Happy 20th Anniversary, Harry Potter!

I always wanted to be a Gryffindor, but the truth was always there under the surface, and it was much more simple. I love people too much, and I care about everyone’s feelings.
It’s actually been Hufflepuff all the way.
 
I got the first three Harry Potter books the day that “The Prisoner of Azkaban” came out – September 8, 1999, apparently. I tore through them in a short amount of time, and my world was changed. It led me to internet forums and early chat rooms for fans, it led me to create my own fan fiction, it led me to create my own fiction unrelated.”Hedwig” was part of my first email address. It brought me new friends when I moved to a new place. It brought me a sense of belonging that stuck with me until I was ready to ‘graduate Hogwarts’ and move out into the big wide world on my own two feet, and create new worlds for other people to delve into.
 
I often think about JK Rowling, on a plane or seated in an outdoor cafe, writing with cheap half-empty ballpoint pens, scrawling on napkins when she ran out of paper, and writing just to write – even when she was on welfare. She didn’t write to get herself out of welfare, but that’s exactly what happened. She wrote because she loved her story and her characters and was driven to get it done. And she’s not perfect… And the series isn’t perfect, but it’s arguably damn good. So good that it’s common household vocabulary now, and it’s the “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” of a whole new generation. Harry and Voldemort in the Forest. Hogwarts, when the walls fell.
What’s your Patronus?
What’s your wand made of?
Which House are you in?
Everybody knows their own answers to these questions. And we always will.
Twenty years later, many of us are grown and some are even raising their own kids on the world Rowling built. It’ll keep on keepin’ on.
I’m hoping to finally make it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios this fall, and taste my first butterbeer and find my wand waiting for me, and probably cry, and my Hufflepuff husband will be there with me, and we’ll probably have a lot of feelings about it all.
Something something about Hogwarts always being there to welcome us home, something something.
Cheers, everyone.

NaNoWriMo – A Chance to Grow Stronger

Every November, writers and would-be novelists all over the globe commit themselves to writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. While that sounds like an unrealistic goal at first, a little bit of math reveals that it comes down to a goal of 1,667 words per day – which is much more manageable for some. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” people say to themselves, and in October they sign up for a free account on nanowrimo.org, joining the clamoring masses on the Forums there to plan their strategy and hype themselves up for what is surely a challenge.

The goal is 50k, so the idea is usually to write as much as possible every day in November, without self-censoring, self-editing, self-doubting, or self-restricting. Write, they say. Just write. Write everything you can. When the challenge is done, when the draft is complete, you can go back and edit later. There is even a spring or summertime venture of the same structure, which they call Camp NaNoWriMo, and where they let participants choose their own goals, instead of the ‘strict’ suggestion of 50k.

There are some who poo-poo this endeavor, insisting that it is no way to become a ‘real’ writer, no genuine training for novel-writing, no real benefit to be had from this system. There are some who criticize the strategy of writing for the word count rather than the content – and who are quick to point out that in the end, on December 1st, even if you made it to 50k words you do not have a complete novel in your hands – all you have is the first draft. There is so much more work to be done after that… something the NaNo advertising tends to gloss over. However, a first draft is more than some people ever achieve, so as far as I am concerned, and it isn’t so much about Magically Climbing Everest While On Your First Time Hiking as it is about Getting Out of Your Own Way and Getting Hype About A Fun Project.

It’s subjective, I guess.

I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo. I first heard of it during my freshman year of college, and I can’t remember how it came across my radar but I remember thinking it was a suicide mission. A no-win scenario. What kind of sadists are these, I thought. And then I got curious. Was it possible? Could it be fun? I knew the play I was in was going to open in November, which meant going through tech week and performances AND classes and trying to write a totally new novel from scratch. That sounded like insanity.

So I signed up.

I started writing something – as free-flowing and seat-of-the-pants as I could get, and explored what it was like to write with no idea what was going to happen or who my characters were. It wasn’t super productive, but it was kind of fun. I got discouraged quickly, though, as my classwork piled higher and my rehearsals got longer. I left the story by the wayside and ‘quit’ my very first NaNoWriMo after a week or two.

The next time I found myself in the trenches of NaNoWriMo was the fall of 2010, after I had graduated college, and I thought: Now! Now it is time to write again. I sketched out an idea from a dream I’d had and buckled myself in for the ride. It was a crazy amount of fun, and at the end I had a silly, time-traveling story about angels and fallen angels and artists through the ages. It might go somewhere someday, it might not, but it was so much fun to write that I didn’t care. NaNo was going to become a staple for me.

I wrote again in NaNo 2011, although this time it was not fiction that I poured my words into but non-fiction. I wrote down every memory, every story, every moment I could remember about my friend Meghan, who had passed away that July. I needed a way to remember everything I possibly could about her, and writing it all down seemed the best way to do it. I wrote 60,000 words in 17 days.

In 2012, I sat down during rehearsals and performances of a holiday panto I was doing with Piccolo Theatre in Evanston (not to mention my full-time job) to write my next NaNovel. It was a fantasy, set in exotic locations, with a handful of characters of varying genders, backgrounds, and sexual preferences, and it was a lot of fun to write. It was exciting, and a little sly, and set my imagination a-runnin’. I called it On The Isle of Sound and Wonder, and after some heavy rewrites and edits, it was published by Xchyler Publishing in November 2014.

In 2013 and 2014 I skipped NaNo on account of edits, rewrites, and a handful of failed new ideas along the way. In 2015, I skipped NaNo because I got married in November. Not to mention the crippling self doubt, ‘writer’s block’, and other fun things that were all up in my brain-stuff about writing The Next Thing…

HOWEVER. That being said, I am proud to announce that I got back on the horse again after this long hiatus. Despite a 5-day-a-week day job and weekends packed with two 14-hour days working and performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, I have just completed my first Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2016! I skated in at 51k words right at the tail end of everything, and I couldn’t have done it without Tegan, Sam, Randall, and Karaline – my new NaNo Power Squad.

Although the draft of my new story is nowhere near done, it is a heckuva good start and a brand new outlook on my life as a writer. I feel completely rejuvenated, and SUPER enraptured with the project I’ve begun. I will be talking more about it on my Patreon as it develops, and I can’t wait to keep working so I can bring this story to life to its fullest potential.

No, but really – I’m reeeeeeally excited about it.

this one’s got pirates in it.

The Reader’s Best of Chicago 2016 – RUNNER UP!

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So the Chicago Reader has an annual issue where Chicagoans all over can vote (free!) on The Best of Chicago in categories like food, entertainment, sports, and more. It’s an awesome way to bring attention to the awesome things about Chicago, as proclaimed by Windy City citizens themselves.

Apparently, my novel On The Isle of Sound and Wonder was voted the runner up for Best New Novel by a Chicagoan.

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First of all – WHAT.

Second of all – EXCUSE ME.

Third of all – I literally would not have known that this happened except my lovely friend Ami posted it on my wall. THANK YOU for the alert, Ami!

 

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I am amazed and really excited about this. Thank you, mysterious benefactors voters. My love for you is ETERNAL.

Thank you!

 

Happy Birthday, Disney Odyssey!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, April 5th 2016 marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the Disney Odyssey! On the one hand, I can scarcely believe it’s already here, and on the other, we’ve only just reached #19 of the current 53. It is a little daunting, but I promise we’re aiming to pick up steam moving forward. We’ve got lots of fun extras planned for the movies yet to come, and we’re constantly finding new ways to make the posts more engaging.

As you probably know by now, I started a Patreon to continue to grow the projects I am working on, including Disney Odyssey. If you are not yet a patron, please check out the page and consider becoming one to help make the DizOdy posts bigger, better, and more awesome as we continue the journey! For a $5 contribution each month you can not only support the project and my other creations (like Warda!) but you get fun extras on the Patreon feed and access to the very special, always hilarious Audio Commentary! Part one of the Audio is our Discussion (i.e. The Facts) and part two is the Commentary (the Observations) – which is always a surprise and a really dang good time, if you ask me. Take a gander at the page and consider a contribution to help the blog keep running! 

Thank you all for following along on the Disney Odyssey, and we hope you stick around for another year! Post #19 for The Jungle Book goes live this week for the Patreon patrons, and it will go live on the blog for everyone else on Monday April 11.

Here’s some vintage photos of me (and my brother!) at Disney World to celebrate!!!


  

Dinner, Dancing, and Remembering the Titanic

You are cordially invited…

On Saturday, April 9th, 2016, I’m pleased to announce I will be participating in a very swanky and unique event. Midwest-located lovers of history and/or the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster film will be pleased to discover that there is a special re-enactment dinner taking place at the Al Ringling Mansion in Baraboo, WI.

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With a greeting from Captain Edward Smith and his officers, and a bugle call to dinner, guests will be whisked away on a romantic and poignant journey to the final dinner in First Class aboard the Titanic the night of the sinking – April 14th, 1912. Upon arrival, guests will be given a card describing which passenger they are representing for the evening – and they can choose to interact as that person or simply observe and be themselves. An exquisite eight-course Edwardian meal will be served much in the way it would have been served on the ship, and a live string quartet will play music the guests might dance to. A cast of professional actors (hey, that’s us!) will be portraying a wide spectrum of high society from the Titanic’s First Class passenger roster, including J.J. Astor and his young bride Madeleine, the “Unsinkable” Margaret Brown, Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon and his infamous fashion designer wife, Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon, and more. There will also be Captain Smith and some of the finest crew members of the White Star Line, including the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews, and the chairman of the company, J. Bruce Ismay himself.

There will be many reproduction artifacts on display, and a handful of actual artifacts from the Titanic as well – which is awful exciting. And to top it all off, Helen Benzinger (the great-granddaughter of the “Unsinkable” Margaret Brown) will be attending as a featured speaker to participate in the event. At the end of the dinner, guests will be informed who among them survived or perished, and discussion will follow regarding the aftermath of the tragic sinking (which we will not be re-enacting because wow that would be sadistic and disrespectful).

Naturally, we’re excited to wear our fancy Edwardian gowns and formal suits, but we’re also just excited to have an event to honor the memory of those lost, and to commemorate the exquisite grandeur of a time gone by. As historical re-enactors, we love exploring what it is like to live a day in the shoes of someone who lived long before ourselves, and the Titanic has long been a source of fascination for historians and enthusiasts the world over.

I’ll be there as Broadway actress and silent film star Dorothy Gibson – I can’t wait. Hers is a fascinating story. Actually all of the stories of Titanic passengers and their families are surprisingly fascinating – and incredibly moving. If you’re in the area and this sounds like your thing, we’d love to have you join us at the beautiful historic Al Ringling Mansion.

 

Titanic Dinner

Saturday April 9th

Al Ringling Mansion in Baraboo, WI

Tickets are $95 (call 608-448-7055)

Formal wear encouraged!