Wordy Wednesday: Captain America and the Brain-Eating Amoeba

Merry Christmas Eve!!!

Since I got home for break, it’s been a whirlwind of family bonding stuff, catching up with friends, and catching up on life. (I think I go to more doctor appointments over winter break than the rest of the year combined.)

It’s weird being home. I haven’t spent more than a few days at a time here since May, and now this is where I’m at for two weeks, and it’s just. It’s weird. (Not bad weird, of course. I love finally being able to see everyone again. But definitely weird.)

In other news: In a moment of weakness (read: boredom) at one in the morning, I joined Instagram. So far I’ve posted two pictures and they have both involved my dog. You can check me out at: instagram.com/julia_the_writer_girl

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is the short story promised after my tangent last week. I wrote this for my creative writing class this semester, but could never get it to work quite right, but it’s really weird and I had fun writing it. So here we go.

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“You shouldn’t do that.”

The boy stands a few feet from the edge of the lake, arms crossed and barely visible blond eyebrow cocked. He’s wearing a red Arsenal FC soccer jersey, khaki Bermudas, and a pair of navy blue Converse high tops that barely peek over the untamed grass.

How British.

I roll my eyes and return to floating on my back. “Why? Amoeba going to eat my brain?” I squint against the sun and pull my t-shirt flatter against my stomach. Thank God I was too lazy to bother taking my clothes off before diving into the lake, or this could be really awkward right now.

As is, the boy stands beside my discarded socks and ugh, yes, Converse high tops. He glances at the baby blue shoes and a muscle ticks at his jaw. “No.” The disgust in his voice is as thick as the leek and potato soup the inn served my family last night. And the night before. “Ever thought it might be bad for something other than you to spread your germs through that lake?”

I’m really not in the mood to deal with angsty British dudes today. Not when Rachel and Becca are halfway to Disney World on a chaperone-free road trip right now because their parents actually believe the law that states being eighteen means you’re a responsible adult.

And instead I’m stuck here, alone for yet another afternoon, a casualty of my parents’ research trip. In Wales.

“Ha.” I kick water in the boy’s direction. Maybe slightly more forceful than necessary. “Who cares. It’s hot and the water’s cool and no one’s around to reprimand me.” I roll my eyes again. “Except you, of course. What are you anyway? A park ranger?”

“A concerned human being.”

“No such thing.” I laugh, the sound a bark, and kick more water in his direction. “You have to at least be a crazy tree hugger or something.”

He lets out a breath. Crinkled lines stripe his forehead like his entire face wants to get in on the act of frowning. “You’re American?”

Somebody give that kid a prize.

I lift my hand towards the sky and my clenched muscles loosen as I watch the water droplets fall towards me, sparkling like crystal.

Birds sing somewhere in the hills. A sheep baas. The breeze plays with the long grass and rainbow of wildflowers that stretch in every direction.

My voice goes quieter. “Only by definition.”

“What’s that mean?”

I shift so I’m treading water rather than floating. “Yes. I’m American.” I look at the crumbling mountains surrounding the lake; the bluffs and boulders and stepping stone paths. This place is so clearly not the United States.

I want to go to Disney World with my friends.

I add, “Painfully.”

“I’m sorry.” He frowns. His eyebrows lower to a furrowed position. “You’re still going to need to explain that one.”

How does one go about explaining her own suckiness?

“I don’t know.” I shrug. The clear-as-air water shifts away in little rings of ripples. “I watch reality TV and listen to bad rap. I spent all of twenty-twelve in Toms shoes, not because I care about Africa, but because my friends thought it would be cool to look like we did. For my summer vacation, my parents dragged me to Wales, not because they want to spend time with me, but because they don’t trust me enough to leave me in Philly while they’re out here studying water pollution for a month. Or to go to Disney World with my friends, even though I’m just as responsible as Rachel and Becca, and their parents let them go, I’m just saying. But no. I’m in Wales instead of hanging with Mickey.

“And, to top it all off—and you’re really going to love this one,” I drag dripping bangs off my sunburnt forehead, “despite the fact the water pollution my parents are studying is manmade, here I am swimming in a crystal clear lake that isn’t coated in Keep Out signs only because the Welsh trust people to be smart and respectful enough not to assume this lake is here to be their swimming pool. I know all these things, yet here I am.” I shout to the sky, “Here I freaking am!” I look back to the boy, who appears to have taken a couple steps back, his frown erased by an uneasy, possibly frightened smile. “And despite all this, my first thought when you told me I shouldn’t be swimming was that it must be bad for me, not the beautiful lake I’m polluting with my germs.”

He cocks his head. The sun makes his unruly hair shine gold. “You’ve got quite a tongue in your head.”
I give a dry smile. “That’s not how my teachers put it.”

“If you know it’s wrong, why are you doing it, um—?”

“Macey.”

He nods. “—Macey?”

“Because it’s the clearest lake I’ve ever seen.” The pebbly bottom is visible far beneath me. Shining fish, a thousand shades of gray, meander past like the black and white film equivalent of Rainbow Fish. My toenails are flashes of red against their kaleidoscope scales. I look back at the boy. “It’s as clear as the sky. I thought it might feel like flying. Or, you know, not flying, but the way little kids imagine flying in their dreams.” And when you can’t fly with Dumbo at Disney World, you’ve got to take your opportunities to act like a five-year-old where you find them.

After all, college begins at the end of August. Which means it’s almost time to stop believing in Neverland and wizards and talking lions. If I don’t fly now, I never will.

“Little kids?” the boy asks.

“Fine.” I force a melodramatic sigh and flip a lock of stringy wet hair over my shoulder. “Me.”
For the first time, he cracks a smile.

While this did not begin as my mission prerogative, my stomach flips at the sight. No way, angsty British dude actually knows how to bare his teeth in a non-threatening way!

“Whoa, look at you!” I point. “You’ve got quite a pair of lips in your head.”

My cheeks go hotter than the E.coli-laced sand I made the mistake of walking through during our first day in Wales, when Mom and Dad were taking samples and berating me for not bringing more intellectual books to read. (In my defense, I packed stuff like The Outsiders, not Twilight.) I resist the urge to dunk my head.

His cheeks are red too, although that could be from the sun.

I ask, “What’s your name anyway, Mister Wilderness Protector Guy?”

His grin widens. “David.”

“Ooh. Fancy.”

“Fancy?”

“All the Davids I know go by Dave.” My graduating class, alone, had three.

“Well, that is also an option.” He takes a step closer to the lake.

All three Daves are, as British Boy would likely put it, “arseholes.”

“No. I like David.” They made fun of Rachel and Becca’s post-graduation Disney World trip. “So,” I need something to say, “you’re Welsh, then?”

“Not the best at accents, are you?”

“Hey now.” My tone is very serious. “You got the easy end of the stick. I have about the most American accent you can find. You guys all sound the same to me.” And I’ve yet to be anywhere in the United Kingdom outside this part of Wales, anyway.

I wanted to see the other UK countries while we were over here—or at least hit the Doctor Who Experience tour in Cardiff—but Mom and Dad refused to spend money on anything they couldn’t directly correlate to water pollution. They did not accept my offer to dump a bucket of bleach down a toilet in Edinburgh.

He laughs. The sound is scratchy but warm. “I’m English. From Bath.”

Example A of a place which visiting would make this trip two hundred percent less terrible. Not Go to Disney World Instead less terrible. But less terrible, nonetheless.

“Ooh, fancy curvy buildings and Roman baths you can’t use to bathe.” I practically shoot upward at this. “No wonder you don’t want me in the water! You’re used to everything but your kitchen sink being off limits.”

He points an accusatory finger. “You forget the washroom sink and bathtub.”

“Thank God you didn’t say toilet.”

“No, no.” He shakes his head. “That was only once, when I was five.”

Well, there could be worse ways to spend an afternoon than listening to the sure to be embarrassing account of a stranger’s folly.

I grin and paddle closer. “Sounds like it’s Story Time.”

The boy rolls his eyes, but sits on a boulder at the edge of the water and leans towards me, so obviously he was hoping I’d ask. Quiet, like he’s afraid the park’s roaming wild sheep will hear, he says, “My mum had just given me a new action figure for Christmas. Captain America. And—”

“Of course a British kid had a Captain America action figure.” I snort. I want to go home. He glares. “Sorry. Continue.”

Anyway, I took the bleeding thing everywhere with me. To the market, to bed—”

“—to poop?”

“Do you want to hear the story or not, Miss Macey?” His eyes narrow even further. They’re as blue as the lake.

No. Snap out of it. They’re just regular, ordinary blue.

“Only because you called me ‘Miss.’” My chin dips. “Which actually seems extremely off, based on the fact I just said ‘poop.’ I hate to break it to you, but you’ve got terrible judgment, bud. First you’re basically in a domestic partnership with a Captain America action figure, now you think an American girl who talks about human feces in such crass terms is a ‘Miss.’ Goodness. What will the Brits think up next.”

Louder and more firmly, he says, “So I was playing with Captain America one day—”

I giggle. “You’re lucky no random hikers just came over one of the hills, or that could have sounded really wrong out of context.” His scowl could beat my father’s after my last time begging for freedom this summer, as we took our post-graduation family photos and my classmates laughed with their relatives all around us. My cheeks warm again. “Continue.”

“Anyway,” he digs the toe of his high top against the smaller boulder in front of his, “short story made long by the numerous interruptions: One day I indeed took the action figure to the loo and he indeed took a swim. So of course, Five Year Old David had to stick his whole bloody arm in the water to rescue Captain Steve Rogers and—”

I can’t help myself. I burst, “Number one or number two?”

David grimaces. “Number three.”

“What?”

“Both.” He laughs a sad little laugh and rolls his eyes. “What a pants idea, Five Year Old David, yeah? Of course, it was during that period when you don’t understand why it’s important to wash your hands, so I had the stuff smeared all up my pasty little arm for the next hour before my dad found me playing with Captain America in my room.”

Crap. Literally. I can’t help it: I laugh long. Hard. The birdsong picks up like they’re laughing with me.

“This story just took a turn for the I Can’t Believe You’re Critiquing Me Swimming in Snowdonia National Park When You Walked Around with Poop on Your Arm for an Hour.”

He lifts his barely there eyebrows. “In my defense, I’d had five years of practice at life. You’ve had how many. Fifteen, sixteen?”

I cough. “Eighteen.” That magic number that means I’m somehow supposed to be both an adult and still a child. Too old to read The Outsiders, but too young to stay home alone.

“Actually?” His eyebrows jump so they nearly meet his hairline. His Adam’s apple bobs.

Jerk. “Don’t look so surprised, Sherlock.” I splash water at him and actually get some on his sneaker. He jolts away. I stick out my tongue.

“I forgot how young Americans look.” He examines his shoe like I splashed some of my parents’ E.coli on it rather than clean water. “And act.”

“It’s something in our water.” I splash more at the English boy. “Young country, young, beautiful citizens.”

“You’re a comedian.”

“And you are?” I raise an eyebrow. “You know, age-wise?”

This time, the burning complexion spreads all the way to his ears. It makes freckles stand out on his nose like islands in a sea of lava. “Seventeen.”

“Ha! I’m older than you!” I’ve actually got something over the kid who grew up in Bath. Who cares if it’s just a few months’ worth of waking up to alarm clocks and shoveling Lucky Charms down my throat.

“Oh, shut it, Turncoat. I’ll be eighteen in August.”

I wiggle my eyebrows. My smirk is smug. “But it’s June.”

“You’re a git.” He shakes his head, laughing. “No wonder your parents don’t want you around.”

The birds are quiet. The sheep are quiet. The breeze stops whistling through the grass and over the mountains.

I press my lips together. I hate the burning pressure behind my eyes.

I didn’t do anything to make my parents think they needed to drag me to Wales, when they clearly don’t even have any time to spend with me here. I graduated on the honor roll; I got into a decent school. I spent my weekends reading instead of going to parties and the one time they had to yell at me this year, it was because Rachel, Becca, and I were singing along to loudly to Frozen.

But he’s right. My parents both don’t want me gone and no longer want to spend real time with me.

And it’s stupid, but the pressure grows until it forces the first hot, fat, tear from my eye.

David’s smile drops. “Hey, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry.” He grabs a pebble from the shore and lobs it at the water. It skips once, twice. “I’m an idiot. Just some random bloke you just randomly met. I don’t understand the situation.”

“No, no. It’s fine.” I close my eyes and force my lips to tilt up. It’s funny how a simple smile can soften the pressure. “It’s just—my parents were supposed to come with me to Snowdonia today. But they found some interesting new strain of E.coli in the water, out there in Colwyn Bay—they’re obsessed with E.coli—so they gave me a pocketful of pounds and the car keys and, now, here I am. As usual. Alone.” I don’t need to be. But they made me be.

I shrug. My shoulders barely lift above the water. My legs are numb from treading.

“You’re not alone.” David’s voice dips up like he’s surprised I’d think that.

“Oh, right.” I laugh. “This annoying English guy is here.”

“Actually, I was referring to wild sheep and cows and that amoeba that’s going to eat your brain, but—”

“Stop.” I splash him and this time he doesn’t shift away. He does look at his navy blue shoes and take a deep breath though, shaking his head. His expression is solemn. Guilty. “Wait.” My eyes widen. My voice rises to a squeal. “Have there actually been amoeba in this water this entire time and you’ve just been holding back that information on the off chance you’ll get to watch brain goo drip out of my nose or something?”

I can’t even imagine what my parents would do to me if I got in real trouble, after they dragged me to Wales over being a generally good person. Like, is there a college in Antarctica they could transfer my brain-dead corpse to before freshman year begins?

And oh my gosh, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to—

He’s laughing so hard, he doubles over and almost slips off the boulder. This time, the chorus of birds laugh with him.

“That isn’t funny!” I send a wave so large at him, it coats not only his Converse, but his Bermudas in dark freckles.

“Miss Macey,” he gasps between laughs, “you are insane.”

I glare. “What, no ‘daft’ or ‘batty’ or ‘mad?’”

“You watched too much Harry Potter growing up.”

Doctor Who, actually.” I swim closer to his boulder, where the water is shallow enough I can dig my toes between the little smooth gray stones. Fish dart around my ankles. I cross my arms.

“Let me guess.” David leans towards me. The face of the guy who told me not to swim in the lake is maybe a foot from mine. He’s grinning, all crooked white teeth and thick blond eyelashes and his soccer jersey shifting in the wind like a cape or a sail. I am still in the lake. I no longer quite would rather be at Disney World. “A Matt Smith girl?”

“Ew. David Tennant all the way.” I take on a valley girl persona, twirling my hair. “You know that episode when he’s Barty Crouch Junior?”

Now I’ll call you daft.” He pulls himself to his feet. He towers over me. “Let’s take a walk.”

“Only if you answer two questions.” I let myself drift onto my back. “One.” I raise a finger towards the sky. “Are you a serial killer?”

“No.” He shrugs with one shoulder. “You’ll be my first victim.”

“Great. And two.” I spread my arms wide, like a little kid’s dream of flight. “A walk to where?”

If I were at Disney World, I could go to Splash Mountain or It’s A Small World or the Mad Hatter’s teacups. All magical in a preset, follow-the-path sort of way.

But maybe the difference between being a kid and an adult is not that I need to stop believing in magic, but that magic is allowed to have fewer rules now. Because David’s reply is, “Anywhere.” And he takes in the mountains and hills and wildflowers. A sheep baas somewhere in the distance. And we’re the only two people to ever exist. “You’re in the most beautiful place in the world. Let’s go for an adventure, Macey.”

I swim to the edge of the lake and drag myself out. I wring out my hair and slip on my high tops.

Disney World will still be around next year. I can go then. Or maybe I’ll go somewhere new.

In the meantime, this place is its own form of magic. With its whispering breeze and swooping hills and laughing birds, maybe it’s time I found new ways to fly.

“All right, David.”

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Thanks for reading and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!*

~Julia

*I’ve clearly had a few too many cookies already.

Third Blogiversary GIVEAWAY!

A happiest of blogiversaries, one and all! I can’t believe we’ve been at this thing three years now.

Thank you. Whether this is your first post or your three hundred and seventy first (yes, that is really the number we’re up to), thank you SO MUCH for reading this blog. When I began three years ago, I never imagined this thing would turn into what is has.

You’re awesome. Your support means the world to me. And to thank you for three years of awesomeness and support, I’m giving away three signed books.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE.

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Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

WIN_20141218_183518 WIN_20141218_183558Rick Riordan spoke on a panel at BookCon this past May and they were selling signed copies of Mark of Athena afterward, so OF COURSE I had to pick one up for you. (You’ll notice I’ve been hoarding these books to give away since May. That’s how much I love you.)

I adore how snarky and stupid-funny Riordan’s writing is. It never fails to cheer me up.

GoodReads Plot Summary: Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.

And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close—the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?

Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.

Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare….

 Panic by Lauren Oliver

WIN_20141218_183625 WIN_20141218_183713I met Lauren Oliver at her book signing in London this August. She’s one of my favorite authors ever and I absolutely spazzed on her, but she was very gracious and awesome and signed like a billion books for me. (I normally would have written a very freaked out blog post about the experience, only I was on a blogging break at the time and also had picked up a signed copy of Delirium to give a friend for her birthday–and her birthday wasn’t until November, so posting here in August that I’d met Lauren Oliver kind of would have given it away.)

Anyway, though: I looove Lauren Oliver and I’m so excited I get to give away one of her books this year.

GoodReads Plot Summary: Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn’t know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

Between the Stars and Sky by David James

WIN_20141218_183750 WIN_20141218_183824I met David James at a YA author panel in October and won an extra copy of Between the Stars and Sky essentially for being a fellow Maggie Stiefvater fan. (He has good taste.)

David was awesome on the panel and hilarious, and his writing is beautiful.

GoodReads Plot Summary: In the small, lakeside town of Huntington, the Firelight Festival marks the end of summer. A time to laugh, to live, to love. And for Jackson Grant, it is a chance to begin again.

But there is a darker side to the Firelight Festival, a deadly tradition known as the Firelight Fall. A secret game. A legendary lie. A test of bravery. Those who fall risk everything, and Jackson is on the edge. Until he meets a girl who pushes him over.

For Jackson, falling for Sarah Blake might be as dangerous as jumping in the Firelight Fall. As summer burns away, Jackson and Sarah ignite an unstoppable love game. For her, his heart is on fire. And soon, Sarah shows him life, saves him from loss, and opens his heart to an infinite and wild love found between the stars and sky.

Lyrical and deeply romantic, Between the Stars and Sky is a poetic and heart-stopping read for fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and E. Lockhart.

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So, how might one win one of these excellent signed books? Easy.

All you’ve gotta do is click on the link below to the Rafflecopter giveaway and complete one or more of the entry options. The giveaway will run until midnight EST on December 31st.

HEY THERE, YA COOL INDIVIDUAL. THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY’S RIGHT HERE.

Thank you, again, for an amazing three years. You’re the best.

WIN_20141218_184737Good luck!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Break Time

Heads up: This week’s Wordy Wednesday is supposed to be a short story, but this topic is a little more relevant right now. Sorry! I’ll put the short story up next week.

Two days until I get to go home!

I’ve honestly been really enjoying the finals period this year, which sounds weird I’m sure, but I’m currently in the middle of a week-long break between my last two finals and I’ve been spending it relaxing. I started out with these grand plans of finishing my NaNoWriMo novel or the other writing project I’m working on, but I tried that and I can’t. I’m too burned out.

The whole Burned Out thing is something I’ve been suspecting but ignoring all semester. While I’ve been able to do the work for my creative writing class, and won NaNoWriMo, and have been doing a little writing on the side here and there, I’ve gotten to the point where I just can’t get anything to work quite right; I have ideas, but I can’t get them to come out properly on the page. All the pieces are there, but I can’t figure out the puzzle.

And I was really mad at myself all semester over this, because I took winter semester of this past year off from my creative writing class because I was feeling burned out then, so that should have helped me recharge. And I spend two months in freaking EUROPE over the summer, so THAT should have helped me recharge.

I’ve had so many adventures this year and I’m so happy with life right now.

And towards the beginning of this break between finals, as I was struggling to just make writing work already, I thought maybe it couldn’t because I was too happy. Like, too many things have been going right for me, you know? But then, also, I’ve been making myself miserable by stressing out over all this.

So, I gave up and decided to take this week off.

I’ve done a little writing here and there, and I’ve been thinking a lot about writing, but it’s nothing major. Mostly what I’ve been doing is sitting around and watching Netflix. I’ve been hanging out with friends and going out to eat. I’ve gotten back into the routine of working out every day and eating maybe a little better (but also letting myself eat junk food without feeling TOO guilty) and yesterday I spent a couple hours hiking in the Arb in the misty rain. Today I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to go see The Theory of Everything ten minutes before the movie started.

My brother stayed over last night after we went to an advance screening of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and he parked on the street, so I had to get up to put money in the meeter at five AM, and it was absolutely lovely to walk around Ann Arbor when it was dark and cold and not a single other person was awake.

And I’m realizing that I’m not burned out on writing because I’m too happy. (Which is a very obvious conclusion to reach, but I’m a sleep-deprived junior, so bear with me.) I’m burned out because even when I haven’t been writing all this time I was supposed to be recharging, I’ve been doing stuff.

When I took that semester off from creative writing class, I replaced it with a remote internship with a literary agent.

The month I had off between winter semester and leaving for Europe and study abroad at Oxford, I spent working a thousand hours a day planning and running Ch1Con 2014. (Like even while I was hopped up on Vicodin after getting my impacted wisdom teeth out. I slept off the rest of the day of the surgery, then the next morning I had to get back to work.)

Actually being in Europe, every day we were off on a new adventure.

I was exhausted when I got back to the States, but the very next day I was in the midst of moving into my apartment and fall classes began less than a week later. And this semester has been crazy.

I’ve had no rest in all of this. I keep getting sick, no matter how well I try to take care of myself, and I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and more than anything: I haven’t been able to write. Not like I should be able to.

In finally taking this week off to relax, I’ve realized how exhausted I truly am. I haven’t had a chance to just sit around and do nothing and not feel guilty about it in over a year.

And the dumb thing is that I’m scared. I’m scared that letting my momentum slow for a week will mean it’ll be harder to get started again than to keep going would have been if I’d never stopped, and that taking a week off that I could have spent finishing a project means that I’m falling behind and not good enough, and that people will look down on me for this decision.

I stood in a bookstore today, looking at the travel section, when a song came on in which, not kidding, the chorus basically just repeated, “Where are you going?” a thousand times. And at first I was sad, because I want to be going somewhere. I want to go to Australia and South Africa and Germany and everywhere else in the world. I want to experience absolutely everything. I want to do absolutely everything.

But it’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to take a break.

If I want to be able to keep having and appreciating adventures, I need to recharge.

Wherever I’m going, I’ll find out later. Right now I’m drinking vanilla chai, curled up in my desk chair, and I’m about to start the next episode of Gilmore Girls. I can still taste butter on my lips from the movie theatre popcorn and my plans for tomorrow involve a little studying and packing but mostly doing Whatever I Freaking Feel Like.

This week, I am going absolutely nowhere. And I’m realizing: it’s okay.

The stories will wait.

~Julia

PS. GUESS WHAT TOMORROW IS. That’s right. My third blogiversary. (You totally guessed that, I know.) Be on the look out for a post!

TCWT Blog Chain: Learning by Example

The December Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain topic is:

“What works of fiction have taught you by example, and what did they teach you?”

I’ve talked about this a little before. The best way to learn about writing is to pay attention. Pay attention to what you like or don’t like about the books you’re reading. Why you react in a certain way and how to either achieve the same effect or avoid it.

As writers, the books we read are our text books. And you don’t necessarily only learn from books in your genre. All reading you do teaches you in some way.

So, here are some books I’ve learned from and what they taught me.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Break Boundaries

Like a lot of people, I hadn’t read anything, really, in first person, present tense before The Hunger Games. It’s funny because it feels so natural to read it now, but at the time it took some getting used to. But I was also really happy to see it, because that’s the POV+tense combo I’ve always naturally written, and pre-Hunger Games I felt like it was something I wasn’t supposed to do.

Basically: The Hunger Games taught me that if it’s what feels right to you for your story, go for it. Even if it seems unusual. (And now look at us. EVERYONE writes in first person, present tense. Don’t be afraid to be the person who knocks that barrier down.)

Harry Potter by JK Rowling: Plotting & Planning

JK. ROWLING’S. PLOTTING.

I’ve never seen anyone else do so much work laying the groundwork for later plot developments and twists. Not to mention how much development she put into the world-building. The Harry Potter series taught me planning ahead is worth it. (And even the smallest hint in book one, brought back to be something huge later in the series, can make the reader all warm and glowy and happy inside.)

Also that growing up the book series alongside the reader is a really awesome thing to do.

Also a million other things because Harry Potter.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver: Hard Doesn’t Mean Impossible

Major spoilers on this one if you haven’t read it: Before I Fall taught me it’s okay to kill your protagonist at the end. I’ve seen so many of those unsatisfying “saved at the last second” endings–and endings when the protag DOES die at the end, but in an unsatisfying way–that it’s nice to see one that just feels Right. Before I Fall proves that killing your protag in a way that doesn’t piss the reader off is possible. END SPOILERS

Before I Fall also taught me your main characters don’t necessarily have to be “likable” for the reader to like them. Sometimes it’s the worst people we find the most fascinating.

Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan: You Don’t Always Have to Be Serious

The Percy Jackson series taught me that books don’t always need to be “serious” to be good. Sometimes your narrator can be super sarcastic and a little egotistical and it can be hilarious and that in itself can qualify as good.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: Line-by-Line Pacing

This book is such a fun action-y romp. I was rereading Divergent while working on revisions a while back, trying to figure out what made the line-by-line writing so rapid fire, and I realized it had a lot to do with the sentence length. VRoth is a master of the short, punchy sentence.

After making that connection, I reread some of my other favorite action-y books, examining their sentence structures as well.

As mentioned in last week’s Wordy Wednesday: Shorter sentences make writing run faster, so they’re better in your more intense, action-packed stories. Longer sentences make the reader slow down and pay more attention to the language, so they’re better in more literary, look-how-beautiful-this-imagery-is pieces.

Divergent was the first book to make me really think about how sentence length is an actual, active element in writing.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: There’s More than Romance

This book is all about friendship and it taught me you don’t have to tell the traditional romance-centric story to still have strong, beautiful relationships the reader will fall in love with and root for.

Waltzing the Cat by Pam Houston: Fiction CAN Feel Real

You’ll notice this one isn’t a YA novel, which just proves my point about learning from a variety of sources. Waltzing the Cat is a book of short stories, all starring the same narrator, I read for my first college creative writing class. And although it’s not something I would have picked up on my own, I couldn’t put it down. I’ve never read something that feels as real as this. Like I thought it had to be a series of short memoirs while I was reading it, but nope, fiction.

If you want to learn about character and setting development, Waltzing the Cat is the way to go.

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So, there you have it. Some of the writing-related lessons I’ve learned from books.

If you want to check out the other posts from this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain and see how other people approached the topic, here’s the schedule:

5thhttp://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

6thhttp://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/

7thhttps://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

8thhttp://introspectioncreative.wordpress.com/

9thhttp://semilegacy.blogspot.com/

10thhttp://kirabudge.weebly.com/

11thhttp://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/

12thhttp://randomosityofeden.wordpress.com/

13thhttp://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

14thhttp://www.alwaysopinionatedgirl.wordpress.com/

15thhttp://www.juliathewritergirl.wordpress.com/

16thhttp://miriamjoywrites.com/

17thhttp://horsfeathersblog.wordpress.com/

18thhttp://unironicallyexcited.wordpress.com/

19thhttp://theboardingblogger.wordpress.com/

20thhttp://stayandwatchthestars.wordpress.com/

21sthttp://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

22ndhttp://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

23rdhttp://lilyjenness.blogspot.com/

24thhttp://oliviarivers.wordpress.com/

25th – [off-day]

26thhttp://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

27thhttp://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/

28thhttp://www.pamelanicolewrites.com

29thhttp://jasperlindell.blogspot.com.au/

30thhttp://maralaurey.wordpress.com/ and http://theedfiles.blogspot.com/

31st – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

What have you learned from the books you’ve read?

~Julia

Project for Awesome: World Bicycle Relief

It’s that time of year again: Project for Awesome 2014!

Project for Awesome is an annual fundraising event in which you donate to a general Indiegogo campaign, where lots of cool nerdy perks are available, then after a forty eight hour voting period during which various charities compete for votes, the winning charities receive the funds and everyone’s super happy.

The charity Hannah and I have chosen to support his year is World Bicycle Relief, which provides bicycles to those living in impoverished areas. This allows recipients to travel further faster, giving them better access to education, healthcare, food and water, and work opportunities.

You can vote for World Bicycle Relief to win some of the money from P4A at: http://www.projectforawesome.com/charity/world-bicyle-relief/…
Check out Project for Awesome at: http://www.projectforawesome.com
Donate to the P4A Indiegogo Campaign at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/pr…
Watch the P4A live show (going for the full 48 hour voting period) at: http://youtu.be/Lrgej4UJtaw
And check out World Bicycle Relief at: http://www.worldbicyclerelief.org

Make sure to donate, vote, and share so we can decrease world suck and make life more awesome!

~Julia

On Endings

One of my favorite people, Kira Budge, posted on Teens Can Write, Too! last week about what she’s accomplished in 2014, divided into categories, and I thought it was a really great idea. A year’s a long time, and by the end it’s easy to forget the things you did a couple months ago, let alone back in January.

So as I procrastinate from studying for finals and get ready to move home for winter break, I figured I’d look over what I did in 2014, too. I’ve kind of really loved this year.

Personal

  • Made it through a rough patch winter semester.
  • Taught myself to (very poorly) play ukelele.
  • Went to lots of great concerts, plays/musicals, and advance screenings with lots of great people.
  • Made some vlogs with Hannah.
  • Went to BookCon and a little bit of BEA!
  • Within the US, traveled to the Florida Keys, New York City, and Chicago.
  • Ran the 2014 Chapter One Young Writers Conference.
  • Outside the US, traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, and around England and Wales with friends/my study abroad program, and around England, Scotland, and Paris/Versailles with my family. (So many great things happened during my two months in Europe, I’d never be able to list them all. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for this summer.)
  • Met so many amazing people I’m beyond grateful to have in my life now.
  • Met some of the people I look up to most in the world, including but not limited to Lauren Oliver and our queen JK Rowling.
  • Moved into my first apartment with some of my best friends.
  • Joined the Teens Can Write, Too! team.
  • Accomplished my goal of reading fifty books in a year.
  • Started actually maybe working out once in a while and actually eating somewhat healthily. (Except also I just had macaroni and cheese and Golden Oreos for dinner, so maybe not.)

Educational

  • Over winter semester, completed a remote internship with an awesome literary agent.
  • Also over winter semester, got back into performing a bit by joining one of the university choirs. (Continued to sing with them this semester. We even got to perform at halftime at the Big House!)
  • Didn’t kill my grades too terribly much. (My GPA’s not as high as I’d like, but after how much I’ve challenged myself by taking courses outside my comfort zone–SO MANY SCIENCE CLASSES–and going to Oxford, I’m okay with it.)
  • Speaking of which: Studied abroad at St Peter’s College (via Magdalen College), Oxford over the summer! I took a six credit literature course on the Oxford Inklings and wrote a two credit bonus natural science research paper on the effect of the Welsh environment on the Inklings’ writing.
  • Declared a Screen Arts & Cultures minor!
  • Only have one grade back so far for this semester, but it’s an A+ in creative writing, so whoooo. (*cough* We’re graded on participation. *end cough*)

In Writing

  • Lots of Top Secret stuff I’m not sharing. But also:
  • Won a Hopwood Underclassmen Fiction Award.
  • Won the Arthur Miller Award.
  • Participated in the 2014 Cafe Shapiro Anthology. (Besides one of my short stories being published in the anthology itself, I also got to read at a special reception thing at the undergraduate library, and all the anthology participants were featured in a slideshow shown on the monitors there for a couple weeks.)
  • Got to write at the Elephant House cafe in Edinburgh, where JK Rowling used to write, and at the Eagle and Child pub, where the Inklings used to meet.
  • Wrote many songs and poems and short stories (and, you know, blog posts).
  • Won NaNoWriMo 2014.

Aaand so much more, I’m sure, that I’m not thinking of.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my mind around how a year is somehow both so long and so short.

2014’s been really good to me. I’m more than a little scared for 2015, because I don’t know how anything could live up to this year, but I said the same thing last year too. So, ready or not: 2015, I’m coming for you.

What did you accomplish in 2014? Share your awesome with me. :)

Oh, also! The 2014 Project for Awesome campaign’s Indiegogo has launched and they’ve got some kickbutt perks again this year, so make sure to check it out here.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Short and Fast

I’M SO CLOSE TO DONE. I turned in my last term paper this afternoon and took my first final this evening and I’ve only got two finals left before this semester is done and I’M SO CLOSE TO DONE. (Not that I haven’t loved this semester, because I have of course, but, like, I’m so tired. And I have so much non-school stuff to do. Now that it’s finals week, I am ready to be done.)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. Thanks to the wonderful Ariel Kalati for the suggestion! (I don’t know what I’d do without you and your brilliant brain.)

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As you probably can tell from this blog post alone, I don’t naturally lean towards that whole short, snappy sentence structure thing. I’m more of a long and rambly with lots of “ands” and “buts” kind of person. Which isn’t a big deal when I’m writing things from my perspective, because that’s ME, but sometimes it doesn’t work when I’m writing stuff that’s supposed to be intense. Which is, like, basically all my novels.

This especially became a problem while working on the revisions I’ve been doing for the past year or so. The novel I’ve been working on is a first person, present tense YA spy thriller. Aka: Keeping things as intense as possible is essential. Aka: My thirty+ word long rambling sentences did not work in the story (and were kind of strangling the voice of my narrator).

Shorter sentences and paragraphs make the writing run faster and, due to this, are also more likely to keep the reader engaged. They also feel more natural to stories with a lot of action-y stuff going on, whereas longer sentences fit better with, like, contemporary, literary-y stuff. (Bear with me on that y-y action there.)

So, I made it one of my revising missions to make the line-by-line writing more intense by making things shorter. And this is how I did it.

1. Streamline wording.

This is the easiest way of making your writing punchier (and really is good for your writing overall, whether you’re aiming for ). Cut all unnecessary words.

If you have the choice between two ways of saying something, always choose the smaller word count.

2. Minimize your conjunctions.

Be picky about when you use “ands” and “buts” and everything else. Every time you use a conjunction, consider what it would sound like if you used a period instead. Chances are, it sounds fine, and that helps you make your writing move faster.

3. Focus on rhythm.

As you’re changing sentence and paragraph lengths, make sure to go through each section (I usually do about a page at a time), reading for rhythm. Pay attention to the beats of all the periods and paragraph breaks and make sure it’s the level of choppiness and flow that you want.

4. No sentences or paragraphs over X length.

I’ve been working on the whole Make the Writing Run Faster thing for a couple drafts now. The first time through, I tried to limit my sentences to thirty words max, with most being fifteen words or fewer. The second time, I let myself keep a few sentences here and there that were around thirty words, but I squeezed most of them down to more around twenty words, with the majority being like ten words or fewer.

Paragraph-wise I have looser rules, but I try to keep most of mine to five lines or fewer and I use a lot of one-to-three line paragraphs that are only a couple sentences long.

The biggest thing is to set rules for yourself and stick to them. If you’ve got a max number of words you let yourself use in a sentence, you’ll find that it’s really easy to make most of your sentences even shorter than that.

Overall, with all these tips, what you want to do is find the sound that works for your characters and story and run with it. Sometimes your narrator’s voice is going to need to be different from your own, and sometimes how you write your first draft isn’t going to be the style the story will need. Find that style and run with it.

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Thanks for reading! And good luck on finals if you’re stuck in that torture chamber with me right now. (WE CAN DO IT.)

~Julia

How to Procrastinate from Writing a Blog Post

Step 1: Have ideas for blog posts all week, but simultaneously not have time to write and forget said ideas the moment you do.

WIN_20141206_145357Step 2: Eat lots of junk food that makes your fingers all nasty so you can’t possibly type without punishing your laptop both cruelly and (not at all) unusually.

WIN_20141206_145514Step 3: Watch a Parks & Recreation marathon with your roommate. Then keep watching after she leaves to do productive things.

WIN_20141206_144301Step 4: Work on your latest term paper. (Haha jk eat more Cheetos.)

WIN_20141206_145536Step 5: Make weird faces until you’re really tired of until it no longer seems reasonable to keep making weird faces.

WIN_20141206_150320 WIN_20141206_150414 WIN_20141206_150431

Bonus points if someone walks in on you doing this.

Plot Twist: By sharing tips for how to procrastinate writing a blog post, write a blog post. (High five.)

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Keep the Reader Connected

Finals season has begun.

I turned in my first term paper yesterday and a term paper proposal today. Tomorrow I have a presentation and a choir concert. One week from today I turn in that second term paper and take a final exam. Then after that I have a portfolio due in one class and two more finals to take.

Today I registered for my winter semester classes. I’m going to need to begin applying for summer internships soon.

So, basically, right now things are insane.

Anyway though, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. (Thanks go out to Ariel for the idea!)

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Have you ever been reading a book and the plot’s super interesting, and you like the characters, but you just can’t quite get into it? I have a theory that sometimes this is because the author is inadvertently distancing you from the story.

I was reading a book over Thanksgiving that should have had me enthralled. Like, everything about it was great. But every once in a while the author would phrase something in such a way that would remind me I was reading a book and the characters were just characters. And I realized*: It’s not about what you write, but how you write it.

You need to keep your line-by-line writing active and realistic in order to keep the reader invested. Active, because active writing is inherently more interesting. Realistic, because writing that draws attention to the fact it’s writing also draws the reader out of the story.

So: things I’ve learned to avoid thanks to the books I wanted to love (but couldn’t).

1. Don’t write about feelings.

Really, writing “about” things at all makes for weak writing, but feelings are probably the most dominant example of this issue. When a character feels something (i.e., “She felt sad.”), you take the reader out of the scene because you’re telling instead showing (writing “about,” vs. writing). And do you ever truly “feel sad,” or does the pressure grow behind your eyes, and it gets difficult to breathe, and maybe you hug your arms around yourself?

2. Minimize figurative language.

On the topic of writing emotions: Be careful with figurative language like similes and metaphors. It’s really easy to go over the top with these and come across melodramatic, and they’re another way of distancing the reader from what’s happening. While figurative language isn’t outright telling, it definitely slides more that way than showing. So instead of something like “He was a spool of thread unwinding” (unfortunate, actual example from a draft of a novel I’ve been revising), try actually describing what that feels like. Maybe the room spins. He stumbles. He screams between clenched teeth.

3. Avoid thoughts and realizations.

Yet another way to put a wall up between your reader and story. Thoughts (“He’s right, I think.”) and realizations (“I realize the house–it’s going to explode.”) are another form of inadvertent telling, because, like, when you’re thinking in your own head, do you think, “He’s right, I think,” or do you just think, “He’s right”? Likewise with realizations. So instead of including the unnecessary telling tags on these things, go straight to what’s actually going on.

Still, when you want a character to realize something, you want it to be attention-catching, right? I generally do something like include a description of what the character physically does up on realizing it, followed by the realization (“My eyes widen. The house–it’s going to explode.”) or include some kind of exclamation before the realization (“Oh my gosh. The house–it’s going to explode.”)

4. Write in the present.

I don’t mean that you should write using present tense but like, I don’t know, stay in the moment. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that have fully given away what’s about to happen by saying something like “Three things happened before the bomb went off.” This distances the reader by turning the accepted way events progress (A, B, C, D) on its head (so instead: D, A, B, C, then D again). Also, unless your character’s looking back on things from the future, he wouldn’t know in advance that D was going to happen after A, B, C anyway. So that in itself is unrealistic to your character’s experience.

Instead of: Three things happened before the bomb went off.

Try something like: Larry the Man-Eating Hamster cackles. His henchman reaches for me and I dodge to the right. We run for the door. A beep echoes throughout the laboratory. Everything explodes.

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So, those are my tips for keeping your reader invested in your line-by-line writing. However, note that I’m not saying to absolutely never use any of these things; just know what you’re doing when you do. (Por ejemplo: In the novel I’ve been revising, my protagonist “thinks” things sometimes, but I try to limit these to when she’s telling herself things, like to convince herself of something she knows isn’t true, rather than general thoughts.)

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*Notice the irony in my phrasing here. But in my defense, this is a blog post. What I’m doing is telling you things.

NaNo Day 30: Here We Go

I’m home! By which I mean I’m back snuggled up in my desk chair at my apartment and suddenly it’s the end of the semester.

I’ve been kind of pretending this semester wasn’t this close to over the past few weeks, but now that Thanksgiving is over and I have final projects beginning to be due this week, I figured it was time to risk looking at my finals schedule. And these next few weeks are going to be hell.

I’ve loved this semester. I love my classes and my professors and my terrible schedule. Which is probably why finals exist. (They’re making us take them to pick off the few lone optimists who have clung to their love of school to the end to make sure everyone properly enjoys their winter break away.)

NaNoWriMo already feels like ages ago, even though November’s technically not over yet, since I finished on Tuesday. Now I’m halfway through my first term paper of the semester and I’ve got that, a term paper proposal, a final project and presentation, and a choir concert this week. So definitely no time for writing for a while, but hopefully I can get back to my NaNo novel soon.

NaNoWriMo was really weird this year. I spent most of the month either super behind or ahead of schedule, with all kinds of unexpected craziness going on. And this novel sucks–like, really, really sucks–but I also got to the point with it where I could write a thousand words in fifteen minutes (which is a fourth of my average from before this month) and I’ve had a lot of fun writing something so stupid and terrible.

It was nice to take the pressure off myself of trying to make it something that could someday be decent, and in turn the Terrible Novel actually has helped me get back into being able to write more easily for the things I actually have been taking seriously. (The amount I’ve been struggling to write short stories for creative writing this semester is ridiculous, but I wrote two of my best ones in one night this month. I’ve been doing better in a couple of my other classes, too. There’s just something about actively writing that makes everything easier.) (You know. Besides, like, having time to bathe, work out, and socialize.)

Whether you’ve reached your goal for the month or not, I hope NaNoWriMo has helped you in some way too. And I hope you’re proud of what you’ve done, because no matter how much you wrote, you made the choice to write, and that means so, so much.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re all champions.

Goal for today: 0.

Overall goal: 50,000.

Final word count: 50,127.

Onto finals and the holidays and all that entails. Thanks for sticking with me through this month of blogging daily, and look out for the return to twice a week blogging in December. :)

Here we go.

~Julia