IMG_1018

Two-thirds of the former Triplets Line, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat practice stick-handling.

Sometimes I wish my hockey writing sisterhood wasn’t a group of enablers.

When I posted on our private Facebook group on Monday night that I was contemplating driving an hour and 20 minutes to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s open practice on Tuesday morning, the ladies weren’t exactly going to be called for interference on that play.

Catherine Gayle was first to point out that maybe I was asking the wrong people for that kind of favor, a statement that six others quickly agreed to. I felt like John Scott asking if he should go to the NHL All-Star Game.

With those kind of friends…I mean, I did have a legitimate excuse of wanting to see an NHL practice. What better way to research for my current writing project.

I arrived at the Brandon Ice Forum a few minutes late the following morning and the Bolts were in the middle of running some type of power play drill. I attended Tampa Bay’s Development Camp in the past but this was something different. That was a day full of practices and scrimmages. Back in college, practice lasted at least a couple of hours. I discovered that day that an NHL session only runs a little over an hour on the ice. The players, though, go full on the entire time with a few opportunities to rest as the coaching staff instructs on the intricacies of the next complicated drill.

One thing I wanted to observe was how the players interacted, but that type of focus didn’t seem to allow for much brotherly rough housing or anything outside of asking for the puck on a drill. Once or twice they applauded a particularly brilliant play or goal.

Although with such complicated drills, I think I would need to concentrate, too. I’m not sure that the World of Warcraft includes so many crazy maneuvers. As far as I could tell, the Lightning worked on power plays, five-on-five and even three-on-three situations. The last drill was the most complicated. It seemed as though the players were switching lines mid-rush. I was dizzy watching.

IMG_0990

Head Coach Jon Cooper (standing, upper right) gathers the troops.

Practice ended with the usual fire circle. Instead of singing “Kumbaya” this one ended with a shootout twist. Fresh off a joint trip to the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, where their Atlantic lost to the Pacific in the final, Captain Steven Stamkos scored top shelf, glove side on goalie Ben Bishop.

The players split up soon after, working on their own skills. One particular drill that I know I would have flunked after my recent failure at PNC Arena was the stick-handling obstacle course that Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Killorn and Brian Boyle conquered. I still don’t know how they knew which puck was theirs given that they used more pucks instead of cones.

More interesting than the practice itself was the player’s interaction with the few fans that had attended the practice. Leaving the ice, they stopped for autographing. One little girl had Ryan Callahan sign a puck he threw to her at a game last year and she received a fist bump from Killorn.

Brian Boyle Injury

Brian Boyle reassures a young fan by comparing pinky injuries.

My favorite moment was Boyle comparing war injuries with a young boy wearing a splint on his pinky. The kid had slammed the digit in a car door and Boyle offered his condolences, explaining that he’d broken his multiple times.

I think I walked away with plenty of insight so maybe peer pressure isn’t so bad after all.

(Please note that I will not be posting again until the week of February 14 because I will be cruising with Darth Vader in the Caribbean.)

IMG_0973

Fun with Cedric Paquette and Victor Hedman at the 2nd Annual Bolts Family Carnival

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a traitor to my Carolina Hurricanes, but to be fair, thanks to the new alignment in the National Hockey League, I see them play live at most twice a year unless I happen to go to Raleigh for one reason or another.

Because I live in Central Florida (and I only recently opted to buy the Center Ice package to see my beloved Canes on a nightly basis), I became an avid watcher of the Tampa Bay Lightning by default. Of course, that also meant becoming very familiar with their players. No contempt here.

It’s become tradition to attend a couple of live games at the Bolts’ Amalie Arena each year, although at least one time I’m inclined to wear red and cheer for the opposing team – Carolina, of course. I have also gone to the Bay Area to see the Lightning Development Camp in July, participate in the pre-season Fan Fest and run in the Bolts 5K.

I had such a great time at the Bolts Family Carnival in 2015 that I pulled my mother and a friend into joining me for the event this year. Like the Skate with the Canes I attended earlier in January, this day gives you the opportunity to meet the player’s off the ice. Although to be fair, this particular event wasn’t as well organized and unless you purchase separate meet-and-greet tickets for specific guys, you aren’t guaranteed to see anyone specific.

Fans – 3,200 was the announced number – packed the Amalie Arena floor from the open of the event. We hopped into the short line for photos with Nikita Kucherov, arguably the Lightning’s most prolific scorer this season (sorry, Stamkos). But he was in the penalty box of all places. I then joined my friend in line to throw bean bags at milk bottles and say hello to her favorite player Brian Boyle. Not fair to compete against a former baseball player, but it was fun.

Last year, I spent the extra money – which does go to the Lightning Foundation charity – to assure myself I would see my favorite Valtteri Filppula. This time, I needed Ryan Callahan’s signature to complete the photo that I’d taken at a previous event so I bought the extra ticket for him and I surprised my mother with the ticket to see her Bolt of choice Tyler Johnson.

Val and Cally

Spinning the wheel with Valtteri Filppula and sharing a laugh with Ryan Callahan

Callahan was exactly like I thought he’d be – personable and funny. I told him I’d been waiting 18 months to have him sign the photo. He said if I truly wanted it to be complete I’d need to find goalie Evgeny Nabakov, who retired from the NHL after being traded back to San Jose last winter. (The top of Nabakov’s helmet is in the bottom corner.)

Autographs

Finished product – even if Nabakov’s signature is still missing.

Johnson was also very sweet to my mother. So I have to thank him for that. The lines moved very quickly at the suite level so we were able to rejoin my friend downstairs to spin-the-wheel with Filppula. I don’t know if it’s the Finnish demeanor (or that smile) but he certainly makes you feel comfortable enough to even attempt (and destroy) the Finnish language.

After losing 2-0 thanks to an own goal, I really wanted a table hockey rematch with Filppula but had to cap off the day with a quick five-minute game of scoreless table hockey against a couple of willing fans instead.

Guess, I need to wait for 2017 for that rematch.

Table Hockey with Fil

Maybe a rematch next year?

In part one of my Skate with the Canes recap, I talked about the first of three sessions that allowed for a lot of interaction with the players, including my some of my favorites – Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Eddie Lack and Kris Versteeg.

The second session of the day didn’t allow for as much one-on-one time with players, but I did have the chance to tell rookie Noah Hanifin that I bought my skates at Medford Square Sporting Goods long before he was even born. (And, yes, that makes me feel very old!)

Hanifin was one of four players posing for a group photo in the team’s weight room. I snuck in between Riley Nash and Brett Pesce while Brad Malone was on end opposite from Noah for what could have substituted for an old school photo. Everyone is so prim and proper.

Locker Room Photos

Locker Room Photo sessions with Captain Eric Staal and the boys.

The second photo op featured me sandwiched between Victor Rask and Eric Staal with Michal Jordan and Brock McGinn as bookends. As much as I enjoyed seeing the locker room area with all its murals and hockey equipment, it wasn’t really a highlight of the day. Honestly, I was shocked at how small the area is in comparison to other NHL and college locker rooms I’ve seen. I remember even the visitor’s at the old Capitals arena in Landover, Md. had larger accommodations.

The final 40 minutes was an autograph session with the remaining eight players and also included a brief opportunity to meet and greet the Carolina Hurricanes broadcast crew. I’ve listened to Chuck Kaiton on the radio and John Forslund as the television play-by-play since the team was in Hartford so I jumped at the chance to say hello. Forslund and I also have the Springfield Falcons in common so we reminisced about my old boss there. When I introduced myself to the Canes color analyst Tripp Tracy, I told him we had met before, that in fact, I interviewed both he and his roommate Jason Karmanos (who is the assistant general manager in Pittsburgh) twice in college. Michelle McMahon also remembered me from our interview during the 5K back in September.

Canes Broadcast

Locker Room Photo sessions with Captain Eric Staal and the boys.

Finally, we were able to step up to the tables to meet the players. I wished Phillip Di Giuseppe well as he was recuperating from a concussion at the time. He is such a spectacular addition to the Skinner and Rask line. I told John Michael-Liles, another favorite, that we’d come up from Florida and would see him in Tampa on March 5 when the Canes play the Bolts, but I was so angry later that I never took a photo with those two. Elias Lindholm and Cam Ward rounded out that four.

Skate with the Canes 2

Selfies with (clockwise from top left) Andrej Nestrasil and Jay McClement, Cam Ward and Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin. Plus a jersey worth of signatures.

The second table was Andrej Nestrasil and Jay McClement. I borrowed Nesty’s long arms for a selfie before moving on to Justin Faulk and lastly, Jaccob Slavin. I don’t think poor Slavin understands how to take a selfie.

Skate with the Canes may be a benefit for the Hurricanes Kids and Community Foundation but I’m not entirely certain that I didn’t benefit from the experience myself. I’d love to make it an annual trip to Raleigh.

Disbelief.

I’m pinching myself in between moments of staring at the lock screen on my iPhone.

Two weeks later, I still question whether I truly skated with my Carolina Hurricanes, but here I am wearing the signed jersey (that’s two sizes too big) and staring at this particular picture. Me. Sitting on the visiting bench at PNC Arena. Next to my favorite player Jeff Skinner.

IMG_0618

Hanging with my favorite player Jeff Skinner.

Pardon while I squeal in glee.

A little background…I’ve been a Carolina Hurricanes fan since they wore blue and green and were called the Hartford Whalers. And ever since I heard about the Skate with Canes event, I wanted to buy a ticket and participate. I mean, it’s the chance for fans to get close to the team for the afternoon, participating in three activities each with a different set of players at each station.

As part of the silver group, our first stop was the skate. The opportunity to skate on NHL ice. Serious quality, fresh NHL ice especially because we were the first group. Even if I wasn’t there with my boys in the red and white, still the chance of a lifetime.

I bumped into Chris Terry first – almost literally. We took a quick selfie but then I noticed Skinner as I made a loop at center ice, filming each slide of my blades for posterity as they pass over the PNC Arena logo. I headed straight over to the visitor’s bench to hop in the photo line. I’ve been a fan of Skinner’s since his rookie season when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. The guy can skate and has some serious skill with the puck. (I don’t know that I’ve forgiven the league for not awarding him the NHL Player of the Week when he had two hat tricks earlier in the season.)

I was also able to catch Jordan Staal in the penalty box – not that he spends a lot of time there usually – and Kris Versteeg was hanging out at center ice. I can say that I became a fan of “Steeger” that day. Such a laidback guy, but I wouldn’t expect any less of a Lethbridge boy.

Skate With the Canes 1

With (clockwise from top left) Chris Terry, Jordan Staal, Kris Versteeg and Ron Hainsey

Before we moved on to the locker room. I also tried my luck at stickhandling and shooting. Not many times, you have the opportunity to shoot on an NHL goalie. Eddie Lack was a very helpful coach, pointing out when I left the puck at the last cone – how embarrassing. Once I retrieved it, I shot and scored!!! I wasn’t as lucky against defenseman Ron Hainsey, missing the net entirely. His comment: “You have to dump the puck in sometimes.” Indeed.

Eddie Lack

She shoots, she scores! Sorry, Eddie.

Stay tuned for the second part of my recap to be posted tomorrow. I survived the Canes locker room and had a reunion with Tripp Tracy, John Forslund and Michelle McMahon before the player autograph session.

Earlier this summer – on July 22, we said goodbye to our beloved 20-year-old black and white cat Rhett. He was a delightful boy that my mother adopted at 4 months old from the humane society in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He and I were very close but I never imagined how difficult it would be to lose him. Recently, I had become his caregiver when my mother was away on her worldly adventures so he latched onto me.

Rhett

Selfie with Rhett, always the personality, on the Monday before we had to say goodbye.

 

We always knew that we would open our home to another cat when Rhetty passed. Enter Phasma and she has an interesting history.

Her original owner, a homeless woman who owned three other cats, gave her the name “Susie”. She spent the first four months of her life in the homeless camp, living in a pet crate that she left only to be walked on a leash attached to a heavy dog collar. When her first owner obtained housing but couldn’t take her, “Susie” found a foster home with the local rescue group Cats-Can, Inc., which is where I discovered her at an adoption event in August – a month to the day we lost Rhetty.

Phasma with Bunny

Phasma cuddling her favorite bunny toy during the first week in her new home.

Rhett was named after the mascot at my alma mater and as much as I toyed with calling my new companion Scarlet, I  leaned on my geek roots. For the first week, she was called Carter after my favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but it didn’t seem like the right fit. Instead, I returned to my original fandom.

Thus the idea to call her Phasma after the chrome-plated stormtrooper played by Gwendoline Christie in Star Wars: The Force Awakens film. She was born in December, though no one can say for certain what day. And it’s only fitting then that we decided to officially celebrate her birthday on December 18. I celebrate my fourth month as Phasma’s human later on that weekend.

Phasma the Geek

Phasma and I enjoy similar fandoms. She enjoys watching the original Star Wars trilogy and I caught her staring adoringly at Captain America.

Phasma sleeps with me at night, although I wish she allowed me to sleep in later than 5am. She loves her bunny toy that “Aunt Steph” gave her the day she was adopted and she seems to have an affinity for all things Star Wars and Captain America. I’d say it’s a match made in heaven.

Phasma Nap

Phasma celebrates her birthday week by napping on a blanket bearing her Star Wars namesake.

Summer 1978. A father took his five-year-old daughter to see Star Wars. It was called Star Wars then. No episode count. No subtitle. But there was certainly no hope (much a less a new one) for me when that young girl left that theatre…I was in love with George Lucas’ vision of a galaxy far, far away.

Mark C6

My inner five-year-old was squealing when I met my first screen crush, Mark Hamill, at Star Wars Celebration VI.

Luke Skywalker was my first crush. How cool was he? An x-wing pilot that wielded a pretty damn cool looking lightsaber. That changed in 1980, when I decided I was better off with a scoundrel like his buddy Han Solo. Sorry, Luke, but the stuck-up,half-witted nerf herder wins – even if he is scruffy-looking and only carries a blaster.

What I really wanted, though, was to BE Princess Leia. She wasn’t a damsel in distress waiting for the prince to rescue her. She stood up to her captors, even a foreboding figure in a black suit with an intimidating voice and serious anger management problems.

One of my favorite moments was in the detention block when she took charge of her own rescue mission. “Someone has to save our skins.” Loved that line.

I still remember role-playing Star Wars with the neighborhood kids before Kenner released any action figures. Of course, when the action figures debuted, one poor stormtrooper fell into the garbage compactor and I believe the “dianoga” swallowed him. My friends’ parents weren’t too happy about it when the guest room toilet overflowed days later.

Leia Halloween

I dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween in 1979 before cosplay was cool. Mom made the famous buns out of a pair of damage Mickey ears and pom-poms. (My sister is the scary pink clown.)

Leia continued to be a role model throughout the trilogy even as she fell in love with a space pirate from Corellia and became a slave to a slobbery blob on Tatooine. I couldn’t have been prouder when she once again rescued herself by strangling Jabba the Hutt at the Pit of Carkoon.

Carrie Fisher

I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher herself at Celebration V. This was pre-glitter days. I admire her writing now as much as the younger me looked up to Leia and told her so.

 

Today marks one week until the official release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I canNOT wait until  11pm on Thursday when my friend Alli and I take our seats in the theatre and wait (im)patiently for that telltale yellow crawl, indicating a new adventure in a galaxy far, far away is about to begin.

It’s like a school reunion. I can’t wait to see what my old friends have been doing the last 30-plus years but I also think it’s time to make some new acquaintances, too.

Okay, I believe I’m fully recovered from the craziness that was the Romance Writer’s of America Conference. Or at least enough that I can speak intelligently about what I learned from the whole experience.

In my pre-conference blog post, I talked about two goals I wanted to accomplish at the convention: networking and learning. Check and check.

As an RWA conference virgin, I wore a bright orange ribbon on the bottom of my badge that all but screamed “first timer”. Starting a conversation was easy with that, even at the book signings, with the most frequently asked question being whether or not I felt overwhelmed by the experience. Had it been my first national conference, I probably would have said yes, but I was at the 2011 RT Book Lover’s Convention. This was fairly tame compared to that madness.

Despite the fact that there were 2,000 attendees in Atlanta, I made so many connections with new and old friends. My online classmate Colleen Hampton and I bumped into each other at the conclusion of the orientation and spent a great majority of the weekend at the same seminars. So amazing to find a kindred spirit. (You can check out her blog here.)

Spirits were also the topic of conversation when I bumped into Cynthia Eden again. We were on a ghost tour together in St. Augustine during Old City, New Blood and we did some reminiscing about the blue orb that showed up on my camera. I also found Dianne Love – another fellow ghosthunter – at one of the publisher signings.

 Yes, I took advantage of as many of the publisher signings as I could without jeopardizing my learning experience and came away with over 60 books! Those signings also provided one-on-one time with my favorite authors. I spoke with Roni Loren about my crush on Jace and Andre from Melt Into You and discussed the merits of Cade and Garrick with Cora Carmack. I even briefly talked to the queen of romance herself – Nora Roberts – when she autographed a book for a co-worker.

Despite what you may think after hearing the collection of books I walked away with, I did attend as many workshops as I could and I appreciated that such a wide range of topics were covered – from craft to business to writer’s life. Among my favorite tips:

– Write each character’s backstory and use bits and pieces throughout the novel. (Susan Elizabeth Phillips).

-The stronger the antagonist. The stronger the protagonist. (Colleen Thompson)

-Make a soundtrack for your WIP and listen to it throughout your day to keep your book top of mind. (Ava Malone)

-Start chapter one, write the end then write the three turning points to keep momentum. (Erin Quinn)

-It’s the character who tells the story not the author. (Robin Perini)

-No one can lay on your computer and tell you to stop – except your cat. (Kathy Higgins)

 Of course, one thought that echoed throughout the weekend by authors and panelists alike was to write what you want to read. I think that is the most valuable advice I can took from the experience. 

Keep watch here in the coming weeks for my post on the New Adult discussion at RWA. 

My muse has been hibernating of late even after a jolt of creativity during the one-day SCBWI young adult writing seminar in June. I blame the summer heat and four weekends worth of Star Wars brainwashing courtesy of Disney.

I also spent a month doing beta work on the upcoming new adult werewolf novel by Adrianne James called The Tempering.

This week, though, no excuses. I’m putting my muse on notice because we’re going to the 2013 RWA Convention in Atlanta.

In 2011, I attended the RT Convention in Los Angeles, but I understand that the RWA event is more about the business of writing and less about electing the next romance cover model.  With that in mind, and thanks to Angela Quarles blog post here, I have set forth some expectations:

1. Networking

I am going to Atlanta armed with the same business cards that have served me well since Old City New Blood back in February. I want to return home with only half the box remaining. Rather than sequester myself in the hotel room, I’m going to spend any downtime in the lobby. I want to meet some of these people whose writing I’ve admired (because I have been inhaling books lately to the chagrin of the characters in my own head). These are the same people who have inspired me – Roni Loren, Cora Carmack, Katie McGarry. There are also an online classmate and a few Twitter friends I want to meet. Who knows, I might bump into some old friends from RT, too.

2. Learning by Osmosis

Remember that old elementary school experiment with the celery and the blue water? That vegetable stalk is me over the three-days of the conference. About a month ago, I went through the panel schedule and trimmed it according to my interests. Now my top priorities are highlighted, including the New Adult and Young Adult panels, and I even have my second and third choices because you never know if a room will be overcapacity. I want to take it all in – or at least as much as possible.

Of course, another perk is the signing events and the goody room. I will be finding time for those pursuits and maybe I’ll even find a moment or two to work on the hockey novel or start plotting the tennis one. Who needs sleep? I can wait until I arrive back home for that. 

What are some of your convention hints?

Authors are often asked what motivates them to write a specific story. For some, it’s a dream. For others, music is the muse of choice, so much so that they are quick to offer the playlists they used as background music either as an appendix or on a website.

I admit to falling into the latter category myself but often, though, I think it’s difficult to realize the effect that our own relationship to the music has on our muse.

Last weekend, I finally had the pleasure of seeing my favorite band – Keane. I can hear a few you stateside asking, “Who?” Unfortunately, the quartet hasn’t enjoyed the notoriety here in the U.S. like it has in other parts of the world where they play to arenas and stadiums. The fans who do follow the band are cult-like in our devotion. In Atlanta, one woman came from Chile specifically to see the band and almost the entire front row, myself included, was from Florida.

This show was at the Tabernacle, a converted Baptist Church – talk about a religious experience! Midway through the group’s set of 21 songs, lead singer Tom Chaplin sat at the keyboard across the stage from his longtime bandmate Tim Rice-Oxley, who was at another keyboard. Tom spoke about one of Keane’s darkest moments – his own downward spiral into drug addiction and subsequent rehab then they began “Hamburg Song.”

Keane has profoundly influenced my own writing and my story playlists feature the band prominently. The music covers of myriad of character emotions. If a song is more upbeat, the lyrics still contain enough angst to fuel half dozen brooding Bella Swans, whiny Luke Skywalkers or, in the case of my current novel, Genevieve Matthews. The slower songs are haunting in their composition and “Hamburg Song” falls into this latter category.

For me, it’s all about friendship and the helplessness a person feels when you watch a friend destroy himself. The melody begins with the echo of an organ before Tom’s crisp voice enters (lyrics at Keane’s site here.)

To see this song performed live brought me to tears by the second verse. I realized then that I wanted to bring that type of tangible emotion to my characters and their relationships. I wanted to pick up a pen and start writing.

Love that kind of inspiration!

The writing platform that is.

It is tough to express what it is you want to accomplish with your writing, especially when you only have 250 words to accomplish the feat. I was able to complete the task and post it earlier today to the class I’m taking online for the next four weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing further research on the Genevieve character I am trying to flesh out for my new novel as well. She certainly has a mind of her own already. Now I have to figure out this male protagonist.