Tag Archives: Dracula

Tonya Kuper

June 1, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in June 2015 edition of Her Family.

Tonya Kuper was bored. As a stay-at-home mom, her 4-year-old son and baby kept her hopping. Her husband would eat dinner, play with the kids, and help her put them to bed. As an attorney, he would often head back to work until the early morning hours. 

Therefore, Kuper had nights to herself. She devoured books like Dracula, Pride and Prejudice, and Harry Potter. Not so surprising for someone with a master’s degree in reading. She binge-watched The Vampire Diaries, but there was only just so much Ian Somerhalder to drool over.

Kuper’s story doesn’t have a romantic beginning. She needed to clean one weekend when her eldest acted up.

“Just please take him downstairs. He’s like the son of the devil,” she jokingly said to her husband.

Man, it’d suck falling in love with the devil’s son. Hmm…That would be good story. Kuper’s thoughts soon transformed into words on a page. Closer, a story about a girl falling in love with the devil’s son,
would be her first novel.

“It was terrible,” Kuper recalls with a laugh.


Kuper wrote for fun, but three quarters of the way in she researched the publishing world.  She soon amassed an entire file full of rejections. Friends, family, and her husband supported her through it all. She learned a lot about herself in the process, including that it is okay not to have everyone like her. “If you are going to write, you have to have thick skin and buck up,” she advises future writers.

She wrote a second book, sort of a Mean Girls meets Pretty in Pink.

Her agent sent the book out to a short list of editors, one asking if she would like to try a science fiction trilogy for young adults instead. Kuper was a “science fiction geek” so she knew she could do it.

Anomaly, about a girl named Josie who can push and retract reality, was created based on a quantum physics theory.

“I loved that it was about a girl who was fighting to save her family,” Madison Schuetz, 14, says. She just finished the book and loved the dual points of view. Every chapter switches from Josie to Reid, a boy character who helps Josie train, so the book isn’t gender specific.

Kuper, 37, soon changed from full-time mom to full-time writer.

“I have the best job ever. I kill people for a living,” Kuper says.

Tears ran down Kuper’s cheeks the first time she saw her book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. She scared the girl in front of her, who was buying Anomaly. Kuper signed her first book on the spot.

“Create your own reality,” is something she typically writes to teenagers during book signings.  Kuper grew up with little money in a small cornfield town in western Illinois; her father was an auto mechanic and her mother a stay-at-home mom. Kuper had to work hard for her future.

“Do whatever you want to do. Think of the biggest thing and then work for it,” Kuper tells teenagers. She plays a bit with her blue scarf, detailed fittingly with Rebel symbols from Star Wars. Kuper adds an element of the movie, such as Josie’s Vader T-shirt, into each book.

Anomaly, published by Entangled, took off, hitting the bestseller list on Kindle for science fiction and science fiction romance. Recently, it reached the top of the bestselling teen science fiction as well. Her second book in the Schrodinger’s Consortium trilogy, Enigma, won’t be available until this October.

“I want it to be out, like, now,” Schuetz says.

Kuper is currently comfortable in her own skin.

After Kuper’s first signing at the American Association Conference, she had an ampersand tattoo etched into her wrist. “In writing, when you add an ‘and’ the possibilities are endless.  And now I have my ‘and.’”


Dance, Girl, Dance!

September 30, 2013 by
Photography by Ballet Nebraska

Judy Leppek’s performance was this reviewer’s favorite in Ballet Nebraska’s recent production of Snow White at The Rose Theater. Luppek’s regal bearing, perpetually pursed lips, and impossibly long neck made quite an impression. She performed miracles with an arched, cuts-like-a-knife eyebrow in bringing great drama to her character, the deliciously diabolical evil queen.

Which is all well and good, except for the puzzling fact that Leppek—the critic’s fave, mind you—was performing in a non-dancing role. It’s a point that, sadly, doesn’t bode well for a ballet review, where the focus is meant to be…well, ballet.

Sure, Ballet Nebraska founder and artistic director Erika Overturff was terrific in tulle during a memorable solo as the Queen of the Nymphs. And the oft-paired and always resplendent duo of Natasha Grimm-Gregory (the beguiling Snow White) and Sasha York (the charming Prince) provided a couple of magical moments. The problem was that they just weren’t allowed enough dance sequences for them to dish up more than a meager ration of those magical moments.

The second act of Snow White best illustrates this dilemma. Between a septet of darling dwarves and Snow White doing almost everything but dancing, it seemed an eternity before this ballet was allowed to be a ballet.

Guest choreographer Winthrop Corey, artistic director of the Mobile Ballet Company and a summer faculty member for both Joffrey Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre, now has the dubious distinction of being behind my two least favorite Ballet Nebraska works; this one and 2011’s Dracula, which exhibited similar symptoms hinting at a diagnosis of Dance Deprivation Disorder.

Now entering its fourth season, the once fledgling ballet company—the state’s only professional troupe—should be at a certain stage in its maturation. It is to be expected that the early years of any such performance company would be typified by efforts that are building blocks for the future. It should come as no surprise that a company’s initial works could be rather bare-bones-ish. After all, and just as with any launch of a new performance company, Ballet Nebraska started with little more than an artistic vision. Just imagine the tireless organizing, networking, and fundraising that had to unfold before a single dancer could even dream of donning a tutu.

But imagineering has an expiration date. Now is a time when the company should be expected to shine in a fully developed artistic mission, and an ambitious one at that. Snow White didn’t cut any corners when it came to beautiful costumes and sets, but this reviewer felt it did so with dance, the very core of what they do.

Which is all a cryin’ shame. The company has a magnificently talented cadre of artists, but the curiously choreographed Snow White didn’t give audiences much of an opportunity to appreciate their talents.

There’s a classic ballet/burlesque film from the golden age of Hollywood that pits Maureen O’Hara (ballet) against Lucille Ball (burlesque). My wish for Ballet Nebraska is for them to heed the advice from the movie’s title and just Dance, Girl, Dance!

David Williams, the recently named managing editor of Omaha Publications, has written hundreds of performing arts reviews for a number of area publications and formerly served on the board of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.