Angela Amman

Five things: #BlogHer16 recap

Recapping conferences eludes me, though words are my favorite things. I generally have access to a cornucopia of them, but I stumble when I’m trying to parlay an experience I shared with thousands of other people, each of them with their own perspective on the event. Each BlogHer has unfolded differently for me, and each one offered opportunities, laughter, and revelations I needed, sought and appreciated, both in the moment and when I reflect on my three days in Los Angeles.

Getting inspired

BlogHer recap

As my blog transitions — or as I transition it, at a snail’s pace — to an author website, conferences become less about connecting with brands and more about reigniting a spark of inspiration. No matter what else happens during BlogHer, I always walk away with more ideas than I know what to do with and the effervescent energy to put at least a few of them into motion.

Some of my most inspiring moments this year came from: the Open Mic event hosted by Ann Imig, storytelling goddess and founding genius of Listen to Your Mother; The Pitch, where passionate entrepreneurs get feedback — and compete for a stellar prize — on their business pitches; the Voices of the Year ceremony, where authors, photographers, videographers, and tireless advocates are honored for their work — there’s Elaine with her winning piece; a lunchtime keynote with Mayim Bialik — founder of Grok Nation, neuroscientist, and a shining example of embracing exactly who you are and making a place for the things you love, admire, and champion.

Reflecting on Los Angeles

BlogHer recap

Maybe I don’t know how to navigate the city correctly, but I’ll always prefer the bustling walkability of New York to the sprawling Uber-mecca of LA. Still, the few blocks I did explore included a Sprinkles cupcake shop — one which offered BOGO cupcakes with a flash of our BlogHer badges — and the incomparable Bottega Louie. I snagged macarons for Ryan and the kids and coaxed Mandy into splitting a beauty of a raspberry Neopolitan, and I appreciated the city just a little bit more after falling into a sweetness vortex.

Appreciating sponsors

BlogHer16

The BlogHer sponsors pull out all the creative stops to interact with bloggers and social media influencers in fun ways. I didn’t even mind the yellow feathers from the Kraft Mac & Cheese boa, where I posed with two of the three best roommates I could have hoped to snag — Kristin and Leigh Ann.

As TNT prepares to launch Good Behavior, they made sure we had the chance to check out scenes from the show at their oasis of a booth. Free manicures, cushy couches, and wall murals just waiting to be colored with Sharpies. I couldn’t miss sending a little message to the fabulous Angela, who didn’t attend the conference this year, on the heels of an epic family road trip.

For the second time, I attended an event hosted by Merck for Mothers, one focused on their #EndMaternalMortality initiative. It’s unfathomable that maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States, and it’s terrifying when you hear statistics about the “near misses” that happen to women each day — one every ten minutes. I hope the conversation surrounding this issue continues — and deepens — so medical and mental maternal mortality begins to take a downward turn.

I can safely say my favorite takeaway from our conference bags came from The Artisan Group, a collective of artisans crafting beautiful things, like these earrings from Starletta Designs. Abbey has her eye on the perfectly pink gems, but I’m keeping them for myself for now.

Digging into the craft of writing

BlogHer16 recap

In between all of the meeting with friends and getting inspired and chatting with sponsors, BlogHer manages to put together several speaker tracks of sessions. My favorite this year was a panel with Jillian LaurenClaire Bidwell Smith, and Jenny Feldon, the force behind the Story & Soul writing community based in LA. Each of the authors has written a memoir, and the session was listed with a memoir focus.

Though my current passion projects are fictional, I’ve read each of the authors and hoped I could glean some tips and advice for fiction writing. I came away from the session inspired and humbled, not by the final products produced by the Story & Soul writers, but by the effort they focus on their craft. The overwhelming message was “put in the work,” which writers of any genre can pin to their vision boards and revisit when we’re feeling overwhelmed by editing, publishing, or networking.

Connecting with friends

BlogHer16 Recap

From tears and laughter in hotel rooms to chance meetings with people I’ve admired — and whose work I’ve read — for years, I feel incredibly lucky to mingle with fellow writers, bloggers, and influencers for a few days each summer. Meeting with friends, co-workers, and writing group members is consistently a highlight of the conference for me, and I was lucky enough to meet a few of my faves in person for the first time this year.

Mandy didn’t even come to BlogHer, but her amazing self took advantage of the California location to come to me, bearing gifts like Cal Poly jam and wine, but more importantly bearing the gift of finally meeting one of my closest friends and part of a trifecta of writing awesomeness that keeps me sane and keeps my fingers moving over the keyboard. We look crazy with excitement, and we were, having just sprinted across a much-too-classy-for-sprinting JW Marriott lobby to hug. We spent a few hours walking, eating desserts, talking about our current projects and the state of writing and publishing. And we went to Target, which is exactly what girlfriends do, and it felt perfect.

Tonya is one of the founders of Take Flight Social, a company that’s kindly brought me on board, and getting to talk to her in the LA air instead of over Voxer was fantastic. Kim Tracy Prince inspires me, along with Charlene Snyder Ross and a group of fabulous women who didn’t make it to the conference to join the three of us on the dance floor at the closing party.

One last thing…

Something you’ll notice is that I’m the worst at taking photos when I’m basking in exciting moments, but you can see a little more from Jennifer and Elaine, two of my friends who don’t forget to pull out their cameras when fun things are happening.

Really, one last thing…

I can’t say enough about the organization of the BlogHer conferences, because the logistics of such a large event make my head spin. The BlogHer and SheKnows teams work their tushes off all weekend — and they do it with huge smiles, taking the time to say hello even when you just know they need to run to finalize details or take care of the 1897th item on their to-do lists. I hope they know how much we appreciate their tireless work!

BlogHer16

Five Things: What I’ve been reading — and re-reading

Once upon a time, in a land pretty much exactly the same as this one, I loved reviewing books in this space. I sought out quotes, made graphics, and poured my heart into my thoughts about those books and my book recommendations.

I loved those reviews.

I love reading, pondering, and putting together something worthy of the words I’ve been gifted by the authors of books that have touched me. Unfortunately, those reviews left me with a stack of books in my “waiting to be reviewed” pile, which started to weigh down the corner of my desk with lots of pages and a smidge of guilt. I’ll get back to those reviews — someday — but for now, here’s what I thought about what I’ve read lately (in alphabetical order by title).

All the Light We Cannot See reviews

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr won a Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See, and I know I’ll revisit this novel for both the interwoven tale of Marie-Laure and Warner and for Doerr’s haunting prose. Minute details of daily life fill this novel firmly set amongst the historical facts of World War II, and the story shines like a gem refracting light through the darkness of war.

Marie-Laure loses her sight as a child, and her father, the meticulous keeper of keys for Paris’s Museum of Natural History, helps her navigate their beloved city by building a perfect model of the streets and buildings. When they’re driven from Paris and eventually separated, she must relearn her bearings. Warner Pfenning’s mechanical genius earns him a spot at a special academy away from the orphanage where he lives, right in the midst of an evil he begins to comprehend just as surely as he understands he can’t escape his position.

Eventually, the blind Marie-Laure must face monsters she can’t see, protecting more than one precious secret in her great uncle’s home in Saint-Malo. As her story winds together with Warner’s, the town of Saint-Malo cradles complicated questions that arise during wartime — and beyond.

Can people be good to each other, even when outside forces are demanding cruelty? Even more thought-provoking, perhaps, is the question of whether those kindnesses and small gestures can link together to combat cruelty in a lasting and meaningful way. Dreamlike prose depicts both the lovely and the dreadful, spotlighting that both exist in the world. In All the Light We Cannot See, the only way to reconcile the two is to embrace that dichotomy and find hope in the glimmer of goodness possessed by most people, even when they find themselves in impossible situations.

Frosted CowboyFrosted Cowboy

Frosted Cowboy by Charlene Ross is the perfect way to celebrate summer — and I don’t just mean with the title cocktail! Laney Delaney is the perfectly flawed, witty friend you’d welcome into your social circle in an instant, and Frosted Cowboy would be a welcome addition to any book club looking for a warm-weather summer read.

It’s a light-hearted, engaging story, and though romantic entanglements play a flirty, fun role in the book, there’s more at play, including when to take risks in your career and go after something with the potential to be so much more fulfilling than what you’re doing now. Laney makes mistakes that make you cringe at times, which is part of her charm, because you just know you’ve been in similar situations and made similarly questionable lapses of judgement.

Readers will root for Laney to succeed, in love — of course — but also in her fledgling business. You won’t want to put this one down once you begin.

Letters for ScarletLetters for Scarlet

This debut novel by Julie C. Gardner examines what happens when the past and the present collide, unearthing secrets that can change relationships — for better and for worse. An old high school English project literally enters Corie’s life, coaxing her to examine what she has, what she wants, and how the two of those things are connected to what she lost so many years ago. Scarlet has carved out the successful career she always wanted, but now she’s being confronted with doubts about her own aspirations, and what she might have given up by going after her dreams.

Corie and Scarlet come to life easily (Corie grades papers with a purple pen, which instantaneously endeared her to me,) and readers will be invested in their decisions almost immediately. One of the joys of the novel is how three-dimensional the secondary characters are, as well, particularly Clara. Scarlet’s coworker and friend does a little bit of scene-stealing each time she enters the story, and her comic timing brings an effervescence to an otherwise emotionally complicated story. Women’s fiction fans will enjoy Letters for Scarlet; try it with your book club this fall after the kids go back to school.

The Light Between Oceans reviews

The Light Between Oceans

M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans gutted me the first time I read it, and it gutted me anew this week. I’m seeing the film this Saturday (quick pause while I faint a little bit, both because of the movie and because I haven’t even thought about packing for BlogHer yet), and I wanted to fall into the book version of the story before seeing the adaptation.

After surviving on the Western Front in World War I, Tom Sherbourne seeks the chance to quiet his head, both literally and figuratively. A lighthouse keeper’s post promises the steady life for which he yearns, and when he marries Isabel, they seem to have forged a bond between them that thrives on their isolated lifestyle. Miscarriages and a stillborn son send waves crashing against the foundation they’ve built, until a baby comes ashore and promises a simple life of happiness — until they remember there is, indeed, life away from Janus Rock.

The steady beam of a lighthouse protects those who see it from coming to close to shore, from crashing into land they’re not able to see in the dark. For Tom and Isabel, those hidden crags are the ones that may hurt them the most. My heart ached for Tom, a man who carried survival guilt home from the war and had such a difficult time opening himself up, even to those who loved him, until he welcomed the bountiful love and trust of a child. Isabel, burned by the repeated losses of the children she desperately wants, adjusts her sense of right and wrong in a way that makes perfect sense to her — until it doesn’t any longer. Stedman puts forth heavy moral questions, and the answers Tom and Isabel seek will leave readers breathless — both with the pain and beauty found in the line separating truths and lies.

You Will Know Me reviewsYou Will Know Me

I unabashedly declared You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott to be my most-anticipated* book of the summer, and it exceeded my expectations. In just a few days, the Olympics begin, and countless eyes will follow the juxtaposition of steely reserve and bubbly but palpable power characterizing female gymnasts. Once you read this tense crime thriller from Abbott, you may never look at those athletes in the same way.

Genre dictates You Will Know Me will have a crime: the death of Ryan Beck, whose connection to the gym where Olympic-hopeful Devon Knox trains threads between many of the novel’s characters. In Abbott’s capable, unwavering hands, the plot vacillates between dread and desire as it twists and turns through Katie Knox’s lens. As Devon’s mother, Katie searches for some pulse of understanding in Ryan’s death, and the reader questions what they know over and over again. The unflinchingly — except that one time — steady and ambitious Devon anchors the story, shining a spotlight not only on the well-oiled machines that are the families of highly-competitive athletes, but the machines that are all families. Readers will question where and how family ties can be strained to their limit, and who exactly holds those ties together when they need it the most.

*Abbey will disagree about the anticipation. She had The BFG on hold for weeks, so that would be at the top of her list, but her penchant for American Girl mysteries means she might snag this from my shelf sooner than I anticipate.

What have you read lately?

Five things to read — or do

Fort MackinacOur kids don’t go back to school until next week, but I’ve watched friends and relatives send off their kids to their first days for weeks. Lots of sweet photos and stories have passed through my social media feeds, text messages, and phone calls, but none have brought tears to my eyes like that of the lovely Jamie Krug and her son, Owen. Don’t let these adorable photos fool you; Owen is a warrior — as is his mama. Please read “The Little Boy That Could. And Will.

Something about the sound of water lapping at the shore calms me and centers me like few things can. I forget how much I love it until we’re at the beach again, like we were a few weeks ago when all four of us went to Mackinaw City. My friend Shell does a lovely job of explaining “Why I’ll Always Be a Beach Girl” — and makes me wish I had more of an opportunity to be near the water.

Apply to bring a Listen to Your Mother Show to your city! The call for new cities for the 2016 Listen to Your Mother season is live, so if you’ve ever considered producing or directing a show, now’s the time to request an application. My love for LTYM isn’t a secret: the community, the storytelling, the celebration of motherhood combine for some of my most beloved days of the year. (And if you’re the producing or directing type? Find a city near you to audition or attend in 2016. You won’t regret it!)

Pie making scares me. I make amazing caramel brownies and things with cheesecake layers and can whip up banana muffins or granola bars while performing my part in a musical theater act choreographed by my seven-year old. But I haven’t tried pies. So when I saw Elaine’s “(not so perfect) Mini Peach Pies,” I knew I’d found the first pie recipe I’d attempt. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I wrote about Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson last year. Next week, her story of grief, grace, and love will be released in paperback. If you haven’t read Rare Bird yet, I can’t recommend it enough. If you’ve read it, you’ll agree the paperback version is the perfect opportunity to get this memoir into the hands of someone who needs it, whether you pass it on to someone grieving — or someone who loves someone who’s dealing with loss. Take a few minutes to watch Anna talk a little more about Rare Bird — and the little signs she sees from heaven.

Five things to read

one of my favorite takeaways from BlogHer - lots of coffee fits in this mug

one of my favorite takeaways from BlogHer – lots of coffee fits in this mug

Friday. Since I work at home, Friday shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but it does. Not to mention, “work at home” has been theoretical more than actual this summer. I thought I could wing it, and that the kids would be understanding of computer time. I pictured sitting at the kitchen table, me writing, Abbey working on summer worksheets, Dylan practicing his sight words.

We get about five or ten minutes of that at a time, and then pencils clatter to the floor — literally and figuratively, depending on the day — and the rest of my work time happens after they go to bed.

I do carve out time to read, though, books and essays and blog posts that help me keep the fount of inspiration from being completely clogged by humidity and sunscreen.

Obviously my little ones aren’t going to college quite yet, but I loved “Dear Baby Girl, My Best College Advice Is…” by Jennifer Wolfe. Sending kids off to college is such a different back to school experience, and I only have the student perspective so far. I want to tuck this away for my kids, because I have a feeling this day is going to come sooner than I can imagine.

The chill of Meg Murry’s attic bedroom lives in my heart; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is one of the children’s books that struck me profoundly. I read it again and again, and I look forward to sharing it with my children, with a bit of trepidation born from the worry they won’t love it the same way. And now, reading as a parent, I see how fitting it might be for my children to eschew it for something different — and more wholly them than part of my own childhood. Either way, I adored learning more about L’Engle and her writing in “How ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Changed Sci-Fi Forever.”

Ann Imig makes me laugh until my stomach hurts at times, but then she posts something like “Mending,” and my admiration for her writing explodes. I’m not a sewer, but I can mend a little when my kids call upon me to pull together the seams of a favorite toy or shirt they’re not quite ready to outgrow. Ann’s words have the quiet sort of power that reminds me of my favorite sewer — my Nan — who has seen so much in her lifetime and still takes the time and effort to learn new things and to shift her perspective about the world around her.

I got inspired by “Living With Kids: Barbara Rucci” on Design Mom. My friend Angela shared this last night, and I think it’s so fitting, because Angela has the type of house that really feels like her family’s home. I sometimes worry so much about figuring out how to make things neat or “correct” in our house that I lose some of the uniqueness that marks it as our family’s home. I want to remember this as we put the house back together after this summer’s renovations and choose both function and the things that make use happy here.

Deb Rox writes about pop culture in such an insightful way that I read her recaps of shows I don’t even watch. Her piece at Medium “Why We Care About Jada, Will, and the Divorce Rumor Plot Twist” is the type of pop culture writing that stays with you and makes you think about how our own narratives are shaped by what we see in the media — for better or for worse. Deb’s writing doesn’t aim to shock or to pander, and even non-pop-culture-junkies (if you do, in fact exist) will find themselves thinking about how their personal stories are shaped and supported by other stories — Hollywood’s or the neighbors’ from down the street.

What have you read and loved lately?

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