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Month: March 2016

Guest Post: Gehna Banga

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Hey there, Trout Nation! Every now and then I hand the blog over to another author who wants to tell you about their book. Today, Gehna Banga is here to tell you about her book, Run Your Fingers Through My Soul.

The cover of "Run Your Fingers Through My Soul", featuring a young woman with pale skin and red hair, wrapped in sheets.

I’m Gehna Banga, a final year law student of ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad, India. I aspire to become a corporate, funds, fashion and luxury goods lawyer. I’m a sucker for fresh air with a serious case of wanderlust. I love painting, dancing and high fashion. I am infamous for being too ambitious and assertive. Well, the most important trait that I know about myself today and want others to be aware of is that I love surrounding myself with people who are aspiring and I personally want to be a force or inspiration behind someone’s happiness, success and growth. Inspiring others to achieve their goals exactly how they want it is my new off field job.

Run your fingers through my soul is my autobiography to be precise and not a novel. It is a memoir of a 23 year old whose recent terrible breakup and previous relationships with her friends, boyfriends, classmates and family helps her realize that she genuinely wants to be in love, something she took too casually before, but finds really hard to attain.
In this process she meets someone who changes her life completely and helps her repose her trust back in being able to love again and be loved again. She also realizes who she is truly is in this entire process, how she wants her life to shape up, what sort of a man she wants to marry and how she is going to get each of the things she desires.
None of this comes easy, she learns the Law of the Universe, power of her thoughts, energies and vibes. She also fights depression and the world to break conformity, body image issues, shields herself from negative thoughts and stands up confidently for all her thoughts.

Most importantly she realizes as a repercussion of all her terrible body shaming experiences especially by the man she loved so much and people she thought were her friends that none of us ever owe an explanation to anybody for why we look like whatever we look like and finally begins to love herself exactly for who she is. All of this helps her and teaches her how to maintain a healthy state of mind, why it is so important and that mental health is a taboo in the society she lives in.

The book focusses a lot on the following hastags
‪#‎Romanticmemoir‬ ‪#‎depression‬ ‪#‎bodyimage‬ ‪#‎bodyshaming‬ ‪#‎loveyourself‬ ‪#‎breakconformity‬ ‪#‎womenneedtostandupfortheirthoughtsandrights‬ ‪#‎goodvibes‬ ‪#‎powerofyourthoughts‬ ‪#‎powerofenergies‬ ‪#‎fightnegativeenergies‬
It is my attempt to expose everyone irrespective of what age one belongs to that your thoughts have power, mental health is important, body shaming needs to stop, women need to stand up for their thoughts and society needs to change the mentality of certain men in order to avoid women being discriminated against or raped or sexually harassed and that the success and achievement of all your goals in life is a manifestation of your mindset, thoughts, energies and vibes and not your efforts, background or physical appearance. We control our lives and what happens to us.

You can find out more about Run Your Fingers Through My Soul on Facebook, and you can find the book on Amazon.

State Of The Trout: “Now listen to this!”

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Happy Post-Easter Monday, everyone! It’s a glorious time when that smug atheist guy you only follow on Facebook because they’re a friend of a friend and there would be awkwardness if you unfollowed them now stop posting Easter memes about how gullible and duped Christians are, and go back to just posting regular memes about how gullible and duped Christians are. Spring is truly in the air, my friends.

Even though I’m not a Christian, I had a great Easter this year. My great-grandparents are both gone now (my great-grandmother having died very recently at the age of ninety-eight), and my family decided to have one last holiday at their house before we have to sell it. We had an Easter egg hunt in the woods for the kids, had a big family picture taken in front of the house (with two empty chairs in the front for grandma and grandpa), and sat around watching old home movies. It could have been a sad time, but it was really fun and joyous instead. My great-grandfather once pointed to a photo of our entire, huge family and said, “My marriage license cost me two dollars, and I got my money’s worth!” so I think they would have been very proud to host their family one last time.

With that personal sappiness out of the way, onto the news! And there’s a lot of it today,  so I’m breaking it into sections.

News About Jenny’s Books

Bride Of The Wolf is available in audio! If you’re an audio reader, you can now pick up this historical paranormal romance, narrated beautifully by Tatiana Sokolov.

First Time is coming to audio! Tantor Media will release both version of First Time on May 31! I’ve heard both narrators, and they’re awesome. Also, in a hilarious coincidence, Ian will be narrated by a guy named Anthony Ferguson. Ah, serendipity. Keep an eye out at Amazon and Audible for those titles.

Speaking of First Time, after continued requests (and formatting issues with the previous volumes), both books of First Time are available in a single paperback now. It’s pricey and big, but it’s available.

But Jenny, what about Second ChanceWell, friends, you’ll be getting a cover reveal and release date news very soon. Stay tuned.

News About Where You Can Meet Jenny In 2016

Atlanta, April 9th I’ll be at the Sheraton Atlanta, at the multi-author signing for The Novel Experience Event. Doors for the signing open at 11 a.m. for the general public, and they close at 4:30 p.m. Come by and say hi!

Chicago, May 21st Okay, kind of a fudge here, it’s not Chicago proper, but Schaumburg. Still, for the number of authors who are going to be there, it’s worth leaving the city. Come see me between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Both of these events are still accepting registration for the entire conference, so if you’re interested in hearing me talk (I’m on a few panels and doing a reading at The Novel Experience Event and a workshop at Chicago Spring Fling) and have a weekend and some cash to spare, I recommend both of these highly.

News Of Interest To Trout Nation:

Our friends at the Peace Corps are collecting funds again. Last year, I posted about the Peace Corps’s “Bro Camp” in the Philippines. The camp aims to teach boys the importance of gender equality, and how to foster healthy, equal relationships. Or, as the volunteer who contacted me put it, to teach boys “not to be Christian Grey.” If this is something you’d be into donating to, you can get more information here.

My Reading Challenge Progress!

I totally cheated and shoehorned an entire series into the challenge:

A Dystopian Novel: The Selection, by Kiera Cass
A Book And Its Prequel: The Elite and The One, by Kiera Cass
A Book You Can Finish In A Day: The Queen, by Kiera Cass

When I started reading this series, I was skeptical. On the one hand, it was incredibly well-written and grabbed me right away. On the other hand, I had so many people whose opinion I trusted who absolutely hated it. The phrase “anti-feminist trash” was used by one of them. And it definitely could have been, considering the entire plot revolves around a The Hunger Games-esque competition for the hand of a prince and the chance for one girl to claw her way up through an unfair caste system. But while I cringed at the characterization of some of the girls (the ubiquitous slut who makes the heroine’s life hell, the ambiguously Asian girl there for family honor), I was pleasantly surprised by how sensitively Cass portrayed the idea of a group of girls competing for one guy without relying on a plot device wherein all the other girls were bitches. In fact, the girls who seem like the biggest threats are the ones I ended up liking the most.

What I did not care for in this series was the indecisiveness of the heroine. In the grand tradition of YA love triangles, the heroine kept one dude on the back burner–despite the fact that the circumstances of the plot made this super dangerous–while pursuing another guy. Plus, the back burner guy was such a douchebag, I couldn’t see for even a second why the heroine would want to be involved with him at all.

While some parts of the series were frustrating, I really enjoyed it, and while I could see where some of the criticisms were coming from, I think this is one of the few series where those issues did get better as the books went on.

A Graphic Novel: Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson. I really enjoyed this one. I loved the way the story blended science fiction, fantasy, and superhero mythos together. It was also kind of deceptive: when I started it, I thought, “okay, this is cute. Title character is annoyingly precocious, could do without that, but still interesting.” By the time I got to the end, that opinion was totally reversed. I mean, it was still cute in places, but the story was remarkably dark beneath the cute, and presented ages-old moral dilemmas in a totally unexpected way. I would recommend this for everybody, but especially for adult fans of Adventure Time.

Well, that’s all the news that’s fit to cram into this post!

#LegionXIII Rome Watch-Along S02E03: “These Being The Words of Marcus Tullius Cicero” or “This Being An Epic Slam By Marcus Tullius Cicero”

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A picture of a big roman number XIII, in front of an ominous sky, in the middle of a road through a field. In the crotch of the X, I, dressed as a centurion, naturally, am slumped over, sleeping. Bronwyn Green, dressed in a stola, is looking nervously at a harp, and Jess is depicted as the woman with a bloody knife from the DVD cover of season 2.

CW: Rape (although honestly, CW: rape for the whole show from here out)

Quick rundown of the episode: Vorenus is still tormented by the fact that he killed his wife and children. Fair enough. The mental strain is making him a bad ass ruler, though. One of his gang captains comes to him for permission to kill a guy who got his dick sucked by twelve-year-old. it’s a thing about family honor, but Vorenus denies his request on the basis that the twelve-year-old was paid, and therefore wasn’t defiled, but working as a prostitute. Pullo puts in his two cents, which Vorenus does not want. he tells Pullo never to question him in front of the other gang members. Pullo doesn’t appreciate this, but he is who he is, and he goes along with it.

Continuing on her journey of self discovery in the realm of not giving a shit, Octavia has brought home her new stoner friend, Jocasta. They are bogging out the house “inhaling hemp”, and Atia isn’t impressed. I mean, she doesn’t seem to have a problem with the hemp, because she takes the pipe and hits it like a champ, but she’s really not happy that Octavia is hanging out with a merchant’s daughter. She tells Octavia that her slumming better not go any lower.

Meanwhile, Timon is still pining for Atia, while his brother is usurping his place with his children.  The brother (Abraham? Avram? I don’t remember the guy’s name.) Is also doing this whole shadowy meeting thing in alleys, which Timon definitely notices. Again, due to the show’s cancellation, the storyline will go nowhere.

Atia has soured on the idea of going to Macedonia. She tries to convince Antony to stay in Rome and keep playing the politics game, and from his frowny concentration face when he rides his horse away, it seems like he might be considering it.

Vorenus and Pullo are having  a perfectly lovely lunch when in comes that asshole who paid a twelve-year-old to have sex with him. Also, he’s missing his penis. Turns out the dudes ignored Vorenus’s ruling and went ahead and got their revenge anyway. Vorenus blames Pullo for this; if Pullo hadn’t questioned his authority, they never would have been bold enough to go against his word. This leads to a huge fight, in which Pullo accidentally slip that he knew about Niobe’s cheating all along and killed Evander for it. This is new information to Vorenus, and as is the theme of this season, Vorenus doesn’t take this well.

Meanwhile, Cicero and Mark Antony are chilling together, the way enemies do, and Cicero heaps praise on Octavian, bragging on the huge army Octavian is raising. Antony expresses his opinion on this by whizzing into a potted plant. He also tells Cicero that he doesn’t plan to go to Macedonia. He’d rather be governor of Gaul. Cicero is like, yeah, that’s not going to work, some other guy is running Gaul right now. Antony tries to intimidate Cicero into making it happen, and that’s exactly why Cicero won’t do it.

Agrippa, a.k.a. Tom Branson, comes to Atia with a message from Octavian, but he meets Octavia first and is “entranced” by her harp playing, which is also accompanied by frustrated swearing. Octavian sends his best wishes to Octavia, and Agrippa informs her that Octavian is a pretty important and powerful guy.

What nobody is worried about, though, is this new asshole, Duro, who works in the kitchen at Atia’s house, because he’s working for Servilia. His job is to poison Atia, but it’s taking a long time; Octavia almost always eats with Atia, and Servilia doesn’t want to kill Octavia. Duro is crude and nasty, and he demands Servilia kiss him before he’ll carry out his job. She wants Atia dead so much, she does it. So like, she’s committed.

Meanwhile, in some other place, Brutus is trying to raise money to crush Antony, but apparently the people he’s trying to win over think Brutus is cowardly for killing Caesar only after everyone else stabbed him about a billion times. They also want to watch some pretty specific bestiality. Things aren’t going great for Brutus, who later has a weird John The Baptist type scene in a pond.

Meanwhile, back at the hellmouth, Vorenus accuses Pullo of sleeping with Niobe, and he’s so out of control, Pullo is like, yeah, you know what, I totally had sex with your wife. Fine. They end up getting into a brawl so big that it breaks furniture and pieces of the building, and Pullo is like, fuck this, let’s go. He and Eirene leave the city.

Antony shows up to the senate to find that Cicero hasn’t bothered to show up at the senate, where he was supposed to propose that Antony’s governorship be transferred to Gaul. Instead, he basically sent a long speech about how much he hates Antony and basically telling him to fuck off. Meanwhile, Cicero has left the city and is going to align himself with Octavian.

Three months later, Octavian is a real threat to the city, and shit isn’t going well. Pullo and Eirene have returned to the city, after traveling like, forever. They find the Aventine all burned up and wrecked, and barricades have been erected to protect the mob house. Vorenus went to Gaul with Mark Antony. All of the nonsense in the Aventine stems from the gelding dispute, and a retaliatory rape. While Pullo and Eirene try to decide what to do next, Lyde stumbles up. At first they don’t recognize her, probably because they expected her to be dead. But she’s escaped from slavery, and come back to tell them that the children are still alive.

We cut back to Atia’s house, where she’s just about to tuck into some delicious poison, because Octavia isn’t home. Just as the servant brings her the food, the episode ends. CLIFF HANGER!

My favorite part of the episode: When Atia acts all outraged by her kid smoking pot, then hits with nary a flinch.

My least favorite part of the episode: In the first season (and I believe early on in this season), passage of time was marked by showing a person climbing a ladder and changing a big public calendar. Out of nowhere, “Three Months Later” is slapped on the screen. It’s so jarring and unnecessary. They trusted the audience to understand the passage of time in the first season, and yeah, people did complain about it being difficult to follow, but a few episodes into the second season is not the time to start introducing title screens.

Favorite costume: Octavia’s casual wear for pot smoking:

Octavia's dress is made out of some crinkly silk fabric, with wide off-the-shoulder straps in a cream color, while the rest of the dress is like, streakily-died blue green. She's also gulping down water, because she's high as goddamn.

I wish we would have seen the whole outfit.

Team Atia or Team Servilia: Atia, all the way. I want to admire Servilia’s dedication, but she’s so desperate at this point that it’s kind of hard.

Favorite watch-a-long tweet: 

What hairdo or costume would Bronwyn steal? Bronwyn is a sucker for drapey, ethereal bullshit:

Octavia wears what is basically the exact kind of Roman palla people imagine when they think of Roman pallas, and it's all in gauzy white.

Guess Jess’s head canon. Jess’s headcanon was dealt a blow in this episode when Pullo and Vorenus fell out, but the fact that Pullo returned to Rome to set things straight only further validates her ship.

Now go check out Bronwyn’s and Jess’s posts, and join us Monday at 9 PM EST for season two, episode four, “Testudo et Lepus”. Tweet to #LegionXIII to join us!

Troutcation Part 4: “Extremely Specific Travel Tips”

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For my last post on the subject of Troutcation, I wanted to share with you some travel tips for visiting Secrets St. James or Secrets Wild Orchid.

Which one? So, both Secrets properties in Montego Bay are extremely close together. I snagged this picture off their website so you can see how close they are:

A peninsula with two sprawling resorts on it. The water is super blue.


On the left, with the blue roofs, is St. James, and on the right, with the brown roofs, is Wild Orchid. They’re different resorts, but they share pretty much everything. Wild Orchid is closer to the restaurants and nightlife, while St. James is closer to the water sports area and the spa. The main difference I found was that due to its proximity to the shopping, restaurants, and bars, Wild Orchid felt busier, like more of a party atmosphere. Wild Orchid also features lower level “swim-out” rooms for Preferred Club guests, which open directly onto a shared private pool.

St. James felt more removed, definitely quieter than Wild Orchid (especially at night, when people converged on the nightlife area). On the other hand, Mr. Jen and I felt that St. James had the “party pool”, since it seemed a lot of the activities and games happened there. It was also the pool we never went to, because we overheard a really douchey young guy say, “Mr. Hastings! What’s up, brah?” to someone (presumably Mr. Hastings) as we walked past and we decided that we needed to never hear such phrases again.

Mr. Jen and I dubbed the Preferred Club area at St. James the “middle-aged people pool,” because it was quieter, people went there to read books, and nobody was very rowdy or particularly younger. That was our favorite pool.

When should you go? What are you there for? Mr. Jen and I arrived on a Thursday, and it was tranquil and beautiful at night. On Friday, things picked up a little bit, but there were still serene spots to visit. Saturday, all hell broke loose. There was a wedding, two corporate receptions, and a big outdoor party over in the nightlife area. It was the only night we actually heard noise from outside, and that noise was from two competing parties. Now, if we were fun people, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but Mr. Jen and I are not fun. While we weren’t put out or annoyed by these things (because we’re pretty easy going people), we could see how others might be. If you’re going for quiet and relaxation, try arriving on a Sunday afternoon.

Plan your excursions before you leave. People were telling me to do a lot of things before I left on this trip. Oh, you have to go to Ocho Rios to the waterfall because something to do with Cocktail. You should visit such and such historical plantation! Go to where Bob Marley is buried. Take a sailboat cruise to Negril. All of this sounded like a lot of fun, and we didn’t do any of it. Partially, because we were only there for three nights and our single excursion plan feel through. Mostly, though, because we didn’t plan ahead. While Apple Vacations have representatives on-site to help you make your plans, by the time we arrived we were so overwhelmed with choices and indecisive about what to do, we just ended up snorkeling the whole time. Which, you know, snorkeling is cool, but we didn’t see much of the country above water.

Don’t get a first floor room. All the rooms have balconies, so the first floor has patios. Unfortunately, the patios were all very public. There was no barrier (at least, not one substantial enough to recall) between the patios and the lawns, so in some rooms you’d be sitting in your private soak tub within a couple hundred feet of the pool where everyone is hanging out. But my strongest argument against ground floor rooms?

These bastards:

A peacock, strolling down a sidewalk with his tail all open.

There were peacocks all over the resort. Sure, they’re beautiful and majestic, but do you know what else they are? Dumb as hell and lacking personal boundaries. They’re also aggressive and territorial with each other. Combine all of that, and you have a very high probability of waking to the squawks of a peacock fighting his own reflection in your ground-floor room’s sliding glass door. We saw this happening more than once, and always before nine in the morning.

And most importantly, keep in mind Jamaica’s anti-LGBT culture. Marjorie stopped by the last Troutcation post to give me a heads up on LGBT discrimination/criminalization in Jamaica. This wasn’t something I looked into before going, and I really dropped the ball; I never leave the house, let alone the country, so the idea of checking to see if LGBTQA+ people are more hated in the country of my destination didn’t occur to me. After I spent even a small amount of time researching it last night, I was like, “Oh, shit.” If you’re in a same sex relationship, Jamaica isn’t a safe place. Do not go to there.

However, if you can’t visit Jamaica due to the threat of violence or your conscience prohibits you from visiting,  Secrets also has properties in other, less virulently discriminatory countries, such as Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama. And this is a good reminder to always check with your country of origin on this stuff; if I had been a responsible international traveller and checked with the U.S. State Department, I would have seen their incredibly lengthy section on this.

I also would have known I was supposed to get a Typhoid shot. Whoops.

So, that’s about it from the Troutcation Information Station. Mr. Jen and I are super grateful to Apple Vacations for giving us the opportunity to check out their hassle-free, streamlined travel service. The next time we decide to run away to a tropical destination, Apple will definitely be our go-to travel agency.

Troutcation Part 3: “Things I Did Not Expect”

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In this installment of my Troutcation report (brought to you by Apple Vacations and Secrets St. James), I want to share with you some of the stuff I did not expect. I don’t know what I expected, but definitely the things on this list were not it.

People really say “Ya, mon.” I always though this was a stereotype or something out of the movies. It’s totally not. “Ya, mon” is, despite the way it sounds, a gender-neutral expression that basically translates to “okay”, and everyone says it. “Irie” is another word we heard a lot (meaning “good” or “everything is all right”) as well as “No problem” (a driver told us “in Jamaica, we don’t have problems. We have situations.”), and “Respect.” That last one is important; if you have a positive interaction with someone, they’ll probably say this and fist bump you. Say it back. Also, if someone asks you to buy something or if you want something, and you say “no thanks. Respect,” it’s a nicer way of turning down whatever they’re offering.

Tattoos are a novelty. Since tattoos are so common in the U.S., I kind of forget that I have them until someone points them out. In Jamaica, tattoos aren’t as common, and as a heavily tattooed person, I attracted a lot of attention. Mostly, Jamaican people wanted to know if my tattoos hurt, or if they could touch them. My favorite tattoo-related interaction happened at check-in; one of the women at the desk asked which one of us was an author, me or Mr. Jen. Another woman in reception replied, “She is. She’s the one that’s got a story on her.”

There’s a haunted house, but it’s difficult to convince people that you really want to go there. One of the things Mr. Jen and I had planned for this trip was to visit Rose Hall Great House, because I saw it on some random cable ghost show once and I was interested. Ultimately, this plan fell through because we were trying to coordinate it with Mr. Jen’s boss, who happened to be staying in Montego Bay at the exact same time, and things just didn’t line up, so we ended up not going. Which, you know, bummer, but there’s always next time. Though it’s a popular tourist destination, expect some locals to think you’re out of your mind to go there; it’s apparently pretty spooky and freaks people out.

An impression of turtle sex. Remember those salt and pepper shakers from Troutcation Part 2?

Ceramic salt and pepper shakers shaped like turtles. They fit together so as to suggest that they are humping.


Mr. Jen spotted these and said, “You have to get these. You have to.” The guy in the shop overheard us and said, “Have you ever seen the video on YouTube with the turtles having sex?” And I was like, “Which one?” You might not know this, dear reader, but I love videos of turtles humping things. Not necessarily other turtles, although that’s funny, too. If you’ve never seen a tortoise in the throws of ecstasy, you really need to. It’s adorably lewd. Anyway, the shop guy and I started listing off our favorite videos: “What about the one where the turtle is humping the bag of trash?” “Have you see the one with the shoe?” Mr. Jen stood by, utterly confused by the entire exchange, while the shop guy launched into an impression of what a turtle sounds like during mating. It was a magical moment. When you go on vacation, you usually don’t think, “You know, I might meet someone who finds humping turtles as funny as I do.”

A hotel bill of $44,000.00 While Mr. Jen and I stayed at the resort, we racked up some incidentals. $44,000.00 worth of incidentals.

Photo of a hotel bill listing over $44,000 worth of charges, with US$ 362.49 written beside it.

Because most tourist places accept U.S. dollars, we never exchanged our currency (until the end, when I wanted some to show our kids). So, we didn’t really know what the rate was. Jamaican dollars, like Japanese yen, are like our cents. It didn’t automatically occur to me that this might be the case when I looked at our bill and had momentary cardiac arrest before spotting the USD amount hand written beside the total. I saved the bill so I can show everyone how rich and carefree with money I am, that I spent $5,848.91 on a bottle of wine, and $2,610.00 on Red Bull.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to my Troutcation spectacular, in which I’ll share my tips for having a good time at Secrets St. James and Secrets Wild Orchid.


Troutcation Part 2: “Let’s Just Get This Part Out Of The Way Because I Know You’re All Waiting For It”

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Weed tourism and Jamaica have been synonymous for a long time, but cannabis has been decriminalized for less than a year. Really think about that. Less than a year. You could legally smoke weed in Washington before you could legally smoke in Jamaica. Last year, laws went into effect allowing for religious and medical exemptions, and personal use under two ounces was decriminalized, resulting in a ticket and fine. Which, by the way, is awesome, since Rastafarians use cannabis in religious worship and have been trying to get it legalized for years. It was shitty that American tourists could go down to Jamaica and smoke weed on resorts and have no legal repercussions, but Rastafarians who lived there faced religious persecution over it.

Before we went, people were telling us, “Yeah, you’re going to find it everywhere, people on the street will ask you if you want to buy. People at the airport are selling it.” I doubted that highly, but within two hours of arriving, I was rolling a j in my hotel room. Here’s exactly how it happened:

Me: *walking down the beach*
Random guy: “Hello, my friend! Do you have everything you need?”
Me: “Actually…”
Random guy: “Okay, how much do you want to spend?”

And that was it. I just had to go down and dip my feet in the ocean. Be real, real, real sure that you and the person you’re buying from are on the same page, though, because I accidentally almost bought blow. Keep your purchase low-key; it’s still illegal to sell it, and it’s just good weed etiquette to not get someone busted. Also, not everyone selling marijuana is selling other stuff (for example, the aforementioned coke), so don’t make dickish assumptions.

Now, about the price. You’re going to find people on the internet claiming to have bought four pounds of weed for thirty dollars or some shit. Do not expect this. Pot is definitely cheaper in Jamaica, but if you’re buying on a resort beach, you’re going to get charged resort prices. My personal thought on this is that they’re doing you a service by coming to you. Don’t barter. And for god’s sake, tip your dealer. You’d tip a pizza delivery person, right?

“But Jenny,” some of you seasoned stoners might be saying, “the weed in Jamaica just isn’t as good as it is in the U.S.!” This is totally not true. Beach weed in Jamaica doesn’t give you as powerful a high as something named “shark wreck” that you get from a pot shop in Denver, but that doesn’t make it of lower quality. The nameless green I bought had a beautiful, mild high without paranoia. Just a blissful sense of well-being. And my body didn’t feel sluggish; I smoked a joint about as long as my hand before I went snorkeling and never felt tired or like I was going to get in trouble swimming (though I’m a pretty strong swimmer in the first place).

A joint in my open palm, reaching from the top of my middle finger to the middle of my hand.
Let’s go find Nemo!

Of course, snorkeling while high is probably not the best idea, so don’t take this as a recommendation. On our second swim out, I saw a fucking huge barracuda and thought, “right on,” instead of, “this is not good and I should leave this part of the reef.” But I also saw a sting ray gliding majestically through the water and thought, “That should be called a sea pancake,” so it was probably worth the danger.

Not everyone in Jamaica is a total stoner, and not everybody is cool with weed. Don’t go into a restaurant and spark up. Don’t be that tourist. I mostly smoked on the beach at night, and on our balcony during the day. And don’t worry, housekeeping is savvy:

A ashtray with five roaches of various length, and a lighter with a picture of a pickle on it.

That is a clean ashtray. The housekeeper took the old one, but left our roaches in the clean one. A++ service.

Staying at an all-inclusive resort meant there was never a lack of food for when the munchies came calling. The buffet at the World Café was amazing for this. Smoke up, get hungry, wander into a paradise untold where you could get all sorts of fruits and fruit juices. Which, by the way, is what you’ll probably get the munchies for while you’re there; the combination of the heat and the cotton mouth is going to drive you straight into a pile of fresh pineapple, papaya, and otaheiti apple (which has the consistency of a pear and tastes the way roses smell). Mid-afternoon a guy with a little cart full of coconuts and straws would walk around, if you’re into coconut water. You will, however, give yourself away if you sit down with a plate heaped with pineapple and six or seven glasses of juice.

Basically, smoking weed in Jamaica isn’t all that different than smoking it in the States. It’s just easier to get, a little bit cheaper, and the high is a lot more mellow. I took my own rolling papers and a new, sealed roller in my suitcase. When I returned home, all of that stuff stayed behind. Do not try to bring home any “souvenirs” you’ve smoked out of or rolled with, because customs can give you a big hassle, and you can be busted if residue is found on those items. To be honest, I wouldn’t even chance bringing clean paraphernalia back to the U.S. Get something better. Something classy. Like I did:

Ceramic salt and pepper shakers shaped like turtles. They fit together so as to suggest that they are humping.

Don’t Do This Ever: “Ego-Induced Amnesia” edition

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Ros Barber will never self-publish. It is beneath her. It should be beneath any “serious novelist” (a title Barber seems to self-apply), and she has taken to The Guardian to tell us why.

Now, I understand that “indie publishing” is all the rage, but you might as well be telling Luke Skywalker to go to the dark side. Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write). Here’s why.

I should warn you that any time someone uses the term “serious novelist” without irony, whatever follows will be an orgy of public masturbation. Barber’s piece is practically NSFW in this respect.

If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.

Wait, I thought this article was about why Barber won’t self-publish. I won’t go downhill skiing, but it’s a comfort to know that my inexperience won’t hold me back when I want to write an article for a major media outlet about why downhill skiing is terrible and no cross-country skiers should do it. Somehow, Barber is the expert on how self-published authors divide up their time, despite her reluctance to do it in the first place.

But if your passion is creating worlds and characters, telling great stories, and/or revelling in language, you might want to aim for traditional publication.

I’m not sure it’s possible to be more insulting than Barber is here. Only traditionally published, serious authors can create worlds and characters, because clearly self-published authors draw words out of a hat and hurriedly type them up so as to return to their mindless, repetitive social media presence. Only traditionally published authors can tell great stories.

Barber goes on to describe the very marketing behavior many successful self-published authors already advise against, and assumes that all self-published authors are equally guilty:

Imagine we have just met. I invite you into my house and the first thing you do is show me the advertising blurb for your book and press me to check it out on Amazon. Then you read me the blurb for someone else whose book you’ve agreed to promote if they’ll do the same with yours. Then you tell me how many friends you’ve lost today, and that I can find out how many friends I’ve lost by using this app. Then you poke a reader review of your book under my nose. All within the first 10 minutes. Does this lead me to conclude you are a successful author, whose books I might like to buy? Or a desperate egomaniac with no thought for other people? One who may not be able to string a decent sentence together, since your sentences come out as semi-literate strings of hashtags:

The tweet Barber uses to illustrate her point once again raises an often overlooked component of self-publishing, which is access for authors of color. Does Chopra’s tweet include a number of hashtag sins? Certainly. But one has to wonder whether Barber realized that by choosing Chopra’s tweet as an example of the “semi-literate” over-saturation of social media promotion, she was betraying the narrow scope of her own advantage with the publishers of “serious novelists”. A highly educated white woman (a “scholar”, as described by a dedicated section on Barber’s website) has a much better chance of skating by the gatekeepers Barber later lauds in her piece. Perhaps some unserious writers come off as “desperate” because they have to work ten times as hard to get their books noticed by readers, let alone publishers.

One also has to wonder when, exactly, Twitter became Barber’s private living space.

In another section, Barber compares self-published books to wobbly cabinets constructed by inexperienced carpenters using shoddy materials. The subtitle for this section?

Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego

It doesn’t seem to have worked for Barber, but, as Kermit the Frog says in his popular meme, that’s none of my business.

My first novel was my fourth novel. It was accomplished on the back of three complete novels (plus two half novels) that didn’t quite make the grade (even though two of them were represented by well-respected agents). Yes, it can be frustrating, having your beloved book (months or years of hard work) rejected by traditional publishers. But if you are serious about writing, you will simply raise your game. You will put in another few thousand hours and complete your apprenticeship. And when you do, you will be very glad that the first novel you wrote was not the first novel you published, because it will now feel embarrassing and amateurish.

Amateurish is exactly the word I would use to describe an author who truly believes that talent and hard work will eventually result in a published book. Willfully ignorant is what I would call an author who sees traditional publishing as the inevitable end result of finely honed craft. If this were true, a certain world-wide record-smashing blockbuster series of novels based off an equally record-smashing blockbuster series of novels wouldn’t have slipped past those gatekeepers’ quality control. The Instagram filter Barber has chosen for her view of traditional publishing washes out the reality of commercial fiction and market trends.

You can only be a debutante once. First novels are all about making a splash. You’ll find it hard to make a good impression if the first thing anyone saw from you was that wonky cabinet with sticky drawers.

Again, I would refer Barber to some of the wonky cabinets built by first-time carpenters and haphazardly installed by the very quality control gatekeepers she lauds.

With genre fiction, self-publishing can turn you into a successful author (if you can build a platform, if you enjoy marketing and are good at it, if you are lucky). But an author who writes literary fiction is dependent on critical acclaim and literary prizes to build their reputation and following. If genre fiction is chart music, literary fiction is opera: the audience is small, and there are limited ways to reach it. Self-published books are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker, and getting shortlisted for major prizes is the only way a literary novel will become a bestseller.

Here, I agree with Barber. Though some may take the comparisons of genre fiction to “chart music” and literary fiction to “opera”, I would agree with that assessment. That said, pop music is my favorite music, so I don’t see it as an insult. And it is rare for a self-published novel to win a major award. In 2013, Sergio de la Pava made headlines when he won the PEN/Robert W Bingham award for his novel A Naked SingularityWhat made De La Pava’s success so notable was the fact that his novel was self-published, and only became an eligible, “serious” novel once a publisher picked it up after the book had generated positive reviews under De La Pava’s own steam. In other words, this book that was dismissed by Barber’s precious gatekeepers was better than other traditionally published novels, even when it didn’t have traditional publishing’s stamp of approval. Instead of pointing out that self-publishing excludes authors from prestigious festivals and prizes, why not question why that’s the case?

Barber continues to explain the higher quality of editors at traditional publishing houses, and the advantage of not having to pay for those services. She also shares an anecdote from a one-time self-published author who turned to traditional publishing and is much happier.

She has just sold Korean translation rights to her children’s books, which illustrates another benefit of traditional publishing. Publishers and agents have reach.

Publishers and agents do have reach. I’m lucky to have a very good agent who uses her reach to sell foreign rights to my self-published books. So far, my self-published series has been translated into Italian, French, and Portuguese, and these foreign editions have been very popular with readers. Though finding representation for foreign rights isn’t a guarantee for self-published authors, neither does traditional publishing guarantee that your book will reach international markets.

For those who prefer orchestrated backing to blowing their own trumpet, who’d privilege running a narrative scenario over running a small business, who’d rather write adventures than adverts, self-publishing is not the answer.

A single look at Barber’s modest website will give you a clue as to what her “orchestral backing” sounds like. Take an hour or two to peruse and digest the bounty of self-aggrandizement there. Barber is an author, a scholar, a “conscientious creator” who “has been helping writers and other creative women to achieve their dreams since 2009”. Barber’s own self-promotion is a Wagnerian opera as composed by Gwyneth Paltrow. And if you manage to make it through the blaring sonic obstacle course of Barber’s instrumental soundtrack far enough, you can even find links… to her self-published books.

I’m not sure anything else needs to be said, except “don’t do this, ever.”

Troutcation, Part One: “I went on vacation and that thing in my neck stopped happening.”

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Hey there, friends! As I mentioned last week, Apple Vacations gave me and Mr. Jen the fantastic opportunity to visit the Secrets St. James resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Mr. Jen and I don’t get a chance to go on many vacations together. Oh sure, I travel a lot for work, so I can get out and see as many of you guys as are willing to travel to a hotel ballroom to get an awkwardly over-enthusiastic welcome from me. But those trips are actually kind of exhausting, because every day of a conference you have to be “on.” So it was nice to get away from it all, not have to be “on”, and also not be at Disney World (a vacation we took late last year as a family, and which required a recovery period of its own). However, when explaining the concept of an all-inclusive, adults-only resort to our children, that’s exactly the frame of reference we used: “Imagine everything you find boring, but that adults love. Then put all of that together in a place like Disney World, but a Disney World you would immediately want to come home from.”

It didn’t hurt that everything was free, so we didn’t have to work that out. Yes, if you couldn’t already tell, this is a sponsored post. I don’t do many of those, because I like to keep this as add-free a space as possible. But come on. It was a trip to Jamaica.

We were sent as Preferred Club guests. That meant getting some extra perks, like a private lobby with private check-in, a bar, and an all day buffet of little gourmet treats. They don’t care if you take those little gourmet treats back to your room, either; two staff members watched me with amused, knowing looks as I stumbled toward them, glassy-eyed, a plate of multiple bowls of salmon tartar and some kind of ceviche on one arm, an almost Seussian stack of deserts on the other, and called out, “Hey, you don’t mind if I take this and hit the road, do you?”

Me, in a black and white striped swimsuit, sitting in a bathtub on the balcony, staring  blankly out at the ocean.  There is no water in the bathtub.
You could buy it on the beach guys. And it was so cheap and green and so, so good.

The staff of this resort wants you to relax and have a good time–and to have a good time with you–from the moment you touch down at the airport. As we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by a uniformed Apple Vacations representative, who whisked us through immigrations and customs, bypassing lines like big shots. I don’t know if this is a service I got because I was going to write blog posts about the trip, or if it’s just something that comes with the Preferred Club service. On our return trip we decided to independently investigate something called Club Mobay, which is essentially the same thing. It costs $30.00 USD, and you just breeze in and out of the airport like you went to the post office and there was no line. We didn’t use the arrival service, as Apple had us set up, but the departure service was awesome. You wait in their lobby full of complimentary beverages and food (like an actual buffet; you could plan to have your lunch or breakfast there) until it’s time to go. I highly recommend that for everybody.

Anyway, as we took our private transport (thanks for that, too, Apple!), the driver told us all sorts of facts about Jamaica–which I’ll talk about in Troutcation, Part Two: “Things That Surprised Me About Jamaica”. At the hotel, we were whisked to the private Preferred Club check-in, where they greeted us with glasses of ice cold champagne and cold towels. “You’re just like Obama,” a bellman joked.  This is also where we elected to independently investigate the resort’s credit voucher system. You pay $200.00 USD and get a book of vouchers for $10.00 off bottles of wine (4), $60 off a romantic candlelight dinner (1), and some other random amount off spa services that I can’t remember. Basically, it totaled $200.00, anyway. It’s the Disney Dollar of the resort: got ’em, so you might as well spend ’em . If you’re not planning on getting spa treatments, now maybe you are, because you don’t want to lose money on the coupons. Getting a bottle of wine with dinner? Now you are! You want to use up those credits. Even if you were planning to do all that stuff, anyway, why not just keep the $200.00? Verdict: nah.

We did, however, opt for the candlelight dinner. It was pricey (somewhere around $250.00 USD), but we considered it an early tenth anniversary present. We did this on the last day of our trip, and enjoyed a dinner on the beach in the moonlight, with the gorgeous mountains in the distance. The dinner was amazing, with a shrimp tempura appetizer course, caprese salad, filet mignon and lobster tail entree, and a dessert that was like a red velvet cake with fruit and chocolate on top.

An elegantly set table with flowers and candles on it, with a dark night in the background.

I highly recommend this option, which comes with various package levels. We did the very basic one. And after dinner:

The jacuzzi tub, surrounded by candles, with a bubble bath inside and rose petals on top. It's directly beside a huge four poster bed with rose petals sprinkled all over the duvet.

Really cool, right? It was totally romantic. I mean, Mr. Jen and I aren’t romantic, so we ended up watching CNN and taking turns in the tub so we could both see the TV. But it was still a wonderful evening.

However, do you notice something about the placement of the bathtub? This is pretty key. See, Mr. Jen and I have been together for fourteen years, married for ten. So a bathroom set up like this:

The bedroom and the bathroom are open concept, with just a curtain separating the bedroom area from the tub and sink. Frosted glass doors enclose the toilet and shower stall.

isn’t going to phase us. We have no boundaries anymore. Well…almost no boundaries. One morning, the copious amount of alcohol consumed and the unlimited amount of complimentary gourmet food took its toll. “Hey, Jenny? You mind, uh…spending some time on the balcony?” he asked plaintively. “And turn the shower on? For some noise?”

I’m just saying that if your relationship is in the “bashful flower” phase, you might want to have a talk about the bathroom arrangement up front before you book this vacation. I do, however, know that this is something Apple Vacations takes into consideration for its customers at the other, equally exciting vacation destination properties they can book you at, so if you call and talk to an agent, maybe that’s something they can help you with.

Another perk of the Preferred Club was that we got butlers. Plural. Two butlers handle the arrangements for anything you’d like to do while you’re at the resort. Want that romantic dinner? They’ll help you. Excursions? No problem. Tarje and Patrick have you covered. You even get a little phone you carry around with you so you can call them if you need something, and they’ll be there in a moment’s notice. This was, of course, a service we barely used. They called everyday asking, “Are you sure there’s nothing we can do?” I tried to explain that we are but simple country folk and are used to doing for ourselves, but it was too late. I was already Obama.

We had a fantastic time at Secrets, and a big part of that was what I considered our “Apple safety net.” One of the things I dislike the most about traveling is having to know where to be, when, how much time to budget to get stuff done, etc. The night before we left, an Apple representative contacted us about when our flight would leave, what time our transport would take us to the airport, and what time to check out in the morning. When we had questions, we just went down to the lobby to ask her for clarification, because Apple has representatives on the property. Every day, they were there if we needed their help with setting up outside tours or handling travel arrangements. That was a really cool piece of mind to have.

We stayed for three nights, and honestly, that was just about the right amount of time. Sure, people go down there and stay longer, but three nights was just long enough to feel like we’d gotten away from it all, without getting sunburned or missing the kids too much. And when we did get home, we felt like we’d been gone for weeks. On our first night back, snuggled in our own bed, I leaned over to Mr. Jen and said, “Hey. Feel my neck. It’s not doing that thing anymore.”

All of us have neck things, right? Well, for a few glorious days, I did not. And it was magical.

I know this post comes off as quite commercial-ish, but I honestly can’t say enough about how well the whole thing was set up, both on Apple Vacation’s end and at the resort. Mr. Jen and I are already talking about booking a trip with them for another vacation some time. I creeped their website and it looks like for the exact vacation we had, you’d be spending under $4,000.00 total (this is leaving out some stuff I’ll talk about in another post, I’m just talking hotel/flight/Preferred Club upgrade). So, if you’ve got that kind of vacation cash and you’re looking for something short and tropical, this is definitely a good option. For us in the midwest, it’s actually a shorter flight than going to Vegas.

Also, you get to see Cuba!

A view from the plane window of the sea and one of Cuba's little island chains.
Wave hi to Cuba everybody! Yes, even the Americans. Waving at Cuba is legal now. 

So anyway, I’ll be making more posts this week about some other stuff that happened on vacation, like stuff that surprised me about Jamaica and funny stuff that happened there, including why you should never book a ground floor room at Secrets Wild Orchid, and why every Jamaican person we met wanted to talk about tattoos. Stick around.

#LegionXIII Rome Watch-Along S02E02: “Son of Hades” or “The Angry Hour”

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A picture of a big roman number XIII, in front of an ominous sky, in the middle of a road through a field. In the crotch of the X, I, dressed as a centurion, naturally, am slumped over, sleeping. Bronwyn Green, dressed in a stola, is looking nervously at a harp, and Jess is depicted as the woman with a bloody knife from the DVD cover of season 2.

I’m back from my Troutcation hiatus! And you’ll note that this post is happening on a Saturday. That’s because I told Bronwyn and Jess that I couldn’t do a #LegionXIII post this week, because I was still on blog vacation. And they were like, “That’s over on Friday, bitch. We’re moving the post to Saturday.”

Quick rundown of the episode: This is the episode where everyone is angry, and everyone deals with that anger in their own, immensely self-destructive ways.

Vorenus’s little “got your head!” trick with Erastes Fulman last week has led to total chaos on the Aventine. Rival gangs are killing each other in the street, and old ladies are warning people away from the Vorenus house. Even Eirene has had it with Vorenus’s shit. She’s worried that she’ll get pregnant with a monster baby if they’re living in a house with a decapitated head just rotting on the floor.

Antony has to meet with Cleopatra, and Atia is not a fan. She doesn’t have a lot to worry about, at the moment, as Cleopatra is in Rome looking for money for her son, Caesar’s heir. Considering the fact that Caesar’s actual heir, Octavian, can’t get one red cent out of his inheritance as long as Antony controls it. When Cleo tells Antony to declare Caesarion Caesar’s legitimate heir, Antony tells her to go fuck herself, and they do not part on good terms. He still has to have dinner with her at Atia’s house, though.

Titus Pullo goes to Mark Antony to ask him for help with Vorenus. Pullo actually describes Vorenus as having “gone awry”, which is my favorite way anyone has ever described a breakdown. I’m going to call all my breakdowns “going awry” from now on. Antony goes full-on Tough Love Jen on Vorenus (Bronwyn knows what this means) and tells Vorenus to either commit suicide or clean up the Aventine and get the gangs under control, since he created that problem.

Speaking of creating problems for one’s self, Antony tells Atia that Cleopatra isn’t really hot or anything, she’s just really plain and mousy. So when Cleo shows up at Atia’s dinner looking hot as fuck, it’s clear that Antony is doing that thing where guys downplay the hotness of a girl they might end up cheating on their girlfriend with later. Queen or not, when Cleo leaves the party, Atia has some words for her. One of them is “trollop”.

Also at the party? Servillia, who has been forced to come to keep up political appearances. Unfortunately, keeping up appearances means that she has to stand there and take all of Atia’s gloating apologies and publicly accept her offer of friendship. Atia cannot, however, murder Servillia as she had planned, so she sends Timon off to his pointless story about his life that goes absolutely nowhere. Basically, it all boils down to Timon is Jewish, but not Jewish enough for his brother, who’s like, some kind of super pious political agitator. This storyline will go nowhere and add nothing to the overall season.

Concord, who is basically the goddess of getting along, is in charge of a parlay. All the rival gang leaders meet with Vorenus, who tells them that he’s in charge now. Nobody wants to commit any kind of violence or anything in front of the statue of Concord, so they don’t attack Vorenus for talking some shit about them and bossing them around. But the thing is, Vorenus doesn’t give a shit about Concord. He talks about sodomizing Concord, then smashes the statue all to pieces in front of the horrified priests and gang members. Then he tells everyone that he’s a son of Hades, and they’re kind of like, okay. We have to do this, because this guy is dangerous.

Back at Atia’s house, a lot of shit is going on. Antony and Atia are fighting about whether or not he fucked Cleo, Octavian and Antony are fighting over Octavian’s money, and Octavia has literally no fucks left to give. She just eats fruit salad and ignores everybody’s drama. Good choice, Octavia.

The thing Octavian wants to do with his money is give away the money Caesar pledged to the plebs. But Antony thinks that’s stupid, so he’s not going to give it to him. Octavian tells Octavia that he plans to take control of Rome from Antony, and she doesn’t take it real seriously.

Pullo warns Vorenus that fucking around with the gods is probably not the best idea. And this is coming from a dude who sat in a sinking boat and told the sea god to suck his cock. But you know what you shouldn’t do, Pullo? Employ some rough-around-the-edges-but-smolderingly-sexy woman to manage the prostitutes in your new mafia brothel.

The news reader guy announces that yay, the plebs are getting their money, and Antony and Atia are freaked the fuck out. They get even more freaked out when Octavian tells him he borrowed millions of whatever denomination of money they use. Shit gets super violent in one of the most uncomfortable scenes I think I’ve ever seen on TV, and Antony nearly kills Octavian. When Atia leaves the scene with Antony, leaving Octavian on the floor, he decides to say fuck it to everyone in his family and runs away to Agrippa’s house. On the way, they pass a wagon full of slaves. And inside are Lyde and the children, alive after all.

My favorite part of the episode: It’s a toss up between Vorenus trashing the sacred statue, the smooth transition between Cleopatra’s double slap of Antony, and Cleo’s expression when she recognizes Titus Pullo.

My least favorite part of the episode: The introduction of Gaia, for reasons that will be clear as the series goes on. But most of all, the introduction of Timon’s story. The reason I dislike it so much is that so much screen time is invested in it, with such little payoff. I will be annoyed by this until the end of the show. I also find that after seeing a full season of Timon killing Atia’s enemies to get the opportunity to fuck her, it’s very difficult to give a damn about him once you find out he’s got a wife and kids he’s deserting to pull all this shit all the time.

Favorite costume: This is such a mob meeting, there’s even a guy in a track suit and gold medallion:

In this group of several scary looking dudes in togas and leather armor and stuff, one guy is wearing a black toga with a red stripe across the chest, giving him the appearance of a guy wearing a track suit. He also has a big gold medallion on his necklace, and he's real, real Italian.

Team Atia or Team Servilia: Atia. She threatened the queen of Egypt, over a guy. That is some brass.

Favorite watch-a-long tweet: 

What hairdo or costume would Bronwyn steal? 

Cleopatra's hair is a configuration of  romantic-looking coils held with gold ornaments.If Bronwyn grows her hair out, I will help her make this hair style. Because I guarantee she covets it.

Guess Jess’s head canon. Two key points for Jess in this episode: When Mark Antony steps up real close behind Vorenus and tells him that he’s his master, which launches yet another ship for the Jarmada (if it hadn’t already sailed), and she got a scene wherein Pullo tenderly cared for Vorenus by shaving his face for him. So much HoYay in this episode!

Now go check out Bronwyn’s and Jess’s posts, and join us Monday at 9 PM EST for season two, episode three, “These Being The Words Of Marcus Tullius Cicero”. Tweet to #LegionXIII to join us!