Saturday, April 26, 2014

Publication News: Cantilevers

For me, April was like trying to stuff sweaters into a dresser drawer. You hope for space, for future sweaters, but the current ones you own won’t have it. Your sweaters expand their chests and stretch out, refusing to let you close the drawer all the way.

I’m typically not a busy person in the sense that I have to get in the car and go do things. Weeknights are for exercising and relaxing. Weekends are for catching up on sleep, plotting stories, and the occasional outing. But not this month.

April grabbed me by the shoulders and sang loudly in my ear, declaring that my life this month would be full of adventure. When my MFA pals read their theses in a small graduation ceremony, I was there, trying not to sniffle with pride in the audience. I got autographs from voice actors and bought way too much Sailor Moon merch at a local anime convention. A new friend from work whisked me away on a Friday afternoon for Hibachi, the both of us ignoring the traffic jams and crazy drivers for the sake of good food and a show.

But probably the most epic event this month had to be going to my alma mater, Florida Southern College, as the Guest Author for their literary journal.

You might remember the post I wrote a while back about what I learned by serving as a fiction editor on two literary journals. In my undergraduate years, I climbed from being a staffer to the literary editor of Cantilevers: Journal of the Arts.

Being invited back years later as Guest Author was surreal. Something like coming full circle. My days of introducing Cantilevers’ Guest Authors and Poets are over. Being on the other side was just… amazing.

The Unveiling Ceremony took place on a Tuesday night. I was in the basement of the new English building, one that I hadn’t had the pleasure of using before graduating (though, as nice as the new building is, I’m glad I took my classes in the old one. It had undeniable character, haha).

Getting to see some of my old professors was amazing. And a little tearful. Going to college was my first time being away from home, and FSC’s English Department was like a second family to me. Even though my old friends and fellow students had long since graduated, the current students were delightful. I loved the energy and excitement at the event. I can’t explain, even now, how immediately comfortable I felt when I walked up to the podium to read my published short story. It was like being at home. I guess this is what school spirit feels like, haha.

Being Guest Author meant that I got to judge best poetry and best prose in this year’s issue. It also meant submitting a story of my own to be published. I had written a new story for Cantilevers called “Elsewhere,” inspired by Victorian post-mortem photography and mermen.

You’re probably not surprised.

I was actually inspired by a particular photo of two sisters. The one standing in the photo is dead. I was curious about the dead sister, of course, but the story only came when I considered the living sister’s feelings. How did it feel to pose next to her dead sister? What did she think of her sister when she was alive? But there always has to be some magic, so you’ll find stolen pearls and a fishy vagrant thrown into the tale.

Cantilevers is only printed and distributed for FSC students at this time, but I’m sure you can see this story again. One day… or else squint really hard at the picture to see the beginning, haha.

The best part of the night was getting to talk with the students. Honestly, hearing that they loved the story, along with sharing some healthy geeking out about magical realism and Eisley, kept a smile on my face for the rest of the week.

Having studied the craft of fiction in grad school, I find myself at war with the lessons I learned in academia and what the “real world” is looking for in good (sellable, perhaps) fiction. Even as I was reading “Elsewhere,” my MFA brain was chattering and poking holes wherever it could. So when I got to talk with the students afterward, I was both in awe and thrilled by their kind words and enthusiasm for my story.

The goal is always to become a stronger writer, to tell my stories better. While my MFA program did wonderful things for me and my growth as a writer, the truth is that lessons come from everywhere.

Some lessons lead you to a better way of writing, while others are here to remind you that, yes, you’re doing it right. Relax. Fall in love again with whatever you’re writing and don’t let your inner editor rob you of that.

In other news, April’s minutes and hours have been sucked up by moving. Every evening, I’d come home from work, pack more stuff from my old room into boxes, and shuttle it over to the new house. Me and ‘rents have chosen to move into a cozier house; it’s much smaller, but has a lot of character and charm – something that the old house lacked, for all its space.

The movers finally came this week, so the past two days have been a whirlwind of shifting furniture around and finding new places for everything. Since I couldn’t rest unless all my books were shelved (or on the floor next to my bed – I’m not that neat), I tore open our boxes and ended up getting all my books shelved during the first night in the new house. And then my mom and I finished reshelving her books in the library the next day. Nothing says “finished” like books all back where they belong. Once that was done, the rest of the house came together.

When I said the house has character, I meant it. My parents are obsessed with non-colors and I had been living in a sea of eggshell-white for far too long. So my new room is my favorite shade of blue: a powdery, hazy lake-like blue. And with my white furniture, the combined effect makes me feel like I’m stepping into some enchanted space. I can’t wait to write stories here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Disney's Flower & Garden Festival 2014

There's nothing more rewarding after finishing a big project than celebrating its completion in style. Thankfully, Disney always has something fun planned this time of year: Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival.

Epcot typically has a lot of flowers all year round, but the festival paints the entire park in vibrant colors (and mosquitoes, due to the sudden change to hot weather).

The topiaries are the stars of the festival, though they usually remain the same every year (which is why I only have the Muppets one pictured here - in honor of the epic movie that just came out, Muppets Most Wanted).

The newest addition to the festival is multiple tiny gardens throughout Epcot, each with a different theme - either from a Disney / Pixar movie or learning experience. I took a photo of the Gardener's Palette on the bottom left, focusing on color theories and language. It was probably my favorite of the gardens.

The Festival Center was abuzz with presentations from gardeners and plant life geniuses, including HGTV stars (in theory. I wasn't there on those days, haha). The four photos on the right were taken in the Festival Center; in the space where the Food & Wine Festival shows off chocolate sculptures, this festival presents a pint-sized history of Disney Horticulture. Not as interesting as chocolate, but still pretty cool.

Another new thing: the Flower & Garden Festival has FOOD. Guys. Guys. Guys. Instead of booths, they're called "Outdoor Kitchens." And the food, as a whole, was fantastic. Apparently, Disney started the outdoor kitchens last year... and I somehow missed it. WHAT. I chalk it up the stress of my impending graduation last year. March-May is always a weird time.

And where there are booths / outdoor kitchens, there will be passport stamps. And I collected them all! HERE WE GO:

(Left to Right: Festival Center; Gardener's Palette; Mater's Parts, Plants & Play Garden; Garden Retreat; Mike & Sulley's Monstrous Garden; Water Wise Herbs and Vegetables; Pineapple Promenade; Merry Meadows Outpost; Buttercup Cottage; English Tea Garden; Fleur de Lys; Backyard Play Garden; Taste of Marrakesh, Hanami; The Smokehouse: Barbecue and Brews; Primavera Kitchen; Florida Fresh; Lotus House; Jardin de Fiestas; Urban Farm EATS) 

Food I Ate:

The food was great for the strange fluctuating weather as Florida jerkily transitions into its usual intense hot weather. The food offered stayed on the cool size, either chilled or naturally refreshing with fruits and veggies. Ever since I heard about the outdoor kitchens, I'd been dying for violet lemonade - I can't describe how perfect it was. The candied strawberries peppered with sesame seeds made candy apples pale in comparison. And the Shiso violet sauce used with the Hanami sushi is divine. To the point where I'd fight an army of bridge trolls for a bottle (ohhhh, I hope Disney sells it someday. It seems to be an exclusive festival creation).

The only real disappointment was the Caprese push-up pop... because it was tiny/ Even Oleander from Flour House wouldn't be able to make a meal of it. Yikes. 

Ghost Pepper-Dusted Tilapia with Crisp Winter Melon Slaw and Mint Oil
Urban Farm EATS

Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits with Andouille Sausage, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Cilantro
Florida Fresh

Beijing-Style Candied Strawberries
Lotus House
*My Favorite*

Hanami Sushi (A flavorful combination of salmon, scallop, and beef topped rice balls served with a Shiso Violet Sauce)
*My Favorite*

Popped Rice Cakes (Japanese puffed rice cakes with green tea whipped cream and azuki)

Freshly Baked Potato and Cheddar Cheese Biscuit with Smoked Salmon Tartare
Buttercup Cottage
*My Favorite*

Frozen Desert Violet Lemonade
Pineapple Promenade
*My Favorite*

Caprese Push-Up Pop (Tomato, mozzarella, and balsamic)
Intermissions Cafe, Festival Center

Pork and Apple Sausage Roll with House-Made Piccalilli 
Buttercup Cottage

Macaron a la Fleur d'Oranger (Orange blossom macaron with white chocolate ganache)
Fleur de Lys
*My Favorite*

Little German Village:

German's little train village is usually decorated a bit for each festival, and the Flower & Garden Festival is no different. The main area has lampposts with festival banners hanging from them.

You can see the flower stands and people either relaxing on benches or busy doing... things. Like walking. 

Okay. So not as exciting as the mini booths during the Food & Wine Festival. BUT I'm sure that the decorations will be expanded in the future. I expect to see a lot more little flowers and gardens throughout the village next year. 

I keep a special eye on one corner of the village, where a church sits on top of a hill. The figurines throughout the village do change from time to time, but I've grown attached to the characters in this section because they've changed the most over the years I've gone to Disney. So imagine my surprise when I saw the nun, fallen on the pathway still in her sitting position! She's never been dislodged before. Which led me to wonder exactly what devilish thing has caused her to collapse (maybe the push-up pop, haha!).