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Meet a Member: Helen Sheffield Plotkin

November 21, 2017

Helen Sheffield Plotkin is the 2017 Communicator of Achievement for Arkansas Press Women. She is an active member of the affiliate where she has served in many capacities during her professional career. She is currently serving as the affiliate contest director in a affiliate known for high quality entrants. This year’s national sweepstakes award winner was from Arkansas. Plotkin is a dedicated NFPW member and a great asset to our organization. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a little better.

Name: Helen Sheffield Plotkin

 City and State: Conway, Arkansas

Affiliate and any leadership positions:

Arkansas Press Women – I’ve served APW as president, first vice president, secretary, high school contest director, scholarship chair, conference organizer and, this year, I’m chairing the professional contest. I joined APW in 1977. Charlotte Schexnayder, who was NFPW president, spoke at the first APW meeting I attended. I was honored to be asked to join the state board as Southwest District Director in 1978; I found out later that there were few members in the southwest corner of the state and that they’d already asked everyone else who qualified for the position and been turned down. I’m still glad they asked me because that opportunity introduced me to the APW leadership and helped form personal relationships that continue to be important to me 40 years later. That early involvement also prompted me to seek out membership in Louisiana when I moved there in 1979. I was an active member of Louisiana  Press Women for the next decade, serving on the board, helping plan a state conference, and serving as contest chair in the days before you needed to be computer literate to enter. I resumed membership in Arkansas Press Women when I moved back to my home state in 1989.

Helen Plotkin with her niece Amy and holding her grand-niece, Jemma. Photo is from last spring when Jemma was about four months old.

Helen Plotkin with her niece Amy and grand-niece, Jemma. Photo is from last spring when Jemma was about four months old.

Tell us a little about you.

I grew up in Mount Ida, Arkansas, population 897 for most of the time I lived there. My mother, father, sister and brother lived on a farm along the South Fork of the Ouachita River.

 We were poor, but didn’t know it because we didn’t know anyone who wasn’t in the same shape. When my grandparents, and then my parents bought televisions, I got my first glimpse of the outside world and realized that other people lived differently. I was seven when the television arrived and when the wood cookstove was replaced with a gas range; I was 14 when we got running water.

 I graduated from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, with bachelor of arts in journalism and spent the next 13 years working at newspapers in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana – mostly as a feature writer, editor and columnist. I also worked the news desk, covered city hall, county government, the local school board, police, fire and such, and anything else the editors I worked for needed done.

 In 1989, my husband (a Chicago native who was a copy editor at the Monroe, Louisiana, newspaper when I joined the staff) accepted a job of the Arkansas Gazette and we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, about 100 miles from where I grew up. A couple of months after we moved, I started work in the Public Information Office at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, my first step toward a career in public relations. I spent five years at UALR, learning from a group of talented co-workers and leaving in 1995 as Managing Editor (and interim director) of the Office of Communications. I went to Hendrix College in Conway Arkansas as Director of College Relations for the small liberal arts college that is widely regarded as among 100 best liberal arts colleges in the nation. When I retired in May 2017, I’d been at Hendrix for 22 years, the last two as Vice President for Marketing Communications and a member of the Senior Leadership Team and the President’s Cabinet.

 I’ve been married to Richard Plotkin (also an APW/NFPW member) for 36 years, as of Nov. 15, 2017. We haven’t any offspring, but my late sister was kind enough to have a daughter and son, who have both provided grand nephews and – as of December 2016 – one grand-niece whose arrival is one of the reasons I decided to retire and give myself more time to spoil her rotten.

 Any career advice you would give?

When I told my Hendrix team that was retiring, I was asked to share some parting words of wisdom with the group at one of our monthly “Brown Bag Lunches,” a short professional development time that we all took turns leading. I put together a list I titled 22 True Things, one for each year I worked at Hendrix. After I left, the new Vice President for Marketing Communications had my list framed and hung on the wall (mainly to embarrass me, I think). Here are a few of the items that would fall in the career advice category:

  1. Ask, don’t assume. What you think you already know can get in your way.
  2. Remember that someone else’s idea could be better than yours and you’ll never know that if you don’t pause and listen.
  3. How you respond to setbacks and failure will determine the course of your career.
  4. Don’t be shy about claiming credit when you’ve excelled at something. Also, don’t be shy about sharing the credit. We do very little of value all alone.
  5. While earning the approval and respect of others is valuable and affirming, you are the only person whose approval or respect you require to be a person of integrity.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Since I love music, it would nice if had some talent in that area. My late sister often commented, when we sang duets together in church as teenagers, that the issue wasn’t so much my lack of talent as it was my lack of willingness to practice enough to compensate for it – and my inability to grasp that when we were singing a duet it was actually important that we sing in the same key. I miss my sister every day, but I’ve yet to miss that sharp elbow of hers that landed in my side every time I was flat!

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

The ideal place would require a little reorganization of the continent. If no one objects, I would create a cozy little cottage on a few acres of the old family farm in Mount Ida. Then I’d replace the South Fork of the Ouachita River that borders the property with the Pacific Ocean, so I could watch the sunset every night and fall asleep to the sound of the surf. I can’t decide between plopping my little paradise down near Monterey or placing it along the coast of Oregon, where some of my favorite relatives live. Those details can be worked out after I get the cottage built, I’m sure.

What book are you reading?

I usually have several going at the same time. I just started Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly, a Harry Borsch crime novel.

And, I’ve been dipping periodically into Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg, which I purchased at the NFPW meeting in Birmingham and am thoroughly enjoying, and Atlas Obscura, a collection of stories about just plain odd places around the globe.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’ve been employed as a professional chicken catcher – along with the other members of my high school class. It’s what we did to raise money for our junior banquet and senior trip. It was both hard work and fun, in a weird sort of way. But, I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term career.

Why are organizations like NFPW important?

Organizations like NFPW connect us with others who share our professional passion. Friendships develop that enrich our lives on a number of levels. NFPW and its state affiliates provide professional development workshops and opportunities to develop leadership skills, and create networks of fellow communicators we can call on when we encounter challenges at work or when we are searching for work.

Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/helen-plotkin-7b7813b/ – My Linked In page, although there’s not much on it. And, that’s about the same for my Facebook page.

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Meet a Member: Michele Cook

October 18, 2017

Michele Cook is one of the newest members of NFPW. She joined this year after joining the NFPW management team, Admin Concepts. Many of you met Michele at the Alabama conference. She is part of the communications contest team and was the leader in getting the contest online and ready for entries by our Oct. 1 target date. (See https://nfpw.org/wp/communications-contest/ ) Now, in her role as Contest Manager, she is handing all the technical questions relating to the contest. I hope you will take time to get to know this unique and unbelievable new NFPW member.

Name: Michele Cook

City and State: Covington, VA

 

Michele Cook

Michele Cook

Affiliate and any leadership positions: Virginia Professional Communicators

 Tell us a little about you.

I am blogger, freelance writer, and author.  About every ten years I reinvent something about myself, this time I decided it was time to give writing my full attention. So, in August I walked away from my full time job to work for Admin Concepts part-time and dedicate more of my time to writing. In the past I have trained horses and people to jump over stationary objects, hunters and jumpers for those familiar with the industry.  I then spent ten years working in various positions for a class 1 railroad. I was everything from a conductor to a signal construction engineer.

Michele Cook with her dogs.

Michele Cook with her dogs.

I have always had a love for animals and the outdoors. I currently own three dogs, two cats, and one horse (and a husband, but he gets upset when I put him on this list). In my spare time I love to hike, fish, and ride my horses through the Alleghany Highlands of western Virginia.

Any career advice you would give?

Never stop learning, there is always more to know, you can always improve upon your craft, and there is that pesky everchanging technology.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to draw or paint. Somedays I get wonderful pictures in my head, but when I try to transfer them to paper, they rival a 4 year-olds finest art work.

Michele Cook on a fishing trip.

Michele Cook on a fishing trip.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I love the town I live in, although I would like to be a bit farther away from my neighbors hounds.

What book are you reading?

I just finished Speaking in Bone by Kathy Reichs and am now working on The Hideway by Lauren K Denton

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I like to crochet.

Why are organizations like NFPW important?

A group of like-minded individuals is always more powerful than a single individual. Groups like NFPW give weight to issues women face in today’s world. It is also a great place to network and find inspiration for your next project.

Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.

http://www.michelemcook.com http://www.michelesfindinghappiness.com

Meet a Member: Gwen Larson

October 4, 2017

One of the hard working leaders of our organization is Gwen Larson of Kansas. Gwen was co-chair of the 2016 NFPW conference in Kansas and was elected vice president of NFPW at last month’s national conference in Alabama. She is a dependable and dedicated member. Meet my unique and unbelievable friend, Gwen Larson.

Name: Gwen Larson

City and State: Americus, Kansas

A reporter from KSNT in Topeka, Kansas, interviews Gwen Larson about Emporia State University's new look for its mascot, Corky.

Affiliate and any leadership positions:

I’m currently serving as first vice president for membership and contest director for Kansas Professional Communicators. I also serve as vice president of NFPW.

Years a member of NFPW: 13

Tell us a little about you.

I’m a native Kansan who flew away to start my career inside the Beltway of Washington, D.C. That didn’t last long (three years) before my husband, Greg, and I moved back home. We survived raising three sons, all of whom are in college now, although two return weekly to my laundry room.

For 17 years, I worked at The Emporia Gazette, which is still owned by William Allen White’s family. I progressed from reporter to features editor to news editor and finally executive editor before moving seven years ago to Emporia State University as the assistant director of marketing and media relations. I enjoy being on this side of the desk, but I still hate being interviewed… it’s much easier to ask the questions!

Any career advice you would give?

I have two stories I’ve used to show young journalists how important it is to develop and maintain their personal integrity. In today’s current media climate where we often are considered vultures without any ethics except selling newspapers and magazines or getting great TV ratings, this message is even more important.

Unfortunately, since moving into media relations, I’ve been on the receiving end of unethical reporters. It always shocks me and makes me wonder who’s teaching the next generation.

The staff of The Emporia Gazette gathers in the press room on Aug. 31, 2009. Tom Brokaw, center with Gwen Larson on his right, captured this final day the presses ran as part of his USA Network profile show "American Character Along Highway 50." This press run ended 114 years of in-house printing of The Gazette.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’ve never minded being short (5 feet if I stand up straight), but there are times I’d like to be able to stretch like Reed Richards of the Fantastic 4 so I can reach whatever I want!

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

A cruise ship… I could give up cooking and cleaning, and I wouldn’t have to stay in one place. I could visit all the places I’ve always wanted to see.

What book are you reading?

I just finished “Hello Again,” a suspense novel by Brenda Novak. As a former cops and courts reporter, I’m fascinated by Novak’s depictions of psychopaths in a high-security prison in Alaska.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

When I went to college, I wanted to be an attorney. But after earning my bachelor’s degree in journalism, I was tired of being in the classroom and wanted to get my life started. Covering trials later fulfilled my inner “court junkie.”

Why is your affiliate and NFPW important to you?

I fell into NFPW by entering the Kansas affiliate’s communications contest and placing at the national level, which led me to my first conference in Lexington, Kentucky. After that, it was the people I met and the friendships I developed both in Kansas and at the national level. These people helped me when I needed coverage for Emporia stories happening across the country. They also helped me when I transitioned away from daily journalism.

After I joined the NFPW board in an appointed position back in 2011, I began to learn so much more about this organization as well as the women who formed NFPW and whose shoulders we stand on. It’s vitally important that we share what we’ve learned with the next generation of reporters, editors, writers, social media managers, public relations professionals and others who are taking up the communications mantle.

Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.

I’m most active on Facebook; look for Gwen Tompkins Larson. I am on Twitter @GwenLarson1964, but don’t post much.

Meet a Member: Michelle Harmon

August 23, 2017

Michelle Harmon will soon be attending her first NFPW national conference in Birmingham, Alabama. It will be fun to introduce her to all our amazing members. When she was a senior at Borah High School in 1980, I was honored to award her first place in the high school writing contest feature writing category during my first term as the Idaho affiliate president. The past several years she has been special to Media Network Idaho in her position as adviser to the Borah High School newspaper and her work as president of the Idaho Student Journalism Association. The Borah student newspaper is one of the top journalism programs in Idaho and usually wins the MNI High School Communications Contest sweepstakes award, like it did this spring. Take a minute to get to know this unique and unbelievable member and be sure to welcome her during our conference in Alabama.

Name: Michelle Harmon

City and State: Boise, Idaho

Michelle Harmon

Michelle Harmon

Affiliate and any leadership positions: Media Network Idaho member and Idaho State Director, Journalism Education Association / President, Idaho Student Journalism Association

Years a member of NFPW: Two

Tell us a little about you.

My first foray into journalism was in eighth grade, when a teacher earmarked me to type the school newsletter. By high school, I had earned a full-ride tuition scholarship to The Ohio State University (1980-1984). I’m a bit of a butterfly in that I took jobs that would allow me to travel, lived in New York City for 12 years.

After 9-11, I rearranged priorities again, and got my master’s in education. I parlayed my teaching certificate to return to Boise, get married, and teach in the same high school news room that my mentor teacher was in. I retired from the Boise School District in May after 13 years of advising the newspaper staff. I finally feel savvy and confident enough to be a writer!

Any career advice you would give?

Never let money be your main motivation. Do what makes you happy, and the money will come.

Michelle Harmon was named 2014 Journalism Educator of the Year by Youth Journalism International

Michelle Harmon was named 2014 Journalism Educator of the Year by Youth Journalism International

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to sing and dance. I wasn’t lucky enough for them to come with my writing talent.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Where I live, Boise, Idaho.

What book are you reading?

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlando. I also recently read Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. I am also reading an academic introduction to Hamlet, because that is one of my next profile/feature pieces I will write.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I’m an Army brat — lived in 5 states by the time I was 5 years old. I think it gave me the travel bug that distracted me after I graduated college.

Why is your affiliate and NFPW important to you?

1980 Idaho Press Women high school writing contest first place award

1980 Idaho Press Women high school writing contest first place award for feature writing.

Originally, NFPW and Media Network Idaho were important to me as a high school newspaper adviser. My students always did well, and the awards they won were invaluable to them and their parents. For example, one autistic student that graduated from my newspaper program went to college (a revived dream for the student’s parents) and wrote movie reviews for the university’s newspaper (print and online).

Earlier this year, I discovered my own high school first place feature award from Teri and the Idaho Affiliate. Now, NFPW is recognizing my writing on a national level nearly 40 years later. It’s confirmation that I have the talent to write, and I should be doing so.

Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.

Twitter: @mrharmon

Meet a Member: Sarah Cortez

July 26, 2017

This September Sarah Cortez will attend her first NFPW conference. She won a first place award for her efforts with her latest book, “Vanishing Points Poems and Photographs of Texas Roadside Memorials.” She is a new member of Press women of Texas and is already involved in the organization’s leadership. She is a unique and unbelievable new member I hope you enjoy getting to know a little better.

Name: Sarah Cortez

City and State: Houston, TX

Affiliate & Leadership Position: Press Women of Texas. Recently elected vice-president.

Years a NFPW Member:  Less than one year.

Sarah Cortez

Sarah Cortez

Tell Us A Little About Yourself:                    

I have been a freelance professional writer and editor for almost ten years.  I am 12 books into my career: eight are anthologies and three are authored by myself.  All are published by successful independent publishers.

There are three loves that define my professional life: a love of working with writers, a love of police work, and a love of poetry.  Just as so many others in our culture, I have been lucky enough to combine several career paths.  For me, a 24-year career in law enforcement has melded with both teaching/writing/editing poetry, fiction, memoir, etc., for both individuals and publishing houses.

The best thing I’ve done in my life is become a police officer.  In a way, it was an improbable decision because I already had a fast-track career in corporate America and two graduate degrees: a master’s in Classical Studies and a master’s in Accountancy. My decision to take a radical pay cut and go from white-collar work to blue-collar work has enabled me to stand up for crime victims as I also stand up for what is right based on the laws of the U.S.  The one thing I don’t fear is dying on the job as a cop.  Anyone who goes to the police academy had better make peace with this issue before he/she pays tuition and shows up with armfuls of new, scratchy uniforms and heavy equipment on the first day.

What book are you reading?

I always seem to be reading several books at once.  Right now, I’m going through a book of St. Mother Teresa’s meditations and advice, Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides,” and Dana Gioia’s monograph, “The Catholic Writer.”

Why is your affiliate important to you?

I have been intrigued by the Texas affiliate of NFPW because the people I’ve met are so professional, so smart, and have had such a variety of careers.  Perhaps, like me, they are women and men who’ve seen a lot of life yet still believe in the triumph of the human spirit.  As a recently elected vice-president, my goal is to increase membership and work with the present board for the good of our organization.

Any career advice you would give?

If I might offer career advice related to being a freelance writer and editor, I would say “Be patient and hard-working.”  I believe it is a natural human tendency to want everything to be easy.  I even see this tendency in myself every once in a while.  It creeps up on me and it is dreadfully depleting.  I think we writers/editors would be much better served if we expect every piece of writing/editing to be difficult.  You see, “difficult” is okay.  It helps each of us rise to better and higher standards or ways of thinking or vistas of understanding.   Difficulty pushes each of us to greater achievement.  “Easy” doesn’t do this.  We can’t allow our professional output to be a function of the attitude of minimalism that is endemic in today’s culture.  You know, that attitude of “what’s the least I can do to get by?”

Thoughts on attending your first NFPW conference?

Oh, yes, I wish to say that I am thrilled to have been granted a First Timer Grant to attend the annual conference in Birmingham, AL this year!  I am eager to meet everyone!  I feel strongly that this organization is where I should be right now to combine the many bright threads of my professional experience into the strong rope of the future.

Ways to follow you:

www.poetacortez.com
and her NFPW award winning book: http://www.poetacortez.com/vanishing-points

Meet a Member: Deborah Reinhardt

July 19, 2017

I’m looking forward to the NFPW conference this September in Birmingham, Alabama. I am also looking forward to meeting some of our interesting and talented writers like Deborah Reinhardt of Missouri. She is a recent new member of NFPW and is already busy supporting her Missouri affiliate. I hope you take the time to get to know her better.

Name: Deborah Reinhardt

City and State: St. Louis, Mo.

Deborah Reinhardt

Deborah Reinhardt

Affiliate and any leadership positions: 

Missouri Professional Communicators (MPC). I manage communications (newsletter, social media, website) for our chapter.

Years a member of NFPW: first year, though I was active since 2015

Tell us a little about you. 

I’m managing editor for AAA magazines (Midwest Traveler and Southern Traveler). I’ve done this for 27 years, but I still get a kick when the box of newly printed magazines arrive and I open it to see what we’ve made. I’m the weird woman at Barnes & Noble who stands at the magazine stand smelling ink and fingering paper (not kidding). My job allows me to meet and work with ridiculously gifted writers, and I travel once or twice a year to write articles. The last trip was a Route 66 journey from Missouri to the Grand Canyon.

Deborah Reinhardt visiting the Grand Canyon.

Deborah Reinhardt visiting the Grand Canyon.

Prior to the magazine, I worked several years in community newspapers, starting as a reporter fresh out of college then moving to take over as editor of a small weekly in an unincorporated, semi-rural area. My beat included the sewer and school districts. (Sometimes, they resembled each other.)

I’ve loved writing stories since the seventh grade, and I’m excited about the next book that I hope to launch this fall.

Any career advice you would give? 

Don’t allow “no” to stop you. Believe in your talents and pursue these in your career. Be your best publicist.

Which talent would you most like to have? 

Once, I’d like to throw a curveball that would buckle a batter’s knees.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? 

Anywhere Paul McCartney is living. Kidding (sort of). I dream about retiring near the water in about 10 years. Maybe I’ll buy an RV and just travel cross-country with Beatles music in the background.

What book are you reading? 

The Naked Now

What would people be surprised to learn about you? 

That I was allergic to chocolate as a kid, which is a little weird, as my winning entry is a book about chocolate makers in Missouri. Thankfully, I grew out of that and could properly conduct necessary “research” for Delectable Destinations.

Why is your affiliate and NFPW important to you? 

I get so energized around other writers and creative people. Our jobs, if we’re not careful, can become dull and routine, but when we have our meetings and conferences, I always meet someone new and make good contacts.

Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc. 

deborahreinhardt.com; Facebook under my name and @DelectableDestinations; Twitter is @girlpowerpub

Meet a Member: B.B. Shamp

July 11, 2017

B.B. Shamp is a newcomer to NFPW. She joined six months ago and she is already a national award winner. She will be attending the NFPW conference in Alabama, thanks in part to an Education Fund First Timer Grant. She says she looks forward to networking with members, attending workshops and picking up her national first place award for the adult novel she wrote. Enjoy getting to know this unique and unbelievable member.

Name: B.B. Shamp

City and State: Selbyville, Delaware, 2.5 miles from the ocean on an inland bay with 180 degree water views. Wait 10 minutes and the light changes and everything with it. I live on what’s known as the Delmarva Peninsula. Lower Delaware and the Eastern Shores of Maryland and Virginia are very rural.

B.B. Shamp

B.B. Shamp

Affiliate and any leadership positions: Delaware Press Association. I’m a newbie. Writing was not my career (except for writing educational evaluations) and a friend encouraged me to join this past year. I spent 34 years teaching H.S. special education in the Washington D.C. Metro area where I grew up. That kind of experience leaves a stamp, politically, and of course, as a social progressive.

Years a member of NFPW: 6 months

Tell us a little about you.

This is an excerpt from a press release here on the Peninsula: B.B. Shamp began writing after an accident and a near death experience in 2008. Beginning with poetry, she wrote to explore her thoughts and feelings during rehabilitation. Sustaining her in these difficult moments was the euphoric memory of seeing the white light. Despite a traumatic brain injury and being diagnosed with PTSD, she fought hard to return to her former self and in doing so discovered a new person. Never able to return to her old life, she figured that if she could write a suspense novel and lay breadcrumbs for the reader to follow, she had at least regained her voice and ability to communicate.

Her first novel, Third Haven, is the culmination of that work. “I didn’t begin with a desire to publish for a wider audience,” she said. “It was a personal journey.” She is currently working on a sequel. Asked if she has any plans to write a memoir, she responded, “That story should explore the depths of love and persistence. There are so many people I owe so much who helped me along the way. That’s going to take time.”

Any career advice you would give?

In the last five months, I’ve heard mostly how hard it is to get a publisher, how hard it is to support yourself. And I even heard from a 55 year old MFA department chair who still has student loans. All this reminds me of the Dickensian character locked in a cold garret, pouring out her soul by the light of a sputtering candle, her fingers freezing as the words are scratched across the parchment. Is the message meant to discourage anyone of a literary bent and demand they go find a REAL job? I hope NOT! The hard part, if you’re just starting out in this field is to know whether you have the knack for it. The field is so damn competitive that in my mind, the genuine response is to write because it answers some inner quest. If your real job is soul smothering, then keep writing to find your strength. I wrote to find myself. I still have moments when I’m aphasic, blank on word retrieval or experience mental whiteout. Writing gets me past it. And a good thesarus, of course!

Which talent would you most like to have?

To be a fabulous painter….in oils…dirty fingernails and the smell of linseed oil are evocative of a different world.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Everywhere. I’d love to have a bed in every picturesque town in the world if only for two weeks.

What book are you reading?

What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman and Jillian Sullivan’s book of poetry, Parallel.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Dead family members make great inspiration.

Why is your affiliate and NFPW important to you?

The support, for god’s sake! Writing is such a lonely vocation and living on the Peninsula makes that even harder since you have to drive far and wide to connect with other writers.

Way to follow you on a website, twitter, Facebook, etc.

http://www.bbshamp.com and on facebook as bbshamp.