Let’s Talk About Moles

Hey there! Popping in today with a kind of personal post.

Something I feel like we don’t talk about that often is people living with precancerous conditions. I’m only bringing this up right now because I just went through a teeny tiny bit of a scare (but it appears I’m okay, which is why I feel comfortable writing this post).

Most people will have a dysplastic mole at some point in their life. A dysplastic mole is a mole that has begun mutating but isn’t cancer yet (and might never become cancer). Generally, these are scary, but ultimately something people shrug off, because they get the one or two bad moles removed and never have to worry about it again.

I’d had about half a dozen dysplastic moles by the time I was in middle school. More since then. I used to joke that I bought my old dermatologist his BMW, because he had to perform so many surgeries on me growing up. When I switched to a new dermatologist last year, she told me it appeared most if not all of my moles will eventually become dysplastic. No telling which will be the ones to actually progress to full-blown melanoma. (Because I’m related to people who have had melanoma, this is called Familial Atypical Multiple Mole Melanoma Syndrome. It’s fun.) Right now, I have a couple visibly dysplastic moles, but we’re just monitoring them instead of removing them, because this new dermatologist doesn’t want to turn me into any more of a dartboard than she has to.

The closest I’ve ever come to cancer was in 2014. I got a sunburn while on vacation in Paris—ONE sunburn—and two of the moles on my right arm mutated so fast, I almost missed them. I was away at college when I noticed the weird scab on my arm that just wouldn’t go away. I was going to wait until I went home for Christmas to get it looked at, but thank God I panicked and called my mom. She scheduled an emergency appointment with the dermatologist. He realized the weird scab was exactly where a normal-looking mole used to be and cleared his schedule so he could remove it immediately.

The dermatologist had to dig all the way down to my muscle to get the entire mole out, because it had been burrowing for my bloodstream. He had to sever nerves. It took something like twenty stitches to pull my healthy tissue back together. My arm is still a little numb there. He implied that if I had waited until Christmas, I likely would be dead.

Flash forward to a couple weeks ago: a strange scab appeared on the old surgery scar from the other 2014 mole. This one had been smaller and the surgery had been much less extensive (although he did have to cut it out twice, because he missed some of the affected tissue the first time). Still, any unexpected change to skin when you’re essentially in a constant state of pre-cancer is worrisome. Especially one directly atop the place a dysplastic mole used to be.

But here’s the thing: I can’t go to a dermatologist every time my skin does something strange. I’d be living at the doctor’s office if I did that. (I have really weird skin overall. Throughout puberty, it was almost impossible for me to tan or get a sunburn; my skin just absorbed all of the radiation instead, feeding the dysplasia. Now I tan if I even think about stepping outside.)

So, instead I had to sit and wait. I took pictures every couple days of the scab to track how it was changing. I tried to think back to see if I could remember bumping my arm at any point (but the scab appeared right after a really stressful few days, so honestly there are a lot of holes in my memory from them). And for the past couple weeks, I’ve had to work, write, buy groceries, train for a 5K, see friends—knowing there might be a malignant tumor growing in my arm.

As of a couple days ago, the scab is gone. The scar is back to normal. It appears I really did hit my arm and simply don’t remember it.

Right now, I’m okay. But even with this little victory, I still live with the knowledge that at any point in time, some part of my skin might turn traitor and try to kill me. It is a constant worry at the back of my mind. And I try not to let it bother me, but it’s always there, because if I don’t pay attention, I could miss something. So it’s a balancing act: learning not to freak out about everything little thing, but also staying on my guard enough to catch anything bad before it turns deadly.

All of this to say: Cancer sucks. Even when you don’t actually have cancer–you’re just monitoring for it–it sucks.

People like me have to live with a genetic predisposition for our skin to self-destruct. If you’re lucky enough not to, don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. Please put on sunscreen. Wear a hat. Take care of yourself.

I have very little control over what happens to me (although, believe me, I still do everything I can to keep my skin healthy). If you do have control, take advantage of that gift.

And if you’re also living with a precancerous condition: Hang in there. Keep breathing. We’ll get through this together.

~Julia

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Ch1Con 2017 Blog Tour: Interview with Ariel Kalati and Emma Rose Ryan!

2017 ch1con blog tour banner

Hey there, and welcome to the Ch1Con 2017 Blog Tour! (Stick around until the end of the post for a giveaway of a signed copy of Adam Silvera’s History Is All You Left Me!)

If you haven’t heard of it, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference (Ch1Con) is a writing conference entirely by and for young writers, open to writers ages eleven to twenty-three. The team that runs it is composed of a number of high school, college, and early-twenty-something writers, and we work to create a unique, inclusive experience for young attendees. (In case you don’t already know, hi, I’m the founder and director of Ch1Con.)

We’re really excited about the conference this year, which will take place Saturday, August 5th in downtown Chicago, IL. Our speakers will include all kinds of awesome people, including literary agent superstar Brent Taylor and New York Times bestselling author Kody Keplinger (her biggest hit, The DUFF, is now a movie!).

So, in honor of Ch1Con 2017, we’re holding this nifty blog tour! This is a special year for Ch1Con: 2017 marks our fifth year holding the conference! So, in honor of this momentous occasion, I’m pleased today to bring you an interview with two Ch1Con team members who have been part of the conference since the beginning, Ariel Kalati and Emma Rose Ryan.

Ariel

Ariel Kalati is currently a 20-year-old junior at Sarah Lawrence College, studying writing, literature, and sociology. She is Ch1Con’s Associate Online Administrator and hopes to go into community building surrounding writing and arts education. Though she has done some editorial work, she got tired of it because editing, as we all know, is hard. Now she spends most of her free time writing novels and poetry, reading YA books with magic in them, and talking about fandoms and social justice on the Internet. She can be easily bribed with pizza and other cheesy foods, but her skills primarily consist of sarcastic comments and Harry Potter trivia.

EmmaEmma Rose Ryan is a freshman in college studying Creative Writing. Her family and green tea notwithstanding, she loves stories more than anything in the world. Her primary obsessions are middle-grade fiction and fairy tales. In her free time, Emma works with the Chapter One Young Writers Conference and St. Genesius Productions.  Emma’s other interests include The West Wing, arguing, and petting cats.

The three of us are the last remaining original members of the Ch1Con team. What were your first thoughts when you heard the idea of doing a young writer’s conference?

Girls by Millennium Park Sign

The attendees of the original Chapter One Young Writers Conference hanging out in Chicago.

Ariel: It’s been so long and Ch1Con has been so successful that I honestly don’t remember, but I think I was mostly excited at the prospect of meeting my Internet friends! It was disappointing that none of us turned out to be forty-year-old men, though. I guess I thought something like, “oh, it’ll be cool if we turn this into a real big thing, but we’re probably not gonna, because we’re tiny babies.” Joke’s on you, past self, I guess.

Emma: I was thrilled, especially because the group decided to hold the event right in my back yard! If it hadn’t been in Chicago, I’m not sure I would have been able to come at all. I was only 13 at the time, and my mom was…skeptical. She knew how happy being on Write-It made me though, and I was so excited by the idea of meeting my hyper-talented online mentor/friend/heroes that she finally caved.

We all met on an online writing forum for teenagers hosted by Scholastic, called Write It. What was your favorite thing about Write It?

Ariel: My favorite thing about Write It was, I guess, kind of the point, which was that we were all writers. Like, we were all book people, and in real life middle/high school, there’s maybe one or two other serious writers at school. And people don’t take writing seriously. I think that’s changing, mainly because of online communities like Write It popping up more, but when I was ten, I got made fun of for liking books, so it was really great to find real live people my age who were aspiring authors.

waiting for a trainEmma: Oh, the community for sure. I was NOT a very skilled or prolific writer at the time, so I didn’t usually have a ton of work to share. What I DID have was a group of girls I could model myself after. You guys did NaNo, so I did NaNo. You guys outlined and plotted and worked diligently, so I attempted to do the same. I was VERY slow and further behind the rest of the community, but I felt so welcomed. I was learning and growing so much back then, and being a part of Write-It was a big part of my early formation as a writer.

What’s been your favorite part about being involved with Ch1Con so far?

Ariel: I cannot decide… I think my favorite part is whenever I see our attendees start talking with one another, whether in-person at the con or online, and just get excited like, “Wait, you read that book too? Wait, you also do horror stories? Oh my gosh you like this weird YouTube series of book reviews too?” or whatever.

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At the first Ch1Con in 2012, we all got t-shirts with our Write It usernames on the backs. (If you’re trying to figure out how the first conference was in 2012 but 2017 is only the fifth one, we skipped 2013.)

Of all the things that Ch1Con can do for young writers, like educate about publishing and stuff, I think providing a community is the most important.

Emma: I love love love the conference and getting to put faces to the names and the twitter handles I’ve been getting to know all year. I think the online community we foster has mimicked  Write-It, and so that thrill of getting to meet your online friends and heroes in person is still there for me.

2017 is the fifth Chapter One Young Writers Conference, and since we started Ch1Con during the 2011-2012 school year, a lot has changed. Do you want to give a brief overview of where you started versus where you are now?

conference room 2012

We held the first conference in a hotel room, huddled around a coffee table.

Ariel: Well, when I came to the first Ch1Con, there were six of us hanging out in a hotel room, and I came down by train, and I spent the whole way there thinking of funny jokes to tell in case everyone hated me. My backup joke was to just yell “Semicolons!” because well, that was my thing, semicolons. Also, I was working on the first draft of the book that I’m editing now, and I was really pretentious and wanted to become a museum curator. Now, I’m still pretty pretentious, but I have different career aspirations. I also have better joke material. I still love semicolons; they’re useful. I’m more sure of myself in a good way and less in an insufferable way. So I guess it’s been an improvement!

Emma: Ohhhh my goodness. I’m going to argue that I have hands down changed the most? I was thirteen at Con 1, and at that time I was SUCH a middle schooler. I had all the angst and insecurity and narcissism that comes along with being that age, but I also had these amazing nearly-adults in my life who loved the same things that I did. I think you guys have allowed me to grow into a somewhat well-adjusted person. I still struggle with a lot of the issues I had when I was that age regarding my writing (sadly), but I cannot say that I haven’t gotten better.

Also, I just realized I am the Last Hope of the Write-It squad in terms of achieving our shared (extreme) dream of being published as a teenager. Two years left!!! I gotta get writing…

If you could say one thing to the writer you were when we started Ch1Con, what would it be?

hi bronwenAriel: I would say, you’re allowed to write what you want to write, not what you think you have to write, because there’s plenty of time and plenty of room for lots of different stories.

Emma: Take off the beanie, dude. It does not make your hair look better; it just makes a whole year of your photographs look weird. Don’t think about that boy so much; there will be others. Sit down every day and write about how you feel. Your feelings matter. It doesn’t have to exaggerate or be exciting for it to matter. Use fewer adverbs. Make fewer excuses. Get to work.

A huge thanks to Emma and Ariel for letting me interview them (and for putting up with me all these years). And thanks for visiting the first stop on the Ch1Con 2017 Blog Tour!

You can check out the next stop on the blog tour on Tuesday, April 18 on author (and 2017 workshop leader) Annie Sullivan’s blog! She’ll be interviewing me and giving away a copy of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. And make sure to visit the Ch1Con blog for the rest of the 2017 tour schedule (including info on all of the awesome giveaways we’re running).

Speaking of giveaways: for this stop on the tour, we’re giving away a SIGNED copy of Adam Silvera’s brilliant History Is All You Left Me! The giveaway will run until the end of the blog tour on May 31. It’s open to anyone in the mainland United States.

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Thanks again for checking out the first stop on the Ch1Con 2017 Blog Tour and don’t forget to follow the rest of the stops!

~Julia

P.S. Here’s a picture of the attendees, volunteers, and speakers at the fourth Ch1Con, in 2016. Look how much we’ve grown!

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February 2nd, 2007

Ten years ago today, two very important things happened.

One: my dog was born.

Two: I joined a teen writing website hosted by Scholastic called Write It.

You could say that one of these things alone was the best thing to ever happen to me, because they’ve both shaped me and saved me in so many ways. But the combination of the two, by far, makes February 2nd, 2007 a particularly notable day for me. And now here we are, in 2017, ten years later, and so much of what has dominated my life over the past decade can be traced back to that day.

Of course I didn’t know anything particularly important was happening on February 2nd, 2007. I just happened to join a new website; a few months later I’d meet my best friend at my thirteenth birthday party and she’d just so happen to have been born February 2nd as well.

I think everyone knows how much I love my dog. (And how much it sucks to have to be away from her—which is ironic, since the having-to-be-away thing was caused by joining Write It. More on that later.) But fewer people probably know about the thousands of hours I logged on Write It throughout my middle and high school years. And how much the friendships we forged and the stories we crafted and the dreams we ignited on there made me who I am today.

I’d always wanted to be a writer, but it was Write It that got me to sit down and actually write my first novel. It was Write It that taught me about NaNoWriMo (which I’ll be celebrating a different ten year anniversary with, this November). It was on Write It that I learned there was such a thing as being a Creative Writing major, and it was on Write It that I learned about revising and publishing, and it was on Write It that I got my first taste of critiquing novels and organizing events. It was on Write It that I first found people who felt like me.

It’s no wonder, taking this all into consideration, that it was wanting to meet my friends on Write It that gave me the idea for the Chapter One Young Writers Conference—and now look at us. (We were in Writer’s Digest last year! Our keynote speaker was a New York Times bestseller!) And because Write It gave me the confidence to pursue a Creative Writing major, I ended up at a dream university, studied abroad at Oxford, interned in New York, received highest honors on my creative writing honors thesis, completed the Columbia Publishing Course UK—and most importantly: I met some of the best friends I will ever be lucky enough to have.

My senior year of college, I was a regional judge for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. We used to call them the “SAWAs” on Write It. (Fun fact: the Write It writing forums were founded with the purpose of preparing kids to enter the SAWAs.) I thought at the time that I had finally come full circle. From kid-entering-the-SAWAs to judge. I thought, This is what February 2nd was leading to.

One year later, though, and I see now what full circle really looks like. Because I now work at Scholastic. (I mean, I’m an editorial intern. But still.) And I found out about this job because a friend had a job at Scholastic, and she recommended me. And I know this friend because she’s a member of the Ch1Con team. And Ch1Con was founded, originally, by members of the Scholastic’s Write It community. And on and on and on—it all leads back to that day.

Looking back on the past ten years, I don’t know how they could have turned out any other way. Because clearly this was the right course of events. Clearly the dominoes lined up just right to lead me here. (When I was twelve, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’m really, really happy that, thanks to joining Write It, I did not become a veterinarian.)

So, here we are: ten years ago today, I was a pretentious twelve-year-old idiot who had no idea who she was or who she wanted to be. But she knew she liked to write. She was dreaming of New York City and meeting authors—and, yes, the chance she might someday get a puppy.

Today, February 2nd, 2017, I am a sentimental twenty-two-year-old idiot who’s still figuring out who I am, but who knows exactly who I want to be. I still like to write. I’m living in New York City, now. I work with authors every day. And today is my puppy’s tenth birthday.

I might not have ended up where I meant to go, but I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. So here’s to February 2nd, 2007. Here’s to Twelve-Year-Old Julia. Here’s to the days that shape us (and save us).

And here’s to February 2nd, 2017. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

~Julia

Twisted Blog Tour: Excerpt from Emma’s Story!

Hey there! I’m back today with another stop on the Twisted Blog Tour.

As I mentioned on Monday, the Ch1Con team has spent this fall teaching two fantastic young writers about the publishing process in our inaugural mentorship program. The final step of this program is the release of an anthology featuring these up-and-coming young authors’ short stories (as well as some of our own). The anthology is called Twisted, because these stories all have some pretty killer plot twists (pun possibly intended).

The paperback and e-book editions of Twisted are available now for order on Blurb.com, and the e-book will be available soon on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

I’m absolutely in love with the short stories in this anthology, and am so proud of all of the talented young authors.

In honor of Twisted’s release, we’re holding a mini blog tour on the mentors’ blogs. The tour includes interviews, excerpts from the anthology stories, and more. The blog tour schedule is below:

Today I am thrilled to host an excerpt from Emma Rose Ryan’s short story, “More than One Way to Make a Pencil”! This story is so unique and fun (with plenty of snark to boot). I adore it.

Besides being one of my best friends (and a founding member of Ch1Con), Emma is a freshman in college, studying Creative Writing somewhere in the Midwest. Her family and green tea notwithstanding, she loves stories more than anything in the world. Her primary obsessions are middle grade fiction and fairy tales. She also enjoys reading classic lit, YA romances, and modernizations/adaptations of any sort. She writes short stories, Tumblr posts, tweets, and MG fantasy novels. In her free time, Emma can be found on-or-near a stage, watching The West Wing, or petting a cat.

You can find Emma online on Twitter. Or she also runs the Ch1Con Tumblr.

And now, without further ado: an excerpt from “More than One Way to Make a Pencil”! Until now, the protagonist has been sitting in class, bored out of her mind listening to her new teacher rant about plagiarism.

**********

I start to get tired of nodding along to first-day scare tactics. I’m at a new school now. I have too much to catch up with to waste time listening to things I already know. I decide to adopt Maze Boy’s disposition of polite disinterest and check on The Book. Up until this morning, I was on the fence about bringing It with me. It’s a dangerous thing to tote around on a good day, and I woke up with a premonition that today would not be a good day… which is why I slipped It in with my shiny-covered textbooks and unsharpened pencils. I need to work on my impulse control…

So, I decide to grab The Book and save myself from death by monotony. I fish around in my bag. I don’t find It. My fingers hover over where The Book should be. There’s nothing there. Teacher Lady suddenly seems to become ten times louder. My chest tightens.

It’s gone, I think. It’s finally left for good this time.

But then my thumb brushes against It and I can breathe again. I grab hold of Its spine… but there’s something wrong. The green leather is smooth, cold and… wet?

I pull the Book onto my desk, trying to maintain a vacant stare in my teacher’s direction.

I glance down to find something out of a nightmare. Water is leaking out of my magic book. Brine-scented, opaque seawater is squirting out from between the yellowed pages. Within a moment, the desk is saturated and water is pouring onto the tiled floor. Miniature Niagara Falls.

Crap.

My nameless teacher stops fabricating plagiarism horror stories. The girls behind me stop chatting. The kid in the back row stops popping his gum. I hear the boy beside me snap his pencil in half. Every eye is on my leaking book. On me. They ogle me in what seems to be shocked suspension. No one is moving. I see their minds trying to catch up with what they’re seeing.

**********

Aaand yeah. Want to read the rest of this magical story? You can check it out in Twisted, available now!

Thanks for joining me for this stop of the Twisted blog tour, and make sure to check out the rest of the tour over the next couple weeks too!

~Julia

Twisted Blog Tour: Excerpt from Brett’s Story!

I’M BAA-AACK. I’ll probably do a proper recap of my time away from the blog eventually (because it’s been a crazy few months), but for now I’m here for a kinda very exciting reason.

As you may know, the Ch1Con team has spent this fall teaching two fantastic young writers about the publishing process in our inaugural mentorship program. The final step of this program is the release of an anthology featuring these up-and-coming young authors’ short stories (as well as some of our own). The anthology is called Twisted, because these stories all have some pretty killer plot twists (pun possibly intended).

The paperback and e-book editions of Twisted are available now for order on Blurb.com, and the e-book will be available soon on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

I’m absolutely in love with the short stories in this anthology, and am so proud of all of the talented young authors.

In honor of Twisted’s release, we’re holding a mini blog tour on the mentors’ blogs. The tour includes interviews, excerpts from the anthology stories, and more. The blog tour schedule is below:

Today I am thrilled to host an excerpt from Brett Jonas’s short story, “Maybe”! I love this story, because it’s so full of fun coincidences and sooo much banter (one of my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE THINGS EVER in fiction).

Besides being one of my favorite people to ever live, Brett Jonas is a professional fangirl who has been writing YA novels since she was fifteen. After being homeschooled her whole life, she’s now taking classes at the local community college and working in her family’s business, Goat Milk Stuff, with her seven younger siblings. When she’s not writing, reading, working, or doing homework, you can find her wasting time on Twitter, where she loves making friends and using too many exclamation points.

You can find Brett online at: Twitter / Instagram / Website

And now, without further ado: an excerpt from “Maybe”! Leading up to this, the main character has been on the phone with her mom, who’s trying to set her up with her friend Maggie’s son, Josh. Only there are a lot of Joshes in the world (and our main character, here, already has a date).

**********

My doorbell rang and I sighed. “That’s probably the maintenance man coming to fix the leaky drain he’s already ‘fixed’ three times. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Love you, sweetie.”

“Love you too.”

My socks slid along the linoleum as I hung up and tucked my phone into my back pocket. I undid the latch and opened the front door, only to stop short when the man who appeared was definitely not Bill, our building’s janitor and handyman.

“Um, hi,” he said, brown eyes meeting mine. “I just wanted to come over and introduce myself. I’m Josh, your new neighbor.”

Of course he was a Josh. Make that six Joshes I knew who weren’t Maggie’s son.

Oh, wait, this must be the source of all the banging next door. It wasn’t actually a herd of elephants?

“I’m Kassidy,” I said, opening the door the rest of the way. “Want to come in?”

He was definitely a lot hotter than an elephant.

“Sorry for all the noise.” He walked in and I closed the door behind him. “My brother’s helping me put together some stuff from Ikea. My mom wanted me to have an apartment that looked decent, probably in the hopes of me getting a girlfriend.” He stood awkwardly in the middle of my living room, glancing around.

“I see.” What was I supposed to say to that? I turned to see what he was looking at, my eyes landing on my new fancy shmancy Keurig. “Do you want some coffee?”

“I would actually love a cup,” he said. “I can’t find my coffee maker and I’ve been dying for some caffeine.”

I gestured to my machine, walking over to the cabinet with the mugs in it. “Well, my mom just got me this, so I’ve been having lots of fun with it. The pods are in the drawer underneath it—help yourself.”

There was a light in his eyes as he sorted through the pods from the sampler pack and selected a dark roast before taking the mug that I held out to him. “You’re my hero,” he said, inserting the pod and pressing the start button. He leaned against the counter, resting his elbows against it as he waited.

“What are neighbors for?” I asked as I opened the drawer of pods, the edge of the drawer barely grazing his side. I was close enough to smell his cologne, which somehow managed to be both spicy and freshly clean at the same time.

“Coffee, sugar, and killing spiders,” he said instantly, grinning at me.

“Yes, well, I can generally manage to kill my own spiders, but coffee and sugar are always appreciated.”

His coffee finished brewing and he picked up the mug, holding it close to his chest like it was something magical. Which, of course, it was.

“Sugar or milk?” I asked as I started my decaf.

“Nah, this is good.” He brought the coffee towards his nose and took a deep whiff.

“So why did you come to Jeffersonville?” I looked up at him. He was tall enough that I had to do that, which was unusual. I usually towered above everyone.

“I got a job at Amazon,” he said.

“Oh, fun.” And there went any chance that he was Maggie’s son.

He laughed. “Not really.”

“I’ve heard,” I said. “I work at the Kohl’s on Charlestown Road.”

“That sounds like a way better job.”

“Have you ever worked retail?”

He shook his head, and I snorted. “That’s why you think it’s a better job.”

The song “What Is This Feeling” from Wicked started playing, and he blushed all the way to his military-cut brown hair. “Excuse me,” he said hurriedly, switching the mug to his other hand and pulling his phone out of his pocket. “What?” he demanded.

“Quit flirting and get back over here,” I could barely hear. “I’m not doing all this shit for you.”

“Calm down,” Josh said. “We both know you’re only here because Mom said you needed to come.”

“We both know that you would have been homeless for the past two months if I hadn’t let your ass sleep on my couch, so you owe me one. Get back here or I’m leaving you alone with a bed that’s half put together.”

Josh sighed as he hung up and slid his phone back into his pocket. He stared down regretfully at the coffee. “Sorry about that. My brother… well, I’ll be glad to have my own place. I’m sure I’ll see you around, Kassidy.”

“You can take the mug,” I said, smiling at the way his grip tightened on it.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, as long as I get it back before too long.”

He smiled. “Thanks. I’ll see you around. Can I return it later tonight?”

“Well, I have a date tonight, but you can always knock on my door and see if I’m here.”

**********

Aaand yeah. Want to read the rest of this adorable story? You can check it out in Twisted, available now!

 

Thanks for joining me for the first stop of the Twisted blog tour, and make sure to check out the rest of the tour over the next couple weeks too!

~Julia

 

Everything, All At Once

So much has been happening lately.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had family pictures, the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child midnight release party (and binge-read), kayaking, packing and moving out of my college apartment, packing for two months in the UK, doing the summer homework for the Columbia Publishing Course UK, finishing my internship, cutting and rewriting 6,000 words of my WiP, getting ready for Ch1Con, actually running Ch1Con (and the Ch1Con pizza party and team birthday party), trying to catch up with friends from home right before I leave again, prepping everything for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and and and–

Basically, I am currently exhausted. And I start the multi-day trip to reach Edinburgh either tomorrow or Monday.

I’m so happy about everything happening in my life right now. It’s so many good things. And so many people have worked so hard to make these things happen. But I’m also really, really tired, and I’m just going to continue to get even more tired (which I feel like is the mantra of my life).

Also there are so many things that haven’t even been making it onto the blog, because SO MUCH IS HAPPENING ALWAYS these days. Like, did I even mention on here that Writer’s Digest Magazine ran a feature on Ch1Con 2016 in their August/September issue? And my family went to Michigan’s Adventure and Lake Michigan? And Emma and I drove down to Brett’s family goat farm to surprise her? And I got to meet Kate DiCamillo?

So, this is just a general Here I Am and This Is What Is Happening Right Now post. And also a “I am sorry if I drop off the face of the planet for a while because I’m going to be swamped the next couple months with very shoddy internet.”

I’m going to try my best to keep the blog updated, but in case I do continue to fall behind: I am much better at keeping Twitter and Instagram updated. And I promise I will still post on here sometimes too.

Thanks for putting up with me. I know things are super busy for a lot of people right now, so thanks for taking the time to read this blog and care about what I’m up to and all that. I’m SO EXCITED for this next adventure and I can’t wait to share it with you. (Only a couple more days!)

I love you. Talk to you from the UK!

~Julia

Story Time: BEA and BookCon 2016

Hey there! I’m back with another super belated (and super long) recap post.

This past May, I attended BookExpo America and BookCon again. This year they decided to try something different and host the two conventions in Chicago.

This made BEA and BookCon really different, feel-wise, from what they’ve been the past couple years. For one thing, Chicago’s so close that my mom and I drove (which meant no luggage restrictions or having to ship heavy boxes of books home). For another, it meant that we didn’t have to stay in a stupidly expensive hotel, because we have family in the area. (However, downside: this meant we had an hour+ drive to get to McCormick Place every morning. Also, it felt like less of a vacation.)

BookExpo America (Friday)

Getting Lost and Finding Food

Like last year, we forewent attending the whole week of BEA and just hit the last day (Friday) instead. Having arrived the night ahead, we got up at 4:30 AM central time to get ready and head out. Our first event of the day was the Children’s Book & Author Breakfast at 8:00. We thought it should be pretty easy to get to McCormick Place by then, having gotten up three and a half hours before it began, but we underestimated Chicago traffic (and overestimated our–okay, my–navigation skills), so we ended up very lost and very late.

We were supposed to be meeting two different friends there, and they are both amazing, because both of their groups saved us seats. Literally one minute before the breakfast began, Mom and I managed to find one of them (Hannah) and we slumped into our chairs.

Speaking at this year’s Children’s Book & Author Breakfast were:

  • Jamie Lee Curtis (master of ceremonies)
  • Gene Luen Yang
  • Sabaa Tahir
  • Dav Pilkey

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I adore all of them and they were all incredible. At one point, Jamie Lee Curtis teared up over Dav Pilkey and his ability to get reluctant readers to love books and it was great.

Panels, Part I: Diversity and the Buzziest of Buzz Panels

After breakfast, we all split off in different directions. First, I hit a panel put on by the Children’s Book Council called “Strategies for Selling Diverse Books.” Speaking on it were:

  • Betsy Bird
  • Elizabeth Bluemle
  • Erica Luttrell
  • Shauntee Burns

I’ve never worked in a traditional bookstore (the one I spent senior year with was a used shop), but owning a children’s bookstore someday is one of my pipe dreams, so this was super interesting and helpful.

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I had to leave about halfway through, though, to head over to my next panel: “Meet BEA Young Adult Buzz Authors 2016.”

The YA buzz authors this year were:

  • Aaron Starmer
  • Billy Taylor
  • Kerri Maniscalco
  • Sonia Patel
  • Stephanie Garber
  • with Susannah Greenberg hosting

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I was already excited about Stephanie’s book (check it out here!), but I hadn’t heard of the others yet and they all sounded wonderful. Billy Taylor’s book in particular, Thieving Weasels, sounded like it was right up my alley; luckily, my mom managed to grab an ARC later on and that was one of the first books I read from BEA this year. (It’s really fun, if you like heist stuff!)

The wonderful(ly awful) Michael met me after the panel and we wandered the floor for a while, then hit the “BEA Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz” panel with Hannah and her friend. The books featured were:

  • Booki Vivant’s Frazzled
  • Kate Beasley’s Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
  • Wade Albert White’s The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes
  • James R. Hannibal’s The Lost Property Office
  • and Ross Welford’s Time Traveling with a Hamster

I love hearing editors talk about their books. They’re always so enthusiastic and smiley. (Of the MG buzz books, so far I’ve read Time Traveling with a Hamster. Adorable and oh-so-very British.)

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Mikey H20 is too tall for his own good

Signings and Panels, Part II: Three Authors and a MG Buzz Panel

After that, we all split up again and I headed back to the floor to hit some signings. I managed to get one of the last spots in Stephanie Garber’s line (she’s such a sweetheart!), then I joined Mom in the Veronica Roth line (where I proceeded to have my daily existential crisis about where to move to now that I’m done with college). VRoth was as adorkable as always.

Mom and I then went over to the baggage check to stuff our books in our already crammed suitcase (we have so much stuff to give away at Ch1Con this year!), then went and checked if the Sabaa Tahir signing later that day was going to ticket (they told us no), and while doing that ran into Adam Silvera and got to talk with him for a minute.

After that, Mom and I hit the “BEA Middle Grade Buzz Authors Panel 2016” (see the list under the “MG Editors’ Buzz”). Following the panel, we hiked back over to the booth Sabaa’s book signing was going to take place, twenty minutes before it was set to begin–only to find that the employee with whom we’d talked an hour earlier had been wrong about the not ticketing thing and they’d already handed all of the signing tickets out.

Luckily, however, I already had an ARC of Sabaa’s new book, A Torch Against the Night, from the breakfast that morning and the people running the signing were gracious enough to let me get that signed. (Btw: this is another BEA book I’ve read this summer and SO GOOD!) Sabaa was super friendly and kind and I’m so glad I got to meet her. (That line ended up being really cool. Ahead of me were a bunch of BookTubers, so I got to hear them nerd out about BEA, and my friend Cassie stopped by to say hi.)

Galley Drop and Panels, Part III: Gemina and Books for Not-Adults

While I waited to meet Sabaa, Mom went to the Gene Luen Yang signing, then headed to the Gemina galley drop and held a spot for me in that line. I’ve never participated in a book drop at BEA before and it was INSANITY. (Like, Madre got in that line at least an hour before the drop was supposed to happen and we ended up towards the back of the people who got copies. I LOVE IT WHEN PEOPLE ARE EXCITED ABOUT BOOKS IT’S SO COOL.)

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After getting our copies of Gemina, we headed to our last couple events of the day, both at the Uptown Stage: “Surviving Fictional Worlds with Tor Teen!” and “Middle Grade Marvels: Award-winning Authors Discuss Writing Lasting Stories for Young Readers.”

Speaking on the Tor Teen panel were:

  • Kate Bartow
  • Kristen Simmons
  • Sarah Porter
  • Susan Dennard (yes, that Susan Dennard!)

And speaking at the “Middle Grade Marvels” discussion were:

  • Becky Anderson (owner of Anderson’s Bookshop!)
  • Jennifer L. Holm
  • Richard Peck

Both of these events were great, and between them I got to gush with Susan for a hot sec about how excited we are for Ch1Con this August.

By the end of the “Middle Grade Marvels” discussion, BEA was winding down: the exhibitors not sticking around for BookCon were packing up their booths and pretty much all of the attendees had vacated McCormick Place. We stopped by the Scholastic booth to take a picture (because always).

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Aaaaand while there we managed to run into Maggie Stiefvater, to whom I squealed, “YOUR BOOK MADE ME CRY CAN I HAVE A PICTURE?” (Luckily, she decided that would be easier than calling security on the deranged twenty-two-year-old.)

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After that, my mom and I grabbed our bulging suitcase full of books and headed back to the suburbs, where we ate dinner at a local Italian place with my aunt and uncle. (It was delicious, by the way–bread sticks, chunky vegetable soup, fresh rolls, steamed spinach, and spaghetti, for me.) Then I stayed up way too late reading (also because always).

And so ended BEA.

BookCon (Saturday)

Line of Death

Upside of staying up late: the next day was BookCon, which starts much later than BEA, so we didn’t have to get up as early. (I mean, we still had to get up at 6:30. But that’s better than 4:30 by, you know, a lot.)

On our way out of the house, my aunt and uncle forced a little container of fresh fruit on me, because it’s apparently a well-known fact that I forget to eat on busy days. (Throwback to last BookCon.) We picked up Ch1Con team member Emma on our way into the city and arrived around 9:00 AM.

Unfortunately, the getting-into-the-event issues of BookCons past continued to haunt this one. (I don’t know why I keep assuming it’ll get better some year.) On the upside, though, McCormick Place had us waiting in a different part of the building instead of outside the way Javits Center does, so it was at least a nicer setup.

Still: getting into BookCon was CHAOS. No one seemed to know which line led to what and people were constantly cutting in line and jostling. At one point, we gave up on the line for getting into the exhibition hall and tried the autographing wristband lines–only for someone to literally come up and steal my autographing bracelet before they could put it around my wrist. (And it was the LAST ONE for that author, too.) Mom, Emma, and I all did manage to get a wristband apiece, though.

Then we rejoined the exhibition hall line and stood in that while all of the morning sessions we’d meant to hit slipped away.

The Day Begins For Real

Finally giving up, we headed straight to the Special Events Hall for the 11:00 AM panel in there: “What is Light Without Darkness? Balancing Good and Evil in YA Literature.”

Speaking on the panel were:

  • Veronica Roth
  • Lauren Oliver
  • Sabaa Tahir
  • Melissa de la Cruz
  • Margot Wood (moderator)

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This panel was wonderful–really funny and nerdy–which was exactly what we needed to make up for the wasted morning.

After that, we split up. Emma and I wandered the show floor for a little, she got food, and we accidentally got caught for a minute in Ransom Riggs’s signing line and, in the process, got to say hi to Margot Wood. Then I dropped Emma at a panel and wandered a little more on my own. In doing this, I ran into one of my highlights of BookCon: Scholastic’s Muggle Wall.

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Can I just say: I LOVE the fact that Harry Potter’s getting really big again. Also, I maybe snuck some Ch1Con in there:

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Magic, Movies, & More

Worried about getting into the next event I wanted, I headed over early–only to find that the panel ahead of that one was still loading into the room and had some standing space left. This was also a panel I’d wanted to see (but had figured I wouldn’t get into), so five points to serendipity.

This first panel was “Friendship Is Magic,” featuring:

  • Alexandra Bracken
  • Susan Dennard (hello again!)
  • Sarah J. Maas
  • and surprise guest Victoria Aveyard

I want to be best friends with all of them, really.

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Following that, I grabbed a seat towards the front of the room for the “YA Blockbusters: From Books to Film And Beyond” panel. It featured:

  • Cassandra Clare
  • James Dashner
  • Richelle Mead (go blue!)
  • Anthony Breznican (moderator)

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This was interesting, because of the three authors, James Dashner is the only one to get a sequel off his initial film adaptation (and at the moment the Maze Runner film franchise is in limbo since Dylan O’Brien got injured on set). Normally authors don’t openly talk about their frustrations with film adaptations (well, besides Rick Riordan obvi), but they were willing to discuss the bad nearly as much as the good, and I think that’s a good thing for readers to hear.

Next, I headed for the Downtown Stage, where I was supposed to meet Mom, Emma, and Hannah and her friend. On the way, I got caught in a knot of people and ended up having to jump out of the way of Sherman Alexie and his team as they hurried him through the crowd, which was surreal to say the least. (BEA and BookCon, really = RUNNING INTO AUTHORS EVERYWHERE.)

However, I did eventually make it to the Downtown Stage, where I caught the end of Leigh Bardugo and Marissa Meyer’s “Truth or Dare.” Then the event our group had headed there for began: “The Power of Storytelling,” with:

  • Sherman Alexie (yup)
  • Meg Cabot
  • Kate DiCamillo

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(Side note: I got to MEET Kate DiCamillo in Ann Arbor a couple weeks back! ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF MY LIFE.)

The panel was lovely and funny and just a little bit sad (in that relatable-and-bittersweet way that makes them all such great authors) and I adore them.

ARC Signings

Then Mom headed to the David Levithan signing (which is the one for which that girl stole my wristband) and Emma and I headed to the Nicola Yoon one.

Now, my mom felt awful that I hadn’t been able to get the David Levithan wristband (especially since I’d wanted to meet him last year and she met him instead and here it was happening again). So, she devised a plan to be the last person in his signing line, to try to convince them to let me go up and meet him with her. (We didn’t need anything extra signed. I just wanted to meet him, because David is incredible and a huge inspiration, with the way he manages to do a billion things at once.)

Of course, the David Levithan line moved about three times as fast as the Nicola Yoon one (because she is a sweetheart and wanted to stop and talk with each person to come through it)–so by the time Emma and I got up there and met her, David’s line had emptied out and, even though his signing technically wasn’t supposed to be over for a while longer and several people hadn’t even gotten in line yet because of that (not even including my mom), someone made the decision that he should leave.

Which then led to a tween girl, her mother, and my mother all chasing him through the exhibition hall to try to at least get a book signed for the girl. (Have I mentioned that BookCon is not the best organized event in the world?)

The girl did eventually get her book signed, though, and I’m sure my mom and I will have another chance to meet David Levithan, so it all worked out well enough in the end.

BookSPLOSION

Mom agreed to meet Emma and me, next, at our last BookCon event of the day: the “Booksplosion BookTube” panel.

(So, I honestly don’t watch that many BookTube videos, but the BookTube community has SO MUCH ENERGY and are so enthusiastic and unabashedly in love with reading. So I try to hit the BookTube panel at BookCon every year.)

Anyway, on the way to the BookTube panel, all of the exhibitors were breaking down their booths and, as we passed HarperCollins, they discovered that they had an entire box of Gemina galleys that they’d forgotten about, so we ended up getting a couple extra copies shoved in our hands (which kinda hilarious considering how long people waited for copies the day before).

By the time we reached the BookTube panel, they’d already cut off admission, so Emma and I went and waited in an auxiliary line, which they said they’d let in for the post-panel meet and greet. We had nothing planned for after BookTube, so we figured we might as well hang around for it. Which is how we ended up meeting Christine of PolandBananasBOOKS, Jesse of JesseTheReader, and Kat of Katytastic.

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(Side note: isn’t Emma’s sweater adorable??)

After the meet and greet, we bid adieu to McCormick Place and headed back to the suburbs, where we had a late dinner (during which the waitress seemed confused by the idea that vegetables are actual food, but that is a story for another time). Then we dropped off Emma and headed back to my relatives’ house–where I proceeded (you guessed it) to read until wayyy too late.

And that was BEA and BookCon 2016.

In total, this year we collected 151 books (all free, most ARCS and/or signed), 22 tote bags, and countless posters, pins, chapter samplers, bookmarks, and more. Not bad, eh?

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Thanks for reading!

~Julia

 

 

Story Time: I GRADUATED

Well, this post is now three months overdue. (Sorry! I will eventually catch up. Hopefully.)

Anyway, THIS APRIL I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE. And it involved four ceremonies and a lot of picture taking and I maybe burst into tears in the middle of Pizza House at the end of it all. (Warning that this post is about to be a billion words long. And involves me being at my melodramatic height. I’m mostly putting this up for posterity’s sake, so totally don’t feel obligated to read it.)

I hit a couple rough patches during undergrad (who doesn’t), but overall I adored my time at U of M. And I am so desperately sad about leaving. (Although the Ann Arbor Art Fair began yesterday, and that’s basically hell on Earth, so my opinion could be different in a few days.)

Graduation Weekend began for me, really, Thursday night. This was because after months of deliberating about what to put on my graduation cap, I managed to procrastinate actually putting the thing together until like 10:00 PM. (I am a genius.) So, while my friends all went out to celebrate our last night of undergrad, I settled in for one last assignment.

I had the TV on in the background–there was a How I Met Your Mother marathon–and I confiscated a roommate’s box of Kraft mac and cheese (because if there’s ever a time for comfort food, the night before you graduate from college is it). Luckily, I’d already done a lot of the legwork for my cap earlier in the week (dyeing paper with tea to artificially age it, buying fake flowers, picking out quotes, etc.). So mostly I was just hot gluing everything on, one piece at a time. Still, it took me until midnight to finish. And, of course, in like the last five minutes I managed to drip hot wax on my wrist.

(I graduated with half of my right hand wrapped in bandages, between the burn and my squirrel bite and a couple who-even-knows-where-these-came-from injuries. Remember: if I can make it through college, anyone can.) (Also, general PSA: don’t feed squirrels, kids; it’s a bad idea.*)

In the end, my cap looked like this:

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I ended up not being able to choose between two quotes, so I used them both. The quote layered in the background is from Winnie the Pooh and reads: “‘Is that the end of the story?’ ‘That’s the end of that one. There are others.'” And the quote on top is of course “mischief managed” from Harry Potter. (I know it’s cliche, but it’s just so perfect with the block M.) Also, the white flowers on the cap are decorated with cursive writing (to symbolize writing), typescript (to symbolize reading), and music notes (to symbolize, you know, music stuff).

So, totally unnecessary backstory on the Winnie the Pooh quote: for anyone who doesn’t know, I was the publicist for a local used bookshop throughout senior year, which mostly involved me posting pictures of books to our Facebook page to try to drum up business. I liked to keep these at least somewhat timely, so during finals I gathered a big pile of children’s books for a post about graduation.

I was flipping through the shop’s copy of Winnie the Pooh in search of this other quote I adore when I randomly came across the one above. I’d been searching for the perfect quote to put on my graduation cap since like October and had never even seen this one before, so YOU HAD BETTER BET I started crying in the middle of the sci-fi/fantasy section because HOW PERFECT IS THIS QUOTE.

(I’m not a big crier, but pretty much every time I cried this school year, it happened while I was working. That poor bookshop.)

ANYWAY BACK TO THE ACTUAL STORY: Even though I was exhausted when I finished the cap and I had to be up at like 6:00 to get ready for the first ceremony, I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up for another hour or two reading the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and, you know, crying. Again. (I am a cautionary tale in what not to do during graduation weekend, if that was not already clear.)

I eventually did get to sleep, though, and the next morning Hannah and I rushed through getting ready and were only like twenty minutes late for the time my parents were supposed to pick us up to drive us over to the Crisler Center.

Our first ceremony of the day was for the Honors Program. We posed for lots of pictures before the ceremony, and met up with lots of other nervous friends, and then Graduation Weekend For Real began.

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Mortarboards are great for hiding the bags under your eyes.

People gave speeches. We walked across the stage. We posed for even more pictures.

From there, my family drove across campus to grab lunch at Noodles & Co., then we headed to the Honors Program reception, where they proceeded to stuff us with even more food. (This was unexpected, but turned out to be the rule of the weekend. I’ve been going to receptions for four years at this university and normally they serve us some fruit and maize & blue corn chips and cookies. But all of the graduation receptions throughout the weekend were catered with huge piles of real and delicious food. It was a-maize-ing, if you’ll ignore my completely awful but necessary pun.)

Anyway, continuing: then I showed my family around campus a little, we took–you guessed it–more pictures, and I–you guessed it–cried some more.

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My mom took this photo in Angell Hall, our English building. When I was a senior in high school, Michigan was my top choice school but I hadn’t actually been on campus since I was like ten, so Mom and I played hooky one day to come explore. It was seeing this building, dedicated to words and stories, that convinced me this truly was the school for me.

From there, we walked to the Union, where we had the Screen Arts & Cultures (aka: film school) ceremony and reception. My family loaded up on even more food. I talked with friends. Then we sat through our second ceremony, and I walked across a stage a second time, and people took more pictures.

The director of our screenwriting program, Jim Bernstein, gave a really wonderful speech about giving kids in arts fields the time to succeed. I’m paraphrasing here, because, again, it’s been a few months, but he basically pointed out how we give the kids who become lawyers and doctors all of their extra years of schooling past undergrad before we expect them to be successful. So, why don’t we do the same for kids going into film-making, or writing, or photography? Just because we’re not in a formal school environment doesn’t mean we’re not also using those years to learn and grow.

If you want people to succeed, you need to get them the chance to.

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I only minored in SAC, because I was way more interested in learning how the industry works and how to analyze and critique films than actually learning how to make them. So, I decided to forgo taking production classes in favor of taking only the classes I really wanted to (which means I was only a few classes short of a major, credit-wise, but requirement-wise I was nowhere close) (sorry not sorry; I had an amazing time in film school).

After that, my family said their goodbyes and headed home, and I headed back to my apartment. That night I went out with some friends to celebrate. (Yay!) Aaand my roommates and I made one of the biggest mistakes of our life by watching the series finale of Gilmore Girls. (NOT YAY. VERY NOT YAY.)

The next morning was Day 2 of Graduation Weekend. I got up at 5:30 to shower and Hannah and I were ready (actually mostly) on time, this time. We headed off to our friend Melissa’s apartment for breakfast. The group of us there ate, freaked out about the weather (WHY WAS IT LIKE FORTY DEGREES AT THE END OF APRIL?), then piled into an Uber and headed to the Big House.

For anyone who doesn’t know: the Big House is the nickname for Michigan Stadium, aka our football stadium, aka the largest stadium in the United States and second largest stadium in the world. (#GoBlue)

Every spring, the university hosts the big, everyone-is-invited graduation ceremony in the Big House. This means organizing something like six thousand graduates. It was madness. Our group managed to stay together, though, and we had a wonderful (albeit surreal) time.

The Big House ceremony is weird, because it’s the one everyone talks about, so it’s the one you most look forward to–but it’s also really impersonal and huge (and the speaker honestly left a lot of us feeling like we were getting lectured by our doesn’t-realize-he’s-racist uncle). But still, I love being in the Big House, and it was a last hurrah for a couple of the people in our group, and it was nice.

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A selfie of me and 6,000 of my closest friends.

After the ceremony, I adventured across the bleachers, stopping to talk with friends who’d sat elsewhere along the way, and finally found my family. We took pictures (I hope you’re noticing a trend by now), then we headed to a special graduation brunch in the Union.

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I am a walking stereotype.

The food was delicious (that was also a trend), but unfortunately, after battling traffic across campus, we arrived at the brunch about twenty minutes before I needed to be at my fourth and final graduation ceremony. So I had just enough time to stuff a bagel in my mouth, wave goodbye to my family, and sprint across campus (in heels that had already rubbed half the skin off my ankles at that point) to the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the League to check in.

Although all of the graduation ceremonies were great throughout the weekend, my last one was by far my favorite. It was for the Residential College. The RC is known for being quirky and informal and the exact opposite of what the Big House is: personal.

I lived in the RC for the first two years of college and the girls with whom I’ve shared my apartment the latter two years are all RC. The hell that was Intensive Spanish my freshman year was an RC requirement. I had the same creative writing instructor from my intro class freshman year to my honors thesis senior year.

In the past four years, I’ve hated the RC and I have loved the RC. I’ve gone through periods when I never would have recommended even stepping within ten feet of the RC’s home, East Quad. But looking back on it, the RC defined so much of my undergraduate career. And I’m really grateful for the opportunities and friendships and weird stories being in the RC afforded me.

And, of course, RC graduation was the most RC thing in the world. Instead of just having us walk across the stage like at a normal ceremony, each graduate got a couple minutes to do whatever they wanted to on stage. There was a lot of thanking of parents and friends and favorite professors. There was singing and plant-stealing and two girls boxing. A friend even roller skated across the stage.

It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. It was incredible. I cried a lot. (Who’s surprised.)

From there, a parade of bagpipers led students across campus to East Quad, where the university stuffed us with even more food. (At that point in Graduation Weekend, I was pretty sure I would never be hungry ever again in my entire life.)

Unfortunately, because my family and I hadn’t realized quite how much U of M would be feeding us throughout the weekend, we had a dinner reservation for after the last reception at Pizza House (a local place known for their feta bread, which, by the way, is life in food form).

So we dutifully trooped over there, where we attempted to get through the mound of food they served us. And then I gave my parents a photo album I’d put together with pictures of our family over the last four years. And, yeah–this is the part I mentioned before about bursting into tears in the middle of Pizza House.

It was a really lovely time with my family, though. I’m so grateful so many people were able to come celebrate with me that weekend. I never would have been able to make it through college without them, so it meant a ton that they all came to graduation.

After dinner, my family dropped me back off at my apartment, where I spent some time staring at all of the Michigan stuff on my bedroom walls and being numb (I FINALLY CRIED MYSELF OUT IT WAS A MIRACLE). Then Hannah and another of our really good friends sat on our couch for a few hours drinking cheap wine and binge eating apple pie and talking and being sad-but-happy in that weird way things like graduation can make you and it was also lovely.

Overall the entire weekend was that way. A weird mixture of sad and happy. Lots of crying and lots of eating. (What’s not to love.)

And I’m really proud of myself. Like, college truly is what you make it, and I’m so happy I spent this time learning everything that I could and traveling and having lots of chill nights at home writing or watching movies with friends or playing guitar. And I love the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor and so many of the people I’ve gotten to know while here.

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I’m going to miss them, this place, and being an undergrad. But I’m also so excited to see what comes next.

For now: Ch1Con 2016. Then the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Then the Columbia Publishing Course UK at Oxford.

After that, who knows. I’m kind of terrified. I’m really excited.

Here we go.

 

~Julia

*This is a lie. (But be careful because they do occasionally mistake human flesh for a snack.) (But LOOK AT HOW CUTE.)

Story Time: Pennsylvania Firefly Festival

Here we go: the first of the many recap posts I’ve promised.

Let’s do this thing.

So, this past weekend my friend Melissa and I went on a road trip to the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania to attend this event called the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival.

Around this time every summer, a bunch of types of fireflies living in Allegheny go searching for ~love~, and it means that you get to see literally thousands of fireflies all sparkling and dancing out in the middle of the woods. It’s really nerdy (and really wonderful), so when Melissa asked me if I’d like to go with her, I jumped on the opportunity.

We left for the festival Saturday morning, drove all day (only making a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for sustenance), and arrived at a campground in the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was not at all obvious what to do once arriving there, so we spent the next hour or so driving in circles and getting increasingly worried that we’d never find the actual campsites.

However, at least our view, during this portion of the day, was pretty pretty:


Eventually we did find a campsite, though, with the help of some very kind park rangers, and we spent another hour or so setting up our tent.

It was a three room, ten person tent. We are two very small people. I had never set up a tent before. I’m really proud of us.

Photo taken from the drawbridge over the moat surrounding our castle.

After wrangling that thing into standing, we headed for the festival itself. When we arrived, it appeared to be a pretty low key affair, which was disappointing at first. There were only a few food booths (and pretty much all the food was a variation on hotdogs) and there wasn’t much to see outside of that. (The music was all bluegrass–which neither of us were interested in–or stuff like Owl City’s “Firefly,” which is great and all, but is so on-the-nose I can only handle it for so long.) Bored with the sun still up (so no fireflies yet), Melissa and I decided to go for a walk along one of the trails branching off the property.

This was really nice and our first real taste of how gorgeous the Allegheny National Forest is.

Just, like, look at this:


Then the sun went down and a guide (who knew ALL about fireflies) took a big group of us out on a trail to watch synchronous fireflies come out to play and our earlier disappointment evaporated.

If you don’t know what the synchronous firefly is, it’s a type of firefly with a big, white glow that–if left in the quiet and dark for long enough–will synchronize its flashes with the rest of the synchronous fireflies in the area. So you get hundreds of fireflies all flashing in unison, out in the darkness.

I wish I had a picture or video to show you of this, because it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We sat out there for three hours, long after pretty much everyone else (including the guides) had headed home/back to their campsites. iPhone cameras just can’t capture that kind of magic though.

When we did walk back to the clearing where we’d parked, we were quiet and tired and ready to go flop down in our sleeping bags. But the moment we broke away from the treeline, we stopped and stared, eyes wide, tired lips quirked up in tired smiles–because there were more stars swirling away from us in the sky than I’ve possibly ever seen.

That entire night, it felt like we were living in a hyper-vivid dream–in that space between asleep and awake. It was all quiet, darkness punctured by pinpricks of light, fireflies that looked like shooting stars and stars that looked like resting fireflies.

I spent the drive back to the campsite with my forehead pressed to the car window, staring at the sky.

The next day, we packed up camp (again: SO PROUD OF US FOR WRANGLING THAT TENT) and headed out to a hiking area the lady at the visitor’s center suggested.

Of course, because we’re us, we got very lost and ended up trekking through a swamp for a while.


But then we eventually found the trail and it was GORGEOUS.

LOOK AT THIS COOL TREE GROWING OFF THE SIDE OF A HOUSE-SIZED BOULDER

We didn’t quite realize it while we were following the trail, but it led us to what appeared to be the top of a LITERAL MOUNTAIN (as in WE CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN) and it was SO BEAUTIFUL I CANNOT.


While we were trying to get a decent picture of the two of us at the overlook point, a group of guys hiking a different trail arrived, and while one took our picture we noticed that another was wearing a Michigan t-shirt. Our conversation basically went as follows:

Melissa: Oh, hey!

Me: Go blue!

Michigan Guy: What?

Melissa: We just graduated from there.

Michigan Guy: Really? Almost all of us are alums!

[We all proceed to swap war stories and talk classes]

Please note: we were out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. We came across maybe ten people on our entire hike. And four of them were fellow Michigan graduates.

THIS ALWAYS HAPPENS. LIKE I KNOW IT’S AN UNDERSTATEMENT TO SAY WE HAVE A LOT OF ALUMNI. BUT STILL.

After talking with the guys for a bit, we headed back down the mountain.

And proceeded to get lost again.

I partially (mostly) blame this on the fact that there were no maps available ANYWHERE in the park (even the visitor’s center was out) and our phones didn’t have any signal, so we couldn’t even figure out where we were using Google Maps or anything.

The nice thing about doing stuff with Melissa, though, is that neither of us really mind getting lost, so it’s more fun than anything else. We ended up climbing through a bunch of cave-like rock formations and shimmying between trees and stuff, and it was great.

Luckily, however, we did eventually become un-lost and found the car again, where we proceeded to collapse and gulp water and generally be thankful for air conditioning. (Please note: it was over 90 degrees and sunny throughout this entire adventure.)

From there, we bid adieu to Pennsylvania and headed home. We made a stop at an Ohio Arby’s for food and much needed milkshakes (we hiked 6.5 miles, in the heat, up a mountain; we deserved it), and got sidelined by a downpour at one point, but soon enough we were back in Michigan–grateful for showers and beds, sure, but also missing the fireflies.

And that is the time we went to the Pennsylvania Firefly Festival.

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~Julia

 

Let’s Talk

Hey there! So, as you may have noticed, there was no Wordy Wednesday yesterday. This is partially because I kept putting off and putting off putting one up (then honestly forgot about it until I woke up this morning, oops). Partially because, for a while now, I’ve been debating shutting down the weekly Wordy Wednesday feature. And I’d kind of maybe settled on doing that. Aaand yesterday’s Wordy Wednesday, if I had written it, was going to explain what this post is, now, explaining instead.

I’ve been writing a Wordy Wednesday every week since I started blogging in December, 2011. That makes for 235 Wordy Wednesdays over the past four and a half years, if my very crappy math came out right. That’s a lot of blog posts focused primarily on sharing pieces of writing and lessons I’m learning about writing/revising/publishing.

And while Wordy Wednesdays used to feel like an easy way to get content up on the blog, I ran out of the backlog of pieces I wanted to share a looong time ago (hence the weekly I-will-write-a-poem-in-five-minutes thing most of the WWs this past school year became). And I’ve kind of plateaued with the writing lesson thing, because I’m knee deep in just-trying-to-figure-out-how-to-make-things-work, myself, at the moment–I have been for a while and I will be for a while–so I don’t really have anything left, right now, on that topic to say.

I’ve noticed a steep decline in interest in reading the weekly Wordy Wednesdays over the past year or two. This is reasonable, because I’ve had a steep decline in interest in writing them. With WWs, blogging every week slowly morphed into a chore, rather than something I enjoyed. And it finally hit me: if the majority of you aren’t interested in reading WWs, and I’m not interested in writing them, WHY ARE WE STILL GOING THROUGH THIS WEEKLY RITUAL?

So: this week marks the end of the weekly Wordy Wednesday blog post on here.

In its place, I want to experiment on this blog. I want to have fun blogging again. I want to tell you about my adventures, and the new recipe I’m obsessed with, and the movies I can’t wait for. I want to finally find the time to recap graduation and BEA/BookCon and my road trip. I want to get back into How To posts and Fashion Fridays and everything else that used to make posting on here fun.

I’m still going to be posting every week. It just might not always be on Wednesdays and it’ll be back to being on the broader range of topics this blog used to cover, back when I had the time/energy to post more than once weekly. (Maybe with this change, I’ll actually get back to posting more than once a week again, sometimes? Fingers crossed.)

I’ve never written this blog with the hope of appealing to a wide audience. It’s always been a Little Bit of Everything–anything that crosses my mind to talk about–so I’m incredibly grateful to anyone who does read posts on here. And I feel like I’ve been letting you down with what this blog has become the past couple years.

I want to do better for you. I hope this is the first step towards that.

This doesn’t mean you’ll never see a Wordy Wednesday on here ever again. It just means they won’t be going up every week anymore.

Thank you to those who have been keeping up with the weekly WWs this entire time. You are my heroes. But I think this is a good change. I hope you do too.

I love you. Thank you for always sticking with me. Here’s to a better blog, moving forward.

I’ll talk to you soon. ❤

~Julia