Wordy Wednesday: This Is a Love Story

Okay, so I’m writing this Tuesday night because over the course of the next two days I have a short story, film review, and midterm paper all due and I haven’t begun any of them yet. And, you know, who doesn’t love to procrastinate.

The reason I haven’t begun anything yet is because I spent my entire weekend sleeping and reading and watching movies/the Oscars, because I am SO FREAKING TIRED and it needs to be spring break. But here we go: Survive these next two days, and I get a whole week off from school.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote for class, fall semester 2013. It was one of the weaker stories of the semester, but I still think it’s cute, so figured it was worth the share.

**********

We were stumped. The entire 100-level Classic Literature class just stared at Professor Robinson while the question hung in the dry classroom air: Had she really just asked us to rewrite Romeo and Juliet minus the dying part? Or Pride and Prejudice without Mr. Darcy being a total d-bag for ninety percent of the book? Or The Notebook sans shirtless Ryan Gosling?
“Come on, people,” Professor Robinson said. “It’s not that hard. Which part of the love story is the most important? How do you know which is which? How can you tell what part is the most significant until long after the entire thing is over, the lovers dead and gone and no longer important to anyone at all? Which parts aren’t necessary to weave a good tale? A writer can’t talk about literally every moment in a relationship, so how do they decide which ones to catalogue and describe? How do you tell a love story?”
I leaned forward with my chin propped on my fist and watched the girl in front of me take duck-face pictures on her webcam. The boy beside me had fallen asleep about five minutes before, and was snoring to the tune of what I assume was Star Wars. The girl on the other side of him was in an intense staring contest with the clock above the white board.
“Renee?” Professor Robinson’s tone was hopeful.
I jumped and shook my head. “Sorry, Professor. This time I’ve got nothing.”
She sighed. “Fine. Anyone else?” She glanced at the clock. We still had another twenty minutes, but the loudest noise in the room was the Star Wars theme a la Nose Whistle, so she closed her eyes and took a deep breath and said the two words every college student lives to hear: “Class dismissed.”

That was three days ago. Since then it has rained twice, and the sun has set and risen three times, and I have sat just as quietly as I did in that classroom, only in the front passenger seat of my mom’s minivan as we battled traffic all the way back to the little town of Miller, Wisconsin, because I promised Trish before I left for Northwestern that I would come home for the Homecoming game no matter what, even though coming home for Homecoming means coming home to all the problems I left behind.
And all this time I’ve thought about Professor Robinson’s question of what makes a good love story, but I haven’t been able to come up with a single idea. Until this very instant. The instant that I’m thinking all of this.
Because in this instant, someone is tapping me on the shoulder while I wait in the concession line at the Miller High School Homecoming game, and I’m turning around with my heart already in my throat, and Max Barton is standing behind me with one arm outstretched, the other tucked in the pocket of his faded Miller High Matterhorns hoodie, and a smile stretched across his lips. His brown eyes light up like I don’t have dog hair on my skirt or mascara smudged above my left cheek. He is exactly as tall as I remember—five foot eleven, the perfect height for me to tilt my head up to meet his gaze.
Professor Robinson, I promise I will write this down when I get home, because I can answer your question: A love story is a touch.
“Renee.”
A love story is a name.
“Hey.” I can’t get enough of the crisp September air in my lungs, and my sweater is both too heavy and not warm enough, and I haven’t seen Max Barton in months, but suddenly he is standing right behind me. “Long time no see.”
His smile broadens and he runs a hand back through his straight chocolate brown hair. “How are you? How’s Northwestern?” He has the voice of an old-time movie star, deep and lilting. The stadium lights make the freckles spread across his nose and cheeks stand out from the rest of his skin like one of the constellations just popping into existence above us as the sun sets over the parking lot.
“I’m good. It’s good.” I force a shrug. “How are you, Max? How’s the University of Wisconsin?”
He copies my movement. “It’s nice. It’s also nice to be home for the weekend, though. I missed everybody.” He takes in my rumpled sweater and frizzy chestnut ponytail; the scuffs across the toe of my right combat boot.
When I’m nervous, I dig my right foot into the ground. I’m doing it right now.
“You look beautiful, Renee.”
The temperature in my cheeks rises by a hundred degrees. I cross my arms and stare down at the trampled yellow grass, then swing my toe into the mangled strands again and watch as some of them break free. I close my eyes.
The truth about love stories is that you aren’t telling the reader about the relationship in general. You’re telling them about a specific moment that defines not just the relationship, but the characters themselves. Like a children’s book, a love story teaches a lesson. And maybe that lesson is Kissing Is Great rather than Stealing Is Wrong, but it’s still a lesson well-learned.
So I could tell you about the day I met Max Barton, when we were in the ninth grade and I was new to Miller and he said I could eat lunch at his table even though I’d just met him five minutes before at the end of fourth period geometry; I could tell you about a hundred dates, and all the times his fingers curled around mine on the walk home from track practice, and how I was never cold as long as his arm was around my shoulders. I could tell you about our first kiss, and our last, and all the jokes and fights and stories in between.
But instead I will tell you about right now. This moment. When my cheeks are burning up while my sweater is too cold, and Max tells me I look beautiful even though I don’t, and he smiles down at me with his freckles and hair and eyes all exactly as I remember. And I simply step away, say, “Thank you,” and turn to the concession stand to place my order.
Because if all love stories have one thing in common, it’s this: They end. And the love story of Max Barton and Renee Smith is already long gone.
I slide a five dollar bill across the counter to the booster parent scooping my popcorn, and accept the overstuffed bag she hands me with a grin. I slip the wallet back into my purse and tell her to keep the change.
“Have a nice evening, sweetie.”
I nod. “Thanks. You too.”
I wave at Max as I walk back to my seat beside Trish in the stands, but I don’t let my eyes linger on the way his hands are shoved haphazardly into his hoodie pocket or the breeze makes his hair dance across his forehead like a modern day Clark Kent’s. I don’t pay attention to the sound of his deep, lilting goodbye or the half a second his stare catches on my figure or the way his eyes slide so easily away from my retreating form as he approaches the concession stand himself.
I don’t pay attention to the fact that this moment is not a love story, but just an echo of one already told, no longer important to anything but my memories.
I squeeze onto the bench beside Trish and offer her my popcorn.
She raises her eyebrows, but takes a handful anyway. “Was that Max?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay.” I shrug and turn to watch the game. “We’re okay.”
“Good.” She nudges me with her shoulder, and I nudge her back. Out the corner of my eye, I see her grin. She grabs another handful of popcorn. “I’m glad to hear it.”
“Me too.”
A love story is a lesson, and the lesson of my story is this: Not all love stories are between two people. Sometimes they’re between your past and your future, trying to figure out the present. Sometimes a love story is about yourself.
It’s deciding whether or not to move on—whether or not it’s okay to be happy again after something crappy has happened; after someone has broken your heart.
A love story is told through the moments that matter. And in mine, this is the one that does: Seeing Max Barton again, and wanting nothing more than to ride off into the sunset without him. Seeing Max Barton again, and loving myself enough not to love him.

**********

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

Liebster Award Tag (3rd Time’s the Charm!)

Aaand Kira has nominated me back for the Liebster Award! I’m assuming as revenge for how often I nominate her for these tags.

You can find Kira’s wondrous post (responding to my nomination) here.

Rules of the tag:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate other bloggers.
  4. Give those bloggers 11 questions to answer and let them know they’ve been nominated.

**Since I’ve done this tag twice now, the most recent being last week (oops), I’m skipping nominating other people. But if you’d like to complete the tag yourself using Kira’s questions, go for it!**

Kira’s Questions:
1) If your life was a book, what would it be titled? [from Janna]
At the moment: How Did I Eat So Much Pizza for Lunch and Why Do I Still Want More: The Julia Byers Story
2) Who was your first ever fictional crush? [from Janna]
As I said last time, it was probably James from the Animal Ark series, back in elementary school.
3) What’s your career goal and how many people know about it? Are you super secretive about it the way some writers are?
My career goal is to work in editing for a children’s/YA lit imprint of a publishing house. If I get to be an author too, that’ll be amazing, but really just being part of the publishing industry at all is The Dream. As for the second part of this question: No, I’m not secretive about it. However, I do think a lot of people assume my chief goal in life is to be a writer since I do spend so much time writing and talking about writing.
4) What’s your favorite musical instrument?
At the moment: violin. I can’t play it whatsoever, but I adore the sound. So desperate and beautiful.
5) Have you ever met a traditionally published author? Who and where and how?
I’ve been really lucky on the Meeting Authors front the past few years. I don’t think you want to sit through all the stories.
6) What is the last book you checked out from the library?
So this is sort of embarrassing but I kind of… don’t… use the library. Like, I spend time at the library. I go to events and study there. But I haven’t checked out a book since high school and the last one I remember checking out was one of the Harry Potters, from my high school’s library sophomore year. Probably Order of the Phoenix?
7) Tell us a bit about your family.
I come from a pretty traditional, upper middle class suburban background. Both my parents are engineers and work their butts off for what we have. My brother is three years older than me and works in advertising. We have a dog named Sammy who I miss like crazy when I’m not home (which is 99% of the time, these days).
8) Do you have any experiences with mental illness you could share? (Re: you or people you love.)
I mean, I think we all know and love people who suffer from mental illness. But their stories are not mine to share.
9) What’s a favorite blog post you posted recently?
I’m actually going to grab a post I wrote for another blog, because it was my first time using GIFs and I had way too much fun with it: “Critique Partners = Superheroes” for Teens Can Write, Too!
10) We’re back on the desert island, and this time, you get to have three authors with you. Who do you choose?
Suzanne Collins, because she probably knows tons of survival stuff from The Hunger Games. Libba Bray, because she looked at Lord of the Flies and gave us Beauty Queens instead. And JK Rowling, because, I mean. Why give up an opportunity to get to hang out with JK Rowling.
11) Is there a particular dream (like, the sleepy time kind) that keeps recurring for you?
Not really. However, last night I did dream that a dog bit Hugh Jackman, then they both grew wings. So there’s that.
Aaand that about wraps it up for the Liebster Award tag. Thanks for nominating me, Kira! Again, if you’d like to complete the tag yourself, feel free to using Kira’s questions.
Hope you have a good weekend!
~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Keep Going

First off: links you should check out!

  • Registration to attend the 2015 Chapter One Young Writers Conference has opened! And we’ve announced three of our five speakers, including YA author Kat Zhang (The Hybrid Chronicles, HarperCollins)! Aaand our next live Youtube chat is tomorrow (Thursdsay, February 19) at 8:00 PM if you’d like to join us. Check it all out on the Ch1Con blog: www.chapteroneconference.com
  • People have been responding to my Liebster Award tag nominations! Check out Hannah (of Hannah and Julia’s Vlog)’s post here, Ariel (of Ch1Con and TCWT)’s here, and Kira (also of Ch1Con and TCWT)’s here. (Also: Kira nominated me to complete the tag again, so watch out for that.)
  • Also, Ariel wrote this hilarious post on procrastinating from writing and I highly suggest it for if you are in the midst of procrastinating from writing. Find it here.
  • And finally: my arch nemesis John, aka the head of Teens Can Write, Too!, wrote a post about surviving waiting (in relation to, like, querying) that includes a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head and it is beautiful. Find it here.

And now that we’ve gotten all of those out of the way: I had a super busy but awesome weekend (opened registration for Ch1Con Friday afternoon and hosted a potluck in the apartment Friday night, spent Valentine’s Day in Detroit with one of my lovely roommates and our moms, and Sunday celebrated my dad’s birthday because I wasn’t home for the actual day). And since then I’ve had a billion classes and two writing assignments and a midterm. So yeah. I’m really tired and ready for the week to be over, but also really content with how things are going right now.

It also helps to come home–as in back to U of M–Monday morning after a weekend away to find your roommate’s done this to the bathroom door between your two rooms:

door

Hannah, stop being amazing.

I feel like this sign (and the “Room of Requirement” sign leading into the area that contains our bathroom and bedrooms and the “This Way to the Ministry of Magic” sign over our toilet) is the perfect transition to today’s Wordy Wednesday topic: All those words on our signs are manmade, whether they refer to real places or fantasy worlds or random phrases. They all exist–and matter–because someone had an idea one day and pursued it.

It’s easy to get discouraged. To see someone else’s success and feel inadequate in comparison, or to put in a ton of hard work and realize it still isn’t enough, or to wonder if it’ll ever be your chance to be the one with the celebratory tweets about book deals and starred reviews and awards.

So many people have done so many great things in the world. Joining them starts feeling crowded. Impossible. Like success is an Olympic event for which they’ve already awarded the medals.

I was feeling a teeny, tiny bit bad for myself tonight, I’ll admit. I’ve been doing this Writing Thing for a long time now. I finished my first novel in middle school and have been querying projects almost constantly since sophomore year of high school. And while I’ve been lucky and am so, so grateful to have had a lot of smaller successes along the way, with contest wins and small-time lit mag publications, I don’t have that New York Times bestseller thirteen-year-old me figured I’d have under my belt by now. Heck, I don’t even have an agent.

Then, in the midst of my pity party for one, a friend who’s critiquing one of my novels right now messaged me on Twitter to tell me how much she’s enjoying it. And it’s funny how sometimes someone says exactly what you need to hear without knowing you need to hear it.

And what getting that message reminded me is that it matters. What you’re doing, what we’re all doing: It matters.

Sometimes it gets hard to remember–other people’s success can be blinding–but if we keep working, keep putting ourselves out there, keep dreaming these big, impossible, irresistible dreams, we will make it someday.

We all have the possibility within us to do amazing things. Instead of being frustrated by others’ success, it’s important to remember that those people have felt just like us and been in the same places as us before. We all have our low moments and high points and it’s all worth it, from the best to the worst, in the end. We can do this. We will do this.

The really great thing about the publishing industry is that it isn’t like the Olympics*. There isn’t a medal podium where only the three best writers in a genre get recognized while the rest of us go home disappointed. There’s space for all of us. We can all be successful.

Keep going.

You never know when you’re going to create the next Narnia or Hogwarts. (Or Canada. You could always create the next Canada.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*Not saying that I don’t love the Olympics, because I freaking adore the Olympics. It’s just that it must suck to go all the way to the Olympics and come in fourth, you know?

Liebster Award Tag (Again!)

The lovely Janna Kaixer over at Writing Visually nominated me to complete the Liebster Award tag again! This is such a fun one, because each person who completes it creates their own set of questions for their nominees, so it’s new every time. Thanks, Janna!

Rules of the tag:

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  2. Answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate other bloggers.
  4. Give those bloggers 11 questions to answer and let them know they’ve been nominated.

Janna’s Questions:

  1. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
    Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. This book is just so fun and sweet and light. I’ve read it about a half a billion times now and it’s a fail-safe way of cheering me up.
  2. If your life was a book what would it be called?
    At the moment, probably I Want a Nap: The Julia Byers Story.
  3. Who was your first fictional crush?
    We’re going to have to go waaay back for this one, to James (the MC’s BFF) from the Animal Ark series. I don’t actually remember having a fictional crush on him back when I was reading Animal Ark in elementary school, but this is the first place my mind went.
  4. Traditional publishing vs self publishing – which would you choose if you had the choice? And why? Traditional publishing all the way. You get so much more built-in support (editor, copy editor, cover design, etc.) that way. It’s giving your book the best chance to succeed.
  5. Ebooks vs real books? Which wins?
    Real books! :)
  6. Do you read picture books or graphic novels? Why/why not? A little, but not really. Picture books I mainly read for, like, nostalgia purposes. Graphic novels I rarely, RARELY read, because while I understand why people like them, my brain’s just not wired to enjoy them.
  7. What are your thoughts on NA (new adult) fiction?
    I think it’s really awesome. I can’t wait to see how it develops, moving past this “romance only” thing we seem to have fallen into.
  8. What is a book you’ve read purely because of the cover?
    SO MANY BOOKS. I totally judge books by their covers; it’s horrible. Most recently I picked up Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah simply because of the cover. (SO PRETTY.)
  9. What must a book have in it for you to fall in love with it?
    Oh goodness. This really depends on the genre and what mood I’m in. But mostly I like books to be super twisty, so I never know how they’re going to end, and to have friends somehow involved in the plot, and characters that are so developed they feel like real people.
  10. Are there any movies/TV series out there that you think are better than the books from which they originated?
    Oh, obviously. The Percy Jackson movies blow the book series out of the water. (That’s a joke. If you didn’t get that.) In reality, I can think of very few films or TV series that are totally, 100% better than their book counterparts (really, I Am Number Four‘s the only one), but there are a lot of adaptations that are supes strong that I’d say live up to the books they’re based on and might even possibly portray some parts of the stories better, like Catching Fire and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  11. Where is your favourite place to read/write?
    I don’t know. I haven’t had a Writing Place in a while. I kind of just write whenever and wherever, most commonly at my desk or in bed. I definitely read the most in bed. I have kind of this little nook set up in the corner with a backrest pillow and some twinkly Christmas lights, and it’s cozy as can be.

My Nominees:

  1. Kira at www.kirabudge.weebly.com
  2. Ariel at www.arielkalati.blogspot.com
  3. Hannah at www.tojourneytoward.wordpress.com
  4. Sarah at www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com
  5. Hannah at www.hannahdotrose.wordpress.com
  6. You! If you want to complete this tag, consider yourself nominated. :)

My Questions:

  1. Favorite fictional food?
  2. Favorite ship? (As in, like, I-am-a-fan-of-this-bromance kind of ship. Not the Titanic.)
  3. What would your superhero name and power(s) be?
  4. You’re stranded on a deserted island with the book character of your choice. Who is it and why?
  5. If you had to defeat one fictional antagonist, who would you choose?
  6. What do you want to do when you grow up?/Do you know what you want to do?
  7. If you could travel anywhere, where would you choose?
  8. Would you rather find yourself in a cliche YA love triangle or have no romantic interest at all?
  9. Do you find you write about one season or region more than others? If yes, why?
  10. Do you like to write in public or when you’re alone?
  11. If you could live in any fantasy world (ie, Hogwarts, Narnia, Middle-Earth, etc.), which would you choose and why?

Good luck and have fun!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Every Story Is a Mystery

This past week has been busy. I spent the weekend skiing up north with my family, then Monday afternoon one of my film classes had a Skyped-in guest lecture by one of the head guys from New Line Cinema, which was super cool. Monday evening I was honored and grateful to get to read a short story at the university undergraduate library as part of an annual event in which the creative writing professors nominate students to share their work. It was my second year in a row doing it and I still can’t get over how talented the other writers here are. I’m so lucky to have gotten to share the stage with them.

I read “All She Hears,” a short story that appeared in the collection that won a Hopwood Underclassmen Fiction Award and the Arthur Miller Award last year. SUCH A COOL EXPERIENCE.

I would have loved to have stayed to listen to all the students reading that night, but my family and I left a few after I read because Conrad Pope (Hollywood orchestrator and composer) was giving a guest lecture across campus and who knows when my next chance to hear someone speak on their involvement in Harry Potter and Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean and a billion other amazing things would be, right? (And dude, he was awesome.)

Anyway, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

I feel like I’ve probably talked about this before and just forgotten, but in case I haven’t: a big epiphany moment for me in writing was realizing that every story is a mystery.

For some reason this didn’t hit me until I was reading Harry Potter for the first time in tenth grade, but I can totally see why that’s what finally got that through to me. Harry Potter is marketed as fantasy, not mystery, but while fantasy plays a big part in setting and character development and all that, what truly drives the plot forward (and keeps the reader reading) are the mysteries at the center of each book. (Fun fact: JK Rowling has hardly read any fantasy books, but is super into reading crime novels. So of course her fantasy unfolds the same way as crime.)

But it’s not just the Harry Potter series (MG-YA fantasy) that does this. It’s all books. Anna and the French Kiss (YA contemporary romance)? You spend the entire book chasing the mystery of whether or not Anna and St Clair will get together. The Hunger Games (YA dystopian)? You try to figure out what’s truly going on in the Games and Panem. And all stories rely on the resolution of the mystery in order to leave the reader satisfied at the end.

Basically: stories rely on leaving the reader guessing what will happen next. Whether you’re writing a thriller or realistic fiction, to write an interesting story you have to establish questions to keep the reader invested, lay clues for what your resolution will be so that it doesn’t seem out of nowhere, keep the reader in the dark for as long as possible so that the story feels smart and interesting all the way to the end, etc.

While your story may not rely on a crime as the central element to the plot, you can treat pretty much anything like a crime in the way you unfold the story from there: Have your character act as a detective, going out and interacting with the world, being an active agent in his or her plot. (A solid protagonist relies on action over reaction.) Make your protagonist learn things slowly but constantly, with the pace of learning speeding up exponentially as you move towards the climax, like how the pace of a crime investigation speeds up as the police get closer to figuring out who the murderer is and making the arrest.

Foreshadow. Lay red herrings. And most importantly: treat your reader as an intelligent and active part of the story. Someone who it is your job to trick and mislead–but also charm–until the very end.

So, if you’re having trouble with keeping your plot moving or don’t know where to go next, think about how you think Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would do it. Or even JK Rowling. (Sorry. Robert Galbraith.)

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

TCWT Blog Chain: Music and Writing

The prompt for this month’s Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain is:

“How does music relate to your writing?” 

Music is such a big thing for me. These days I pretty much always write to movie scores, because they help get (and keep) me in the mindset to work, and they can be great for getting me in the mood for writing certain things. (So like if I need to write something sad, you know what’s wonderful for that? HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 2.) My favorite composer is Hans Zimmer, but I also listen to a lot of scores from James Horner and James Newton Howard.

I’ve posted before about how when I work on a novel, I generally end up with a single score that I listen to nonstop while writing (check that post out here), but there are also a lot of scores I listen to that aren’t connected to a specific novel.

They’re all great for their own reasons, so I figured I’d share some of them today.

The Theory of Everything by Johann Johannsson

This is one of the two movie scores I’m currently obsessed with. The entire score is beautiful, but I’m especially in love with the opening song here. I love how playful and almost desperately hopeful it is, and the way the music feels like it, I don’t know, blossoms. I especially love how listening to it reminds me of how being at Oxford felt (which makes sense, since it’s about Cambridge).

Interstellar by Hans Zimmer

This is the other score I’m currently obsessed with. I wasn’t a huge fan of it the first time I saw Interstellar, but after the second time it got stuck in my head and now I can’t stop listening to it. This track (“Stay”) is especially good. It makes me want to write desperate, scared, hopeful things.

The Amazing Spider-Man by James Horner

I mainly love this score because it sounds so similar to my favorite of James Horner’s scores, Titanic. I wrote the novel I’ve been working on the past few years to Titanic, and have kept listening to it during the billions of rounds of revisions since, so it’s nice to have another score to fall back on that’s still similar but also different.

The Dark Knight (Rises) by Hans Zimmer (and James Newton Howard)

So really just all the music from the Dark Knight trilogy is fantastic. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard collaborated in composing for the first two films, then Zimmer did the last one alone. These scores are great for really intense stuff, especially action sequences.

“Aurora” by Hans Zimmer

Not an actual film score, but so heartbreaking and haunting. Zimmer wrote this after the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado opening night of The Dark Knight Rises, with proceeds going to the victims’ families, and it incorporates motifs from the Dark Knight trilogy.

The Hunger Games Series by James Newton Howard

I’m honestly not a huge fan of a lot of these scores. I thought the first was excellent, then it’s been downhill from there. But each movie does have some really great parts, especially when the arena collapses at the end of Catching Fire. These scores are wonderful for emotional, action-y stuff.

The Chronicles of Narnia Series by Harry Gregson-Williams

These were the scores that first got me into listening to scores. Gregson-Williams’s work on Narnia is absolutely gorgeous. Light when need be, heavy and pounding in the battle sequences. I used to listen to these on long car rides heading up north to ski, notebook open across my lap and farm fields frozen and sparkling beyond the windows.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Howard Shore

I don’t actually write to The Lord of the Rings scores that much, but these are AMAZING for homework. It makes writing papers feel like going on adventures.

Do you like to write to music? What kinds? Do you have any favorite movie scores to recommend?

Like this blog chain topic? Check out the rest of the posts throughout the month.

6thhttp://jasperlindell.blogspot.com/ and http://vergeofexisting.wordpress.com/

7thhttp://novelexemplar.wordpress.com/

8thhttp://www.juliathewritergirl.com/

9thhttp://www.freeasagirlwithwings.wordpress.com/

10thhttps://ramblingsofaravis.wordpress.com/

11thhttp://butterfliesoftheimagination.wordpress.com/ and http://www.pamelanicolewrites.com/

12thhttp://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.com/

13thhttp://miriamjoywrites.com/ and http://whileishouldbedoingprecal.weebly.com/

14thhttp://kirabudge.weebly.com/

15thhttp://lillianmwoodall.wordpress.com/ and http://erinkenobi2893.wordpress.com/

16thhttp://theedfiles.blogspot.com/ and http://fantasiesofapockethuman.blogspot.com/

17thhttp://irisbloomsblog.wordpress.com/ and http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com/

18thhttp://semilegacy.blogspot.com/ and http://from-stacy.blogspot.com/

19thhttp://horsfeathersblog.wordpress.com/

20thhttps://clockworkdesires.wordpress.com/

21sthttps://stayandwatchthestars.wordpress.com/ and http://arielkalati.blogspot.com/

22ndhttp://loonyliterate.com/ and https://www.mirrormadeofwords.wordpress.com/

23rdhttp://unikkelyfe.wordpress.com/

24thhttp://themagicviolinist.blogspot.com/ and http://allisonthewriter.wordpress.com/

25thhttp://missalexandrinabrant.wordpress.com/

26thhttp://awritersfaith.blogspot.com/ and http://thelonglifeofalifelongfangirl.wordpress.com/

27thhttp://nasrielsfanfics.wordpress.com/ and http://thelittleenginethatcouldnt.wordpress.com/

28th – https://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com/ (We’ll announce the topic for next month’s chain.)

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Write Yourself, But Different

I’m having a kind of bad day. It’s not even that bad, it’s just that things have been so good lately that anything at all negative happening feels like a punch to the gut. Primarily: I went in to donate blood for the first time today and they rejected me.

This might not seem like a big deal, except that I’ve never weighed enough to donate blood before, but due to my love of Christmas cookies this holiday season, I finally hit a hundred pounds, so after years and years of waiting, I signed up to donate at the university’s next blood battle. I spent the past few weeks trying to keep my weight up, taking iron supplements, staying hydrated, etc.

Today I went in, read over all the warnings and rules, waited a half hour, then finally got my interview to make sure I was eligible. And the lady rejected me. Because apparently, according to the American Red Cross, I HAVE CANCER.

Please note: I do not have cancer. Right now I don’t even have pre-cancer. But because I’ve had dysplastic moles removed in the past few months (the most recent surgery being a couple weeks ago), the lady interviewing me decided that I was so cancer-ridden I couldn’t donate. Try again in a few months. You know, as long as I haven’t died between now and then.

Nothing against the American Red Cross. I get it. You don’t want me sending Melanoma-laden blood to some poor, unsuspecting soul. But I don’t have Melanoma. I’ve never had Melanoma. THE ENTIRE POINT OF HAVING THOSE MOLES REMOVED WAS SO THAT I WOULD NOT GET MELANOMA.

I thanked the lady for her time (the full thirty seconds it took for her to reject me), walked outside, called my mom, and promptly burst into tears.

So yeah. That’s how my day’s been going.

Anyway, though, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

I used to be really careful about making sure the protagonists of my stories were super different from me. They’d have different interests, personalities; they’d go through situations vaguely similar to ones I’d experienced, but still different enough that no one could claim they were at all autobiographical.

Then I started taking creative writing classes, and started needing to produce a billion and one short stories a semester, and I ran out of stuff that Wasn’t Me to write about. Pieces of me crept into my characters and plots more and more, until finally last semester I gave up and started writing basically literally about my life: A girl and her friends study abroad over a summer at Magdalen College, Oxford; a girl longs to move to Europe; a girl has to say goodbye to her high school theatre company. And this semester it’s gotten even worse: a girl deals with (of all things) the potential of getting Melanoma and dying; a girl is depressed and doesn’t know how to handle it or get better*.

What all this has taught me is that it’s much easier to write about yourself than people who are vastly different from you, and the stories that have significant elements of yourself in them (at least for me) generally turn out better, because they’re personal. Theatre was my life in high school, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it, so graduating was scary and difficult. I’m terrified of getting cancer, but that’s something I don’t like to focus on; writing that story gave me an outlet for my fears in the midst of several surgeries on my arm to remove moles that had become dysplastic out of nowhere.

But at the same time, where I started out writing these stories with the goal of writing pieces of myself, I realized as I went that these characters were also, still, vastly different from me. Their own people with their own problems and histories and futures. The girl in the theatre story has no idea what to do with the rest of her life, when her entire life up until this point has been theatre. (I did have a pretty solid idea of what I’d be doing after high school. Because while theatre defined so much of me, writing did just as much.) The girl in the cancer story is half-Mexican (I’m supes Caucasian) and dreams of going to Julliard for violin (I tried violin once; pretty sure half of Michigan is still recovering).

These stories are better for how they’re different from my life. They let me explore these other identities, helped me see the world beyond myself, and in turn led to a much more interesting portfolio.

All this to say: Write yourself, but different. You learn, and your stories benefit, from both the parts that reflect you and the parts that open a window into other people’s lives.

After all, we are defined by both the parts that are the same as everyone else and the parts that are different. And we–and our characters–deserve to have both.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*For the record: I’m fine. I was in a pretty, you know, not-so-nice place this time last year. But I’m fine now.

Story Time: SNOW DAY

Snow days are really rare at my university. So rare, in fact, that the one we had last year broke a nearly forty year streak of never once cancelling classes due to weather.

So imagine our surprise when, amidst a 14.1 inch snowfall overnight, the university emailed us to say we were getting a snow day the next day (Monday/yesterday) for the second year in a row.

There was screaming. There was jumping up and down. There was quite possibly a massive dance party with my roommates in our living room that left me more exhausted than most workouts.

Yesterday morning I lay in bed for a while, reading All the Bright Places (by the way: as good as everyone says), then did some work (because even when classes are cancelled, there is work to be done), then finally got up for real and had Belgium waffles and peppermint tea with Hannah, cozy in our PJs with the snow blowing outside our windows and the apartment building quiet around us.

After breakfast, we got bundled up in a billion layers, threw on Hogwarts scarves (Ravenclaw for me; Gryffindor for her) and went to meet another friend outside her apartment. (We’ll call her Oxford Friend.) The city was quiet–a lot of stores and restaurants closed due to the storm–and coated in a clean layer of white. The three of us walked from there across campus to the Arb.

IMG_7862If you don’t know U of M well, the Arb (short for Nichols Arboretum) is a massive park full of woods and fields and hills, bordered on one side by the Huron River and absolutely gorgeous. We hiked through the snowy paths for a while and stopped to watch geese on the river, climb a snow-covered stack of logs, and throw snow at one another (multiple times).

IMG_7865Hannah and Oxford Friend made fun of me for stopping to take a picture of a frozen drinking fountain out in the middle of nowhere. (But that thing looked like it belonged in freaking Narnia.)

IMG_7877For a while, we sat on a fence at the top of a hill and just took in the valley stretching below us. (No pictures of that. It was too peaceful to ruin with pictures.)

At one end of the Arb, we found a bunch of people sledding on a hill, including a friend whose group had bought an inner tube and made a jump out of the snow. We took turns going down on the inner tube, then Hannah, Oxford Friend, and I walked back to our apartment and ordered a ton of Chinese food and grilled cheese and made soup and nachos (because who needs to be healthy when it’s a snow day).

Our other roommates sat down with us, another friend came over, and we watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone then Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets back to back. (We’d been marathoning Harry Potter all weekend, but we started with Prisoner of Azkaban, because we’re reading that for fantasy lit class right now. So the snow day gave us the chance to go back and watch the first two, too.)

Lying in bed last night, I couldn’t get over how lucky I was: To live in such a wonderful place, to have such wonderful friends, and to get a snow day at all. It was basically as perfect as a day can get.

If you got pounded by the blizzard the past few days as well, I hope you’re staying warm and safe and having fun with the snow, too.

Talk to you tomorrow!

~Julia

PS. NEW HARPER LEE BOOK SEQUEL TO TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD WHAT. (Just had to throw that in there.) (But also this, unfortunately.)

Wordy Wednesday: On Subjectivity

I was really nervous about getting my latest short story back from my creative writing instructor.

Not because I adored it and hoped he’d like it too, which is usually why I’m nervous. But because this short story dealt with a serious topic I didn’t think I’d handled well, it felt like it was somehow both bloated and too short, and I honestly would have rewritten the entire thing from scratch if I’d had the time. If I’d kept working on it at all. To be honest, I’d spent so many hours on the thing, getting it to work felt like a losing proposition.

So there I went, stomach twisting and palms sweating, to see my instructor today.

And he loved it.

He spent the entire critique raving about how much he loved it: how it was the best thing I’d written in a year, how while reading he kept thinking, “Now this is Julia writing”–and sure enough, at the end of the last page was the holy grail of grades, an “Excellent.” Something I’ve only ever seen twice before in my four semesters of creative writing courses.

So, how is it that this short story that I hated, that I thought was a lost cause, turned out to be the best one I’ve written in a year? The only explanation I can come up with is subjectivity. Or, more precisely: the fact that as writers, it’s basically impossible to see our writing for what it is.

This is one of the reasons it’s so incredibly important to have other people read our stuff. Whether we’re preparing a short story collection for competition or prepping a novel to send to agents (both things I’m doing right now, whoo), we need others’ help in order to see our work clearly.

Sometimes it’ll be that we have a phrase or paragraph we’re in love with, but that ultimately weakens the story because it slows it down or hits the reader over the head with information or, like, honestly just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. (It happens.) (Okay, it happens to me.) (A lot.) (Shhh.)

Sometimes a plot twist is too obvious or too out of nowhere. Sometimes a character’s motivation isn’t laid out well enough for the reader.

And, sometimes, what we’ve written is–objectively–actually kind of not terrible.

A story we love might, in its current state, suck. A story we’ve grown to hate might be wonderful.

This is why we need our critique partners and betas (and, if you’re lucky, a great creative writing instructor like mine). They let us know both when something isn’t working and when it is.

It’s difficult to take a step back from your writing, but it’s easier when you’ve got someone there to grab your hand and pull you away and say, “Look at this thing you have done. You might not realize it yourself, but it is excellent.”

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

PS. Big Ch1Con news coming soon. Biiig news. I AM SO EXCITED.

Story Time: Lessons from Chipotle

I tried Chipotle today.

I know, I know. As a college student, I’m supposed to eat so much Chipotle I’m more burrito than water. But I had it once a billion years ago–towards the beginning of high school, when I’d first become a vegetarian and was still way too picky about, well, everything–and I thought it was absolutely disgusting. So I’ve been avoiding it ever since.

Then, today, on my way back from running some errands in downtown, heading to a film class screening, I started to go past Chipotle and found myself opening the door and stepping inside and getting in line. Completely on a whim.

I got flour soft shell veggie tacos with brown rice and lettuce and cheese, with a side of guac and chips. And you know what? While the guac and chips were average at best, the tacos were excellent. Like I basically inhaled them because they were so good.

And I’ve been depriving myself of these excellent tacos for like seven years now simply because I didn’t like Chipotle at a time when my tastes were super different.

Besides getting to gloat that I ate really excellent tacos today, this post does have a point: Things are worth trying twice. Or three times. Or fifty.

I went through a period when I couldn’t stand fantasy books, and now I love them. I’ve hated an author’s debut, then gone on to love their sophomore novel. And I’ve certainly tried to write a story over and over again to no avail, only to have it suddenly start working a year later.

Tastes change. Circumstances change. And as we grow, it’s worth it to go back and try things again.

You never know when you’re going to go to a restaurant you used to hate and end up with tacos from Heaven*.

 

~Julia

*Let’s be honest. The point of this post really was just to gloat about the tacos.