The Granger Leadership Academy in St. Louis: Part II

After breakfast at Jessie’s house, we headed to the hotel and met with our tables for the morning meeting. There, we talked about our Hero Identity (Think about your own hero identity – draw, write, mindmap, or use whatever works for you) and our Commitment (What would be in your great hero speech? What promise are you making to the world? To yourself?). My commitment was:

I have a nice life. My family is close and supportive, my friends are funny and smart, I have a good job and great cats. My promise is to push myself as much as I can, use my power for good, and always do what is right instead of what is easy.

My hero identity was a bad picture of Dumbledore and a worse picture of Leslie Knope with my thoughts in the middle:

Embrace my qualities but identify and correct my negative qualities sooner.

Then I went on to explain to my group how I identify as the offspring of a cringe-worthy sexual union between Dumbledore and Leslie Knope. It was probably too early for that explanation. Actually, there is no good time for it, it’s wrong on like, so many levels. But it is how I feel. And, like most children, I want to keep the good qualities of my parents and recognize and improve the not-so-good qualities.

I was actually really excited to get home and compare what I wrote this year to what I wrote last year! My GLA16 Commitment is in my first blog post about GLA17. My Hero Identity was less gross and used words instead of terrible portraits. I wrote that I stand up for others, that I have intuition and can read the emotions of other people, that I’m mentally, physically, and emotionally strong, and that I’m always learning and always caring. Here the two years side-by-side:


After our morning meeting, we broke for our first workshop! I chose Hogwarts Houses & the Heroine’s Journey with Xandra Robinson-Burns, Oxford grad, TEDx speaker, Gryffindor, and creator of Heroine Training, an online school that offers personal development courses inspired by fiction.

She gave us an awesome intro to her Lumos Your Life course that is starting this summer, designed to “take a tour through the four Hogwarts houses” and create “a Potter-themed plan for forming habits and transfiguring your personal dreams into a magical mission”. Essentially, we tend to censor our dreams before they materialize. Xandra took us through the four houses – Gryffindor: Dare to Dream, Ravenclaw: Ready Your Mind, Hufflepuff: Find Your Quest, and Slytherin: Live Your Legacy – and helped us unblock our censorship and start the journey of making our dreams our reality.

Best outfit ever. Also, she’s a genius.

As Gryffindors, we confessed our greatest dream to ourselves. Mine is to own my own business, and that business right now is Renegade Development, creating professional development workshops for young people, creatives, and the young-at-heart.

As Ravenclaws, we listed the resources we will have to tap to start achieving that dream. I brainstormed researching alternative professional development companies (like Xandra’s!), making a list of professional development books by women and POC, and connecting with these people on social media.

As Hufflepuffs, we examined why we do what we do: I also write books about community and creative problem solving and coming of age because I want everyone to have a voice and contribute to the world. Everybody should have the opportunity to grow as a person, gain confidence, pursue their creative and professional passions, and achieve their goals.

As Slytherins, on the other hand, we examined how we can be more selfish. If we want to be the best we can be, we need to be able to work when we want to work and own our own time. I’ve gotten a lot better at not giving in to time-wasters and focusing my activities according to my goals, and I want to be able to help others do the same.

Xandra even wrote each workshop participant a personalized letter that she handed out over the course of the weekend! I loved her workshop and I can’t wait to check out Lumos Your Life. On her way back to Scotland after GLA, she came to NYC for a few days and organized the first Heroine Training Traveling Tea Party (working title). She’s planning monthly meetups where heroines-in-training will convene to talk books, learn from each other, and drink tea. We met at Alice’s Tea Cup on the Upper East Side for tea and scones, Xandra read curated passages from Alice in Wonderland, and the five attendees got to know one another. We even got our fortunes read from mini tarot cards! It was magical.


My next workshop was Wielding Your Power: Keeping Your Heart Open & Your Ego in Check with Michelle Akin, a life coach, leadership trainer, singer, writer, and new mom who is committed to creating amazing leaders in the world. She dove right in and got us to reflect on ourselves and to think about our essence – how we were born – compared to what we grow into. We talked about grief and survival mechanisms – where we go when we’re afraid. And we came to terms with the fact that peoples’ opinions of you are not actually about you. People bring so much of their own baggage to their judgement and opinions of you and, even though we’re taught that we should strive to be liked and respected by everyone, you don’t need everyone’s respect if you respect yourself. There was lots of spirited debate about this topic (should we strive for the respect of others or not?). Michelle also talked about her experiences as a coach, which struck a chord with me as I’m beginning a similar journey with Renegade Development.

After lunch with my new NYC friends, it was time for my workshop!

The concept of The Art of the Humblebrag: Developing an Elevator Pitch to Let Everyone Know Just How Awesome You Are came about like most of my best ideas: in the shower (showering is super boring, so I do a lot of thinking in there). Bragging has always been hard for me, like most people, because we’re taught to not talk about ourselves (especially as women). It’s even harder when you don’t have a “normal” life/job/career/family/hobbies/etc. You either say too much or too little or downplay your achievements or don’t articulate exactly what it is that you do very well.

I realized very quickly that most people I knew had this problem, so I started researching bragging. Bragging led me to all sorts of other professional development topics and I ended up coming up with a few workshops based on goal-setting, communication, networking, elevator pitches/bragging, and cover letters/resumes which I have geared toward young/creative people, and I’m now beginning to present them in NYC.

My workshop went better than I could have hoped. The workshop attendees were super engaged and had tons of questions and suggestions. Basically, we talked about self-confidence and how bragging about yourself should be re-framed as telling a story about yourself. Then we wrote down ten awesome items we could use in a pitch (jobs, volunteering, cool places we’ve traveled to, interesting hobbies, etc.). We then learned how to tailor elevator pitches to the listener and situation (no one likes to hear a cookie-cutter pitch!) and I encouraged everyone to practice minipitches in their everyday lives (Literally, when you’re in the elevator with someone and they ask you how your weekend went, don’t just say, “fine”. Tell them about the novel you’re working on or the volunteering you did or the surprise birthday party you planned for your friend. And then ask them what they did!). Practice makes perfect!

Finally, we used items from our list of ten things to create an elevator pitch with a specific person and goal in mind. I really wished the workshop could have been longer; there was so much more to cover and I wanted to be able to practice pitches and for people to give feedback to one another, but we only had an hour.

One attendee asked if she could pitch to me in the hallway afterward. She had previously been stuck with her list of ten things, wondering where the common thread was. The second I looked at her list, three items popped out to me. They were interesting and unique and seemed related. I pointed out how they could be connected and she gave me a look like, “why didn’t I think of that?” (tip: you and a friend should write pitches for each other – it’s so much easier to brag about our friends than ourselves!). I left her to work on her pitch during the workshop, so I was really excited to hear what she had come up with afterward. IT WAS AMAZING. She used the past-present-future technique of saying what her past experience was, how she was using it in the present day, and what she hoped to do with it in the future. She focused on one common thread and the result was a strong and focused pitch that was honest and effective (because she’s already amazing). Hearing that pitch was the cherry on top of a great workshop!

Still high on workshop success, I headed to ACRONYM: The Leslie Knope Approach to Volunteer Management (and Friendship!) with Camille Talag and Becca Simpson. Camille is the Chapters Manager at the HPA and a combo of Leslise Knope and Uncle Iroh passionate about youth leadership and activism. Becca is the HPA Chapters Curriculum Specialist and aspiring Leslie Knope who thrives on empowering young people to become activists.

Their workshop focused on engaging volunteers, staff, and team members to reach their full potential. I find workshops on volunteer & chapter member engagement very useful because engagement is pretty difficult for our chapter. NYC is huge and people are busy. Many chapter members are individuals as well, meaning that they’re not friends or groups of friends joining together, making it more difficult for them to commit to events with other chapter members who are strangers (or, as I like to call them, future friends). Becca and Camille laid out their ACRONYM and discussed each topic. Here are few takeaways I wrote down:

Accountability: Have “office hours” (on the internet) at a specific time so people can know when to check in.

Conscientious/Collaborative/Community: Create community guidelines and offer opportunity for feedback.

Reflexive: Reflect on what has happened and then apply it to your next attempt.

Observant: Figure out where there are gaps or struggles.

Nurturing: Be a “momager” (mom + manager) and a safe space for failure. Use recognition when someone has done something right.

Yourself: Be authentic & self-aware.

Managing expectations: Have transparency in what you’re doing.

Then they encouraged us to create our own acronyms. I picked DUMBLEDORE (since our chapter is the NYDA and I love Dumbledore). Daring, Understanding, Motivating, Branded, Leading, Engaging, Deliverable, Open, Reflexive, Evolving. I’m definitely using these concepts as a starting off point for engaging chapter members as well as others I work with in the future.

Next up was the keynote with Emily Graslie, the Chief Curiosity Correspondent of the Field Museum in Chicago, which I LOVED. I’d actually never heard of Emily, which is crazy since her story is so cool and we both love dead stuff.

She basically went over her professional life story including how she realized (and then later questioned!) her hero identity. There were lots of ups and downs in her journey; plenty of missteps that brought her to where she is now. When she decided to commit to her hero identity, she turned to the internet and used her art degree and science collection experience and combined these talents and interests to end up getting the coolest job ever.

She also talked about the concept of luck and how we are lucky but often what other people label as our “luck” is really a BUTTLOAD of hard work, learning, failure, trial-and-error, tears, and sometimes blood. And she threw one of my favorite quotes out there:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – maybe Seneca, but has been disputed

She told us to never stop hustling and promoting ourselves and our projects. Her advice to protect our brands and communicate our values really resonated with me as I get more involved with more public-facing projects (being a published author, Twitter, etc.). She asked us: before you post or tweet, does what you’re saying represent you and your values? As long as your social media is consistent and on-brand, you’re doing something right. I highly encourage everyone to check out her content and projects. She was SO INTERESTING! And nice as hell.


Then it was time for our field trip! I cannot say I loved the City Museum. It was very crowded. VERY CROWDED. Also, germs. Also, there were no maps, which my map-brain still cannot comprehend. How am I supposed to know where anything is with no maps!?!?!!? I am not an aimless wanderer. I am a 100% fake “aimless” wanderer. If I say I love to wander aimlessly through neighborhoods or new cities or even through the woods, know that I am absolutely lying to you. I have already studied maps of wherever we are or will be and I have either committed them to memory or I am sneaking glances at them on my phone every ten minutes. That’s just the way it is.

I arrived to the museum hungry and therefore hangry, then had to climb painfully through a metal tube to get to the cafe. I scarfed down a grilled cheese and the nice woman at the counter made me an entire new pot of coffee and then I was good to go. Jessie thankfully led us upstairs and out of the crowds and took me to the room of dead stuff. As previously mentioned, I love dead stuff, so that made me happy.


Then we proceeded to ride a number of slides in the dark. I literally do not know how else to describe it. Finally (FINALLY) we called it quits and went to the bar, which was (inexplicably) a log cabin built into the side of the lobby where I consumed a large draft beer and chatted with my friends, which was much more enjoyable.

After we got back from the City Museum, we stopped by the hotel bar for whiskey gingers and then headed up to MJ’s room where I was forced invited to partake in a Buffy crash course. We watched an episode where no one talked and then another one where everyone sang. I was mostly confused, but I drank some chocolate wine, rejoiced in the obvious gayness of Buffy, and had lot of laughs until it was time to call it a night and head back to Jessie’s house to rest up for the next day.

The Granger Leadership Academy in St. Louis: Part I

Ah, the Granger Leadership Academy. Where best to begin? At the beginning, I suppose. The very beginning.

I first attended the Granger Leadership Academy (GLA) in March 2016 after Jackson Bird, Director of Wizard-Muggle Relations of the Harry Potter Alliance, mentioned it to me at the Harry Potter Conference in Chestnut Hill in October 2015. I had approached the Harry Potter Alliance table at a Harry and the Potters show because I wanted to introduce myself and had just gotten involved in the NYC chapter of the HPA, the NYDA. In December 2015, I became the Chapter Organizer for the NYDA and an active and adoring member of the Harry Potter Alliance. So I figured I’d check out this GLA thing. It was inexpensive and in Providence RI, which I could reach on the train (I will take any excuse to get on a train). I asked for 1.5 days off work and off I went.

Well, it was magical. I was deathly ill the entire weekend and still had the time of my life. I learned SO MUCH and met so many awesome people and finally began to own my label of SJW (Social Justice Wizard).

I attended eight workshops:

  • Wit & Bravery, Ambition & Loyalty: Finding Your Values with Paula Neiweem and Heather Murray, which, among other things, gave me the idea for my “10 Things” list in my Humblebrag workshop
  • Being Your Own Hero with Sam Ducharme and Emma Hollier, where I got a much-needed introduction to self care (obviously necessary since, as previously stated, I was deathly ill for the conference from weeks of burnout)
  • Turning  Sign-ups Into Squads with Janae Phillips, which helped me in my struggle to find (and retain!) NYDA members
  • Once More with Logic Models: Campaign Planning for Vampire Slaying Success with Anna Dardick, which is where the NYDA’s major 2016 campaign – #dontthrowawayyourvote – was born
  • Transgender Advocacy with Jackson Bird who gave us a crash course in trans terminology, pronouns, gender dysphoria, transition, and sex vs. gender
  • From Charity to Change with Becca Simpson who explained how we can take our philanthropic energies and enact actual change
  • Narrative Placemaking in Clubs and Classrooms with Nia DeCoux who helped us discover how, as leaders, we can put diversity and representation at the forefront of our approaches
  • Showing Up For Racial Justice with SURJ where we learned how to recruit and engage white people in racial justice efforts (my first step into active allyship)

We heard keynotes from Jackson Bird about his transition journey, Swapna Krishna about representation, and Meghan Tonjes about body positivity. We watched Girl Rising about breaking the circle of poverty by ensuring that girls are educated worldwide. I learned the term “three before me”, which I try my hardest to use in group conversations – three other people have to talk before you talk again. I sketched out my “hero identity”: that I stand up for others, that I am strong, and that I am always learning. I made a commitment to myself:

“I want to have an active chapter with members who feel like they are important and making a difference. I believe that the Harry Potter Alliance deserves the respect to be discussed without embarrassment. I am committed to making change that you can see that ripples so strongly that its impact extends beyond my vision.”

By the end of that weekend, I knew I wanted to not only attend GLA 2017, but I wanted to run a workshop. So I did.

Super happy I got a shirt this year!

On Wednesday 3/8 I took my tush up to LaGuardia for my flight to St. Louis. GLA didn’t begin until 4pm Thursday, but I added an extra day onto my trip to schedule a reading for my IT WILL SET YOU FREE book tour. I don’t love the airport nonsense part of flying but I love to travel, so this trip was ideal: an empty airport (how???), a tupperware full of avocado on toast, and a vacant seat next to me so I could spread out all of my work on the plane.

bag with book
Packing list: 10-year-old backpack, bullet journal, IT WILL SET YOU FREE, ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith, workshop for GLA, possibly underwear.

As an added bonus, the HPA put out a bunch of posts on social media recognizing some of the women who volunteer for the HPA and/or who were taking the day off of work to travel to GLA on International Women’s Day. Katie, the Campaigns Director, asked if they could post about me. I was super flattered and pleased to see my post go up as I was waiting for the train to leave for downtown St. Louis from the airport. Definitely gave me the warm fuzzies!

hpa social
Me w/ Scout the hedgehog

Upon arriving downtown, I met my college roommate Chris for lunch at Porano Pasta, which was super yum (Negroni slushies were a great way to kick off the long weekend). Afterward, he gave me a quick walking tour of downtown St. Louis, including the Arch, which is the only thing I remember about St. Louis from the last time I was there (we went up in it and it swayed in the wind and that felt weird so we went back down). It was nice to have an extra pair of hands to get a snap of IT WILL SET YOU FREE!

arch with book

After a while I decided it was probably time to head down to The Loop, drop my stuff off at my friend Jessie‘s house (one of my many great friends from GLA 2016), and get ready for my reading at Subterranean Books. The bookstore was adorable – they had a STORE DOG – and a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the loft to hear local author Debbie Manber Kupfer and me read from our novels.

book in store
IWSYF’s first time in a bookstore!

Afterward, we were starving so Jessie, Debbie, and I headed to Three Kings Pub for food and (v. necessary) beer and then Jessie and I headed home to get a good night’s sleep.

On Thursday 3/9 I had a conference call for work in the morning and then Jessie and I went to the zoo for a bit. The St. Louis Zoo is free, which is amazing, and located just down the road from the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. I wish we could have spent more time there, but on our quick visit we saw African painted dogs (which I love), hyenas, dwarf mongoose, and hippos (which I had never seen swim before – they were very graceful!).

Beautiful, terrifying monsters

Then it was off to GLA! I headed there just before registration for a presenters orientation where Janae, the Chapters Director of the HPA and the conductor and creator of GLA, gave us a rundown of the rooms and an overview of how the weekend would go down. Then it was time for check-in and to meet our table! GLA attendees are split into groups that work together over the weekend, sit together for morning meetings, and share experiences about programming during breaks so no one misses anything. GLA has tons of great programming and it’s almost impossible to choose between workshops. They each fall into different categories: Personal Leadership, Communication, Teamwork, Quests, and World Changing, although there is obviously tons of overlap with the topics covered. I wanted to go to every single one, but could only choose six (+ mine). If only timeturners were real!

One of my goals of GLA was to track down anyone from NYC who wasn’t already active an member of the NYDA and invite (harrass) them to join us! I had MJ Bradley on my list and, as luck would have it, we were in the same group and sat next to each other for the welcome feast! After dinner, she invited me up to her room to meet her friend Rachel and hang out. As is the case with most HPA folks, we were fast friends. You can’t escape me, MJ!

To close out the night, we headed back down to the ballroom for a wizard wrock concert where Tonks and the Aurors serenaded us with her Springsteen-esque anthems, clever raps, and general wrocking goodness. And she played Charlie Weasley, which is my fave and gets stuck in my head like once a week.


Pumped for the weekend, Jessie and I met up with our friends Grace and Amanda (who were also staying with Jessie), hit up the grocery store to stock up for the weekend, and headed home to prepare for the FIRST FULL DAY OF GLA! (up next…)


Why I changed my publication date to be the same as inauguration day

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I can’t think of a better way to explain how I’m feeling right now. Obvious cons: our current administration’s disregard for humanity, our future, and our Constitution. Pros: I have achieved a life-long dream of publishing a novel.

Insane flash fiction about me having duck feet and bringing things to children accompanied by a note from my mother to my grandparents claiming that they might have a novelist on their hands.

My publication date was going to be Monday, January 23rd. But I woke up on January 20th really, really mad. And my husband said, why not today? So I pushed the date forward, and concentrated on publication day instead of inauguration day. And maybe it wasn’t the best idea. Even my dad said that he was staying off social media, so he didn’t see any of my posts (but he was my first customer, which he really wanted to be). On the other hand, my mom said that it worked – she spent her day thinking about my publication and not the other things that were going on.

And sometimes that’s the point of art, right? It’s not as simple as escapism, which can be useful, but we can’t just escape forever. Art gives us power and hope, something to focus on that lets us know that there are positive forces out there. And when I read, sometimes I read hopeless things. But when I write, I can’t help but include that glimmer, that nugget that readers can hold inside and know that there is good out there. And maybe it’ll take a while to get where we’re supposed to be, but they can know they’re not alone.

Reading goals for 2017: Read more. Read more diversely.

It’s a new year and time for some new reading goals! I love using the tracker in Goodreads. I’m actually terrible at the social aspect of Goodreads (but I’m trying to get better!) and I mainly use it for my own rating/records system. Fifty books is my normal goal most years, which I totally failed last year since I was up to my eyes in Harry Potter research for my Quidditch paper at the Harry Potter Conference and also editing my own book, which I read about five thousand times. So if that counts, I crushed my goal.


I’m actually more excited about my reading goal this year than any other year because I’m definitely reading with a purpose. Aside from whatever my book club at work chooses (which tends to be pretty diverse), I’m only really reading diverse books and nonfiction about entrepreneurship/professional development/business as I start working on a side project about professional development for young creatives and begin my new novel, which has two POC protagonists.

What are diverse books? For me, it’s reading about women/POC/people with disabilities/LGBTQ+ people as well as books by those authors. Growing up, most of the books I read were written by white women or men and had white, female or male, able-bodied, middle class, straight protagonists. Some books assigned in school were diverse, but the majority were written by white men. When I was younger, I loved reading books about tall, brown-haired girls who were confident and funny and liked horses, unicorns, and other dorky things, because they were just like me. And there were so many of them!

As I started to write, I created similar stories; my mind ran wild with plots but the characters essentially stayed the same. I have always believed that the best way to improve your writing (and empathy, and education, and worldview, etc.) is by reading, so that’s what I’m doing. Bring on the diversity!

There are some great resources for diversifying your reading lists including The 25 Most Anticipated Books by Women, by Sarah Nović in Elle, My Year of Reading Books by Black Women by Alisha Acquaye also in Elle, and Book Riot’s newsletters, The Riot Rundown and What’s Up in YA?, which always have excellent links. I also follow We Need Diverse Books on Facebook and the resources on their website for both readers and writers is invaluable.

What’s on your reading list for 2017?


Read the pain away

It’s been twenty-three days since I had to look in the mirror and say to myself, “Donald Trump is our president-elect,” and hearing it, reading it, and thinking it hasn’t gotten much easier. I’ve been throwing myself even further into activism activities, whether it’s with the NYDA (the NY chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance), donating to organizations like these, reading everything I can and avoiding fake news, volunteering with NY Cares, or keeping an eye and ear out for moments of injustice anywhere.

My AMAZING perk from the HPA’s Wizard Rock the Vote fundraiser.

The state of the world can be overwhelming so I, like always, have been turning to books for guidance, inspiration, escape, entertainment, empowerment, and education. Some of my favorite books to read when the world feels like too much are ones about young people harnessing their creative power to make a difference, save the world, or save themselves. Books like Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love, Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, Jonas Jonasson’s The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, and, always, Harry Potter. I also loved this piece by Ashley Bowen-Murphy over at BookRiot about the books BookRiot contributors read when “they need to remember fighting the good fight is worth it”.

It’s why I wrote It Will Set You Free; just the idea of a girl who wanted to be creative, to make a difference, to know herself a little more. I’d love to hear about your favorite books about using creativity to make a difference.

Keep reading, stay strong, and “never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it” (HRC).