Wordy Wednesday: Bell Tower Stairs

Hey there! How’s your week going?

Midterms are starting up at U of M, which means campus has basically turned into the set of a zombie B-movie. On the upside, I got to escape the madness for a few days by spending the weekend scouting venues for Ch1Con in Chicago with some awesome people.

Other than that, I’ve spent the past week just doing my best not to drown under homework. Oh, and my family saw The Martian Sunday night! I liked the book better, but it’s a solid movie. Definitely go see it, if you haven’t already.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a poem.


Climbing the stairs
to the eighth floor of the
university bell tower for
choir rehearsal
seemed like a good idea
on the first floor

But one floor up and
the air was gone and
three floors up and
the blood was rushing too fast
and five floors up and
our legs burned with acid and
seven floors up and our legs were numb

And the stairs spiraled on and on,
an endless loop of labored breathing,
gripping the banister too tight,
afraid of both looking up and
looking down

But eight floors up and
there was a door
and chairs,
and laughter from the group:
“We made it!”
And more than anything else
there was a window,
just a little thing high on the wall,
overlooking the sweeping, endless
green and orange quilt of trees that
gave this city its name

And look what we did,
look what we did;
together we climbed a mountain


Thanks for reading!


LINK by Summer Wier: Exclusive Excerpt!

I’m thrilled today to get to participate in the blog tour to help launch debut novel Link by Summer Wier! For my tour stop, I’m sharing an exclusive excerpt from the YA scifi. However, don’t let the amazingness of the excerpt stun you from reading to the end of the post, because there’s also a link to a giveaway hiding out down there. (So awesome, right?)

Let’s do this thing.

Link CoverAbout LINK:

For seventeen-year-old Kira, there’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than being surrounded by friends and huddled beside a campfire deep in the woods. And with a birthday in the peak of summer, that includes late night swims under the stars.

Or at least, it used to.

Kira’s relaxing contemplation of the universe is interrupted when a piece of it falls, colliding with her and starting a chain of events that could unexpectedly lead to the one thing in her life that’s missing—her father.

Tossed into a pieced-together world of carnivals and gypsies, an old-fashioned farmhouse, and the alluring presence of a boy from another planet, Kira discovers she’s been transported to the center of a black hole, and there’s more to the story than science can explain. She’s now linked by starlight to the world inside the darkness. And her star is dying.

If she doesn’t return home before the star’s light disappears and her link breaks, she’ll be trapped forever. But she’s not the only one ensnared, and with time running out, she’ll have to find a way to save a part of her past and a part of her future, or risk losing everything she loves.

Dreamy, fluid, and beautiful, Link pairs the mystery of science fiction with the minor-key melody of a dark fantasy, creating a tale that is as human as it is out of this world.
Available now from Amazon, and other retailers.

Book Trailer:

About Summer Wier:

Summer Wier Author PhotoSummer Wier is an MBA toting accountant, undercover writer, and all around jack-of-all-trades. Link is her debut novel and the first in The Shadow of Light series. She has three short stories appearing in Fairly Twisted Tales For A Horribly Ever After and co-authors the Splinter web serial. When she’s not digging through spreadsheets or playing mom, you can find her reading/writing, cooking, or dreaming of the mountains in Montana.
Check out more of YA author Summer Wier on her blog, twitter, facebook, and goodreads.

Ready for this excerpt?


“Are you calling me reckless?” Faye would laugh out loud at anyone who considered me reckless. I shoved his shoulder again, harder this time, catching him off guard and knocking him over.

“Oh, you’re absolutely reckless.”

He pounced on me. In a single movement, he grabbed my arms, crossed them in front of me, and held my hands behind my back. I didn’t know how I hadn’t seen it coming; Fischer pulled this move on Faye all the time, especially when he wanted something. I squirmed to escape, but made little progress against his strength.

“Give up?” His words purred into my ear, sending goose bumps over my skin.

“Not a chance.” I protested, but if he held me any longer, the temptation to give in might be too much to escape.

I ripped my arms from his hold, but he tackled me and we tipped to the floor, landing face to face. An uncomfortable burning sensation blossomed in my chest and sank into my stomach. I couldn’t deny that I was attracted to him. He looked like the very epitome of the smooth-talking, confident bad boys Faye read about in her trashy romance novels, but there was something missing—something I couldn’t quite place.

He brushed a strand of hair from my cheek. “Your eyes. They’re amazing.”

“You think so?” He probably said that to all the girls. I blinked nervously, to the point of being a little awkward, and pushed his hand away. “They’re just regular old eyes, really.”

“No, they’re different. Dark, reflective.” He traced his finger down the side of my face. “Like the wom—” His voice trailed off, and the weight of his body pressed against me. His lips were inches from mine. The thought that he might kiss me made me wonder if my heart could explode out of my chest.

But instead of closing the gap, he retreated. “Do you believe this is real? That I’m real?” His question took me by surprise, but the breath of distance between us granted relief.

I didn’t know what was going on in my head or how—or if—I’d imagined such a vivid world, but I knew I wouldn’t be here forever. “I don’t know.”

Disappointment filled his eyes, and his expression hardened. “You will.”

Screams from the steaming teapot seared the air. Evan got up, removed the kettle from the heat, and set it on the hearth. Placing one hand on the mantel, he stared into the fire, as if I’d somehow offended him and he was composing himself.

Why would he ask me that? Did he believe this was real? That I wasn’t a dream; that somehow this was happening right now? “What makes you think this is real?”

Without turning around, he said, “Each of us has a story, and they all begin the same. I didn’t fully understand the consequences of the choice, if you can even call it that, but this is my reality now. Real life, real feelings.”

The haunting warning of the fortune teller flashed into mind. “Evan, do you remember the old woman at the carnival?”

He turned to face me, suddenly recovered and interested in my words. “Why do you ask?”

“Another dream,” I said distantly, as her riddle echoed in my head. “‘End of starlight, Link undone. Choice of lives—’”

“‘Or trapped in one,’” we finished together.

My eyes snapped to meet his. “You know it?”

He about-faced, grabbed the kettle, and hurried to the kitchen. After pulling cups from the cabinet, he silently prepared our tea. My mind raced with the possibilities of how he knew the verse. Another piece of information I’d created in my subconscious? My forehead started to throb, and I rubbed the skin where my stitches should have been.

Silence grew to tension as he returned with two chipped mugs and sat one on the floor in front of me. I glared, waiting for him to say something.

“You’re not the only one who’s seen her. And it’s hard to explain if you don’t believe,” he finally answered.

Sipping from the cup, I thought about what he said. I didn’t know what to believe, but Evan knew more than what he’d shared in his vague explanation. Hints of ginger and lemon flavored the unusually sweet tea. Their tang left my tongue slightly numb. The warm drink was soothing, and I finished it quickly.

“What do you mean ‘not the only one’?” My words slurred as my mouth filled with sweet effervescence, making it hard to speak.

Noises distorted and echoed throughout the cabin, and my vision melted from the outside in. Evan sat quietly, sipping his tea, watching as I tried to maintain balance.

“Since the day I came here, I hoped that I wouldn’t always be alone. Pulled from friends, family—a life much like yours, I’d imagine.” The loneliness and sadness with which he was burdened could not be concealed. It showed in the weight of his brow, misery seeping into his gaze. He caught me in his arms as I fell over. “Consider this a favor. Go home, Kira. Enjoy your life, before you lose it.”

I stared at him in horror. What had he done to me? I couldn’t move my arms or legs. My eyes glazed over, erasing the present scene from view. As the tingling sensation throughout my body turned to numbness, I drifted into darkness.


If that excerpt doesn’t make you run out to buy this book immediately, I don’t know what will.

Now, as promised, Summer’s also putting on a tour-wide giveaway.

She’s put together a bundle of some of her favorite YAs (including a copy of Link!) and she’s going to raffle it off to one lucky reader.The books are:

Giveaway Graphic

You can enter the giveaway at the link below:

Click here for the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Thanks to Summer and REUTS Publications for allowing me to participate in the Link blog tour, and make sure to grab your copy today!


Wordy Wednesday: Falling Back in Love with Writing

I spent this past weekend home with family and some fun things happened during that:

  • Friday night, my cousin was an extra on Hawaii 5-0! Super proud to be able to say I knew him when. (He played a SWAT officer. Check it out.)
  • Saturday I went to afternoon tea with my mom and aunt and grandmom at this place that was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-themed. It was super fun and if you’re ever in Michigan and looking to have a tea party, I highly recommend it: www.madhatterbistro.com
  • Aaand finally, Sunday, we did our annual family 5k! (Well, my mom, aunt, and I did. My dad did an entire half-marathon because, unlike the rest of us, he’s actually athletic.) Then that night we sat out on our back patio and watched the eclipse while eating caramel apples and listening to the crickets, which was a perfect last dose of summer before the weather turned cold this week.

All in all, a very good weekend (even though I spent the entire thing not being able to breathe out of my nose).

Now, it’s Wednesday—which means, you guessed it: Wordy Wednesday time.

This week we’ve got a writing process post.

I haven’t talked about it much on here yet, because it’s still so small and who knows if it’s actually going to go anywhere, but for the past couple months I’ve been working on a new WiP.

This has been really hard for me, because writing has turned into such a strange thing over the course of college: I haven’t finished a novel since freshman year and almost all the writing I’ve done since then has been for something (school or NaNoWriMo, mostly) rather than for myself. (Like, I’ve been writing because I’m required to turn in x-amount per week or whatever, rather than because there are actually certain ideas and characters I’m dying to work on.)

It’s weird starting something just because I feel like it. No deadlines. No word or page count requirements. Just a Word document and me and what little time I can carve out of my week.

It feels good, in a weird kind of way. Like when you’re working out and your muscles start to burn and you know you could stop if you chose to, because no one is requiring you to do this, but you keep going out of sheer force of will. If you’re running a marathon or something, you know you have to keep going because you’re required to. But no one’s requiring anything of this, or me.

I’m finding that it’s important to have projects like this. I get so burned out writing things out of obligation rather than want. After a while, the words simply stop working.

Writing just-for-fun, on the other hand, is reminding me what it’s like to WANT to write. What it’s like to really like it, again. It’s been so long since I wrote for myself that I’d honestly forgotten, and remembering that sort of thing—actively feeling that sort of thing—is so, so important in creative industries like this.
Doing something creative for school, or a job, or even an activity as simple as NaNoWriMo is dangerous. It’s easy to run yourself dry. To lose that spark that made you want to take up writing (or whatever it is you do) in the first place.

I’d gotten to the point this summer where, if people asked me if I was a writer, I just kind of shrugged and said something along the lines of, “Technically? But I haven’t written anything in a long time.” Which isn’t true—in the year leading up to this summer I’d written 50k of a novel, about half a play, at least a dozen short stories, the first act of a screenplay, and over a hundred blog posts. But I’d written all of those out of feeling like I needed to, rather than wanted to, and that made all the difference. “Writer” had become a job description—a surface description—rather than something I was at my core.

Of course, it’s also important to have the projects that do have strings attached. Because they pull different things out of you, they stretch different muscles. It’s good to work under pressure—it teaches you to really create something out of nothing, to work through blocks and climb over walls. But not everything can be that way. It’s just not sustainable.

So, I’m learning to write for fun again. I’m re-teaching myself what it is to enjoy things like blogging and NaNoWriMo, which used to be projects I did for fun but that had started to feel like chores.

I don’t want to lose writing. It’s too important to me. I’ve put too much into it and care too much for it. With this WiP, I’m doing my best to take writing back. I’m going to make it my own again.

If you’re going through a similar process right now—if writing has started feeling like a chore rather than something you do for fun—hang in there. Take some space, take a breath, and remind yourself what you loved about writing when you began. Try to get back to that. You can. You will.

We’ll make it through together.

Thanks for reading!


How to Not Be Sick

Is everyone around you getting sick? Whether it’s allergies or the plague, we’ve all been there. Here’s how to avoid coming down with the ailment of the week.

Step One: Take so many anti-sick things your body becomes a fortress of health only the boldest of bacteria could breach.


Say hello to my little friends.

Step Two: Lead an active and healthy lifestyle, because what doesn’t kill ya kills the germs.


Baguette is healthy, right?

Step Three: Get at least seven hours of sleep a day. (I’d say a “night,” but let’s be honest, I nodded off multiple times during lectures this week and you had better bet I’m counting those accidental naps towards my total.)


Text books make good pillows.

Step Four: Avoid stress. Lolol jk college.


This is a book of horrors.

Step Five: Resolve yourself to the fact that at some point, no matter what you do, you’re going to get sick anyway.


Helping Kleenex earn more since ’94.

If you aren’t feeling well either right now, I hope you get better soon.

In the meantime, my allergies and I have a date with decongestant.


We met at Walgreens and it was love at first sight.



Wordy Wednesday: Character Flaws

Another week, another Wednesday.

The semester’s begun to settle into a routine, which is both nice and weird, because we only started this time two weeks ago but it already feels like we’ve been in school for months. (I’m also as tired as if I’ve been in school for months, but I think that’s a different problem.) (Like, for example, how I stood in front of my sink, staring at my tooth brush, for a solid five minutes last night because I had to muster the effort to actually pick it up.)

It’s also weird, because in the past week I’ve both applied for graduation and had my senior portrait taken, and THERE IS NO GOING BACK NOW. What even.

Why we’re actually here today, though: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is another writing process post. (And the last of Ariel‘s brilliant suggestions from this summer! Someone want to give me more ideas of things to talk about? I’ll pay you in hugs and writing tips.)

Let’s talk character flaws.

Character flaws are annoying, because they’re necessary to make your character relatable, but take ’em one step too far and, oh no! Now your character is unlikable instead.

Personally, I don’t mind unlikable characters. Some of my favorite protagonists are the unlikable ones. (Think Katniss, Sam from Before I Fall, etc.) But, as the term “unlikable” connotes, a lot of people, well, don’t.

So, how do you strike that balance between too perfect and too flawed? From my experience, these are a few things that work.

Cannot Be Static

I already talked about character arcs a few weeks back, so I’m not going to go into too much detail with this one. But basically your character should change in some major way between the beginning and ending of your story, and this change should be in direct relation to a flaw that in some way defines both the character and the plot.

Flaws are annoying when they’re static. (Look at what’s been happening on Once Upon a Time with Rumpelstiltskin, season after season, for Example A.) However, when flaws are dynamic–when they grow and morph and your character works to overcome them–they become interesting. They propel the story forward.

Characters stop being relatable, and start becoming unlikable, when they don’t overcome their flaws. The reader is there for a journey. Give them one.

Should Affect the Climax

This also falls under the category of character arcs, but your protagonist should have one or two major flaws that come to define him or her, and because of that these flaws should ultimately come to define the story as well. This means they need to affect the climax.

Generally, your protagonist should have to make a choice:

Option A – Everything’s (pretty much) guaranteed to be okay, but s/he’ll never overcome the flaw

Option B – There’s a good chance everything will fall to pieces, but s/he’ll have a chance at overcoming the flaw

See every rom-com ever for an obvious example of this. (Rom-coms are wonderful in general for studying stuff like this, because they’re so formulaic. I mean, ultimately they’re just doing the same things as all other stories, but they do them much more obviously.)

Would Be Okay in Moderation

Something that makes flaws so interesting is that they’re only flaws in excess. Literally anything becomes a flaw in excess.

This is a major component in what makes character flaws relatable to readers. Because while we might not have a certain trait as extremely as our favorite protagonist does, there’s a good chance we have a lower dose of it and it’s because of this connection that we connect with the character as a whole.

For example, as I mentioned, Katniss is one of my favorite characters ever. A large part of this is because of how independent she is. I can relate to that, because I HATE having to rely on other people. Take independence too far though, and you end up alone. Which is, you know, lonely. And ultimately a detriment to Katniss when she’s in the Games.

So look at your own flaws. The parts of you you’re afraid to leave unchecked. Try writing a character with them, but at an extreme.

Like not everyone is ever going to a person, not everyone is ever going to like a character. Some people simply don’t have to deal with certain flaws, so they don’t connect. But chances are, someone out there WILL share those sorts of traits with your protagonist and s/he’ll really love your story.

However: Some Can Be Smaller

Your character should have more flaws than those that affect his or her arc. Some can just be small things that add some more depth to your character. You can play these up for comedy, or just sort of weave them throughout as background information, or whatever feels right. These don’t necessarily need to be things your character overcomes. The biggest thing is that they’re there.

As humans, we’re all so extremely flawed. We have big flaws and little ones. They take shape in different forms (maybe you’re afraid of something and it’s holding you back, or you’re too brash instead). The point is that each person contains countless little idiosyncrasies. They’re what make you you.

So give your character that same kind of depth. While a certain trait or two should define the story, your character should be bigger than just those things. That is what ultimately makes a character likable.

And now, I’m going to leave you with “Flaws” by Bastille. Because every time I type “flaws” it starts playing in my head. (This is possibly one of my own flaws.)

Thanks for reading!


Wordy Wednesday: Don’t Burn Out

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

Happy Wednesday!

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I wrote a post for The Book Creators on balancing writing with school. Since then, I’ve found it’s a topic a lot of people are invested in* (because, let’s be real, SCHOOL). I’ve also been finding myself a little tiny bit extremely stressed by my schedule for the semester.

I’m not going to go into all the details of what I’m up to, because a) that would be boring and b) it would likely result in me rolling around on the floor moaning. But I will tell you that yesterday I was either doing homework, at class, at a meeting, or working from 7:00 AM until 10:00 PM. Straight. And I honestly should have done more when I got home last night, but I hadn’t had a break since Saturday afternoon, so I decided to hang out with my roommate for a bit then crash early instead.

The last part of that paragraph is important. I’d been working nonstop for about three and a half looong days. And although I enjoy (most of) what I do, after that I was tired and out of it and heading in the direction of depressed.

In my Book Creators post, I mentioned avoiding burnout. Last night, I needed to take my own advice.

You can only do so much before you’ve done too much. It can be hard to justify taking breaks to yourself and others when there’s still so much to be done. Like, last night I was wondering why I deserved to go to bed early when I should’ve been reading for my internship, or working on homework, or—at the least—cleaning my sorta gnarly room. However, this kind of thinking is toxic. I was at the point where my brain NEEDED rest.

Let me say this plain: If you NEED a break, you DESERVE a break.

It doesn’t matter how often your best friend or your boss or that really annoyingly successful kid from your high school takes breaks. Everyone’s bodies and brains work differently. You take a break when YOU need one.

And everyone relaxes in different ways. You might like going for runs, or hanging out with friends, or binge-watching Netflix alone in your room with a plate of nachos. It doesn’t matter what works for you, as long as you’re aware of what it is and make time for that activity.

I’m doing a lot better today. After going to bed early last night, I naturally woke up early too, so I decided to work out before my shower. Also because I was up early, I had time to make my lunch before leaving for the day, and because of THAT, between classes I had time to hike all the way out to the Arb (our local nature preserve) to eat by the river and relax. And even then I finished eating earlier than I otherwise would have, so now I’m fitting in this Wordy Wednesday at 1:00 PM instead of midnight.

Today is a really good day, and it’s happening because I let myself take that break last night. And the funny thing is, even though I still have all that work looming over me, I’m far less stressed about it now than I was at 10:00 PM last night.

Burnout is real and it is scary. Don’t let it happen to you.

Now, I’m off to hike a little more in the Arb before I have to leave for class. Because that’s a way I relax and you know what? I deserve it (and you do too).

Thanks for reading!


*The wonderful and talented Joan He and Ava Jae have made awesome reaction posts/videos with some of their own tips. Check Joan’s post out here and Ava’s here.

Wordy Wednesday: Non-Cliche Cliches

A couple quick things before we get started:

  1. Yesterday was my last first day of school! (Unless of course I get a masters someday, which is THE HOPE, but we’ll see.) It feels so weird to be a senior in college. When did this happen? WHEN?
  2. My first post on the collaborative writing blog The Book Creators went up Monday! I talked about balancing writing with school. Read it here.

It’s only the second day and things are already insanely busy. Here’s to surviving.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

A while ago my wonderful critique partner Ariel Kalati suggested I talk about crafting non-cliche romantic subplots.

This is an interesting one, because “cliche” itself can be such a moving target. (Check out a post on that right over here.) But romance is certainly one of the easiest parts of fiction with which to fall into writing cliches.

As mentioned in that other post, everything has been written before at some point. EVERYTHING. So it’s less about doing something original (which is impossible) as much as doing something unoriginal in an original way.

For instance, look at people. There is literally nothing about us that is original. You’re left-handed? So is 10% of the world’s population. In as few as fifty random people, there’s almost a 100% chance that someone else with share your birthday. And I can’t tell you how many classes I’ve shared with other Julias/Julies. (Answer: almost all of them. And Julia/Julie weren’t even super popular names the year I was born.)

But it’s not our individual traits that make us who we are, but the conglomeration of all of them. Sure, there are tons of other lefties, and people born on April 21st, and people named Julia. But the number of people who share those traits with me go way down when you combine all of them. And they go down further when you consider other things too, like how I’m allergic to chocolate, or how I’m obsessed with books, or how I’m a vegetarian.

Cliches are like this as well. So I believe it’s fine to begin with something that might be “cliche,” as long as you build from that in order to create something original.

You can do this in a few ways–and they don’t just apply to romantic cliches, but cliches in general.

So, ways to write cliches without being, well, cliche.

Twist Cliches

This is the easiest one. Take a cliche and twist it in some way. Maybe you’ve got star-crossed lovers, but they’re in space. (Ex: Beth Revis’s Across the Universe.) Or, for example, one of my novels has a pretty big focus on a love triangle, but it’s the male love interest to my female narrator at the center, rather than the more traditional “female narrator juggles two equally hot boys.”

The point is that you’re taking something familiar, then changing a key aspect about it. (This is the general principle behind a lot of retellings going on these days. Study them. They’re popular for a reason.)

Play with Cliches

Instead of just changing one thing, turn a cliche on its head. Maybe make the reader believe you’re following a well-worn path, then BOOM: plot twist. You’re actually doing something else entirely. (I’m going to avoid giving examples for this one, because spoilers, but this can be such a fun one. You literally use reader expectations against them in order to create a less predictable story. It’s diabolical.)

Justify Cliches

If you’re using a cliche, you need to have justification for it. Why can your story not function without it? (Because come on now, if your story can function without a cliche, WRITE WITHOUT THE CLICHE.)

And this shouldn’t just be justification in your head. It needs to be on the page. Show the reader why your story can’t function without the cliche and, more than that, why your cliche-infused story needs to be told. (Because a bad story needing a cliche to function is one thing; a good one is something else entirely.)

A really good example of an author doing this is Stephanie Perkins in her Anna and the French Kiss trilogy. All three romances have technically cliche elements (love triangles and miscommunication and parental disapproval oh my!). But the stories are larger than their cliches and they wouldn’t function without them–so, the cliches work. Which leads me to my last method:

Build on Cliches

Even if you’re doing a full-on Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers bit, your story needs to be greater than the cliche. Other things need to be going on. Your characters need to be original and dynamic and real.

How many times have we known people whose real life relationships legitimately felt like they were out of a novel? Chances are, when this happens you don’t look at your friends all like, “Uck. I’ve totally heard the one about the meet-cute with the new guy at school before. Your life is so cliche.” No, you know the people involved, which means the individual details you’ve gathered over the years come together to define your friends, and by extension the relationship, so that it feels unique and fresh instead.

Feeling cliche and being cliche are two different things. It’s the feeling you want to avoid more than anything else. So figure out what feels right to you and run with it.


What are your tips for avoiding falling into cliches?

Thanks for reading!


P.S. Sorry this is going up after midnight. I have no good excuse. It’s just the whole getting-used-to-being-back-at-school thing. (So much fun, amiright?) If you’re back this week too, best of luck!

Wordy Wednesday: The Sun and More

I’m in Michigan! I moved back to my apartment at school a couple days ago (but as of an hour ago I’m home-home again for a couple days, to get caught up on doctor appointments and family time and all that).

At this point, I have less than a week left before senior year begins, which is CRAZINESS. I’m honestly terrified for how I’m going to handle everything I signed on to do this year, but almost all of it’s fun stuff, so fingers crossed everything works out.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to get ahead on reading for my literature class (it’s on film adaptations, so we’re reading The Great Gatsby and Emma and a ton of other fantastic works) and getting back into a regular routine of eating decently and working out. (Although also, I ate nothing but takeout and barely exercised AT ALL while in NYC and I lost seven pounds, sooo.) (I mean, I’m pretty sure it was seven pounds of muscle.) (But still.)

It was while I was on the treadmill today that I got an email from Writer’s Digest letting me know that my short story “The Sun and More” received an honorable mention in the Children’s/Young Adult category of the 84th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition! (Wow, that was a mouthful.) I’d honestly forgotten I’d even entered anything, so it was a surprise (and such a good one).

People have been asking where they can read the story, so I figured I’d post “The Sun and More” as a special Wordy Wednesday. (I’ll write the writing process post that won last week’s poll next week.)

Without further ado:


I slam the Jeep door and shove the keys in the ignition. Cold air blasts from the vents as the heater struggles to life. I jerk the seatbelt towards the buckle—it won’t come, I must have activated a lock—then Mamá is in the passenger seat, lips set in a line, unruly eyebrows low over her muddy brown eyes.

I yank at the seatbelt again but it’s still locked. Mamá’s gloved hand covers my fists. My usually steady fingers shake.

“Maria. Settle down.” Her voice is soft, low. I can’t look at her or I’ll break, so I tug at the seatbelt one last time, but of course it still won’t work, and it’s so hard to breathe, and I can’t take this. It’s unfair. I hate it.

I throw the seatbelt at the door, wrench off my gloves, and lean my forehead against the freezing steering wheel. Outside the Jeep, everything drowns beneath thick, dark clouds.

For a moment the only sounds are my breathing, too fast, and the heater choking out air. Mamá takes off her gloves and carefully brushes a long, loose curl off my shoulder. I smash the heel of my hand against the steering wheel.

The jolt that ricochets up my arm is something I can control. It feels good to be in control, to have a choice in what happens for once, so I do it again. Again.

She shifts away, leaving the space around me somehow both too empty and too full. Dry air pumps from the heater. My eyes burn. My nose runs. Tires crunch over ice somewhere in the parking lot.

My hand hovers above the steering wheel.

It falls limp to my lap.

“Maria.” Mamá has always said my name so uniquely, with that combination of Mexican and Midwestern accents. A trill over the R and the As so wide and endless. My name is a magic spell between her lips. “Oh, mi chiquita.” Mamá leans over the center console again. She pulls me into her arms. I sob into her parka.

She is warm. Safe.

So different from Dad and me.

Mamá is made of tres leches cake and hazelnut coffee. She works a billion hours a day as a paralegal, the first in her family to go to college, and volunteers in the church nursery every Sunday after Mass. She smells like peach shampoo and doctors’ offices.

My scent is probably similar. I want to go home and wash it off. Crawl into bed and never have to face the world again.

She rubs my back. “I just do not understand why you are upset.”

Of course she doesn’t. It’s stupid. I shouldn’t be.

I pull away and wipe my nose with my sleeve. Wipe my eyes. I pull my seatbelt back around to buckle it. Calmly, this time.

I shift the Jeep into reverse and crunch out of the spot.

“We need to talk about this,” Mamá says. “You do not have cancer. Why are you upset? I don’t want you leaving this parking lot until you tell me.”

I open my mouth, but my throat is swollen shut and the pressure still pounds behind my eyes. I put the car in gear.


I pull onto Main Street.


It’s all I can do to blink my eyes clear and keep my focus on the slushy road.

We drive for one minute. Two. Out of downtown and past the cemetery I still can’t look at, all these years later.

“You do not have cancer,” Mamá repeats. “That’s good news from Dr. Iman. You should be happy. We caught the bad mole just in time.”

“But that’s exactly it!” I slam on the brakes. Turn to her. The car behind us blares its horn and swerves around us. I don’t care. “We caught this one and every one before it, sure. But one of these times we aren’t going to catch it. This one was changing so fast! It looked fine a month ago and already it was severely dysplastic. You heard Dr. Iman. That’s one step from Melanoma. One of these times, just—we aren’t going to catch it.”

The doctors have been cutting dysplastic moles out of me since I was eight. They come from Dad’s side. Northern European heritage that led to genes that don’t know how to handle the sun. My relatives on Mamá’s side don’t understand why I’m always so pale, why I’m afraid to do anything outside.

I’m enough of an outsider as it is, raised in Madison, Wisconsin rather than Mérida, Yucatán; blue eyes and freckled cheeks paired with Mamá’s dark, curly hair. Grew up on hot chocolate with whipped cream—Dad’s favorite—instead of horchata.

“One sunburn,” I say. “I forgot to reapply sunscreen one afternoon during the orchestra trip to Disney World over Thanksgiving and Dr. Iman has had to cut out three moles since then. I can’t live this way!”

Bouncing between AP classes and la Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica and violin lessons and practicing violin and not being able to get the violin to do what I want and needing it to do what I want and playing until Mamá comes downstairs wrapped in a blanket to tell me to stop at two in the morning. And doctor’s appointments, and applying ointment and fresh bandages to the latest surgery site every morning, and constantly checking for changes in my skin through it all.

Another car behind us slams on its horn. My heartrate jumps.

“Pull off the road,” Mamá instructs. The car swerves around us. I slip the Jeep onto the shoulder and flip on our hazards. “You’re so worried about dying from cancer? Pull another stunt like this in the middle of Main Street and you will die much faster. Don’t you dare scare me like that!” She shoves my shoulder and I flinch.

Her cheeks pale. “Oh, Chiquita, I’m sorry. I didn’t—didn’t mean that.”

My right shoulder is just the latest place a mole has chosen to lead a kamikaze attack. Another hole in the patchwork quilt of my body. Dr. Iman says I was lucky it wasn’t my left shoulder, or I wouldn’t have been able to play violin while it healed.
The sore throbs. “It’s all right.” I stare at the steering wheel.

A semi-truck barrels past and rocks the Jeep. My eyes water from the dryness of the air. The only things around us are barren trees and grey-tinged snow.

Mamá unbuckles her seatbelt and turns to face me head on. “Maria, in your sixteen years of life, we have never once missed a bad mole. Do you understand how incredibly fortunate you are?”

“Exactly.” I throw my hands up. “The odds are against us. With that many bad ones caught, we have to miss one sometime.”

Skin’s supposed to protect you, hold all the pieces together. The body’s first line of defense. But mine seems to have never wanted more than to self-destruct.

“Twenty.” She raises her eyebrows. “That is how many dysplastic moles we have caught. Twenty moles in eight years. And you, mija,” her voice cracks, “are now a beautiful young woman.”

There were the first two when I was eight, on my back, that they found when I first went to the dermatologist with Dad, a week after I saw him perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra—he graduated from Julliard—and came home begging to learn how to play. He pulled me into his arms and told me his dream was to learn how to make music that felt like colors—the red of first love and blue of a shiver.

Another mole at nine. Three at ten, all on my scalp, so I now have bald patches we have to be careful to hide when I pull my curls back to perform. One at eleven.

Five at twelve, because I went to orchestra camp that summer in a failed attempt to escape everything happening at home. Two at thirteen. Three at fourteen. None at fifteen, because I stopped going outside almost entirely freshman year.

I stopped doing everything. I played so little, I had to earn back my calluses.

And now three dysplastic moles at sixteen, because I wanted to spend the free afternoon of the orchestra competition roaming Disney World with everyone else. A day off from everything. From being me.

And after waiting two hours in line with Abby and Erin, we finally got to ride Splash Mountain, and I forgot to reapply sunscreen on our way to the spinning teacups because we were laughing so hard over how wet we were, and it wasn’t even that sunny.

No one else had to reapply sunscreen after every ride.

It’s not fair. Being half-Mexican, having the sun in your blood, and it poisoning your skin.

I bite my cheek. “You’ve been counting how many times I’ve almost gotten Melanoma and died?”

Mamá reaches across the center console, cups my chin in her palms, and her long fingers curl around my earlobes. There’s another scar behind my left one.

Her eyes are wet, but her lips tilt up. Another car passes. “Chiquita. I’ve been counting how many times you didn’t get Melanoma and lived.”

My chin trembles against her warm hands. Moisture gathers in my eyes. “I’m scared, Mamá.”

She shakes her head. Her smile wavers a little. “I’m scared, too.”

“I miss Dad.”

“I know. I know. Me too.” The tears leak down her cheeks.

I am far too big for it, but I crawl over into her lap. She holds me tight.

“I cannot make promises, Maria, but we will do our best to keep stopping these. We’ll keep doing the mole checks. Keep applying the sunscreen. We just have to be smart about it. Learn from your father’s mistakes.”

“It’s just delaying the inevitable,” I whisper into her shoulder.

“Everyone dies eventually.” Her laugh makes her entire chest vibrate. “My goal is that you live a good, long time before then.” She squeezes me. “And anyway, what would the sunscreen industry do without you?”

“You’re right.” I hiccup out a laugh. I lay my cheek against the hollow between her collarbone and neck. “I have to stay alive for their sakes.”

“And mine. Don’t forget about me.”

I hug her tighter. “Would you mind driving the rest of the way home?”

“Anything for you.” She gives me one last squeeze, then I open the door and step outside so she can climb into the driver’s seat. I slip back in and she turns. Strokes a misplaced curl from my face. She rests her forehead against mine. “Anything for you. I would give you the sun and more, mi Maria. You know that.”

I pull away and nod.

She is the one who pays for the lessons and instrument repairs, who tacked the Juilliard poster above my desk when Dad had been gone a month and I still refused to leave the house. She is the one who helps me through my Spanish homework and sits beside me in the living room during Christmas in Mérida while everyone else basks in the sun. She is the one who translates their culture to me and my culture to them, and whispers into my hair that, “Es bonito ser diferente.” It is beautiful to be different.

My throat’s still tight, but I manage to get the words out, “Maybe since I can’t have the sun, it’s time I started chasing everything else.”

Mamá turns off the hazards and smiles. It hurts, how wonderful and beautiful and mine she is. “What would you like to chase first?”

“Hot chocolate?”

“Only if we get it with whipped cream.”

“Of course.” I buckle my seatbelt. We pull onto the road and the sun comes out from behind the clouds. It dyes the inside of the Jeep gold, lovely in its toxicity. The shade the best violinists’ wails would be if you could translate colors into music.


Thanks for reading!


I Hate Goodbyes

I leave for LaGuardia in an hour, but I somehow managed to finish packing early, so now I’m just sitting out on my balcony, waiting. 

I love this balcony. I’ve loved reading and eating and napping and writing on this balcony. I’ve loved watching sunsets and wondering at the activities of the neighbors in the apartment building across from mine and wishing on planes. I’ve loved dreaming and planning and working here. 

But in one hour, this balcony will no longer be mine. 

That’s what I hate about goodbyes. Less the leaving as much as the losing. 

Wandering Times Square after my last Broadway show last night, this place that had come to feel like mine suddenly–wasn’t. I felt like I was already walking through a memory. 

There was the movie theater where Mom and I saw “Inside Out” our first night here. There was John’s Pizza, whose carryout I literally lived off of the week leading up to Ch1Con. There was and there was and there was. 

The desire to go out and do something new and reckless was so strong it could have carried me off my feet. But it was late and I was tired and I still had more packing to do. 

It’s funny the things you become sentimental about when you realize you’ll never have to deal with them again: The tourists crowding the sidewalks making a eight block walk take eight times as long as it needed to, trying to get from Broadway and 50th to the Times Square – 42nd St subway station. The overcrowded 7 train followed by the too-loud Q60 bus that comprised my hour commute home. The weird banging from the air conditioning unit of the apartment above mine as I fell asleep. 

And I honestly don’t really know how to put into words how much this summer has meant to me and what leaving this place feels like. (The best I can do is that it’s like a sucking in my chest. Like New York and I bonded at some point while I’ve been here and now a plane’s going to rip us apart.) 

And I’m trying not to get TOO melodramatic about this all, but I also want to remember what this feels like, because I want to remember how much I love this city and how I need Future Julia to come back. 

And it kills me that the world isn’t going to stop when I leave. Other people will sit on my bench in Madison Square Park, and cool events will happen that I will be too far away to attend, and other people will get to stare at the Empire Stae Building day in and day out. And I won’t be here.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ann Arbor. And I’m excited to go back. I just–also kind of don’t want to leave New York? 

It’s kind of a miracle, being able to be selfish about these sorts of things. 

But anyway, here I sit on my balcony. Watching the sun move across the sky. Wondering if the neighbors in the apartment building across from mine will notice when I’m gone. Wishing on planes that someday one will carry me back to here. 


Thirty minutes to go. 


Wordy Wednesday: Character Arcs

This past week has been insanely busy. Wednesday, a couple friends and I hit the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibit at the Morgan, then Hannah and I saw Finding Neverland on Broadway (and met Matthew Morrison whoo!). Thursday Hannah and I saw a show by the Upright Citizens Brigade. Then Friday morning we left for a weekend staying with Hannah’s extended family in the Hamptons, where we swam and ate good food and learned to play backgammon.


Amagansett is officially gorgeous.

Back in New York City Monday, I spent the afternoon in Central Park, visiting the zoo and the Balto statue, then grabbed dinner and hung out with Ch1Con team member Ariel. Yesterday I wandered the Flatiron District for a while and spent the afternoon reading in Madison Square Park. Aaand today I hung out by Gramercy Park for a while, then made one last visit to the Strand and the High Line before finally hitting Laduree for the first time this summer.


Five-year-old me is proud of this moment.

It’s funny, because looking at the past couple days, mostly what I’ve been doing is wandering and reading in pretty places. I had all these grand plans for my last week in New York City, involving hitting all the big touristy things I haven’t done yet this summer. But I’ve realized that all I really want to do is enjoy the little things I’ve loved about New York one last time, like the hum of the city around me while lying in the grass in Madison Square and the dry, warm scent of paper and glue filling my lungs while getting lost at the Strand.  

 It’s the little things, I’m realizing, that you fall in love with about places. And I am going to miss all these little things, so desperately, when I leave on Saturday.

But in the meantime: this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post. And in honor of my last day of my internship being tomorrow (well, last day interning in person anyway), let’s talk about an issue I’ve noticed in quite a few of the manuscripts I’ve critiqued this summer: properly constructing character arcs.A “character arc” is how a character changes between the beginning and ending of a story. Usually it focuses on one trait that somehow comes to define your character, and it is due to resolving some sort of issue with that trait that the character manages to overcome whatever the plot throws at him/her in the climax.

This doesn’t mean only one of your character’s traits matters, or that other traits don’t come into play with the plot. But–in general–the overall focus will be on one, maybe two. (For a really obvious example of this sort of thing, look at Pride and Prejudice.)

The concept behind character arcs is simple enough, but they can be strangely hard to get right. So, here are a few of the defining characteristics of a character arc and how to write one.

Should Follow Dramatic Structure

A character arc is basically a subplot specific to your character. So, like all plots, it should at least loosely follow dramatic structure.

By gradually increasing the tension surrounding the character arc until you reach the climax (using stuff like the inciting incident and rising action), you draw your reader in and help make your character more relateable and interesting. (After all, no matter how cool your plot is, the reader won’t care unless s/he cares about the characters.) For some help with figuring this out, try plotting your character arcs on a dramatic structure chart.

Example: Let’s say your story is a romance about a girl who’s afraid of commitment. She’d start out dumping a good guy due to this fear, then a series of events would show us her meeting a new guy, him convincing her to give him a chance, them slowly falling for each other (but all the while her carrying her fear and it growing inside her, etc.)–until something happens where she ditches the boy out of this fear, only to find the strength within her to give him a second chance at the climax so they can ride off into the sunset together.

Your Story Begins When the Character Arc Does

This might sound like an obvious one, but if the growth your character experiences is him overcoming vanity, he should already be vain when the story begins. This isn’t something that should wait to present itself at the catalyst or the turning point at the end of act I or something. It needs to be there, on the page, from page one.

Obviously there’s a good chance your character existed before he became vain, but the story didn’t. Whatever trait you choose to focus your arc on, it needs to be something that defines your character from the very beginning, so it’ll matter more when the transformation of the trait defines the climax.

Should Both Influence and Be Influenced By Plot

As mentioned, a character arc is basically a one-person-centric subplot. Because of that, like all subplots, it should both influence (and be influenced by) your overarching plot. Except more so if you’re dealing with your chief protagonists, because their character arcs, in part, should be the plot.

For example, back to that romance about the girl afraid of commitment: Without that fear of commitment, we wouldn’t have a plot. The plot (her getting together with the boy) revolves around her getting over her fear in order to resolve itself. However, if it weren’t for the plot (the relationship with the boy and, in particular, whatever happens that leads her to temporarily ditch him), she never would get over her fear in the first place.

Plot and character arcs are a symbiotic relationship. They can’t survive without one another.

(Almost) Every Character Should Have an Arc

Obviously if someone’s in your MS for five seconds, an arc is unnecessary. But all your supporting characters–protagonist and antagonist alike–should have some semblance of arcs. Even if said semblance is subtle. Even if your MS is in first person POV and your narrator doesn’t notice some side character’s arc (and thus the reader doesn’t really see it).

The point is that every character should be thought out enough–be real enough–to have an arc.

And there you have it. A few of the elements that go into writing character arcs.

Thanks for reading!


P.S. Sorry this technically went up on Thursday! WordPress and I had a bit of a spat.