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Building A Mystery

Author Kristen Lepionka drops Columbus clues in new thriller series. Kristen Lepionka never thought of herself as a particularly lucky person, but after landing a spot in an online writing contest, the proverbial doors began to open. After years of querying and searching for representation, she was finally set to have her first novel hit [...]
Laura Dachenbach



Author Kristen Lepionka drops Columbus clues in new thriller series.

Kristen Lepionka never thought of herself as a particularly lucky person, but after landing a spot in an online writing contest, the proverbial doors began to open. After years of querying and searching for representation, she was finally set to have her first novel hit the shelves. But her 9 to 5 job as a graphic designer gave her little time to promote it.

Then in another stroke of luck, Lepionka lost her job in a round of restructuring.

Freed from the corporate world, Lepionka now set upon a mission at bookstores, events, and libraries to introduce the world to her protagonist Roxane Weary, a private investigator working a cold case for a death row inmate while grieving the loss of her father. The Last Place You Look, published by Minotaur books in 2017, is the first in a series of four mystery novels set in Columbus to be followed by What You Want To See, which will be released this May. (614) recently sat down with Lepionka, who grew up in Gahanna and now lives in Worthington, to talk about writing, boozy, broken-down investigators, and putting Columbus on the page.

Your four lost novels are sitting on your computer. What are they? Are they what you had to write to prove to yourself that you could write a novel?

I think so. They’re all mysteries. They’re all different types of mysteries. I think I was still trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do and the type of stories I wanted to tell. The first one I wrote in four weeks to see if I could do it, and I could—but it was terrible. I wrote another one and it got better. I didn’t try to find a literary agent with the first few. [With] the last two of the four forgotten manuscripts I did try to find an agent, and the feedback I got was, “Your writing is beautiful, but you have no story,” which is really useful feedback honestly. Getting feedback is definitely huge because they don’t give feedback to everyone.

The million-dollar question: How did you get an agent?

I was part of a contest called Pitch Wars and it’s kind of an online contest. I describe it as like that NBC show The Voice where it’s an opportunity to work with a mentor. So I worked with a mentor. Her name is Kellye Garrett and she’s a former writer for the TV show Cold Case, and she helped me … with the writing of the query letter and figuring out which agents to approach. [The contest] has a fairly high success rate of people finding agents out of it. When it was time for me to query the manuscript after the contest, I ended up finding my agent within about four days.

Roxane Weary is bisexual, and therefore underrepresented and unusual as a protagonist. Was it difficult to write the character authentically, and not seem like you were trying to be deliberately edgy?

It was really important to me to write a character [where] that’s just part of who she is. This is not a bisexual mystery. Things can get weirdly pigeonholed in that way. But also, I just wanted to write it in a natural way because bisexual representation is terrible in books and movies. It’s virtually nonexistent, and when a character is bi, it’s always meant to titillate or scandalize the reader in some way. I’m bi, so I really wanted to represent the bi community in a way that was really natural. I just wanted it to feel like a very natural element of who she is. This is not something that she thinks about all the time…she’s not questioning it at all.

What are Columbus readers going to recognize?

Roxane lives in Olde Towne East. Bryden Road. She goes to a lot of bars and restaurants in the Olde Towne area, like Yellow Brick Pizza, Olde Towne Tavern, Angry Baker, Little Palace, Dirty Frank’s. The Westin Hotel is in the book. There are a few places that aren’t in business anymore that I resurrected to be in the book because I love them, which is also fun. I think it’s exciting for readers to read about a place where they live. There’s no reason to not set things here. It’s a real city. It’s an awesome place to live. I think it’s a really good place to write about because we have interesting neighborhoods, and we have a liberal city surrounded by a conservative rural area which creates interesting conflict. It’s a really ideal place to write about the type of things that I want to write about.

You’ve been a fan of this genre for a long time. What do you think draws you to it?

I think there’s interesting ways you can sort of explore human nature, I guess, in mystery stories because of that intense situation. In a contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, obviously there’s narrative tension, suspense, and all those things, but it’s not a matter of life and death. I just like that type of conflict. It’s fun to read. It’s fun to write. I guess that’s why I do it.

What You Want to See hits digital shelves and stores May 1. In the meanwhile, Lepionka will appear at the Ohioana Book Festival April 14.

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Arts & Culture

Gallery Space: Danielle Deley




In the ‘60s, the clash of mass culture and fine art exploded. Led by New York-based artist Andy Warhol, whose silkscreen paintings of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe were instantly iconicized, the vibrant basis of his works became known as pop art. While Warhol was one of the founding pop art leaders, the lesser-recognized Roy Lichtenstein was a Fine Arts graduate from The Ohio State University in 1949 and was notable for his comic-like expressionism.

Subtly following Lichtenstein’s influential trajectory is visual artist Danielle Deley, who’s currently prepping for her Skylab show Jubilee. Her use of color is rich in tone, and her subjects are easily recognizable, with cultural nods to Frank Ocean, Barbara Streisand and the late David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“I want Jubilee to feel like you’re walking back into the height of the pop art era. I might have a more muted color palette than Lichtenstein, but I want it to make a comment about traditional fine art,” Deley said. “Each of the 2D pieces are based off of very popular sculptures in Greek and Renaissance art. Each 3D piece is taken from paintings from that same time period.”

Originally from Youngstown, Deley graduated from CCAD in 2011 with a BFA in graphic design and advertising. Spending a semester in England while she attended CCAD, Deley regularly kept in contact with her grade school art teachers, who provided encouragement and foundational skills. Their guidance led her into becoming co-president of the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts, and even illustrating Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on a cover of Chicago Reader in April. Through Deley’s intricate, pastel design, Lightfoot is recreated into a queen of spades form.

“Sue Kwong, the creative lead for the Chicago Reader, reached out, had this awesome cover idea and wanted me to bring her vision to life,” Deley said about the collaboration. “She found me on this forum called Women Who Draw, something I submitted to six years ago. They make a space for female artists and illustrators to find other female artists and illustrators. [Illustrating the cover] probably took eight hours. It was my first cover illustration for a big publication so I wanted to get it right.”

Often visiting Gateway Film Center to see how films are composed, Deley actively studies the meticulous craft of cinematography, along with going to intimate gallery spaces to align with the art community. After graduating from CCAD, Deley would only create on her computer, but decided to transition her work into watercoloring. “[Watercoloring] then moved into gouache, wood carving, and finally painting with acrylics. My style started to take shape just from doing these small projects that popped into my head,” she said. “My first one was The Young and the Restless illustration that I have on my website and I just couldn’t stop. The style stayed the same but I would push myself with composition, size, and color.”

Currently contracting as a designer at independent digital design Studio Freight, Deley also co-created the “mind reading” board game Medium, which Two Dollar Radio attendees had the chance to celebrate and play after its release. In August, Delay also illustrated children’s (and dog lovers) book Good Night, Buckeye with author Dan Wurth, with all proceeds from the book benefitting Canine Companions for Independence. With Deley’s hectic creative schedule, Jubilee could have become an afterthought, but she assures (614) that the show’s creation was intentional, with retrospective, familial ties.

“I came up [with] the name [of Jubilee] for two reasons. One, Jubilee came from the idea of celebrating. I thought it was time to celebrate this style I’ve been creating,” she said. “And two, it’s an homage to my grandparents. My Baba would always make this rich and delicious cookies called ‘jubilees’. They were always doing a craft with me or when I would come visit they were creating something.”

With appreciation for local art venues such as 934 Gallery, No Place Gallery and Roy G Biv, Deley avidly wanted for Jubilee to be placed in Skylab, ready to share her “post-pop art” genre with Columbus. “Skylab was the perfect space to propose this show. Its view of art has always been contemporary and experimental, and that’s how I view everything I make,” she said. “Contemporary art for me is about making things weird and beautiful at the same time and that’s how I hope people perceive Jubilee.

Jubilee opens Jan. 1, 2020 at Skylab Gallery, located at 57 E Gay St., 5th floor.
Visit or @danielle_deley on Instagram for more information.

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Arts & Culture

Thinking Big: The Amazing Giants bring circus arts to events across town




If you have been to a local festival, parade, or corporate event where you’ve seen stilt walkers, fire-eaters, hula-hoopers or lyra artists, there’s a good chance you’ve been in the presence of an Amazing Giant. Founded in 2011 by Jessica Minshall, The Amazing Giants was born out of one woman’s love of stilt walking and her friends’ desire to learn the skill. Now a new challenge is looming for the group—a business expansion to Hawaii.

Working in the service industry, Minshall saw a need in Columbus for a different type of entertainment. She taught herself how to walk on stilts for a festival gig out of state. This new hobby intrigued a group of her friends, and they decided to learn, too. From there, The Amazing Giants were born. “My partner and I bought a lot of stilts and just taught people how to do it,” she said. “We all found each other.”

What began as a few friends learning a new skill and having fun together practicing it evolved into a booming business with 40 employees and contract workers, including magicians, face painters and more. They are hired for events to do everything from wearing full bodysuits covered in tiny mirrors and dancing to wearing and serving champagne from large metal skirts to dazzle a crowd.

“We have evolved with different equipment, too,” Minshall said. The Amazing Giants owns the only sway pole in the Midwest. It allows performers to create a large- scale spectacle with an extreme cirque-style pole acrobatic act without the need for a permanent installation. With hundreds of costumes, 20 pairs of stilts, and entertainment offerings of just about every circus art imaginable, The Amazing Giants truly seek to astound.

Having had great success in the Columbus market, Minshall decided to grow her business, and recently brought The Amazing Giants to Honolulu. “I had family out here that I would visit and realized they don’t have anyone doing what we do. There’s not really a group or team of stilt walkers working together,” she said. So Minshall bought six pairs of stilts, and hosts open gyms where interested performers can show off their skills and possibly train on stilts. “They don’t need to send me a resume, necessarily,” she said. “It’s about personality and talent.”

Importantly, Amazing Giants must have an abundance of confidence without an overabundance of ego. “I tell people we have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. As an entertainer you have to get over your shyness and put yourself out there.” The ability to work as a collaborative team player is also key, she said. “Our team often works in tight quarters, and whether or not it is well-received, you have to put on the show as best you can.”

Although Minshall is keeping the headquarters in Columbus, now headed by Chief of Operations Olivia Ranier, she says she is excited about the expansion and her recent move to Honolulu. “It reminds me a lot of Columbus because it has that small-town, big-city feel with a similar {\(metropolitan area) population of around one million people,” Minshall said. And the environment is ripe for her type of business. “In Honolulu, we have events year-round; in Columbus our business slows down after New Year’s Eve,” she said. “There is also a lot more tourism and a convention center that brings in a ton of people.”

Although her business has expanded, don’t for a second go thinking that Minshall is going to forget where she comes from. “A lot of times people ask me where I am from and they say, ‘Wow, I’ve been hearing a lot about Ohio lately.’ I have nothing but good things to say about Columbus and what kind of platform it’s given me. It’s a massive city with a thriving arts and entertainment culture—and it’s extremely underrated. I will be Columbus-promoting forever.”

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Big Macs and Bowl Games: Enter McDonalds sweepstakes for college football getaway

614now Staff



Now that Ohio State has secured its bid to play in the 2019 College Football Playoffs, every fan across Columbus is vying for tickets to the Bowl Game. Lucky for you, McDonald’s has the answer.

Today, McDonald’s launches their Buckeye Bowl Game Sweepstakes in partnership with Ohio State Athletics, where one lucky winner will win a trip for two to the 2019 Fiesta Bowl Game on Saturday, Dec. 28, including prime tickets to the game, transportation to and from, plus hotel and travel accommodations.

Fans can enter the Buckeye Bowl Game Sweepstakes by purchasing a Quarter Pounder or Quarter Pounder with cheese from any McDonald’s in the greater Columbus area, either in restaurants or through their favorite delivery service. With each order, customers will receive a golden ticket with entry details, leading them to the sweepstakes website.

And the best part is for every submission placed, McDonald’s Owner/Operators of Columbus will donate $1 to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, helping them meet their annual fundraising goal.

“For McDonald’s, and for those of us as local business owners, it’s about more than selling burgers. It’s about creating a lasting impact in our community,” said Mike Telich, Columbus McDonald’s Owner/Operator in a statement. “Supporting RMHC is more than just a donation, its ensuring families with ill or injured children get the emotional and physical support they need, as well an alternative to the financial burden of staying at a hotel and going out for meals."

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