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Teen Writing Club with Author Emily Pohl-Weary

April 9, 2015 | Ken Sparling | Comments (0)

Hey teen writers! Here’s a great opportunity: Emily Pohl-Weary (the library’s 2015 Young Voices e writer in residence) is running a free six-week writing club, starting on April 22!

True Lies: A Writing and Reading Club for 16-19 Year Olds

What’s real? What’s actually true? Is fiction a lie? Is writing fiction just an elaborate process of making up lies based on real experiences?

How do we use social media to build an ideal version of ourselves? Is creating a curated persona through Facebook and Instagram a kind of lie? Or is it self-preservation? Why, exactly, are we are so tempted to curate our identities? And how does that effect the writer in all of us?

During this 6-week program, we’ll explore how social media is changing the nature of writing and the fine line between real life and fiction, with Canadian novelist, Emily Pohl-Weary, and other local guest authors. 

TRUE LIES will culminate in a final public reading event, where you’ll have a chance to share your work!


Registration is free and required.

Wednesdays, April 22 – May 27, 2015
5 – 7 PM
Artscape Youngplace, Room 106
180 Shaw Street
FREE | Registration Required 

For more info:



Farewell From Your 2014 Young Voices E-Writer in Residence!

December 8, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)


Authentic action shot of the E-Writer in Residence in her "office," complete with pajamas, bedhead, no makeup, tunes, and a dazed expressionHeyya!

I've had an amazing couple of months as the Toronto Public Library's Young Voices E-Writer in Residence.

The residency launched with a public event celebrating this year's Young Voices Magazine, followed by the day-long adventure that is the Young Voices Conference. Since then, I've also done some local branch visits. 

In the past eight weeks, I wrote or coordinated 44 blog posts (phew!), which are listed below (links! read! and comment! because I'm still checking the email and site for a couple more days!).

The archive includes many things:

  • videos of Toronto teens talking about writing,
  • interviews with fantastic young adult authors (several of which were conducted by teens),
  • my pearls of wisdom channeled into six writing tips,
  • posts about aspects of writing and publishing by teens,
  • some of my fave writing exercises,
  • and more...

Behind the scenes, I corresponded with 34 young writers who sent me more than 40 unique manuscripts. I got to read some fantastic poems, essays, short stories, novel excerpts, and even listen to a song. Hopefully my comments and suggestions will be helpful as people move forward.

I'd say it's been a successful eight weeks! Thanks to all the Young Voices peeps behind the scenes who made my residency so lovely. And thanks again for having me. I wish you all so, so, so much success with your writing.

Emily P-W


Emily's Writing Tips:

-#1: Don't Give Up

-#2: Make Friends With Writers

-#3: Reread to Analyze

-#4: Make Editing a Game

-#5: Set Goals (and Stick to Them)

-#6: On Getting Published


Author/Creator Interviews:

-Journalist Carlyn Zwarenstein

-Creative Director/Artist Terry Tau

-Spacing Magazine's Matthew Blackett

-Graphic Novelist Willow Dawson by Maria Yang

-Filmmaker and Novelist Jim Munroe

-Young Adult Author Paul Yee by Maria Yang

-Young Adult Author Teresa Toten by Terese Mason Pierre 

-Author Hiromi Goto by Atara Shields

-Young Adult Author Carrie Mac by Anupya Pamidimukkala 

-Young Adult Author/Graphic Novelist Mariko Tamaki

-Ken Sparling: The Writer Behind the (Young Voices) Machine


Guest Posts by Teen Writers:

-A Self-Publishing 101 Crash Course by Benjamin Gabbay

-My Young Voices Journey by Amy Schacherl

-Tips for Moving Beyond Binary Genders by Amy Schacherl

-Examining "Binary," A 2014 Young Voices Magazine Story by Amy Schacherl


Teens Talk Video Series:

-Relating to Characters

-Books to Be Avoided at All Costs

-Their Favourite Authors

-To Publish Or Not to Publish?

-What Would You Tell a Friend Who Wants to Write?

-The Best Writing Advice 

-Why Does the World Need People Who Write?


Writing Exercises:

-Fifteen Minutes with Lynda Barry

-Three-Panel Comic Set on Public Transit

-Poem For a Poem

-Very Short Poems About Your Life

-Write a Monster Into Your Neighbourhood

-Write a List Poem 


Miscellaneous Posts By Emily That You Might Want to Read:

-What It's Like to Get Feedback From the E-Writer in Res

-My Initial Greeting As Newly Instated Alien Overlord/E-WIR 

-My Life at the Library (Thus Far)

Guest Post: A Self-Publishing 101 Crash Course

December 6, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Wingheart Luminous RockHave a book you want to get out there? Young writer (and Young Voices veteran) Benjamin Gabbay has been kind enough to write up a guide to the inner workings of self publishing.

Benjamin is the author of the fantasy novel Wingheart: Luminous Rock and soon-to-be-published sequel. He was a workshop presenter at the 2013 Young Voices Conference and is a member of the TPL’s Editorial Youth Advisory Group. In addition, Benjamin is a passionate classical pianist and composer, as well as a digital designer.  

Read on to find out all you need to know...


So you’ve written a book. You’ve wrestled all the words, the plot, the prose, the poetry into shape and made something worthy of mounting on the shelf alongside the likes of Tolkien and Tolstoy. But books aren’t just to be mounted; they are to be read! Surely there must be some way to bring your masterpiece to the masses.

That’s where a publisher comes in—someone to wrap your words up in hardcover (or paperback), fire off a couple-myriad-or-so copies through the printing press, and parade them around the world’s bookstores for all to find and enjoy. But as long as literary agents and publishers are daily deluged by reams of manuscript submissions, the odds of getting your work noticed by the right people can seem slim. You may have heard of the flood of rejection letters J.K. Rowling faced before finally landing a publisher; Agatha Christie and C.S. Lewis both endured years of rejections. Some of the greatest literary works may still lie festering in a drawer if their authors are not as persistent as these now-illustrious writers were.

Thankfully, there is an alternative.

Self-publishing is not a new concept; Beatrix Potter did it with The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901. While not a simple effort by any means, self-publishing allows a writer to bring their work to the world exactly as they see fit, avoiding the endless agent-publisher-rejection struggle altogether. Advances in printing technology over the past decade, particularly with digital print-on-demand services, have also made the process more affordable than ever.

So, how does one go about self-publishing?

1. Editing

In traditional publishing, typically, a professional editor from the publishing house will work with the author to ensure that their manuscript is brought to tip-top condition in every area from grammar and spelling to writing style and plot. For a self-publisher, likewise, the editing process should never be overlooked or underestimated. Even if you have the most magnificent story to tell, it must be told skillfully in order to shine.

If you can’t afford to hire a professional editor, the next best thing is any well-read friend or mentor with a deft grasp of the English language (or French, or Spanish, or Klingon...whatever language it is you write in). Also be sure to share your work with the sort of people you’re writing for—your target audience—and listen to what they might have to say about what’s awesome or not-so-awesome about it. If you’re not sure where to find those people, online writing communities such as Wattpad are a great place to start.

It may also benefit you to check out the Canadian Writer’s Handbook for some of the more nitty-gritty dos and don’ts of writing. The TPL has loads of copies in circulation.

DSC_0050_crop22. E-books

Yes, I know, you don’t care so much about having your work on digital paper; you want the real thing! We’ll get to that. But seeing how massively e-book sales are beginning to outnumber hardcopy sales, diving into the e-book market is a must for any aspiring author.

There are two major formats of e-books: one is Kindle (extension .mobi), created to work exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. The other is E-pub (extension .epub), which works on just about every other e-reader and mobile device. A quick Google search will yield loads of free software and services for automatically converting your work into either format, although many of these can produce lopsided layouts, jumbled words, and altogether messy results. If you know a thing or two about HTML (or aren’t afraid to learn), an equally quick Google search can provide you with many great how-to guides on manually converting plain text into e-books—more tedious, but less risky than letting an automatic software do it for you.

Once your e-book is done, head on over to Kindle Direct Publishing to publish your Kindle book to the Amazon store, and to any of the dozens of other e-book markets to publish your e-pub book! (Please note that, if you’re under the age of 18, you may need assistance from a parent or guardian to register with Kindle Direct or other e-book publishing services.)

3. Cover design

Though many of us have been taught all our lives to not “judge a book by its cover,” it’s inevitable that we do. If the cover of a book looks too dull, unpolished, or too much like something we’ve seen a million times before, we tend to overlook it or approach it with a negative pretense. No matter what format you publish your book in, make sure it has a cover that people will judge favourably.

If you have a particularly artistic friend who might be willing to try their hand at decorating your soon-to-be-bestseller, all the better. If not, you’ve still got plenty of options. You can use sites like the Creative Commons search engine to find photos and digital art in the public domain—that is, free material with limited or no copyright that you can use for the design of your cover without fear of plagiarism. For some artsy typography to go with it, check out

Don’t be afraid to go with a simple cover design; done right, it can appear a lot more striking than something too busy or embellished.

4. Text design

In a not-too-distant era, this was known as typesetting—quite literally, the setting of individual letters on a printing plate that would have been used in the printing of a book. In the age of MS Word and digital printers, this process is reborn as the digital laying-out of text on a page. This is where you set fonts, margins, paragraph styles, chapter headers, and just about every other way that your words are displayed.

Professional publishers generally use top-notch software such as Adobe InDesign for text design, but a lot can be done in a simple word processor like MS Word. Search the Web for guides on how to lay out your text and prepare it for printing; study traditionally published books for their text design and imitate any traits that you like. Font size, line spacing, paragraph indents—no detail is too small. However you design your text, just be sure that it follows any guidelines set by your chosen publishing service (see below).

There are just a few aspects of text design that you generally can’t mess around with. Many of these have to do with the various sections of a book and the order in which they are arranged (e.g., the copyright information page, the dedication, the table of contents...). All relevant information on this subject can be found in style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

5. Printing and distribution

Yes, this is the exciting bit. Your very own book, edited and designed to perfection, is finally ready take on print form. Just a few years ago, this would have meant paying a fortune to a printing service to run off an inordinate number of copies of your book (small print runs would end up being unprofitable), then finding a warehouse to store the lot, and a distributor willing to peddle it around to booksellers. This all changed with the dawn of the print-on-demand publishing service, exemplified best by Amazon CreateSpace.

CreateSpace works like this: once you create an account and upload your book file to the site, your book becomes available for purchase on the store (and other Amazon stores around the world, including When someone orders a copy or three, that exact number of copies is printed and shipped to the customer straight away. No need for massive print runs and no need for storage. Because the book is produced on demand, it never runs out of stock.

If you’re interested in going a step further and don’t mind a small set-up fee, IngramSpark offers a print-on-demand service similar to CreateSpace, with the added bonus of having your publication included in the worldwide Ingram distribution catalogue. This makes your book available for order from major bookstores like Chapters-Indigo and brings you one step closer to seeing your work on store shelves.

Outside of print-on-demand services, small local print runs are also an option. Many print shops nowadays offer professional-quality book printing services; even the TPL does! Asquith Press at the Toronto Reference Library is the perfect resource for producing small quantities of paperback books at reasonable prices. They even offer free classes on preparing your book for print.

You may also want to check out Library and Archives Canada for some important information on ISBN numbers, although if you publish through CreateSpace, they can assign an ISBN for you.

I should note that both CreateSpace and IngramSpark’s services are constantly evolving and may cause the information here to quickly fall out date! When you’re ready to publish, still make sure to do your research in finding the best service for your needs.

6. Marketing

Some writers are born marketers; many are not. Inevitably, for a self-publisher, marketing can play an enormous role in the success of their book. Even if you’ve made your work available through an e-book store or a print-on-demand service, it still needs to be seen to be read!

As you might expect, some of the best marketing nowadays is done online. Create a Facebook page for yourself; post updates on your Twitter feed; start a Tumblr blog and share your writing. The aforementioned Wattpad is also an excellent place to showcase your work and build a fan base.

Marketing beyond the world of cyberspace can be just as effective. Throw a book launch party; bring some copies of your printed book to local bookshops and ask if they’d be interested in carrying it on consignment; share your writing at open mics, literary fairs, and anywhere else that could get your work noticed and appreciated. 

So there you have it. In an age where young writers are flourishing more than ever before (thanks in part to TPL services like the E-Writer in Residence program), it’s encouraging to know that we have options other than the bustle of traditional publishing for bringing our work to the world.

“I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.”
~ Toni Morrison

#fridayreads Atara Shields Interviews Hiromi Goto

December 5, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Image 60
Photo by Dana Putnam

In this last edition of #FridayReads, TPL's Editorial Youth Advisory Group member Atara Shields reached out to Vancouver author Hiromi Goto.

Hiromi is the award-winning author of many books for youth and adults. Her adult novel, Chorus of Mushrooms was the recipient of the regional Commonwealth Writer’s Prize Award for best first book as well as co-winner of the Japan-Canada Book Award.

Her second adult novel, The Kappa Child, was awarded the James Tiptree Jr. Award. More recently her YA novel, Half World,was winner of the 2010 Sunburst Award and the Carl Brandon Parallax Award and was long-listed for the IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award.

Her latest YA publication, companion book to Half World, is Darkest Light.

Hiromi is also a mentor at Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio, an editor, and mother of two grown children. She is at work on graphic novels. 

AS: How old were you when you first discovered your knack for writing and your interest in writing fantasy?

HG: I began writing stories for myself in junior high school (as opposed to writing because I had to because of homework assignments). I loved reading as soon as I learned how to read and felt a desire to be able to make this thing that I loved. I wanted to create feelings in a reader, I wanted to transport them to another world. I've always loved reading fantasy. When I first began writing "as a serious author" I leaned toward more "literary" writing, but when I had children I wanted to write fantasy stories for them so they could see characters and people like themselves in fantasy adventures. I.e. that fantasy stories wasn't just a place for white characters.

AS: Do you primarily write for yourself or for your audience, and how do you reconcile both these aspects of writing?

HG: It's a balancing act that is always in a state of flux. I need to write something that I'm interested in and feel passionately about, or it becomes impossible to sustain a full-length manuscript, especially if the project can ending up taking years to complete. At the same time it's important to consider the needs of the audience, because what I'm interested in (as a forty-eight year-old woman) might not be what a contemporary youth is interested in.... When I'm writing for an adult audience I make fewer adaptations. But I do consider demographics-- i.e. do I want to appeal to a straight audience, or is this a project that is meant for a queer target audience, for instance. This affects how I write and what I write. These adjustments may range from  cosmetic or something that's structural. It just depends. Of course I remain true to my vision of the project. It's only the rendering of it that can be adjusted.

Continue reading "#fridayreads Atara Shields Interviews Hiromi Goto" »

#tbt My Life at the Library (Thus Far)

December 4, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Toronto_Public_Library-logoDid you know Toronto library system has 99 branches and over 12 million books in its collection? It's the largest neighbourhood-based library system in the world. So impressive!

What's your personal history with the library?

What do you value? What do you take for granted?

I thought I'd make use of my last #tbt slot as the 2014 Young Voices E-Writer in Residence to chronicle and celebrate my long connection with our venerable public institution.

Parkdale branchEARLY DAYS

In my mind, my library love affair started around 1978, just after my family moved back to Toronto from four years in the wasteland of St Catherines. In reality, it probably began five years earlier, when I was a baby, and barely old enough to enjoy sing-alongs amidst the books.

Anyhow, at the age of five, I was beyond excited to see so many books that I could read... FOR FREE!!! I forced my parents to make weekly visits to the Parkdale and High Park Branches, so I could check out shopping bags filled with books. Eventually, they got tired of me asking and coached me on the safest possible way to walk there and back. The advice sounded a lot like: "Walk straight there, do not pass go, do not collect $200."


Merril_collectionMy grandmother was a science fiction author, cultural commentator and editor. Her idea of babysitting was to plunk me down in the hall outside her office at the Spaced Out Library, which later became the Merril Collection (named after her). Meanwhile, she sat inside that fire trap of an office, chain-smoking beneath stacks of paper and old books she'd carted to Toronto from New York when she moved here in 1968.

This was actually my idea of heaven. I read as many pulp fantasy novels as I could find, including the entire oeuvres of David Eddings and Piers Anthony (despite Judy's attempts to shift my interests to more intellectual works).

My other greatest joy, at the time, was to check out new branches when we were moving about the city on the weekends. I loved the smell of books, and got giddy at the thought of discovering treasures. This was back before inter-library loans were a big thing, when catalogues were kept on index cards in wooden cabinets. The best!


My first book-length project was actually my grandmother's memoirs. After she passed away in 1997, I spent several months transcribing interviews I'd done with Judy in her office at the Merril Collection. This was a bittersweet time for me. I'd never felt so close to her, surrounded by her favourite books and files, listening to her voice for hours each day. Yet she was gone. I'd never get to argue about literature or share my writing or show her the completed book about her life that I worked so hard on...


As an adult, I've led many writing workshops in local branches across the system, and met teens from all walks of life who love to read and writing. For several years, I actually ran a weekly writing group for youth, called the Parkdale Street Writers, out of the Parkdale Branch. The impetus for starting the group came from a tragedy that occurred just blocks from where it's located, so it seemed fitting to meet there. Those were four amazing years, during which I met many amazingly gifted young writers.

And a shout-out is due to the Bloor-Gladstone branch, where I spent many hours writing with my then-partner in writing crime Nalo Hopkinson (who now lives in California--boo!). I feel as if I ought to formally thank the TPL for their patronage on two of my books. What would we do without these public spaces that encourage learning and the love of words?

TorontoReferenceLibraryAnd last, but not least, I should mention my years volunteering for Young Voices, which has been based out of the North York Central Library and the Toronto Reference Library.

Many a spirited conversation between teens and professional writers has taken place in the basement meeting rooms of those institutions! Not to mention the great launch parties and conferences that were the end result of that work. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you'll share your own journey...


December 3, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

What makes teen readers relate to characters? Watch this video to find out...

What makes you relate to characters? Let us know! 

GUEST POST: Amy Schacherl on Her Young Voices Journey

December 2, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Amy SchacherlYoung writer Amy Shacherl is back, this time with a story about her long-time involvement with Young Voices Magazine.

Amy is a writer, feminist, and one of those people who will stop you in the street to talk to your dog/cat/ferret. She also has an amazing short story titled "Binary," in the 2014 Young Voices magazine, which is online over here.


How do you start being a writer? Well, the first step is to write! Write everything, even if you think it’s really bad. You might look back at it later and say, hey, I actually liked this thing I wrote. Sometimes putting it down for a while only helps you to appreciate it later.

This was how I started with Young Voices. My first piece, written at age 13, was admittedly pretty bad. Young Voices saw something in it and published it. Write down everything - even if you don’t like it, others might take a fancy to it.

I started branching out and experimenting with different writing styles and genres, and though it produced some now embarrassingly bad pieces, I learned what styles worked for me and what didn’t. Write down everything, even the bad stuff, so you can get that out of the way and write the good stuff.

One of my pieces, “Percy and the Bogeyman,” was actually published in a textbook, which was super cool, especially considering that it was found through Young Voices. Write down everything, and take every opportunity to be published and to get your work out there. The more places you appear, the more likely you are to be noticed.

My latest Young Voices piece, “Binary,” is, I feel, a culmination of what I’ve learned from writing. I discovered what works for me, and what my niche is, and I did that by writing and writing and writing.

So really what Young Voices told me was WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN! You can’t write that award-winning novel or poem if you criticize everything you do. The same applies for NaNoWriMo: you can’t sort out the good from the bad if you don’t write either. Keep writing, teens, and remember to submit to Young Voices! (If nothing else, it looks good on your resume.)

Reception for E-Writer in Residence Emily Pohl-Weary (and Readings By Toronto Teen Writers)

December 1, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (4)

WS2007OpeningDay_mg_5378It's the last week of our 2014 Young Voices E-Writer-in-Residence. Now's your final chance to send in a manuscript for critique!

And come join some fantastic teen writers and meet our outgoing E-Writer Emily Pohl-Weary at a farewell reception.

Chat with Emily about the writing life and hear some amazing work by the next generation of Toronto writers.

What's the plan? Conversation with nice writers! Yummy treats! Writing games! Teen sharing their fab workshopped writing! A brief reading by TPL E-Writer in Residence Emily Pohl-Weary! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Brentwood Library Branch
36 Brentwood Road North
Toronto, ON, M8X 2B5



We hope to see you there.

#fridayreads Interview with Spacing Magazine's Matthew Blackett

November 28, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

This edition of #fridayreads is a little interview with someone whose work I stumbled over when I was combing through old issues of Young Voices Magazine.

Matt-Blackett-smallMatthew Blackett is the publisher, creative director and one of the founders of Spacing magazine. (Also see a three-panel comic he drew in his eponymous self-published M@B, which was part of a writing exercise I posted last week.)

As the publisher of Spacing, Blackett has helped shape the magazine into one of Canada's top small magazines. Spacing has been awarded international design awards for its layout, photography and TTC-inspired subway station buttons.

Blackett was the co-recipient of the 2010 Jane Jacobs Prize for "contributing to the fabric of Toronto life in a unique way... that has become a part of our shared urban experience." He also received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for his "service to the country." 

While his articles on a variety of city-oriented topics can be found on, he can be heard on CBC Radio's "Here & Now" regularly delivering his "Curious City" feature, or you can find his written and graphic design skills to The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, and Azure.

But because this is the TPL's teen blog, I thought I'd focus our interview around what was one of Matt's first times being published... right here, chez nous!

Matt b
Matthew Blackett's comic in Young Voices Mag

Emily: Hey Matt! Tell me about your connection to Young Voices Magazine.

Matt: Young Voices was the second publication to ever publish my comics (the first was the Toronto Sun's "Young Sun" feature in their weekend comics section). I used to hang out at the North York Central Library a lot in the late-80s so I became aware of the journal when its inaugural issue was launched.

Emily: How did getting published in the magazine make you feel?

Matt: For a 13 year old it was exhilarating. It validated all of my obsessive time sitting at a drawing board.

Emily: Why do you think it's a great feature of the Toronto Public Library's yearly programming?

Matt: If it gives one kid that extra lift, a real boost of confidence, then it's totally worth it. Encouraging young people to explore arts and culture goes a long way to shaping well-rounded, intellectually curious minds. In my case, it was one of those early steps that led me to a career in comics and later on publishing.

Emily: Whatcha working on these days?

Matt: Spacing recently opened a store in downtown Toronto that sells products that celebrate this great city. I'm hoping to sell TPL tote bags in the store very soon, too!


November 26, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

In this video, a group of Toronto teens tell us what makes them dislike a book based on its cover. Turns out advertising love triangles, girls with long flowy dresses on the cover, sexist characters, giant swords and war are cringeworthy.

And once they get past the cover, they hate the overuse of cliches, stereotypical characters, and girls who only care about seducing boys.

So... What makes you avoid a book?


Writing Exercise: Fifteen Minutes with Lynda Barry

November 25, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (1)

Lynda Barry's SyllabusThis week's writing exercise comes to you straight from Lynda Barry. I can't take any credit! But I promise it will be good. In fact, it would be good to do this regularly.

Do you all know Lynda? You should! What It Is is a transformative book about creativity and storytelling. I use it in writing workshops all the time.

But I've been slightly obsessed with Lynda since my teen years. 

I read her comic when it appeared in Now Magazine. The troubled kids, bald honesty, and unflinching drawings made me feel a little less weird and alone.

Freddie and Marlys were my heroes:FREDDIE.pg4

My sister recently gave me Lynda's gorgeous new book, Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor, for my birthday. (Yep. It was on the weekend, thank you very much!)

The exercise is called "Seven and a half minutes worth of writing," but you actually need to do about five minutes of prep before you get to the writing part. So, sit down, press play and enjoy one of the brilliant minds of our time.


Writing Tip #6: On Getting Published

November 24, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

I've been posting one writing tip a week during my TPL eWriter Residency for Young Voices. If you are a teen writer between the ages of 12 and 19, you can submit writing for feedback (from me) via that page until Dec 8.


Rather than give advice here, I'm going to walk you through my path to getting published. It was a little different than some writers, so if you're a little different too (hey, the best people are!) something might resonate.

When I got started, I was inspired by the indie publishing scene in Toronto and joined a writing group filled with people who published their own little magazines called zines. I made them for many years, and if you hunt online, you can still find a few reviews of them.

The zine world was a huge subculture back when I was in my 20s. People made amazing little books, learned to edit and design, distributed them independently, reviewed each other's work, made their own paper, integrated visual art aspects, hand-decorated their covers, and did all kinds of strange and fabulous things. We traded with each other at fairs and mailed them to penpals who sent back lengthy critiques of our work. Ahh, the good old days...

Some of this action still happens at Canzine and Toronto Comic Arts Festival. But these days, so many other options are available, such as making your own web magazines and releasing your work as e-books and even e-singles. These are great ways to get feedback on your writing and develop an audience.

After I had published zines for a while, and had written articles for some local magazines and papers, I also began to apply for writing grants. There's one operated by the Ontario Arts Council that I found incredibly helpful as an emerging writer. It's called the Writers' Reserve Grant, and you apply directly to local independent publishers, who get to decide whether to set aside a small chunk of their yearly allocation to support your project.

Continue reading "Writing Tip #6: On Getting Published" »

#fridayreads Teen Writer Maria Yang Interviews Graphic Novelist Willow Dawson

November 21, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Today's #fridayreads interview is with graphic novelist Willow Dawson and it was conducted by TPL Editorial Youth Advisory Group member Maria Yang

PressShotOfWillowDawson-ByDanijela Pruginic2008-300dpiCMYKWillow Dawson's books include Ghost Limb (self-published), Hyena in Petticoats (Penguin Books), No Girls Allowed with Susan Hughes (Kids Can Press), and more. She is currently raising a baby while finishing revisions on The Wolf-Birds (Owlkids Books) and Avis Dolphin (with Frieda Wishinsky, Groundwood Books), both due in 2015. And she is in development of 100 Mile House (excerpts: Top Shelf 2.0). Her books are supported by the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Maria: Why did you choose to be an illustrator and comics creator instead of a novel writer?

Willow: I've always had a difficult time with reading and by extension, writing. I'm a more visually literate person and so illustration is a natural fit. I like comics because it's a really complex storytelling medium and yet so much of the writing is visual!

Maria: What are your favorite subjects to explore in your work? Why?

Willow: My first loves are myths and fairytales, especially the older, more unsettling versions. And I like history and science, too! Wolves and ravens are a big part of my research these days and I have a couple projects on the go that bring together the scientific and mythological aspects of these awesome creatures. 

Maria: What's the hardest thing about illustrating a book?

Willow: In comics I'd say the thumbnail stage because you're translating words into images. It really is two different languages and so there is a lot of editing.

Maria: Can you give some tips or suggestions for youth who want to be illustrators and/or cartoonists?

Willow: Draw and write every single day. Self-publish and submit your work to different magazines and anthologies. It's the best and fastest way to improve your craft!

Maria: In The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea, you and writer Helaine Becker explain the cradle of all living things—the Ocean—through vivid illustration and tell us that the ocean is at risk. Canada is surrounded by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. What should we do to reduce our impact on the sea?

Willow: Firstly, what attracted me to this project was that it wasn't simply a book of alarmist facts and warnings. Instead, Helaine brilliantly delivers the information in ways that are creative, engaging and inspiring.

I think there are many ways we can decrease our footprint (eat local and organic if you can, decrease energy and water use, cycle or use public transit…) but the biggest obstacle we face is knowledge. It surprises me how many people deny that oceans are overfished / polluted, sea levels are rising, or that climate change is real, despite irrefutable scientific data. And I'm shocked when people draw blank faces at the thought that this is urgent and will require longterm vision and political engagement.

Which brings me to my next point. Our current Federal government appears to act with complete impunity, pulling Canada out of worldwide environmental initiatives, signing trade agreements with other countries that will be devastating to the environment, pouring money into tar sands, silencing the scientific community, and destroying Canada's relationship with its First Nations who rely on hunting and fishing as a way of life. And nobody holds them accountable.

This is the byproduct of a culture where people feel hopeless and politically disengaged. In order for people to be inspired to change they need to understand how the health of our fresh waterways and oceans affect them personally. Knowledge is power and large scale change won't happen until we make the political personal. It's going to require creativity and solidarity. Think about ways you can inspire friends to see hope in our future. That is where the solution lies.

MariaBorn in Beijing, China, Maria Yang moved to Canada in grade 6, and is glad to be a new Torontonian. She studies at St. Joe's and volunteers with the Toronto Public Library's Editorial Youth Advisory Group. Loves nature and animal. Enjoys reading, painting, drawing, travelling, skiing, cooking, food, and caring for vulnerable people and voiceless living beings.

Teens Talk: Their Favourite Authors

November 19, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

I talked young adult fiction with Toronto teens.

Who are their favourite authors? What do they recommend? Why do they love what they love? Are they even reading teen-specific books?

Find out now!


Who are your favourite authors and why do you love them so?

Writing Exercise: Three-Panel Comic Set on Public Transit

November 18, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

I recently found a couple strips from the now-defunct M@B comic online and it reminded me how much I used to love reading it. Of course, Matthew Blackett has gone on to do wonderful things, such as Spacing Magazine, but he used to create a semi-autobiographical comic set in Toronto.

It ran in a weekly newspaper for a while. The editor brought it on board: "because of the strip's unapologetic Toronto touches. Many comic strips take place in an unidentified Everycity, North America. Blackett, by contrast, refers to Toronto streets and landmarks by name. And in some panels, the CN Tower can be seen looming in the background."

Reading it was the best. Sort of like having a private conversation with a good friend. Or eavesdropping on someone's conversation while you're on the subway. Occasionally, you'd recognize a familiar face in one of the strips.

Here's an example: 

M@B Comic Strip

So my challenge to you is to write a three-panel comic set on the TTC. Then take a picture or scan it and post it in the comments below...

I'm no artist (think stick figures), but I'm going to challenge myself to do this, too. 

Writing Tip #5: Set Goals (and Stick to Them)

November 17, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Teen writerI've been posting one writing tip a week during my TPL eWriter Residency for Young Voices. If you are a teen writer between the ages of 129 and 19, you can submit writing for feedback (from me) via that page until Dec 8.


Today, we're going to focus on getting to the finish line in the marathon of art forms: writing books.

More specifically, we're talking novels. Though the same general technique could be applied to a collection of poetry or short stories.

It's fairly easy to come up with an idea for a novel. It's easy-ish to get started. Some mental gymnastics are required to to create an outline and keep it updated as you write. The ending usually makes itself clear at some point. 

The hard part is always the middle. You have all these balls up in the air and none of them came drop. Your first flush of inspiration is tapped out. You've put off friends, family and social life for a few weeks... and maybe you're exhausted, your brain hurts, and you're more than a little terrified by what you've just taken on.

Novels are a lot of work!

Most likely, nobody is cheering you on once you've been writing for a while or even encouraging you to keep going. Sometimes, your friends and family can even feel resentful of this project that's a huge time suck. So you're pretty much on your own.

Being on your own can actually be a beautiful thing. When you're in the middle of a giant creative project, you have this built-in invisible entertainment system. I think of it as my Creativity Console. It's always on and I don't have to buy $100 games to use it. It's free!

But keeping that Creativity Console running is sort of gruelling. I'd guess that most writers give up at least a million times before getting to the end of their novels.

Your chances of staying on track--and not giving up--are much greater if you set manageable goals for yourself and figure out a way to accomplish them that won't leave you feeling like a loner who hasn't seen the sun in weeks. I aim for 750 words a day (5 days a week) when I'm writing a first draft, five pages of editing per day during the first couple rewrites, and 10-20 pages a day when I'm copyediting.

Before I show anyone--my agent, author/editor friends, or potential publishers--I've usually worked my way through a manuscript at least four times. 

I do my best not to reread previous work too much, so I continue to move forward, but occasionally revisiting them is part of the process (at all stages).

Oh, and I am a giant nerd, so I also create these spreadsheets (Google Drive's online one is pretty great) where I tally my daily word count and watch the total word count creep upward. There's something very satisfying about it.

If I get discouraged, I ask a friend to work beside me, and I reward myself for reaching my goals by getting out, going to a movie, taking a walk, or eating a cupcake.

To summarize: Figure out what long-term goals are reasonable for you. Strive to meet them. Adjust your expectations if they're not realistic. You need a way to keep yourself on track, because nobody else will..

And... good luck getting to the finish line!


Didn't catch the previous tips? Never fear! They're over here: Tip #1: Don't Give UpTip #2: Make Friends with Writers and Tip #3: Reread to Analyze and Tip #4: Make Editing a Game.



#fridayreads Teen Writer Maria Yang Interviews YA author Paul Yee

November 14, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (3)

Paul YeeThis edition of #fridayreads is an interview with author Paul Yee led by TPL Editorial Youth Advisory Group member Maria Yang

Paul was born in Saskatchewan but grew up in Vancouver. For thirty years, he has written about Chinese Canadians, both in fiction for young readers (from picture books to Young Adult fiction) and in non-fiction for everyone (e.g. Saltwater City: the Illustrated History of the Chinese in Vancouver). He has lived in Toronto since 1988. 

Maria: What do you think is more important: writing what you care about or winning awards? Do you give any thought to winning awards when you’re writing?

Paul: Writing on what matters to me is far more important; I never muse about awards. I find it more useful to focus what you can control instead of what you can’t. 

Maria: There are lots of books about Chinese people in North America. Can you tell me what makes your books different from others?

Paul: Maria, as you say, there are lots of books about Chinese people in North America, and I see each one as being unique. That makes it hard for me to compare my work with “others,” because there are so many different kinds of “others.”  If I compare myself with North-American-born Chinese writers, my background is different in these ways: I spent many years doing volunteer work in Vancouver’s Chinatown. This gave me a political perspective on who has power and who does not in our society. This work also helped me keep my ability to speak Cantonese (unlike most North-American-born Chinese, who lose that ability due to assimilation). Even today, I like to struggle and try to read fiction written in Chinese.  I believe that having access to the Chinese language makes me a better writer.

Maria: Does your work experience—such as being an archivist—benefit your writing? How?

Paul: Being an archivist made me value doing research, which I saw as one way of getting close to something called “truth.”  That proximity to real lives as truly lived gave me confidence to take chances with my characters. 

Maria: Which of your family members has most influenced your writing?

Paul: My Aunt Lillian was born in 1895 in Vancouver and lived through many decades of anti-Chinese racism. She was my direct link to the pioneer generations of the community, and made the history come alive in a way that books could never.

Maria: In Chinatown, you describe the Chinese immigrants’ lives from early poverty and marginalization to success and integration. What do you think is the most important reason Chinese immigrants survive and thrive across Canada?

Paul: In my opinion, traditional Chinese thought and western capitalism share a belief in upward mobility through self-effort and education.

MariaBorn in Beijing, China, Maria Yang moved to Canada in grade 6, and is glad to be a new Torontonian. She studies at St. Joe's and volunteers with the Toronto Public Library's Editorial Youth Advisory Group. Loves nature and animal. Enjoys reading, painting, drawing, travelling, skiing, cooking, food, and caring for vulnerable people and voiceless living beings.

Thinking You Might Want to Be Edited? Check out the eWriter in Residence (uh, me) in action

November 13, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (4)

Nadia FernandezTo follow up Monday's rant about the importance of editing, I thought it might be interesting to show you what happens when you submit something to me. You can do that with the press of a button over at the Toronto Public Library's eWriter in Residence page.

Nadia Fernandez is the brave soul who has agreed to let me to show you the revision her poem called "A Picture" went through. Nadia is a fifteen year old writer, fencer, rugby player, and (of course) avid reader. She is most often found with her nose buried in a book or writing down bits of ideas, short stories, poems, and phrases that catch her attention. She has a slight obsession with the Harry Potter series and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which she loves to read curled up somewhere cozy.

Here's the original piece that landed in my Young Voices inbox one day:

by Nadia Fernandez 

Let me paint a picture for you.

It's not a picture of that tree. Not a picture of the beautiful red and gold leaves scattered at its feet, or of the squirrel perched on a branch nibbling an acorn.

It is not a picture of the beautiful family sitting beneath it. The parents reclining against the strong, solid trunk, fingers intertwined, as they smile watching their little boy and girl chasing each other.

It is not a picture of their dog; shaggy brown fur swishing as he jumps excitedly to catch the falling leaves.

It is not a picture of the birds, flying across the great expanse of smooth blue and fluffy white that is the sky on this fall day.

No, the picture that I would like to paint for you is a picture of happiness and purity that will not last long.


And here's the feedback I gave to Nadia via e-mail:

Continue reading "Thinking You Might Want to Be Edited? Check out the eWriter in Residence (uh, me) in action" »

Teens Talk: To Publish Or Not to Publish?

November 12, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Each Wednesday, during the eWriter in Residency, we're featuring a video of Toronto teens talking about writing. You can watch all the ones you missed over on the TPL's YouTube Channel.

This week, I asked teens whether they want to publish their writing or if just doing it is satisfaction enough. And they answer honestly.

How do you feel about writing just for the sake of the process? Is your dream to be published? Where? Why?


Writing Exercise: Poem For a Poem

November 11, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (1)

This week's writing exercise involves doing a trade. I want you to craft a poem based on a word, concept, rhythm or theme you uncover in someone else's poetry.

No copying of entire lines! Make the new poem entirely your own. Just use the original one to inspire you in some way. Hopefully, this will allow you to try a new style.

And remember to post your new poem in the comments below for feedback from me!

Not everybody likes the same kind of poetry, so I'll give you a few options to choose from. As mentioned, these are all about specific areas in Toronto.

1. Dub poet Lillian Allen's musical recording of "Rub-a-Dub Style in Regent Park"


2. "The Gentle Giant," a poem I wrote that's set in a boarding house in Parkdale, and based on a real life event. It will be included in my upcoming collection of poetry, called Ghost Sick:

The Gentle Giant
by Emily Pohl-Weary

In memory of George Wass, 1949-2011.

How many candlelight vigils
will it take to light the sky
with grief?

Continue reading "Writing Exercise: Poem For a Poem" »

Writing Tip #4: Make Editing a Game

November 10, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

TEENS-just board games Thorncliffe-branch-6335This is my fourth writing tip. One will be released each week during the TPL eWriter Residency for Young Voices

This week, I'm going to focus on the single best way to make your writing better. Get ready for it...



If you're like me, and first learned about revision and writing structure in school, you probably got the love of it sucked right out of you. (Sorry!) Things like five-paragraph essays and red ink scrawled all over your short stories can be really discouraging.

Now you have to let go of all that and learn to enjoy the process. I try to think of edit as one brick in a game of Tetris or one domino in a long line or the right word inserted into a crossword puzzle. You should feel a great sense of satisfaction when you've eradicated a passive verb, cut a sloppy chunk of text, discovered a misused word, or made a piece of dialogue pop off the page.

There won't be an external reward for "getting it right." (Unless you have a really generous friend who will sit beside you and clap whenever you type something.) No one's going to give you a good grade (or even notice, if you've done it right). When you're writing for yourself, you need to develop your own ways of giving yourself rewards for tightening up a text. 

There's a handy list of 25 ways to tighten your writing over here at The Write Life. Pretend each of the suggestions is a level of a game. If you get to 25, you'll save the princess from a fiery death by dragon!

And figure out how to reward yourself when you've met your goal. My favourite ways are getting to read or watch an episode of a TV show I love, or making coffee, or heading outside.


Didn't catch the previous tips? Never fear! They're over here: Tip #1: Don't Give UpTip #2: Make Friends with Writers and Tip #3: Reread to Analyze.

#fridayreads Terese Mason Pierre Interviews YA author Teresa Toten

November 7, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Teresa Toten Author
Young Adult Author Teresa Toten
Another Friday, another awesome interview by a teen writer. In this edition of #fridayreads, Young Voices's own Terese Mason Pierre has asked young adult author Teresa Toten some great questions about writing and being an author... Read on!

Born in Croatia, Teresa Toten developed her broad taste in reading as a result of her non-English speaking mother’s habit of filling shopping bags full of books from wildly different sections of the local library. Teresa always wanted to be a mermaid or an astronaut. When that didn’t pan out she turned her attention to writing.Her first job out of graduate school was freelancing for Radio-Canada International in Montreal.

She’s an award-winning author of The Game, the Blonde series, Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting into Canada and The Taming with Eric Walters. Her latest book The Unlikely Hero of Room 13b won the Governor General’s Award, the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award, is the CLA Honour book for 2014 and is nominated for the OLA White Pine Award and the TD Canadian Children Literature Award.

Terese Mason Pierre: Do you often include aspects of your life in your work? Do you include events you've experienced? Do your characters mirror your family/friends? Do themes reflect your personal values?
Teresa TotenI have ripped off hundreds of cringe-worthy scenes from my life. No friend or enemy is safe from my pages. Potentially every casual encounter and even every young adult standing in a book signing line could be inspiration or fodder. I don’t have much of an imagination so I steal from everything and everyone around me.

Terese Mason Pierre: Should authors of children and young-adult books consider themselves role models? How much so?
Teresa TotenSocial media, author tours, and traditional media have rightly or wrongly, made this a very real question. I try to conduct myself in public and private under the holy trifecta of--Integrity, Authenticity and Openness--and hope that my readers will forgive me my flaws and screw ups because they are legion!

Terese Mason Pierre: Is there a topic or genre you wouldn't write about under any circumstances, no questions asked? Why not?
Teresa TotenNope. I’ve just written a psychological thriller which was waaaay out of my comfort zone. And I loved it! I really enjoy the  buzz of being out of my depth, about the challenge, and about taking stock of what I’m writing and why I’m writing it. I read and love great work no matter what the genre or topic. The learning curve is very steep when taking on a new form but it’s exhilarating as well. A little fear is a good thing.

Terese Mason Pierre: In his famous essay, "Death of the Author," the French literary critic Roland Barthes says that to give a text an author is to impose a limitation on it, and that the author exists only to produce, but not explain, the text. He writes that the meaning of the text completely depends on the impressions of the reader, because we can never know the author's true intentions. What are your thoughts on his view? How much do you agree or disagree?
Teresa TotenTrue, true, true!! How many times have you ‘reread’ a book and it seems totally different that in the first go round? It’s what the reader brings to the relationship of reader/writer that is ALL important and that is totally out of the hands of the writer. I believe in the core of me that once the book is birthed and out there—it is no longer my book. Whatever you think of it is correct and that includes all those painful Goodreads posts. What I thought or intended is now completely irrelevant to your experience. It’s your book not mine.

Terese Mason Pierre: What are your short- and long-term goals for your books? Do your goals or your definition of success evolve? Is there an endpoint where you can say, "I've succeeded"?
Teresa Toten: Honestly it’s the same goal I had from the publication of my first book almost 20 years ago. I want my books in as many young adult hands as is humanly possible. It was the goal, it is the goal, and it will always be the goal. The very best books make me feel a little less alone in the reading no matter what the story. That is what I aspire to and if I hit it, I want you to feel it, many, many of you!
IMG_20141016_220034Terese Mason Pierre has attended eleven schools and spent almost two decades around deep thinkers, great teachers and cats. She often jumps at the opportunity to take leadership roles in her community and share her ideas, sometimes to her disadvantage. She plans to become a physician in the long term, so she can have a reason so use her stethoscope, and she's already reached her short-term goal of becoming a writer, with poems, short stories and one electronic novel in her repertoire. Currently, she attends the University of Toronto, where she's majoring in Bioethics and English, and is a member of two creative writing groups and a choir.

GUEST POST: Young writer Amy Schacherl's tips for moving beyond binary genders

November 6, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (2)

Young writer Amy Shacherl is back, this time with helpful tips about avoiding gender binaries in your writing! 

Amy SchacherlAmy is a writer, feminist, and one of those people who will stop you in the street to talk to your dog/cat/ferret. She also has an amazing short story titled "Binary," in the 2014 Young Voices magazine, which is online over here.

Enjoy this post and check back regularly for more posts by teen writers.

--Emily P-W



In my previous post, I looked at my Young Voices piece, “Binary,” and the fictional society that has a rigid binary structure. In our society, too, we tend to have a binary view about identity. Either you are, or you aren’t. You’re straight, or you’re gay. You’re a man, or you’re a woman.

In reality, though, gender identity and sexual/romantic orientation are more like spectrums. Yes, it is possible to be at either end, but in the middle there’s bisexuality, and trans* people. Around and outside and hovering gently above the spectrum is asexuality, aromanticism, pansexuality, agenderedness, and a host of other identities. Identity cannot just be reduced to a binary. I wrote about robots, yes, but also the struggle of not being recognized in our society.

It is important to recognize minorities in society. Apart from providing a diverse opinion and set of thoughts to our society, minorities are human beings just like us (and a human being cannot be reduced to their contribution to society).

Want to write a minority character? Excellent! Just remember some key tips: 


  • If you are an ally (not personally are not in the minority), spread correct information and hold an open mind. Recognize that allies do not face the same challenges that minorities do.
  • Tell the stories of the people as they see it, including all uncomfortable truths. Representation is good, but acknowledgement of issues is better.
  • Research! Ask actual members of a minority for input, or for their opinion on what you wrote. 


  • Reduce your character to what you think of that group.
  • Stereotype. Every person is a person, and stereotypes have the terrible ability of reducing the value of the person to a single idea. Every character has a story, and emotions.
  • Be robots - if you see someone struggling, DO stand on their side and see similarities instead of differences.

Although my story, “Binary,” was written about gender and sexual orientation, this advice applies to all minorities. The main character in the story was defeated by her struggle with her identity, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same for you.

Speak out and give a voice to people who need it. Use your medium to put the spotlight on people that society doesn’t want to see. 

Teens Talk: What Would You Tell a Friend Who Wants to Write?

November 5, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (0)

Each Wednesday, during the eWriter in Residency, we're featuring a video of Toronto teens talking about writing. This week, it's all about encouraging someone to write.

A few pieces of advice these young writers would give their friends include: no idea is a stupid idea, always have a notebook close at hand, don't get stuck in popular topics, write from the heart, and hunt for tips on Tumblr. 

What advice would you give to a friend who is considering how to get started?




November 4, 2014 | E Writer in Residence - Emily Pohl-Weary | Comments (2)

NYCL2009YoungVoicesWritConf_mg_3157This week's writing exercise is fairly quick, but it's actually a two-parter. And you have to do part 1 before you can proceed to part 2.


Write your life story in six words. No more, no less.

These words can be a list, as in: Born, loved, imagined, passed, wandered, searched.

Or they can be made into a sentence or two: She always daydreamed. Nobody realized why.


Turn each of those words into a line, in order to make a six-line poem. Here's mine:

Being born isn't the shocking part
of living, being loved is
never the vanilla cake walk it's imagined to be.
Worse than squeaking through life, we're all just passing
wherever a wanderer hunts, gathers, calls home
the search never ends.

See? Easy. That just took me about fifteen minutes. 

Oh, and when you're done, post your creations in the comments below. I promise to respond.

Pssst. I've been posting one exercise a week during my soujourn as Young Voices eWriter in Residence and will continue to do so until Dec 8.

Want to try the previous ones? Write a list poem or write a monster into your neighbourhood

Youth Survey. My Curved Border

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