Crystal Ball: Annual Fancy Nerdfest

For the last four years or so, I’ve been part of this fantastically nerdy group here in Ohio: hp-Ohio, which is a meetup group for adult Harry Potter fans located in and around Ohio.  And while we have many gatherings that happen on an annual basis (BAMFmas in July to celebrate Harry’s and Neville’s birthdays, a Valentine’s tea party in February, a Halloween party each October, and a New Year’s Eve lunch wherein we all wear Weasley-style sweaters), one of my favorites is the Crystal Ball.

Photo Credit: Crystal Quesnelle


The Crystal Ball is hp-Ohio’s Yule Ball, and it takes place in January at the lovely Landoll’s Mohican Castle in Loudonville, Ohio.  We get all dressed up, have a fancy night, and, of course, nerd it out.  We basically take over the castle for the weekend, many of us stay in the hotel rooms available there, and we have a grand old time with a bunch of other Harry Potter fans.

Landoll’s Mohican Castle


This year was my fifth Crystal Ball (what?!) and it was the fourth time I’ve convinced my husband to come along.  This year was also the tenth Crystal Ball that has taken place at Landoll’s Mohican Castle, so it was even more of a celebration than usual, complete with a “memory museum” that featured pictures and memorabilia from each of the past Crystal Balls.

The entrance to the “memory museum”


A display of various banners hp-Ohio has used throughout the history of the Crystal Ball


This beautiful mural was made by my friend and fellow hp-Ohio member, Alicia Wilson


Without a doubt, Crystal Ball is one of my favorite ways to start a new year.  There’s nothing better than spending a weekend with some great friends, nerding out and being fancy!

Photo Credit: Crystal Quesnelle


Unexpected Writing Exercises

I’m seriously, seriously trying to get back into blogging regularly. My mind’s been in about sixty different directions over the last couple of months, so it’s been hard. To give you an idea: Pottermania, Portkey (during LeakyCon), Portkey (after LeakyCon), Deathly Hallows Campaign and general HPA staffer stuff, finding an apartment, signing a lease, moving…Dublin Irish Festival and Columbus Feis and upped rehearsal time that comes with those things, Post-Potter Depression, unpacking, trying to get through my TBR pile, writers group, writers group hiatus, diet, revisions, vlogging…identity crises because of Pottermore, then getting over the identity crises…going to funerals and weddings…planning the 20th Anniversary Homecoming alumni band stuff for my high school marching band…starting an agent search…finally finished unpacking, but still trying to buy stuff for the apartment…trying to keep in touch with friends and family…all while trying not to lose my mind. Oh. And now I kinda want a tumblr.

Yeah, it’s been a weird summer.

So, please bear with me while I try to get back into the swing of blogging.

My calendar says it’s Writing Tuesday. Oh, Writing Tuesday. As I’m taking a small break from serious writing (post-revisions) in favor of researching agents to send my novel to, I had to think for a minute about what to talk about. And then it came to me. Granted, if you watch any of the videos I do on “In the Cardboard Box” (my vlogging project with Emmy), you’ve heard about this a good three times. Deal. I’m better at talking about things through writing, as opposed to the awkward rambling I do on vlogs.

Have you ever done a round robin story? Where you write the first few lines, then pass it on to the next person to add the next lines? Sometimes it’s played by covering the earlier bits of the story up, so you literally end up with one really bizarre story that makes absolutely no sense? I remember we used to do this at the writing camp I went to for a few years when I was younger (yes, I went to a writing camp…it was a day camp and was AMAZING). I think we may have done it in Girl Scouts on a few occasions. It’s one of those things that’s just really entertaining. But we did it at the writing camp because it’s also a great exercise of thinking on your feet. It’s basically the writer’s version of improv.

When I was in high school, I got introduced to RPGs. Not the WoW kind, but the forum kind. The kind that’s a lot like a round robin, because you have your character or characters and you tell the story from their point-of-view, picking up wherever the last person to post left off. I used to be really involved in a Harry Potter RPG over on, but it died after a few years (I believe Darkmark has a new RPG now, but I don’t participate in that one). At first, I kind of got over it–I was probably a little RPG burnt out–but after a year or two, I really missed the whole thing. Bizarre and wonderful friendships sprout from things like that and I missed chatting and plotting with the friends I’d made on RPDM (granted, it was more chatting than plotting, particularly in my case). I also missed writing the character I’d created. I tried to join other RPGs, but I never stayed very long because it wasn’t the same. And I never resurrected my character from RPDM, even though she continued to live in the back of my mind, because it felt wrong to put her into a different place, among different people, with a different story.

Until about three months ago.

Three or so months ago is when I got introduced to a very non-traditional RPG. It was almost more of an experiment. It didn’t utilize forums. It utilized blog posts in the form of news articles that you could comment on, and Facebook. Called Magic is Might, it was set during the final Harry Potter book…but it looked at everything else that was going on away from the main story we’ve all read half a dozen times. And, even more interestingly, the timing of it was played out to coincide with the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2. The characters in the RPG would be fighting the Battle of Hogwarts at the same time as the characters on screen, essentially.

I was fascinated. I decided to resurrect my old character and have her play. She started commenting on the news posts and (I shouldn’t have been surprised as I was, considering how welcoming a community the Potterheads usually are) she was immediately welcomed into the story. After a few weeks, I created a second, more evil character. Good and evil. Yin and yang. Innocent and a royal pain in the ass. It was fun. Our characters debated, while the players behind them had heartfelt, nerdy conversations out-of-character. And then the movie came out and the Final Battle wrapped up on Facebook, and we mourned.

And once we were done mourning, we created something new, so we could all keep going. We called it Magic Is Might Continues, because that was all our creativity would allow, and we picked up where the story had left off. We decided to figure out what happened after the Battle. What happened in those 19 years between the end of the last chapter in Deathly Hallows and the beginning of the Epilogue?

We’ve been going for a couple of months now. The friendships have grown tighter, but likewise the plots of grown…more confusing. We’re plotting up a storm for our characters. Emails are exchanged all the time and the “evil” characters are being bitter losers and the “good” characters are getting into relationships with each other. And there’s drama and Romeo & Juliet and duels with werewolves and arguments and all kinds of insanity.

BUT (and here’s where I get to the Writing Tuesday stuff), it’s been such a GREAT writing exercise for me. Other than the great friends I’ve made, I’ve also been forced to get used to writing some uncomfortable or emotional or intense scenes. I’ve had to delve into the head of my “evil” character to see what makes her tick that way. I’ve had to break my “good” character about fifty times, just to fix her again. In the more adventurous scenes, I’ve had to pick up the action from the previous poster and carry it forward. It makes me think more about character and action and what someone would say in various situations or debates. I’ve had to argue the negative side of arguments through my “evil” character.

Moral of the story: It’s really amazing, the places you can get practice writing.

Love of the Week Returns!

And now I’m back on the blogging train! Hooray!

This week’s love of the week was hard for me to figure out. I knew what I wanted to talk about, but…it’s more than just one thing. So I’m going to try to use the broadest phrasing I can possibly use, in the hopes that that will encompass all that I want it to.

The Potter Fandom.

Yes, I know. First of all, I’ve done nothing but talk about Harry Potter on here for weeks. You’re probably all sick of it. And second of all, I couldn’t get broader unless I tried to say fandoms in general.

BUT IT WORKS. I PROMISE. Hold your hippogriffs, and I’ll explain.

There’s something (no pun intended) magical about the Potter fandom in particular. It’s a level of love and support and encouragement that I’ve never seen in any other fandom, and I’ve been in several. The Potter fandom is more accepting than other fandoms, seems less likely to judge, and we can bond together in two seconds. We like doing things like, say, staying up all night together just to answer one strange trivia question…and then we help each other to succeed.

More explanation? Really? Okay.

Background: Two weeks ago, while the rest of the Harry Potter Alliance staff was down in Orlando for LeakyCon, those of us left behind ran a thing we called Portkey. It was an online conference of sorts, for all those who hadn’t been able to go to Leaky. We had trivia contests and shared memories of the fandom and did garbage bag experiments and watched documentaries and geeked out together after the midnight premiere of Deathly Hallows Part 2.

And we Livestreamed. A lot.

I was the Gryffindor Head of House for the Portkey house cup. By virtue of that, I was expected to be on most of the Livestreams. I was fine with that. And by the end of the week, there was this core group of Portkey staffers who were on almost all the Livestreams and had, somehow, become the faces of Portkey itself. We don’t know how that happened, but it did. Becca, Devyn, Quinn, Dani, Shrima, Kara, Alex, and I talked more that week, through Skype and on Livestreams, than we had previously. And something crazy happened…apparently our audiences in the Livestream found us funny. They told us they wanted us to stick around. Yeah, it was a strange realization for the rest of us too.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Saturday night. Becca, Devyn, Quinn, Dani, Shrima, Kara, Alex, and I had joked about staying up all Saturday night together on Skype to get the Pottermore Beta clue that was supposed to come out sometime July 31. We all got on Skype Saturday evening. Started talking. And then this weird thing happened. Becca got us our own Livestream channel. We posted something on our old Portkey Facebook page. By 8:30pm EST, we were broadcasting live on our shiny new channel, planning on staying up all night and entertain ourselves by running our mouths. Our channel being new, we weren’t “verified,” so we couldn’t have more than 50 people listening to us at one time. This was fine, because we figured we wouldn’t get more than ten or fifteen people who would want to listen to us be weird.

Oh, how wrong we were.

We hit our 50-person cap two hours in. According to our Livestream chat numbers, there were another 60 or 70 people just hanging out in the chat, unable to listen, getting information relayed to them through other listeners. Three hours later, we had the same number of listeners. It was the same four hours later.

Our numbers held strong for at least ten straight hours of Livestreaming. We talked about everything and anything. We talked Potter, and inside jokes, and Pottermore, and speculation. We announced rumors about the clue as we heard them. We counted down to 3am EST, which was when we heard the clue would come out.

And at 3:30am EST, the first Pottermore clue of seven that will be opened this week appeared on the site. Together, my fellow Portkey hosts and I freaked out. With the help of the chat, we figured out the clue, we went to the site. We found the Magic Quill. And then we all registered. Technical difficulties put a damper on some of us, that the others took time to help us through. We shared usernames and laughed and had a blast and freaked out about getting into Beta, even if we haven’t been allowed to start playing yet.

Here was the amazing part. Some people didn’t get through the first day. They have the rest of the week’s worth of clues to try. And instead of pointing and laughing or saying “sorry, sucks for you” or basking in the glory of getting into Pottermore Beta when others didn’t…the Potter Fandom has been collectively helping each other. We’ve been cheering each other on, and letting each other know when the clues come out. We’ve been helping each other register and get the chance to join Pottermore early.

This is the kind of fandom that we are. We celebrate our individual successes, and then we turn back and help our friends. We’re the kind of fandom that stays up all night together, on a Livestream, listening to hilarious fan fiction about the Portkey hosts and making goofy inside jokes like “Snugglemore.” We’re the kind of fandom that can crash entire fan sites because of one announcement, who keeps each other in the loop even when we’ve been sworn to secrecy. We only half-joke about wearing our wizard or Death Eater robes on airplanes. We celebrate the birthdays of the author and characters that we love. We’re activists who fight real-world Horcruxes. We can speculate with the best of them, solve clues like you wouldn’t believe, and when we want to succeed, there’s nothing that will stop us.

This is why I love this fandom.

Midnight Release Adventures Part 2

The release of Half-Blood Prince will remain in my memory forever for two reasons.

1. It was the first time I had a Potter party.

Sure, I’d done plenty of celebrating with friends for the movies, but as the movies always came out on school days, and at this time I had only just graduated high school, we’d never gotten to celebrate for an entire day. This was the first time my friends and I could fully geek out and count down the hours to the new book. We watched the movies that had come out on DVD by that time. We ate copious amounts of sugar. We laughed over Bertie Bott’s and threw half of them away because they were flavors none of us was brave enough to try.

We made t-shirts.

This in itself was both amusing and something of a fail. Amusing because we came up with some clever bit to put on each section of the shirts. Fail because Emmy doesn’t know how to tell her right from her left, so the obligatory group pictures turned out hilarious.

This was also the last summer of Media Play. Unlike the release of Order of the Phoenix, my friends I went over early and enjoyed the party over there too. We played trivia games and won points for our houses. Amanda won a stuffed Hedwig in a raffle. We found some of our other friends in line and geeked out with them too. We counted down to midnight, go our books relatively fast, and hurried home to read. While we were in Media Play, though, it had started to storm. Bad. Which leads me to…

2. The death of my “first” car.

I say “first” because it wasn’t technically my car, I just drove it more than anyone else in my family. It was a twelve-year-old Cadillac that was affectionately called The Boat. My friends and I had determined long ago it could probably win a fight against anything.

Ha. Not true.

On the drive hom from Media Play, with the rain dumping and the storm raging, we hit a pothole. The car bumped hard, but we drove on. Emmy, who is prone to panicking, asked, “Did we just get hit by lightening?!” Janet told her no, that she probably wouldn’t need to ask that question if we had, because she would know. We laughed.

Later on release day, after a bit of sleep, I was reading in my room. The storm started again at random. I ignored it and read on. That afternoon, I left for my summer job at Ritter’s. Got in my car. It wouldn’t start.

Long story short, we come to find out The Boat had gotten struck by lightening in that second storm. The stupid lightening missed the tree the car was parked under, struck the raised antenna, and proceeded to fry my car’s electrical system. The lone survivor was the smiley face ball wearing a mortar board that had been perched on top of the antenna. The smiley face ball now has a scorch mark battle scar down his back, but I kept him anyway for the hilarious memory.

All this for one Harry Potter book.

First Midnight Book Release

The first time I went to the midnight release of a book–any book–was when Order of the Phoenix came out before my junior year of high school.

The concept of a midnight release was new to me and it seemed magical. The bookworm and nerd in me were both very happy. I don’t remember why exactly, but for some reason none of my friends were able to go to the release. Maybe we didn’t plan anything. Maybe none of us anticipated just how big of a deal it would become.

Whatever the reason, I was on my own for this first midnight release. Almost. My younger sister, Laura, wanted to go too. But there was only one problem: I didn’t have my driver’s license yet. I was only a few weeks out from being able to take my test, so I couldn’t just go with my sister.

This meant our mom had to accompany us.

A few crucial facts about my mom:

1) She’s not big on crowds, and there were bound to be crowds at Media Play, which was where Laura and I had reserved our copies of the book.
2) She’s not big on waiting in lines, at least as far as I can ever tell.
3) She’s not big on being up and out late–she’s more of a fall-asleep-on-the-couch-watching-TV kind of person.
4) She’s not–NOT–into Harry Potter.

So all things considered, I was more than a little surprised Laura and I managed to convince her to go with us. It may have had something to do with the fact I needed more night driving experience with my temporary license anyway. Or maybe my sad, puppy eyes worked. Whatever the reason, Mom agreed (on the condition that we would only leave half an hour before midnight because she was not waiting in line for two hours).

It could be a tribute to Media Play’s dying business that we actually got decent places in line that close to midnight. The second I got that book in my hands, I started reading it. I devoured it. For the next several days of PE summer school, my friend Caitlin and I spent our laps around the track fangirling the book and spouting out theories and analyzing every detail. There was one memorable morning after I’d finished the book, when the first thing I said when I saw Caitlin was “HE SAID ‘IRKED!'” (In regards to a bit of Voldemort dialogue…and I always love Voldemort dialogue.) For months after that, the word “irked” was an inside joke for us.

It wasn’t the grandest midnight release I ever attended. I don’t have pictures from it like I have from others. There weren’t any epic marathons or homemade t-shirts and I’m not even entirely sure I went in costume. But that release, and Order of the Phoenix itself, still hold a special place in my heart for being the first.

Goblet of Fire…and Me

I first started reading Harry Potter the fall after Goblet of Fire (the book) was released. As I’ve said before, I originally refused to read the books, but my friends and two of my aunts were what convinced me otherwise. My friends because there was no escape from their harping. My two aunts becaues they like recommending books to me, rather enthusiastically, when I see them each Thanksgiving. I figured one way or another, I’d be annoyed into reading Harry Potter.

The irony was that it was over Thanksgiving at my one aunt’s house that I finished Goblet of Fire, thus catching up in the series completely. I particularly remember sitting in the corner of the family room, conversations going on all around me, my nose stuck in the book. I was toward the end of the novel. Harry was in the graveyard. I had just gotten to the end of this action-packed chapter–had just read the line “Lord Voldemort had risen again”–when my mom told me it was time to go to bed.

It’s a mark of how invested I was in these stories I swore I would hate that I barely slept that night. I woke up at first light the next morning (something I don’t do) and I resumed my corner in the family room to find out what would happen to Harry.

Goblet of Fire has long been in competition as my favorite Potter book. Perhaps it holds a place in my heart because it was the most recently released when I first fell in love with the series. It’s certainly the book I re-read the most while I waited for Order of the Phoenix to come out. Likely, it’s also the excitement, plot twists, and thrills. Maybe it’s the memory of finishing it over that Thanksgiving. Whatever it is, it was the first Potter book I personally owned. I’ve read it so often that the binding on my hardcover copy is starting to shred and the cardboard shows through in the corners.

This week, I started it again.

Favorite Potter Character (#1)

I know I usually do a post about what book I’m reading each week on Thursday, but the book I’m reading now I’m actually doing to review for Fiction Flurry. So I don’t want to spoil the fun and say anything here yet. So instead today you get another random Potter post!


Just like everyone else in the world, I have my favorite characters in everything I read.

Lord of the Rings? Aragorn. The Wicked series by Gregory Maguire? Elphaba. Hunger Games? It’s a pretty distinct tie between Cinna and Finnick, but I actually really like Katniss too. Will Grayson, Will Grayson? The first Will Grayson, but Tiny has a special place in my heart too. Prophecy of the Sisters? Lia.

Thinking about it, most of my favorite characters are also the protagonists of said books. Maybe that makes me predictable, but it also makes sense…why read a book if you can’t root for the main character?

And while I definitely root for Harry, he’s actually never been my favorite character in the Harry Potter books. Actually, two of the three characters I count as my favorites aren’t really even in the “starring” cast. They’re definitely important, but there are large gaps between when we see them around.

But I’ll get to them later.

There’s one character in Harry Potter that I’ve adored since the very beginning.

Hermione Granger.

Honestly, I think the reason I was so drawn to her so early on was because it was like reading about myself on the page. She’s kind of nerdy, definitely a know-it-all, a bit of a teacher’s pet. She loves school and reading and books. She’s very logical. When I was in eighth grade, that pretty much summed me up. I was definitely a nerdy, know-it-all, teacher’s pet who loved school and books. That changed a little as I grew older, but for the most part those facets of my personality still remain. Poor Hermione starts off the series as something of an outcast, and just a couple years before I started reading the books, I was an outcast too. The concept of friends I could truly rely on was a relatively new one to me when I started reading Harry Potter.

I even had the out-of-control, dirty blonde hair.

There were times I was compared to Hermione among my group of friends. I’ve dressed up as Hermione more times than I can remember. She’s always been my absolute favorite. I was beyond thrilled when I came to find out that she can be kind of a bad ass when she needs to (giving Malfoy a good slap in Prisoner of Azkaban, anyone?). When I’m reading a book, I can’t really deal with the poor-little-me, weak, damsel in distress. Most girls aren’t like that in the real world, why should they be like that in stories? I hate it when the female lead feels like her life is incomplete without the guy. It’s fine if the girl is a little weak, but she has to have some strength in her somewhere, even if she doesn’t realize it at the beginning. These are the characters I like to write, and the characters I like to read.

I think Hermione is one of the most real female leads I’ve ever read. She has her weaknesses and her insecurities, but she can take care of herself. She gets crushes on boys, but it doesn’t run her life. She sometimes needs help, but she’s also perfectly capable of taking control of a situation. She can be annoying, but what person isn’t like that sometimes? She gives Harry and Ron reality checks all the time, but she gets reality checks right back. She’s by no means perfect, which makes her that much more real. Hermione is awkward, uncomfortable with her appearance sometimes, but it’s not the central concern in her life. In my opinion, she’s about as real as a female character can get, which is probably one of the biggest reasons I’ve always liked her so much.

Let the Pottermania Begin

I wouldn’t do it. I refused. For a month and a half during the beginning of eighth grade, I tried to ignore my friends’ insistence that I should. I tuned out their intense conversations in between classes about these people they loved that didn’t actually exist. They debated theories and storylines, and I rolled my eyes.

Not long into this, I came to find out two of my aunts were just as involved as my friends were. And my aunts liked recommending books to me. It’s how I got so immersed in the Dear America series. For several Thanksgivings, I came home with books my aunts thought I’d like. So between my friends and my aunts, I just kind of figured I’d have to do it eventually.

Sometime in October 2000, I gave up. I went to my friend Amanda for help.

“Fine. Tell me which one is first. I’ll read it, but I won’t like it. Then you guys have to drop it.”

We went to the library and she helped me find what I was looking for. I didn’t know which one was first. The only thing I knew about it was what my friends had told me. I was going in completely blind and completely convinced I wouldn’t like it. I didn’t like fantasy or wizards or magic.

After we found the book, I sat down at a table in the library and read the opening of this story so many people loved, but I was sure I would hate. The opening that I would later be able to quote verbatim, because I’d read it so much.

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

It was pretty much a downward slope for me after that.

For over a decade, Harry Potter has been at some central point in my life. I first started reading the books after Goblet of Fire was released. In fact, I finished reading the fourth book while I was with the aforementioned aunts that Thanksgiving. Many of my fondest memories are from shared Potter experiences I had with friends. These books essentially defined my teenage years and the stories continue to play a part in my life as an adult.

I tend to re-read the whole series straight through at least once a year. Usually twice. I have yet to do it three times in one year, but I imagine it’ll happen someday.

This July marks the end of an era. The final Harry Potter movie comes out on July 15. There will be no more movies, no more books, no more releases of any kind to use as an excuse to dress up as a favorite character and party with fellow geeks. I was sad when the final book came out a few years ago, but I knew there were more movies to look forward to. Now those will be over too. It’s bittersweet.

But because of this, I’ve been rather reflective lately regarding the last ten years of Pottermania in my life. Over the next months, I’ll be reflecting these points on here. At first, it’s probably going to be a little random, but starting at the end of May or beginning of June, I’ll start to re-read the series again to get ready for the last movie. At which point, I’ll be reflecting on certain moments, certain theories or debates, certain bits of the story, etc. Book by book. Because each book holds special meaning to me. For the last three, I went to the midnight releases. There are specific thoughts I remember having regarding the books or theories around them. There are certain things that happened in my life that relate either directly or indirectly to reading Harry Potter at that time. And, of course, there are certain friends I have that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, certain experiences I’ve had that I wouldn’t have gotten to have.

I feel like, because Harry Potter has held such a spot in my life for so long, it’s long overdue to reflect on all of this. I hope you join me for this ride.