Monday, August 27, 2012

More Domestic Violence, Please

In (dis)honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, I'm looking for guest posts. Preferably true stories, to which you would be willing to attach your real name, but if you only feel comfortable with a pseudonym, I'll take that, too.

Part of the problem with domestic violence is people feel ashamed to talk about it.

There are certain stereotypes about domestic violence, and victims think, "It's not supposed to happen to people like me. I'm too [smart; educated; strong; financially secure; confident...] to be in this situation, so I should be able to get myself out of it." Men are also victims of domestic violence, in both gay and straight relationships, and they face a double stigma, because "real men" aren't supposed to let other people beat them up (especially "the little woman"), and there isn't much recognition or social support for men seeking to stop a partner's violence.

Personally, I don't even like the word "victim" - it sounds weak, needy, helpless. *grits teeth* I, Beverly Diehl, am a victim of domestic violence. I'm not weak, needy, or helpless; I'm a smart, strong, capable woman, and yet I found myself in a relationship where I was being physically, verbally, and emotionally abused. *looks around* There, I wrote it, and the world has not come to an end.

I think, too, that part of it is we don't want domestic violence to define who we are. Yes, I am a victim of domestic violence; I am also an avid reader and writer, a crafter, skilled at my day job, a pet lover and traveler and a picky eater and many many other things. I don't want to talk and read about domestic violence all the time - but I do want to discuss the subject periodically, especially in October.

People don't always understand what domestic violence is

It is not only being beaten, hit, pushed, slapped and choked. It's also being belittled, ridiculed, called names, cut off and not being allowed to speak. Physical violence has never yet been documented to happen without verbal violence proceeding it. So, if you're being judged and criticized, if your partner blasts you with his/her anger, if s/he throws or slams things, breaks your possessions, threatens you, if s/he blames you for everything that goes wrong...  You're being abused, even if s/he never lays a finger on you. 

If, as a child, you were told you were stupid, worthless, that your parents regretted having you, if you were not permitted to have friendships or repeatedly yelled at for normal childhood mistakes like spilling your milk... that's domestic violence. Emotional and financial abuse is just as real and as degrading as physical abuse, and does just as much to destroy the psyche of a child or a partner as a fist.  Often the painful memory of stinging words outlasts any bruises or broken bones.

If the home atmosphere is sometimes fun and happy, and other times horrifically tense, where everyone is walking on eggshells, hoping to keep from "setting off" an explosion of anger and verbal or physical abuse from a parent or partner - that's a home where domestic violence lives.

I grew up in a home like that. (Which is part of why I missed the warning signs with my ex.)

There's a perception that once you are a victim (or perpetrator) of domestic violence, your life is ruined forever

In some cases, that's tragically true. In some cases domestic violence ends in murder or suicide. My blogfriend Kim at My Inner Chick writes posts that are tasty and shoelicious and funny, but she also writes poignantly about her beautiful sister Kay, lost to domestic violence in May 2010.

It's important to remember that domestic violence can be a matter of life or death.

But in most cases, a victim can move on and reclaim her or his life. An abuser can learn other, better ways of dealing with his/her own inner fears and frustrations. If you live in a domestically violent home right now, it may feel hopeless, but truly, there are ways out. Please, don't give up, reach out for help.

I know I'm not the only one with a story to tell.

I'm hoping you will join me, with your own story about how domestic violence has affected your life, with a guest post of 500-800 words. It's a huge subject, and it's not that many words, so below are  some ideas that you might choose to focus on. Warning - these questions/reminders may be triggering to read and think about, so only do so if you feel emotionally safe enough and strong enough.

If you grew up in a domestically violent household:
  • How old were you when it started, or was it always present?
  • Emotional violence, physical violence, sexual violence, or all of them?
  • Did one parent try to shield you, or did s/he join in or enable the abuse?
  • If you had siblings, was there a "golden child," or did everyone get a share of the abuse?
  • Was your abuser one of your siblings? Did your parents not notice, or...?
  • How old were you when you realized not everyone lived like this?
  • What's your relationship like with the abuser now? 
  • What advice would you give to a minor who is being abused by a sibling, parent or parental figure?

If you have been the victim of abuse in a love relationship:
  • If you are still in a relationship with someone who did or still abuses you, why are you staying? What help would you like to receive, if any?
  • How did you become aware that you were being abused?
  • Looking back, were there warning flags at the beginning that you missed?
  • After the first incident of abuse, what happened next?
  • Did s/he blame you for the abuse, or did you blame yourself?
  • Many opine that in an abusive relationship, joint counseling - which assumes that both parties are equally at fault - can do more harm than good. Did you ever get joint, or individual counseling? What helped, what hurt?
  • Does your church/synagogue/mosque tacitly or openly support domestic violence, or has it been a safe refuge for you?
  • Did you ever call the police to report a partner's attack? Why or why not?
  • How long after the abuse began was it until you left? Why did you stay that long?
  • Did the abuse affect your ability to hold a job, or carry out your work responsibilities?  Did you ever miss time from work because you were too physically or emotionally battered to go in?
  • If you left the relationship, what help from family and friends was most helpful? Most counterproductive?
  • Is there mental illness in play; your own or your partner's, either diagnosed or suspected?
  • Did your partner ever coerce or force you into sexual intercourse, or perhaps a particular sexual act? Would you call what s/he did rape? Why or why not?
  • Did alcohol or drugs play a part in the abuse dynamics - and how?
  • What triggered your decision to end the relationship?
  • If you have left the relationship, how long ago was it? What remnants of the abuse can you still detect in your life? How has it affected current love relationships - if any?
  • Do you feel ashamed that you are/were in a domestically violent relationship? How often, if at all, do you tell people about it?
  • What advice would you give someone who is currently being abused by a partner?

If you are a person who has physically or emotionally abused others:
  • Why do you think you do it/did it?
  • If you can, break down the thoughts and emotions going through your mind just prior to venting your rage at a partner or child.
  • Have you stopped? What triggered your decision to stop abusing?
  • Were you ever confronted by police as a result of your abuse? Arrested?
  • Has domestic violence ever cost you a job or impacted your work?
  • Have you been physically or emotionally violent with more than one partner?
  • If you have ever been convicted of violence against another person, have you disclosed this to your new love interests? If yes, at what point?
  • What kind of counseling/treatment/medications have been helpful, and which have been unhelpful?
  • Has alcohol or other drugs played a role in your abusive behavior?
  • Do you tell any of your family, friends, co-workers you are/were an abuser?
  • What would you tell someone who is currently being abused by a partner?
  • What would you say to someone who is currently abusing a partner or child?

If you have been a witness to domestic violence - of a sibling, friend, neighbor, or co-worker:
  • Did you notice signs that something was wrong before anything was ever said?
  • How did you try to help?
  • What methods of help and support seemed to help him/her, and what seemed counter-productive?
  • Have you ever called the police because of a neighbor or friend's domestic dispute?
  • Do you know someone still in a domestically violent relationship?
  • Do you have resources to recommend?
  • How has this relationship changed your own life?
  • What would you say to someone who knows or suspects domestic violence is occurring to a friend, sibling, neighbor, or co-worker?

As stated above, I'd like your guest posts, 500-800 words long, with at least your own real name if you are comfortable disclosing it, a pseudonym if not, for use here on Writing in Flow during the month of October. If you want to contribute and only feel comfortable writing a short fiction piece of the same length on the subject, I'll take that too.

If you have your own blog and would prefer to do a blog hop with your post living on your own blog, I may put up linkies for that too, that in addition to whatever I post here, provided there's enough interest.

Please send me an e-mail at bevdiehl (at) gmail (dot) com now and let me know you're "in," and if I can count on you for a guest post, or if you prefer to do a blog hop (or better yet, if you're willing to do both). Put Domestic Violence or DV in the subject line so I can sort 'em out from my other e-mails, thanks.

I will send you periodic reminders - October isn't that far away, and this will not be an easy piece to write, I know.

Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Repeating: Please send me an e-mail at bevdiehl (at) gmail (dot) com now and let me know you're "in," and if I can count on you for a guest post, or if you prefer to do a blog hop (or, if you're willing to do both). Put Domestic Violence or DV in the subject line so I can sort 'em out from my other e-mails, thanks.

Also if you have any book recommendations - either fiction or non-fiction, that deal with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, please e-mail to me or leave in the comments, below.

Also, thank you in advance for sharing this invitation among your social network.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

J.L. Campbell's Jamaican Distraction

Pack your virtual suitcase and journey with me to a sun-drenched land full of music and friendship... as well as abuse, deceit, and infidelity.

One of the fabulous benefits of blogging is becoming friends with men and women we might be unlikely to meet with in real life. I am delighted to be interviewing author J.L. Campbell here on her Friendship-Is-Forever blog tour.

J.L. Campbell is a proud Jamaican and the author of Contraband, Distraction, Dissolution, Don’t Get Mad…Get Even, Giving up the Dream and Hardware (pen name Jayda McTyson). Campbell is always on the lookout for story making material, loves company and can usually be found lollygagging on her blog at http://thecharacterdepot.

1) Give us the Cliff Notes guide to Jamaica; size, population, education, government, taboos. Most Americans are aware of ganja, reggae, and Usain Bolt, or if they have been lucky enough to visit as tourists, the stunning beaches and luxurious hotels. Your characters are born, live, work, and (presumably) die in Jamaica - gotta be a very different view from that of tourists.

Jamaica is just over 50 miles wide by 146 miles long and lies 550 miles south of Miami. Just over 2.5 million people live here. Education goes from infant (3 years) to university level and is supposedly free. We have a constitutional government, several political parties and citizens that are rabid about their politics. Men get away with a lot more in terms of relationships than women do. I would add that a fair number of Jamaicans are homophobic.

Tourists, of course, don’t get to see the ghettos where many Jamaicans live. I haven’t showed this side of Jamaica in Distraction, except to make reference to the origins of a couple of the characters.

 2) In Distraction, you start each chapter with a quoted proverb in Patois, then a translation. For example, one is:  Nuh hang yuh basket higher dan yuh can reach it.  (Don't live beyond your means.)  What language(s) does a Jamaican grow up speaking? Yolanda's into watching TV - is it "regular" American TV, are there channels or programming from other countries? What's the heaviest cultural influence?

Most Jamaicans grow up speaking Patois, but English in the language that is taught in school and it’s supposed to be our first language, but in truth, it isn’t.

When I was a girl we only had one television station. Things have evolved way beyond that, so most kids watch American cable TV. One of our biggest cultural influences is the music. Reggae music is the one thing that’s not been diluted. Yes, we have artistes mixing things up with a little rap and jazz, but for the most part reggae music is alive and well and sometimes having a not-so-nice influence on some of our children by way of lyrics that encourage violence.

3) Is there enough support in the islands for a writer to make a living from local support, or is it necessary to reach American/English-speaking readers to be "successful"? If so, what benefits or compromises does this entail?

There aren’t a lot of publishers in Jamaica, so after looking around, I realized I’d have to look outward. A journalist can make a living, but not a fiction writer. There is a myth that Jamaicans don’t read. Many of us don’t, but a fair number of people I know, do read. However, the financial climate does make it challenging for people to buy books. Though I love paper and ink books, I’ve had to take the sensible route and get a Kindle, which is more economical. I’d love to be a household name in Jamaica, but for now, the reality is that I have to work my way from the outside back in.

In terms of compromising, I chose to write Distraction using American spelling. I did this knowing that the North American market would be where I’d be likely to sell the most books. I’ve also had to thin the Patois out a bit so that readers won’t stumble over the language.

4) Do the Caribbean writers all support one another, or is there island rivalry? How about male vs. female writers?

I’ve forged virtual relationships with other Caribbean writers, but there really isn’t much of an organized support system. The writers I know are focused on finding places to get their work published, rather than competing with each other.

 5) Love, lust, and unhappy marriages are universal, it would seem. In Distraction you offer us a triad of women friends who are each involved with two men (and those men themselves may be involved with others). Wholly fictional, somewhat true for Jamaica as you know it, or...?

Until you mentioned it, I didn’t consciously think about the fact that these women are all seeing two men. Yikes! This isn’t the norm, but it does happen, especially with our men. They are known for juggling several women. Dunno how they do it though, considering the financial constraints.

6) Your characters seem to be tossing around a lot of money; $3,000 dropped in one shopping expedition, $5,000 (plus another $5,000 in two weeks) to get a junker car repaired. I'm considered American middle class, but *I* couldn't drop $5,000 in one check any more easily than I could fly. Is this inflation? From the description of the homes/lifestyles, these people would seem to be upper middle class... Do average working people in Jamaica have this kind of money? (packing figurative bags as I type)

Thanks for that chuckle, Beverly. It’s very expensive to live in Jamaica. The value of the Jamaican dollar to the U.S. is 90:1. When put into perspective, to spend $J 3,000 shopping is just over $US 34.00 and that $J 5,000.00 works out at just about $US 56.00. It’s possible to live on say $US 1,000.00 per month if you have no debts and no children, but I would point out that many Jamaicans live on a lot less than this amount.

7) I found it interesting that one of the women experiences a possibly interracial pregnancy, and the worry/damage it would cause if the baby was born with skin too light. Yet there wasn't a big deal with either lover remarking upon a difference in skin tones during the love scenes, or of the female friends chiding her for crossing a color line. Is this something you wrote deliberately, to make a point, or is it that most people in Jamaica couldn't care less about skin pigmentation?

I didn’t think about the question of colour when I was writing the plotline for Dionne/Alex. In Jamaica, it’s no biggie. Some groups do tend to stick to their own race in relationships, but many of us live by our our motto, ‘Out of many, one people.’ That said, people do stare at interracial couples on the street, but there isn’t usually any malice attached.

 8) Tell us why the reader will be rooting for star-crossed lovers Justine and Xavier.

Although Justine and Xavier belong to other people, they share a strong bond. They understand and support each other, knowing that their relationship is taboo. They aren’t fulfilled in their marriages and find happiness with each other and I know many readers like the thought of characters having a possible happy ending.

9) Besides Distraction, are there other books which feature these characters? What's up next for J.L. Campbell?

Oh yeah, for this tour I’ve written a prequel which consists of 13 stories that show where the characters were before they took the stage in Distraction. Some of the characters do show up in Retribution, which is Justine and Xavier’s story. Other than that, I’m editing several other novels, including a couple of young adult stories that I’d like to see published.

10) What question have you never been asked in an interview that you'd like to answer (and your answer, of course)? 

Critique partners and readers have remarked on the depth of my characters, but I’ve never been asked how I achieve that. Simply put, when writing I become each character, be it man, woman, boy or girl. Slipping into each persona gives me a unique and close-up view of who my characters are and what they ultimately want to achieve.

J.L. adds:

As a bonus, at the end of this Friendship tour, there’ll be a main prize of a Distraction note pad & pen and a $10 Amazon gift card. The second prize is a paperback copy of Distraction. Stop by my blog sometime to enter the giveaway on the Rafflecopter.

In A Baker’s Dozen: Thirteen Steps to Distraction, you’ll meet Dionne, Justine and Kyra a year before Distraction takes place. This prequel is complimentary for the duration of the Friendship-is-Forever Tour, so download your copy from Smashwords.

Many thanks for hosting, Bev!

Find J.L.

J.L. Campbell on Twitter

Did you like this taste of Distraction and Jamaica? 
Are you rushing to pick up A Baker's Dozen?
Got questions for J.L.?

Monday, August 13, 2012

What I Read Before My Summer Vacation

I would be writing, but I'm doing research... yeah, that's it! Research.

Seriously, I am, though. All these books are giving me great ideas and help for my own stuff.

Sleeping with Paris - Juliette Sobanet (chick lit, romance)

Paris. Hot neighbor who feeds you chocolate in bed after amazing sex. What's not to love?

Charlotte, the lead character, is supposed to be broke and bitter - her fiance, with whom she was supposed to move to Paris, has been cheating. She decides instead to take a page from his book, and sleep her way around Paris, blogging all the way.

She's hurt, she's wary, but she's not heartbroken; rather, resilient. I really liked the character's voice - she may make dumb mistakes, sometimes, but she's no dummy. Although she almost blows it when she returns to the States and runs into her ex at her best friend's wedding.

This was a light, fun read. If, like me, you can't get to Paris and score your own Half-Naked Hottie to feed you chocolate in bed, experiencing it vicariously through this book is the next best thing. Right now it is only available as an e-book, but the author tells me it'll be available as a paperback this fall.

Cover for Christine Ashworth's Blood Dreams Short StoryBlood Dreams - Christine Ashworth (paranormal romance novella)

This is a lead-in story to a novel being released in August, so it doesn't have its own satisfying ending, just a whisper and a tease for what's coming next.

I really loved Demon Soul, the first book in this Caine brothers series, and enjoyed getting to know Gregor a bit better.

When Christine was here on Writing in Flow in June, she explained why demons/daemons aren't necessarily a bad thing, so this time, the idea of demons didn't freak me out.

Especially tri-bred demons who are part human and part fae and all the way sexy, like the Caine brothers. (Gotta love a paranormal guy like Justin who wears long dreadlocks, Hawaiian shirts and loves to surf.)

The Church RetreatThe Church Retreat - Joel Tuggle (thriller)

Don't let the title fool you. This novel has almost nothing to do with a church retreat, except as a spooky setting for the novel. So, if you are one of those put off by the word church, don't be - and if you are looking for something nice and spiritual, you will be disappointed.

Disclaimer #1 - This is not the kind of material I normally read for pleasure, research, or entertainment, so my view may be a bit off as compared to others who do. #2 - I was contacted by the author via GoodReads and received a free copy in return for a review; I did not promise a  favorable review.

The first four chapters are set in 1971; the remainder of the book in 2001. I think the author was trying to go for a Stephen King thriller vibe - and there are sections where the tension is portrayed quite well. But there are many problems with this novel. First - we don't know who the story is about.  It starts out about five boys, kind of like Stand By Me - who then all disappear in various ways, and only appear as legends later on. (Some are dead, some are not. It would be stronger if some were involved now, as their now-adult selves, à la Mystic River, but they're not.) The first few chapters after the ones about the boys are about a single, divorced dad; there are chapters from the POV of a Mexican drug lord, a local sheriff, and many other characters. Whose story is it? Who are we rooting for? I couldn't tell.  Because I couldn't tell, it was hard for me to invest myself emotionally in the novel.

The author makes some distracting rookie writing mistakes. The word "leer" is used 31 times (according to my Kindle), almost never correctly, but as a synonym for the word "look." "They turned and leered down the dark tractor path..." "He took another quick draw from his cigarette and leered again at the camp." "...leering into the woods for any sign of movement." There's abundant adverb use, rather than more powerful action verbs: "suddenly" is used 80 times, "quickly" 122. We spend part of the novel inside the head of "the short Mexican" and "the tall Mexican;" IMO, when the reader has to spend a chapter or two sharing a character's thoughts, we deserve at least to know his/her name.

In the end, it's something of a monster story - what kind of monster, I won't reveal. That part I found rather interesting and almost plausible. I think, in order for it to be more believable, there needed to be more mysterious incidents between 1971 and the current/2001 events, which sightings or incidents are at least referred to, if not shown. I did find myself wrapped up in the emotions of the father looking for his lost daughter.

Is it worth the price the author is asking ($.99)? Sure. It's my hope that this debut author finds himself a good crit group and/or skilled editor before he releases his next novel, because I think he has a lot of potential, but for now, Stephen King need not worry.

The Lantern  - Deborah Lawrenson (Gothic romance, thriller)

This was the most amazingly sensual novel I have ever read. Sometimes purple prose has its place:
It was one of those days so intensely alive and aromatic, you could hear as well as smell the fig tree in the courtyard. Wasps hummed in the leaves as the fruit ripened and split; globes of warm, dark purple were dropping, ripping open as they landed with sodden gasps.
There are two concurrent storylines: that of Bénédicte Lincel and her sister Marthe, former owners of Les Genévriers, from the past, and the current owner, Dom and his girlfriend, dubbed Eve by him. Similar in tone, feeling, and even storyline to Daphne duMaurier's Rebecca, Eve is haunted by whispers about Dom's first wife, Rachel. Divorced? Dead? Murdered?

More than this, is the rundown Provençal hamlet of Les Genévriers itself haunted? Or are the mysterious goings on simply part of what happens to any ancient set of buildings that have lacked love, attention and care for many years?

The switches in narrator are sometimes hard to follow, to determine if we are listening to Bénédicte or Eve. Eve is rather aimless and directionless in the beginning, making her hard to connect with. Bénédicte's stories, especially those of working in the lavender fields, are sensually intoxicating. Her older sister Marthe becomes blind, and she is charged with "seeing" for her sister, who has become a parfumiere:
"I want you to look really hard, just like we used to, look right into the heart of the flowers and the spiny leaves and the earth and describe it to me. Use all your senses to make the pictures come alive for me...."
The sense of smell is expressed in this book more powerfully than I have read in any other novel, but sights, sounds, textures, temperatures, tastes are not neglected, either. This is not a book suited to zipping through fast, but one to savor.  In the end, the mysteries are solved, and if a ghost or two lingers, it's probably a benevolent one.

Holly Wood Dream
Holly Would Dream - Karen Quinn (chick lit)

Want to read a classic Hollywood movie while at the beach (or anywhere else)? This book's for you.

It's kind of a mash-up of classic 50's RomComs - a bit like Sabrina, a bit like Breakfast at Tiffany's, a bit like all the wonderful Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant movies. Light. Funny. We get to sample the world of high-fashion and Serious Money the way Holly does, as a poor girl with her nose pressed against the Tiffany's window, looking wistfully in. Couture. Cruises. Crime.

Gotta love Holly's father, Pops: panhandler by day, dogsitter by night, who cleans up to be quite the ladies' man. I even learned things, like in the post 9-11 times, going into the bathroom of an airplane in flight with a partner to join the Mile High Club will get the Department of Homeland Security to take a close and personal interest in your horny self. How vintage couture clothing is maintained to preserve its value. That cruise ships have their own morgues.

Holly's orthodontic headgear, and meeting the man destined to be Very Important, while wearing it, coke bottle glasses, and garbage bags on her feet. Penis King. The three-legged cat. Magda the big butted bride and the wedding in the funeral parlor. I think I laughed on almost every page of this book, it was so much fun.

Confessions of an Improper Bride - Jennifer Haymore (historical romance)

What would you do if your beloved twin sister was swept overboard, while you returned home in disgrace? If the only way to provide for your vulnerable younger sisters was to assume your lost sister's identity, and marry her fiance, even though you were actually in love with another man? Who had behaved like a complete jackhole to you, in the past, who fully disgraced you in the eyes of society, and yet... you still yearned for him?

Been there, done that.  (As far as yearned for a man who had been a jackhole to me in the past, AND publicly disgraced me. The being a twin part, not so much - but I wanted a twin.)  So I could both relate to Serena Donovan, AND wanted to scream at her, "Run, run, and don't look back."

Despite my personal feelings, this story sucked me in, and got me rooting for Serena and her flawed but hot (is there any other kind?) hero. I loved the high stakes, the emotional connection between the hero/heroine, the hot sex scenes, and the very satisfactory ending when I was sure there was NO WAY Serena and Jonathan could work it out. Now I want to read ALL the Donovan sister novels.

Just Like That  (SweetSpots Contemporary Romance)
Just Like That  - Margo Candela (contemporary romance)

 Sassy and sweet little novella. Something of a Cinderella story - the besieged stylist whose manager won't give her any good clients, but then she hits the jackpot with Mr. Big, er, Mr. Tate.

It's a quick, fun little romantic fantasy, and I really liked the author's voice, not to mention the pampering she gets from Mr. Tate. Looking forward to reading more of this author's work.

Fancy Pants - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (chick lit, romance)
This was a very interesting read for my chick lit reading group, because it was published in 1989. The first part takes place in the 1970's, the second part in the 1980's. So, from our perspective, today - the characters and the environment are a little dated; from another perspective, it's like taking a time capsule voyage back to those years.

It's very weird to read about pro golfing without any mention of Tiger Woods. The heroine is SO bratty and unlikeable in the beginning I was tempted to put the book down (okay, I was tempted to throw it across the room, but it's a library book, so I reined myself in). Francesca actually undergoes such a sea change after winding up in the middle of nowhere, with the clothes on her back, preggers, and with a quarter in her pocket, that I was able to root for her after all.

There are things in this books that wouldn't "work" in today's market. A hero, (technically) married to another woman? Over all, I liked it, and I found it especially interesting as a look back in time. The romance publishing industry has changed greatly in the last decade; grown more Puritanical in some respects, IMO, and in others... the "rapey" romances of Johanna Lindsey and Rosemary Rogers would be hard, if not impossible to sell to a modern audience.

The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd (women's fiction)

I admit, I'm a longtime fan of SMK. Loved her Dance of the Dissident Daughter, loved The Secret Life of Bees, and I love mermaids, yet this book... a little harder to get into. She has a beautiful, lyrical way of expressing life's deeper questions, and yet... I found Jessie, her heroine, a bit whiny and self-indulgent. I "get" the whole idea of a woman discovering she must reinvent herself, in her forties, but... I was not surprised by her extramarital adventure, and thought the object of her fling, and her husband, were a bit too convenient and accommodating.

I did fall in love with the Mermaid Chair, itself (I want one!); and was surprised at its connection with Jessie's beloved father. I love the way SMK integrates all the senses - I could feel the pluff mud on my feet, smell it, see the egrets flying through the air. The little details and secondary characters are wonderful, from Max the Island Dog, to Kat and Hepzibah. And what do you do with your elderly mother who has deliberately hacked off her finger yet seems perfectly sane?  All in all, a very worthwhile read, especially if you are a woman in your forties or fifties.

Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish - Grace Burrowes (Regency romance)

She had me at dirty nappies (diapers). A hot hero coming to the rescue of a somewhat plain Jane heroine who has been left with an abandoned baby belonging to her maidservant.

I've never read a book before where the device that brought the lovers together was an abandoned baby, but it worked for me. While Sophie has a habit of picking up strays, she knows nothing about caring for babies. Vim actually has much experience with babies, and since he's in no hurry to get to where he should be going, he stays longer than he should to coach Sophie in changing nappies, feeding an infant, and other babycare.

What Vim doesn't know is Sophie's actually the daughter of a duke, with a plethora of brothers and sisters, who maneuvered to be "forgotten" in London with only a few servants, so she can get a much-needed break. Vim assumes she is a servant of some kind, and therefore while this does not interfere with a nice, juicy romp, given his own station in life he can't marry her - though he begins to want to.  My only quibble is Vim's big traumatic event that has created an aversion to Kent and to Sophie's father in particular seemed a little overdone.

Of course, now I will have to read the preceding books about Sophie's very interesting brothers, who bumble into the story near the end, making things worse and better, but this works well as a standalone. I really liked this book even though regencies aren't my usual read.

Distraction - J. L. Campbell (women's fiction)

If you can't travel to Jamaica with a suitcase, traveling in your imagination is the next best thing.  Hot and sexy lovers Justine and Xavier steam up the pages, but they happen to be married to other people. Justine's husband Milton is keeping more than a few secrets of his own, some of which involve Kyra's loser boyfriend that she just can't seem to cut loose. Then there's Dionne, who's willing do whatever it takes to get ahead.

These are not "nice" women, these are interesting women, women with complicated lives and children (yes, women can have children and an interesting life!) and I became fully wrapped up in these women and their stories. J.L. Campbell (who'll be interviewed here on Aug 24) does a great job of including Jamaican proverbs, meals, and other touches that give a taste of the island culture. Yet the friendship dynamic among women seems universal.

And because I had to catch up with the buzz, of course...

Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James (romantic erotica)

I actually liked much of this novel - but not the parts everyone else got off on (pun intended). I thought Anastasia was a spunky, clever little character. I loved her e-mails, her attraction but resistance to Christian Grey, her geeky clumsiness. Christian, of course, was almost every woman's cream-your-panties-dream: 27 years old, physically gorgeous, rich, accomplished, powerful, able to leap tall buildings fly helicopters and run multi-billion dollar corps while still having endless time available for kinky sex play. What's not to like? (Besides his Red Room of Pain, that is.)

I loved the details of the BDSM contract and her reaction to it. (Much like mine would be, I admit. Caning? Branding? Anal fisting? Oh, hell no!) But in the end, the sex scenes left me neither shaken nor stirred. Just kind of shades of meh. Which is not what good erotica is supposed to do.

Here's two examples of what good erotica is supposed to do: boy howdy, does it ever!

Still Into You and Melt Into You - Roni Loren

Still Into You (100 pages, BDSM erotic romance, menage) is a good way to get a taste of Roni Loren's work. When Seth and Leila fell in love, they couldn't wait to rip each others' clothes off. Now, eight years and two kids later, they'll watch Letterman rather than make love.

Some say that it's not really a romance if the couple is already married (except for mail-order brides and the like) - stories like this prove "them" wrong.  As it turns out, both Seth and Leila have been longing for something more than "vanilla sex," but didn't want to bring it up, lest they shock their partner. I love the way this couple fights to stay together, from Leila calling a radio love doc for advice, to Seth unearthing her stash of battered romance novels and reading them to discover what her hottest fantasies might be.  The sex is hot, the romance is sweet, and being on the journey as this couple battles to find each other again - or perhaps, really, for the first time - is definitely worth the price of admission.

Melt Into You (BDSM, menage, M/M erotic romance)

Evan's got a smart, loving, protective fiance, and a strong emotional bond with him that goes back to when she was a teen runaway in serious trouble.  Unfortunately, he's just not that into her, being gay and closeted for the sake of his career. But he wants her to be happy, so he sets her up with a three month membership at The Ranch, a place she can discreetly play without blowing his cover.

What none of them count on is that Evan's first love Jace is also a member of The Ranch, and so's his hot buddy Andre. Despite, or perhaps because of their past hurts, it's simply not possible for this trio to make it only about the sex, though they try. Love's got a lot to do with it; love between Evan and Jace, between Evan and Andre, and between Jace and Andre, though there is something extra special when all three are together. The obstacles keeping these people apart are not easily surmountable, and it doesn't all wrap up in a bow (or padded handcuffs, if you prefer) over the course of a long weekend. The sex is incredibly hot (I've had a mad crush on Jace since he first appeared in Roni's Crash Into You); adding hot cop Andre just turned it up a notch.

I've never been into the whips-and-chains-and-floggers thing, but Roni makes me like it despite myself. I just hope she doesn't start writing erotica involving circus monkeys or houseplants, because I would prolly discover that in her skillful hands, those "did it" for me, too.

The Inner Game of Stress: Outsmart Life's Challenges and Fulfill Your Potential  - W. Timothy Gallwey with Edd Hanzelik M.D. and John Horton M.D.

I admit, as I prepared to go to Anaheim for my first ever RWA conference, I was really feelin' the stress. Had been for some months ahead of time. So I called on this book to help me sort that out, and you know what, it truly helped.

"The outer game is played in the public arenas of daily life, overcoming obstacles in work, family, relationships, and health. The inner game is played simultaneously against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, frustration, pain, and worry, which produce stress and stifle fulfillment. When we master the inner game, we can handle the obstacles of the outer game without stress."

The Inner Game of Stress offers all kinds of tools to reset our perception of something being stressful - or not.  To shut down that horrible Self 1, aka the Stress Maker, the voice that can (if we let it) keep up a constant barrage of negative, stress-inducing inner dialogue.

This book is one I am going to periodically reread. I was so nervous about RWA, certain that a single misstep would forever ruin any possible writing career. By re-envisioning it as one of many conferences I am sure to attend, and a tremendous opportunity, I actually had fun and a successful pitch. It won't be the first, nor the last time I will need to put the Stress Maker in her place, I am sure.

Left on my TBR list from December:
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Daisy Miller - Henry James
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Confessions of an Improper Bride - Jennifer Haymore

Added to my TBR list, already on my Kindle or bookshelf:

A Heart to Mend - Myne Whitman
The Doctor's Lady - Jody Hedlund
Dev Dreams - Ruth Madison
My Cheeky Angel - Mimi Barbour
Katie's Hellion - Lizzy Ford
The Inner Game of Stress - W. Timothy Gallwey
Romance Novel - PJ Jones
Living in Gratitude - Angeles Arrien
Bossypants - Tina Fey
Train Your Mind, Change Your Life - Sharon Begley
Water - Terra Harmony
The Cowboy's Pride - Charlene Sands
The Bird Sisters - Rebecca Rasmussen
Mercury Rising - Daisy Harris
The Brenda Diaries - Margo Candela
Hollywood Ending - Lucie Simone
Are You There, Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
Melt - Natalie Anderson
Beauty and the Werewolf (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
His Strength - Kiru Taye
Just The Way You Are - Barbara Freethy
Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia E. Butler
Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
Just Like That - Margo Candela
Twelve Times Blessed - Jacqueline Mitchard
The Lantern - Deborah Lawrenson
Danger Zone - Dee J. Adams
The Possibility of You - Pamela Redmond
Daughter of Fortune - Isabel Allende
Alpha Wolf - Linda O. Johnston
Asphodel (The Underworld Trilogy) - Lauren Hammond
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
Witches of East End - Melissa de la Cruz
The Comic Toolbox - John Vorhaus
A Week to  Be Wicked - Tessa Dare
The Belly Dancer - DeAnna Cameron
Caught in the Act - Jill Sorenson
Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James
Elizabeth I - Margaret George
How to Knit A Wild Bikini - Christie Ridgway
Somewhere in Time - Richard Matheson
Flirt - Laurell K. Hamilton
Fired Up - Jayne Ann Krentz
Fragrance of Violets - Paula Martin
Can't Buy Me Love - Maggie Marr
Colters' Wife - Maya Banks
The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
Common Sense - Thomas Paine
Lady Susan - Jane Austen

And then I went to RWA National Conference and returned home with DOZENS more paperback books and downloads.

Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
Have you read any of the books I read?  
What did you think?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It's a Party! It's a Murder! It's A Book!

Team writing. In bars.

When I heard about these girlz, and their unique book and writing style, I had to invite them here. Have a seat and enjoy a virtual margarita while we visit with Joan Rylen.

Vivian Taylor's dreams drowned the night she found her husband, father of their four young children, in the pool with another woman. Days from finalizing divorce and in need of resuscitation, Vivian's three closest friends whisk her off to exotic Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where she meets sexy Canadian soap star, Jon Tournay. Their electrifying night on the dance floor ignites into an inferno of passion during a moonlit stroll along the beach. Hours later, the girls are awakened by the bang! bang! bang! of policia at their door. Jon has been murdered, and the lead detective targets his prime suspect: Vivian. Leery of local authorities, the Getaway Girlz — vivacious Vivian, unwavering Wendy, impulsive Lucy and brainiac Kate — embark on a journey of justice to prevent Vivian from being a broad, locked up abroad.

Texas gals and lifelong friends, Johnell Kelley and Robbyn Hill, a.k.a. Joan Rylen, can be found vacationing across the globe with their favorite Getaway Girlz, then writing about it!

How long have you been friends?
J: Thirty-three years, since kindergarten.
R: Yep, we were Teague Tigers.
J: We grew up five streets from each other in Pasadena, Texas, and were in all the same stuff: Brownies, dance, band.
R: We even waited tables together our first year of college and then stayed in touch after Johnell went to UT. She later landed in Fort Worth and I moved up there for my husband’s job almost six years ago. 

What made you start writing?
J: Robbyn made me.
R: I had to! It was an epiphany! I couldn’t write the story without her. The idea popped into my head and her voice was pertinent to the story.

What was the inspiration behind Getaway Girlz?
J: Our girls’ trips. My friends rescued me after a really crappy, very unexpected divorce.
R: A big group of us whisked her off to San Antonio for a birthday/divorce party. It was so much fun, we started taking annual trips after that.
J: We’ve had as many as 11 girlz on the trips, but always the ‘core four.’ Angie, Robbyn, Lea and myself. In fact, that’s how we came up with our pen name, Joan Rylen. Two letters from each name.  

Joan Rylen at Chuy's
How do the two of you write together?
J: In bars. Seriously.
R: We’ll meet at one of our favorite restaurants or bars, set up the laptop, connect the external keyboard and start at it. We’ll pass the keyboard back and forth. One types while the other makes commentary. We share a book brain.
J: I’ll admit, there’s usually a bucket of beer or margaritas nearby. Sometimes, by the end of the night, our stories get a little wacky. We have to re-read the next day.
R: “Where did that come from?” is a common occurrence after a night like that. There’s laughing involved. 

How long does it take you to write a book?
R: It took us a year and a half to write the first one, mostly because we had no outline. It was very much a “what would we do next if we were on vacation and in this situation?” Halfway through, we stopped and plotted out the rest of the story.
J: For book two and then going forward, we knew in order to stay on deadline, we’d need a general outline. We usually write it right after our trips. In fact, it’s become a custom to write on airplane barf bags.
R: Unused. 

So you’ve launched the first book. What’s next?
R: We’re halfway through with book two, Rocky Mountain Mayhem.
J: It’ll be released in December. Then we’ll release Big Easy X-capade in June 2013.
R: That’s a fun one! We’ll have a signing in New Orleans, for sure!
J: Then we have Upstate Uproar coming out in December 2013. Whew, I’m tired already.

What are the top three lessons you’ve learned throughout your publishing journey?
R: First, trust your instinct. We knew we had a good thing, but it felt damn good when three out of four editors with the Big Six requested partials at a conference in New York.
J: There was some screaming in Central Park after that. We scared some people from Oklahoma, but then after we told them why, they told us to do it again.
R: We did. Even louder.

J: Second, I’d say we’ve learned to treat this as a business. The creative part is fun, but the fact is that one day we’d both like to quit our day jobs and do this full time.
R: We maintain a writing schedule with serious deadlines, created a corporation, got a crash course in accounting (thanks Dad), pay sales taxes quarterly and count inventory, all that fun stuff.

R: I guess the third thing we’ve learned is that we can’t do it all on our own. We need beta readers because we don’t always catch the little things.
J: Extra eyeballs are important, for instance, I just caught one of Robbyn’s typos.
R: Yeah, yeah. We need helperz at bookstore signings to help create buzz and wrangle the customers. 
J: We always try to have a few friends stay during the entire time to pass out cards, direct people to our table and show them the book.
R: It has made all the difference.
J: We also need friends to help spread the word. Our friends have been great about reposting our news on Facebook and telling everyone they know. They rock.

Johnell Kelley & Robbyn Hill, writing as Joan Rydell
Do you have a destination for book five?
R: You know it! A dude ranch in Bandera, Texas.
J and R: Yeeeehawwww!

You can find Joan Rylen:

Thank you ladiez, er, girlz, for sharing your unique story about writing as a team and your vacation-fueled stories. *sips margarita* That was tasty.

Questions, comments?
Have you ever tried writing with a partner?
What made it work - or not work?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Unpacking My #RWA12 Inspiration and Memories

Somebody wise said, plans seldom survive the first engagement.

Not that RWA12 was a battlefield or anything. But yes, nothing went as I imagined it would.

Still, I was originally totally nervous about it, feeling too shy (as a newbie) to ask anyone to ride down with me. Fate took care of me, and I ended up carpooling with my LARA chapter sisters Caro Kinkead and Cara King, both of whom had attended oodles of RWA conferences. I felt like a young girl being prepared for her wedding night by the wise elder women, all except for the young virgin part.  (And the "them being older" part, too.)

Are free books a gateway drug?

If so, I'm hooked. So many dealers, so many gorgeous books, little space. I brought a HUGE, mostly empty suitcase. I ended up taking it home, FULL of books and swag, while my clothes got stuffed into the very roomy RWA/Harlequin bag.

I started out VERY organized. Loved the bag, the initial books.

Only a FEW books, to get us hooked.... and then the real binge began.
(Also note patterned carpet on right side.)
The rooms at the Anaheim Marriott were very nice; clean, restful. As I mentioned previously, there were plugs everywhere, for every kind of electrical device. The beds had down comforters with very clean, white duvet covers - I loved the sanitary aspect of it.

It did occur to me, as I was on the floor doing some yoga moves one morning, that the carpet with its maroon red leaf pattern, would be convenient for disguising blood stains, but I didn't actually notice any.  (See, story ideas can come to you anywhere!)

The conference location, a W.I.P., how apropos is that?
It was slightly (but not horribly) confusing finding my way in to the hotel. The construction seems much more orderly viewed from above than from street level.

Much like my own writing journey, full of odd detours and strange turns


I forgot several things. Most importantly, my glasses, although that wasn't too horrible - only a few minutes stumbling around the hotel room, till I got my contacts in.

Female sanitary supplies. Didn't end up needing them, but I might have. Someone pointed out to me gently, as I was fretting about this, that if it became necessary, with 2,000+ women around, prolly somebody there would be able to cover me in need.

I did bring a swimsuit, thinking I would be able to get into the jacuzzi with someone at some point, but when I asked, I couldn't find any woman willing to wear a bathing suit even if she was covered with Harry Potter's Cloak of Invisibility.

I also brought a big bag of grapes, figuring they would be a nice healthy snack and diet supplement. Then once I washed snapped off a handful and washed them, I realized I had neglected to bring a bowl, plate, or other dish to put them on. Facial tissue and my bare, dripping fingers did not turn out to be a good option.  So I made a grocery store run and scored some paper plates. Later someone suggested I could have put my grapes into the little water glasses they provide for each room.

D'uh!  Well, I also picked up breath spray at the store, which was prolly a good call.

Fake It Till You Make It

So Tuesday night, following the advice of my LARA sisters, I made my wobbly way to the main bar area. I asked NY Times best-selling author Lauren Dane, who guested on my blog last year, if I could join their group of confident, beautiful writers at a central table, including RITA nominee (& also NY Times best-selling author ) Courtney Milan, Lauren Hawkeye (mentioned in Time magazine!), and agent Laura Bradford, who'd spoken to my LARA chapter a few months back, and several other VIA's (Very Impressive Authors). They were warm, friendly, and welcoming, while I did my best to ditch my deer-in-the-headlights look and act like a grown-up writer wearing her big girl panties.

Wednesday morning, same dealie - I didn't cling to the safe familiar faces, but breakfasted alone on the patio, and met another woman who just happens to be another NY Times best-selling author and RITA nominee. After we struck up a conversation, she filled me in on some of the details about her editor and publishing house, and generously offered to read pages of my latest novel and tell me frankly if she thinks it sucks. This was a recurring theme; over and over again, I met fabulous, successful authors who were more than willing to give support and encouragement.

One beef about the Marriott - no way you could make your elevator pitch in an actual elevator. I think it went from my floor to the lobby in 4.5 seconds, just long enough to say, "Hi, my name is-"  Bing!

Blowing the Roof Off the Convention Center

Wednesday night. First ever Literacy Signing. First volunteer shift.
The Literacy signing was on the third floor ballroom of the Anaheim Convention Center.
Tremendously striking place, outside and in.

I know nothing about architecture, but I know what I like.
I like.
So as I'm standing just inside the ballroom, with several other confused volunteers, I spot a familiar nametag.  It's the editor with whom I have a Saturday pitch scheduled! Oddly enough, she looks warm and friendly, not like she eats small children for breakfast!

I walk up to her and say hello, strike up a very brief conversation, telling her we have a pitch on Saturday, and in response to her question, give her my brief elevator pitch and then change the conversation to pronunciation of names and other small talk.  Then, spotting what seems to be a gathering place for volunteers, I head over in that direction.

I help set up calculators and go through a brief training, make friends with some of the other volunteers.  And then...
Right before the madness. Authors in place, cashiers (that's me!) in place, fans still outside.
Those empty red lines were filled to overflowing with eager readers waiting to pay for books.

Wild and Wonderful

Everybody said I would love the Literacy Signing, and I did, though I was working it. (I have a feeling I will love it more when - not if - I am one of the peeps signing books for my adoring fans.)

Connie Cox gave a fabulous First Timers' Orientation. The Pro Retreat on Thursday morning was mondo helpful, and by putting my card into a draw, I won a Friday lunch date with Regency author Valerie Bowman. Her debut book (which looks awesome) comes out in September and I am trying to lure her for a visit here on Writing with Flow.

I can't begin to mention all the absolutely beautiful and gracious writers I met. (Especially the ones I met in the bars at days' end, while I was drinking 68 Degrees and Nightingales. Though those from the Friday night group will probably never forget the crit group story I shared about the racehorse and the woman who loved him.) I will be e-mailing and Following and blowing kisses to everyone as soon as I get my stack o' cards organized.

Lisa Hendrix and Maisey Yates, whose home turf I invaded last summer, also looked out for me and made sure I got over my impulse to play mouse at a cat show. I got to meet Roni Loren, a true fangirl moment. My fabulous LARA mentor, Christine Ashworth, came up and gave me hugs from time to time, just what I needed. Another thrill was getting to meet and chat with WANA queen herself, Kristen Lamb.

Then there was me and Jayne Ann Krentz

So Friday morning, I'm walking down the corridor to the continental breakfast, alone except for a lovely, slender, red-haired woman. She asks me about the breakfast, I told her what it had been on Thursday.

Then I burble, holding out my nametag: "This is my first conference, hi, my name is Beverly." I look for her nametag, and not seeing hers, I offer helpfully, "Everyone told me I was supposed to wear this at all times."

She laughs a little, pulls hers out of her purse and puts it on.  Jayne Ann Krentz. I am ready to sink into the floor with embarrassment. I mumble something along the lines of, "I guess maybe it's easier for you if you don't wear your nametag at all times."

She replies, graciously, "It's all right. The worst is when somebody comes up to me, all excited and says, 'I'm so thrilled to meet you. You're my mother's favorite author.'"


Lovely, lovely woman. I am sure she excuses my lame newbie conference brain.

All that Glitters

Fancy dresses. Olivia Gates in her sparkly blouses. Gini Koch's cowboy hats. Incredible shoes.
Jackie Ivie and her gorgeous sparkly shoes, because at only 6'3" in her bare feet she needs the added height.
Why not another picture of the stunning author?
I did take one, but did not have the wit to take one with my own camera.

Amazing, competitive shoe porn throughout the whole conference.
Sparky shoes, killer pedis, stilettos and rhinestone sandals ...
and me representing the Sisterhood of the Butt-Ugly Shoes because of my pinched nerve..
Because I didn't want to appear too fangirlish, I failed to take pictures of the many beautiful writers as they exited the various parties. (Next time!) And since I was ushering for the Golden Heart/RITA awards, it didn't seem right to snap pics of people there, either, but...

Volunteering Really Pays Off

I decided to do one thing each day, a way to contribute substantially and yet not become overwhelmed. On Friday morning, I helped with the agent/editor appointments.

Because I did that, I was familiar with the flow, with what the lineup procedure was - and having already met my editor, I was much less nervous than I would've been, going in cold. I met with her, she actually remembered me from Wednesday night, I pitched, and she requested a full!

The various volunteer stints I did gave me an an opportunity to chat with other newbies and veterans more in depth - you can swap cards at the various workshops, and I did, but that's not the same thing as actually getting to talk to someone. And then I would see their faces in the hallways and smile and feel much more like part of a big RWA family.

The RWA staff itself - Carol Ritter and all - were amazing and incredibly organized. Kudos to them all.

And More Swag

Swag covered every possibility. And chocolate, especially chocolate.
I saw so many interesting and fun swaggy things. Nail files - always handy. Lip balm, bookmarks, and chocolate, more free books, imaginative displays... I came away filled with all kinds of good ideas for when my turn comes. Inspiration. Kinetic energy. Books for decades. Friends for life.

With a great supportive group like RWA behind me, I would have to try really hard to fail.

A P.S. - Lauren Hawkeye has started a petition for the RWA to add an Erotic Romance category for the RITA's.  I've signed, and here's why:

A good story is about characters who learn, grow, change. Erotic romance explores emotional changes that occur primarily as a part of sexual activity (which is generally the way it works in Real Life). Sex can sink or save a romantic relationship, depending on if it's horrible or amazing; we all know this. However, not everyone is comfortable reading or judging material that delves this deeply. Giving ER its own category would both acknowledge the value of this material, and not foist it on judges who feel uncomfortable reading it.

If you agree, go HERE to sign:

Did you get to RWA12? Other conferences?
(I won't be able to go to all the RWA conferences, but I'm so glad I got to this one.)
Got any good (or even better, bad) stories?

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