Monday, October 31, 2011


I'm close to starting the editing process for LIFE ON THE EDGE and am getting excited about the book soon becoming reality! Over the next few months, I'll be posting short excerpts to give you an idea of the story. Here's what will likely be on the back cover of the book:

Nineteen-year-old Emily is new to pairs skating, but she and her partner Chris have a big dream–to be the first American team to win Olympic gold. Their young coach Sergei, who left Russia after a mysterious end to his skating career, believes they can break through and make history.

Emily and Chris are on track to be top contenders at the 2002 Winter Games. But when forbidden feelings spark between Emily and Sergei, broken trust and an unexpected enemy threaten to derail Emily's dreams of gold.

And a little teaser from the book:

The wind picked up, rustling the trees and sending my empty cup skittering over the table. Sergei snatched it and noticed the time on his watch.

“Oh, wow, it’s two thirty. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stay this late.”

“No worries. I can sleep till noon tomorrow.”

He rose from his chair, stretching his arms. “Do you think they all killed each other downstairs?”

“My guess is they played so hard they passed out at some point. That’s been known to happen.”

I got up and smoothed my skirt. I’d kicked off my sandals hours ago, and the weathered wood of the patio was cool under my bare feet.

Sergei took a step toward me. “Thanks again for the great meal. And the even better company.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m really glad you came.”

I stood on tippy-toes to give him a quick hug, but Sergei’s strong arms held me against him, enveloping my small frame. His body exuded warmth. I closed my eyes and breathed in the woody scent of his cologne. We’d shared plenty of hugs at competitions, but this felt so different, like we belonged nowhere else but in this embrace.

Thanks for stopping by and check back for more excerpts!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Skate Canada Ramblings - SD and Men's SP

Since I was able to watch the entire Short Dance and Men's Short Program on IceNetwork, I thought I'd record my thoughts as I watched. It was refreshing to see a large and enthusiastic crowd at the event after the smattering of people in the arena at Skate America.

The Men's Short Program started with Elladj Balde, a Canadian making his Senior Grand Prix debut. This was the first time I've seen him skate, and I thought he had good flair in his footwork. I appreciated that he didn't use the typical music cuts for his Spanish-themed program.

Ross Miner - After the great end to his 2010-11 seasonI was excited to see how he would start this season. Unfortunately, a singled axel and a lessened combination didn't make for a good beginning. His program was the same short he did last year.  I thought he should've gotten a new costume to freshen it up a bit.

Denis Ten - I love the basics of his skating. His music is rather somber and couldn't be used in ice dance, but he makes it work. Stumble on the triple axel, but Frank Carroll seemed happy in the Kiss & Cry.

Andrei Rogozine - Another Canadian I was seeing for the first time. He had very sharp and intense footwork, but I wasn't crazy about his style of movement or his music selection.

Javier Fernandez - It's immediately evident from the classiness of his costume that he's been freed from Morozov. Huge quad! The last section of his music ("I Love Paris") brings back memories of Michelle Kwan and Brian Boitano  skating together on a TV special (the MK ubers will remember). Huge score!

Alexander Majorov - Hadn't seen this Swede before. From his busy shirt, I was expecting some sort of disco  music. Turned out to be Austin Powers. His jump entries looked a little awkward to me. Good personality, but the music made me think yet again how Lichtman/Copely should've been invited to fill the open ice dance spot.

Adam Rippon - I got to see him perform this short program in August at the Evening on Ice show in L.A., where he brought the house down. He did a great job with it tonight, too, with a little hiccup on the triple axel. I was expecting a higher score, and the protocols tell me an under-rotated jump was the issue.

Kevin Van Der Perren - The Feeling Begins . . . again. Still trying to figure out how The Feeling Begins and Cirque du Soleil fit together as a music mix . . .

Patrick Chan - We can always count on Pat to be eco-friendly and recycle programs. I've had an extreme dislike of "Take 5" since the early 2000's when everyone and their brother seemed to skate to it, so I had a hard time getting into this program. He does have some impressive footwork.

Daisuke Takahashi - A sharp contrast after Chan. His music is soulful and allows for much greater depth of feeling than Pat's jazzy tune. As always, Dai shows he can truly dance on ice, moving like liquid around the rink. He looks in fighting shape!

The Short Dance began with the Canadian couple Tarrah Harvey and Keith Gagnon. Unison was lacking in spots and the twizzles looked a little out of sorts. Wasn't digging their music.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates - My first note was for Evan to not slick his hair. Stick with the curls! I like the choreography and love the straight-line lift, but I wish they'd chosen a different piece of music for the middle section. I find the vocals a little screechy. Unexpected falls at the end of the program, luckily not on an element. Love Madi's dress and Evan is looking much more mature on the ice. I think they have a sophisticated look together.

Ekaterina Pushkash/Jonathan Guerreiro - I found some parts sloppy. Something just didn't flow right throughout the program. Had a momentary flashback to 2006 Tanith and Ben because of their rhumba music. Loved the green color of Ekaterina's dress, but I would've preferred a different cut on top.

Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Tkachenko - Ekaterina's skirt makes me think they're going to do flamenco rather than mambo and samba. They have better posture and flow than the previous Russian team. Not sure they captured the true flavor of the dances, though.

Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte - Best program of the night so far! Now there's some movement with real feeling and connection to the music. And they know how to bring the pretty.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje - I think Kaitlyn's animal print dress would look better without sleeves. It's a little too much tiger right now. Really enjoyed the intricacy of their choreography, especially in the rhumba section. They get stronger every year.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir - Not quite buying into Tessa's shimmying. She needs to go full-out with it. I find the music transition from "Temptation" to "Mujer Latina" a little jarring. Very cool move at the end where Scott spins Tessa like the Latin ballroom dancers do on the floor.

Looking forward to a tight battle for gold in the Men's Free Skate. The Dance podium looks pretty much set barring disasters, but I'm excited to see everyone's new free dances!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Skate America Reflections

I apologize for the absence of reports after Friday. Once the competition started, the lack of time between events didn't allow me to collect my thoughts. I hope everyone enjoyed the photos I posted, though!

I'll go in chronological order of the events and start with the Men's Short Program. After two days of shaky practices, the men delivered a solid event overall. Doug Razzano doubled one of his jumps but otherwise performed superbly in his Grand Prix debut. He had wonderful connection to his music, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, one of my all-time favorite pieces. Ricky Dornbush had rough practices on Thursday and Friday but came out firing on Friday night. His high-energy Beethoven short program works well with his showmanship.

Takahiko Kozuka struggled with the quad in practice and his struggles continued into the competition. His fall on the quad put him in second place behind Michal Brezina, who I enjoyed seeing in person for the first time. The spring in his jumps are impressive. I'd like to see him show a little more personality in his programs. I remember his charming "Singin' In the Rain" exhibition a years ago and how that made him stand out to me among the junior skaters.

The Short Dance was next, and the number of mishaps brought back memories of the error-laden Latin OD at the 2006 Olympics. Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam experienced a "Charlie White Cup of Russia OD From Hell" program with three deductions. Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello were skating well until Lorello went down in the middle of the twizzles, and Fabian Bourzat tripped out of nowhere.

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue skated first and came out looking strong but received a much lower score than I was expecting. I couldn't call a Level One from a Level Four pattern of the rhumba if my life depended on it, though, so I can't comment on the accuracy of the technical judging. In addition to the young American team, I also really enjoyed Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, especially the rhumba section of their program.

The stars of the night were Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and since I'd never seen them do a Latin program, I'd waited anxiously to see if they could pull it off. And they did with flying colors! Meryl brought the sass, down to her spunky ponytail. The music cuts flowed together nicely and I still have the Spanish version of J-Lo's "On the Floor" stuck in my head.

Saturday's events kicked off with the Men's Free Skate, which was a disastrous splat fest. Doug Razzano was the highlight of the competition with a beautifully skated, clean program. I'm not a fan of singles skaters using tango music, but his tango program is one of the best of the bunch. Ricky Dornbush started off his program with a quad and the crowd went wild, but then a series of little mistakes took some of the steam out of the performance. The rest of the event was a blur of doubled jumps, falls, and generally sloppy skating.

After the disappointing Men's competition, I hoped we wouldn't see more disasters in the Free Dance. The dancers answered the call and left behind the trips and slips from the prior night. Hubbell and Donohue again skated with great connection and maturity. I wasn't quite sure what to make of their free dance when I saw it on YouTube last month, but watching it in person, I could feel the emotion in the performance. Madison and Zach have gelled well and don't look like a new team to me.

Paul and Islam have a wonderful elegant quality to their skating and I love their softness, but I couldn't get into their music. It felt a little drab and old for them. I'd like to see a better vehicle for their freshness.

Tobias and Stagniunas got the crowd clapping with their medley of 50's tunes, and their clean and engaging performance earned them the bronze medal. Isabella has a lot of charisma, and Deividas feeds off of it and shows off his partner excellently. "Only You" is one of my favorite golden oldies, so I was excited to see it used in dance!

Davis and White ended the event with a bang, thrilling the audience with a joyful and technically brilliant program to Die Fledermaus. There are many wonderful moments in the program, but my favorite is the rotational lift in which Meryl seems to fly onto Charlie's shoulder and then establishes such a regal position. The lift just comes out of nowhere and happens so fast, and it is beautifully timed with the sweeping waltz.

After the excitement of the free dance, I was ready to see some great skating in the Pairs Short Program, and all three American teams came through with inspired efforts. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin seem like a seasoned pair after only a few months together. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker look more physically matched this year (Rockne's haircut helps!), and I loved their speed and attack. Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin also look improved and appear to be skating with good confidence.

The favorites Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy couldn't complete the throw triple axel, and they shockingly ended up in fifth place after the short. The second group of pairs was a bit of a disappointment overall after the great skates in the first group.

I skipped the Ladies Short Program, so I'll pick up the action on Sunday with the Pairs Free Skate. Vise and Baldwin had another great skate, probably the best program I've seen them perform, and Denney and Coughlin brought the audience to its feet with their close-to-perfect performance. Savchenko and Szolkowy rebounded from Saturday and gave an inspired performance of what I think will become another signature program for them. They always take chances on new music and choreography, and I appreciate the unique quality of their skating.

I spent most of the Ladies Free Skate reading the skating message boards on my Blackberry, but I did enjoy Alissa Czisny's program. I love "Valse Triste" and Alissa is a skater who can do the music justice. Hopefully, her jumps will get a little stronger as the season goes along and by Nationals the program will be a masterpiece!

The Exhibition is always a nice way to end the event, and this year's provided some memorable moments. My favorite performances of the night were given by Denis Ten, Takahiko Kozuka, Savchenko and Szolkowy, and Davis and White. Denis was flying across the ice and skated so lyrically to the music of Cinema Paradiso. Takahiko could just skate around the rink without jumping and it would be incredible to watch his mastery over the blade. Aliona and Robin have "it" and owned the ice as they performed yet more unique moves to a quiet but powerful piece of music. And Meryl and Charlie closed the show to Adele's "Someone Like You," displaying that simmering-under-the-surface emotion they exhibit so well. Their darker and melancholy programs (e.g. Eleanor Rigby, Billie Jean) are some of my favorites.

The level of the skating in this competition was a little up and down, but the highs made up for the lows! I thought Ontario was an excellent host city even though the attendance was dismal. The weather and the convenience of the hotel, the arena, and the airport made up for the sparse crowd. A couple of notes to the USFSA, though, if I may:

1. I know you want the seats filled on the side of the arena that will be seen on TV, but I would like to be able to sit on the judges' side if I so choose. The ice dancers face most of their lifts and dance moves to the judges' side, so we only got to see the backside of those elements.

2. Please let us sit wherever we'd like for practice sessions. Since I was mandated to sit across from the judges during the event, I wanted to sit on the opposite side of the arena during practice for a different vantage point and to take better photographs. However, we weren't allowed over there. I've only been to one other event that restricted seating at practice and that was Worlds '09 in L.A.

Well, that's a wrap from Skate America! I hope you enjoyed the reports and photos and will continue to follow my blog. I'll be attending my first Grand Prix Final this year and am looking forward to providing thoughts and photos from Quebec City! The next few months should prove to be exciting as I'm also working toward the publication of my first novel, due to be released in early 2012. I think it's a story many skating fans will enjoy, and I'll be posting more details as we get closer to the release date!

I'll leave you with a couple of videos I took at the USFSA's Friends of Figure Skating breakfast. The three American dance teams - Davis/White, Hubbell/Donohue, and Cannuscio/Lorello - and Doug Razzano attended the event and spoke briefly to the FOFS members:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Skate America Sunday Events Photos

Sunday was another full day of events, so I'm quickly posting all photos from today and will provide some thoughts later! Here are the Pairs Short Program (from Saturday), Pairs Free Skate, and Ladies Free Skate photos:
2011 Skate America Pairs SP, Free Skate, and Ladies Free Skate

And the photos from tonight's Exhibition:
2011 Skate America Exhibition

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Skate America Saturday Practice, Men's FS, and Free Dance Photos

Will write some thoughts on the competitions later but wanted to quickly post my photos from Saturday morning practice, the men's free skate, and the free dance:

2011 Skate America Saturday Practice, Men's LP, and Free Dance

Skate America Short Dance & Men's SP

No time to blog because sleep calls, but I wanted to post my photos from tonight. Here's the link to the Short Dance and Men's Short Program photos:

2011 Skate America Short Dance and Men's SP

Friday, October 21, 2011

Skate America Friday Practice

Today's practices started with the men, who all looked a little shaky again. Still hoping they're getting it out of their system before the competition tonight! I appreciated that many of the guys wore their costumes, which made for better photos.

The ice dancers followed the men again, and the Latin SD rhythm proves to be much more entertaining than the waltzes done last year. The costumes are also much more entertaining. The Canadian teams put away their basic black and came decked out in their costumes. Nathalie and Fabian always provide an interesting look, today in lime green.

Most of the dance teams had an authentic flavor to their programs, and I think the crowd will be dancing along with them tonight. Madison and Zach impressed me a lot with their program, looking very strong and tuned in to the rhythm. Meryl and Charlie performed their run-through last and showed they've learned well from ballroom dancer Elena Grinenko.

Pairs practice was entertaining, and all the American pairs looked sharp and ready to compete. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin look like they've been skating together much longer than a few months. They have a great connection and lovely flow across the ice. Rockne Brubaker and Mary Beth Marley have made noticeable improvement since last season. I found their speed to be impressive and their elements solid. Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin also had a good practice, performing their free skate with power and emotion.

In the second group of pairs, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Solkowy skated their free skate without the elements, but they still enthralled us with their intricate and unique choreography. I'm excited to see the full program!

Here are my photos from today's practices:

2011 Skate America Friday Practice

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Skate America Thursday Practice

Today's practice day started with the men. The first group featured Takahiko Kozuka, and I forgot just how smooth his blades are on the ice. It's a treat watching him do crossovers around the rink. He popped a number of jumps during his run-through, but his skating was still sublime. Also in the first group was Daisuke Murakami. He looked very solid on his jumps.  Samuel Contesti was in his usual entertaining form, giving lots of personality to his footwork.

The second group included all the American men. Richard Dornbush skated his new Beethoven short program. All of the guys were a little shaky in their run-throughs, but hopefully that means they've all gotten past the jitters and will be in good form tomorrow night.

The ice dancers were up next, and we were treated to a variety of costumes. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat had on their full Egyptian gear and make-up, while Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas were hard to miss in bright red. Deividas took off his shiny red jacket for the run-through, so I'm wondering if it's just an accessory to his costume. The Canadian teams, Alexandra Paul/Mitch Islam and Kharis Ralph/Asher Hill, kept up the tradition of Virtue/Moir and Crone/Poirier and wore all black warm-up outfits.

In the second group, Meryl Davis and Charlie White debuted their new free dance to "Die Fledermaus." They didn't do a full run-through but the parts I saw were light and lovely. Meryl's light blue dress was stunning and the skirt moved beautifully with the music. All the dance teams skated their free dances and skated them well. Should be a great competition!

I didn't make it to the pairs or ladies practices today but hope to catch the pairs tomorrow, in addition to the men and dance. Here is the link to my photos from today:

2011 Skate America Thursday Practice

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Skate America Arrival Day

Hello from Ontario, California! Today was a beautiful sunny day in the Inland Empire after the cool morning fog disappeared. So far, the area seems to be a great spot for a competition. The ride from the airport to the official hotel took less than ten minutes, the arena is within walking distance from the hotel, and there's a huge outlet mall a mile away. Many restaurants and fast food options are also nearby.

Tomorrow's practice day kicks off with the men followed by ice dance. Will we get to see Richard Dornbush's new Beethoven short program? Meryl Davis and Charlie White's new "Die Fledermaus" free dance? Who will wear their costumes to practice -- their real costumes? And how many of skating's greatest hits will we hear?

I'm looking forward to finding out the answers to all these questions and more tomorrow! Let the Senior Grand Prix season begin!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Coming Soon: Skate America

Next Wednesday, I'll be leaving for Ontario, California, site of 2011 Hilton HHonors Skate America. I'm going to try to post daily reports and photos from practices and the competitions. Pray for a good wi-fi connection at the hotel!

I'm glad Skate America is the first Grand Prix event once again after the schedule switch the past two years. I like having the first look at the skaters' programs (or at least the programs of the skaters who haven't done summer competitions and have kept us in suspense). Hopefully, we'll see some quality skating. Often, skaters are still working out the kinks in their new programs this time of year, but I've witnessed some memorable performances at Skate America over the years:

Armin Mahbanoozadeh 2010 Free Skate - "Avatar"

Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao 2009 Short Program - "Who Wants To Live Forever"

Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker 2008 Free Skate - "West Side Story"

Evan Lysacek 2007 Free Skate - "Tosca"

Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviski 2006 Original Dance- "Libertango"

Alissa Czisny 2004 Short Program - "The Mission"

I hope there will be an abundance of memorable moments at this year's event. If you're going to be in Ontario, let me know!

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Setting" the Mood

It's been said that the setting of a book can often become a character in the story. This happens when an author makes the location live and breathe, and the reader feels fully immersed in the place described on the pages. I think it takes a special skill as a writer to provide the right amount of descriptive detail to accomplish this. It's a skill I'm constantly working to attain.

When I first dreamed up the story for my book, LIFE ON THE EDGE, it was a house that determined the setting. I imagined my protagonist living in the Cape Cod townhouse in which I'd stayed a few summers earlier. The charm of the townhome had stayed with me, from the cozy bottom floor kitchen to the rooftop deck, complete with a view of the bay and a never-ending sea breeze. I wanted my main character, Emily, to live there.

From that Hyannis house grew the rest of the backdrop to the story. Emily is a figure skater, so she needed a place to train. Check - a few towns away there's an ice rink, where Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie once skated.

Because Boston is one of my favorite cities and I'm very familiar with it, I decided to make it Emily's hometown. It was during my third trip to Boston that I discovered neighboring Brookline and the area in which I imagined Emily growing up.

I could picture her as a child, riding her bike along the quiet, tree-lined street, and walking with her dad to the Coolidge Corner T stop to catch the Green Line train to Fenway Park. With these images in my mind, I started to fill out Emily's backstory, which helped me know my main character better. 

Since Emily is an Olympic-eligible skater, LIFE ON THE EDGE takes her to a number of competitions in a variety of locations - Paris, Tokyo, and Vancouver, to name a few. I haven't visited all the places I wrote about in the book, so I did research in order to accurately describe them. The internet is a writer's best friend!

Online information can only give so much insight, though. Experiencing your story setting first hand provides invaluable sensory data - the sights, the smells, the sounds that can't be appreciated through a computer screen. You can feel what your characters feel as they live your story.

Have you ever "walked in your characters' shoes" and visited the places you write about?  Scheduled a vacation to a location you want to write about in the future?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Skating Addiction

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I'm addicted to attending figure skating competitions. It's been seven weeks since my last event (a benefit show, enough to hold me over until the Grand Prix season begins).

My addiction started innocently enough. A friend from college, who is also a die-hard fan of the sport, happened to be in Cleveland during the 2000 U.S. National Championships, and she called me from Gund Arena, so excited about everything she saw. She said we absolutely had to go to Boston for the 2001 Championships. I'd always loved watching Nationals on TV, but I was thinking, who really goes to those events?

My friend brought me the ticket order form, and before I knew it, we'd plunked down a few hundred dollars for All-Event tickets. I flew into snow-covered Boston in January 2001 and had no idea what I was getting into, how many different places I'd travel to during the next ten years for competitions.

The first thing that jumped out at me in Boston was how the skaters I'd watched for years on TV were now walking all around me at the hotel and sitting next to me on the bus to the arena. I was completely starstruck! I didn't know where to look first.

The next thing that blew me away was how bright and sparkly the costumes were in person. Remember, this was before HDTV became popular. When the first group of skaters came out on the ice, I felt like I was in that scene in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy steps out of the black and white wrecked house and into colorful Munchkinland. I couldn't believe how every sequin glinted under the bright lights of the Fleet Center.

Watching the competition live as opposed to at home, I could really feel the emotion of the skaters, and the energy of the crowd heightened the excitement even more. I enjoyed seeing skaters that never made the TV broadcast, especially the young up-and-comers. I remember watching 15-year old Evan Lysacek place 12th and being so impressed with him. And I discovered a young skater, Braden Overett, who totally wowed me and made me a fan for life.

But the highlight was seeing my favorite skater of all-time, Michelle Kwan, compete. She owned the building. Nothing could compare to the frenzy she created when she stepped on the ice. Watching her skate was such a privilege.

After I returned home and told my sister all about my experience, I didn't have to do much convincing to get her on board for 2002 Nationals in Los Angeles. And from there, I couldn't stop - 2003 Dallas, 2004 Atlanta, 2005 Portland . . . eleven straight Nationals and tickets purchased for 2012 in San Jose. Along the way, I also added in Skate America as an annual trip and threw in Worlds '09 and the 2010 Olympics (which was a dream come true!).

I plan to continue feeding my addiction as it is a healthy one. Attending skating events has allowed me to visit cities I never would've visited, and I've met some amazing skaters, skater families, and fans over the years. Being at competitions is such a departure from the real world. My friends and I always joke about wanting to stay in the "world of sparkles and classical music" after we get home and have to go back to work. It's a great escape, a trip where you only have to worry about timing meal breaks between events and catching the shuttle on time for practices.

If you've never attended a skating competition, I highly recommend it! Even if it's just a small club competition at your local rink. It's so much different than watching on TV, and you'll have an all-new appreciation for the skaters.

If you're going to an event this season, let me know below!  I have lots of tips I can share if you're a first-timer :)