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Meet 2012 Golden Heart Finalist A.J. Larrieu

Today we’ve got the fourth of our featured guest bloggers from the Golden Heart class of 2012.

A. J. Larrieu is a finalist in the Paranormal Romance category, with FIGS FROM THISTLES, which I’m just dying to read! She’s also a member of my home chapter, San Francisco Area RWA. And you can find her and like her on Facebook here, because, really, you should.

Take it away, A. J.!!

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Fear, Rage and Death: Why I Write Paranormal Romance

Thanks so much to the Rubies for having me today!  It’s a real honor to guest blog in this community and get to meet so many fellow writers.  Actually, one of my favorite things about being a writer is other writers.  Get a group of us together, and we can’t shut up.  Getting to know all the Golden Heart finalists of 2012 over the Yahoo group has been just what you’d expect from sixty-four strong, smart, talented ladies: funny, sad, and taking over my in-box.  We’ve all been through a lot over the past year, but one thing is clear: this is a group of survivors.  And many of us have talked about writing as a way to make it through the tough times.

I know this is true for me.  Every book I write is my way of dealing with something slippery and intangible, some fear or hope or longing.  I write paranormal fiction because when I’m trying to understand the sometimes ugly and frightening world, it helps to put a face on the fear and make it tame.  It’s hard to fight something you can’t see, so a good paranormal romance or urban fantasy takes that fear, that anger, that taboo desire and gives it a beating (or perhaps unbeating) heart.

Vampires are an obvious example.  Can you think of a better personification of fear?  They’re dead.  They only come out in the dark.  They drink blood—probably your blood—but as long as you stay in your house, they can’t hurt you.  The real danger, of course, is that you’ll invite them in.  A good vampire novel lets you do just that, and turns the monster into an ally.  The things that go bump in the night are on your side now, and in your bed.  Talk about facing your fears.

If vampires represent our fears, werewolves are a personification (or should it be lupinification?) of rage.  That anger you feel at the guy who cut you off during rush hour, the ex who cheated on you, the injustice of the world…sometimes there’s no outlet for the fury.  So sprout fur and fangs and go hunt down a deer.  You’ll feel better after you’ve eaten.  But, importantly, a good werewolf hero will fight down those animal instincts when he has to.  He is anger and rage made safe in the service of the heroine.

Then there are the zombies.  Zombies (usually) don’t get housetrained like the other members of the paranormal trinity.  (Decaying body parts = not sexy.)  They embody all our desires gone horribly wrong, the quest for immortality and eternal youth gone to rot.  But, in a good zombie story, we don’t have to fear the abstract specters of death and disease.  We can blow their heads off of with a sawed-off shotgun.  Life sure would be easier if we could handle all of our intangible issues like this.

I write about people with psychic powers: telekinesis, telepathy, supernatural healing.  To me, these powers symbolize my desire for connection to other people and to the world around me.  I think this desire is getting more common nowadays, when we’re all hyper-connected through social media and cell phones but living farther and farther away from our roots.  It’s a theme that keeps coming up in my writing, perhaps because as a displaced Southerner, I have a longing to go home even though I love my adoptive city.  It’s why a write: to forge a bond with the people and places I love, and, ultimately, with readers.  As Stephen King says, What is writing?  “Telepathy, of course.”*

What about you—do you write to deal with your demons?  What’s your favorite literary symbol for something intangible?

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 A.J. Larrieu is a Southerner living in San Francisco and a biologist moonlighting as a romance novelist.  She wrote her first vampire romance to deal with the economic crisis of 2008.  Since then she’s stuck to telepaths, telekinetics and supernatural healers.  Her novel Figs From Thistles, which features a reluctant telekinetic, a New Orleans bed-and-breakfast, and a miracle-working small-town preacher, is a finalist for the 2012 Golden Heart ® in Paranormal Romance.  Find out more at www.ajlarrieu.com.

(*On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, © 2000 p. 103)

71 responses to “Meet 2012 Golden Heart Finalist A.J. Larrieu”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, A.J.! It’s great to have you here!

    I love the fear, rage, and death thematic in your way of thinking about paranormal. I think all those things come in to play in other genres too, just not QUITE so concretely.

    I’m trying to think of a tangible symbol for something intangible…maybe the lightning-struck tree in the middle of Jane Eyre when Jane thinks her love for Rochester is hopeless.

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Hi Elisa, Thanks for having me! The lightning-struck tree is a great example. I love that about literature, the way the simplest things can have these layers of meaning. I can nerd out for hours picking them apart. 🙂

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  2. Hi AJ. Now I’ll have to sleep with the light on tonight. :>) Great post and I can so relate to the symbolism. I think of the Northern Lights as a reflection of the vastness and wonder of the universe trapped in a hazy cloud just out of reach.

    And I’m a Southern gal from Florida, so we can hang out and have a drawl contest at Nationals while wearing hoop skirts. ;>)

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      I’ll be there with petticoats on. 😉

      Oooo, the Northern Lights…that’s a great one. They really capture that feeling of “awe.” Love it.

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  3. I tend to chose less overt symbols, like a wedding ring. Depending upon the wearer and/or the perspective, it can be a sign of eternal love or a small shackle, strangling the unhappy wearer with commitments and obligations he or she resents every waking minute.

    Clocks are also excellent symbols within a story, train tracks, roads, pounding surf eroding a defenseless beach, the everyday things that can take on a life of their own in the context of a story.

    Congratulations on becomeing a GH finalist. It’s a great ride.

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Thank you! It’s been great fun so far. I like your point, that symbols change with the circumstances. Very true. And clocks as symbols makes me think of the movie version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where there’s that huge clock dominating the set…not so subtle!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Great reminder, Gwynlyn, that very subtle things can have a symbolic function–putting pressure on just beneath the surface.

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  4. Amanda Brice says:

    Wow, you got me with “reluctant telekinetic, New Orleans bed and breakfast, and miracle-working small town priest.” Sounds fabulous!

    Welcome, AJ!

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  5. Liz Talley says:

    Wow, love the description of your finaling manuscript – fascniating – and as a Louisiana girl and former resident of the Crescent City, it sounds like something I’d definitely pick up, especially since there aren’t any vampires, wolves or missing body parts. Zombies? Ugh.

    I tend to use symbolism very lightly and often times it’s part of nature. In the book I just finished, I model the story after A Christmas Carol so it was fun burying characters from the book in modern day characters…and it takes place in New Orleans, too. Isn’t that a great city to set a book in?

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      A Christmas Carol set in modern-day New Orleans? That sounds fantastic. I can’t wait to read it. And it *is* a great city. I miss it!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I’m soooo looking forward to your Christmas story, Liz!!!

      Not to mention WATERS RUN DEEP!!! (Out next month, right?)

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      • Liz Talley says:

        Yep, next week! Can’t believe it’s time to launch my baby into the world…followed by all his brothers in July and Sept. Whew! I’m going to be busy…..but happy to see this series out there 🙂

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  6. Congrats on becoming a finalist. You’ll have a great time, it sounds like the 2012 GH bunch is also a awesome group.

    I love using symbols. In my GH entry, I used a tiny hairband. My hero wears it on his finger. It was his daughter’s and reminds John of his failure to protect those closest to him.

    Zombies. I hate them. Werewolves I can handle. I love dogs. Vamps, I fell in love with Barnabas Collins at a very young age and can’t wait to see what Johnny does with the character.

    Great post!

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Thanks, Autumn! I’m curious about Dark Shadows, too…I haven’t seen the original, though. Worth watching?

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    • I loved Dark Shadows, too, Autumn. I wasn’t allowed to watch it, but I’d hide behind the couch and peek out from behind it–I think my mom knew, she just couldn’t openly give me permission. 🙂 There was just something about Barnabas Collins…

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  7. Hope Ramsay says:

    Great way of looking at scary things. I, myself, am so scared of werewolves, vampires and zombies that the symbolism is usually lost on me. I’m such a wimp. If my family drags me off to a movie that’s too scary I end up in a fetal position on the floor. I got about 50 pages into Misery (the only Stephen King novel I ever tried to read) and put it down. Jurassic Park (novel and movie) gave me nightmares for a solid week. And I had to get up and walk out of Aliens. I just have too vivid an imagination I guess.

    As for symbolism, I use whatever comes to hand. I am a symbolic writer, and I use extended metaphors in almost all my books.

    In my last novel, for instance, my heroine is a war photographer. The story is set during the winter solstice. So, naturally, the theme of light and shadow runs like a river through that book. The heroine’s camera becomes symbolic of a battle she’s waging with the forces of darkness. Does she capture light in that device or shadow? For the heroine, who is dealing with PTSD, it’s a key question. And, of course, the Christmas lights stand symbolically in opposition to darkness and evil, and represent not only Christ, but love.

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    • Hope Ramsay says:

      Oh, and I also meant to say that the idea of a small town preacher performing miracles makes me extremely interested in this book of yours. That kind of paranormal is precisely up my alley.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I didn’t think you were scared of anything, Hope!!

      Hmm, reminds me that an interesting dash of the unexpected is a big part of personality. Good reminder for writing characters….

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Thanks, Hope. I love the camera symbolism…really nice. Sometimes we have to view the world through the right lens to see the good in it. 🙂 I’m interested in your book.

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  8. Addison Fox says:

    AJ:

    Congratulations your Golden Heart final!

    So glad you’ve joined us for the day.
    Addison

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  9. Kat Cantrell says:

    Hi A.J.! I love how you presented this view of the paranormal. It’s never been my favorite genre and I wonder if it’s because I never took the time to analyze the symbolism? You’ve given me something to think about!

    I guess I do write to deal with fear, but in a different way – I’m a control freak and everyone knows life is uncontrollable. So in my story world, that’s what I can control. Thanks for the great post!

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      One of my favorite writing quotes is this:
      “Writing fosters the illusion that you can actually gain control over your life. Write in order to make sense out of some aspect of your life, and you will likely do the same for your readers.” It’s by Paul Raymond Martin (The Writer’s Little Instruction Book) I keep that quote on a post-it on my computer screen and look at it whenever I feel stuck.

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  10. Kelley Bowen says:

    A.J.

    Sounds like you’ve written a very cool story. Congratulations!

    My favorite literary symbol from a book I’ve read recently is the fall-away dress in Michelle Richmond’s, GIRL IN THE FALL-AWAY DRESS. To me, the dress works as a symbol of freedom, maybe of transformation from girl to woman, of literal and metaphorical exposure. From any angle, it’s beautiful. Like you, the writer is a Southerner living in San Francisco. You might like her work. It’s not strictly romance but it is romantic.

    Thanks for a fun blog this morning. Good luck with your story.

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  11. Terri Osburn says:

    Now I know why I don’t write Paranormals. I’m just not that deep. Huh. Love this blog, AJ! What great insight. I also don’t do symbolism well, but now I’ll be spending my evening figure out how to fit some in the new WIP.

    I think Tara in GWTW is a stand in for the entire Southern way of life back then. As long as Scarlett has that, all is not lost. Some part of her world is still standing. And it helps the doors are wide enough for those hoop skirts. 🙂

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Tara is a great symbol. As are hoop skirts 🙂

      Sometimes I think the best symbols and extended metaphors are the ones that arise without my even knowing it. They come out subconsciously as I write, and it’s not until I look at the story in finished form, much later, that I realize what I was doing. Once I’m aware of it, I can go back and layer in the metaphor throughout the book, but I like letting those things arise organically. Makes them ring truer, I think.

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  12. AJ – Interesting analysis of the paranormal genre! I find it fascinating how writers have taken creatures which once were considered monsters and, in many cases, changed/redeemed them.

    Love the description of your book: “a reluctant telekinetic, a New Orleans bed-and-breakfast, and a miracle-working small-town preacher.” Sounds intriguing.

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Thank you! I’m fascinated with the process of “reclaiming” the scary stuff, too (another reason why I write paranormal, probably). I hope my book lives up to its tag line 🙂

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  13. Great post, A.J.! I never connected the dots with the symbolism in the paranormal. Probably because I like to read at night and have nightmares. We once lived in a house with a skylight. I wasn’t sleepy and my husband had gone to bed. I was reading a mystery novel when I suddenly got this feeling someone was watching me. Ever have that feeling and sure enough? Well, the drapes were closed, so I looked up and there was this huge cat staring down at me with golden eyes. I tossed that book in the air and ran down the hall to the bedroom so fast!

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  14. I meant to say, I have nightmares if I read something scary or watch a scary movie before bed.

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  15. robena grant says:

    Well done, A.J. I enjoyed your post, and your take on the scary and things that go bump in the night. That’s a great plan to face your fears by writing them down. And congratulations on the GH final!!!

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  16. Love this, AJ. I can tell I’m going to love your writing. I like the way you think. 🙂

    I agree with everything you’ve said, and also add add that vampires might fascinate us because of the intimate nature of sucking our blood. The way Bram Stoker described it, it sent the victim into a swoon, and I think it’s no accident that every writer since then has mirrored his description. It links sex and death in a single powerful image. Danger and ecstasy. Le petit mort brushing with true mortality. The vulnerability we all feel when we open ourselves to our lovers made concrete.

    I think you’re also onto something WRT werewolves too. I tend to think they’re also about harnessing power, which is related, isn’t it? There’s such scary power in our feelings of rage.

    I REALLY want to read your books. I’ve loved stories about psychic powers since I read some of Anne McCaffrey’s Rowan books and Joan Vinge’s Psion way back when.

    As for favorite literary symbolism, hmm….The Golem in Michael Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay comes to mind. Or the automaton in Hugo Cabret. Both literal but imbued with symbolic power.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      ooh…awesome read of vampires, Talia!!!

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Talia, I can tell you and I are going to get along. 🙂 I think your description of vulnerability and the sex/death link with vampires is spot-on. Great insight on werewolves, too, and the scary aspect of power. I’m thinking of that Marianne Williamson quote, “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” (Maybe I’m not thinking of it quite the way she meant it, though…)

      I *loved* THE ROWAN. I still have my ten-plus-year-old paperback copy, and I’ve read it more times than I can count. I’ve never read Joan Vinge, though. I’ll check her out.

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      • I honestly have no idea how Joan Vinge’s writing would hold up now. I can only tell you that I read my copy of Snow Queen so many times as a teenager, the cover fell off and I had to tape it back on. Psion touched a similar place. Some of her books don’t, though.

        I love fantasy. I probably should be writing PNR or UF, but those stories don’t show up in my brain. I have to read them instead.

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        • AJ Larrieu says:

          I feel this way about sweeping, literary Southern sagas. I tried to write them for years, and nothing but dreck came out. I wrote a paranormal just for fun, and the floodgates opened. I don’t think we get to choose these things.

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  17. Hi AJ! I love the blurb for Figs From Thistles–I can’t wait to read it!

    I’m also a Southern girl, though I haven’t left. 🙂 Count me in on the drawling and petticoat group at Nationals.

    Congratulations on your final!

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  18. What a great post, AJ, and welcome!!! Huge congrats on the final.

    I really like this post, though. I have often wondered why I write about what I write about. All of my paranormal worlds/characters have common elements and I’ve often wondered why. Not enough to do any research or really try to analyze, because there lies that fear you’re talking about. What am I so afraid of that I make my paranormal characters super fast or super strong or have them heal very quickly. My paranormal heroes are always almost indestructible. Is it because we as humans are so vulnerable?

    Okay, well that’s enough analyzing for me today. Don’t want to get too into my own fears. 🙂

    Thanks for being here!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes…invulnerability is something I love to imagine! I’m sure it comes from fear of being, well, vulnerable.

      If I could have a super-power, being invulnerable to physical harm (and better still, being able to share that with my loved one, by touch or other means) is what I’d choose!

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Thanks for having me! Interesting point about invulnerability. That’s a common aspect of a lot of paranormal creatures, I think. Maybe it taps into our desire to feel truly safe for once in a world that is anything but. (And is this also why vampires are almost always fabulously wealthy? Ultimate wish-fulfillment.)

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  19. Jean says:

    Hi AJ,
    I’m another wandering southerner,biologist, who loves N.O.!! Paranormals set in New Orleans are atmospheric from the beginning–voodoo, history and the mighty Mississippi river. I can’t wait to read your story. Best of luck!
    The 2012 has been a great group of supportive sisters…we can’t wait to celebrate each success.

    Take care and here’s to mint juleps and petticoats.

    Jean

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  20. Diana Layne says:

    Hm, I don’t use symbolism too much. I tend to shoot people or blow things up in my stories…just straight on confronting fears and taking them out. 🙂 Congrats on your final and thanks for being here with the Rubies!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      LOL, Diana!! The direct approach works too! (Though presumably you’re not going around shooting people in real life…so it’s still working on a symbolic level, as in “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just handle my real problems that easily??” Boom! Kapow!)

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      Thanks, Diana, and thanks for having me! I think guns can definitely be symbols. Power, justice, vengeance, death…I guess it depends on the story, and the character doing the shooting. Then again, sometimes a gun is just a gun. 😉

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  21. Rita Henuber says:

    Congrats on your final. Grweat post thanks for joing us today.

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  22. Tammy Baumann says:

    Hi AJ,
    Great post. Your book sounds wonderful, and I look forward to reading it.

    My demons are the crazy characters who dance around in my brain all day. I think of my writing as recess time, when those poor cooped-up people come out to play. ;0) (Yeah, no deep philosopher here.)

    I look forward to meeting you in LA!

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  23. Loved this post, AJ! I’ll be looking a little bit closer at symbolism in books from now on. Thanks for this, and congratulations on your final!

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  24. Your book sounds terrific, AJ. I love the idea of the “reluctant” telekinetic! And I love symbolism in books — gorgeous when placed naturally, as you said. In fact, I think Stephen King — in the same book you quoted — mentioned that, for the writer, going back and discovering all the symbols and motifs placed naturally in your manuscript is like dusting off bones in an archeology dig. It’s discovery, then polish. I always loved that image.

    (I also love the idea that the joy of discovery is as wonderful for the author as it is, ultimately, for the reader.)

    Can’t wait to read Figs from Thistles!

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    • AJ Larrieu says:

      I love that image. I often feel that I’m discovering my stories rather than creating them. And I love that the process of discovery is different for different readers. One of my beta readers told me that the climactic scene in my book was a great metaphor for something I’d never even thought of. It’s one of the coolest things about books, how they change once they’ve been read.

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  25. Prisakiss says:

    AJ, I loved the insight you shared with us about the paranormal sub genre. I’m a fraidy cat, so things that go bump in the night really spook me. And in a choice between vampire or werewolf… in my house my girls and I are all team Jacob. 🙂

    I was really enthralled by Talia’s comment about the love and death, sex and death aspect of what may draw us to vampires. A concrete representation of the fear many of us feel when we lay ourselves open to another person. It’s actually a beautiful idea– connecting with someone else on such a deep level that our love overcomes our fear.

    Thanks for starting the ball rolling on this conversation with your fabulous post! You’ve given me food for thought!

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  26. AJ Larrieu says:

    Thanks, Pris! I loved Talia’s comment, too. There are so many layers to pick apart; I could nerd-out about this stuff for hours.

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  27. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks again, A.J., for joining us today!!!

    I hope I’ll catch you at an SFARWA meeting one of these days!

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  28. Hello.This article was extremely fascinating, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this topic last Wednesday.

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