(A. Birch Steen Is on Vacation and Will Return Next Week)

This week's cover is a portrait I took at the AVN porn convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. I've been to three of these conventions, for no other reason than my fascination with the industry and the cast of characters that inhabit it. In 2007, I met Cynthia Jean Gillig-Stone, a size-65NN big-bust model, XXX-film actress, and exotic dancer who went by the name Echo Valley. She also had a mainstream film role in 2008, playing Tits Hemingway in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. The gentleman with her in the cover photo is a fan—an autograph seeker. When he stopped Valley to get something signed, I stopped too. I didn't want an autograph, and instead asked for pictures. Valley was gracious, friendly, and extremely sweet. I'd see her around the convention floor, and I'd smile and wave at her. She would do the same back at me.

Fast-forward to last month: I was invited to participate in a gallery show with the theme "Love & Anguish." I immediately thought of the portraits I'd taken of porn stars. When I found my photos of Echo Valley, I did a quick internet search to see what she'd been up to. She was dead—killed on May 21, 2011. Her Pontiac had been rear-ended by a pickup truck, and she was ejected through the windshield. A state trooper reported that she had not been wearing a seat belt. With size 65NN breasts, I'm sure she couldn't wear a seat belt. What made this woman, this human being, born "Cynthia"—in a small town in Michigan, just like me—what made her famous and made her feel loved is also what killed her. I'm pretty sure her story is a proper summation of "love" and "anguish." RIP, Echo Valley. recommended