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Piper Castillo, Times Staff Writer

Piper Castillo

Piper Castillo grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and received her English degree from Florida Atlantic University. As a community news reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, she covers north Pinellas County. She also writes the "Nightstand" column for the Sunday book pages and thinks the only thing better than a good read is a day in the sun with her family.

Phone: (727) 445-4163


  1. What's Gabe Hudson reading?



    Gabe Hudson

    When it came to creating the title character in Gork, the Teenage Dragon, Hudson says, it was like Gork just popped up in his life one day. "I felt like I was a tool and Gork was telling the story,'' he said. "Of course, I had to work through the story, but the voice arrived fully formed."

    Hudson is also the author of the story collection Dear Mr. President, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and winner of the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For many years, he was editor at large for McSweeney's. Hudson will appear with Matthew Klam (Who Is Rich?) at 1 p.m. July 30 at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. We spoke to him by phone from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y....

    Gabe Hudson will appear with Matthew Klam (“Who Is Rich?”) at 1 p.m. July 30 at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa.
  2. Epilogue: Henry Skwirut, Largo Army veteran known for his photos of Gardelegen


    LARGO — Henry Skwirut found the Verlander camera in an abandoned German village during World War II, and as he worked as a radio operator and driver in the Army's 406th regiment of the 102nd Infantry Division, he often used it to document what he saw. Once a week, he would mail the photographs home to his new wife, Jane, in East Orange, N.J.

    Sometime in the early morning of April 14, 1945, he heard a report on the radio that U.S. soldiers were working at a horrific scene. He grabbed the Verlander and with his sergeant, rushed to the immediate aftermath of what would come to be known as the Gardelegen Massacre of April 13, 1945. Nazi soldiers had led more than 1,000 prisoners into a barnlike structure and then set it on fire....

    Henry Skwirut took photos of the Nazis’ Gardelegen Massacre, the killing of more than 1,016 prisoners in 1945.
  3. What's Robinne Lee reading?



    Robinne Lee

    Lee recently published her first novel, The Idea of You, a steamy story about a mom, a daughter and a singer in a boy band that also serves as an interesting look at both parental and societal pressures. Lee, a graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, is a Los Angeles-based producer and actor recognized for roles in Hotel for Dogs, Hitch and Fifty Shades Darker. Her newest project is 'Til Death Do Us Part, a psychological thriller with Taye Diggs that will hit movie theaters in October....

    Robinne Lee, a Los Angeles-based producer and actor, recently published “The Idea of You,” her first novel.
  4. After growing pains and pushback from neighbors, Oldsmar Cares pushes forward with new building

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — When she saw the standing room-only crowd inside City Council chambers, Brenda Gaulin, the vice chairperson for Oldsmar Cares, was surprised. But she sat down and listened to what residents had to say.

    The public hearing had to do with plans for a sidewalk variance and a second entry and exit on Jefferson Avenue, part of Oldsmar Cares' new building on State Road 580. But neighbors wanted to share their concerns about having the social service organization so close to their homes....

    Volunteer Jim Hummel of Tarpon Springs signs in a visitor before helping them pick out food at Oldsmar Cares.
  5. What's Jaimal Yogis reading?



    Jaimal Yogis

    We first met Zen surfer Yogis in 2009, with his book Saltwater Buddha. Since then, he has turned the book into a documentary, and he and his wife have had three sons, now ages 5, 3 and 1. This month, Yogis, 37, is seeing the publication of All Our Waves Are Water: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride. The memoir follows the author from the Himalayas to Indonesia, to a Franciscan friary and journalism school in New York, to Jerusalem and finally to Ocean Beach in San Francisco....

    Jaimal Yogis is the author of “All Our Waves Are Water: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment and the Perfect Ride.”
  6. What's Dar Williams reading?



    Dar Williams

    For our Independence Day Nightstand, we caught up with Williams, a singer-songwriter (The Christians and the Pagans and The Beauty of the Rain) and author who is well-versed in the highways and byways of America. By phone recently, she shared how her newest book, What I Found in a Thousand Small Towns, came to be. The book is made up of Williams' observations on community building and the little renaissances she has seen happening in towns and cities throughout the United States. ...

    Dar Williams performs at the Opening Night Party of the 2016 Greenwich International Film Festival in Greenwich, Conn. Her newest book is “What I Found in a Thousand Small Towns.”
  7. A new treat comes to Safety Harbor: pizza cones



    The first time Javier Hernandez saw the peculiar treat, he was an ocean away from Safety Harbor.

    "I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, on business. People were carrying around these things that looked like ice cream, but the things were hot, not cold, and I knew it because I could see the steam rising up,'' he recalled. "I thought, what a good idea.''

    It's been 13 years since that trip. Hernandez has gotten married. He and his wife, Soleia, now have two kids, (Laura, 18 months and Javier, 4). Last November, he quit his job with a German glass manufacturer to spend more time with his family. But he never forgot that pizza snack. ...

    Daniel Hernandez adds mustard to a hot dog in a pizza cone in Javier Hernandez’s shop that sells pizza cones. - Javier Hernandez had to travel to China to buy his machine that makes pizza dough into cones. He has now opened up a shop in Safety Harbor at 500 Main Street selling Pizza cones.
  8. What's Douglas Brunt reading?



    Douglas Brunt

    As his wife, Megyn Kelly, takes the spotlight at NBC, Brunt, 45, is busy promoting his third novel, the well-received Trophy Son. The story has Anton Stratis, a tennis prodigy from Philadelphia's Main Line, at its center. While including issues surrounding pro tennis (think performance enhancement drugs), Brunt also puts overbearing sports parents under the microscope. In a recent phone interview, Brunt stressed that "bully sports fathers are not new in American storytelling. However, I think we see it more today than we used to. Now it's not so much particular parents but now it's the system with the club sports, the way coaches schedule kids and the endless tournaments.''...

    Douglas Brunt and his wife, Megyn Kelly, attend the 2017 Time 100 Gala at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April in New York City. Brunt has been promoting “Trophy Son,” his third novel.
  9. Chickens on way and costume might be next


    SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioner Scott Long might be wearing a chicken suit sometime soon. At the last City Commission  meeting,  commissioners app roved  an ordinance that  allows up to four hens in single-family homes . The approval comes after heated discussion over the last few months . At a May meeting, Long, whose wife is a news designer at the Times, expressed concern over how much time the commission had spent discussing and researching chickens, pointing out that the research material he had received in his agenda packets was more than 90 pages.
    “I’ll make this pledge to you,’’ he said. “If we pass this and we ever get more than 95 households in the city with chickens, and I’m still on the City Commission, I’ll come to the next meeting wearing a chicken suit.” 
    In a recent discussion with the Times, City Manager Matt Spoor talked about the issue:
    “You know, if this goes through I’m thinking I’ll buy some chickens just to see Scott Long dressed as one.’’
    The regulations included in the new ordinance ensure that no roosters will be permitted, no eggs can be sold and no chickens can be slaughtered. The ordinance also requires stipulations when it comes to the coop and fencing. ...

  10. Safety Harbor commissioner in a chicken suit? Maybe

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — Commissioner Scott Long might be wearing a chicken suit sometime soon. At the last City Commission meeting, commissioners approved an ordinance that allows up to four hens in single-family homes. The approval comes after heated discussion over the last few months. At a May meeting, Long, whose wife is a news designer at the Times, expressed concern over how much time the commission had spent discussing and researching chickens, pointing out that the research material he had received in his agenda packets was more than 90 pages....

    Safety Harbor commissioner Scott Long
  11. What's Rhonda Ross reading?



    Rhonda Ross

    Ross will be the opening performer at Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 22, taking the stage before her mother, Diana Ross. She is the oldest of the singer's five children, and her father is Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. A graduate of Brown University, Rhonda Ross holds a degree in African-American studies with a focus on literature. She is also a writer and actor, known for her role as Toni Burrell on Another World. Ross lives in Harlem with her husband, jazz musician Rodney Kendrick, and their 8-year-old son, Raif-Henok Emmanuel. What the singer-songwriter is bringing to Clearwater, she says, is some jazz, funk and neo-soul. "I consider myself a social artist. I like to speak about the environment around me, the spiritual journey that I'm on and others I know are on. I like to speak to that juggle of life. I write songs that help me untangle what's going on in my life, and I hope they're meaningful things,'' said Ross, 55....

    Rhonda Ross will perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall on June 22 before her mother, Diana Ross, takes the stage.
  12. Safety Harbor's African-American cemetery getting a facelift

    Human Interest


    The neighborhood on South Drive, in the shadow of U.S. 19, is not where you would expect to find a graveyard. But in this unincorporated area, between Clearwater and Safety Harbor, sits a forgotten holy ground to many.

    It is the Safety Harbor African American Cemetery. Its fence is long gone, although a Boy Scout troop did dedicate a small gate several years ago. Up until last week, the grass was knee high. Snakes are easy to spot under the oak trees and air potato plants....

    Kimble McNeal, of Safety Harbor, volunteers to mow the grass at the Safety Harbor African American Cemetery on Friday (6/9/17) in Clearwater.
  13. What's Tommy Pico reading?



    Tommy "Teebs" Pico

    Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, near San Diego, Pico now lives in Brooklyn, where he curates the reading series Poets With Attitude with Morgan Parker, co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot and is a contributing editor at Literary Hub. He is the author of several books, including IRL and Nature Poem, the online zine series Hey, Teebs and the chapbook app Absent MINDR. Pico was the founder and editor in chief of Birdsong, an antiracist, queer-positive collective and small press that published art and writing from 2008 to 2013. Pico also is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College in New York. When we caught up with the poet, he explained why he chose a school so far from home. "I needed to throw myself headlong into a world I didn't really have context for and realign myself inside that,'' he said....

    Poet Tommy “Teebs” Pico.
  14. Folly Farm: Newest nature preserve is open in Safety Harbor


    SAFETY HARBOR — George Weiss, 89, walks the property every day, strolling along the gravel path with his dog, Cooper. He often stands for a few moments near a marker on a post while butterflies flutter between passion flowers, shrimp plants and coonties. The post holds a poem written by his late wife, Lucille. It is titled "Welcome.''

    "This morning I heard a mocking bird call,...

    George Weiss, 89, drops books off in a Little Free Librbary (take a book, return a book) box while walking his dog Cooper at Folly Farm, an 8.6-acre piece of  land that  Weiss donated to Safety Harbor for a public park. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
  15. What's Jennifer Obermaier reading?



    Jennifer Obermaier

    Obermaier was named head librarian for the city of Clearwater after the retirement of longtime librarian Barbara Pickell earlier this year. Obermaier, who now oversees five branches, first joined the city's library system in 2006. She holds a master's in library science from the University of South Florida and is "just a few classes shy'' of receiving another master's in public administration at USF. Her career choice as a librarian goes back to her childhood in New Jersey. "I loved to read, but it was more about being curious,'' Obermaier, 45, said. "I remember when I was young how much I loved it when my class would go to the media center. Time inside the media center was what really fostered my love of learning and research.''...

    Jennifer Obermaier, head librarian for the city of Clearwater, first joined the city’s library system in 2006.