#Interview with Xen Sanders

#Interview with Xen Sanders

Today, we’re welcoming an author for a first appearance on Delighted Reader.  Always a fun challenge to intro a person heretofore unknown (to me though maybe not to you).  But you know, reading Xen’s bio on GoodReads made me chuckle and smile.  I have a feeling that a person who describes their wit as dry enough to absorb an entire ocean would be engaging company.

Xen just released the dramatic and intense m/m paranormal romance, Shatterproof.  The description alone had me quickly adding it to my ‘to read’ pile as I’m a huge fan of the rock and hard place style conflicts be they internal or external.

So, with that dubious bit of rambling…

Welcome Xen!  Thank you for visiting Delighted Reader today. 

Hey there. I’m Xen Sanders, and thank you for joining me for the release of Shatterproof! (I will have you know that exclamation point was under duress. Grr. I am grrr and dour and deadpan man-thing. Really.)

I’m immensely grateful that some of my favorite blogs have opened their doors and given me an opportunity to talk about a book that means so much to me, and that comes from so much personal experience. Stick around to chat, ask questions, and join in the discussion for a chance to win a $30 Riptide gift card and a $25 Amazon or B&N gift card! (@*$%!#ing exclamation points…)

 

Let’s start with something prosaic like where you live and the weather.  I noticed from your bio that you undertook a huge move from New Orleans to Seattle.  Those are some very different environments and I don’t just speak of the weather- though definitely that. What was it like getting settled in the cool, wet Northwest as opposed to the sultry South?  Any fun culture shock anecdote you can share?

Well, I kind of made a few detours between New Orleans and Seattle—eight years in Houston, then another eight in Chicago. I’d say Chicago was a bigger culture shock than anywhere else. I’m accustomed to either Southern courtesy or LGBTQIA+ community openness; in the South we can call you a fuckstick just by saying bless your heart while LGBTQIA+ communities are just this open raw honesty of warmth and often no-filter acceptance. Then I get to the Midwest where everyone has this accent that I confuse with Boston and their idea of courtesy is asking me if I prefer to be called a queer or a fag (which erases my bisexuality, but okay), but this is supposed to be a good thing because picking on me means I’m liked and accepted…? By…strangers instead of my usual cadre of friends who know when I say “fuck off” I mean “I love you” I…guess… It was just…a very new social atmosphere, one I never really settled into—especially with the enormous racial divide and prejudice that I’d never realized existed in Chicago until I settled there for the long term. My own mother-in-law called me a wetback (I’m not even Latinx, but go you, offending both me and a separate culture in one go, you over-achiever you!) and I was supposed to just shrug that off like it was okay and part of the culture of Chicaaago.

Whatever. I moved there for the snow, anyway. And then I got sick of that real fucking fast. The novelty wears off after the third time your pipes have burst in a single winter and everything smells like your neighbor took a wee in the freezer.

So my latest jump ship took me from Chicago to Seattle, and honestly, Seattle’s a breath of fresh air. Fresh, hot, sunny air.

WTF.

No seriously, WTF.

I was promised doom and gloom and rainclouds and misery.

Lies and slander, all of it. Slander and lies.

It’s been nothing but 90-degree days and relentless sun that makes me feel like an ant under a magnifying glass. Yo, Washington. That’s some deceptive marketing there.

Seriously, though, Seattle has felt like coming home (or it would if it would RAIN LIKE IT’S SUPPOSED TO). New Orleans hasn’t been home since 2003, not really, and I feel like since then I’ve been wandering from pillar to post, hitting the reset button on my life over and over again until I found somewhere to be. And honestly, with so many of my lifelong friends here and such a progressive, open, accepting culture of people who (despite being the 5th whitest city in America) are trying so damned hard to be woke…yeah. I really feel like I’ve found home.

Although I’m still a little confused by my neighbor/upstairs tenant apparently deciding that “deconstructing” a Subway sandwich is a thing, now, and olive oil makes mayonnaise “too strong.”

Seattle foodies are…interesting.

Beyond your day job and your writing, I noticed that you organized the worthy Speak Project and Dammit, Cole advice column Would you be willing to share a little something about those with readers?

The Speak Project was something that came to me because I have so many friends, female and male, who have been victims of sexual assault—but who are afraid to talk about it. People tend to confide things in me; I’m not sure why, but it’s not something that’s ever bothered me when it leads to sharing, mutual support, confidence in each other and ourselves, relieving the ache and burden of carrying that. But whenever they tell me this it’s this kind of dirty secret like they did something wrong, and as a survivor of child sexual abuse and adult rape and marital abuse myself, I understand that. Completely. I understand how even when it’s over it’s never over, and your abuser is still this devil on your shoulder making you doubt yourself. Making you feel like you’re wrong and bad and dirty, stained and tainted and shamed. And the thing is, none of that is true. Your abuser just wants you to take that blame on yourself so you’ll be too embarrassed to expose them for what they are. One of the best ways to shake that off is to speak about it; I remember after my divorce I started being honest with my friends about what had been happening in my marriage, and it took those conversations, that honesty, just speaking to really see the impact of it and stop laying blame on myself and recognize the situation for what it was. So I wanted to create a safe space for others to do the same. Where even if they don’t feel safe talking to people they know, they have this anonymous platform where they can write their story down and look it baldly in the face and reinforce that there is nothing wrong with them. They aren’t alone.

They survived, and are amazing for it.

The Dammit, Cole advice column… *laughs* That was just a random whim after a conversation with friends and my street team / fan group. People always ask me these questions as if, because under my other pen name I’ve written M/F romance novels targeted for a female audience, I can make The Mysterious Mind of Men more accessible. And honestly, I can’t. I really can’t. We’re not a monolith and most of us are dicks who don’t even understand why we do the shite we do or the kind of toxicity we perpetuate. The best I can do is try to break it down from a psychological and analytical perspective, and from my own experiences with trying to shake off toxic masculinity and subsume my own male privilege to be a better ally to women and a better, more intersectional feminist. Usually I don’t give the answers people want to hear, with magical insight into men, relationships, etc. Often I nerd it up and science all over them. But I’d rather give thoughtful answers that might give people something to discuss regarding breaking down ingrained patriarchal mindsets and stereotypes than continue to perpetuate these gender myths and rigid roles that lock both men and women into prescribed behaviors.

It’s September and I always think of it as ‘back to school’ month.  Were you one who anticipated the return of school with joy or grief?  What was your favorite subject?  Did you have a school subject that really kicked your tail?

It was always a mixture of joy and grief. It’s no secret that I grew up in a rather conflicted home environment, so it was a relief to escape that – but school was always a strange place for me. I was that fucking nerd who was friends with all the teachers, but I also had friends my own age. I even dated a popular boy, gasp, even though dear gods was I an angry frigging goth. I think the only POC goth in the state of Louisiana. I ran track and field. I competed in academic competitions. I hid from people with my books and was a shy wallflower who wouldn’t make eye contact. I was queer as fuck and mean as fuck to hide the fact that deep down, I just wanted to be sweet as fuck to someone, anyone, but had problems with that when unrecognized trauma triggers would make me nearly break someone’s arm for touching me. I got the shite kicked out of me for being queer. I learned how to be scary as fuck to make it stop (which might have been part of the gothness), and to hide how quietly terrified and broken I was inside. I was brown-skinned but, to the black kids at school, “talked white” before we even got into the other languages I speak. I was always bouncing between the popular kids and the band geeks, the jocks and the gifted & talented program kids, the white kids and…the…two or three black kids who didn’t outright reject me. (That was honestly a complicated situation—and at the time I think they understood better than I did how my own family had taught me anti-blackness and to reject my own blackness and theirs, so I was self-rejecting way before they ever rejected me; I’ve since embraced the black part of my heritage, but it hasn’t been easy to bypass that conditioning.) Overall because I could tick so many boxes but never fit into any, I was always spinning my wheels looking for somewhere for my mercurial, strange, multicultural, confusingly complex self to belong. So I spent a lot of school feeling like no one wanted me and everyone wanted me. I still feel that way sometimes, even as an adult.

So, uh…yeah. Going back to school was complicated. Being at home was just as complicated. Life is messy, okay?

I didn’t have a favorite subject, not really. I was and still am an information sponge. (Don’t ever watch films with me. I spend the whole time snarling “SCIENCE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.” I was actually mad at Interstellar for getting black holes, event horizons, and the distance vs. displacement factor of a singularity’s gravitational pull right because no movie that terrible is allowed to be right about science. Luckily my friends think it’s cute when I go off. Not sure anyone else would agree.) So, um, back on track. I loved everything, because everything fueled a need, even back then, to tell stories. Learning about relational physics was just fodder for OH HEY LET’S WRITE ABOUT SPACESHIPS. You’d think I’d have loved English most, but English was just where the stories consolidated. They were happening around me in every class, every subject, every day, just waiting to crystallize into words.

Though I will say I hated going to my math classes, and I did struggle there. Not because of the subject; because of my teacher. In gifted & talented program classes in New Orleans in the 80s and 90s, you tended to have the same teacher at all levels for one subject – and this one followed me from junior high to high school. He. Was. A. Prick. A condescending, Grade-A prick who was dealing with his own repressed homosexuality (he came out later after I graduated) and thus exceedingly nasty to queer kids, and supremely nasty to me as a brown queer boy who, he felt, didn’t recognize the ceiling in place as far as POC children and academic advancement. He undercut my confidence in every way, and because of him I zoned out in class and developed a mental block around mathematics. But take me out of that environment and frame it as something other than math, and I caught on like lightning. I taught myself quantum physics for an English paper complete with complex calculations; I was doing high-level Calculus even before that in sixth grade just to work something out for a story. The quantum physics paper had to be graded by the high school physics teacher because my English teacher actually couldn’t understand it. The physics teacher said it was perfect. I got an A. And here came the math teacher, sailing in to say I couldn’t have written that, and it must be plagiarized.

Because of that academic ceiling. Right.

Fuck you, dude.

All but one of the times I ever got in trouble at school (or at least, the ones where I got caught) were related to him. Whether I couldn’t endure walking into that classroom again and would sit outside in the hall, crying and trying to nerve myself…or the time I went. The fuck. Off on him for disparaging my family during a school open house in front of my friends’ parents. He was my bane, and I’m not even going to pretend I wasn’t pettily, gleefully happy when I heard he’d been fired.

As a cat person with two of the tribe adding personality to your home, how are they when it’s time to write?  Do they let you work alone?  Disrupt it all?  Or hey, are they more the old magic familiars that help the muses for you?

It depends on the time of day. If I’m writing during the day they’re fine; they bask in the (horrid, burny, awful, we hates it precioussss) sun and doze on my feet and occasionally want me to scratch them with my toes. We’ve kind of come to an agreement that when Daddy’s hands are busy typing, Daddy’s feet do the petting. But night is when they come alive.

Unfortunately night is also when my brain is most active.

So we have a bit of a conflict. Here I am, buzzing with nocturnal energy, ready to dive in and rip out a few thousand words. But see, the bamboo arrangement on my kitchen counter is a Capulet who just insulted Benvolio’s second cousin, and a plague on all my trash cans because Mercutio’s going to scatter them throughout the house with everything inside ripped into the smallest shreds possible, and oh, hey, what’s that smell and COULD YOU NOT PUT YOUR DIRTY LITTLE BUTT ON MY PRINTOUTS oh Christ what did you knock over now. It’s probably a given that I don’t own any glassware or ceramics. I’m almost afraid to put my earbuds in, because as soon as I do comes the noise I can’t identify so I don’t know if it’s severe enough to need to investigate, or to just sigh and accept that that’s life with cats.

Speaking of writing, how long have you been writing stories?  Do you have any writers that were/are big influencers?

As long as I can remember. There was this little weird story I did in 4th grade about a talking hamster named Doloris Fuzzball; there was the 7th grade semester English assignment to write a 40-page “novel.” I wrote about a beautiful black girl who could shapeshift into a cat.

That was the first time I had someone ask me “but why does she have to be black? Wouldn’t people like the story better if she was white?”

That was my 7th grade gifted English teacher.

Really glad she didn’t follow me to high school.

That was why I started writing, though. I used to write scripts for shows I loved—Biker Mice from Mars, Tekkaman, Sailor Moon, even Mighty Ducks—introducing brown-skinned characters. Who…okay. Yes. They were basically self-inserts. I was a kid. Sue me. I was a kid, and I wanted to see me and people like me in these stories as adventurers and heroes and villains and viable relationship partners, so I wrote versions of me into their stories when I wasn’t writing my own. I drew art and wrote scripts for my own original TV show ideas, and then that turned into writing rambling notebooks full of things that weren’t quite novels but that somehow involved me in a purple sweatsuit leading a bunch of brown kids out of a terrorist camp and starting a revolution that saved all the adults. I’ve always been full of stories, and just flailing around me trying to find spaces capable of capturing and holding them all.

As far as influencers…it’s honestly hard to pick just one. I taught myself to read (in English, at least) at age two by memorizing The Poky Little Puppy from bedtime readings and then matching the letters to the phonetics. From that moment on I read everything I could get my hands on, and fuck age appropriateness. I read in multiple languages, though to keep this list short I’ll stick to English language authors (no I won’t *cough* Kono Taeko *cough* Hiroshi Mori *cough* Mao Dun / Shen Dehong). I even read the damned encyclopedia. It all came together in a mish-mash where I can’t pick out any one early formative influence, but I know later there were people I read with absolute absorption. Diane Duane was and always will be one of the first authors I name when it comes to people who can craft ethereal imagery that brings with it a sense of lightness that lifts the heart with a feeling like bubbles of champagne. She writes with wonder, and it’s amazing. But there’s also Robin McKinley, Octavia Butler, Poppy Z. Brite, Richard Adams, C.S. Friedman, Julian May, Jean M. Auel (yes, she of the Neanderthal romances), Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card before I knew what a dick he was. Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, too; I wasn’t much into poetry, but when I was I loved things that carried with them a beautiful morbidity. I love old books, too, and old books are how I learned my first English cursewords; I still can’t really spell them the American way. Mostly, though, I will say I stuck to majority female authors, and sought out pretty much anything that could both evoke wonder and teach me something new about the past or present or the possibility of the future. 

Shatterproof_600x900How did Shatterproof come into being?

Well…after I worked with Sarah Lyons at Riptide on the Winter Rain charity anthology for RAINN.org, she asked me if I had anything else I’d be interested in submitting to her. I didn’t at the time, but I kept promising her I’d send something while my schedule was up in the air and spinning everywhere and I had no idea what I was even working on next. Then she told me she had an open novella slot in the upcoming schedule and asked if I had anything on hand to fill it. I said no, but I’d try; I could write a novella quickly, right?

Ha. Hahahahaha. Ha.

I don’t write short.

My idea of a “novella” was 50k.

Yeah. No.

But I did write Shatteproof on that prompt, and I’m lucky enough that Riptide found it worthy of publication. The idea, honestly, came from always wanting to write a character named Saint. Just for the hell of it. I have a whole list of names that honestly belong in fanfic, and one day I want to write stories around them and I do not care if it’s cheesy. There’s Echo, Eon, Rune, Forge, Scion, Viral…yeah. Yeah. I know. Don’t care. It’s fun. It’s terrible, but it’s fun and a guilty pleasure. But once I had that, I started thinking, “Okay. Who is Saint? Why?” And then that line came to me: “My name is Saint, and I kill everyone I love.”

I built an entire story to explain that opening line. And somehow in creating Grey as Saint’s foil, it became Grey’s story; so deeply Grey’s story, even if Saint’s storyline is just as important. Because Grey is a quietly bisexual man of color with depression, just as I am; because Grey survived suicide, just as I have. I don’t know how to explain why surviving suicide is a somehow intimate experience, but it was the intimacy of that experience, that memory, that was the kernel that grew into Grey, his story, and how it tangles with Saint’s.

And how would you describe it in a nutshell to readers?

It’s a story that’s about understanding the quiet pain people live with day to day; a story that basically uses the paranormal as a barely-there vehicle for a deeper look at love though depression and trauma.

I’ve seen people say they were expecting it to be more dramatically dark than it is, and I’m actually glad it’s not this lushly indulgent trek that wallows in darkness for the sake of darkness – even if I have love for stories like that, too, and gods know I’ve written a few. That’s just not what Shatterproof is. Because while there is a darkness to it, a deep and beautifully ugly and lasting pain, I need people to see that life with mental illness is not just about the drama that creates excitement in a fictional, sensationalized script or plotline. It’s a pervasive thread that stitches one day to the next in quiet ways that still bleed deep.

You included several elements like art, Haitian life, self-harm and even a fae character in Shatterproof.  All curious and intriguing in their own rights.  Was it hard to bring these all together into a cohesive story?  What part of your book did you most connect with?

Not hard at all, because here’s the thing – they aren’t separate elements. They’re just part of everyday life. I grew up in New Orleans vodou culture with a part-black, part-Native, part-Asian family who surrounded me with everything from the mogwai and xian nu to how to greet the crows each morning, and whispers of how to avoid Bawon Samedi’s watchful eye. I know traditions and songs in words that have no English translation. My life was one surrounded by art, too, and I went on to graduate art school myself; I even illustrated / designed professionally for a while. I’ve self-harmed. I’ve known people who self-harmed. I’ve survived a suicide attempt, and thought about doing it again. Hell, I even worked in healthcare for a while, and attended pre-med in uni before changing majors. To take these things as disparate plot elements that must be hard to fit together is to deny the complexity and reality of a multicultural life that links not one mythology, but many; of many multicultural lives who are made up of so much more than a single rigidly defined thematic element that shapes only one narrow, one-dimensional narrative.

It’s not blending story elements together at all.

It’s giving you a piece of my life, and I connect to all of it.

Any future works in progress you wish to share about?

Honestly, between balancing two pen names, two publishers, and my independent books, I’m doing too many things to name right now. Seriously, I’d have to write a novel to describe it all. I’m doing a lot of queerfic for the foreseeable future, though; it just kind of fell that way, since I’m coming up on the queer storylines in several of my ongoing works as both Xen Sanders and Cole McCade, and likely won’t be doing much M/F until mid-2017 or so. But I will say that I’ve signed with Riptide for another M/M set in the same universe as Shatterproof, where I’ll have a chance to really deeper explore my interpretation of the fae mythos. Hint: it involves alphahole fae rock stars, pink-haired Chinese crossdressers, one-night stands gone catastrophically wrong, quantum physics, string theory, relativity, entropy, and convergence theory.

Because I’m a giant nerd.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Xen!  Congrats on your latest release of Shatterproof.  I look forward to some quality time with Grey and Saint and their story.   

Thanks so much for having me! I really enjoyed getting the chance to talk to you, and appreciate you letting me stop by. I hope you enjoy Shatterproof, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s been involved in this book – and to everyone who has ever given my books a chance.

 

Shatterproof_600x900

About Shatterproof

Saint’s afraid to die. Grey can’t stand to live.

Grey Jean-Marcelin wants to die. He thought painting his passion—vivid portrayals of Haitian life and vodou faith—would be enough to anchor him to this world. But it isn’t. And when the mysterious man known only as Saint saves Grey from a suicide attempt, it’s more curse than blessing—until Grey discovers that Saint isn’t just an EMT. He’s a banished fae, and can only survive by draining the lives of those he loves.

All Saint needed was a simple bargain: one life willingly given for another. But as Saint’s feelings for Grey grow deeper, centuries of guilt leave him desperate to save a man who doesn’t want salvation, even if Grey’s life means Saint’s death.

When Grey’s depression consumes him, only he can decide if living is worth the struggle. Yet his choice may come too late to save his life . . . or Saint’s soul. And whatever choice he makes, it may shatter them both.

Purchase at Riptide: http://riptidepublishing.com/titles/shatterproof

About Xen Sanders

Xen Sanders is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently residing somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of the American Midwest. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant and business writer, and his nights writing genre-bending science fiction and fantasy tinged with a touch of horror and flavored by the influences of his multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual background—when he’s not being tackled by two hyperactive cats. He wavers between calling himself bisexual and calling himself queer, but no matter what word he uses, he’s a staunch advocate of LGBTQIA representation and visibility in genre fiction.

He also writes contemporary romance and erotica as Cole McCade. And while he spends more time than is healthy hiding in his writing cave instead of hanging around social media, you can generally find him in these usual haunts:

He’s recently launched the Speak Project, an online open-access platform where anyone can anonymously or openly share or read stories of abuse—a way for survivors to overcome the silencing tactics of abusers to speak out against what was done to them, and let other survivors know they’re not alone.

He also runs an advice column called Dammit, Cole, where he occasionally answers questions about everything from romance and dating to the culture of hypermasculinity, from the perspective of a male romance author:

Looking for more? You can get early access to cover reveals, blurbs, contests, and other exclusives by joining the McCade’s Marauders street team at:
• http://www.facebook.com/groups/mccadesmarauders/

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of Shatterproof, one lucky winner will receive $30 Riptide Credit and a $25 gift card to B&N or Amazon. Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on September 10, 2016. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • Debbie Haupt

    Great interview Sophia Rose and Xen. I love hearing how people pay it forward or give back and the dammit Cole column sounds amazing. I never realized how many Sexual assaults go un reported until recently. Thanks for sharing and the chance for a prize 🙂 Good luck too!!! dhaupt3 – at – gmail – dot – com

    • Thank you, Debbie! It’s always a pleasure to discover more about authors and books.

      It is a sad fact about how many sexual/domestic crimes go unreported.

  • Very interesting interview. It’s always some what of a culture shock when moving from one place to another. I moved from California, to West Virginia and then to Las Vegas. Completely different cultures and people. Congrats on your new book.
    miztik_rose@yahoo.com

    • You have zinged around the country, haven’t you, Mary? 🙂

  • Jen

    Thank you for the interview! Many moons ago, I move from Northern CA to Illinois (a couple hours outside Chicago). And it was complete culture shock for me. Plus, I hate being cold. Illinois did not last long for me…

    jen(dot)f(at)mac(dot)com

    • You’re welcome, Jen! Oh, yes that would be quite the change of pace. LOL

  • I love this interview! If his personality shines through in the book like it does here, then I need to read it.

  • Lisa S

    May I just say how amazing I think you are. And how I’d love to spend some time in your company & maybe just snag some of your knowledge. This was truly a wonderful interview.
    legacylandlisa(at)gmail(dot)com

    • Thanks for dropping by, Lisa. Xen does sound like an amazing person, right? 🙂

  • What a great interview! I love how Xen answered the questions, so candid and the F-bombs made it so enjoyable to me. LOL

    I love Chicago and Seattle, from NOLA I’m sure that the difference is notable even with the hops in between like Houston.

    • I agree, Braine. One of the best interviewees we’ve had on the blog. 🙂

  • Ami Savitri

    Thank you so much for the interview!

    amie_07(at)yahoo(dot)com

    • You’re welcome, Ami! Thanks for stopping by.

  • trix23

    Such an engaging excerpt, and Xen’s candor is really touching!

    vitajex(at)aol(dot)com

  • H.B.

    Thank you for the fantastic interview. Xan outrage/frankness brought a smile to my face XD
    humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

    • Howdy HB! Yes, I had the same reaction to Xan’s interview responses. 🙂

  • Nikolina Vukelić

    Happy to be a part of this tour, thank you for sharing!

    • Appreciate you stopping by for the tour, Nikolina!

  • What an interesting and honest interview!

  • NOLA and Seattle are two of my favorite places to visit. Thanks for sharing, it was fun getting to know author and new release!

    • My favorite part about interviews is the getting to know part.

  • LOL Bless Your Heart really is one of the most wonderful turns of phrase. Yay for the South 😀

    • Speaking ‘southern’ definitely has it’s advantages at times.

  • Ree Dee

    Thank you so much for the interview. I really enjoyed it.
    ree.dee.2014 (at) gmail (dot) com