End of an Era

I don’t remember much of my life before Harry Potter, mostly because there isn’t much to remember. I was 8 when my sister first tried to get me to read it, and because I’d never read a novel before, I didn’t finish that bad boy until I was 9. But once I finished the first installment, books quickly became the loves of my life, and I’ve never looked back.

I have always felt so lucky to have grown up in the Potter Generation—falling in love with the books as a child, being 11 when I saw the first film, being the same age as the trio as they grew too. My life has always been bound to this book series. Hell, more than anything, it is J.K. Rowling who first inspired me to pick up a pen and tell my own stories. But there was one element of the Potter experience that like a good wine, only got better with age, and that was my experience with MuggleNet.com.

I must have been 10 the first time I came upon it. I didn’t even know the word fandom then. Social media did not yet exist. But MuggleNet did, and my love of that site and the feeling it gave me a sense of belonging that I had never felt anywhere else. In school then, being a nerd wasn’t cool. I got made fun of for carrying around books that were hundreds of pages. I was called a loser for daring to believe in a story about witches and wizards. But when I logged on MuggleNet, people from around the world were as excited as me. They were teaching me how to make Butterbeer, freaking out about who got cast in their favorite roles, and there was speculation for days about how each of the books would turn out before they were released. It was the closest I’ve ever come to witnessing real magic.

So when I graduated college, and got my internship with MuggleNet, it was a dream come true. I’d lived for their in depth theories, always loved their memes, and it was an unfulfilled item on my bucket list to see a live MuggleCast show. It was the most incredible thing watching the friends across the internet that I’d never met start to become real people who were there for me when times got darkest. When I became staff on November 3rd, 2013 (Sirius Black’s birthday), you’d have thought I got an actual acceptance letter to Hogwarts. That was also the year we learned Fantastic Beasts was happening. I remember making some cheesy graphic called us The Fandom That Lived. It was everything.

The last five years with them have taken me from the Studio Tour in London where I opened the doors to the Great Hall, to the cafe in Edinburgh where Jo wrote the books. They’ve put me on panels at New York and San Diego’s Comic Cons, sent me on boat parties for the SyFy channel, and got me to the red carpet premiere of Fantastic Beasts. ​(Where with my own eyes, I saw Jo in real life!) I have watched people come and go, but have also made friends that I know will be with me ride or die for life. But one of the most surreal moments came last summer, when I attended the Nineteen Years Later event on Sept 1st.

I thrilled to be there because of the significance to the books, but that night also was a night in which I felt like I came full circle as a creator. Remember that bucket list item I mentioned? (It was seeing a MuggleCast live show, in case you forgot already.) They did a show that night, and so even though it has been years since I have listened to their show, having this moment happen on such an auspicious day was the thing that finally made me cry from joy. (For the first time that night, anyway. There were lots of happy tears. Looking at you Cheyenne… 👀👀)

But what made it so astronomically unreal, was that not only did I finally get to witness my fave podcasters from childhood do a show, but I actually had several people come up to me and say the phrase, “Are you Elayna from SpeakBeasty?” One of them asked to take a photo with me, and I damn near lost my shit entirely. So basically, on the night I saw people who inspired me, I met people inspired by me. That folks, is the dream.

By now you are probably wondering why I’m spending a random Thursday gushing about MuggleNet being basically the best thing to ever happen to me. But it is because as of this week, I did something I honestly never thought I would have the Gryffindor guts to do, and that was step down from my role on the Social Media Team and as a Producer of SpeakBeasty.

While MuggleNet has given me, like, all the top five best moments of my life, I have come to a point in time where I am coming into my own as a creator. Years and years worth of collaborating on projects and helping others create content has been the honor and joy of my life. But as I began to in my post My Turn, (where I spoke on chasing my publishing dreams) it became apparent that I no longer had the kind of time to commit to something that was as big a responsibility as MuggleNet had become, while still focusing on my own work. It breaks my heart to walk away from something that has meant universes to me, but like Harry, I have to know when its time to pursue my own destiny. This quote from the fourth Potter film said it best…

Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.

When I look at the two paths I can take, the one where I go off on my own and try to chase my dreams of being a writer is terrifying and scary. Continuing to stay in my fandom bubble while my dreams are put aside would be the easier, safer road. I am so goddamn scared to do this. But the line which follows the above quote reminds…

But remember this: You have friends here. You’re not alone.

MuggleNet has always been home, and the friends I have made there will always be family. And though it is the end of an era of me working for them, by leaving, a new era begins of working for myself, with my beautiful magical friends I’ve made still be my side, reminding me I have the strength to do this.

Thank you MuggleNet. Thank you for making my life magical… always…

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Newt Wouldn’t Stand For It

Most of the pieces I do for this blog are pieces about my personal life, my writings, and things I’m generally fangirly about. But with this piece, I hope to go a bit deeper than the usual fare to deliver you some musings on a topic I feel really strongly about, which relates to a certain franchise about certain beasts that may or may not be fantastic.

With the news dropping recently about the title of the Fantastic Beasts sequel, fans have an exciting number of things to talk about. The first image of the cast was released, accompanied by a photo showing several beloved faces from the first film (#TeamNewtina & #TeamJacquennie), and introduces several new characters that so far, we’ve only speculated about. (DUMBLEDORE’S GOT ME SHOOK) Fan reactions are running the gamut from severely fangirling to feeling completely underwhelmed. We really went in on our feelings in the most recent episode of the podcast I co-produce, SpeakBeastyBut there is one reaction that just keeps popping up, and its one I happen to agree with…

It hasn’t even been a month since Kevin Spacey was dropped from Ridley Scott’s film (which comes out next month by the way) due to accusations from Anthony Rapp and many others. Harvey Weinstein’s company is in shambles following the ever-growing list of allegations against him. The #MeToo movement is still very fresh on everyone’s mind. So one has to wonder how in the hell a film written by J.K. Rowlinga woman who has always stood for justice and equalitycan possibly still be alright with featuring Depp in this role.

As the tweet above points out, the fact that the film itself is called The Crimes of Grindelwald and stars a known abuser just feels like some alternate universe joke that you didn’t think could be possible. Yet this is our reality. We’re exactly one year out from release, with the film still in production. But here we are, featuring this man’s character in the title of the film, and prominently in the promo poster. It is unreal, upsetting, and in my opinion, unacceptable.

Johnny Depp has starred in many films I’ve loved and enjoyed. He used to be one of my favorite actors. He has proven to be an incredibly talented and versatile actor. I can’t deny that. But how can I, and the entire WB team it seems, sit back and forget about the circumstances that surrounded his divorce with Amber Heard? Yes, she settled and withdrew her case, but she then used her settlement amount and donated it entirely (all $7 million of it) to charities supporting abused women and a children’s hospital. Some have argued she falsified these claims just for the money and to tear him down, but that argument goes out the window when you realize she didn’t keep a dime of the settlement, and his career is going just fine.

Domestic abuse is ignored, despite the unbelievable frequency with which it occurs. We cannot as a society condemn sexual assault as vehemently as we are right now while turning a blind eye to domestic violence. They are both plagues of our society. They both are inexcusable.

Harry Potter, and by extension, Fantastic Beasts, is a guiding light in the lives of so many people. It is a beacon in the darkness. It is a story we connect with and which has taught us to treat others with kindness, and that the weapon we have is love. For a franchise with such a beautiful foundation, it feels wrong to build upon it with a star who has shown himself to be antithetical to everything it stands for.

Jo shouldn’t stand for it. Harry and Newt certainly wouldn’t stand for it. So why should we?

So if Christopher Plummer can get to a studio and make reshoots happen for All the Money in the World mere weeks before it drops into theaters, there is no reason that Grindelwald’s sequences could not be reshot with a new actor before the film’s release. It would ease the pain of the many survivors of domestic abuse who are fans of the series, and frankly, I think it would send a bold statement to Hollywood and the world that just because you’re famous, you can’t get away with abusing someone.

And while Jo and others may joke that they don’t cast movies, as the film’s writer and producer, I believe she holds enough influence that she could make something like this happen. She has always used the power of her words to do what’s right. It is my hope that she uses that power to do the right thing once more and condemn this sort of violence.

A Million Things I Haven’t Done

Way back in the day, when I was a wee 13 year old, I had a Xanga. If you don’t know what Xanga is, I’ll just be over here dusting off my cobwebs and trying not to feel ancient. If you are in the know, you know that it pre-dates Insta, Twitter, even Facebook. It was a blogging site that for some reason, I adored, and it was my first foray into the blogging world. I used to write on that baby all the time, even up until college, letting it serve as a means of chronicling my life and years. And so, as I reflect back on how much I miss than dang blog, I thought I’d bring back an old tradition, which was writing just before my birthday about everything I’d done in the past year, and then looking ahead to what comes next.

So 26.

What a damn year, yo. Let’s break down some of the highlights, starting with last year and working up to the most recent highlights…

OCTOBER 2016
Mere weeks after turning 26, I went to my first New York Comic Con, where I proceeded to meet Guillermo del Toro, Ron Pearlmean, Steven Yeun, Andy Serkis, and this little guy you may have heard of named STAN F**KING LEE. *breathes a moment* Sorry. I get carried away about that last one. We also hosted our first live show for SpeakBeasty at that con, which was unreal and magical and definitely didn’t make me cry. (Narrator voice: she definitely DID.)

NOVEMBER & DECEMBER 2016
As any American without a MAGA hat will tell you, November was hard. Gut wrenching, heartbreaking, soul crushing hard. I went from standing in the shadow of Independence Hall the night before the election, hearing the Obama’s and the Clinton’s speak, thinking, this is it. History is happening right in front of me. I’m here the night before the first woman president gets elected. As we all know, the story didn’t pan out that way, and that has led to our very frightening current climate. To add insult to injury, the depression I experienced that month was so intense, that I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo.

But, because my life is weird like that, there was one thing that happened the day after the election that managed to be a beacon in the darkness. A patronus memory in the making, if you will. For on November 9th and 10th, I got to see an advanced press screening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and I got to cover the goddamn red carpet, where I saw J.K. Rowling in person. Yeah. I don’t talk about this moment of my life enough. But it definitely happened, and no fronting whatsoever, I SOBBED. I wish I’d gotten a picture with her or a signature or said hey thanks for my childhood and life and stuff, but that’s an adventure for another day. 😉 Seeing her was enough to turn on the light even in the darkest of times.

Oh, and I saw Hamilton. That happened. #StillNotOverIt

JANUARY 2017
It’s true what they say that when one door closes, another one opens. The only thing of note that went down during this month was finding out my short story wasn’t going to be published by Inkshares, and subsequently entering it to be published in a literary magazine, which led to…..

FEBRUARY & MARCH 2017
The month I found out/got my first work of my life legitimately published. I still look at my copy of Wizards in Space sometimes, in sheer disbelief that it exists. That my story is printed within its pages, and that strangers out there somewhere who I may never meet have heard a story I had to tell. And apparently at NerdCon: Nerdfighteria, John Green bought a copy of the mag, which means that there’s a small chance John Green has read something I wrote. Being 26 could have dropped the mic here and been fine cause IT DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN THAT KIDS. (Or does it???)

APRIL & MAY 2017
As if getting a story published wasn’t enough, these two months finally saw me getting a new job, the job I’d honestly been wanting ever since graduating college and starting to work at the company I’m with. It’s not a dream job, nor a job I plan to stay at forever, but its the first time in my life that I have ever made a livable wage. I’m by no means making big bucks or anything, but it allows me to function more like a normal person, and man, it sounds insane to say, but being a person without wanting to die every minute because of financial stress is just bliss, I tell you.

JUNE/JULY 2017
Much of this summer blurs together, since most of it was spent doing one of two things–being at the new job, or working on the rewrite for They Are the Last. I made a lot of progress during these summer months, taking the story a bit slower and steadier without the worry of a publishing campaign looming over my every moment. July and August blazed by as I worked lots of extra hours and then spent what weekends I could stealing away to cafes to write. I also got a lot more into my love of poetry, which led to me doing my first spoken word event.

AUGUST 2017
This one was a bit of a month, as I finally moved into a new apartment and at long last, started getting treatment for my anxiety and depression. These two things happening at just about the same time made for a really interesting combination, and as exhausting as the move was (I managed to sprain an ankle the day I was originally supposed to) it was a process I needed. It was the closing of a door, while opening a shiny new one. It was a sign of progress that I desperately needed to feel like I’m moving forward with my life. And the medication has honestly been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. I’m finally starting to manage my conditions, in a way that doesn’t rip me apart as much as it used to. It’s been incredible.

SEPTEMBER 2017
Only 19 days of this month, and already, unparalleled moments and memories I’ll treasure forever. My vacation to Orlando to attend MuggleNet LIVE 19 Years Later was too unbelievable to comprehend. I spent a magical day at Disney with a number of my SpeakBeasty friends, ushered in the only canon date in Harry Potter that fans have been able to live through together (September 1st, 2017, the day Albus goes off to Hogwarts) and spent lazy days strolling through Universal with people I love more than anything. I got to live out my dream of spending a day writing in the Wizarding World, sitting outside Florean Fortescue’s with a Butterbeer ice cream working on edits, and enjoyed a delicious dinner in the Leaky Cauldron as I worked on the book. It was too beautiful for these measly words to convey. I wish life could be like it every day.

Which brings me to the now. Or rather, the tomorrow. Tomorrow, I turn 27, an age that doesn’t come with much pomp or circumstance, and which forces me to face the fact that I was 17 10 years ago. But I feel energized for it. I feel an anxious kind of ready that’s trapped in my bones. I look back at how my life has progressed over especially the last 3 years, and each time, life gets ever more complex which makes it ever the more beautiful.

My life still gets messed up. I’m still broke some days. I still get majorly stressed. I still don’t always accomplish the things I set out to do. But the one thing I have yet to do, and which I pray I never do till my time on Earth is done, is give up. I hope that 27 is a year in which I keep pushing forward, and boldly going after my dreams, even though the thought of it scares the hell out of me. But as my fave said in a tweet earlier this year, which I put to paint…

“Courage. Even when panic’s at the back of your throat, courage.”
-Lin Manuel Miranda

I hope as I go forth into my 27th year that I can have even a shred of the courage exhibited by my heroes. I hope that even as I struggle, beautiful things come of it. I hope that no matter what comes my way, I don’t give up. Because for all the amazing things that happened to me while I was 26, there’s still a million things I haven’t done. But just you wait… 😉

 

Failures & Dreams

This morning, I’m waking up at the crack of dawn for a moment I’ve waited almost a year for. As the sun rises, and the crisp November air bites with both a chill and a promise, I’ll be off to see Hamilton in New York City.

Today also begins another NaNoWriMo adventure; my twelfth attempt in thirteen years. I’ll be taking the month to punch my rewriting efforts to warp speed, with the intention of completing the new draft of They Are the Last before the month is out. I’ve spent months chipping and hacking away at bits and bobs of a second draft, but now’s crunch time. Do or die. Write or—well, there really is no other option. There is no try, there’s only the words.

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And lastly, today is the day my Inkshares campaign should have ended, had I not cancelled in back in September. On the verge of such excitement and success and fulfilling of dreams, there is also a small sense of sadness that I didn’t accomplish what I’d set out to back in February with my campaign.

So many people, my hero J.K. Rowling included, have spoken on what it means to fail, and how it builds you as a person. Hank Green recently did a video about his own experiences “failing” at a convention that’s adored by hundreds. I “failed” at a campaign to fund a book, but made friends and connections and gained experiences that already have, and will continue to shape me. Some of the things I learned haven’t even fully hit me yet, and won’t until the moment is right. But here’s what I do know.

This year has been immeasurably incredible. I’ve fallen hard—my campaign, my financial instability as I search for a job that’s right for me, my depression and anxiety flaring up and making some days feel impossible to function through. But I’ve also seen and done things this year that I could NEVER have fathomed possible, with two whole months more of that to come with who knows what sort of magic.

I’ve dreamed of things, sometimes things bigger than the world has told me I should dare to. Last year, I said I wanted to see Hamilton. “IMPOSSIBLE,” cried everyone. Yet here I sit here with my ticket on my desk. I wanted to get my book published, but instead managed to be part of an anthology to be published by Nerdist Industries. I dreamed for so, so many things, because in my heart, a dreamer is what I always have been and always shall be. But in the process of bringing these dreams to life, there have been, and will inevitably be, more moments of failure.

I will fail, so I can savor the dreams. I will dream harder, so I know that when I fail, there’s still something to fight for.

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” —J.K. Rowling

Happy NaNoWriMo, everyone. Here’s to the failures sure to come, and to the courage to strive for our dreams in the face of them. After all, there’s a million things we haven’t done, but just you wait…

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12 Years in Alteria

Get your flux capacitor and TARDIS ready, everyone. For today’s post, we’re going back in time. To when, you ask?

February 9th, 2004 at 10:13am. Room 107 of East Norriton Middle School.

I was 13, sitting in class with a teacher I didn’t much like for a subject I was rubbish at. The few days prior to that, I’d made the decision that I wanted to write a story. Heavily influenced by the magic of Harry Potter and the space and time travel in The Pendragon Adventures – a YA series you should absolutely look up if you’re unfamiliar – I knew that I wanted the story I’d be writing to be some combination of the those elements. Science-y magic, if you will.

I came up with a character to lead this universe, Piper Anderson, who was so named because Piper was my favorite girls name, and Anderson was my 7th grade English teacher’s name. Next, I realized Piper needed a universe to belong in – a world. Sitting in that math class, I tried to come up with a name. Something original. But with nothing around me but other disinterested classmates and a teacher droning on, there wasn’t much for inspiration. So I worked with what I had . . . my math worksheet.

I started using different words from the instructions on the page, combining them in scribbles at the bottom of a piece of paper that I have sadly since lost. I rearranged words and letters, until at last, I jotted down a word that just worked. It clicked.

My world would be called Alteria.

And so I opened my notebook to a blank page – a page I still have – and jotted down the date, time, place, and just above it a phrase. Alteria: The Adventure Begins. Below that, a chapter title. And below that? A horribly cheesy first line that only 13 year old me could have come up with.

Piper Anderon looked like your typical 17 year old girl. But she wasn’t.

Yes, in the first line of my first book, I spelled my own character’s name wrong. DERP.

The rest of that year was spent coming up with alien races, doodling notes, and handwriting pages upon pages of story. That November I decided to write a prequel to this first Alteria story, and the result was very first NaNoWriMo novel called The Waters of Nen. As anyone who’s read this blog before knows, NaNoWriMo is the other thing I’ve been spending the last 12 years doing.

The ensuing years after 2004 saw much of my free time being consumed by coming up with grand ideas, some of which stayed, and some of which went back into the communal creative consciousness for someone else to grab. But even when I came up with something bad, I’d just scrap it and keep going. Most people are still surprised when I tell them the story is as old as it is, usually asking things like, why didn’t you get distracted and just stop writing? I can without a doubt say one of the biggest reasons was an incredibly kind and endlessly encouraging middle school librarian who told me to keep at it. (Spoiler: When I get to write a dedication to this book one day – you can bet she’ll be in there.)

High school saw me getting into other projects, trying new things, and you know, learning how to be a person. Then in college, I was so caught up in the incredibly exciting task of learning to be a filmmaker. While those years were amazing and shaped me so much as a storyteller and creator, Alteria spent much of that time on a shelf, waiting until I was ready to tell the story as it deserved to be told.

Flash ahead to 2015. At the conclusion of one creative project, I found myself wanting to take up the mantle of another one. I debated relentlessly in my head as to which story I should work on, and carried the dilema with me when I went to London and Edinburgh in April for my own adventure. I sat in the very cafe where JKR wrote her much of Harry Potter, thinking about Piper and Alteria, and wondering: is it their time? Am I finally ready? As I walked home that night, mulling it all over, I stopped by a shop, looking for a souvenir for the friend who helped me get there. In that store, I saw this . . .

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I took the hint. I went back to Alteria.

I spent July to October writing the first 44K words, then November and December I began a new draft which I completed with less than an hour to spare of New Year’s Eve. I rang in 2016 standing on a street corner waiting to catch the bus to my friends party, because I HAD TO finish my book first. Watching fireworks explode over the city skyline, happy drunken cheers all around, and with Hamilton the Musical‘s song My Shot blaring in my ears, I gotta say – that was one of the most surreal and profound moments of my life.

Which brings me to 2016. A new year, new beginnings, and a new chapter in the life of my story. And now – a new challenge.

This time last week, I was working on revising my draft, with no idea when I’d ever be published, or hell, even how I’d be published. Would I self-pub? Find an agent? I was preparing myself for all possible avenues I could think of. But as I’ve discovered is the pattern in my life, God usually tends to answer my prayers in the one way I that I could have never expected or prepared for.

Along came Inkshares. My friend – bless her heart – sent me a link to a contest called The Nerdist Space Opera Contest, run by the magnificently wonderful Inkshares website. The rules? Get my book to be one of the most pre-ordered books by March 15th, and I get published. That’s it. I’d be a real live published author, and one of the top 3 items of my bucket list would get to be checked off when I’m only 25. Talk about blessed.

So here I sit. My story turns 12 today. 12 years of my life spent with my head lost across the stars in a world I love, which no one ever used to know existed, until now. Now, Piper’s story isn’t just mine. It can be yours too. I imagine this must be what a parent feels like seeing their kid off to school: thrilling, exciting, nerve-wracking, happy, overwhelming, etc.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this contest or my story will find itself in the winners circle, because to be honest, SO MANY OF THESE BOOKS SOUND SO GOOD. But the great thing about Inkshares is, even if I don’t win the contest, I still have until May 4th to sell 750 pre-orders, and if I do that, my book will finally be on your shelves.

Suppose it is fitting that a post with the words 12 Years in the title should take a while, but if you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. Not just in this blog post, but in life. On this crazy journey I’m on to live passionately and fiercely pursue my dreams. I hope that if you’ve gotten this far, you’ll take some time to check out this story that’s meant all the worlds to me. You can read Chapter One here.

If you’ve been there at any time in any way for these past 12 years, I thank you. You’ve become part of the story between the lines inherently by being in my life. As for the rest of you, Alteria will be waiting.

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Update: As of September 14th, 2016, Elayna cancelled the funding campaign for They Are the LastRead her official announcement here. Readers can still visit theyarethelast.com to learn more about the story.

Patient Understanding: Losing a Legend

On June 25th, 2009, the world was in mourning. Michael Jackson had died. As someone who was never a big MJ fan, I didn’t understand why everyone was so upset. At the time, I was worried about enough things, for on that very same day, my mother had just gotten out of the hospital. Who had time to worry about a celebrity who had passed when my mother was ill?

The very next morning, my mother joined him. While the world was still grieving over Michael, I began grieving over my mom, and my sentiments of apathy and frustration about everyone’s focus on this celebrity death was only made worse.

As I listened to the world despair that someone had died that they had never met, I was angry. At the time, I was 18 years old, two months from starting college, and now – an orphan. I didn’t understand what everyone else could possibly be grappling with because I was young, scared, and going through more pain at my mother’s unexpected passing than I ever had ever known before. In those moments, I did not think it conceivable that the loss of a stranger could be anywhere near as agonizing as what I was going through. I was heartbroken, and those scars may never fully heal. But because of what I experienced yesterday, I know now that thinking their hurt was any less real than mine, was wrong.

Yesterday morning (January 14th) I awoke to a message from a friend saying . . .

I know how upset you’re going to be today. Just know I’m just as upset and I love ya.

Both shock and fear gripped me. What had happened? What was wrong? Had someone died? I immediately went to twitter, and the name I saw at the top of the trends for a moment made me exclaim, “No, no, no . . .”

Sure enough, it was true. The world had lost Alan Rickman.

A loss of someone I’d never met, which had six years ago been incomprehensible to me, somehow now made sense. With perfect clarity, I began to feel a pain, sadness and confusion that I ‘d never known before. I never met Alan Rickman, and I knew I now never would, but it didn’t stop me from feeling like a friend had just died.

As someone who tells stories, I know the impact that characters, authors, and artists can have on a person – they become like friends to us, family even. I remember being 11 years old and seeing the first glimpses of Alan as Professor Snape, and I would spend the next 10 years of my life watching him brilliantly play one of the most complicated hero-villains I’ve ever seen. I watched him in behind the scenes features, heard stories of his kindness to the kids on set, and from those who knew him best. He was one of my faves.

Then I laughed hysterically because of his role in Dogma, looked for the best in him when he made mistakes in Love Actually, and then he stole my heart in Sense and Sensibility as Colonel Brandon – probably the only other role of his that majorly impacted my life. As with many other creators, he had come to be someone I looked up to, admired, and was inspired by. I’d never met the man, but he affected me.

And thus his loss has been excruciating. No doubt the pain I feel is far, far less than that of those who loved him and were a part of his daily life. Fellow Potter alumni Sean Biggerstaff and Evana Lynch posted beautiful accounts of what an incredibly caring man he was. He was someone who genuinely and freely expressed kindness towards others, even if he barely knew them. He may have spent the years in which I knew him playing a Slytherin, but these accounts have convinced me: I believe Alan may have been a Hufflepuff, and it has made me connect with him all the more now that he’s gone.

His characters will live on forever. That is the beautiful thing. His vulnerability exhibited with the utterance of one word – “Always” – will continue to inspire strength for generations to come. But for me, Alan’s death, tragic though it may be, has helped me understand something that I didn’t all those years ago.

It is okay to mourn someone you’ve never met. Was Alan just one person who passed in a world where people are dying every minute of every day? Yes. Does that make the impact of his loss any less for those who looked up to him, were inspired by him, and connected to him? No. I couldn’t possibly understand this as an 18 year old in the wake of the greatest loss I’ve ever known, but as a 25 year old who has just experienced the loss of an artist who helped shape me, I can.

As you go through the internet in the next few days, there will begin to be people who say things like – ‘Get over it, already!’ or ‘You never even met him, so you have no right to be sad!’ – I encourage you to exhibit what I’m sure someone like Alan would have. Be patient and understanding, for they may not understand. This kind of loss is unique, and for those who may never have lost an icon they looked up to, it’s not a feeling they can relate to.

Forgiveness of those who don’t sympathize with you is key – but I write this so that in reading it, you can also know you’re not alone in this. There is a whole community of us who feel it too, and who want to pay tribute. This is a sadness felt ’round the world, and as Albus Dumbledore once reminded us at a time of great loss:

Now the pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, and, reminds us, that though we may come from different countries and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one. – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire film)

May we remember Alan and his legacy, always. /*

(Featured Image Photo taken by Claire Furner at Kings Cross Station in London, where a memorial for Alan Rickman began to form at Platform 9 3/4.)

Thankful

To me, Thanksgiving is not a day about the dinner, or celebrating any of that crap about pilgrims that they make you enact in elementary school. It’s not about Black Friday and deals and getting your Christmas shopping done a month early. For me, it really has just become another day of the year. But the one reason that introspective little me does enjoy it, is it calls to the forefront the idea of thankfulness, which is something we don’t often recognize enough. The world would be better if we took more than just one day a year to focus on it.

2015 is probably the year where I have more to be thankful for than I’ve ever experienced in a single other year of my life. I think back to 15 year old me, and I feel if she could have seen where 25 year old me would end up, see the things I am blessed enough to be able to do, she’d be pretty proud. So while I don’t want to spend an incredibly long post recapping my year (that will come in December) I do want to take a moment out of this day to detail for you five (of the many) things I am truly thankful for this year.

5) Getting to travel to London & Scotland.

This was without a doubt one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. Getting my plane ticket a whirlwind seven days before flying, being able to be part of MuggleNet’s very first fan convention, spending time with those MuggleNet friends at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, and spending five of the most beautiful days of my life in Scotland, in the city where my favorite novels were written . . . it was powerful to say the least. And on top of all that wonderment, it was that very trip that led to me working on my novel again. (Which I’ll get to in a moment.)

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Standing up by Edinburgh castle, with Arthur’s Seat at my back.

 

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My last sunset in London, sitting outside the Globe Theater.

4) Becoming an Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo.

This experience has been so rewarding in so many ways. I’m someone who has participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) since November 2004, so the opportunity to finally do more than write by giving back to people of my region through encouragement and support has been indescribable. Not to mention that I was fortunate enough to become part of the @NaNoWordSprints team, where I got to run word sprints for people around the world, and even began the #NaNoHouseCup, where Wrimos compete to write the most words for their respective Hogwarts Houses. Combining my loves of encouraging others, writing, and being a Harry Potter nerd is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

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Some of the writers at the 11/7/15 PhillyWrimos Write In.

3) Getting back to telling my story.

Piper. Alteria. They Are The Last. These are words that have been a part of my life and consciousness since I was 13 years old, and for the majority of those years, they became nothing more than a name, a place and a title that “I’d get to one day when the time was right.” Well turns out that time was 2015, because after a truly miraculous day in Edinburgh, Scotland, I realized that it was Piper’s story that I was always meant to tell. Since then, I’ve written almost 90,000 words worth of drafts, and am still going. This story is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and I’m so thankful that I finally accepted that truth.

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My work space from Day 10 of NaNoWriMo 2015

2) Finding God again.

Ever since losing my dad in 2005 and then my mother in 2009, God and the idea that there was an all powerful being in the universe that cared about me was something I just couldn’t accept. My depression and anxiety ate away at me, and despite being surrounded by loving friends, I felt at times to be very, very alone. But this past year, I’ve gotten more in touch with my faith again, and honestly, it is an integral part of what I believe made this the most positive, life changing year I’ve ever experienced. There is just too much beauty in the cosmos for me to think it’s all just an accident and that everything is chaos and chance. I couldn’t be more thankful for God and all they’ve done for me to remind me that I am loved and worthy of this life I’ve been blessed with.

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Edinburgh Scotland (April 23, 2015)

1) My friends.

Always and forever am I thankful for my friends. As I’ve gone through my life from phase to phase – elementary to middle schools, middle to high school, high school to college, college to ‘real life’ – I have had to grow and learn that not all friendships are forever. It’s a hard lesson, because the people I used to love in my life but have fallen away from for one reason or another still leave imprints on my heart, and whether things ended badly between us or not, I still cherish the moments spent with them and the inside jokes that still make me laugh. It makes me think about my friends now, and as sad as it is to think, not all of them will stay with me.

Life changes as the seasons, and who knows which trees and flowers will continue to bloom and which ones will wither and become a memory? All I know is right now, on this Thanksgiving Day of 2015, there are so many people that come to mind. So many people surrounding me who make me realize my life is worth it, who make me laugh, who believe in me fiercely enough that for the first time, I’ve begun to believe in myself. Know dear friends, I consider you all precious gifts, that I am now, have been, and always will be, thankful for.

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Friends from MuggleNet staff at Expo Patronum 2015.

 

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Me with friends at MISTI Con 2015.

 

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Friends and I at the ball during Geeky Con 2015.

Life Is My Patronus

This past week on September 4th, I spent much of my day crying . . . but not for the reasons you might think.

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The Doctor gets it.

Backtracking a bit, for anyone who’s been following this blog since I began it back in January, it has kind of been a really great freaking year for me. From starting my YouTube channel to London, from Scotland to MISTI Con, from my first Camp NaNo to Orlando for Geeky – it’s been a wildly excellent 2015 I’ve been having. Sure there’s been plenty of downs in that time frame, but for the first time in forever, the amazingly good is outweighing the bad in such a way that it’s much harder to get me down right now, when I have so many happy memories to make patronuses with.

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Take THAT depression & anxiety. 😛

But in the wee hours of September the 4th – just when I was thinking I might go to bed since it had become so late it was early – my phone buzzed. It was a notification that J.K. Rowling had just tweeted something. (When you work for MuggleNet, you kinda need to know when the Queen has something to say.)

The night before, we had just begun a campaign with MuggleNet called #PotterItForward, in which we’re encouraging people to leave a note about their positive experiences with the story in a copy of Harry Potter at a bookstore or library, so that a new person picking that copy up can know what a life changing tale lies between the covers of what they’re holding. I think it’s brilliant, and I am so proud of my friend at the site who came up with it. It’s one of those things that reminds me why the Potter fandom has always been so important to me – we’re all about the love & feels. So naturally, when I saw Queen Jo tweeting, I decided to tweet at her.

I’ve done it plenty of times before, but she never has interacted with one of my tweets before, which tbh I don’t take personally. The woman’s got over 5 million followers on twitter! Everyone and their mother tweets at her, and probably hundreds of thousands of people have their phones set up to know when she tweets, just like me. Every time I tweet to her, it feels like a shout into the void, but I’ve continued to do it every once and again hoping she catches it.

Well guess what kids?


THE QUEEN KNOWS ME

SHE FECKING CAUGHT IT.

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Guys, I really tried so hard to not freak out and wanted so much to just be like:

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Ah yes, the Queen has seen my tweet. How pleasant…

But to be honest, my reaction was much closer to:

HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT
HOLY ROWLING IT HAPPENED
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IS THIS REAL LIFE?!
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ME AF RN

I’ll be honest in saying I pretty much immediately started crying. The really good kind of crying. The kind of crying where you’re more so crying for the sheer disbelief that such beautiful moments could happen in your life.

I have looked up to J.K. Rowling since I was an 8 year old girl who fell in love with a magical story. The more of her books I read, and the more I learned about her as a person . . . there was just so much about her to admire and respect. And for just a moment that morning, the woman who’s inspired me more than anyone, saw a lil icon of my face, read the words that I had to say for a change, and liked it so much she felt compelled to give it a little gold star of approval.

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Me, myself, and I at that moment.

Some people might think it’s crazy for me to have reacted in such a way – crying, having trouble breathing, being incandescently and ecstatically happy for the entire ensuing day – but if J.K. Rowling (and Luna Lovegood) have taught me anything, it’s to not care what others think of you, especially if it means not being yourself.

After a night of not being able to sleep, having a mediocre day at work, and then a night spent mostly online talking to my MuggleNet friends who mean the world and a half to me, I found myself sitting alone, and I once again started to cry. Like really, genuinely, happy cry. But the reason, I realized in that moment, was not just because some author took 2 seconds of her morning to like a tweet.

I’ve been happy crying because I have reasons to. While I have spent so, so much of my life, crying because of depression, anxiety, loss, rejection, self loathing, and a million other things, I have finally reached a point in 2015, where I have so many loving, genuine people surrounding me and filling my heart with joy and reminding me that I’ve got so much light in me that I can share, but only when I stop to realize I have it. I’ve got a job that’s okay with an apartment that I love, I’m giving back to my school through an amazing LGBTQ Alumni group, I’m starting to lose weight and feel healthier, I’ve traveled to two new countries and two different states in the last five months, I’m working for the Harry Potter fan site I’ve loved since childhood, and I’m writing again. Writing a story that’s been with me for 11 years, and which most recently helped land me a leadership position as one of the Municipal Liaisons for Philadelphia for this fall’s upcoming NaNoWriMo.

 

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How I feel about me and my life rn.

No low balance in my bank account or any hate that anyone could try to fling at me right now can take that away. My happiness is so strong that it could hold back 100 dementors any day. I’ve got so much passion, friendship and love in my life right now that I can honestly say I’ve never felt this unstoppable. But all of this realization, came from a single little gold star on a tweet that I thought would never been seen.

So if you’re feeling like your opinions (or tweets in this case) don’t matter, or that you yourself don’t matter – remember this story, and remember these words:

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Camp NaNo: Day 7

NEW WORDS WRITTEN: 0

NEW TOTAL WORD COUNT: 6261

CURRENT MENTAL STATE

No words makes a sad Layna
No words makes a sad Layna

This post is coming a day later than it should, but there’s just something about a day where not a single word happened that can feel discouraging.

Now to be fair, I got quite a bit of brainstorming done, and also completed a layout for how I want the next several chapters to go, but I also found that as I was sitting in the cafe thinking of these ideas, I was getting more worried about what kind of video I would make when I got home than I was about writing what I’d been planning, which is not good.  Part of this month’s writing experience, and my journey as a writer/blogger as a whole, requires that I be honest with myself, and if I’m being honest in this moment, I was so determined to do a vlog about my writing every day, that I wasn’t writing as much as I could or should have, and given the words are what this whole month is supposed to be about, this made me feel like I was heading in a bad direction.

10/10 Not A Pleasant Experience
10/10 Not A Pleasant Experience

SO! That being said, as I head into week two of this writing/blog&vlog extravaganza, I’m going to try something a little different, based on an idea I had while in the cafe on the night of the 7th.

The thing is, I LOVE finding new places to write. It physically gets me out of my normal head space, which is extraordinarily helpful for me trying to come up with new things and look at things from a new perspective.

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
-John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society

I honestly think about this phrase whenever I’m feeling trapped in a rutt. In addition, as a photographer and journalist of my own life, I love capturing moments in time, via both images and words, which frankly is why you’re sitting here reading this. So as I sat in that cafe the other day, I decided the new direction I’m going to go in for the videos.

WRITE SPACE is going to be a new photography/writing project I start this week in which every day, I must go somewhere new, that isn’t my apartment, and write. What else will I do? I will bring along my camera and take a photo from my perspective of where I’m sitting, so as to capture not just the moment of writing what I’m writing, but the space in which that work was written in. How does this become a vlog you ask? Each of these days, in addition to a photo, I will capture little bits of footage of those spaces and on July 14th, I will release a video featuring each of the spaces I spent my week writing in (from the 7th to the 13th) and perhaps talk about the experience of it at the end of said video. As I go through this experience, I will still post a new blog each day, and that blog post will include my progress of what I wrote about in those spaces. So while I won’t be having a video released each day as I planned, I will be writing, which is what matters.

If being a writer has taught me anything, its that sometimes things change along the road of your story. Plot twists change your path, obstacles and roadblocks get in your way, and characters decide to change their minds and do what they want. So before you know it, you’ve gone from a miserable 11 year old on Privet Drive to a legendary hero who’s sending your children off to Hogwarts when all is well. I can’t predict where this story – or the journey of writing it – will take me any more than Harry could have predicted his, but you know what? I think that’s fucking beautiful.

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#BrbSobbing

JULY 7th WRITE SPACE

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Space: Chapterhouse Cafe & Gallery in South Philadelphia. Time: 8:45pm, July 7th, 2015

 

Camp NaNo: Day 6

NEW WORDS WRITTEN: 970

NEW TOTAL WORD COUNT: 6261

CURRENT MENTAL STATE

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I’ll be over here thankyouverymuch

Today was quite a mixed day as my allergies were back with a vengeance and I spent most of the day huddled up under covers feeling like crap.  But Camp NaNoWriMo doesn’t wait for allergies!! Thankfully I managed to do some really fun word sprints with some new people on twitter, and upped my word count by nearly 1,000. I’m still  behind what I need to be at for today (11,290) but with the roll I’ve been on I’m perfectly certain I’ll catch up this week.

Given that yesterday I got to have such a great time running word sprints and sharing postivity with the sprinters of twitter, I thought I would follow up today with a special blog post, in which I offer a few little beginner tips on how to get new ideas and keep on keepin’ on while you write. I also thought it would be a lot more fun if I brought these writing tips to you with the help of a little friend of mine. Ladies and gentlemen and variations thereupon, please enjoy the very first Writing Tips with ROFL.