This was a submission on fatherhood that the inmates had written about. When Mr. Williams read his entry below to the class, I saw some of the most hardened guys tear up.
Collaborations between authors can be tough; differences emerge, arguments can ensue and feelings can get bruised, Ultimately, many a joint project will fail to see the light of day. This is no different when the two creative minds at work are connected by familial ties. In fact, differences can often be amplified and even heightened when the collaborator is one that you share DNA with.
But one family team of writers has bucked the odds and saw their project through to fruition. What’s even more amazing is that it’s a mother/daughter team.
Meet Roseanney Liu and her nine year old daughter Morgan Getting, who, over the past year have put their heads together and created a book that seeks to help both parent and student survive what can be for many, a tumultuous half decade. Their book, How to Survive Elementary School is part How-To, part reflection, and with plenty of painful experiences mixed in for good measure.
“As an educator myself and a parent, I realized that a lot goes on in elementary school that’s not always easy to understand or navigate,” Roseanney recalls. “And so I decided to write this book as a guide to help parents and students.”
But she realized that she didn’t want to write it in a vacuum, and so she began interviewing other parents about their concerns.
“But I also realized that I needed the perspective of the student as well,” she adds.
Roseanney didn’t have to look far to gain that youthful insight. Still, her daughter Morgan was a little hesitant when her mom approached her.
“I really thought it was going to be a big chore,” Morgan says, and then adds with a giggle. “And so I kind of rolled my eyes at my mom when she told me about it.”
Morgan wasn’t the only one who was skeptical, as several of the fellow students in her fourth grade class didn’t believe her.
Naysayers not withstanding, the mother/daughter duo soldered on and after two to three months of research, felt they had a winning combination of topics and the data needed to start putting pen to paper. Some of the chapters in the book deal with cheating and plagiarizing, Ugh, drama! and social media and technology.
The favorite topics to cover in the book were the chapter on Bullying for Morgan, and dealing with students with disabilities for Roseanney. Not surprisingly, the least favorite topic for each was Fundraising and Volunteering. Double UGH!
The selection of the topics came mostly from family dinner table conversations about happenings in school.
Reaction has been positive with many of the school staff and parents purchasing the book and with Roseanney and Morgan busy with interviews and promotion.
Asked about her next book and Roseanney thinks she will carry the idea forward to the next logical step of how to survive middle school.
Asked the same question, Morgan quips, “I want to write a book about how to survive writing a book with your mother.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
You can purchase a copy of How to Survive Elementary School by clicking on the image above, or here.
You can contact Roseanney at her website: http://roseanney.com/
“Hmmm, vampire blood. Now that’s a new one.”
Dr. D.P. Lyle M.D had just received a query from yet another writer seeking his expert medical opinion. But this was no ordinary wordsmith slogging it out trying to get his or her new novel published or noticed. This inquiry came from none other than New York Times best selling author Charlene Harris.
The year was 2007, and hot on the heels of the Twilight book phenomenon, vampires were the “in” thing. Charlene Harris had a series of novels about our favorite bloodsuckers, and she wanted to get her facts straight.
“I got a lot of questions back then about vampires,” Lyle laughs. “What is vampire blood like? Do vampires have DNA? If so, what would vampire DNA look like?
Strange questions to be sure, but then, the Orange County, California cardiologist had been receiving similarly bizarre solicitations for several years now.
It all began close to two decades ago when then Mystery Writers of America president Jan Burke asked Lyle to write a piece for the group’s newsletter about determining a corpses time of death. The article and the Q and A that followed launched a side gig that the doctor had not seen coming. Before long, other writers looking to glean his knowledge were seeking him out at conferences, panels, and author events.
“You go to a cocktail party and people find out you’re a doctor and they want to talk to you about their gall bladder or their cholesterol,” Lyle quips. “You go to a writers conference and people want to ask you about poisons, gun shot wounds, etcera.”
It’s not something the doctor shies away from or tries to avoid. In fact, he relishes it.
“I enjoy teaching, and helping other writers and people in general. We all have some sort of skill and I believe in sharing it.”
And share he has. Over the past twenty years or so, Dr. Lyle estimates he has answered over six thousand questions from everyone from writers, to attorneys, to law enforcement. He also wrote a book, “Forensics for Dummies” in 2004, and in 2005, he launched a submission form on his website to formally answer specific queries from writers – both of these efforts spawned some unintended consequences.
“I’ve been informed by law enforcement several times that the Forensics for Dummies book has been found in the possession of suspects of crimes. And some of the questions I received on my website just had a strange vibe to them, like the person on the other end wasn’t a writer plotting the perfect crime, but an individual possibly intent on carrying it out.”
He’s since initiated a policy of requiring the requestor to surrender their personal information to him, so at least he has a record of it. Most of the people who contact him willingly provide the info, but occasionally someone won't. And the policy hasn’t seemed to abate the substantial volume of requests the doctor receives on an almost daily basis. Most of the questions he gets are fairly prosaic, but some run to the extremely bizarre.
Asked about the most peculiar question he ever had submitted and Lyle admits that it’s tough to put a blue ribbon on any one question, although one does stand out in his mind.
“It was all about bee venom and how could you kill someone with it,” he says. “This person wanted to learn everything there was to know about it. What if you locked a person in a car and released a swarm of bees? How about injecting someone with bee venom? Could you kill them if you forced them to drink bee venom?”
To learn about some of the other offbeat and downright morbid questions he has answered through the years, check out Dr. D.P. Lyle M.D. books, “Forensics and Fiction” and “More Forensics and Fiction”. Besides winning numerous awards, Dr. Lyle's also the author of three crime series, as well as several more books on forensics for writers. His website is: http://www.dplylemd.com/
We're thrilled today to have author Allison Fagundes stop by. Allison has created an entirely new world with her debut novel, Goddess Save the King.
With over a decade of experience of bouncing between the entertainment and fashion industries of Los Angeles, Allison Fagundes is a creative professional with her sights set on entrepreneurship. Once she grew the brass-boobs to leave her corporate job for swimwear design (for busty women), she managed to shuffle away from a car accident that changed the order of her creative expression. After being laid-up on ice packs for months and seeing doctors three days every week, Allison awakened one morning after an incredible dream. She didn’t stop dream-journaling the adventure for four weeks. At the end of that time, she had her first draft of Goddess Save the King. Six-plus months later, she finished the final draft of the project and self-published it through Amazon.
Before the accident, Allison would spend a few days a week building her sand legs to become a better beach volleyball player. Now, she’s gentler on herself as she continues to take the time to restore the strength she once had. This opportunity has allowed her to focus on writing like never before as well as become more invested in the movie-going experience. As a result, she’s on Team Iron Man, ride or die, and is baffled that Greg Rucka’s Batman No Man’s Land still hasn’t been made into a Hollywood blockbuster. Thanks for stopping by today Allison.
You're very welcome Chris.
Your book, Goddess Save the King, is a post-apocalyptic/fantasy, which are very popular at the moment. Has this always been what you wanted to write, or did the success of other books in the genre push you in that direction?
Thinking back to the many unfinished books that have accumulated on a jump drive which ended up in a storage box until recently, I can honestly say that the majority of the stories on it are fantasy, or scifi-fantasy. It was a genre I never expected to write in, but I ran with it back then. So it’s not surprising to me that the idea behind Goddess Save the King was also rooted in it. Popularity of the genre wasn’t on my radar.
How long has this book been germinating in you?
The idea for this book was an immediate unfolding. I was in a car accident the month before this book idea revealed itself to me. I was at home nursing injuries, and was able to be consistent with my dream journaling each morning. I had nothing but time to rest and recuperate. The week before my birthday, I awoke and didn’t reach for my journal that time. Instead, I opened my laptop and began typing the dream. The story was coming so fast, my handwriting wouldn’t have been able to keep up. I kept typing for four weeks.
At the end of that time, I had the first draft of Goddess Save the King. I was completely blown away that I was staring at the first draft of my first novel.
Wow, amazing story of inspiration running rampant. After you committed to writing it, about how long did it take to get it totally completed?
The book took a solid seven months to write. I felt like a machine shelling-out anywhere from 2,000 to 11,000 words per day.
2,000 to 11,000 words per day! As a fellow writer, I can honestly say that many of us wish we could be as prolific and productive as you were.
And it seems that creating a whole new world with many different characters can be daunting. How did you manage to keep it all straight?
With a giant sketch pad. lol! I wasn’t able to draft a neat outline that would show me the proper progression of the story. My brain couldn’t compute that. I needed to see my version of organized chaos on a few giant pieces of paper. Aside from that, developing a new world and the details about that world was exciting. I already had so much content
from the original dream, I simply spent a lot of time shaping it and adding details. It was fun!
Any advise for other authors wishing to write in this genre?
Set your imagination free. Let it run, and do your best to keep up with it. Give it zero restrictions. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with.
And if you could give yourself one piece of advice before you finished this book project, what would it be?
As exciting as it was to write this book, I learned how important it was to step away from the project in between drafts. Not for one hour, or one day, but for a week or so. It was easy to forget that there was a world outside of my home to live in when I was creating a new, exciting one in my book. It would have been best to slow down and allow more space and time between the last two drafts. I would have had fresher eyes on the manuscript and it would have made the editing process shorter and smoother.
Were you intimidated at all about going the self-publishing route?
Not at all. My creative expression before writing was fashion. In fashion, you need a lot of outside help in order to produce the collection that you’ve designed. Self-publishing gave me an avenue to rely on fewer people for the completion of the project, as well as full creative control. That’s a rarity I couldn’t pass up.
How did Christopher J. Lynch’s self-publishing seminar help you?
The seminar helped me to be practical about this book project. It also showed me where my strengths would come into play. Because of that, I was able to see the potential in what I produced versus viewing publishing as a difficult, unattainable dream.
How do you feel now that you have a book published?
I feel excited and relieved. I’ve been ready and eager to share this story since day one. I’m glad I’m able to do that now.
What’s next for you?
Book 2 of the series is coming along at a slower place due to being back into the working world. I expect to release it at the end of this year. I’ve also begun sifting through that old jump drive and have found some gems to revisit. There are a few stories I feel compelled to finish, and maybe explore short story writing. Also, I’m getting ready for my first book-signing event in my hometown, Los Banos, CA., on Friday, March 10th, at Phoenix Books.
Well congratulations again for your incredible accomplishment and we hope to have you back here real soon.
Thank you, it was great to be here Chris.
Allison's debut novel: Goddess Save the King is available at Amazon.com by clicking on the photo above or here.
For information on her book signing click here.
You can also connect or follow Allison at:
MOSCOW DAY 6
"Proshchay Moskva" (Farewell Moscow)
Down to the short strokes of our trip, we decided to take it a little slower today and only plan one big excursion. I woke up at my now usual time of around 5:30, showered, made some coffee and tea and turned on the TV. Today, a half a world away was January 20th, inauguration day for president elect Donald Trump.
It was strange and surreal to observe the goings on back home in the US, but what was even stranger was the fact that the Russians barely commented about politics, or even about Trump. You’d think that with the supposed “Bro-mance” between he and Putin, that we would have seen plenty of homeges to "The Donald," but the fact was, other than a few cheesy souvenirs, he barely registered in the minds of every day Russians.
After breakfast, Dave, Tim and myself started our day by trekking across a bridge that crossed from our hotel across the Moscow River and then visiting the Europa Mall one last time to do some shopping. It was a nice day allthough still cold and we checked out the bridge and some of the other structures before entering the mall. Tim had wanted to pick up a Russian themed T-shirt for a co-worker, and so we initially scoured the many clothing stores to see if we could find one. The stores were decidedly more high-end and commercial than would suit our purposes and we couldn’t find anything similar to the souvenir items we had seen on Arbat Street.
While we were inside the mall, we also decided on some last minute shopping for Russian vodka and other local delicacies. Down on the lower level of the mall was a full sized grocery store, and we went in to do some shopping and discover even more about how the average Muskovite lives.
Far from the Soviet era images of sparsely stocked shelves and babushkas clutching ration books, the store was modern, well stocked, and as artfully merchandised as any western chain. A staple of the Russian diet, we saw a fully loaded “pickled bar” with everything from carrots, to garlic, to onions, and of course, cabbage on display. Also evident was the Russian reliance on fish as part of their sustenance, and we saw fish available as pre-packaged, fresh-frozen . . . or even live!!
I picked up some Russian chocolates and two bottles of Vodka, one from Siberia, and then another more expensive bottle of Kremlin Award, and we headed back to the hotel and started packing for the trip home ahead of Vlade’s arrival.
Vlade picked us up around noon and we made our way across town to our only attraction of the day, the massive Ostankino Radio Tower. Constructed from 1963 to 1967, the tower is the tallest structure in Europe at 1,772 ft tall and the eight tallest structure in the world. It serves a host of TV and radio stations, and is a poplar tourist attraction for its observation tower and the Seventh Heaven Restaurant located at 1,200 ft.
The security here was tighter than any we had encountered outside of the airport. Besides having to empty or pockets, and go through a metal detector, we also had to produce our passports which were run through a scanner. Throughout the history of the tower, it had suffered numerous fires and, although none of them were the result of terrorism, the Russians weren’t going to take any chances.
After passing through the security screening, we boarded an elevator, which took us to the observation deck at a rate of 3 meters per second. This was far slower than the normal 7 meters per second that it usually ran at, but the wind was blowing slightly stronger today and so the rate of ascent was dialed back.
We arrived at the observation deck and were treated to a stunning view of the city of Moscow. If you ‘d like to stroll around with me, click right here.
Nice view huh? Well if you like that, how about walking with me and staring down 1,200 feet? Got the nerve? Click here.
After taking in the view and snapping pictures and taking videos, we descended the stairs one floor down to the Seventh Heaven Restaurant. No other visitors to the tower were dining at the moment and so we were seated immediately at our booth on the slowly rotating floor. Our last day in Russia deserved some celebration and so, with the exception of our driver Vladimir, we all ordered Russian wines and toasted.
The food menu came next and we were pleased to see that it was in English as well as Russian, although Vlade again came to the rescue by defining the selections further. I settled on the Oliver Salad, a molded potato and carrot salad that was a Russian favorite and typically served on special occasions such as the New Year. Besides the potatoes and carrots, the salad also had shrimp, crayfish, hard-boiled quail eggs, and of course the Russian piece de resistance, caviar. Along with the salad I also enjoyed pelmeni that was made with squid ink pasta and topped with horseradish. All I can say is that it was absolutely delicious.
We ended our visit to the Ostankino Tower and to the city of Moscow with a hearty toast. This will definitely go down as one of the most incredible trips I have ever taken.
Author’s note: This trip and this blog would not have been possible without the contributions and efforts of several people. First of all, to Dave Forney, my best friend and the man who put it all together. From the airline tickets and hotel reservations, to discovering and researching all of the amazing things we saw and did in one short week, a hearty thank you to Dave.
Secondly to Tim Forney, who was beyond a doubt the trip’s main shutterbug and photographer. I “borrowed” several of the photos you have seen in this blog from Tim's shots. Also, his gregarious nature put us into contact with dozens of strangers who became fast friends and who spiced our trip with a healthy dose of humanity.
And finally to Vladimir Piskarev, our driver, tour-guide and new friend. Without Vlade’s knowledge of the city, the language, and the culture, we would have been lost babes in the woods. At a bare minimum, we would have had to confine our sight-seeing activities to within walking distance of our hotel. At the worst, we would have been at the mercy of some of the more unscrupulous taxi drivers in the city. If you are considering a trip to Moscow or to St. Petersburg, I cannot stress enough the importance of having Vlade guide you around. It is a small price to pay to have a private tour guide and it can mean the difference between a poor experience, and one you will treasure for a lifetime. Vladimir’s website is: http://russiafreetour.com/
And you can friend him on Facebook here:
Happy travels everyone!!
Christopher J. Lynch
MOSCOW DAY 5
"History, brewskies, and living like a Russian."
After the action packed but long day yesterday, we all found that we were beginning to burn out a bit. But the temp had warmed up a little and was hovering around –1C and so that was promising.
After being denied the shot of my book Russian Roulette at Red Square the previous day, I made this a priority for today. I had one other book remaining and I was going to be presenting it to our host, Alla Larina, at the Moscow Brewery tour later on.
So, when Vlade picked us up at our usual time this morning, we made a bee-line – as fast as a bee could travel in the snarl of Moscow traffic – back to Red Square. When we arrived about an hour later, Vlade parked the car close by and Tim, Dave and I jumped out to – as indie filmmakers say when they operate without a permit to shoot – steal the shot. I just hoped that our favorite spy Natasha wouldn’t be there to derail our plans.
As it turns out, it took a bit longer than we thought as Tim started chatting up a visiting group of tourists from Kazakhstan. It was a very large family and they were very friendly, especially when they found out we were from the US. We took a couple of pics with them along with my “money shot,” and then headed back to Vlade’s car, our mission completed.
From Red Square, it was a less congested drive to the Cosmonaut Museum. This was something that I was very excited to see as my hobby when I was young had been studying space exploration and the history of our astronauts, especially during the early Mercury and Gemini programs. I read every book I could find about the astronauts and their missions, built all of the models, and collected photographs for a scrapbook that I maintained. I was very preoccupied by space travel and it was stated by several of my teachers that all I had inside my head was space. Hey – Wait a minute! Now I know what they meant!! LOL
The museum was easy to spot in the distance as it had a large edifice of a rocket being launched into the heavens. After taking a few photos outside, we got our tickets, went through security and entered.
The museum was large, two stories and contained literally hundreds if not thousands of displays. Once a huge source of pride for the Soviets, they had scored some early firsts in the 50s and 60s, quickly besting our own American space program. They had the first satellite in space, the first man in space, the first man to orbit, the first woman in space and on and on. Eventually we caught up and overtook them, but for a while they clearly had us on the ropes.
Inside we saw many displays and mockups of some of their early space hardware. Their was a full-scale mock-up of Sputnik 1, the first satellite to ever enter space and one that I had a very special kinship with; after all, it had been launched just one day after I was born.
Only the size of a basketball, it was sent into orbit with a path that deliberately put it right over the continental United States just to make sure the Americans couldn’t refute its existence. As added insurance, it broadcast a pulsing beep that was at a frequency that the Russians knew many US HAM radio operators could listen in on. The Russians were not to be denied their accomplishment.
Besides unmanned vehicles, they also had plenty of ones for man – and beasts! The Russians had used dogs as test subjects in the early days and they had mock-up of their capsule as well as their four legged spacesuits.
The greatest homage though was not surprisingly, to Yuri Gagarin. The first man in history to go into space and orbit the earth, he had reached such heroic stature that some in the country believe it eventually cost him his life. All of us were stunned to hear Vlade share with us the belief that many in Russia held that Gagarin was becoming TOO popular and outspoken about the government, and that they purposely sabotaged his aircraft and caused him to crash to his death. You see, even the Russians have their conspiracy theories.
One fanciful theory they did not hold with was that we Americans had not made it to the moon before them. There were several displays that lauded our own country’s own accomplishments in space, including a nod to the Apollo 11 crew. This is especially telling as they would much more to gain by denying the landing than any of the crackpots in our country that believe it was all a hoax.
Because death-defying space travel wasn’t macho enough to sate our primal male needs, the next stop on our agenda today was the Moscow Brewery. Although primarily know for its vodka, Russia also has an established and growing beer industry with over 600 breweries nationwide. The Moscow Brewery was unique in that it was larger than a micro-brewery, but far smaller than a one of the beer giants like Baltika.
Vlade again expertly guided us to our next location and we entered the cavernous factory and asked to speak with our host, Alla. Always curious about new and unique things to explore in Moscow, Dave had found out about the brewery and when he learned that they gave tours in English, set the wheels in motion for us to be their guests today.
Alla was attractive, charming, and spoke perfect English. Soon we were introduced to Mikhail, the head brew-master for the facility. He was short stocky lad who, besides beer making, was also was an expert in martial arts.
He and Alla began the tour by first showing off some of the many products that they manufactured. You could really sense a feeling of pride in Mikhail’s voice as he introduced us to the various brews, many of which had won competitions.
Next we saw some of the huge vats and mashing units that were part of the process. Unlike my experience in an oil refinery, the equipment and facility were so clean here you could literally eat off of the floor if you wanted to.
After seeing some of the vats, we were taken into an R&D lab where various brews were concocted, tested and, best of all – tasted! In short order, glasses were produced and we were all sampling our first Russian beers.
Our whistle wet by several varieties, we moved on to the control center. Like most modern facilities, the process was very automated and ran 24/7. Operators sat at control displays and monitored the process for any upsets or parameters going out of spec. Like the operators I knew at Chevron, and like most operators of automated systems everywhere, the hardest job they had to do all shift was to not go crazy with boredom.
We next moved to the automated packaging line where various brews were put into cans or bottles, boxed and palletized for delivery. In many ways the brewery was unremarkable and relied on the same automated machines that others did. The difference was in the people here, who exuded a real pride in their work and affection for the company.
No brewery tour would be complete though without more tasting and so we were escorted into the company canteen. Even though it was already into the afternoon, the canteen was filled with employees, mostly females. We would later learn that one Thursday a month, the company would put on a tea for the employees. Mikhail steered us through the room and over to a full-length bar. Again, glasses were produced and soon we sampling any one of the ten or so beers that were on tap.
We were all having a great old time imbibing with our hosts when I noticed a group of 4 young women sitting at a nearby table, eyeing me and whispering conspiratorially among themselves. Could they be co-operatives of our personal spy Natasha? I asked Mikhail what was going on and he went over to them to check it out.
He came back a few minutes later laughing and told me that they were arguing about if I was a celebrity or not. My curiosity piqued, I went over to the table and asked them exactly which celebrity did they think I was?
They all laughed at being caught and then proceeded to tell me that 3 out of the 4 of them thought I might be James Hetfield from the heavy metal band Metallica, while the lone holdout thought I looked like a movie star, but she couldn’t think of who. I’ve only been told once before that I looked like a movie star and that was the actor, William Hurt. When I told her my thoughts, she immediately felt vindicated and looked up William Hurt on her phone to show the others.
It was so much fun, I took a picture with them before we left.
After thanking our hosts, we had one more very important stop to make; to the home of our driver, tour guide and new friend Vladimir Piskarev. He had graciously invited us to his place for dinner and of course, some traditional toasting of Russian vodka.
Vlade’s apartment was on the 15 floor of a large building surrounded by others that were very similar. Even though we had been all over the city and had seen so many things over the past week, the one thing we had not seen were any single family homes. Vlade explained that “Dachas” were mainly located outside of the city and were typically owned by the well to do olgarchs. Most people owned – not rented - apartments in large units like his.
After being given a tour of his place, we all sat around the kitchen table and had pickled garlic, onions, cabbage, and cucumbers as a precursor to drinking the vodka. Next up was more pickled items to clear the palate and then finally, our main meal of Pemini and another entrée that was fried and reminded me of egg rolls.
It was all very good and we felt honored to have been invited into his home. You can tour a country all you want, but unless you can explore how the average person lives, you have only scratched the proverbial surface.
And speaking of explore, why don’t you come along with me tomorrow as we check out the tallest structure in Europe, the Ostankino radio tower!
MOSCOW DAY 4
"High-brow culture, low-brow action, and the spy who loved us."
,I slept fairly well again and began to realize that out of the three of us, I was probably enjoying the most shuteye on the trip. This could have been the result of my experience with the many foreign and domestic trips I had taken over the years, or due the fact that unlike Dave and Tim, I was not sharing a room with anyone.
After breakfast Vlade pick us up around 10 and we headed out to our first stop: a tour of world famous Boishoi Ballet Theatre. By now we had gotten somewhat familiar with the vibe in Moscow, and it was a good one. The omnipresent security checks notwithstanding, this was a very pleasant and civil society. Beside graffiti being practically non-existent, we also never saw even a scrap of litter on the ground. Driving in the city was hectic due to the inordinate number of cars, and the fact that they drove very close to one another, but during our entire trip, I never saw one incident of road rage, horns honked in anger, or any other display of animus. In fact, why don’t you come along with us on our commute by clicking here.
Vlade dropped us off near the theater with a plan to meet us later at our next destination, a tour or the Kremlin. We got into the growing queue of visitors lining up outside the Boishoi and waiting to get in to take the tour. A group of women that were standing in the line overheard us speaking English and immediately insisted that we move to the front of the line.
After placing cloth booties over our feet – not the easiest thing to do when you’re wearing boots - we embarked on our tour. The tour was in English, and, quite interestingly, was given by a docent who once toured the US when she worked for the Moscow Circus.
Needless to say, the theater lived up to its reputation and was absolutely stupendous. No words, including mine, could do it justice. The ceiling was at least 80 feet high, and the fretwork and gold leaf on the upper balcony walls was stunning. That work alone took 300 artisans over 6 years to complete. Interestingly, the panels on the balconies were faced with paper mache’ instead of wood. This was done in order to retain the theater's amazing acoustics. An enormous chandelier made up of 25,000 pieces of crystal, hung from the ceiling and once had been lit with small oil lamps. Currently, the illumination came from electric lights and the Boishoi now had its own power supply.
along After leaving the Boishoi, we walked the short distance over to Red Square to meet up with Vlade. I had wanted to him bring along his copy of Russian Roulette for a picture I planned on taking in front of St. Basils, but I had neglected to communicate my wishes with him. After talking to him about it now, It was soon apparent that was not going to happen today; his car was parked in a lot two metro stations away. In the interest of time, I decided not to worry about it for now.
After purchasing our tickets and going through another metal detector and security screening, we headed into the world famous Kremlin. As Americans, we often only think of “The Kremlin” only in terms of it being the seat of power for Russia and – during the Soviet era – for the entire republic. But in reality, its governmental function is only one aspect of this complex of structures filled with rich history.
The name Kremlin means "Fortress Inside a City", and besides the Grand Kremlin Palace, the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation (Putin), it contains four other palaces, four cathedrals, and the imposing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. For the most part on the tour, you walk around on the inside of the walls and tour the various cathedrals. You can see the Grand Kremlin Palace, but you can’t get closer than 500 feet from it.
One of the more popular attractions inside the Kremlin walls was the Tsar cannon. An enormous piece of artillery Guinness certified it as the worlds largest cannon. Although there was evidence to support the claim that it been fired at least once, it had never been used in battle.
Right next to the cannon is the Tsar bell, which was commissioned by a niece of Peter the Great. It too holds a world record as the largest bell in world at 445,166 lb, but unlike the cannon being shot, it has never been rung. A team of researchers did once simulated its sound by studying its metallurgy and using computational models. A giant piece of the bell, 23,000 lb, broke off when ill-advised guards threw water onto the bell to try to save it during a fire in 1737. You can only imagine what fate awaited them for their actions. Probably acted as the target for the Tsar cannon when it was test fired.
It was here, when we were standing next to the Tsar Bell and cannon, that I first noticed her.
She was a young girl, probably in her early to mid twenties and was dressed in a fur-collared coat with the hood pulled up. There was something about her actions and bearing that seemed illogical and contrived to me. She was trying too hard to appear as someone who was just out touring the Kremlin like us, but it wasn’t working for me. I had to ask myself then if I was just being paranoid as crime writer and imagining intrigue and ulterior motive in everything? I shared my suspicions with the others and we moved on to visit some other churches, but kept an eye out for her.
Sure enough, wherever we went, she seemed to be keeping us in her sights, albeit from a distance. She never looked directly at us, but tried to act nonchalant. It didn’t work, and I thought that her prowess as a stealthy monitor of these visiting Yankee Imperialists barely came up to the standards of your average department store “secret shopper.”
Before long, we had nicknamed her Natasha, after the character Natasha Fatale in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. Soon, we began to joke about it and make up little scenarios and stories about out little spy who came in out of the cold. In short order, our personal spy Natasha, became the highlight of our day.
After seeing several of the Kremlin cathedrals, we turned back toward the exit of the Kremlin. And what a coincidence; so did Natasha! We watched her as she crossed paths with a young man and there it was, just the slightest of facial expressions that told us they were working together. Then she doubled back and followed us again.
Just for fun as she was following me, Tim told me to stop so he could steal a shot of her. And he did. And with that one shot, Natasha's hopes of having a long and prosperous career with the KGB came to an abrupt end.
We exited the Kremlin and decided to get something to eat before we continued on. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from on the outskirts of the Kremlin, including McDonalds, but we had already experienced the Ruskie version of the Golden Arches, and so we went to a My My Russian fast food restaurant.
My My was a very popular local chain and was set up like a cafeteria with a huge variety of Russian fare to choose from. Inside the rustic interior it was crowded, noisy and doing a brisk business. But it was fast and efficient and we went through the line quickly and then sat down to eat. The food was tasty, reasonably priced, and we all decided that we would definitely keep it on our list of favorite eateries.
After My My, we walked the short distance over to Red Square. The sight of famous St, Basils Cathedral and Lenin’s tomb, Red Square was one of the “must-sees” for anyone visiting Moscow. As we entered though, we found that we weren’t going to be able to have the total Red Square experience. As part of the ongoing winter/Christmas celebration, a large outdoor ice skating rink and arcade had been set up to one side of the square. I’m sure that the locals – and especially the children – appreciated the government’s gesture, but it seemed to cheapen the historic value of the square and made me think wryly of how it would look if a carnival was set up inside the Vatican.
By now we were starting to run short on time for our evening activities, and so we knew that we wouldn’t be able to sightsee much here. We took some of the requisite snapshots of us standing outside of St. Basils and after Vlade informed us that you could not really get too close to view the historic leaders body inside Lenin’s tomb, we decided to skip it and head on out.
We had to get back to Vlade’s car and that meant taking the metro. We had wanted to ride it anyway so it worked out to be a fortuitous experience for us. In spite of the snarls of traffic in Moscow, the metro was still hugely popular and moved over 8 million people a day – more than New York and Paris combined! There was a local custom of rubbing the snout of a large bronze statue of a dog for good luck before boarding and so I took a second to do so while Tim snapped a quick picture of me.
We descended the escalator into the metro tunnel and Vlade got us into the proper queue for our train. We had only stood there for few moments before the loud whooshing sound of our approaching train filled the station. As soon as it stopped, the doors sprung open and people got off or onto the train with practiced deftness. The doors closed a few moments later and we were off.
The train accelerated rapidly and I guessed that it achieved a speed of close to 50 MPH. It slowed down just as quickly, and it soon became apparent how the system managed to move so many people every day.
After retrieving Vlade’s car, we slogged our way back to our hotel and rested up for a couple of hours. Around six in the evening he returned to pick us up again and we were off to the VTB Ice Palace in Moscow to watch a Russian hockey game.
None of us really knew what to expect of the hockey game. We had so far seen the high culture and high end side of Moscow with the Boishoi and the Radisson Royale, but we going to be getting down in to the blue collar trenches with this event. Would it be crowded with a bunch of drunken Russian fans brawling with each other, vomiting and falling down the steps? We didn’t know. How bloody would the game itself be? We were pleasantly surprised.
Again, the venue was clean, modern and the clientele well heeled. After going through our umpteenth metal detector of the day we entered the stadium to the roar of fans supporting their favorite teams. Why don’t you walk to our seats with me by clicking here?
Besides the stadium being nice, the fans were well behaved and the action on the ice was fast-paced and non-stop. Dave had secured us corner seats right down by the goal and only a few rows up. The home team, the Dynamo’s won the game 1 – 0 and it was a great way to end what could only be described as an eclectic and unforgettable day in Moscow, Russia.
Why don’t you come along with us again tomorrow right here?
MOSCOW DAY 3
"If at first you don't succeed."
After getting a solid 5 hours of sleep – probably most I would get on this trip I woke up to find the temperature had dropped to minus 7C or about 19F. After catching up – a term I have learned to use liberally on my many trips – on my journal, I headed own to the hotel restaurant to have breakfast.
When I walked in the crowd was much larger than the previous days. This was due to the addition of a team of hockey players from Slovakia that were in town to play the Russians. It wasn’t the game that we were going to see on the following night, but it was cool to see them and talk to them.
At 10:30, our intrepid Vlade picked us up outside the hotel and we retraced our route from the day before to see the Novodevichy Convent. This time we were not turned away and were able to go inside the cloistered walls. It was beautiful and peaceful inside, the grounds covered in a blanket of snow. Still, I could not help but think about all of the women who were essentially imprisoned here against their wills, and I wondered if the walls could talk, how many cries of anguish would I hear.
After touring the convent grounds with its gold-leafed onion domed cathedrals we headed outside and around the convents high walls to tour the famous cemetery.
At the cemetery we saw very many interesting grave-markers. One highlight was the marker of Anton Chekov, one of Russia’s - and the world’s - most famous short story writers.
After the convent and cemetery, we returned to the car and met back up with Vlade. In just a few short days, he had already become such an integral part of the success of our tour, that I thought it fitting to give him a copy of my second One Eyed Jack novel, Russian Roulette. Wanting to make the book even more special, I used Google to personalize it and wrote in Cyrillic, “Vladimir, Thanks for a great time. Enjoy Russian Roulette.” I think he was very touched at the gesture, and told me he would start reading it that night.
From the convent, we again retraced our steps and headed to the Russian WW II museum. Walking in from the back side this time we had to cross a large wooded park laden with fresh snow. There was a very interesting memorial statue dedicated to those who had fallen during the war. It was a slow-motion of men falling like dominoes and in the process, morphing into headstones. It was quite an artistic, albeit grim, reminder of the horrific past.
After passing through security, we entered the inside of the museum, which led you through the various battles, artfully recreated through incredible dioramas. These three dimensional depictions could never of course do justice to what it was really like to endure these horrors of human conflict, but after seeing them - and after learning how much the Russians had personally suffered in the war - it became painfully clear why the Russians have a paranoia about being invaded.
After touring the museum, we didn’t have enough time to head over to Kremlin and St. Basils, so we changed course and went to famous Old Arbat Street, one of the oldest streets in Moscow and now a trendy spot for people to walk and window shop the many souvenir stores.
I picked up a couple of souvenirs here and then we decided we had packed in enough for today and that it was time to return to the hotel. We had our busiest and longest day yet coming up tomorrow and we wanted to try to recharge – as much as possible – our batteries.
We arrived back at the Radisson around 5, and agreed to meet at a Georgian Restaurant inside the hotel at around 7. Even though our Yankee curiosity got to us and we succumbed to a McDonalds meal the night before, we still wanted to experience as much as we could of the culture, and that extended our adventure to the various cuisine.
Before long we were enjoying wonderful Georgian cheeses and some delicious Georgian red wine. We also shared in an appetizer whose name escapes me, but as far as I was concerned, it was a cheese pizza.
The main course was delicious roasted vegetables and Beef Khinkali, small sacks made out of dough that contained beef or pork. Before allowing us to sample them though, we were outfitted with bibs to catch any internal juices and were instructed in the proper technique: Grab the Khinkali by the top, raise it above your mouth and bite into it. They were delicious!
We followed this with desert and coffee: Tiramisu for me, and Honey Cake for Dave. Tim held off.
Hit bed at around 11 and began looking forward to day 4 of our adventure: The Boishoi Ballet, Red Square, St. Basils, a tour of the Kremlin, and most exciting, a Russian hockey game.
,MOSCOW DAY 1
"You can get there from here."
The impetus for this amazing trip had its roots based on a trip my best friend Dave Forney made almost exactly a year ago when he helped escort his niece, Louisa, to the Moscow Academy of Choreography, where she would train with the Boishoi Ballet. Louisa had recently been home for the holidays and this was a déjà vu trip of sorts for her and her uncle. I had gratefully been invited to come along and with us on this excursion was also Dave’s brother Tim.
Other than being treated to the sight of thousands of migrating whales when we left LAX, the flight to Moscow from Los Angeles was uneventful, which is the way all 12 hour flights should be. This was in a great part due to the extensive planning by Dave. Dave took care of everything, from booking the flights, getting our preferred seat assignments and having our boarding passes printed and ready for us at the airport. Having him organize this incredible trip was like having our own personal travel agent as well as tour guide.
We were “wheels up” just about on time and soon were headed non-stop to our destination. Our route took us across the Midwest, up through Canada, over the Hudson Bay and skirting over Greenland. It was dark and cloudy most of the way, so we couldn’t see much. Instead, we enjoyed our two in-flight meals, watched some TV shows and movies on the entertainment system, but mostly tried to watch the inside of our eyelids as we knew we were soon going to be “running on fumes” with the ½ day change in time.
Landing at one of the three main airports in Moscow was smooth but not without a little anxiety. The cloud cover was so thick and low that we didn’t break through until we were about 300 feet off of the ground. Still, the pilot set us down without incident and we taxied over the cold and icy tarmac to our gate. It was one degree above freezing when we landed.
Inside, I was very impressed with the cleanliness, modern appointments, and efficiency of the Moscow airport. We breezed through customs and immigration and I actually found the immigration officers here much more personable and accommodating than those I had encountered in Canada on my numerous business trips up there.
In short order we had our bags retrieved and were greeted by Vladimir. No, not Putin silly!! Vlade was Dave ‘s driver from his previous visit and he had booked him for the week to take us around as well as play personal tour guide for us. See what I mean about Dave handling everything.
We loaded the bags into Vlade’s van and headed out of the airport to take Louisa to her academy at the Boishoi Ballet. The first thing I noticed while driving through the city toward our destination was that Moscow was far from the drab and stoic city it might have been back in the Soviet era. It was a modern, cosmopolitan city that had embraced capitalism with a vengeance.
Car dealerships bordered the highway, along with malls, furniture outlets and clothing stores. Commercial billboards - non-existent in the last “communist” country I had visited (Cuba) – dotted the skyline, screaming at the modern Russian consumer to part with their hard-earned Rubles for everything from designer clothing, to jewelry and expensive perfumes.
We reached Louisa’s academy in about 45 minutes and by now, at 4:30, it had already grown dark. Moscow rides higher than us in latitude and is therefore closer to the north pole. The proximity meant that we had far shorter days than we were all used to in sunny So-Cal. The sun went down at 4:30 at this time of the year, and didn’t rise again until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Needless to say, sunlight was a precious commodity here at this time of year and scarcer than fresh meat would have been during the cold war.
With Louisa safely ensconced in her digs, we headed back across town to our hotel, The Moscow Radisson Slavajanskaya, and then made plans for Vladimir to pick us back up at 10 a.m. the following day. Like everything we had seen on our trip so far, the hotel was clean, modern and seemed to function efficiently. The key difference was the security presence. We had to walk through a metal detector to get in and endure the suspicious stares of several security personnel. The Russians, as we would come to realize, didn’t play around when it came to security and metal detectors and personnel – both overt and undercover – would be the norm from shopping malls to museums to sports venues.
Another, less foreboding departure from the norm, was the fact that the Russians still celebrated Christmas in January up until the feast of the epiphany. Christmas trees were everywhere long with lights and other decorations.
After settling in, we all freshened up and then decided to meet an Italian restaurant called Talavera. Besides serving delicious Italian fare, the restaurant also hosted the all you can eat breakfast buffet that would become our cuisine de rigueur for the trip.
We feasted on some pizza and beers, and then retired to bed for what would be a fitful night as we tried to fight off the effects of a 12 hour jet lag.
Moscow Day 2
"There's always tomorrow."
After fighting sleep throughout the night/day, I finally got up around 4:00 a.m. Moscow time. I downloaded my pics from the previous day, and then worked on my journal as well as handled some emails.
At around 8 I headed down to the hotel gym, walking past the numerous restaurants, high end shops, and even a Bentley car dealership that were located in the hotel’s lobby. The gym was clean, well equipped and sparsely occupied. Besides the standard machines and free weights, they also had a pool which I wouldn’t be able to utilize as I had neglected to pack a bathing suit. I guess when you are packing to head into freezing daytime temps, a bathing suit is about the farthest thing from your mind.
I met Dave and Tim in the same Talavera Restaurant we had dined at the night before and we all dug in – like typical Americans – to the all you can eat buffet. Besides having our sleep patterns thrown off, our meal schedules were all topsy-turvy as well and we found that we were famished. Hurray for all you can eat!!
We met Vlade in front of the hotel at around 10 a.m. and headed out. The weather was just above freezing but we had prepared well for it and were comfortable. Before starting some of the tour items on our agenda, we backtracked to Louisa’s school so that Dave could drop off a box of candy he had brought as a gift for a person working there. With his niece and God-daughter a half a world away, he thought it best to maintain good foreign relations. After all, Russia was very used to operating on bribes and when in Moscow, do what the Muskovites do!
Traffic was light heading out of our hotel, but would soon thicken to a level of congestion that – if you can believe it - was on par with Los Angeles!! Moscow is a city of close to 15 million, and one of the downsides to prosperity and so many people owning cars is the traffic. Vlade explained that during the Soviet era, hardly anyone could own a car and the vast majority of the population had to rely on the metro. Now, with unbridled capitalism, that equation seems to have flip-flopped.
Because of the traffic, we didn’t reach our first destination, the Novodevichy Convent for about 45 minutes. Founded in 1524, it’s best know by the locals as “The Cloister of Moscow.” Built with high walls and twelve towers strategically situated around the rectangular structure, it was initially constructed as a fort. Before long though, its isolation proved a convenient place to warehouse many ladies from the Russian royal families and boyar clans who were forced to take “the veil.”
While many of these sequestered tsarevna’s were unable to escape from inside the convent’s high walls, we found that we could neither enter the convent, nor tour its famous adjacent cemetery. Just before Christmas a Russian aircraft had crashed in bad weather, killing most of the members of a popular choir group as well as a beloved nurse. The funeral was being held for her here today and so we were summarily denied access.
We decided to make lemonade out of lemons – or rather Vodka out of potatoes – and so we toured the expansive park that surrounded the convent proper. It was a nice day and plenty of people were strolling around with babies in strollers as well as a cross country skiing class that was taking advantage of the fresh powder. Before long, the sun made an appearance and warmed things up considerably.
oWe next headed over to The Moscow State University. Built during the Stalin era, it is one of the tallest buildings of its type in Moscow. Massively and solidly built, it is known locally as one of the “Stalin buildings” while foreigners have dubbed it one of “The Seven Sisters,” so named because only seven of the buildings with the distinctive architecture were ever built in Moscow before the brutal leader met his demise in 1952.
Unlike our surprise at being turned away at the convent, we knew that it would be a crap-shoot to try to gain entry to the campus when we arrived. Dave had been turned away before but had searched out and emailed the dean of the school to see if we would be given access. The dean never replied to the email and without a patron, we were denied entrance again. Still, we were able to tour the outside of the buildings and the grounds before heading off.
Next on the schedule was quick trip to Sparrow Hill, a popular lookout in which to view the city. Most interesting here was a ski jump ramp that was used by daredevils training to avoid their own ignoble, “agony of defeat.” After taking in the view briefly, we headed into a nearby Russian Orthodox Church where Tim bought some religious souvenirs.
The plan had called for us to head from Sparrow Hill to the luxurious Radisson Royale Hotel to have a drink of vodka in the restaurant/bar on the 26th. floor, but we were all starting to get hungry and thought it best to get some food in us before we assaulted our guts with the potent Russian national liquor.
Vlade drove us to a nice little Russian Café called Gorad, which means “City” in Russian. One guy inside the café was hardly what you would call “The Welcome Wagon” and we had to deal with his drunkenness and overt social behavior. I didn’t know if this was to become the norm now that we were out in the city, but never the less, he soon was escorted out.
We had a nice meal of beef cutlets, salad and soup. Just to underscore how things get lost in translation, beef cutlets were actually meatballs as Vlade explained that the term “cut,” would also mean grind up meat.
Just a short walk away from the Gorad Café was the Russian WW II Museum. It was on our agenda for tomorrow, but with the twin dismissals by the convent and the university, we thought it might be opportune to reshuffle the schedule a bit. On the way to the museum, we passed by an elaborate outdoor ice carved village, which looked beautiful, especially with the multi-colored lighting.
As we approached the WW II Museum it was easy to see even from a distance that the Russian’s took a great deal of pride in their sacrifices made for the war. There was a giant tower with magnificent statues, an eternal flame, and a curved colonnade that served as the entrance to the museum.
The museum represented the third strike of the day though as it happened to be closed today, a Monday. We resolved to hit the convent and the museum hard the next day and took our sorrows to the Radisson Royale, where they could be properly drowned in some of Mother Russia’s Milk.
The Radisson was a stunning 5 star hotel and served an elite and elegant clientele. There were Rolls Royce sedans parked out at the front entrance, and it seemed to be a dress code that women had to be donned in expensive furs.
After passing through yet another metal detector and the watchful eyes of security personnel, we entered the opulent lobby of the Radisson. Bypassing the pricey shops, Vlade took us to the second floor and to a giant scale model of the city of Moscow. We examined the model, saw where we had been and where we would be going and then headed to the 26th. floor to wet our collective Yankee whistles.
By now if was blowing light snow flurries that, along with the Christmas decorations and the American holiday tunes playing in the background, created a white Christmas type of atmosphere. And if you don’t believe me, just click on the link here to see for yourself.
As we were toasting each other and our good fortune with Beluga vodka, we looked out over the city of Moscow. Just across from the Royale was the Duma (Russian Parliament) building that in 1993 was the sight of an intense power struggle between then Russian president Yeltsen and the parliament members. The situation came to a head when a defiant Yeltsen ordered the military to fire on the building with artillery!! Imagine, that would be the equivalent in our country of the president of the United States ordering the military to fire on the capital building. DONALD, don’t get any ideas!!
Thankfully, the situation was resolved and cooler heads are now running the country – or at least we hoped.
Vlade dropped us back off at our own more pedestrian Radisson at about 6 o’clock. We freshened up a bit in our rooms and then regrouped. Wanting just some sustenance to carry us through the night, we walked over to the Russian McDonalds across from our hotel.
The restaurant had counter service but additionally had automated kiosks that may soon be supplanting all of the US’s $15.00 an hour employees who think that they are irreplaceable. Wanting something from the menu other than what we could get at home, we all tried the Russian “Country Burger “ with potato wedges.
a Our tummy’s sated, we went over to the Europa Mall, which was just across the street from our hotel. Other than the signs being in a foreign language – although not all of them - it was like any other mall, except that it was incredibly ritzy! It was clean, well lit, and could satisfy nearly any consumer need you had. Again though we had to go through -you guessed it - another set of metal detectors and security checkpoint.
Outside of the mall and brightly lit was a gorgeous display of St. Basils and Red Square in colorful lights.
We returned to our hotel around 9 and hit the sack exhausted, but enriched. Our heads reeling with the thoughts that tomorrow would be another busy day.
It's always special to have a new author stop by to chat, but author/illustrator Monique Bowman is unique in the fact that she is the first self-published children's book author we have interviewed on our site.
She was inspired to write her book, "When Two are Alike" by a lively squirrel that regularly visited her childhood home. She created a world from her squirrelly mind to share with children. Her stories encourage others to never give up on dreams no matter how big or small they are. This enthusiastic author lives in the sunny state of California in her enchanged Spanish-style home. She has has a BA in language and cultures and loves all things Italian. Her passion for travel, indulging in coffee or gelato at cafés, and dancing are just a few of the things she loves… besides squirrels.
Hello and thanks for stopping by Monique. Your book, "When Two are Alike," seems to have been germinating in you for quite some time. Describe for us the event that finally propelled you into writing and illustrating it?
Since I was a kid I always loved drawing characters and making up stories. I saved and cherished the drawings of my characters. They have been with me since I was a kid. I loved making up stories about them which all took place in my head and finally, after high school, I decided to turn those stories into a children’s book.
After you committed to writing it, about how long did it take to get it completed?
It took me six years due to my travels and educational pursuits. Over the course of six years, mixed with traveling and schooling, I was able to develop my story into what it is today.
Many authors experience a “fear factor” when they embark on a writing project. Tell us about your own experience.
I had many moments along the way when I questioned myself, will I ever finish and, if I do finish, will I become a reputable author?
This sounds like a wonderful children's book. What age group or grade level is, "When Two are Alike," appropriate for?
The age range is 4-8 years, but my theory is that children’s books could be enjoyed by people of all ages. There's a kid in every one of us.
Did you know all along that you wanted to self-publish, or did you consider going the conventional route?
In the beginning I wanted to take the conventional route because, at that time, that is all that I knew. Out of the same curiosity that helped me write When Two Are Alike, I began to explore self-publishing which would, and did, give me total control over my finished work.
Were you intimidated at all about going the self-publishing route?
No because I knew that I would always be in total control of my characters and their stories.
How did Christopher J. Lynch’s self-publishing seminar help you?
Christopher's seminar opened my eyes to the potential in self-publishing, and helped me become more confident in taking the self-publishing route.
What are your plans for promoting the book?
So far I have promoted my book on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and through word of mouth which started with my family and friends. My next steps for promoting my book includes sharing my story with local libraries, schools, and book events.
How do you feel now that you have a book published?
I am ecstatic! This is such a huge accomplishment and I couldn’t be happier with myself!
Any advice for aspiring writers, either in the children’s book category or otherwise?
To all aspiring writers, keep writing! Work on your story little by little, every chance you get, embracing it and always remembering to enjoy this wonderful journey called writing.
What’s next for you?
Continue writing and illustrating Milton’s adventures in a series called Squirrely Squirrel Books.
Well thanks again for sharing your amazing story with us Monique. You can order Monique Bowman's book, When Two are Alike, by clicking here
And you can follow her on her FB page
Or at her website: www.moniquebowman.com
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