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Year End Review: A Few Thoughts on Jim Thompson and The Grifters

Dec 27, 2012 in eBooks, Film, Guest Posts

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

There are those moments in life so powerful and disturbing that they defy definition.  For me, Jim Thompson’s novels provide such moments.  Or maybe it’s more fair to say they knock me into them backwards—ass over applecart.

Apparently, I’m not alone in that.  Read what’s been said about Thompson, and you see that everyone is grasping: “If Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich could have joined together in some ungodly union and produced a literary offspring, Jim Thompson would be it….His work…casts a dazzling light upon the human condition.”

This is the first quote about Thompson’s work that many readers encounter, the Washington Post blurb splashed on the back of the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard editions that came out in the 1990s, after years when it was hard to find Thompson’s novels.  It’s evocative, and for fans of hard-boiled it has a dreamlike feel.  But ultimately it’s not very helpful.

Why?  Well, the problem with any definition that works by comparison is that it can only sketch around a thing: a chalk mark on a sidewalk, it misses the heart of the matter entirely—the heart that is so raw, so terribly visible, it forces you to work through analogy in the first place. “What does Hammett have to do with anything?” you might argue.  “There is none of his carefully-controlled and sleekly-styled disillusion here.  Surely the reviewer should have said Chandler, Cain, and Woolrich.  Or better, Cain, Woolrich and Chandler, in that order.”  In no time, what is Thompson’s is lost.

Yet such an approach is understandable, for to look at the heart of Thompson’s work… Well, it’s a hard place to look.  But in the end, the only way to get at it is to read, and then live with the consequences for a while. Continue reading ›

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Stamps from the Lawrence Block’s Keller Collection

Dec 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

Lawrence Block’s forthcoming novel, Hit Me, brings Keller back into a game he thought he had left behind: contract killing. What would Keller rather be doing with his time? Stamp collecting, for starters. Block even designed a souvenir sheet of stamps to accompany a special edition of HIT ME:

Stamps from the Keller Collection

In an interview with Thomas Pluck, Block discusses Keller’s philatelist proclivity:

Pluck: Keller’s stamp collecting has become almost as intriguing as his hits. . . . I never collected stamps, but I did collect coins, then lost my collection to some unscrupulous movers. A pristine 1945-S Mercury dime will be my Rosebud, I imagine. There’s something about stamps, coins and bank notes besides the art and their monetary value—they’re tangible icons. I was a numismatist, and you’re a philatelist. Which both sound like kinky perversions, and to a degree they are. What stamps do you collect? Does Keller have your dream collection?

Block: Keller collects worldwide, 1840 to 1940, which his British Empire collection extending through the reign of George VI. Me too. How’s that for coincidence? Keller, of course, has a much better collection, because he had the sense to pick a far more lucrative profession.

Read the rest of the interview, which ranges widely from New York City to getting paid as a writer. Hit Me goes on sale February 12th.

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Not Your Father’s Bond

Dec 11, 2012 in Film, Guest Posts

The new James Bond movie Skyfall has been out in theaters for about a month now, and as pretty much anybody visiting this site must already know, critics are calling it one of the best Bond films in decades. There are, of course, many reasons why the film has been met with the acclaim that it has. The breathtaking action sequences. Javier Bardem’s masterfully villainous performance. The way the film takes a step back and manages to capture the full weight of Judy Dench’s portrait of M, which has, largely unremarked, anchored the Bond series for nearly two decades.

But part of the acclaim surely has to do with director Sam Mendes and screenwriters  Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan’s attempts to allow the influence of modern world into franchise that has always offered the ultimate in wish fulfillment.  Is anyone in the world as poised and suave, even for a few minutes’ stretch, as Bond has been at nearly every moment of his fifty-year history? Probably not. And for perhaps as never before (forgetting, for now, certain scenes of the dreadful Die Another Day), Skyfall shows James Bond brought down to human proportions—injured, aging, psychologically compromised, his very vocation placed on the chopping block by members of the British government, his longtime employer in the crosshairs of a killer unlike any he’s ever before faced.

Not everyone outside the critics’ inner circles has been enamored with this approach. A number of the detractors I’ve talked to in the past few weeks have taken issue with the humbling of James Bond, their arguments boiling down to: I see what they did there. But that’s not the Bond I grew up with. The unconverted happen to be absolutely right. Skyfall’s Bond is a far cry from the Bond of yesteryear. But what really interests me is not whether or not Skyfall is a great film—or a true Bond film–but why the hell it is the way it is at all. Continue reading ›

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The Joy of Dredd

Nov 20, 2012 in Comic Books

The post below comes to us from Duane Swierczynski, author of Fun and Games, Hell and Gone, and the forthcoming Point and Shoot. He’s also the writer of IDW’s new Judge Dredd series, the first issue of which drops this week.

I discovered 2000 A.D. and the world of Judge Dredd at the tender age of 15 through a somewhat unlikely source: a bootleg Commodore 64 game. The rules were simple: steer a pixelated Dredd through a digital Mega-City One and pretty much shoot everything in sight. Jonesing for more, I realized that Dredd was based on a UK comic . . . and at the time, super-tough to find here in the U.S. Add yet another frustration to my nerdy teenaged life.

Over the next 25 years, however, I snapped up all the Dredd stories that I could, savoring them like exotic treats smuggled through customs. Slowly, the future dystopia featured in Dredd snapped into place for me, and I realized that the writers and artists over at 2000 A.D. were showing us America through a twisted funhouse mirror. In short: Judge Joe Dredd is a one-man judge, jury and executioner . . . on a motorcycle. You jaywalk in front of him? Dredd will sentence you on the spot, and then next thing you know, you’ll be staring at the ceiling of a cramped iso-cube. Steal something? Kill somebody? Try to kill a judge? Well, may Dredd have mercy on your soul. (Spoiler alert: He won’t.) The stories were full of the same kind of ultra-violent satire that I’d loved in Paul Verheoven’s RoboCop. And you can’t tell me the writers of Robo weren’t tipping their helmets to Dredd, who debuted more than a decade earlier.

When IDW announced an American version a while back, I was over the moon—never even thinking that I would be approached to write this new version. Needless to say, this is the opportunity of lifetime, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. The 15-year-old in me may never recover.

IDW editor Chris Ryall and I talked about this series covering untold tales from the earlier days of Dredd’s career—though rest assured, this ain’t Lil’ Joe Dredd. He’s no rookie; he’s been serving up justice on the mean streets of Mega-City One for quite some time. Thanks to the Judge Dredd Complete Case File that the sick folks at 2000 A.D. have been publishing, I’ve had the chance to go back and read the early Dredd stories and see what I missed—namely, a lot of giddy, high-octane mayhem. I mean that in the best possible way.

When I was pitching Chris, I told him that I’d like IDW’s Dredd to feel like a transgressive sci-fi black comedy police procedural—like Law & Order, if say, Jerry Orbach were a violent inflexible fascist. Someone who readers can’t help but root for, since he’s up against overwhelming odds in a city gone insane.

So in this first issue (see handy preview below!) I though it was important to introduce readers (both longtime Dredd fans as well as newbies) to the two main characters: Dredd, and the city itself. But beyond that, I see Dredd is also the perfect vehicle for telling every type of crime story imaginable, and the possibilities are exciting as hell, especially when you factor in future tech. I’m finding inspiration in the the lawless “Dillinger” days of the early 1930s, when emerging technology inspired both cops and bandits to elevate their games. When the bandits started using race cars for getaways, the cops responded with faster pursuit vehicles; shotguns were met with machine guns; organized criminal gangs were met with wiretapping and most wanted lists. With Dredd, I’m asking myself: what kind of games will cops (that is, judges) and robbers be playing 100 years in the future? I hope you’ll have fun with the answers in future issues.

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Exclusive Preview: Birds of Prey #14

Nov 15, 2012 in Comic Books

Birds of Prey #14 coverSomeone at DC Comics loves us. The reason I know this is that they’ve offered us a first look at Birds of Prey #14, which was written by Duane Swierczynski. You’ve read about Swierczynski before on this site as the author of the Charlie Hardie series: Fun & Games and Hell & Gone are available now in gorgeous paperbacks, with Point & Shoot arriving next year.

In issue 14, we follow the Birds of Prey as they continue their mission to Japan to track down a precious sword, while simultaneously combating a time bomb set to detonate one thousand feet below sea level. Start reading the issue below—we’ve got the first five pages—and pick up Birds of Prey #14 when it drops November 21st.

For more information about this series, visit the DC Comics website.

Click on images to enlarge

Birds of Prey #14 page 1

Birds of Prey #14 page 2

Birds of Prey #14 page 3

Birds of Prey #14 page 4

Birds of Prey #14 page 5

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The Birth of The Right Hand

Nov 13, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

In the summer of 2001, my screenwriting partner Michael Brandt and I were hired to rewrite a screenplay for Universal Studios that involved an FBI agent embroiled in a global, political thriller.  While researching the film, Michael and I flew to Washington DC and were able to train with FBI agents at Quantico, including watching members of the Hostage Rescue Team perform drills — storming a facility with live flash bang grenades and real ammunition.  As part of that trip, we met with a reporter who covered the pentagon, and through him, we were able to interview a couple of real life American spies.  I was struck in particular by one man who, while perfectly pleasant in every aspect, would not tell us his name.   Still, he shared with us that one of his jobs while working for the CIA was to be in charge of holding copies of Presidential Directives.  We pressed him, and he explained that these documents noted when the President authorized breaking the laws of another country.  He would not tell us when he had this responsibility, because, he intimated, if the news got out, he would be targeted by several foreign services.

Years later, that little conversation over steaks at the Palms in DC stuck with me.  What kind of man would the US send in to purposely break the laws of another country… and what would the US do if the man were caught?  I remembered the biblical expression:  “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  What if there were a field officer, known around Langley as The Right Hand, whom the US sent in when they wanted a mission completed but zero knowledge of how that objective was achieved.  A man so autonomous as to be in a black ops unit consisting of only his handler and himself.  And what if that spy embraced that anonymity, that it was a two-way street, that he was perfectly content to have his Agency unaware of his riskier methods.  He could be the Right Hand.   They tell him another spy went missing in Russia and they want him back.   The Right Hand is the spy who completes the assignment by any means necessary, and if he’s caught, he will be abandoned by his own country.

As this idea started forming in my head, another notion struck me.  What if this spy is given an assignment to track down a beautiful young woman who may or may not exist?  What if the mission itself might be apocryphal?  What if the Right Hand decided to make up his own assignment?    After that, I had a character and I had an assignment and the pages started flowing.

My last three books were all written in the first person, and I was eager to stretch myself by writing this book in the third person while occasionally jumping points-of-view.  Some of my favorite espionage authors — Ludlum, Clancy — deftly leap from location to location, character to character, as the web of intrigue spins out from the center.  I tried to do that here, while always holding the main character Austin Clay at the center of the action.  The fates of the other characters we meet are intertwined with Clay’s, and they will be moving towards each other like planets in the same gravitational pull as the book progresses.  Some of the fun of reading these types of books is to guess how the various characters will come together.  I hope I surprise you more than once.

That’s the origin of The Right Hand, a book I massively enjoyed writing and I hope you will enjoy reading.  I’m more than happy to answer any comments or questions about The Right Hand or any other project in the comment section below… a feature on the Mulholland site that is woefully underused.  Don’t hesitate to give me a shout…  I love hearing from readers.   I hope you’ll be one of them.

Derek Haas is the author of THE RIGHT HAND, THE SILVER BEAR, COLUMBUS, and DARK MEN. Derek also wrote the screenplays with his partner Michael Brandt for 3:10 TO YUMA, WANTED, THE DOUBLE and the NBC show CHICAGO FIRE. He is the creator of the website popcornfiction.com, which promotes genre short fiction. Derek lives in Los Angeles. Follow Derek on twitter (@popcornhaas), or facebook friend him.

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A conversation with Denise Mina

Nov 12, 2012 in Graphic Novels

Call me mildly obsessed: I can’t get enough of Lisbeth Salander. I devoured The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo back when it was an advanced reader’s edition, I saw David Fincher’s film the day it came out (and could not stop imitating Rooney Mara’s strange English/Swedish accent), and I’ve just finished reading the first volume of Vertigo’s graphic novel adaptation.

Denise Mina, author of The End of Wasp Season and the forthcoming Gods and Beasts, wrote the script for this adaptation. What I found fascinating about her writing is the way she is able to translate the characterization in Larsson’s 600-page novel with a few deft strokes of dialogue. Mina kindly took the time to answer my questions about her adaptation:

Why a graphic novel of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? What attracted you to this project?
Denise Mina: DC Comics approached me, and I was very keen. I think they were surprised by how keen I was, but I thought the story would lend itself wonderfully to a comic. Salander is very visual and the whole story—the usurping of gender roles, the motorbike, the gothic island—it could hardly be more graphic.

Also I love Larsson. He was a really radical political writer who used mass market media to get his political points across, and I felt a lot of those points were lost in the film versions. For example, Salander’s mother is brain damaged because of domestic violence. Her mother isn’t even in the American version, which is a shame. For me her mother is the centre of the whole story.

What was the hardest part about adapting Stieg Larsson’s writing for a graphic novel? Were there any plot elements in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that were easier to tell in a graphic novel format?
DM: Quite a lot. Compared to prose, comics are great at action. I’d argue that comics are better for action than film too. The fraud plot lines were easier in comics than in prose and just impossible in film.

Difficult to have an interior monologue though, unless there is a narrator, and that’s not possible with a two-handed story like this one, where Blomkvist and Salander share the action half each.

Much of the dialogue in this adaptation is original. What was it like to write dialogue for someone else’s characters? How did you get inside their heads?
DM: For me the rule for dialogue in comics is less is best. The story should come out of the graphics and dialogue just shouldn’t be there if it isn’t necessary to add information or characterisation. Basically it boils down to information filtered through characterisation.

I didn’t find it hard because I’ve written for pre-existing characters before but I’m always dismayed when I find elements of myself in there, jokes I find funny but which don’t fit in with the scope of reference for those characters.

Tell me about the parts where you deviate from Stieg Larsson’s story: How much do you feel like you’re telling your story rather than Larsson’s?
DM: Its incredibly faithful to the original. I was aware that a lot of people already knew the story, and I didn’t want to leave too much out. It never felt like my story, more than that, it felt like I was trying to make his story work in a comics form. That involved things like making Blomkvist’s attractiveness believable (women are keen as chips to sleep with him for no very clear reason) and seeding Salander’s talent for disguising herself earlier in the story so that it doesn’t feel like a surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Vol. 1 is available for purchase now in hardcover and eBook

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A Bad Feeling: A Short Story

Nov 05, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Short Stories

Trigger-Happy Star Formation (NASA, Chandra, 8/12/09)Arthur held one finger up to his wife while he checked the number. “I need to take this.” He didn’t wait for her to protest, he just got up from the table and moved to the sidewalk in some vague notion of modern etiquette as he swiped his finger across the face of his phone and put it to his ear.

“This is Art.” He hoped his voice didn’t sound too anxious.

“I have Josh for you.” And then a few seconds later, “Arthur, how are you?”

“Good Josh. I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m returning your call.”

“You have to get me a meeting with George.” Well, that cut to the chase. He heard some shuffling on the other end of the line. Before Josh could answer, Art blurted, “Listen, you know I can get this job. You know it. Remember, Sarah? Remember when I said get a meeting with Sarah and I nailed that down with one phone call. I didn’t even have to go into her office. I just talked her through it and she pulled the trigger. Right then and there. Remember?”

“Art. That was six years ago.”

“Has it–? Well, I didn’t…”

“Sarah’s had a lot more work since then and she hasn’t called you back.”

“What’re you saying?”

“I’m saying people talk.”

“Sarah’s an idiot. That much was clear from the get-go.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, Art, but you have a bit of a stink on you now.”

“Bullshit.”

“You hired me because I tell it like it is. And I’m telling you, you’re toxic. George isn’t going to happen.”

Arthur looked at his wife still in the booth in the restaurant, drinking a black and white milkshake. Why’d she have to order the milkshake?

“You know what, Josh?” He looked up at the sky, gray and pitiless. He hung up the phone before he finished the sentence. His wife would ask him who that was calling and he rehearsed saying “nobody,” then went back inside the diner. Continue reading ›

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A conversation with Thomas Mullen

Oct 23, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

The below conversation between Thomas Mullen and Jon Fasman appears in the paperback edition of THE REVISIONISTS, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Check back later in the week for questions and topics for discussion perfect for your reading group. Or, head out to your favorite bookstore, snag a copy, and start reading now. You’ll thank us later.

Thomas Mullen has written two great novels set in America’s past: The Last Town on Earth, which tells the story of a quarantined town in Washington state during the 1918 influenza epidemic, and The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, the story of two Depression-era bank robbers with an unusual gift for surviving bullet wounds. His writing, both in these stories and in his new book, gestures toward fable, allegory and that catch-all category, magical realism, but remains grounded where novels should be grounded: in character, and in love. His new novel, The Revisionists, is a historical novel of sorts: one of its protagonists comes from the future, which he calls The Perfect Present, and treats our imperfect present as history.

I met Tom by chance, in 2007, when we were both living in the same neighborhood in D.C. One year later he moved to Atlanta, and a year later, again by chance, my work moved me down here — to more or less the same neighborhood once again. I had a few conversations with Tom while The Revisionists was still in the idea stage. I told him then that it sounded great, but how great it actually turned out to be surprised and delighted me. What follows is our conversation about imagination, genre, and the not-so-Chocolate-anymore-City.

JF: You give us brief glimpses of Zed’s world: the Department, pods, erasers of memory. Did you, as the author, imagine, see or plot more of it than that? Was Zed’s world that you allude to complete in your mind?

TM: I admit that I don’t read much sci-fi, and that the specifics of Zed’s future world (what it looks like, what sort of inventions they have, etc) wasn’t quite as interesting to me as the philosophy and politics behind it. So I tried to describe the world as vaguely as possible and let smoke and mirrors do the rest.

What most intrigued me about his allegedly “Perfect Present” is the way they deal with past conflict and with the idea of race and ethnicity. I was inspired by a Time magazine cover story from 2000 that used computer graphics to create a composite face of what humankind will look like many, many generations in the future, when all the ethnicities have mixed and we’re basically one race. I figured that if one of my characters was a time traveler from such a future, then he should look this way. The contemporary-Washington characters who see him think he looks “interestingly multiracial” and puzzle over his background, which leads to some awkwardness. Continue reading ›

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A Review of The Revisionists: A good story, well told.

Oct 22, 2012 in Books, Guest Posts

This week, Mulholland Books celebrates the publication of the paperback edition of Thomas Mullen’s THE REVISIONISTS, a Paste magazine Best Book of the Year, and the novel CNN.com calls “a compelling and complex page-turner” and “a paranoid thriller for the post-9/11 age.”

Read on for New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta’s take on the book, and check back later in the week for a look at the bonus content for reading groups included in the new edition.

There are writers whose work you love to read, and writers whose work you love to read…but also make you mad with envy. The latter, I believe, comes at an intersection of talent and bravery. When the author’s narrative gifts and honed skills make you think damn, I wish I’d written that, and his or her choices makes you think damn, I wish I had the nerve to try something like this. Those writers stand out not just because of enormous literary abilities, but because it’s clear why they’re writing: for love of story.

I can create a list of writers who hit that intersection of talent and bravery regularly (Stewart O’Nan and Jess Walter rise swiftly to mind) but it’s a short one. Thomas Mullen is certainly on that list. Most of us talk about pushing our boundaries while we stay in a relatively tight space. We’ll venture from wall to wall, maybe, but we ain’t kicking them down and crossing the neighbor’s lawn. There’s a literary comfort zone at play, and in his fantastic third novel, THE REVISIONISTS, Thomas Mullen demonstrates that his literary comfort zone is not bound by genre…or place…or time. Tom demonstrates so damn many things, in fact, that were he not a genuinely good guy I’d start to hate him.

Coming off two brilliant historical novels – THE LAST TOWN ON EARTH is one of my favorite books of the past several years, and THE MANY DEATHS OF THE FIREFLY BROTHERS is every bit as good – Mullen decides to forsake the past for the future in THE REVISIONISTS. Or does he? While Zed is an agent from the future, sent to ensure that a Dystopian existence does not come off the rails if left in the hands of humans from the past, (well, present…are you starting to understand why this book would be so damn hard to write well? Trust me, the narrative flow is a lot smoother than this review), the weight of history hangs over the story at all times, so that just as the action and intrigue are pulling you forward, you’re pulling back to consider how we got here, and what it means.

Want to know if the story will engage you or if it’s just a bunch of pretty writing hung on a fascinating intellectual concept? I’ll let you tell me. Here are a few lines from the opening chapter:

“I saw a young woman carrying her toddler, a little black girl in a pink sweater, her hair braided with white beads. Residue from cotton candy encrusted the girl’s lips, and I thought to myself, She’s two, maybe three. I wanted to know her name, look her up in my databases, see if by any chance she would be one of the survivors…The girl smiled at me and waved. Her mother never noticed, never turned around, and after they reached an intersection I made myself stop. It doesn’t make any difference, I told myself. She’ll likely die, or, if she’s lucky, she won’t – yes, if she’s lucky, she’ll get to grow up in one of the most violent periods the world has ever known.

I waved back, helpless as she was.”

Got you yet? If not, please FedEx me the heart-shaped stone that resides in your chest. I would like it for my collection.

If you want plot, rest assured, you’ve come to the right place. Zed’s background, skill set, mission and progressive challenges are the stuff of great spy novels, with that added twist of sci-fi, and everything is anchored in a Washington D.C. setting that is closer to the realism of a George Pelecanos version of our capital than it is to the convenient montage used in so many fate-of-the-world thrillers. As is the case in any good novel, though, the book begins and ends with character, and Mullen’s creations are familiar and empathetic, coming time and again to questions of the deepest humanity: if we could cleanse prejudice by cleansing the linkages – ethnicity, faith, culture, family – that inspire divisions, what have we gained and at what cost?

Call it what you’d like – a literary-reader’s thriller, a thriller-reader’s literary novel – but I don’t have much interest in attempting to label this book, and one of the great pleasures of reading it was in the realization that Mullen has even less interest. It’s geared to no one and nothing but the story, and the beautiful writing, mind-bending plot, and moral complexity make it one of those truly rare finds: a good story, well told. A reason to read. Mullen’s books seem to have permanent residence on “Best of the Year” lists, and I expect you’ll see THE REVISIONISTS on several this December. Do yourself a favor and get to it first.

Michael Koryta (pronounced ko-ree-ta) is the author of many novels, some of which have won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Great Lake Books Award, and St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Novel prize, while also earning nominations for the Edgar, Quill, Shamus and Barry awards. In addition to winning the Los Angeles Times prize for best mystery, his novel Envy the Night was selected as a Reader’s Digest condensed book. His work has been translated into nearly twenty languages. A former private investigator and newspaper reporter, Koryta graduated from Indiana University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Bloomington, Indiana. Connect with him on Facebook.

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