Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests Catherine Dair, Julio Alexi Genao

TeaTime with AJH

Prism Book Alliance would like to welcome back special guest columnist Alexis J Hall for Tea Time with Alexis J Hall & Friends. We would like to extend a special welcome to today’s roundtable guests: artist Catherine Dair and author Julio Alexi Genao.

Book Covers in M/M Fiction

The One With Catherine Dair

Hello Teatimers!  

Today we’re joined by Catherine Dair, artist extraordinaire, who’s going to be talking to us about her work, and helping us judge books by their covers.

Apparently we’re allowed to ask her anything. Oh dear.

AJH: Hello, Catherine. Thank you for joining us.

JAG: ‘allo, mizz dair.

CD: Hello gentlemen!  I… did say that, didn’t I?

JAG: you’re doomed. so, so doomed.

CD: I have tea. Bring it on.

AJH: I suppose the most obvious starting point is: how on earth does one get into drawing naked men?

JAG: WELL, I WOULDN’T QUITE SAY I ‘GOT INTO’ NAKED MEN SO MUCH AS—oh. you meant catherine. my bad.

AJH: I, uh, mean: how’d you sort of become an Artist for the Queer Community? CD: I had a witty answer for the “how did you start drawing naked men?” question. So I’m breaking this into two parts. You get started in life-drawing classes in college when the naked guy is sitting in the middle of the room and the teacher says, “now draw,” and then wonder during the first class (when I got through all my blushing) if people drew all his bits. I found I rather liked drawing them. Womens’ bits, too. For the second part, I drew naked men for Josh Lanyon after reading his Adrien English series, and sent him fan art. “Here! I made you a thing!” I didn’t know if artists did that in the m/m romance genre but I’ve never been much of a rule-follower. I just hoped he liked it and didn’t find me a nutcase.

JAG: and did he? like them, i mean? and/or not-find-you-a-nutcase?

CD:  Mr. Lanyon is an absolute gentleman. He loved it—and if he found me a nutcase he is keeping his thoughts private.  He decided it would be fun to work on a project together and he proposed we do his Stranger Things Have Happened

Stranger things have happenedbook for the Adrien English universe, and suddenly I found myself being a Queer Romance Artist. Best.thing.ever.

AJH: You also do a lot of fantasy-themed artwork, don’t you? For Brandon Witt and Angel Martinez?

CD: I do! I love fantasy. There are no boundaries or rules to break in fantasy. You can let your imagination go wild. I was sitting here working on a gargoyle right before this. My next project will be a trading card commission. I love how projects differ so much from one commission to the next. I just finished a wonderful alien wilderness for Angel Martinez, and it was great fun.

AJH: Do you have any projects you’re particularly proud of, or do you not play favourites?

CD: I think every project I’m currently working on is my favorite one at the moment.

AJH: That’s very tactful of you.  >.<

JAG: c’monnn, give us the dirt.

CD: It’s true though! I’m emotionally invested in whatever I’m working on at any given moment. But I can answer it. Brandon Witt’s trading cards were a hoot to create and working with him was amazing. My favorite one in that series is Schwindt,

Schwindt Brandon Wittbecause he had such attitude, liked to be nude, and sported such amazing dragonfly wings. I am also so fond of the Whyborne & Griffin series that I painted a poster for Jordan L. Hawk. I have it hanging on a wall here in my work area.

JAG: whose work would you say has inspired you? which cover artists in the genre do you admire?

CD: You’ll find two types of covers in general, with the artistic illustrated ones and the photo-manip covers. I have a favorite in each category. For artistic covers, I adore Simone. I sit and stare at the covers she did for Alexis’ Prosperity

Prosperityuniverse and try to pick them apart in all their goodness and wonder where she gets this amazing artistic vision from. For photo covers, LC Chase is my artist on a pedestal, closely followed by Lou Harper. They need to teach me all their secrets. I’d offer cold hard cash.

 AJH: Hehehe. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that m/m leans more towards hyper-realistic, photo-manip style covers?

CD: I think that is very true. But I did find it very interesting in the final round of voting in the Rainbow Cover Art Awards that there were quite a few art covers, and some didn’t even show people on them. I see a trend starting that is slowly getting away from two guys that are barechested with their heads cut off. I am very happy about this.

AJH: Two barechested, beheaded guys with a SWIRL. Don’t forget the SWIRL.

CD: (what’s a SWIRL so I know never to paint it?)

AJH: It’s a small piece of graphic that kind of … randomly gets swirled across the abs?

CD: OH. Duly noted. [puts up post-it note that says NO SWIRLS]

AJH: Weirdly I prefer the beheaded thing to just a model’s face? I don’t mind it so much with painted, and maybe I’m just being weird but  … but when there’s just a stock art that looks vaguely like just one person’s interpretation of the character, then it feels really restrictive to me? Like you’re interfering with reader imagination.

CD: Maybe it’s because I was born with a vivid imagination, I don’t really mind the covers showing faces. More often than not, my brain forms its own image of the characters while I am reading and I am rarely swayed by the cover models. I often form something different in my own mind.

JAG: you’re being weird. definitely weird. no, actually, i’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people about this, because i personally do not understand the guillotined hunk thing, and complain about it bitterly—and what people have told me is precisely what AJH says: they prefer room to imagine their own hero. which is understandable, and all—but how come nobody gets pissed-off when they have to stare at chris hemsworth’s ugly mug for two hours in a film?

CD: This is exactly why cover art is so much of a challenge. People have definite “likes” and “dislikes” on what they want to see. You’ve got just a few seconds for a reader to see that thumbnail if they are unfamiliar with the author who penned the book to grab them (or not) and make them think, “Interesting image… let’s now check out the blurb.”

AJH: But, it’s not the same as somebody casting Chris Hemsworth as Thor. If I’m reading a book about the skinny blonde owner of a comic book store and there’s an image of a Chris Hemsworth-alike on the front, it’s … slightly disorientating. Especially if I’m actually reading about, say, a skinny non-white comic book store owner. And we get Chris Hemsworth anyway.

CD: Is this where I throw in I’d play with Thor’s hammer? Sorry…

AJH: I prefer Loki’s staff.

CD: [fist bump]

JAG: it occurs to me that the key difference here is that, unlike films, books actively require a reader to engage their imagination. as you said, AJH, covers that are too specific get in the way of that.

AJH: Yes. Like, covers are this weird intersection between the imaginative and the visual. A bridge, when done well?

CD: [nods] I know there are rules publishing houses play by, in how authors and the artists work together to design the covers for their upcoming books. Since so far I have only worked with self-publishers (in as far as covers go), I like that I get to really pick the brain of the author I’m working with. I love to know what’s in their mind and share it with their readers. I’m like a kid in a candy store. “Give me all the info!” Also, if the idea is to have a “teaser” scene from the story itself, going with an illustrator is almost necessary, and you really then have to work with an author closely to make it something so dynamic and fitting that the reader wants to know more more more after seeing the cover.

AJH: I guess that’s one of the pleasures of a direct relationship between author and writer, and also an advantage of self-publishing. You both have more control. But equally I think from publisher’s perspective what an author likes isn’t necessarily what they think is going to sell the book. I’m … y’know … chronic for this. I like Artistic Cup Of Tea Against Nice Landscape. What sells appears to be White Dude Grinning Maybe While Wearing No Shirt.

JAG: In The Sky.


CD: On a steampunk airship. Oh, I want to paint one so bad…

AJH: Have you ever had to compromise in that sort of way? Because you’ve also done some anthology work with publishers, haven’t you?

CD: I’ve been in one anthology so far, the Kickass Anthology for Eric Arvin. I did an inside illustration for Brandon Witt’s story, Pink. It was published by Kate Pavelle, the editor, so again… not a traditional publishing route. Inside illustrations for a story have their own hurdles to consider. I will give feedback to an author when we are discussing ideas and honestly say “that won’t really work for this” and so far everyone I’ve ever worked with has been amazing on feedback. I can’t say I’ve had to do too much true compromising, which I take it to mean “I’m painting this and I really am unhappy about it”. [knocks on wood]

AJH: I don’t necessarily think compromise is a recipe for misery. More sort of “I would choose to do this way, but I acknowledge that doing it this way is probably better for xyz reasons.” I suppose compromise can be a really charged word sometimes. But I didn’t mean in the sense of Oh, My Artistic Integrity.

CD: Gotcha.

AJH: Like I think the floating torso swirls are probably that sort of compromise. Not to keep coming back to them. But to me, an inoffensively generic image (just some abs) is less problematic than something that makes me go, “omg, he doesn’t look like thaaaaaaat.”

JAG: omg you are obsessed.

AJH: Dude—have you seen the cover of my contemp book?

glitterlandFloating torso abs would have been a blessing.

JAG: you may have a point. that guy’s pic is also used to sell shampoo…

CD: (secretly loves that cover)

AJH: It is very eye-catching, which is a big advantage, and shiny too, which I naturally enjoy. And obviously this isn’t about the quality of the art or the design – not that I know anything about either, but I admire the skill – it’s just it communicates a very explicit idea about who a certain character looks. And if that’s not how you imagine the character looks, I can imagine it could be quite dissonant.

CD: Now I have the urge to pick your brain so hard and paint it. So, so hard. Also, while I love Simone’s version of Byron Kae so very much on your covers, they aren’t “my” Byron, and I want to paint them too.

AJH: Huh, weirdly I think that might be the difference between photo-manip and illustrated covers for me. Because if I see an illustration and it doesn’t look like “my” version of the character, it still feels like someone’s version. Whereas if I see stock art, and it doesn’t quite fit my impression of the character, I think: Oh, there’s a shampoo model. Like KJ Charles showed me the pictures of the Crane model from the Charm of Magpies

The Magpie Lordbooks. And … uh … that explodes my brain because there’s a man out there in the universe who looks like Lord Crane. Omg.

 CD: That’s why I love it when an author can look at a cover I’ve created and say, “YES”. The cover should make the author happy to have it on their hard-penned words.

AJH: The existence of The Man Who Really Looks Like Crane does weird things to me.

CD: Me too. I would swoon very hard if he walked into the room. But feel disappointed if he were in modern clothes.

AJH: There’s one where he is sans shirt. I feel I’ve gone off topic.

JAG: someone’s got to.

AJH: I feel we’ve probably hassled Catherine enough for one day. Do you have any upcoming projects you’re able to tell us about?

CD: (this is hassling?) Two I can’t talk about yet as far as what authors I’m working for, but I’ll have another cover to work on shortly for Mischief Corner Books. I’ve also got to get started on the childrens’ book that Brandon Witt and I are plotting together based on his two corgi dogs, The Corgi Chronicles.

corgisI would really like to start my queer romance graphic novel idea sometime this year. That’s a scary idea but I have to try it. It means… I have to write.

AJH: That sounds really exciting, though. Eeee. Just to wrap up, I was thinking maybe we could also choose a few of our favourite covers?

CD: For artist covers, I really love the cover for Amy Lane’s Litha’s Constant Whim.

Litha's constant whimThere are so many little elements on it that make me squee, design-wise. Another cover that I think is really magical and blurs the lines between photo-manipulation and artistic vision is Mechanical Magic mechanical magicby Lorraine Ulrich.  It probably has the SWIRL that you hate, but in this case I think it’s used in a very purposeful manner. It actually gives you a clue about this man. The color palette of it and the model used is just artistic “enough” that he lets my imagination roam on how he comes to life in my own head. Last artistic cover that I look at over and over again is JP Kenwood’s Dominus. dominus Fiona Fu is the artist for that one and she has created several pieces of art for JP’s universe which are all incredible.

AJH: Those are all gorgeous. And I’m giving the SWIRL a pass.

CD: Just to humor me?


A strong hand


CD: That cover worked for me. I immediately read the blurb.

JAG: it annoys me that someone else thought of it first.

CD: Nobody has asked me to paint anything that “nude” for a cover. Now for an inside book illustration… [grins madly]

AJH: I’m too English to want an arse on my books.

JAG: that’s not what enrique down at the bodega told me last wee—

AJH: Shush, what goes on between me and Enrique is our own business.

JAG: mmhmm—any favorite covers to share, AJH?

CD: [read that as “any favorite lovers to share” and blinked hard]

AJH: [mumbles] I like my own covers but it’d be rude and boastful [mumbles]. Um, for some reason I’m very drawn to steampunky covers. I don’t know why. I think it’s because they have A Look that can be very effective. I was gushing over this one

wicklows odysseythe other day. And I guess I’m kind of wet because I quite enjoy pretty covers with, y’know, tea and hearts.wishful thinkingOh wait, and Ginn Hale’s latest champion1is stunning. Love that baroque vibrancy.

JAG: it looks like a tarot card—especially the first one. outstanding. also: i have it on some authority that some parts of you get very wet indeed.

CD: Nothing wrong with tea and hearts. I’ve put fuzzy creatures on three covers so    far. And a monster, but we        probably shouldn’t go             there…

AJH: What about you, J? Or is it just arses all the way?

JAG: you gotta problem with an ass in the face?

AJH: [primly] Not at all, but not when I’m reading.

JAG: some people really suck at multitasking. how about this one: After Ben.

after ben

AJH: Con Riley has all the lovely covers.

JAG: she really, really does. and this one gives me the wibblies,

Waiting for the floodfor sheer beauty. i should really check out that guy’s writing, sometime.

 CD: (psssttt… there is going to be art for that story cuz I promised it)

JAG: GTFO. but wait—however will you find the time? ‘cuz i seem to recall someone promising to paint me as a pink hippo with silver wings, to finally bring my sekrit self-image to liiiiiiiiiiiiife.

CD: How do you know I haven’t started it already? 😉

AJH: Aaaaand on that note, thank you for coming to tea, Catherine.

CD: It has been my deepest pleasure.

JAG: delighted as always, AJH.

As for you, dear reader: what sort of covers do you like? Do you have any favourites? Abs or faces? Let us know in the comments below!


About Alexis J Hall

Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.

He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.

He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Connect with Alexis:
Website: quicunquevult.com
Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
Twitter: @quicunquevult
Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall

About our Guests

julippoJulio Alexi Genao lives in New York City with three cats and a preoccupation with post-mortem predation.




Catherine Dair is a fulltime Mom by day and spends her evenings as her alter egos, a ninja illustrator and a superhero. Her children know all about it. They are usually putting in their two cents over her shoulder. She gets the giddy pleasure of making fun art for authors, bloggers and many other cool people. In her spare time, Catherine makes crazy art for her new Redbubble store and fiddles with her website. She gave up sleep because sleep is for sissies.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews.  The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.

29 thoughts on “Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests Catherine Dair, Julio Alexi Genao

  1. Excellent T Time. I love the difference in opinions where covers are concerned…we often have this discussion on Prism between us and my least favourite are the ‘floating men’ looking moodily in different directions. I think there are some very good covers coming out now and maybe as with all things we learn and change.

    P.S. I love the avatar JAG

  2. Wonderful discussion! The headless torsos vs the face that doesn’t match in the slightest is a tough one, and I do understand what Alexis is saying about destroying the readers autonomy of experience by presenting a model with a wildly different face than the reader imagined.

    About compromise… when an author actually has the chance to work with an artist rather than being handed a finished image, I’ve found it becomes a wonderful collaborative process. Especially with an illustrator like Catherine, who is willing to let me just spew paragraphs of things at her and patiently picks through the things for the bits and pieces that will actually work in an illustration. A patient artist who has a relationship with an author, who understands the author’s particular oddities, is a rare and wonderful find.

    But a warning note to authors – artists can’t read your mind. You want something, say it. Specifically. In detail.

    • excellent point, angel. i’ve heard similar sentiments from other cover artists—how wonderful it can be to work with an author, especially when there’s time enough for a proper collaboration

  3. Such a fantabulous discussion by three fantabulous peeps. 😀

    Catherine, I’m so excited to see more of what you’re doing. You’ve got that perfect blend of reality, whimsy and intelligence and I loooooooooooove it. Also, I think Julippo likes his Hippo. 😉

    AJH, I’m with you about Lord Crane. To know someone actually exists that looks how I picture him is just… well, it’s not creepy, so we diverge on our opinions there LOL 😉 :p

    JAG, your cover for When You Were Pixels is still one of my faves. Have you done more covers?

    I don’t mind the headless torso covers but, then again, covers aren’t the first thing that stops me and gets me to check out a book. I almost see them as separate entities, to be appreciate or … not for their own merits and not always a reflection of the book. I like the well composed covers, whether photo or painted/drawn. Give me contrast and color and clean style and I’m there.

    Thanks for the awesome convo!

    • thanks! and thanks for the kudos on the cover for pixels. i’m very proud of it 😛

      i also did the covers for my other books listed on goodreads, too 😛

    • Mel, sorry there are no edit or delete functions, but it wouldn’t work with a system that has an ‘approval’ function for the admins.

      • No worries… You’re right, it wouldn’t. I found out now that html works, so… Maybe… It would be nice if that would be stated in the comment section? I have seen that somewhere else. But well, it’s really not that important.

    • I also love Ruin *squee*.

      Ooh, I also really like EE Ottoman’s Mechanical Universe covers. They’re really simple but very effective and thematic and they really suit the books.

  4. Heh, commenting generally … we talked about m/m covers a lot but my favourite covers are still Frock Covers. I find them really pretty and enticing. I can’t resist a romance with a gorgeous dress on the cover – it’s probably why I read so many historicals 😉

    And there isn’t an m/m equivalent unfortunately 😛

  5. Hee, this was a really fun post! Still chuckling over “shampoo commercial” re the Glitterland cover 😉 Yeah, his hair really *does* have that gloss thing going on, doesn’t it?

    I had/have a weird reaction to the GL cover too. I kept seeing that cover for a while before I bought the book, so that pic was very ingrained in my head as being one of the protags. But knowing little more than “there’s someone named Ash”, my brain just arbitrarily assigned that photo to him, not Darian. As I read it became clear that *wasn’t* Ash, but I could not MAKE it be Darian either.

    Later on GR – do you remember this Alexis? – I asked how *you* saw Ash, & you ultimately said: “I think he’s probably pale and interesting, on the wrong side of gaunt, too-dark, too-sad eyes – a smile that changes his whole face, and feels like an achievement when he does it. Attractive in a restless, fey, train-wreck kind of way :)” I love that! And my mind translated it to “young Jeremy Irons-ish”.

    So, Catherine Dair, there you go ^^^^

    But sometimes, in the back of my mind, Ash is still kinda cover-guy. Sigh. That’s part of what bugs me about cover images of characters, whether it’s bodies or faces: I can’t “unsee” them & sometimes they hijack my mental image of the character & I can’t see them any other way.

    Headless torsos don’t make me run screaming into the night or anything, but I’m not in love with them either. Though I’ve seen some I really like, like this one A Spy Unmasked which works better for me because it sort of looks like he’s undressing, so display of skin seems slightly less “gratuitous”, plus there’s a hint of his face, so it seems less . . . dehumanizing I guess. But usually it’s two guys posing like oiled up body-builders showing off, which seems sort of ludicrous & usually out of character.

    But at the same time I’m also with AJH about faces that seem wrong being problematic. And I’m exactly the same in that, this bothers me less in an artist’s rendering than in a more realistic photo. But I don’t really like stock photo covers most of the time, I prefer artwork, even if it’s just enhancing a stock photo to look . . . not like a photo. And also, it bugs me almost as much when body types on covers don’t match as when faces don’t. Like, imagine KJ Charles Magpie Lord series, with the bared torsos of two equally big, beefy guys on the cover 😛

    Anyway, I think a good compromise solution, for the faces problem might be to show only a partial, with the face partly obstructed or turned slightly away?

    Catherine, I loved your illustrations for “Stranger Things Have Happened”! I also love your artwork for the Sandra Stixrude “Anchorage” series. In fact, confession, I was so crazy about the guy on the cover of Voyage Into Twilight that I bought the book for that reason alone 🙂 I loved the cover for Mechanical Magic too. And Waiting for the Flood is just so beautiful.

    Alexis, your book covers are all really stunning. I’m pretty sure I pre-ordered Iron & Velvet , when I hadn’t even read Glitterland yet, just for that cover. Also, I love that cover for Champion of the Scarlet Wolf too, it’s just so rich with color & detail, gorgeous.

    And I agree, Steampunk covers tend to be awesome. I love the ones for Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series, especially Clockwork Princess & Bec McMasters London Steampunk series, like Kiss of Steel & My Lady Quicksilver

  6. Great conversation, as usual, guys 🙂
    I loved all these covers you mentioned.
    Alexis, I absolutely love your covers, except Glitterland. It is not bad per se. but it doesn’t match my vision of either Ash or Darian. Just like Pam I kind of expected to have Ash on the cover since he is narrator of the story.
    I’m very much influenced in what books to read by their covers (call me shallow, if you want).
    The headless naked torso is not a special favourite of mine but I don’t have anything against it. I do have a weakness for the naked male back and back in the summer I did a post with 10 favourite “Back off my covers” 🙂 I din’t include any m/m books since I hadn’t read many of them back then.
    Some of my favourite covers include The Warrior by Victoria Scott, and The Angel’s Consort by Nalini Singh (a female back this time).
    And the steampunk covers of the Kraken King by Meljean Brook (as a serial of 7 parts) are all fantastic!

  7. So… You all had me reflecting on what is up with me and picturing the characters in a book 🙂

    But first, I love a cover that stands out from the masses. So, Glitterland, is actually a cover that I really liked because it is different and right in your face, so to say. I wouldn’t call it beautiful, but it is very unique, and that is more important to me.

    It’s somehow weird but that is about all a cover is to me. I don’t really connect it to the story while reading. I look at the cover before and after, but in between it totally slips my mind.

    I have thought about picturing characters in books before. Many people do castings for the protagonists on their reviews or before. They say character x looks just like real life person y to them. I never do this. I don’t picture the characters. They remain very vague in my mind. Even if you describe them for me in a book, I will have forgotten a few pages later. If you don’t let their bodies come alive during the whole book, they are just shells for me.
    I think I have a pretty good picture of Byron Kae in my mind, minus their face. Faces are the most obscure to me.

    Come to think of it, I think this goes together well with my lack of feel for details in general. I dunno, I think I am very different. I have a clear picture of a persons personality, of emotions, the rest just blurrs into shadows.

    So, a cover has to look good and unique to pique my attention. Besides that it won’t do any harm nor good for my reading experience.

  8. Hmm, once again, not getting the comments in my email >:-( yet I know I signed up. And I’m getting comments for every single other thing on Prism, just not this, which is actually the only one I wanted. WTH. Oh well *tries again*

  9. On reflection I think I must really like faces on book covers. Of course, done wrong, especially combined with bad photoshopping, they are a nightmare. If I have trouble visualizing characters from the author’s description (or lack of) and if they are characters I’m really invested in, I try to find a photo that matches what I think they look like. I actually have a pinterest page for ‘characters from fiction’ with pics I found for Meljean Brook’s Colin and Savi, and Tinnean’s Theo and Will among others.

    Not a fan of headless torsos at all. If I see those covers I don’t expect anything good from the story.

    I like modern. Totally into hipsters at the moment which Samhain does really well. Love Heidi Cullinan’s Fever Pitch and JL Merrow’s Pressure Head. I like artistic. This blog post made me waste a lot of time looking back at m/m fantasy covers, then fantasy covers in general. Then I became curious about what Penguin are going to do with their new editions of Captive Prince and found a few different versions:

    My all-time fave covers are by JCP from her Challenging Morpheus series:

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