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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Playing around with French Huguenot names for the female protagonist in my new story. I want to weave some of my own lesser-known heritage into this particular story because it is of some interest. A society of persecuted people that emigrated in search of a better life.

I have not yet decided on some of the other names for the characters – perhaps Cameron for the male protagonist – or the true basis of the television show that brings them together. A rough sketch is coming together and I can’t wait to start writing. 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

I was in my teens when I first saw this phrase on a bookmark. It continues to stay with me to this day. I took the statement literally when I started running a few years ago. In February, I’ll be (hopefully) completing my 10th half marathon.

So I embark on this new journey with the same goal in mind. I want to start taking my writing craft seriously and this is the way to keep myself honest.

I invite you to come along for the ride.