Red Flags: How a book was “born” (Includes ordering information)

For every book, there is a story about how it came to be.

The story behind Red Flags starts in 1997. The figure skating boom of the 1990s was in full swing. The Internet was in its infancy. Instead of blogs and social media, there were primitive websites and Usenet newsgroups. The hive of Internet skating fandom at that time was a Usenet group called, also known as RSSIF. The RSSIF-ers were a knowledgeable,  passionate bunch. Flame wars between different factions were common, especially during the summer months when there weren’t many skating competitions to dissect. Gossip about skaters’ private lives was discouraged, but it seemed unavoidable in an era where elite figure skaters were A-list celebrities whose latest escapades routinely made tabloid headlines.



At some point during the summer of 1997, the RSSIF regulars got into a heated discussion over which topics should or shouldn’t be allowed. On a whim, I decided to write a little soap opera that covered all of the forbidden topics– closeted gay skaters, eating disorders, extramarital affairs, abusive coaches, crazy skatemoms, bickering pairs– albeit in a fictional skating world populated with characters who were completely made-up; they were not stand-ins for real-life skaters. I titled this soap opera The Strong and the Sequined.

I figured I’d keep the soap opera going for a few weeks, maybe a few months. But each time I posted a new chapter, I would be swamped with requests for back chapters. (Today, I would have posted them on a blog, but blogs hadn’t been invented yet.) I couldn’t believe people were actually reading my little story– I was literally making it up as I went along! I had only a vague idea of what was going to happen next. At that time, I was definitely a “pantser” not a “plotter.” The Strong and the Sequined took on a life of its own.

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Back to School in the U.S.S.R.

My Back to School post from last year…

Jens Lyon

While researching my novel, Red Flags, I bought several old early-grade Soviet schoolbooks on Ebay. I wanted to see for myself what exactly Larissa would have been taught in school. The books also helped me learn the Russian alphabet!

Since it’s Back To School season in both the USA and in the former Soviet Union, I thought I’d share some of the illustrations from two of the books in my collection. On the surface, they aren’t so different from the Dick and Jane type books that were ubiquitous in American schools from the 1930s through the early 1970s. If you are from the U.K., you might see some similarities to the Ladybird series. But there’s a point where the similarities end.


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Meet the skatemoms from Red Flags!

This is a repost from last year. I am currently working on a story with a mother/daughter theme, featuring some familiar characters as well as some new ones.

Jens Lyon

Happy Mother's Day!!!

The skatemoms in the above picture would like to say Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there– and to all the caregivers who have ever filled that role in someone’s life.

Before they would agree to pose for this picture, these skatemoms made me promise to tell you that they do not, in any way, fit the stereotype of the pushy skatemom from hell. They also want to make it clear that they are not the skatemoms from Red Flags. Indeed, it would paint a false picture to show the Red Flags skatemoms standing in a row at an ice rink together. In the book, the American skatemoms never meet the Soviet skatemoms, who are not allowed to travel outside the country.

So, without further ado, here are the skatemoms from Red Flags, in order of appearance…

Lyudmilla Belkina Lyubovskaya, also known as Milla, is…

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Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary!

Bumping this post up to wish Beverly Cleary a Happy 102nd Birthday!!!

Jens Lyon


One of my all-time favorite authors is celebrating her 100th birthday today!

I first encountered Beverly Cleary’s books as a second-grader when my teacher read them aloud in class. When I found out that the school library had even more books about Ramona and Beezus Quimby and Henry Huggins, I started checking them out and reading them myself. I also remember going to my Brownie Girl Scout troop’s Christmas party and getting a brand new copy of Ramona The Brave. I still don’t have any idea who knew I wanted that particular book, or how they found out!

As a child of the 1970s, I experienced the transition in Beverly Cleary’s writing firsthand. Her earlier books, which were written and published in the 1950s and 1960s, reflect a more innocent time period. Even then, I was aware that Henry and Beezus and Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford were allowed…

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I, Tonya: My Impressions

I was hoping to see I, Tonya last week when it debuted at my local art theatre, but between a bad cold and the frigid weather, I waited until today. I posted some of my impressions of the film in a thread at the Figure Skating Universe forum. I will repeat those here, with some additional insights.

For me, the film works best if I view it as a story and the various figures as characters, as opposed to a true-to-life biopic of Tonya Harding or a literal account of the events surrounding the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Having lived through that era of skating history, I could easily spot the places where the movie didn’t jibe with my memory of what actually happened. The key players’ versions of the truth contradict each other, which is emphasized in the movie itself.

Some other random thoughts about I, Tonya:

1. The film portrays Tonya as a victim of both parental and spousal abuse, yet at the same time she comes off as her own worst enemy, which is pretty much how I view her in real life.
2. Oddly, the Jeff Gillooly character comes off as being the one with the most genuine feelings. He truly seems to be in love with Tonya and appears to be in real pain when she leaves him. Meanwhile, Tonya is depicted as using Jeff because he has a steady job and because their relationship gives her an escape from her horrific mother. (Again, I emphasize that I am only referring to the characters in the movie here, not the real humans behind them. I never got these same vibes from the Jeff Gillooly I saw on TV back in the 1990s. And of course, as a skating fan, I have never been privy to what went on between them behind closed doors.)
3. The Diane Rawlinson character would fit in with the Desperate Housewives on Wisteria Lane. I kept wondering if she was on Valium. Or something. At any rate, it was entirely believable that she would forget to bring an extra bootlace to Lillehammer.
4. Allison Janney deserved that Golden Globe Award! Her depiction of LaVona Golden made me both laugh and cringe.
5. The movie version of Shawn Eckardt comes closest to how I remember his real-life counterpart. I have also known people like him in my own personal life, with their grandiose schemes and far-fetched tales of heroism.
6. The filmmakers took some obvious artistic liberties, especially where the various skating events were concerned. But I can understand why they needed to do it that way. Having taken my own artistic liberties with some of these very same competitions in Red Flags, I found this amusing. (Who knew that Skate America 1986 could be so inspiring?)
7. I wish there had been something at the end about how Tonya was shut out of the professional skating realm due to the other skaters banding together and telling the promoters they would not perform on the same ice with her. That was a bigger punishment than being banned from the USFSA, since Tonya’s competitive career was over by that point anyhow. While the professional skating scene was thriving before the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, it surged afterward. In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were ice shows, professional competitions, and “cheesefests” on TV almost every week. Everyone made tons of money– except Tonya.
8. While the movie isn’t “about” Nancy, I felt there should have been something to show that, yes, this was a physical assault on a human being and it must have been a terrifying, painful experience for her.

9. The figure skating establishment as depicted in I, Tonya are a bunch of biased, elitist snobs who are overly concerned with Tonya’s impoverished background and overall lack of ice princess-ness. While other skaters have made similar claims over the years– and I’m sure it’s more true than not– the fact remains that the USFSA put Tonya on two Olympic teams. When she skated well and landed her legendary triple axel, her background didn’t matter so much. But she wasn’t allowed any margin of error. The establishment wasn’t going to hold her up if she didn’t deliver. But Tonya was in pretty good shape at the 1994 U.S. Nationals. She would have earned a spot on the Olympic team even if Nancy had been able to compete.

If anyone else has seen I, Tonya, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. If you happen to be among the Nancy supporters who refuse to watch this film, I’d like to hear from you, too.

Tonya(Here is a crude artistic rendering of Tonya circa 1991 that I made on Canva.)

Say It Anyway!









The Center For Disease Control is no longer allowed to use these words.

May the CDC keep using them anyway.

Say them out loud. Say them often. Write them in reports. Write them on neon-colored posters and stick them on all the walls. Then take pictures of the signs and post them all over the Internet. Don’t give in to Trump. Don’t normalize what is happening here.