Category Archives: Florida

Happy MLKJr Day!

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I hope everyone is having a safe and relaxing Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, filled with inspiration and peacefulness. 🙂 Happy wishes from Florida!

Author interview tonight!

I’m excited to be a guest on tonight’s A Book and a Chat interview at 630 p.m! (That’s my Florida time — so please adjust if you don’t live on the east coast).

Please drop by to give a listen or share your thoughts and questions. I’m looking forward to chatting about From Light to Dark!

From Light to Dark

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry.

Last night I saw the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

There it was, the second half of the seventh book unfolding in front of me and then slipping away like a wisp of magic leaving a broken wand. With every event that happened on screen, I was that much closer to being done with Harry Potter forever.

Harry has been my friend for over ten years. I started reading his stories  in a Denny’s, where I would go to be alone during my lunch breaks. The real world just melted away as I snuggled up for a few chapters each afternoon. Once, a woman dashed over to my booth and tapped me on the shoulder, snapping me out of Hogwarts and back to the diner. Looking a little embarrassed, she asked, “Are you reading those, too? Aren’t they amazing?”

When the movies started, I loved sharing the fun with friends by dressing up and generally acting insane. Have you read John Scalzi’s blog about just how unique these films have been?

Yes, I'm a Hufflepuff.

To prepare for the theatrical release of one of the best of the series, my mom and I bought an audio version of Prisoner of Azkaban and listened to it together every day, remembering our favorite parts of that great story.

My brother accompanied me on a road trip to my grad school one summer, and in the hotel he hooked up a PlayStation and put in a Harry Potter game. I had fallen asleep critiquing manuscripts for class when he woke me up with a loud, “ALRIGHT!” My eyes flew open, and there he stood next to the television, one arm behind his back like a General instructing his troops, the game on pause. He pointed at the screen dramatically, tapping locations on the game map. “We have Prefects HERE, HERE, and HERE!”

Now that the books and movies are complete, we’re done. I look back on those years of joy that surrounded Harry Potter, and I know I’m really going to miss it. Of course we’ll have fun in other ways, but there’s nothing quite like sitting around with your friends and family late at night, adamantly defending Snape’s innocence to the one person who admits to being on the fence.

🙂  Oh, Snape. You’re so dreamy. Sirius, too.  /swoon

So, let me take this moment to make a desperate plea to JK Rowling:

Please write more! How about the story of Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald? Or seven books about the Marauders? We can’t really be expected to get by without any Wizarding World fiction ever again, can we? Can we???

Okay. We’ll see how that works.  🙂

In the meantime, though, what do we do? It’s easy enough to say, “Here’s a great book to read if you love Harry Potter!” but somehow I wonder whether anything can really touch the magic that Hogwarts brought to our lives.

The Wizarding World at Universal Orlando

Are you a fan who misses the Wizarding World? How are you coping? What are you reading now to get by?  🙂

Twenty Questions

Sitting in a car for hours or days on end with several other people can either be the perfect vacation or a painful exercise in maintaining composure. Sometimes it’s both.

As you may know, right now I’m on my way back from a super fun writer’s conference in Pennsylvania. The thing is, I live in Florida – and we drove.

Luckily for me, my car mates are two of my favorite people in the world, so most of the time we’re just enjoying each other’s company. However, there’s only so much we can chat about before the experience starts to seem pretty endless. When that happens, we play games!

Our favorite is 20 Questions.

Rules

Think of something. Announce whether it’s animal, mineral, or vegetable. Your friends may ask yes or no questions only. Twenty isn’t really the limit in our car; we just keep asking until we figure out what the other person is thinking of.

How to tell when you’re so tired it’s time to pull over

When you start to miss the obvious. Last night I was thinking of a pretty iconic spaceship. Keep in mind that we’re all Doctor Who fans. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I’m a mineral.

Them: Are you in your natural state?

Me: No.

Them: Are you a specific one?

Me: Yes.

Them: Are you fictional?

Me: Yes.

Them: Are you from a book?

Me: Not originally.

Them: Film?

Me: Not originally.

Them: TV show?

Me: Yes.

Them: Are you a tool?

Me: In a way.

Them: Are you a transportation device?

Me: Yes.

Them: Do you fly?

Me: Yes.

Them: *sleepy pause* Are there real-life versions of you in use outside of the show?

Me: No.

Them: *longer sleepy pause* Are you a spaceship?

Me: Yes.

Them: *even longer, sleepier pause* Are you from Star Trek?

Me: You guys must be super tired.

Any guesses what I actually was?  🙂  They did get it a few minutes later, and then we pulled over for some much-needed rest.

Beautiful Colleges

I just graduated with my master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction — for the second time!  🙂

January, 2011                                             June, 2004

In 2002, I entered the Writing Popular Fiction distance-learning program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. So began two years of pretty much constant writing, critiquing, writing, reading, and writing. I traveled to Greensburg twice a year for intensive residencies where I sat through classes on writing and fiction, and I participated in workshops on my and other classmates’ writing.

Then, in 2004, I taught at our June residency, defended my thesis (a middle grade fantasy novel), and walked down the graduation aisle to get my MA.

*wipes hands* All done.

Or was I?

In 2010, I went back. They’ve opened up the program to be an MFA, and they’re allowing those of us who missed out on a letter to return to get “F”ed, as we call it.  🙂  So that’s what I did!

This meant more intensive reading and writing — much more than the first time around. The new classes are meant to be spread out over the entire experience, not over one year as I did them, which means that 2010 was pretty insane for me. I was on a super fast track, tearing through literature faster than I can rip open a box of cookies.  🙂

It was fun — but exhausting.

Everything became worth it, though, when I defended yet another novel in front of my professors and peers, and I walked for a second time down the same graduation aisle.

In 2004, I graduated in June, when fireflies blink like little fairies around Seton Hill’s green trees. This time, I graduated in January, when snowflakes and ice cover the world outside the window.

For a Florida girl, it’s pretty exciting to visit Pennsylvania during the seasons. We don’t see snow or even many fireflies where I come from. The scenery was just another benefit of the whole thing.

Now, of course, I miss it.  🙂  I miss the classes, the structure, the people, and the beautiful place where we gathered to share stories.

Did you have a memorable college experience? What was it like?

*all photos stolen from my mother

Bragging

Today I’m going to brag about my super cool husband.  🙂

Rob played Dog in a show called “Good Dog” by William Roeder at the first annual John Goring Memorial One Act Festival. The festival ended yesterday with an awards ceremony for the best plays, performances, direction, tech, etc.

Not only did “Good Dog” take many of the awards including Best Show, but Rob won Best Actor!  🙂  He did a fantastic job, and I was so glad to see him be recognized for it.

 

Photo taken by "Good Dog" director, Bob Lipka

 

The judging must have been tough because each show had a lot to offer. These were local writers, actors, directors, and tech, all overflowing with talent and passion for homegrown theatre. My favorite kind of people.  🙂  Every show in the festival was the result of hard work, and it absolutely showed.

I can’t wait for the next productions by Playwrights’ Round Table. If you are in Central Florida, be sure to check them out! Their support for local theatre is fantastic.

Into the Woods

The Pistolsniffers went to the woods this past weekend. Check out our awesome campfire!

It was a great bonding experience for us all – when do smores fail? – but also, of course, it was a working trip for the team. More on that when the time comes.  🙂

Apart from battling insects and a bear (well, we didn’t do battle so much as cower when we heard the bear wandering around near our chairs), we also encountered one massive and artistically talented spider.

Photo taken by Rob Cunha

Welcome to Florida’s forests.

It’s pretty invigorating to be outside in the fresh air. Perfect place to get some great ideas.

Where do you go for inspiration?

A quick message from the beach

Happy Labor Day! 🙂

Tossing Old Toys: The Velveteen Rabbit

One of my favorite forms of fiction is interactive theatre for kids. Children are the best audiences; they give you instant feedback about how your play is doing. Trust me, if little kids don’t like your show, they’ll let you know right then and there by falling asleep or stuffing crayons into their mouths and screaming. If they like your show, they’ll sit still with mouths open and eyes wide, watching each actor’s every move.

When I was an undergraduate, I wrote for (and performed with, occasionally) a troupe of adults who put on plays for local children. We called ourselves Attic Players.

It remains one of my favorite college experiences, though the theatre wasn’t actually connected to my university. This was purely extracurricular. I learned a lot, and I had a wonderful time.

One of the shows I wrote is still available through Heuer Publishing for other schools and organizations to put on: my retelling of Margery Williams’ beloved story, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” This play continues to get several productions a year, and it makes me happy to think of other children getting to enjoy Williams’ wonderful tale.

That particular show is a very happy memory for me. I wrote it the semester I graduated from college and had to move back home. In fact, I wasn’t even going to be in town for the rehearsals or production. I emailed the script up to the troupe, and that was that.

It was the first time I’d written for Attic Players without being involved in the rest of the process, and I felt a little homesick for the theatre and the actors.

Every day I wondered how things were going. When the sun set outside, I felt as though I should be heading to the theatre to get to work. But they were four hours away, and, since I had already completed the script, I wasn’t really needed.

That December, the troupe called to tell me they would be starting the show, and they invited me to come watch. Thrilled and a little nervous, I got in my car and drove to Tallahassee. I had no idea how the rehearsals had gone. Would the audience enjoy it? Would there be mouths full of crayons?

I arrived and took my seat. The house (a large room upstairs from the theatre’s main stage) was packed with hyper children from several field trip groups. I held my breath. The lights above us dimmed, and the show began.

And there they were, my old colleagues playing the lines I’d written for the characters I’d described. I looked at the audience. Parents watched with nostalgic smiles. Kids sat still with wide eyes and open mouths.

The end came, and everyone cheered. I realized I was crying just a little bit.

Most likely this experience was a thousand times more magical for me than it was for anyone else.  🙂  For me it was a temporary return to a place I’d loved and had to leave. The story of the old toy that had to be thrown away suddenly meant something much more in the context of the situation. I was saying goodbye to my stage family. The sendoff they gave me was beautiful.

Now, when I receive a notice that another theatre has scheduled a run of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” I think of that day and how much respect I had for the members of that troupe. We’ve all moved on to a variety of paths, and I hope they’re doing well.  🙂

Have you been to the Wizarding World?

I’d love to tell you that I’ve been hard at work with my writing all this time. That would be true; I have been. There are several projects underway right now that I would love to tell you all about… and yet…

All I want to write about today is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

For over a month now, my husband and I have been visiting Hogsmeade and Hogwarts several days a week with my brother, his girlfriend, our friend Brent, and sometimes my mother. Since we’re all Harry Potter fans, it never gets old. Most of us are also writers (or storytellers in some way), too, so seeing such a large and excellent monument to fiction is pretty thrilling.

For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit Islands of Adventure in Orlando since the attraction opened, I’ll take you on a basic tour.

The Wizarding World is part of the larger park (Islands of Adventure) that includes other themes such as Dr. Seuss and Marvel Comics, among others. When you enter IoA, if you want to get directly to Harry Potter, you’ll take a right and pass through Seuss Landing, continuing to your left through The Lost Continent, and soon enough you’ll see the Hogwarts Express – a stationary train engine that marks the entrance to the Wizarding World. An archway above you as you walk in reads “Please Respect The Spell Limits.”

(photo by Mike Pynn)

Hogsmeade, the fictional shopping center of the British wizarding world, stands fully realized – if a bit smaller and less functional than the books and films suggested. The buildings are realistic and true to the Rowling canon, with crooked towers and smoke stacks all rising high into the air. I normally make a half-hearted joke about the fake snow that caps the rooftops in the 100-degree heat of Orlando, Florida. Then I buy some butterbeer to cool off.

Butterbeer is great. You can find it in three locations: Hog’s Head, The Three Broomsticks, and a large keg kiosk just outside Honeyduke’s. Note: there is almost always an enormous line at the butterbeer keg, and they frequently run out of frozen.

I get the frozen butterbeer because many people have remarked that the regular is too rich. It’s non-alcoholic, though you can go into the Hog’s Head pub or the Three Broomsticks restaurant (not very vegetarian-friendly!) to get more adult drinks, if you like. I’m happy with the butterbeer.

In addition to the stores listed above, Hogsmeade also includes Zonko’s, the Owl Post (where you can send mail with an actual postmark from Hogsmeade), Dervish and Banges, and Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Other storefronts are just façades, though I would love to see more open later on.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter includes three rides, two of which are repurposed from earlier IoA rides. The first you will see, on your right as you enter the attraction, is the Dragon Challenge. If you’ve been to IoA before, you’ll recognize this as Dueling Dragons. The queue is pretty neat; everything looks like the triwizard tournament as you wait to ride. I’m a fairly big wuss, so I don’t often get on big, scary rides with over-the-shoulder harnesses, so I can’t say whether the experience itself has changed since Dueling Dragons. Maybe someone can post here to share some details.

The next ride is on your right just after you walk through Hogsmeade. It used to be a simple, kid-friendly rollercoaster called Flight of the Unicorn. Now it’s the same thing, only called Flight of the Hippogriff.  🙂  This is a pretty fun, short coaster. You’ll see Hagrid’s hut and hear his voice in the queue, and you’ll see Buckbeak as the ride begins.

Finally, you’ll have reached the grand finale of the Wizarding World: Hogwarts. The entire castle rises above Hogsmeade like a watchful giant. It is brand new to Islands of Adventure, and it is impressive.

Essentially, Hogwarts is just an elaborate queue, but it is worth every minute you’ll spend waiting (and you may spend many).  Even if you don’t plan to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, treat yourself to the queue. It begins with a short walk through the castle walkway, and then you reach the outside gardens and greenhouse. If you get bored there, don’t worry. The real fun begins once you enter the castle.

Inside you will see paintings that move and talk – they are NOT cheesy – and you’ll move through your favorite parts of the castle, including Griffindor’s common room, Dumbledore’s office, and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Essential props such as the pensieve appear throughout, and you will likely need to take a turn through the queue again to see everything.

Dumbledore himself (still alive and well at this point, apparently) and Harry, Ron, and Hermione all make fun appearances to set up the ride experience for The Forbidden Journey.

This is another ride that requires over-the-shoulder harnesses, so I actually haven’t been on. My husband and brother have been stuck momentarily as the ride shut down on them – apparently a common problem, and I have heard/read many complaints of severe motion sickness from other riders. The most frequent comment I hear about this ride, however, is that it is completely awesome. If you’ve been on, will you share your thoughts?

Once you exit the ride, you enter a gift shop that would make any Harry Potter fan empty his wallet on the spot, though I’d love to see some more Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw representation.

So that’s it. I often stand in the middle of Hogsmeade and look up at the rooftops and around at the awe-struck tourists, and I wonder what it must have felt like to be JK Rowling when she stepped into the attraction for the first time. This is her world, her imagination, realized and tangible, for the rest of us Muggles to experience. That must have been amazing for her to see.

It definitely is for the fans!

Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter yet? Do you plan to?