Using the Changing Seasons in Your Writing

(Dedicated to Mervin Vann

Sunrise July 7, 1919 Sunset February 12, 2003)

By Dr. Maxine E. Thompson

(First Published on in November 2002)

I had not seen snow in 21 years, that is, until I recently rode through a
snowstorm in Cheyenne, Wyoming mountains. Nor did I clearly remember
how the leaves change in autumn on the east coast, and how they resemble
flames leaping towards the sky in shades of persimmon, cardamom, amber,
burgundy and rust. But I recently witnessed all this and more by going to the
Baltimore Book Festival the weekend of September 27, 2002. Although I could
write about having an exquisite dinner at the Renaissance Hotel overlooking
the harbor, or the workshop I conducted on “Writing Compelling Fiction,” I found that
most of all, the seasons really spoke to me.

These two incidents—the snow and the leaves changing—reminded me
how much I have missed the pageantry of the seasons. As I took a slow
leisurely trip across the states, I thought of how living in the Los Angeles area
for the last 21 years has blinded me to the changing seasons. Even so, I don’t
know if this would have helped me to recognize another passing season in my
life. I am facing the impending loss of my last living parent. My father, age 83,
who has crippling arthritis, has deteriorated since I saw him last year.
Surprisingly, I do not feel sadness, but a resignation, a sense that this is part of
the life cycle. Like the song, “Everything must change.”

This is a very different reaction from when I lost my mother. I was so
totally unprepared when my mother died of a sudden heart attack on
December 1, 1993 that I felt a rage, almost a railing against God. How could
You? How dare You take this woman, who I was just realizing was my root,
who carried me inside of her, whose very hand movements I saw mimicked in
my own? This period was to become what I later saw as the darkest winter of
my life. Looking back, I think my reaction was part of what often marks the
loss of the first parent, particularly the mother.

These are the things, we, as writers, must mark in our writing–the
changing seasons of our lives, of our characters, of their journeys and how our
characters react to them.

After the Baltimore Book Festival, I stopped in Detroit. While there, I
took my father out from his new residence—a nursing home—to get a
milkshake at McDonald’s, and while pushing him in his wheelchair, I felt like
the parent. I was no longer angry about his being human, his frailties, his
failings, (which have been more glaring since my mother’s death.) I just wanted
him to feel the sun on his tissue-like skin, through which you could see the blue

I immersed myself totally in the moment. We were enjoying the
sunshine. No matter all the calls I’d received from my hometown, Detroit,
about how horrible it is about Daddy―he’s in this new crisis, or―that new
crisis—I was no longer upset. In the manner of a former social worker, I
decided to reframe the issue. Instead of looking at my father’s slow demise as,
―Isn’t it awful how we grow old and die?

Let’s look at it as how the seasons in life change. As a writer, we often write from the
premise―What if …

So, I say, what if we reframe some of the issues of being part of the sandwich
generation—dealing with children/grandchildren/elderly parents? What if this
is a celebration?

I saw my father’s mood lift as I told him how fortunate he was to have
four sons who have looked out for him, as well as three daughters. How
blessed he is as a Black man, to have children who have made his life better,
financially, when we all went to work. I saw the relief in my brothers’ eyes as I
commended them for the good care they’ve provided for my father over the
past nine years, which includes putting him in a nursing home in the past
month, even if it has been against my father’s wishes, but was for his greater

Then it hit me. My siblings and I are now the older generation.

Moreover, as a writer, I am now a teacher—the young come to me for advice. I
am responsible to hand down the stories from past generations to the next
generation as to how we, as a people, survived, which is why I feel it is
important for us to write down our stories. Sadly, for African-Americans, much
history was lost because, although there was the oral tradition, many people
failed to write their stories down on paper.

As a writing technique, I saw a pattern. In writing, a symbolic spring and
summer generally connote an upward spiral in our characters’ lives. For
instance, the characters fall in love, buy a home, have a baby, and get
promotions. They are happy.

Paradoxically, a figurative fall and winter generally depict a downward
spiral, which is often called the ―inciting incident, in a story. Someone no
longer loves you and leaves you. Someone dies suddenly. Or perhaps a loved
one is the victim of senseless violence. The character becomes sad. Like a
sudden blizzard upsetting one’s orderly life, the character’s world is thrown out
of balance.

This is the heart of fiction. No one wants to hear about how great your
character’s life is. Fiction is about trouble. So even the perfect life needs to get
upset to keep your reader turning pages. At the same time, though, I think that
we should learn to see the good in these downward spirals and make use of
them in our writing. Although these bad times are what compel the reader on,
we should show the upside of this, too. It is generally during the ―symbolic
winter that our character’s mettle will be tested, and the reader will find out
what the character is made from. Meantime, the reader will astroproject,
go on this journey and be made better for it.

As a writer, you might ask, how does the character
change and grow through this wintry season? Does he go from cynical to
optimistic? Mistrustful to trusting? Stingy to altruistic (such as Scrooge)? The
character can also go through the reverse of these cycles.

Ironically, just as winter signifies death, (eg. death of a relationship, death
of our youth, death of our illusions,) there is a certain element of resurrection
in this final eventuality. For it is generally after we go through a disaster, we are
plopped flat on our backs, sometimes literally, and forced, (even if against our
will,) to reflect. What comfort or sustenance does the character find then?
For instance, to this day, I marvel at how my mother is reborn over and over again
on a wintry day when I drink a hot cup of soup, which was one of her many
ways of nurturing and healing.

Now I wonder. What memories will my father’s last winter bring me?
Will it be his love of a good anecdote or his story-telling ability that he handed
down to me? I don’t know.

But this I do know. In the midst of life, we are in death, so as writers we must embrace those special, magical moments that make up our humanity. After all, as John Irving ended his novel in The World
According To Garp, ― … we are all terminal cases.

About the author: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, Internet Radio Show Host, literary agent, editor, and ghostwriter. She is the author of novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues trilogy, Short Story Collection, A Place Called Home, 3 novellas, The Katrina Blues, Capri’s Second Chance, Summer of Salvation, 5 Nonfiction eBooks, The Hush Hush Secrets Series for Writing, and Affirmations and Essays for Melanoid People. She has contributed to 5 anthologies.

By Dr. Maxine Thompson

Taken from my book, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells

As a fiction writer, you should create strong characters who will hold a reader’s interest for 300-400 pages, whether the character is a good person or a bad person. Who the character is will determine what he wants.

One tip: Make your character act in a courageous way that readers will admire. Test your character. Will he steal $50 if he finds it lying around?

In one of the first writing classes I taught, as an icebreaker, we played a game called ―Two Truths and a Lie.

Each attendee told two truths about himself and one lie. Surprisingly, no one ever guessed the correct answer for any of the participants. For instance, one workshop student said that he had been on Oprah’s show, had six children, and had been to prison. Everyone thought that the statement that he had been to prison was the lie. The truth was the student had been on Oprah’s and had been to prison. He also was a minister with five, not six, children.

Remember, people are full of contradictions. We used the game to show that you can’t judge people by only one aspect of their lives. This not only showed the different parts of people, it showed how a person’s behavior can change over the years.

In writing, the best characters do change and grow or fail to grow. They are also conflicted.

Another exercise we did showed the difference between stereotypes and rounded characters. We used a stereotype that has been used to death in literature and movies, for example—“the red-necked sheriff.”

We shifted the archetype and the situation. What if the character was a white law man with a conscience when a lynching took place during the Depression? Now there’s a story that goes against type and goes against the grain. (Of course, this is reminiscent of the wise father/attorney, Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, who defended an innocent Black man in the South during one of the most segregated periods of time, during the Depression.) No wonder this book won a Pulitzer Prize and the movie version won an Academy Award.

Another powerful method for bringing characters to life is The Konstantin Stanislavski acting method. What would you do if you were in that character’s shoes? Act out each character’s role and put yourself in the middle of the story. One exercise was used to show the shifts in power in relationships from scene to scene. This is where you learn to use reversals such as from dominating to dominated.

In the exercise using the Rogerian theory, an attendee was assigned to interview people unlike themselves to understand their characters. This is crucial when you’re writing about a despicable character, such as a child molester (Vladimir Nabokov did this in the famous classic novel, Lolita,) or a serial killer, the infamous character, Hannibal Lecter, (from novel, Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.)

The Carl Rogers theory was used to develop communications between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Its purpose is to have each person understand someone who holds a polar opposite point of view.

If someone asked you to describe a certain person, how would you do it?

Exercise: Write character sketches and descriptions for five different characters. Be sure to include important details about their history, personality, and context (setting—time and place). Then pick the character who interests you the most, and write a brief scene putting that character into a conflict in an imagined setting (time and place.) The critical part of this is to think, in advance, how you would describe someone to a friend if he asks you what you think of a certain person. This simple method is the single fastest, most “telling” way of getting at character that I know of.

The other key to creating interesting characters with built-in conflict is to bring together characters from different backgrounds. Your characters should come from disparate lifestyles, different classes, different races. How do they connect? Disconnect? Put together your characters and look at ways to derive built-in conflict, such as the old HBO special, ―“Oz,” where men of different backgrounds find themselves in prison.

How to Build Your Character’s Personality

1. If your character applied for a job, what would they put on the

2. What is your character’s religious background?

3. How does your character’s physical appearance affect his self-esteem?

4. What are some of your character’s mannerisms?

5. Is your character urban-bred or country bred?

6. What is your character’s social or economic class?

7. How many family members are there and what birth order was she born in?

8. Where does she live? In a house or in an apartment?

9. What kind of work skills does she have and how does this affect her
role in the story?

10. How is your character different from others and how does that affect
the story? Is your character marginalized by race, sexuality, or ethnicity?

11. Is your character married or single? Any children?

12. Any physical handicaps? Speech impediments? Quirks?

13. What makes your character an outsider from the norm in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or ability?

14. In what ways is your character conflicted? Does he have a friend, or even a child, from another race, but is part of the Ku Klux Klan?

15. What is your character’s deepest secret?

16. Outline your major scenes and use index cards for each character.

17. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen to my character?

18. How can it get even worse? I call it the “Throw-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-at-your character” technique.

19. Who is going to solve this problem? Your hero or heroine or a helper? (Preferably your protagonist will work out his own problems.) In Winston Groom’s novel, Forrest Gump, the main character, Forrest, with his 70 IQ, was such an innocent, loving person, that he became the agent of change, or catalyst character, who changed his love interest, Jenny Curran, for the better and the world around him.

20. Is your narrator just an onlooker, observing the agent of change, the person who affects everyone around him? In The Great Gatsby, the narrator, Nick Carraway, relates the story as he watches the main character, Gatsby, as he self-destructs.

Remember. Characters are what make your story. People might not remember all the plot, but they will remember an intriguing character long after they close the pages of a book.

Tagged with: Creating characters • Creating fictional characters • developing characters •Fiction

Filed under: Books • Character Development • Fiction • Reading • Writers on line • Writing tips

Dr. Maxine Thompson

Using Research to Find Topics for Your Stories

Through research you can find topics, subjects and ‘seeds’ for stories. Pick five different topics that interest you, and research them on the Internet, or through your local library. These topics can be virtually anything, as long as they interest you, and the information is available. Write brief summaries of specific pieces of information that you come across—seeds that could become the basis for future stories. After the summary, list things you’ve learned or thoughts that could form the basis of future stories.


Through my research, I discovered old-fashioned practices for abortions, birth control and other home remedies during and after slavery. The deeper level of meaning was that life was almost so unbearable for Black women at that point in history that some women would rather abort using primitive methods and risk her life than bring another child into the world. There were even plantations where it appeared the women were barren, and that was not the case. They even knew how to use herbs to abort. I used the idea of old-fashioned, illegal abortion in The Ebony Tree. In my novel, Hostage of Lies, the blacksmith who was not branded because of his ability to work with horses, later exemplified a black man whose soul could not be branded, chained, or enslaved.

Topics I am currently researching: The North Carolina Sea Islands where the culture is similar to after slavery. The slave castles on the West Coast of Africa. Children who are reared in foster care, and its after effects. (This was the seed for my novels, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, LA Blues 3.) The coming of a military state or concentration camps in the United States.

Sometimes you can combine different story ideas for an interesting story.

Where Can You Begin?

Know your idea. Start with a “What if” premise. For instance, what if there was a secret conspiracy to put African Americans in concentration camps? (Author, John A. Williams, The Man Who Cried I am.)

You might bring a moment in history alive through weaving fact, poetic license and fancy. Use old newspapers to find out how people viewed the world in a different era. You can find these on microfiche at the library. Look for subjects of your interest such as animals such as ferrets, computer dating, the criminal justice system, the mass incarceration of Black men, mass shootings, ISIS, terrorists, serial killers, (particularly if you’re a mystery writer.) Go on field trips in your local area to add local color to your book. Go to travel agencies to get information for different locales your book, if you can’t visit a location. Or you can use mind mapping to use a non-linear approach to outlining your book’s significant details.

For mind mapping for subject ideas, you can find software at

Therefore, there is never a shortage of ideas for your stories. When you hit a brick wall in your writing, you might just need to do more research.

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About the Blogger: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, blogger, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. As an editor, she has edited/ghostwritten numerous best-selling books (Including New York Times Best Selling books), for African Americans, including many books for men and women who are incarcerated in the prison system. In a down economy, as a literary agent, she has negotiated over 100 book deals for African Americans. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), a contributor to bestselling anthologies, Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club best-seller, and Kindle Bestseller).

She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, and Capri’s Second Chance, contributor to anthology,Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.

Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a small Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.

The Power of Setting Development Exercises In Your Writing

Dr. Maxine Thompson

In writing, setting is an element, which, if executed well, is invisible, but adds layers and depth to a story. Technically, the Bible begins with the setting of the world. (Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”)

Setting can include historical, social, political and economic context. Setting can also involve interior landscape, (a person in a mental hospital such as in Ken Kesey‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or a person in a coma) time, duration, or an exotic place.

Settings have inspired writers as diverse as Cormac McCarthy and Thomas Hardy. Settings are not only visual, they contain the spirit of a time and a place.

Historical novels may not be at their height of popularity right now, but reminiscing about past times and lives have been literary inspiration to authors from Tolstoy to Proust to James Baldwin to Toni Morrison.

In my series, LA Blues, the setting of Los Angeles with its multicultural world, acts as a character.
• Write five descriptions of settings that speak to your spirit.

Start with the town you grew up in.

Think of the evocative portrayals that the great L.A. mystery writers have created, from Raymond Chandler and John Fante to current writers like Walter Mosley. Remember how vividly Steinbeck captured the world of the Salinas Valley, and William Faulkner portrayed his
fictional east-of-the-Mississippi Delta Yoknaphatawpha County.

J.R.R. Tolkein created a fictional Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings.

As you write, consider elements of time, place, what is important to people in your setting, and the things that they experience. Pick a specific point of view, place, and time within your setting. You can write either a narrated description (told by a storyteller) or use a viewpoint character to describe your three settings.

Things to consider and questions to answer as you create your settings and worlds:

How does setting inform your fiction? How will you use significant details?

Setting your novel in certain places, certain times, sets your stage. (For example, people during the Civil Rights Era had different concerns than the Hip Hop Generation.)

What is the cultural environment and how do you make that element parts of the story?

Is the story set in the 60‘s, 70’s, 80’s? How were people born in different decades shaped? For instance, the late African American playwright, August Wilson, wrote plays, which addressed different concerns Blacks faced in different decades during the twentieth century.

How can you use the setting to move and show the story?

How does the social and historical context shape your character’s world?

What are the values of the people who live in this world?

·Where does the story take place? When does it take place?

Who or what lives there?

How large is it—physically and population-wise? (It could be an outer space community.)

·What does it look like?

·What type of government are the people under?

·What type of economy are the people experiencing?

·How does this world treat its citizens? Are the experiences of some groups different from others? (For example: females vs. males, certain races vs. others, children vs. adults, aliens vs. humans, etc.)

Is this world similar to a real time and place in human history? (If it is, why? If it is science fiction, create your story world.)
Because I‘m interested in that period of history‖ is a fine answer)

Is it a happy place or despicable place?

Make your setting as alive as a character.

Using time travel methods, what would a resident of your world say if they visited our world today?

·What would you say if you got a chance to visit your imaginary world and report back?

In conclusion, setting in your writing can play a significant role in creating a great story, which endures the test of time.

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About the Blogger: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, blogger, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. As an editor, she has edited/ghostwritten numerous best-selling books (Including New York Times Best Selling books), for African Americans, including many books for men and women who are incarcerated in the prison system. In a down economy, as a literary agent, she has negotiated over 100 book deals for African Americans. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), a contributor to bestselling anthologies, Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club best-seller, and Kindle Bestseller).

She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, and Capri’s Second Chance, contributor to Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.

Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a small Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.

Blog: Ten Tips for Creating Multi-Faceted Characters

By Dr. Maxine Thompson

Taken From The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells
by Dr. Maxine Thompson (2002)

When I was sixteen, during the Civil Rights era, as part of a one-way student exchange program (from the inner city of Detroit to a northern suburban, Traverse City, Michigan), I lived with a white family. This was part of an integration initiative. (For me, it was an escape from the drugs taking over my neighborhood and some other demons in my life, but that’s another story.) Anyhow, the mother of the family I lived with was an artist, a sculptress, who encouraged me to write when she saw my love of the written word. Her name is: Verna Bartnick, ( To this day, she continues to create works of art in the form of sculptures.

When she prophesied that she saw a writing talent in me, I wasn’t so sure.

After all, if, at the time, I had told my family I wanted to be a writer, they would’ve laughed and said, “Go get you a good job.”

Well, as life rolled around, I went to college, then became a social worker for the next twenty-three years, while raising 3 children. All the while, I used to wonder, when was my literary destiny going to begin? In 1989, I won money in Ebony’s first writing contest for a short story, “Valley of the Shadow,” then had a few short stories published in a college quarterly, called “Obsidian.” I was happy, but something was still missing.

Ironically, by the time my novel writing did emerge, I had buried my mother and become a grandmother, two milestones, which forced me to take action.

I realized how transient this life is.

From living, I gleaned many things about my journey, but this is one thing I can’t say enough about now—everything I learned about building multi-faceted characters I learned as a social worker.

These are ten tips for building multi-faceted characters.

1. I learned that babies will die from maternal deprivation if a process called bonding does not take place. From that, I’d like to make an analogy. I learned that, as a writer, you must make your reader bond or emotionally connect to your character or your characters will die from reader deprivation. You do this through reader identification, emotions and loyalty. The reader will then begin to root for your main character(s.)

2. Even a “crackhead” has redeemable qualities and a motivation for what led to him or her becoming a substance abuser. Give your villains (or antagonist) a motivation, a past, and some good traits. Also, I learned, just like in life, that in fiction the best lines can come from bums and what I call “street corner psychologists.”

In my novel, Hostage of Lies, these are gems spoken from my character Poor Boy, an alcoholic derelict. “When you don’t love someone, you just don’t love them. They can be ever so nice to you, but you can’t make yourself love them. And vice-versa.

“I been in love both ways. The kind where I didn’t love someone back, and the kind where the other party was just using me. I know this is sad to say, but graveyard love done killed a many people. Got more people in the cemetery than cancer.”

3. Also, just like in life, in fiction, being good is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s easier to do the wrong thing. The person, such as a do-gooder social worker, who tries to do the right thing, has the hardest struggle.

Show this in your characters, particularly in your protagonist or main character. Fiction is about struggle and the fight to do good in a world filled with evil. Good intentions are generally what lead to conflicts in books.

For example, a good mother, with well-meaning intentions, can overprotect her children, creating followers and people who make bad choices. (So if your main character is a goody-two shoe, give her a critical flaw.)

On the other hand, sometimes you can use the bad guy as the lead character. They seem to inspire a lot of admiration from ordinary, law abiding citizens. Remember how in The Godfather, more people loved the Godfather than they did Fredo, his wimpy son, who was not a murderer? So don’t rule out using anti-heroes as your lead character.

4. Things happen to people that can either build their character early in life or destroy them. One teenage mother can go on to become a lawyer; another will drop out of high school, become a welfare queen or a substance abuser. One child can grow up with a schizophrenic parent and go on to become a successful adult; another child can grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth and become a serial killer.

Remember. A character’s back-story is important, but it doesn’t always determine what kind of person he or she will become. The best early life experience does not always produce resilient, tenacious people, nor does the worst early life experience always produce bad people. That’s why it’s often said that hardship builds character.

5. Life is often about compromise. Don’t give your books neat little happy endings. In my novel, Hostage of Lies, Nefertiti reunites with her birth daughter she’d had as a teen and placed for adoption at birth, but she pays the price of always wondering what would have happened had she opted to raise her child at a time when society was merciless to “unwed mothers.”

6. People generally grow during downward spirals. The worse life experience can sometimes turn out be the best thing that can happen. The grandmothers who had to take in crack grandbabies often looked younger than their crack daughters and were really better mothers the second time around.

Hitting rock bottom is often where people grow (or become discombobulated by life’s mishaps.) Put this in your fiction.

7. Show the dark side of your characters; this adds to complexity. How about a man who works with children, then goes home and batters his wife? People are full of contradictions. Or, the flaw could be more subtle. Perhaps look at how people get stuck in bad relationships and refuse to move on—that is, until something happens (the death of a child) such as in Anne Tyler’s novel, The Accidental Tourist, which forces the characters into action.

8. In the capacity of a social worker, I buried an AIDS baby and a Down Syndrome’s baby. I witnessed the after results of murder—a man had killed his wife—(which I revisit in my novel, LA Blues), and I had to place the surviving children in the middle of the night.

From this I learned: the line between life and death is tenuous.

Capture this dichotomy between life and death in your fiction.

9. Life is full of stories. The caseload’s foster mothers used to tell me stories. My clients told me stories. My clients’ families related all the family skeletons as they pointed to the “black sheep” of the family as the fault-line.

From this, I learned that everyone has a story. Everyone has a secret. Show me the inner life of your characters.

10. The Ten Commandments were written because man is essentially in need of God. How different men find their spirituality and their salvation can be a rocky road such as Paul on the road to Damascus. Take me, as the reader, on this journey. Walter Mosley does this in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, as we travel with Socrates, as he redeems himself for the murders that he committed earlier in life.

In summary, show how your flawed characters try to redeem themselves.

Try some of these tips and see how your readers will fall in love with your characters.

About the blogger:

Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell, a contributor to bestselling anthologies Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club, and Kindle Bestseller).

She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, Capri’s Second Chance, and Summer of Salvation, contributor to Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.

Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.


Tips on Revision of Fiction Manuscripts

Taken from The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction that Sells

by Dr. Maxine Thompson

When you finish the first draft of your manuscript, set it down for a few days or a week, then pick it up to read it with fresh eyes.

Revision tips.

1. Read your entire book out loud.

2. Look for basic grammar and punctuation skills and paragraph development.

3. Vary the length of your sentences and your paragraphs. Cut unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

4. Listen for the rhythm, variance and music of the language.

5. Have I started my scenes near the action? Are you interested in what happens next?

6. Does the information surprise you?

7. Does each scene move the story forward? Is it essential to what the story is about?

8. Have I made use of sensory detail, including sensory memory?

9. Does my dialogue sound stilted?

10. Have I made use of oblique dialogue, which is how many people speak? 11. Does my opening line draw the reader in?

12. Do I end my chapters on a cliffhanger so that the reader will want to know what happens next?

13. Do I use show vs. tell? Have I properly dramatized my scenes?

14. Have I created reversals in each scene or major group of scenes?

15. Do I predict the action before it happens and give away the story?

16. Have I cut my manuscript to a marketable length of 100,000 words?

17. Have I made use of rhythm and poetry in my prose or have I used clichés?

18. Have I made use of body language and gestures, which further characterize the people in the scene?

19. In sex scenes, do I prolong the actual consummation of the act, thereby intensifying the sexual tension?

20. Look for language dissonance, which doesn’t match the characters.

21. Look for chronological dissonance, which doesn’t fit the time sequence of the story.

22. Look for the secret ingredient—candor. Be authentic and keep it real.

23. Examine your ending. Does it resonate with the reader? Is it organic to the story, whether it is tragic or unpredictable?

23. Look for your passion, your truths in your writing. Do not use purple prose.

Final steps.

Make use of peer review through a writing class or writer’s group. For fiction, have your work story edited, then copy edited to tighten up the language and the grammar.

Talent is never the determining factor for success in the career of a creative — an artist, author, designer, or anyone else whose ability and imagination play into the development of work.

That’s a lesson some creatives never quite get.

And it’s very sad.

It’s sad because they spend their lives struggling to be acknowledged for their talent, and wondering why they’ve not had their big break, why the stars haven’t aligned, why someone hasn’t given them the shot they feel their talent must surely deserve.

Don’t get me wrong: Talent helps. It’s important. You’ve got to start with some basic ability. But talent is simply not enough to turn your aspiration into a career. For that, you need a whole lot more.

I saw an episode of America’s Got Talent a few weeks back in which a singer was auditioning for his big break. In the profile they did of him, they shared that he had already landed a recording deal some years back and had even received Grammy nominations (or did he actually win?). Yet, there he was, along with the others who had never seen any deals, some of whom had never performed for an audience beyond their families. How did he get to that point, that he was auditioning along with amateurs, when he was talented and had already attained some success? I actually liked his voice and was rooting for him. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the cut.

I don’t know the answer to the question for him, but as someone who helps individuals market businesses based on their gifts, I know that many creative people have talent but never quite turn it into much more.

Some try. But, lacking the skills to turn that talent into a livelihood, they have packed it away and are working soul-crushing jobs, leading lackluster lives, unhappy and unfulfilled. As a creative myself, I decided very early on that I would take control of my talent and my life and not leave my happiness and my aspirations up to others’ whims. That, in a single thought, is what is necessary when you want to make a living around your talent.

In my case, I chose to go the indie route, as a way to simply get going and not wait around for someone else. I self-published my first two books, and, based on going my own way, I landed a book deal. Actually, I landed two deals, but canceled the first, as it turned out not to be what I wanted, once I realized how little say I would actually have in the creative choices related to my book. I went on to land on a couple of best seller lists, travel the country selling books to anyone I could, and doing all the other things one does when one is building a career as a creative. I didn’t limit my aspirations to simply selling my books; I learned how to package my abilities and expertise into offerings clients would pay for. And that’s how my business grew.

You see, our talent is our gift. We can’t waste it waiting around for others, or let it languish when we finally give up hope that others will choose us. No, life blessed us with that talent to actually do something with it. But the talent was just a starting point.

As a life strategist and business consultant who helps people use their gifts — talent, skill, expertise, message, or big idea — in business, I have identified several life laws for the creative. These life laws can help you navigate your own creative career and create your own success, so you’re not waiting around for someone else’s blessing.

Here they are:

Life Law #1 for the Creative: Nobody is coming to give you a big break.

Strategy: Create your own big break.

We’ve all heard stories of people who were just minding their own business in their ordinary lives, not even pursuing work related to their talent, when somehow — miraculously — some big executive or big player discovered them. They were whisked away to success, almost without lifting a finger.

Yeah, that won’t happen for you.

Don’t leave your life and work up to somebody else. Choose to own your life and the aspirations for what you’ll do with your talent. Rather than look longingly and wistfully for a big break bestowed on you by someone else, make it your business to create your own break. Choose to take daily and consistent action to build the career you dream of; when you attain success and look back, you’ll see your big break, not necessarily as one magical moment orchestrated by someone else, but as the moment you chose to take control and make it happen. And by taking control through daily and consistent action, you will attract bigger and bigger opportunities.

You’ll have to be disciplined and work sometimes even when you don’t want to, but that’s what’s necessary when you’re creating your own big break.

Life Law #2 for the Creative: Art and money are not an either/or.

Strategy: Become a creative entrepreneur and work on ways to turn your talent into a marketable offering others will pay you to deliver.

The poverty mentality of some creatives truly disturbs me. It disturbs me because it automatically casts the talent the creative has been blessed to have, into a position of not being a part of the equation for earning that creative a living. When we creatives stand stubbornly on an idea that we work just for the art and not for money, we put ourselves in the compromised position of seeing our work as either giving us joy or earning us money. If you need money (and every person does) and refuse to allow your gift to be a part of your money-making equation, that is poverty thinking. Your gift can and should do both — be something used for art and be something used to earn money. Why else do you think you have the talent?

You must be an entrepreneur, if you want to be a working artist. It’s just that simple. So think of yourself, not just as someone who creates art, but as someone who builds a business around that art.

Choose to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset and marry your talent with business strategies, principles, and practices. You can enjoy your talent while creating something others will pay for. What are the needs in the marketplace? In what ways can your talent be used to help others? How creative can you be in turning your talent into something others are absolutely happy to hand over money to receive?

Life Law #3 for the Creative: Your audience wants to find you.

Strategy: Build a website and online presence that attracts those who will “get” you.

You don’t have to try to blend in and be like everyone else. And you shouldn’t even try to appeal to everyone, because you’ll dilute your brand and end up so general and generic that you risk appealing to no one. But you need to appeal to the right ones — those who get you and who are interested in (and some of whom ultimately buy) what you produce.

If you want to appeal to such an audience, you’ve got to create the infrastructure to attract that audience. That means building a brand that evokes a certain emotion, a certain feeling. Be sure that brand is reflected in your career assets such as your website, blog, social media profiles, one-sheets or bios, posters, etc. Do you have certain basics on your site such as samples or a portfolio? Do you have an easy and effective way to convert website visitors into people you can build a relationship with on an ongoing basis? If not, then you’ll have a site that may attract visitors, but then you’ll never hear from them again and so won’t be able to market to them in the future — won’t be able to tell them about the latest project you’ve produced, the events you’ll be hosting or are featured at, etc. Make it your top priority to create an online presence to attract your audience. There are several layers to this approach, and you need to take this seriously because converting casual visitors into fans and people who want to hear from you is pretty important to your long-term success.

Life Law #4 for the Creative: You have to make it great and let it go.

Strategy: Go for excellence, not perfection, and build a body of work.

Too often, we are under the misguided notion that we should keep working on our projects and working on our projects, in some elusive hunt for perfection. While it sounds good to say you are a perfectionist and will only release work that is perfect, that is actually a trap. It’s a trap to keep you stuck in being unproductive. You see, by nature, a creative project can be changed and changed and changed. Sometimes, more changes don’t make it better — not even perfect — but merely different. Sometimes, too many changes can actually destroy the work.

Besides, being on a quest for “perfection” can actually be a mask for procrastination. You claim that you are busily working in your studio, so you can produce your next perfect masterpiece, but somehow the work never gets completed. All under the guise of “perfection.” In reality, you’re afraid to release the work, for fear of success, of failure, of rejection, of whatever you’re afraid of. Don’t get stuck there. Build a body of work. Only by actively producing new works can you build a body of work.

Most of us aren’t like Harper Lee, who published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 and released her second book, To Set a Watchman, this year, more than a half century later. That may have worked for her. But for you, and for me, we need to be producing more — a lot more.

This isn’t about simply churning out your art — books, songs, photography, paintings, whatever you do. But it is about the fact that we need to work in our art to get better at it, even if we start out with a healthy dose of talent. Plus, the more we produce, the more opportunities we give ourselves, as new clients, patrons, etc., can find and fall in love with our work.

Go for producing your work in a spirit of excellence, and go for getting it done and out. After all, you’ll never reach your greatness just by thinking about the work you want to do. You’ll only get there by actually doing it.

Life Law #5 for the Creative: You got talent, not lost half your brain.

Strategy: Embrace your abilities outside of your creative abilities.

For the longest, because I am a writer, I had this idea about myself that said I simply could not do numbers. After all, you’re either a words person or a numbers person, I thought. This limited view of myself resulted in more than a few “not-great” grades in math class in school and caused me to avoid the idea of business for quite some time once I was out of school. But in time, I learned that I could grasp numbers. I’m no rocket scientist, but I certainly realized I knew enough about numbers to figure out how to keep a positive bank balance. I discovered I had capability beyond my creativity and talent.

So do you. You don’t need to be a math wiz, but you are capable of grasping ideas and concepts thought to be beyond the grasp of creatives like us.

You’ll need to draw on other abilities outside of your creativity, if you want to take charge of your creative career and become a creative entrepreneur. Even if you choose to hire people to help you in certain areas (and, in time, you will need to do so, as your business grows), you’ll still want to have at least a working knowledge of how all areas of your business — especially the money side — work. After all, if you are taking ownership of your creative career, you can’t bury your head in only your art and leave everything else up to someone else.

You have a gift. Own it. And use it.

So there you go. Five life laws that can truly help you build a great career as a creative. If you already have someone who can help you in your creative business, then be sure to set a meeting soon (like yesterday) and see how best you can use these five laws. And if you need my help to take your gift to the right audience, click here.

About Latest Posts

Monica Carter Tagore
Monica Carter Tagore is The Greatness Strategist. She helps you do something great. That most often relates to showing up in a bigger, better, bolder way in life — writing your book, spreading your purpose-driven message, monetizing your expertise or creativity. She helps you design your life and business to use your gifts in a way that speaks to who you truly are.

She lives in the Greater Los Angeles area with her husband and two sons.

 How Death and Dying Can Inform our Writing
Dr. Maxine Thompson

I received an email from a fellow writer last week who said she was touched by my article. I wrote it over 4 years ago when my sister, who had been working with me as an assistant, had passed suddenly.

I re-read the article and realized it was still appropos.

How Death and Dying Can Inform Our Writing

Recently, I was at a luncheon given by the National Association of University Women to honor my friend and colleague, Dr. Rosie Milligan, ( and one of the invited participants asked, “Where’s your sister?” (Apparently, she was used to seeing my sister Nancy at all the writer’s events that I attend.)

The table of women fell into an uncomfortable silence. I paused before answering. “You know Nancy passed.”

Just the uneasiness of the people at the table let me know that, as a culture, we don’t deal well with death.

In this culture, we haven’t been prepared to talk about grief. After the funeral, as the bereaved, you’re just supposed to pretend the death didn’t happen. If you talk about it too much, people tell you, “You’ve got to move on. Let it go.” Or, “Maybe you need to see a psychotherapist.”

Since that time, I found an old article (ironically, it was in one of Nancy’s old books), by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, later turned bestselling novelist, Anna Quindlen, from the N.Y. Times Service (1994), entitled “The oft-invisible burden of survivors.”

The article dealt with the silence that people expect you to have after death. Quindlen says, “More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death, grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.”

The article raised the question, What is grief? What is loss? It looked at what Quindlen called, “Loss as muse. Loss as character. Loss as Life.”

For me, personally, how do I cope with this new loss, which is making me look gapingly in the face of my own mortality? Particularly, since this was the death of the first of six siblings, but one with whom I had a kinship/friendship. How will death inform my writing?

Well, I’m going to break the silence. The truth is, just as there is never a right or perfect time to write a book, to start a business, or to start a family, there is never a right time or perfect time to get over grief. It has it own season.

Just as the loss of my parents has changed my life, thrusting me into the older generation, the loss of my older sister will shape the rest of my life. In fact, today, I was told that now I’m the family matriarch. As the oldest sister, that was Nancy’s role, so even that’s a subtle shift I will have to adjust to.

The lesson I learned from my sister’s life and her dying was this. By all means, set goals for the future, but also make sure you take time to enjoy the gift of the present. Learn to live in the moment. Learn to just ‘be.” Nancy was a connoisseur of living in the moment.

After all, the future is just some more present moments that haven’t arrived. If you can’t be happy now, you won’t be happy then.

It reminds me of people who are only happy when things are going extremely well. “Oh, God is blessing me,” they’ll chirp.

But how about when things are not going well? This is the time to lean on God. This is the time to be a testament to God’s power.

So what do you do when life puts you on notice? This is what happened to my sister Nancy when she was given a diagnosis of Stage IV Lung Cancer with metastasis on 1-28-08.

Right away, she made her decision to go home. She opted not to have chemo or radiation, as her girlfriend had undergone it two years earlier, lost all quality of life, and died, anyhow, in four months after a Stage III Lung Cancer diagnosis. Nancy chose to do hospice care at home with an alternative therapy.

On 2-11-08, Nancy made her transition from this life. However, she made those 14 days the most joyous she’d ever had. Everyone wanted to be around her because, in spite of being in pain and facing imminent death, she was upbeat, laughing, and positive. I even warned her against talking on the phone and laughing so much.

“Save your oxygen,” I fussed, not wanting to lose her. “Don’t talk so much.” Nancy ignored me and rightly so. Looking back, I was being selfish and stingy with the time she had left. She did the right thing. She called up every one, told them she loved them, and laughed as long as she was able.

“‘I’ve never been so happy in my life’,” my daughter Tamaira related that she told her. “I’ve been surrounded by my loved ones and that’s all I want.’” Tamaira added, “So how can I feel sorry for myself after seeing how Nancy is taking her situation?”

“Stop looking sad,” Nancy admonished me that Friday before she passed on Monday morning. “I was given a death sentence on Tuesday (eleven days earlier), and I’ve had eleven beautiful days.”

Over that two week period between Nancy’s diagnosis and her death, we made sure she had a houseful of loved ones, plenty of flowers, (which she meticulously re-arranged,) her favorite foods such as mustard and turnip greens and butterfly shrimp, her favorite movie “Dream Girls” playing around the clock, maid service, and plenty of massages and facials.

Nancy chose quality of life in two weeks over months of being an invalid, a vegetable, or a pin cushion. In her heart, she knew she was too far gone for chemo or radiation to add any quality of life or length to her remaining days.

When I told Nancy, “I hate to see you suffer like this,” she looked at me as if I was crazy.

“I’m not suffering like Jamina (her friend who died two years ago.) I have quality of life. I’m at home.” (For the last three months of her life, Jamina had lived strapped to a hospital bed, humongous tubes down her throat, and on a respirator in a cold, sterile hospital.)

Meantime, Nancy had closure in that half of our large family was able to make it to her bedside, and her daughter, Denise, made a return trip from Peoria, Illinois to Hawthorne, California, this time accompanied by her husband Herman, and her children, (Nancy’s grandbabies), Kendall and Austin.

That final weekend, when we frantically ran around Nancy’s apartment, trying to keep oxygen machines going, trying to fix them when they broke down, and, in truth, trying to beat the inevitable, I remarked to my older brother, Michael, “This is as real as life gets.”

In retrospect, those last two weeks were filled with sacred moments that taught me so much about real life–how short, how tenuous, how wonderful and how sad it can be, all at the same time.

In Nancy’s typical free-spirited style, the day after her death, we gave her a surprisingly beautiful home-going celebration in my living room.

After we released white balloons in the sky to her memory, Dr. Rosie Milligan told her weeping daughter, Denise, “You should feel proud. Your mom showed you how to live and how to die.”

Dr. Maxine E. Thompson is the owner of Black Butterfly Press, Maxine Thompson’s Literary Services, Thompson Literary Agency and She hosts Internet radio shows on She hosted on from 3/02 to 12/06 and she also hosted on her own show, She is the author of nine titles, The Ebony Tree, No Pockets in a Shroud, A Place Called Home, The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sells, How to Publish, Market and Promote your Book Via Ebook Publishing, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Anthology, SECRET LOVERS, (with novella, Second Chances,) Anthology, All in the Family, with novella Summer of Salvation. SECRET LOVERS made the Black Expression’s Book Club Bestselling list on 7-8-06 (after a 6-6-06 release date.)A new anthology, All in the Family, (Summer of Salvation) was published in April 2007l Another new anthology, Never Knew Love Like This Before,(her novella, Katrina Blues,) was published in June 2007. Never Knew Love has been a bestseller on Black Expression’s Book Club and on many times. In 2009, her nonfiction book, Heal Thy Soul: 365 Days of Healing for Women of Color and her novel, Hostage of Lies will be released.

Hostage of Lies was voted a Best Book of 2009 by EDC Creations. A new novel, LA Blues, was published 7-1-11 to rave reviews. You can sign up for her free newsletter at Get a free report on how to write your book at

By Dr. Maxine Thompson



“The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.”
–Arthur Koestler

Steve Job’s life has reassured me more and more that having an idea and doing what you love are the best ways to live a life of passion and purpose.

Six years ago, someone called me and asked if I thought we had launched my radio show too soon, because I stepped back and slowed up for a moment (the year I had 3 grandbabies born within 8 months.) No, I told her all major companies roll their products out, (take action), then go back and do corrections.

How many glitches did Microsoft have in all its products when they rolled out Windows 98, XP, then even Vista? The Apple products have had their ups and downs as well.

 To get the lead on your competition, you have to leap and rest assured, that the net will appear.

You can’t wait for perfection. Don’t wait for the perfect time to start a business or take an action step towards an idea. Just like there is never a perfect time to have a baby, given our present economy, there is never a perfect time to make a change that could transform your life.

In the case of the Internet radio shows I’ve done, I think they have helped up the standards of the publishing industry for both self-published and African American writers.

Many things I’ve tried to do failed, but it didn’t mean it was over. For instance, I’ve tried to sell ebooks back in 2000, when they were fairly new. But now I’m going to step out there and try again. This time we have Kindle, and other devices to assist with the sales. I’m seeing a world of difference in sales.

As a literary agent, it took two years for me to get my first book deal, but once they started, I obtained 8 book deals for 4 authors within a two week period. From that time, I’ve seen many relationships form in a serendiptious manner, which have led to business in one form or another.

So now I know there’s a thing as try, and if it doesn’t succeed, try again, until you get it right. They say Edison had numerous tries before he developed the light bulb.

In the end, when you take a chance, you become stronger, whether you succeed or fail. It is in the process that you become a thought leader, one who encourages others to take chances.

Become a thought leader! Push your given industry to the next level.

“I am willing to take risks and do what I need to do NOW.”

What’s your next step?

Dr. Maxine Thompson

“Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are,” a special co-worker once told me. First, let me explain what special means. In Ebonics, we’ll say, ”She’s a special case.” Or if someone is not dealing with a full deck, but yet are loveable, we’ll say, ”She’s special.” So as you see, this was a ”gem” spoken out of a ‘’special” person’s mouth.
Although, at the time, I didn’t quite understand what she meant, I now know what she was talking about is called ”character.” In life, this could be a bad thing, but in fiction this is a good thing. Nothing works better for memorable fiction than strong characters with flaws. To get to the point, how does one create memorable characters? Sol Stein, in his book, Stein On Writing, points out that eccentricity is at the heart of all strong characterizations. In short, the most effective characters in fiction are to some degree bizarre.
Character is an essential part of the best fiction. Think of all the memorable characters in fiction. When you think of the books whose characters resound in your head, you don’t think about, well this happened and that happened, (plot), you generally think of who the protagonist was. Words such as ”Scrooge,” ”Pollyanna,” and even ”Uncle Tom” developed in our culture to express a personality, an outlook, a character trait. And in spite of my dislike for the Antebellum South, from my first reading at fifteen, Scarlettt O’Hara and Rhett Butler stenciled a place in my memory as colorful characters. (Who can ever forget Rhett Butler’s last sardonic words, ”My dear, I don’t give a d–?.”
As an African American, I grew up during the 50’s with no role models in my fiction. No archetypes that had any relevancy to my life. But now, I–and readers from all races– are blessed with a list of memorable Afrocentric characters. Janie ( who left 3 husbands), creator, Zora Neale Hurston. Sula, Milkman. Pilate. Sethe (who cut her baby’s throat rather than see her back in slavery). Creator, Toni Morrison. Nana Pouissant (who built bottle trees to protect her family), creator, Julie Dash/ Daughters of the Dust. Likewise, I’m hoping that my fictional characters–Jewel, Big Mama Lily, Nefertiti, Solly, Pharaoh and Reverend–will one day also become household names in the literary corridors of my reader’s mind.
Eccentricity has frequently been at the heart of strong characterization for good reason. Ordinariness is what readers have enough of in life. The most effective characters have profound roots in human behavior. Their richest feelings may be similar to those held by many others. However, as characters their eccentricities dominate the readers first view of them. The first time I encountered this is through the character of Pilate, from Song of Solomon. She has no navel, yet has the ability to communicate with her dead father. I am still haunted by her dying
Another reason character is so important in plotting your fiction is that people are different. The same tragic event can happen to two people and have different effects. One person can lose his job and never bounce back, and another will be galvanized by the same event. These are the types of points of departure you can examine in fiction through your characters.
These are the three major techniques I think will make the difference in creating memorable characters who leap off the page.
• 1) Point of view. Even if the character is eccentric, you should make the reader understand his world view.
• 2) Specificity in Details. Develop your character’s quirks, habits, motivations, and hobbies.
• 3) Challenges. Fiction that takes risks and challenges our smug assumptions about life.
Don’t just write about normal situations. Examine the human hearts and the depths of what people will go when faced with moral dilemmas. What will a mother do when she is broke and hungry and has children to feed?
To distinguish between plot-driven fiction and character-driven fiction is the same distinction you find between popular movies and serious movies. The former categories often satisfies you, but, like Chinese food, can leave you ravenous after a few hours. Character-driven fiction/movies will stick to your ribs like ‘’soul food.” It will make you examine the human heart and condition. Most of all, it often disturbs you like the book and movie, Beloved, yet you will find yourself driven to read these same books over and over.

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