share!

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Lessons Learned During the Edit of a Novel

Paws on the Ground Update:

Many have asked about the status of my first novel, Paws on the Ground.

Thank you. I really appreciate your interest.

The novel is currently with my agent being prepared for submission. Fiction is very hard to sell right now. The book has to be perfect in order to achieve my goal of commercial publication.

I have a terrific literary agent in a well-respected Literary Agency. I’m letting them do their part by preparing the novel for submission to publishing houses while I focus on writing. Don’t worry though……..I’m being kept very well informed.

You all will be the first to hear any news!

So back to my writing journey………….

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

A little while ago I took a break from my journey to becoming a published author in order to debate with the delightful Barbara Longley about the merit of critique groups and why an editor is better. (Still my position)

Then we went a second round on that debate because neither of seemed to want to back down. Barbara is a feisty one and I believed some great points and perspective were shared both by us and by commenters.

Of course I had to tell you about the fantastic James River Writer’s Conference (Where I finally realized I belonged with a group of writers).

Then I pondered “When Do you Become a Professional Writer?” after my wife’s friend told her my writing was just a hobby. Yes, that still annoys me, but I am over it.

Really I am.

I swear!

So, let me see where that all led me? O yes, in “Tough Love and Top Level Editors,” my new and shiny editor, John Paine, destroyed my hopes of a quick edit. (You may remember by this time I had submitted a full or partial manuscript to over ten agents at their request. I was subsequently rejected by those ten agents.)

I detailed in that post what John directed me to work on.

I expected us to cut the first half of the book, tweak the pacing, maybe slap a prologue in there and be done with it. Boy, was I wrong. He didn’t want me to include anything before the main characters got to Afghanistan. Here is the short of what he told me:

1. Lose the back story.

2. Sammy (a dog) needs to be a true character.

3. Stop skimming the surface of scenes.

4. Stop shuffling so quickly among plot lines.

So I went through the manuscript line by line and added descriptors and character’s reactions to actions. I studied every scene, every line, and began inserting the richness that the book was missing.

You see, every action in your life has a reaction. What happens if you stub your toe? Do you scream out in agony, dance around on one leg holding your foot?

What does your wife or son do when they hear you screaming out in pain? (My wife would laugh at me!)

If you want your reader to be in the head of your characters, then characters need a reaction to actions in your novel. The reader needs to feel that action, smell that action and relate to that action. This part of the revision took me more hours than I want to think about. (Secretly I reveled in the task.)

Next up: Sammy. Originally I used Sammy (a dog)’s italicized storyline for a break for the reader. These insertions ranged from a paragraph to a few pages. The use of italics was something I had seen used in various books. Sometimes an author will use italics for a villain point of view, a memory, etc.

John felt it prevented Sammy from being a real character. John actually wrote a nice post in his blog about this topic. But his main point was that if you make the reader shift from one character to another, it better be worth it for the reader to change gears. I pulled out all of my Sammy snippets and placed them into one document, then combined, tweaked and revised his part, and placed it back into appropriate sections of the book.

This leads me to my final focus on this revision—plot-line shuffling. Here is a direct quote from the editorial report John wrote:

“Although combining a number of scenes within a single chapter can be an effective storytelling technique, at times it also became a vehicle for inserting little micro scenes that didn’t really advance the character’s plot line.”

Advancing the characters plot line. Now that is awesome guidance and caused me to look at my writing through a new lens.

So I went back into every chapter (except the pre-Afghanistan ones) and committed chapters to one main character. Now many of my chapters switch from Caleb (hero) to Megan (heroine) or Caleb to Sammy but very rarely shift more than once. I essentially eliminated all micro scenes in my novel.

One more issue I resolved was inserting a character earlier who become a significant character later in the book. He initially enters the novel in cameos, but introducing him fully allows the reader to understand who he is and what he is about. The readers are already familiar and interested in him when he becomes a major player in the book.

The last issue I handled was simple. My ending was too drawn out. Here is exactly what John said, “Once the climax of the book is reached, the reader is just waiting for you to let him out of the book.”

So I hacked the heck out of the ending and sent it back to John for review. By now it was the end of January 2011 and we were 30 days behind the time I thought we could get the book back in the hands of the agents.

Lesson learned here—you can’t put a timeline on creativity. It will get there when it is ready.

John went back through the book as I waited anxiously for him to tell me we were ready to send it back out to the agents.

Unfortunately that was not the news he gave me in a detailed email and follow up conversation.

I had more work to do!

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Happy One Year Anniversary!

Has it been one year already?

Yep, I launched this site this week last year and have been consistently writing and posting for the site since. So why did I start this site?

I need a platform if I am going to be a professional writer someday. Right?

That is what the experts say. But this site is more than just a platform for me—it is how I express myself. It provides me the ability to publish my work now through my blog posts. The site allows me to tell stories and share what I think is important and relevant in my world. Plus writing for the site makes me happy.

So let’s take a look at some stats for the year:

First subscriber: Pam Garrity

First commenter: Ginger Moran

Thank you, ladies!

Subscribers: 775

Comments: 2,358(Non Spam)

I really have nothing to compare these numbers with. I believe this is a great start for my website. That is good enough for me. I’ve also watched my average daily visitor count creep from around 100 this spring to 150-200 this summer to 200-250 this fall. I am now reaching over 300 folks daily. That is pretty damn cool!

Visits: 98,191

Page views: 160,735

Countries reached: 169 (To name a few: China, Congo, Peru, Estonia, Australia, Mexico. That makes six continents!) I’m going to be huge in China…..or maybe just in my head!

Hey, my dogs think I’m cool!

Yes, I feed and give them treats everyday.

What are you trying to say?

Anyway………..

So what are most people interested in? What are the most popular posts? You might think the dog team stories, right? Well you might be surprised at the results!

Here is a recap of the ten most popular posts of my first year of blogging.

#10: “Memories that Never Fade.” Army Specialist Marc Whittaker’s struggled to carry on after his dog Anax took a bullet that was meant for Marc in Afghanistan. This is a story of terrible tragedy, heartache, and resolve through the eyes of a combat veteran struggling to reclaim his swagger. This is my first original series and as an Army leader taught me so much about struggles our soldiers face.

#9: A Marine and his Dog.”  Written by Lawrence Dabney and shared on my site, this story’s ending will have you reaching for the tissues. I was stunned that this made the list because I just placed it on my site this month. It is a great story. I recently published the second part.

#8: Seal Team 6 and Cairo.” I was sitting in the Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan chow hall waiting for a flight home when I first heard the news. We got Bin Laden. News of a dog involved in the raid was reported immediately. At the time I wondered what the hell the big deal was—of course a dog was there. Boy, was I wrong! It was a huge deal to lots of people. This story, shared with permission from Texas Monthly, is a fictional depiction of the events. It’s pretty damn cool!

#7: Gabe the Street Dog.”Before he was Gabe the 2012 AHA Hero Dog and hobnobbing with Miss America and Betty White, he was Gabe the Street Dog. A shelter puppy turned Military Working Dog serving the U.S Army in Iraq, Gabe’s story is an inspiration to all down on their luck.

#6: Women Shouldn’t be In Combat Units.”I wrote this piece originally because I always found our government’s restrictions on women in combat to be hypocritical. Women are dying on the battlefield, receiving battlefield awards for valor, and performing successfully in every capacity allowed by our government (and many not allowed). Yet we patronize these brave Americans simply because they don’t possess the same hardware as their male counterpart. I was shocked when this piece received over 400 views in the first day. This was a breakout post for me.

#5: Returning Heroes.”I’ve been to hundreds of ceremonies for returning troops. But I knew since Sergeant John Nolan and Honza deployed as individual augmentees and not with a group that there would be no ceremony or fanfare. There was just John and his faithful partner Honza returning from war late on a nondescript Saturday night. So I was there, with a group of his fellow handlers from the Fort Eustis Working Dog kennel, to greet and welcome them home. It is just something Service Members do for each other. I put my thoughts of this event into my iPhone while driving home from the airport. I wrote this post the next morning.

#4: What Makes a General Cry.” My buddy Major Steve Caruso wrote and posted this piece on his Facebook page while serving in Afghanistan. I knew immediately I needed to share it. This true story will tug at your heart strings too.

#3: Picture of the Week: Troops and their Puppies.”Two undeniable forces for good here–puppies and service members. These are some of my favorite pictures of the year.

#2: Reason Why Women Should be in Combat Units.”With the success of the first post I immediately wrote two more in this series. It was easy because after the first post I immediately began to receive hate emails and nasty tweets. I stood my ground, ignored the BS messages, and addressed every counterargument with merit in these future posts. I really enjoyed writing and debating my position.

#1: More Reasons Women Should Be in Combat.” This post went viral! Well not really, but I had nearly 17,000 views on this post—that is viral for me! There were over 1,000 views by 9:00 A.M and over 4,000 the first day. I’ll never forget this day because it is the day we took our new son, Brady, home from the hospital. These women in combat posts were meant to make folks think. I’m happy that I reached over 28,000 people with this series.

You might have noticed the update to the website today. I wish the sliders were smart (meaning they updated with the new posts) but they aren’t. But with the help of my web designer I’ve figured out a more useful purpose for them. Click on one and check it out!

I’m always looking for new ideas and suggestion for the site. Please don’t hesitate to mention your thoughts in the comment section.

I just started working with two new dog teams. One currently deployed to Afghanistan and the other preparing to deploy. I’m looking forward to bringing their stories to you!

Thank you for all your support. I am looking forward to what this year brings. 

The next chapter in the Marc Whittaker series will be posted on Monday. Marc was the first handler I linked up with to share his dramatic story.

How is Anax the dog that took a bullet for him fairing?

Can Marc finally shake his funk and certify with his new dog?

All this and more is coming up!

Need to get caught up on his dramatic story? Chick here!

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2012 Year in Review

67 whidden Ave

The house I grew up in.

2012 will absolutely be a year I will never forget. Full of trials, tribulations—tragedy and celebration, this year was a rollercoaster for my family and me. During a layover a few days before Christmas I was pondering this crazy year. Actually I was making laps with a stroller through the Chicago Airport trying to keep someone (#1 on this list) occupied during a layover and my mind wandered like it always does. What resulted is the list below of the nine most significant things to happen to me this year.

#9: Became homeless. Well, not exactly, but it sort of felt like that. My childhood home in Whitman, Massachusetts went out of our family this summer. WOW! the memories at that place! Of course, I am happy for my mom. She didn’t need the hassle of managing a large older home. She doesn’t need to deal with the New England winters any longer. I support her decisions and have urged her for years to unload that puppy. But I can’t help feel nostalgia for the home I grew up in.

#8: Second novel nearly completed. I was on pace to finish this book by Thanksgiving, but life took priority. I am at 90K and expect to wrap it up with 8-10k additional words. I need about two weeks and expect to finish it by mid-January.  After I wrote my first novel, Paws on the Ground, in Afghanistan I was just impressed that I had written a book. I worry that the second novel can never compare to the raw emotion that flowed for Paws on the Ground. Hopefully my writing training and experience will compensate.

P1000118

No more four hour Saturday rides on this puppy.

#7: Health declined. Endurance events are no longer part of my life. Leading the pack on runs and killing it in the gym are not an option. It is very hard for me to admit this. Fitness has been very big in my life for so long. But the wear and tear on my body from 60 parachute jumps and five deployments have finally caught up with me. I simply strive to be healthy, do physical training with soldiers, and pass the Army’s physical fitness test now. I still hate saying that. It is like I lost a part of myself.

#6: Website created. You may have noticed that I have a website. I learned at the James River Writers Conference in 2011 that I needed a website. I built my own, but it was hideous. Fortunately for me my mentor and editor Ginger Moran’s brother is a branding expert and web site designer. Chuck Moran at Bald Guy Studio built this site. I love telling amazing stories about dog teams, advocating for dogs, sharing stories of soldiering and my adventures with writing. But honestly the best part has been meeting all of you.

#5: New job acquired. So the Army sends me to Fort Hood, Texas to evaluate a unit for a month this past June. While I was there I learn that I’m leaving my then current job in the Provost Marshal’s Office. I was selected to be the Executive Officer for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Deputy Chief of Staff. I went from basically a 9-5 laidback job to a grueling, high-intensity position working directly for a general officer. Am I strange for liking this new grueling position more?LTC

#3: Army promoting me to Lieutenant Colonel. Yes, you saw that correctly. Sometimes I wonder what they were thinking as well! I’m actually pinning the new rank on January 4, 2013 because I wanted my mom to be present, but it is close enough to include on this list. I’ve come a long way since I went to basic training as Private Hanrahan in 1993.

#3: Literary agent landed. I actually teetered on which was more significant—my promotion or my agent. Lieutenant Colonel status took longer, but the probability of landing an agent is lower. Really they are both huge steps, so I decided neither was more significant than the other. While I was in Texas this past summer (getting retired from my chill job), I received an email from Victoria Skurnick at the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She said she was halfway through Paws on the Ground and loved it. Victoria said she would get back to me in a few days. She did and offered me representation. It took me a year to land an agent and this link will explain how I accomplished this feat.

#2: Brother Brendan died. He was 40 years old and left behind three children and a loving wife. The cancer started in his nonsmoker lungs and spread to his brain before they caught it. By then it was too late. Here is a tribute I wrote for Brendan and the town that rallied around his family this summer. I miss him the most during football season. I miss calling him on Mondays to recount the Patriots game. I hate that he is longer in my life.1IMG_6770

#1: My clone born. My life changed forever on April 17, 2012. My wonderful wife Megan gave birth to our little boy Brady Thomas. I rush home every day from work trying to arrive before he goes to bed. On weekends I’m excited to be the one that gets him when he wakes in the morning. When I want to sleep in or am just feeling lazy, I cast those thoughts aside because I want to provide a better life for Brady, just like my parents did for me. I want to be the best father, husband, man—and example that someday he will hopefully emulate. Brady Thomas makes me need to be a better man.

What a crazy year! I’m writing this post-Christmas Eve morning while the entire house is asleep. We are at my in-laws in Springfield, Missouri. My brother-in-law Jack and his family are here from Portland. The house is alive and vibrant this holiday season. It’s been a roller-coaster of a year, but I know I’m a lucky man.

Happy Holidays and here’s to hoping your New Year’s wishes come true!

PS: I’ll be back to my normal Monday and Thursday postings next week. 1IMG_8079

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When Does Your Writing Become More Than a Hobby?

Recently my wife’s friend referred to my writing as hobby. Initially I was taken aback and slightly annoyed.

A hobby?

Really?

Does she know how many hours I put into my first novel?

Does she know how much time I dedicate weekly in pursuit of my writing career?

Does she know how much money I’ve invested in getting this career going?

Does she realize how hard it was for me to land a literary agent?

Of course the answer to all these questions is no.

But it got me thinking: when do you graduate from being a hobbyist to being a professional writer. Maybe my wife’s friend is correct. Maybe my writing is just a hobby?

I honestly can’t even pinpoint the nunber of hours I put into my first novel, Paws on the Ground. It has to be in the thousands though. I wrote the first draft in six months while in Afghanistan. I lived and breathed that book. I thought about it constantly, maybe even a little too much–there were way too many subplot. But I digress.

In February of 2011 my brother Brendan was diagnosed with lung cancer which spread to his brain. I had over 85,000 words written in my book at the time. I was still in Afghanistan when I had an epiphany. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to get my book published. Life is too short not to try.

When I returned from Afghanistan in May 2011, I took my first steps into the scary and intimidating world of publishing. I found myself a wonderful writing coach and editor, the delightful Ginger Moran. This was a huge step for me.

Sure, there is a financial commitment when hiring professional help. But more importantly I was putting my money where my mouth was. Something registered in my brain that said, “Now this is serious. There is no turning back.”

I actually think this is a much harder step for writers than most people think. The publishing world is complex and uninviting. I put myself out there. I was exposed to criticism. I was both terrified and excited.

From May to October 2011, this writing “thing” of mine was only known among a handful of family, very close friends, and literary agents that requested a submission. I don’t believe any of my family or friends took my writing “thing” seriously at this time. So I felt like I was straddling a fence between doing this completely and pulling back to the safety of the military world. Yes, I know the military world seems foreign and dangerous to most, but it’s what I know.

This changed when I attended the James River Writers conference in Richmond. I was surrounded by writers for the first time. Before the conference I was nervous that I didn’t belong. I was nervous that a bunch of writing intellectuals would look down upon me. Again, I was entering a new and unknown world.

Here is what I learned at the conference:

  1. I do belong in this publishing world.
  2. There are many writers just like me–some in more advanced stages, some less.
  3. Like anything, succeeding in the publishing world isn’t only about talent. Your drive and determination can carry you far.
  4. I needed a writer’s platform.

Wait a minute. A platform? You mean I need to expose myself to the whole world?

Yes!

But if I do that I can never turn back. I could fail in front of everyone!

Sure could!

What are you going to do, pal?

I went home and opened a twitter page and started an author’s Facebook page the night the conference ended. But I knew that wasn’t enough. I needed a website.

Now I knew there was no turning back on this writing “thing” I was doing.

But was this still a hobby? I was throwing myself out there. No more straddling the fence. My intentions were clear—in writing on Facebook!

I spent a ton of time learning to build a website. I had no clue what I was doing. I did it anyway. The site looked like I had built it. It was clunky, ugly, but functional. It wasn’t what I wanted.

I knew that everything on that site would represent me. It needed to be polished. It wasn’t.

Lucky for me my writing coach and mentor, Ginger Moran’s, brother is a web designer and branding expert.  I handed my clunky website over to Chuck Moran at Bald Guy Studios and he and his team went to work. They built this beautiful site you are on now.

During this time I also hired an experienced and seasoned independent editor to guide me through a second revision of the book. Yes, all the literary agents who requested submissions rejected me.

Tax time came. For the first time I hired an accountant to do my taxes. We wrote off all my writing expenses as business expenditures.

Now I’m a professional right? I mean the IRS recognizes me as such!

Maybe. Maybe not.

Exactly 13 months after I queried my first agent I finally landed a literary agent, the wonderful Victoria Skurnick at Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. Hopefully we will be taking my first novel to the publishers soon!

So to summarize:

  1. I have a product (my novel) & am nearly complete with the first draft of my second novel.
  2. I have expenditures.
  3. I have a website and hundreds of subscribers to the blog.
  4. I have professional representation.
  5. I haven’t made a cent from my writing.

Am I a professional writer or a hobbyist? Honestly, I’m not sure.

I’d like to think this is more than a hobby (I am up at 5:00 AM on a Sunday writing this post). But is it?

When do you become a professional?

Do you have to attain Nelson Demille status to be a professional?

If you write, what would you consider yourself?

What do you think?

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Fiction & Fantasy Football: The 2012 James River Writers Conference

Last year I attended the 2011 James River Writer’s Conference full of self-doubt. I was nervous that I wouldn’t fit in with the scholarly, eclectic, and creative world. I’m an Army Officer. I’m not a writer. Could I be both, though?

I had written my first book while in Afghanistan. Big deal, right? I mean this conference was going to be full of serious writers. Surely they would look down on me. For the entire conference I was timid, stressed, and constantly trying to sell myself to possible literary agents and publishing folks.

Last year I had no website or Facebook page. I didn’t even know what Twitter was.

Of course, I was wrong on all accounts. I met tons of great people. I made great contacts that eventually led me to landing an agent. Yes, the 2011 James River Conference led to me getting that hard-to-land agent many writers strive for.

So this year as I drove up Route 64 towards Richmond for the 2012 James River Writers Conference, I listened to the fantasy football channel on my Sirius radio contemplating some lineup changes. I had no idea what agents were available for the one-on-one pitch session. I hadn’t spent hours writing and practicing a pitch for Pitchapalooza. I hadn’t even looked at the conference agenda to see which workshops I wished to attend.

I simply wanted to spend the weekend being surrounded by creativity. I also wanted see my editor and writing coach Ginger Moran and reconnect with the fabulous Book Doctors, Dave Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut. Ginger has been with me since the beginning, from editing the first draft to coaching me on the search for an agent to helping set up my website.

What a difference a year can make!

So this is what I learned at the 2012 James River Conference:

- The more you as an author do and are prepared to do to market your book, the better.

- Literary agents command respect when negotiating the sale of the book with publishers. They carry the weight of the agency and all its authors on their shoulders. Agents have established contracts with publishers.

- Independent authors sell an average of 345 books. Independent authors that self-publish have a tough road.

- I need a downloadable Press Kit on my website.

- I can use a lot of the material in Paws on the Ground that I cut in the revision as bonus material someday.

- I should place an actual email address in my contact link. It is easier than the form.

- I need to start collecting blurb commitments for my debut novel.

- (I gleaned a bunch of writing techniques and tips but will share those another time.)

I spent twenty minutes talking to the terrific and talented David Henry Sterry. Last year when I sat down with David I was sweating profusely and full of trepidation as I pitched him my book. This year I received a 20 minute lesson on the publishing world. What I love about David is his energy and passion for authors. He genuinely cares about authors. We discussed strategies to position myself for the best deal when my book is sold. I took copious notes!

One thing that annoyed me at the Conference this year:

I heard countless questions from aspiring authors in varying sessions about how to land representation from a literary agent. I was in their position last year. I understand.

So at first when several relatively new authors were on a panel talking about firing their agent or not signing with the first agent that offered them representation, I was aghast. Here they were on their perch, literally looking down on everyone, telling people who would kill for an agent not to take the first offer of representation. It pissed me off that they were talking about jumping to a new agent like it was as easy as changing dentists.

I say bullshit. I took the first offer and am quite happy.

After learning more about their situation, I understand what these authors meant. Two of the authors seemed to have started this journey with fringe agents. I only sought representation from credible agents from agencies with excellent reputations. That is my advice.

I was amazed when one of the literary agents attending said that she accepts only two new clients a year. She receives 150 queries a week. That is nearly 8,000 authors a year who are hoping she accepts them as a client. Two out of 8,000—those aren’t great odds.

Someone asked me how I landed my agent. Sure I won Pitchapalooza. But that didn’t guarantee me landing an agent. I was guaranteed an introduction only. The rest was up to me.

So here is my advice:

- Make your book stand out.

- Submit a finished product if you’re writing fiction

- Have a plan of attack for seeking an agent. (Here was mine)

- Start building a platform NOW

- Work your ass off and don’t stop

You are going to get rejections. Deal with it. Literary agents that request a submission are probably going to reject you. Deal with it. I kept all my rejection letters and emails. I even have a couple nasty ones that motivate me.

One last thing: You have a better chance of landing an agent when you receive an introduction. I actually had a few introductions from people I’ve met in the industry. What that does is move your manuscript higher in that agent’s slush pile. They will actually get back to you. Again, this doesn’t automatically mean that this agent will sign you.

Also, get your ass to a conference and meet the agent yourself. Pitch them. If your conference has a pitch competition, participate. Ask to pitch agents you aren’t meeting with anywhere except the bathroom. Use your exposure to them to get your project in their face and mind. Don’t be annoying or act like a nut, though.

OK, enough ranting about the Conference and landing an agent. Please feel free to post your link to any of your lessons learned or reflections from the conference.

What have you learn at a writer’s conference that really helped you?

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Should You Hire an Editor or Join a Critique Group? (Part II)

So Barbara Longley and I decided to go a second round with our discussion. Should an author work with an editor or a critique group. As you might remember I support going with an editor. My long winded and talented colleague, Barbara Longley is a huge supporter of critique groups.

Honestly I think Barb wanted to go a second round because she couldn’t handle that I was so spot on in that first post!

So here we go….round two….. I’ve got one gloves raised high to protect my face and the other lower……. Barb can’t be trusted to spar cleanly!  

KEVIN: I have a lot to say Barb? Really….Really? You just tripled my word count!

I’m not going to match you though. I don’t feel like I must. Why?…… Because I believe in myself. I don’t need affirmation that I can write. Especially from people who are of equal or lesser positions than me in this publishing world. O wait….. 

Before I forget though I should share the rules of this little spat Barb and I are having.(In my world rules are good.) I’ve laid out my initial position (critique groups are a waste of resources) Then Barb responds. Clearly we don’t agree on this point so further bickering is futile. That piece of the discussion is over and we will throw it at you, the readers, to give us your thoughts.

Then Barb will lay out a second reason of why she supports the use of critique groups.

Of course Barb has broken the rules and laid out two initial positions……..

Editors are writer’s lap dogs. Editors do whatever the writer wants to please him/ her.

Critique groups provide valuable feedback and insight to one’s book.

Wow! Lap dogs huh, Barb. Editors will tell me whatever I want to hear because I am paying them? It is clear to me that you have never met my editor. The dude didn’t say a kind word to me for over five months.

He initially read my novel and then provided me four pages of editorial notes. He gave me four larger tenants and three smaller to fix. He told me and I quote, “There are a lot of things really working for this novel. But you aren’t paying me to tell you what works. So let’s talk about what doesn’t.”

Every phone call, every email and every time he put his nose in my book it became a Hanrahan beat down session. At times I loathed talking with him because I knew what was about to happen.

At one point I said to my wife, “I’m not even sure if this guy sees anything good about the book because all he does is point out flaws.”

I almost had a breakdown when he told me my heroine’s story line needed to be completely reworked. That I wasn’t getting to the core of what she brought to the book. My heroine in Paws on the Ground, Megan Jayburn, is the healer of the novel. She is a veterinarian technician who cares for the military working dogs. She is a nurturing dog whisperer who reveals her inner “badass” when backed into a corner.

Anyway, my editor told me to rework and add content to the first 150 pages of her storyline.  Guess what? It was like a light bulb went off when he told me this. How the heck didn’t I recognize that? Until then her character was not equal in stature to the hero of the novel. Now Megan’s storyline easily rivals the heroes storyline. But I digress……

I finally asked him, “John, do you think this book has legs? I just want to make sure I am not wasting my time. That you think the book has potential.”

He replied, “You already know the answer or you wouldn’t have come to me.”

Then he went right back beating me down. My editor doesn’t give a damn about pleasing me. His only goal is to improve my book.  Why?

His professional reputation is at stake here. He is successful because his authors are successful. We are forever linked. You can’t say that about a critique group. Do they really care about your success or do they care more about their own?

My editor has been in this business for twenty five years. Fifteen of those years were as a book doctor for Penguin. He had edited thousands of novels to include multiple New York Time Best Sellers. You can’t tell me that your critique group’s advice is more valuable than my editor’s. I simply don’t believe it. That is like saying I should listen to a group of business school student rather than Warren Buffett when I am looking for investment advice.

Or so you can better understand let’s talk hair dressers. Do you let your neighbor do your hair or do you go to a professional hairdresser? Why don’t you let your neighbor do your highlights, Barb? I’m sure she will do a great job!

If your book has an issue then my editor has seen it before. If you are stuck somewhere or unsure where to go talk then all I needed was a five minute phone call with my editor. Why? Because my editor knows what he doing.

Working with my editor felt as if I was going through five months of an intensive writing course. My editor is the master and I was the student.

You get what you pay for in the world, Barb. I sought out professional guidance much like you do when it is time for a haircut. Critique groups? Hah! No way……I’ll put my novel in the hands of a professional!

Wowzer! I just rocked that out over a couple cups of coffee. All right…. I am nearing Barb’s word count so I’ll be brief with this next point.

Critique groups lack perspective. My editor read my entire book first. He needed to understand the big picture before he focused on the plot, subplots, structure and prose of the novel. If a critique group reads and provides feedback of one chapter then how can they provide feedback on a novel’s turning points, structure of the scene in regard to its placement in the novel? Your critique group has no clue about the pacing of your novel.

Hay! I just threw down the gauntlet Barb! Please take note….. I was short and concise with my points. Let’s save your long winded conversations for those critique group sessions when you hem and haw about each other’s work….. o… wait…that is a future point I have! 

BARBARA: Whatever. Once our novels are done, we CPs read the entire thing through for all those things you mentioned, plus I have a group of Beta readers who read my books for me as a market test. You don’t think I’m “professional guidance” to my CPs?? Snort. You don’t think they’re “professional guidance” to me? You think they “lack perspective?” Snorting again because you do not know what you’re talking about. By the year 2014, I will have seven books out. I get advances, and I have contracts. That makes me “professional.” If I didn’t get how to write and edit, if I had no perspective, I wouldn’t be published at all. You wanted to take a shortcut. Fine. You wanted to spend mega bucks to get to the same place I’ve gotten on my own with my treasured CPs. Fine. Just don’t malign the “professionals” I work with. Most of my CPs from over the years are successfully published authors with multiple titles to their credit. My neighbors aren’t critiquing my work; professional writers are. Also, you learn a lot about writing through critiquing the work of others. A point I forgot to make previously.

I too have a great deal of confidence in my abilities as a story teller and in my CP’s abilities as well. The difference is: I didn’t pay anyone to help me improve my novels or my craft as a writer. I became a professional through dedication, drive and hard work—along with other writers who are equally dedicated. What you described I also go through with my editor/s, only I have a contract and they pay me to go through the process.

I’m not saying paying an editor is entirely a bad thing. I can see the merit, and a lot of self-published writers would surely benefit. But that’s the difference. If you’re planning to self-publish, then yes. You should hire an editor. A writer can save themselves a lot of embarrassment by doing so, because we all need a fresh set of eyes looking at our work before sending it out into the world. But if you’re on the road to getting published, embrace the process, learn with others along the same road. It’s well worth it.

You know what I think the difference is? Some writers just can’t take criticism from other writers. They just can’t. I’ve tried to work with a few writers like that over the years, and they didn’t last. (Nor are they published to date.) They thought they knew better than the rest of us, and were blind, deaf and dumb to what we had to say because of their defensiveness and/or arrogance. Maybe writers like that need to pay someone in order to be open to the criticism. Some authors just can’t work with critique partners, and that’s OK. Whatever works for you. Go pay someone to tell you the same kinds of things I would if you were my CP. I guess the money makes it more legit for you.

Yeah, we’re not going to come to terms over this issue, Kevin. That’s all right. We’re writers on a journey. We have stories to tell, and it’s an intrinsic imperative that we tell them. However we get to the finish line is good, one way or the other. I’ll do it my way; you’ll do it your way.

In Summary:

Well, I’m going to wrap this up because I know Barb would continue to put me through the wringer if I don’t. Don’t you just love her passion and loyalty to her critique groups? It is clear they have helped her immensely. I’m sure they a very special group of talented authors.  Most of my friends look at me like I am insane when I tell them I’ve written a novel and am 1/3 complete with my second.  So yes, I guess I’m a little jealous.

I have no doubt that the passion and eloquent writing of my colleague, Barbara Longley, radiates though her work. If you are interested in reading more about Barbara’s novel, Heart Of The Druid Laird- Carina Press please head to her website. She also has a new trilogy coming through Montlake Publishing beginning with Far From Perfect releasing October 23rd.

Critique groups or an editor?

Has Barbara swayed me?

Nope.

In my editor I trust.

While I certainly see the value of working with other authors there is no doubt that is has to be the “right” group that you vest your time with. Likewise, if you are planning to spend money on a professional editor then you should be selective and land the “right” editor. 

When it comes down to I think you need to determine what works best for you.

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