Story Time: I MET JK ROWLING

Friday I pulled on the dress that had been hanging in the corner of my dorm room for the past several days and slid my feet into my favorite, battered pair of grey Converse. I applied my mascara with extra care while my hair hung damp against my shoulders, fresh from a hurried shower.

I wished I’d remembered to paint my nails. I chugged a cup of English breakfast tea. I stuffed Fellowship of the Ring (my current reading for class) in one pocket of my backpack and my bright pink umbrella (because English weather) in another.

Then, I carefully lifted my stiff, freshly-purchased copy of crime writer Robert Galbraith’s new novel The Silkworm from my shelf. I slipped a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone atop it and placed them in the nest I’d made in the main pocket of my backpack with my pajama shorts and a V-neck. I slipped a cardigan over them, careful to tuck it around the corners.

I locked my door behind me and, with it, left my own personal Hogwarts—Oxford—for Harrogate.

Harrogate is a spa town in northern England known for a café called Betty’s and the fact that they play host to approximately a thousand and one festivals per year. (This number has not been scientifically verified, but I’m sure it’s accurate).

The current festival is the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. And Robert Galbraith—pseudonym for the already rather pseudonymous JK Rowling—was scheduled to appear “in conversation” with Val McDermid Friday evening.IMG_4601

Tickets for the event had gone on sale back in March, two days after Hannah and I were supposed to find out if we’d been accepted to study at Oxford for the summer or not. Only our programme had gotten behind with their decisions, so we had to take a leap of faith in choosing to try to get tickets.

I got up at four AM that Monday and bundled myself in a massive fleece blanket on my futon. Fingers trembling with nerves, I called the box office number via Skype the second the tickets went on sale—only to get a busy tone and have the call hang up. Same story the second time. And the third. And the fourth.

Heart doing its best to thump its way out of my body, palms sweating and the most creative swear words known to man racing through my mind, I called endlessly until finally (FINALLY) ringing echoed through my laptop speakers.

Then I punched the air. And I purchased two tickets to see JK Rowling from a very kind English woman who seemed confused as to why an American was trying to get to an event in England. Then I freaked out alone in my room, because at that point it was still only like five thirty in the morning and Hannah (like all sane human beings that side of the Atlantic) was still asleep.

But I had two tickets. For me and one of my best friends. TO SEE JK ROWLING.

If only Oxford would get around to telling us whether or not we’d be spending the summer there.

Over the course of the next couple weeks, I spazzed almost nonstop about the fact that I’d maybe/hopefully/probably/maybe not/but maybe yes/but maybe not/but maybe YES be seeing my idol live in July. And, thank God, Oxford did eventually accept the two of us.

So Hannah and I freaked out some more, and made plans and booked train tickets, and then finally there we were: Harrogate, England. Sitting on the steps of the Royal Hall, reading The Silkworm while the author did whatever Joanne Murray does when she’s not actively being either JK Rowling or Robert Galbraith.

IMG_4603We were first in line to pick up our tickets from Will Call when the doors to the building opened at six thirty, which left us a half hour to kill (Get it? Kill? Like crime fiction? I’m so punny) before the auditorium itself opened to audience members.

We drank massive glasses of ice water and Diet Coke while giving our bladders pep talks to hold out ’til the end of the night. Under our breaths we sang “Tomorrow” from Annie and “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” from A Very Potter Musical. We snapped awkward selfies and commented on how diverse the people streaming around us were, in both age and dress.

IMG_4606Then the doors opened and we found we weren’t just going to see JK Rowling; we were going to see her from the ground floor—towards the FRONT of the Grand Circle (comprising the back half of the seats), even.

We settled in and snapped more pictures. Hannah and I alternated between me shrieking, “Hey, Hannah. JK ROWLING IS IN THE SAME BUILDING AS US RIGHT NOW,” and her moaning, “Julia. I CAN’T BREATHE.”

They closed the doors. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, it’s happening.” I glanced between Hannah and the stage. Hannah. The stage. “IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING.”

“I. CAN’T. BREATHE,” Hannah wailed.

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Val McDermid came out. She made the audience laugh and applaud and hold our breaths. Then, almost as if she were trying to shock us all into cardiac arrest with the suddenness of it, she proclaimed, “Please welcome to the stage: JK Rowling, or Robert Galbraith!”

A stiletto appeared from behind the curtain, followed by a long leg clothed in the most fashionable of pantsuits ever worn (Rowling’s “Robert Galbraith” attire).

And, probably to no one’s surprise but my own, I burst into tears.

I’m not a crier. I’ve met some of my favorite authors before. I’ve talked with Veronica Roth and had my picture taken with Ally Carter; I’ve emailed with Lauren Oliver and watched Rick Riordan on a panel from the first row.

But as much as I adore those authors, none have shaped my life, and the lives of those around me, as much as JK Rowling. And it just seemed so incredible in that moment that she existed, she actually existed, and she was real and alive and a human being living in the same world and time as I was. This woman who has done so much for all of us.

It was like seeing Shakespeare or Jesus. (Okay, not Jesus, but you get the point.)

“Hannah,” I whimpered, leaning towards her and pinching the bridge of my nose. “Hannah, I am literally crying.”

“Julia,” she replied, “I AM TOO.”

A glance around the audience revealed we were not the only ones. JK Rowling probably would have gotten a standing ovation just for being in the same room as all of us if it weren’t for the fact we were all too overcome with emotion to successfully balance on two feet and clap at the same time. (Even clapping was difficult with the way I kept needing to wipe my eyes.)

The conversation between Rowling and McDermid began. Rowling poured water for both of them. They bounced snarky one liners and endearing praise off one another. McDermid told the story of how her publisher had sent her The Cuckoo’s Calling in hopes of getting a review off her to feature on the cover—since they needed a way to get people to read this random debut author’s work—and Rowling laughed about how she’d had to send a thank you letter as Galbraith, which was difficult since the two of them are good friends. (She sent a second thank you letter as herself after the news of her identity broke a couple months later.)

Rowling admitted she hasn’t read widely in fantasy, but has been reading crime pretty much her entire life and she’s a big fan of the classics. She referenced the TARDIS in comparison of something (I wish I could remember what) and Hannah and I looked at each other and FLIPPED. OUT. She spoke on length about her writing process; how she must research and plan everything in excruciating detail in order to be able to get words on the page. How she’d wanted to write crime fiction for ages, but needed the proper plots and characters to come to her.

When the Cormoran Strike series did come to her, it was with the plot of the second book—The Silkworm—which she called the most complexly-plotted novel she’s ever written. The first bit she thought of was the opening of Chapter Forty Eight (which I am now dying to read).

She told us how she wrote The Cuckoo’s Calling first because she wanted to introduce Strike’s world in simpler terms than would have been necessary with The Silkworm. She talked about how she’s already halfway done writing Book 3 and halfway through plotting Book Four, and while she does have a loose plan for the Cormoran Strike series, she does not know how many books she’ll write, except that she would like to keep writing them until she no longer physically can.

One of my favorite parts of the conversation was a story she told in which she was researching the café in the opening chapter of The Silkworm in London. She wanted Strike to order the Full English Breakfast but she wasn’t entirely positive what that would entail at the café, so she dragged her husband there and made him order it while she quietly took notes from across the table.

In the middle of this, a man barreled through the door and shouted, “I’ve just heard JK Rowling is writing in here!” He glanced around the café at the startled diners, grinning like a mad man. His eyes landed RIGHT. ON. HER. as he said, “But I wouldn’t recognize her if I saw her anyway.” Then he walked right out again and no one ever realized it was her (MUCH to her and her husband’s relief).

The conversation was wonderful. They told jokes about each other and talked about their inspirations and favorite books. At one point while Rowling and McDermid were talking, I became aware of the weight of the book in my lap. It was so incredibly heavy; a pleasant sort of pressure. I glanced down at The Silkworm and traced the title with my pointer finger.

JK Rowling was right there, in front of me. Maybe one hundred feet away. And I was holding her words, and so much had changed since I’d first heard of the Boy Who Lived, and it was absolute insanity.

I closed my eyes and tried to memorize every detail of that moment. The weight of the words and the way JK Rowling was laughing at something Val McDermid had said and how my cotton dress brushed soft against my legs. The heat of all the bodies around me and Hannah watching the stage so intently and the glow from the half-closed laptop of the woman sitting two to my right. The ornate decorations that made up every surface of the theatre and my heartbeat at my throat.

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Hannah confessed afterward that she had actually, literally forgotten to breathe at several points while Rowling was on stage.

The conversation ended with another round of crazy applause as Rowling strode off stage right, waving to the audience. Then they told us that if we stayed in our seats, we’d have the opportunity to meet her in a bit and get our books signed.

“Julia,” Hannah said, right on cue. “I CAN’T BREATHE.”

While we waited for our row to get called to join the queue for the signing, a Theakstons employee came around with little holographic stickers, placing them in each of the books opposite the page Rowling would be signing.

“What’s that for?” a woman sitting to my left asked.

“It proves this is a genuine JK Rowling signature,” the employee replied.

I ran a finger over the sticker in my own copy of The Silkworm. My heart pounded in my ears. I resisted the urge to cry AGAIN.

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Soon enough, it was Hannah and my turn to join the queue. I hopped from foot to foot as we waited, and attempted to get a picture with Rowling in it at the other end. (I failed at this endeavor, because I’m pretty sure there are house elves who are taller than me and we were never allowed to take pictures while we were within Sane Picture-Taking Distances of her, including during the conversation.)

(But still. Rowling is SOMEWHERE at the other end of the photo below.)

IMG_4622Just like it had seemed sudden when Val McDermid had brought Rowling on stage for the conversation, it was almost too soon when I found myself handing my book to the Theakstons employee standing at the head of the queue—then stepped in front of Queen Rowling herself.

Because I am an absolutely brilliant human being, I hadn’t been able to settle on what to say beforehand, despite the months I had to prepare. It’d just never seemed quite like it was actually, really, truly going to happen. (Plus, I figured I only had a few seconds and there was nothing I could say she hadn’t heard before.)

At the least, I figured I should be able to manage a grateful, “Harry Potter changed my life,” or, “You’re my idol.” Something cliché but meaningful.

Nope.

Out of nowhere I was standing before her and she was signing my book and my time was almost up and I couldn’t get over the fact that JK ROWLING WAS HOLDING, AND TOUCHING, AND SIGNING MY BOOK, and my mouth fell open and I had to say something—and I gasped out without thinking, “Thank you so much for writing… so many… great… books…!?”

Like it was a question. Like she was just any old writer. Like her books were just “great,” the way I also regularly describe naps and pizza.

Bless her heart: JK Rowling met my eye and smiled and said, “Thank you!” as if this was totally original (you know, in a good way) and actually a worthy way of putting what she’s done for my generation.

I grinned and nodded dumbly. I was numb to my fingertips.

Then I shuffled out of the way as Hannah moved into place before her and I let the Theakstons employees guide me from the table. But I kept glancing back, glancing back, as the woman who had shaped so much of so many people’s lives fell further away.

A moment later Hannah joined me at a small table set off to the side towards the other end of the queue, and we stared at my copy of The Silkworm. A lump hardened in my throat at the thought of touching it.

IMG_4625We cried a little, and hyperventilated a lot, then hurried out of the Royal Hall before we could make even bigger fools of ourselves.

Except, of course, that’s impossible after meeting JK Freaking Rowling, so out on the street my shock seemed to finally start to wear off—at which point I began laughing hysterically and couldn’t stop for like thirty minutes, until we were all the way on the other side of Harrogate’s town center, searching out a restaurant because we were STARVED, and the two of us had convinced everyone else in town we were lunatics.

While we scarfed our pizza, Hannah and I alternated between recounting the evening again and again, laughing and crying and generally freaking out, and sitting quietly in the fading glow of all that had occurred. We couldn’t get over how beautiful and smart and kind Rowling was. You get that a little from a distance, through interviews and on the page, but you don’t realize quite how incredible a person she is until you meet her. She is truly, fully deserving of all her success. And I am so glad she is the one who shaped so much about our generation.

When we got back to the amazing airbnb place we were staying at (seriously, check it out if you’re ever in Harrogate), we continued to freak out to anyone who would listen (primarily my mom, who had the misfortune of picking up my Facetime call), then decided to reread some Harry Potter before sleeping.

Lying there with a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone open before me, rereading Harry’s beginnings and remembering the first time my gaze had traced over those words, my eyes burned and filled with tears yet again.

To put it simply: JK Rowling broke me.

But I smiled as I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of Butterbeer and Quidditch. And that was the day I met JK Rowling.

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~Julia

PS. Crime author Sarah Hilary happened to be staying at the same airbnb place as us and we got to talk with her over breakfast, Saturday morning. She’s super nice and I can’t wait to read her debut novel! It’s called Someone Else’s Skin and sounds amazing. Check it out.

Story Time: In Which All Julia Wants to Do Is Study

This morning I had a psychology exam. I love my psych class–learning about what makes us tick is a great tool for realistically portraying people in fiction and, I mean, it’s also just super interesting anyway (who doesn’t want to learn the differences between selective amnesia and dissociative fugue, right?).

However, despite already having taken psych in high school and learning a decent amount on my own, I’ve been doing bad in this class. Not failing bad, but–well, let’s just say I’m pretty sure the students who didn’t even show up for the first exam scored better than I did.

So, with the second exam set for Thursday morning, I decided I was going to turn things around this week. I was going to read the text books. I was going to review my notes. I was going to memorize flashcards like nobody’s business.

Monday, I had a full manuscript critique to finalize. And an astronomy assignment. And hair that hadn’t seen shampoo in more days than even some of the people from our case studies would voluntarily admit. So I put off studying.

Tuesday I had classes all day. And a literature quiz to study for. And OMG GLEE WAS ON. (And we all know watching *spoilers* New Directions lose at Nationals to Skylar Astin *end spoilers* is a far more effective use of time than studying, anyway.)

… Then it was Wednesday. The day before the exam. And I had yet to even glance at the five hundred pound text book, lying on my floor, for longer than it had taken me to kick it off the futon so I could sprawl while watching Glee.

But the exam was in less than twenty four hours, and I. Was going. To study. I really was, this time.

7:00 PM, Wednesday: Classes were done for the day. I’d cleaned my room to parents-are-visiting level and exhausted Buzzfeed quizzes. I fell into my bright pink desk chair, resolved to not fail this exam, and ran a Google search for psychology flashcards. It was too late to drag myself through the text books, but maybe I could still absorb something from someone else’s study tools.

Found a deck. Settled in to flip through all two hundred and eighty nine cards. This psych exam wasn’t going to know what hit it.

Things went fine, at first. I looked at a couple cards. Made myself Bagel Bites. I looked at a couple more. Filled a mug with water, then managed to dump 90% of it down my shirt (I used what was left to make peppermint tea). My mom called. I flipped through a few more cards. I reheated the tea. I checked Facebook. I checked Twitter. A couple more cards. I checked tumblr (I don’t even use tumblr).

Then, the banging began.

If you have ever lived in a college dorm, likely you know what kind of banging I’m referring to. This is not the kind of banging you want to hear while reviewing Masters and Johnson’s studies.

When it became clear the happy couple was probably going to be going at it until long after I was done studying for the third psych exam, I gave up on working in my room, grabbed my laptop and tea, and headed for the closest hall lounge. Only that one was occupied. As were the other two on my floor I passed. And they weren’t just occupied by other people struggling through schoolwork like me, but happy people, watching Netflix and Skyping with boyfriends and discussing weekend plans with friends (how dare they).

It was at that point that I ran into Hannah, ever valiantly hobbling her way around the hall on her crutches. (Some jerks didn’t bother deicing the sidewalk outside their house; as you can tell, it did not end well.) She suggested trying the lounges one floor up, because they were generally quieter. So I trooped upstairs, and–thank God–the first lounge I came across was completely empty.

My heart skipped a beat; the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding escaped my lips. I settled onto one of the dorm’s hard-as-a-rock couches with what little warmth was left in my tea seeping across my fingers, and flipped through the first online flashcard.

Good. Good. I could do this.

I flipped to the second card and a cheerful voice came from the lounge entrance: “Julia?”

And there stood a friend I hadn’t seen in ages.

“What are you doing up here?” he asked as he stepped into the lounge, obviously expecting to stay for a while. “This isn’t your floor.”

“Oh, you know. Studying.” I motioned to the laptop open across my legs. “My floor was loud, and I have a psych exam tomorrow morning.”

… At which point, bless his heart, the friend struck up a conversation.

Moral of this long and rambling story: Procrastination has a “pro” in it for a reason. Leave it to the professionals. Because you never know when literally the entire universe will conspire against your studying.

(On the upside, I managed to answer all but two of the questions on the exam, so I’m almost positive I did better on this one. But still. STILL.)

 

~Julia

Story Time: Florida Trip Recap

So, over winter break, my family went to Florida. We left the day after Christmas and were down there for a little over a week, and it was basically both the best and worst decision my parents have ever made, considering how lousy the weather in Michigan was at the time (the last day of the trip, we drove home for 19 hours straight in order to beat one of the many Polar Vortex snow storms–not fun).

The trip consisted of two parts (not including all the days spent driving, because, you know, Florida and Michigan aren’t exactly neighbors). The first part we spent in the Everglades–the second in the Florida Keys.

The Everglades are not AT ALL like I was expecting–they’re almost all water, with most of the plants growing directly out of it. Interspersed with all the water are “islands,” which are actually just a couple feet higher in elevation, but it’s just enough to allow them to rise above the water, giving way to mini forests full of all sorts of trees and plants. Birds abound. While we were there, we saw more alligators in a single day than I’ve seen probably in my entire life (including television). (Note: all pictures courtesy mi madre, dad, and brother.)

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While in the Everglades, my parents made the mistake of taking me to a gift shop.

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Amongst all the Everglades-ing, we also spent quite a bit of time searching for manatees during this part of the trip. Unfortunately, we only got a decent picture of one.

photo 1You’re welcome.

(Okay, make that two.)

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(Also, this happened.)

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Post-Everglades, we drove down into the Florida Keys.

The weather for most of the trip wasn’t as good as we were hoping (cool weather, plus lots of rain and wind), but honestly, it was still better than what people were dealing with back in Michigan, so considering that, we didn’t mind.

In the Keys, my parents kept us busy with visits to both the Dolphin Research Center (where they shot the original Flipper) and The Turtle Hospital (turns out sea turtles get injured/sick a lot, thanks to boats and cold weather and other nasty stuff).

I’d never touched or interacted with a dolphin before, so it was super cool getting to pet one.

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At the Turtle Hospital, we toured the facilities and got to feed some of the patients.

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Sea turtles are adorable, but also MASSIVE–like way bigger than me. This one’s just a baby, and it’s already almost the size of my dog (and despite Sammy’s miniature tank status, the turtle surely weighs a lot more).

Outside of those visits, we spent some time at a variety of beautiful beaches and parks.

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Those last few shots are at the Old Seven Mile Bridge. When you think of the super long bridges out in the water that kind of define the Florida Keys, chances are you’re thinking of the current Seven Mile Bridge–but before that was Old Seven, which now serves as a pedestrian bridge for fishing, hanging out, and reaching a smaller key that lands right in the middle of the seven mile stretch over the ocean.

As you can see below, Old Seven is positively COATED in locks people have left behind. Some are pretty new; others look like they’re old as the bridge itself. It’s a cool tradition.

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New Year’s Day, we ventured all the way out to Key West. Key West is the southernmost point of the continental United States, and at the southernmost point of it, you’re only about ninety miles from Cuba.

This picture of my brother and me is at what claims to be the southernmost beach in the continental US. Which means that in this picture, we’re closer to Cuba than we are to another state. (I say “claims,” because we saw several different hotels claiming to be the southernmost hotel, so who knows what’s true.)

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On Key West, we explored an old military base, toured downtown (yes, chickens do roam free all over the island), stopped by the Hemingway House (yes, all the cats truly do have extra toes), and–finally–ate dinner at Sunset Pier (yes, when I picture paradise, this is what comes to mind).

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IMG_0235They have these “coconut disposal” bins all over the island, because rather than throwing hotdogs in your face like most places, the street vendors there sell fresh coconuts with straws in them. Everywhere you look is someone else drinking out of a coconut.

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IMG_0325Hemingway’s office.

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We started for home on Friday, after spending our last evening in the Keys on a glass-bottom boat observing a coral reef.

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We stopped at another old fort Saturday morning: the Castillo de San Marcos. This place was really cool, because it’s the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States and although it regularly changed hands during its time as an active military fort, no one ever took it by force. And they built it out of a naturally occurring stone made from compressed sea shells. Which rocks (no pun intended).

IMG_0791I also really enjoyed the Castillo de San Marcos because a lot of its signs were in Spanish along with English, and as much as that year and a half of Spanish classes kicked my butt, it was secretly kind of super awesome being able to read the Spanish sides of the signs just almost as easily as the English. (On the other hand, it was not kind of super awesome when my mom tried to get me to order at a Spanish-only restaurant in Miami because hola, no sé nada vocabulari0–I could just as easily order you a side of eggs as a side of dishwater).

On the way home, before the Castillo de San Marcos, we also stopped by a couple more beaches, including Fort Lauderdale, which is where this doozy of a video occurred:

Madre thought she was funny taking a picture of me while I was vlogging, but I think we can see who the real winner is, here.

IMG_0729She never saw that hideous expression coming.

We ate dinner at a Disney resort that night (Friday), then hit the Castillo de San Marcos Saturday morning, and then it was a long, nineteen hour drive straight home to beat the storm.

The good side of doing that drive? Getting to see Sammy sooner than we’d planned. (And who can resist this face?)

… And there you have it. My family’s winter break Florida trip.

Now will someone take me back, seeing as Hell (Michigan) has frozen over?

~Julia

Story Time: The Week of Book Signings

Before we begin, you should know that the mug I’m currently drinking my hot apple cider out of has Grumpy Cat on it,  courtesy my CP Kira. And it makes me unreasonably happy.

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Snapshot_20131028It’s impossible to have a case of the Mondays when Grumpy Cat already has them for ya.

Now, onto what we’re actually talking about: The Week of Book Signings! This past week I had the opportunity to attend three different book signings, which was kind of crazy considering how I usually only go to a couple book signings a year. They were for Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (SHILOH), James Dashner (THE MAZE RUNNER), and Veronica Roth (DIVERGENT). I was super excited for all three of them, and it was fun to meet them in that order, because that was also the order in which I originally read the books. SHILOH was one of my favorites back when I was about eight, I read THE MAZE RUNNER junior year of high school, and I’ve been obsessed with DIVERGENT since senior year.

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I went to Phyllis Reynolds Naylor‘s signing with Rebecca Cao–a fellow Wolverine writer–and her boyfriend. Phyllis is on tour to advertise the last book in her Alice series right now, and while I’ve never read those books, it was neat to see how passionate a lot of the people at the signing were, along with the broad range of ages who showed up, from little kids to college students to adults. When it was my turn to meet her, I told her how SHILOH was one of my favorite books growing up and I have a beagle now. She’s an absolute sweetheart, full of the kind of spunk that makes a person glow. I’m definitely going to have to check out her Alice series.

Snapshot_20131028_3The inscription reads “To Julia a dog lover–best wishes! Phyllis Naylor”

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On Thursday, my friend (and future roommate) Emily and I sat impatiently through our evening classes before hurrying off to James Dashner‘s book signing, to talk about his new book THE EYE OF MINDS. Because of said classes (and a bit of confusion with our taxi driver), we didn’t get there until after he’d finished speaking and was already a good way into signing books, but we did manage to still score the last spots in the signing line–which actually worked out quite a bit in our favor, because it meant he could just stop and talk to us when it was our turn, since we were the last ones there.

We talked to him about his books, and our majors, and other such things, and then as we turned to leave, he called out a “Good luck with writing!” and I managed a thanks with a smile, and one of the people from the book store told me to come back if I ever had a novel of my own published. I looked back and sort of laughed and said, “I’ll attempt,” because what else is there to say, right?

It was especially cool getting to meet James Dashner because I first picked up my copy of THE MAZE RUNNER at the airport as my mom and I waited for our flight home from my first writing conference, the Writer’s Digest Conference 2011, in New York City. Whenever I think of that book now, I also think of that feeling of hope, that excitement and contentment that accompanies a good writing conference–the idea that maybe I could write a great book and get published someday, too.

Snapshot_20131028_4When Emily and I purchased our copies of THE EYE OF MINDS, we managed to get one that was printed upside down. The store offered to replace it for me, but I’ve always had a thing for messed up books since they’re more unique, so I kept it. Keeping with the theme of it being upside down, James Dashner also signed it upside down for me, and joked that it’ll be worth, “Maybe like five dollars someday!”

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Last but MOST CERTAINLY not least, I MET VERONICA ROTH!!! I went to the signing with my vlogging partner Hannah, Emily again, and mi madre (who was awesome enough to drive us all to Chicago). You can watch a video about it on Hannah and Julia’s Vlog.

We drove out Friday evening, and then got into line to wait for the signing around 11:00 AM central time on Saturday, Starbucks in hand. The event was by far the biggest book signing I’ve ever been to–it sold out over a month ago, with a thousand VRoth fans getting to meet her and have books signed–and a good number of them were already ahead of us in line, even though the event itself didn’t begin until 2:00.

Our seats in the theater for the interview portion of the event depended on where we were waiting in line, while our numbers for the book signing itself were predetermined by when we purchased our tickets–which meant that while my mom and I had ticket numbers 220 and 221, Hannah’s ticket number was 890.

We managed to snag seats in the fifth row, center section of the theater, which meant that our view was this:

Which, you know, is a pretty good view.

Before Veronica and the interviewer–Margot Wood of Epic Reads Tea Time fame–came on, the theater kept us busy listening to an organist who had risen on a little stage from the orchestra pit to play songs from the Beatles, and Phantom of the Opera, and more. It was brilliant.

Then Margot and Veronica DID come on, and we all basically just went insane, because OMG VERONICA ROTH.

The interview lasted about an hour–you can watch it here. At the end, Veronica surprised us by bringing her brother Karl Vincent Roth on stage to perform a song with her that he’d written for Tris–listen to it here (it’s called “The Mark”). Veronica sang backup vocals for him in the live performance.

Afterward, a massive screen dropped down over the stage, and Veronica had us watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (both Hannah and my favorite HP) while we waited for our group to be called to go get our books signed (they had us leave the theater for the signing area, in the lobby, in groups of fifty). The movie finished before Hannah’s group was even called, but that was fine because she finished reading during the climax.

Also while waiting, we had the opportunity to meet Margot Wood. I professed my love of Tea Time to her, and she told me that my hair “is so soft!” (Makes sense, since my name means “youthful, or downy,” after all.)

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Some shots of Hannah, Emily, and me freaking out with our copies of ALLEGIANT:

When it was my turn to meet Veronica Roth, I managed to hold down my squeeing enough to tell her she was my hero, and she sort of just looked down with a sheepish, disbelieving but grateful smile and said thanks–exactly the kind of response I’d expect from someone as awesome as Veronica. I still can’t believe how nice and down-to-earth she is; she tried to make the signing special and unique for every single one of the thousand people she met on Saturday. It was amazing.

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After the signing ended–a good four+ hours after it began–we headed into downtown Chicago to do all the touristy things, like drive down Lake Shore Drive, visit Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue, and watch the Navy Pier fireworks.

I’ve never been to Millennium Park at night, especially towards the end of October, so it was cool seeing how empty it was–it had a bit of a real life dystopian-fiction feel to it.

My favorite part was seeing Crown Fountain (aka the “face fountains”) completely empty of people with the water turned off. The faces were still all lit up, but everything else I associate with Crown Fountain was gone–there was no sunlight reflecting off the tiles, no shrieking children splashing through puddles. The only sounds came from the street and our voices echoed between the two fountains.

Because it was the Saturday before Halloween, Navy Pier put on a special out-of-season fireworks show, which we watched from Lake Shore Drive. Afterward, we made our way to the pier itself, where we wandered and then got a very late dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. At that point, it was around 11:00 PM central time (so midnight our time) and the only things we’d had to eat that day were Starbucks twelve hours before, and then popcorn during the movie.

Understandably, we were all pretty loopy by then.

Afterward, we all crashed the instant we turned the lights out. Sunday, we got brunch at my favorite Chicago-area crepe place, and then headed for home. On the way, we stopped at a beach, which was cold but gorgeous.

A bunch of giant, flat boulders led out into a point, I think used for weather monitoring.

Emily and I climbed all the way out.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend. Veronica Roth is an amazing individual, and I fall more in love with Chicago every time I visit.

*****

Now, special treat: In honor of meeting my writing idol (and you reading through this entire, monstrously long post), I’m giving away ONE SIGNED COPY OF ALLEGIANT to a lucky reader!

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All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter giveaway linked below. I’ve set up lots of different entry options, so hopefully at least one will work for you! The giveaway will run through November 7th at midnight, eastern time.

 Enter Here to Win a signed copy of ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth

Sound good? I can’t wait to send you the book!

~Julia

PS. The newest/last Hunger Games: Catching Fire trailer is incredible. The end of it is so powerful–I can’t even imagine what the movie will be like.

Story Time: Jump

Before you read this post, please note: A reader brought it to my attention that she thinks it sounds like I’m not willing to take critique, here. That is not my intention.

I love critique. I will always listen to critique, because I know I’m not perfect and I need help to make my writing better. That’s not what this post is supposed to be about. It’s also not supposed to be about me saying that there is anything wrong with my critique partners–between their opinions or the ways they critique–because there is nothing wrong with them. I love them. I love it when they’re sassy or thoughtful or sweet or any combination of the three. Me writing this post has nothing to do with a problem with them and everything to do with a problem with me.

I got so scared of making a mistake, recently, that I could no longer tell whether a decision was right or not.

This post is supposed to be about me learning that my voice matters just as much as everyone else’s–that my novels should ultimately reflect the style and ideals that I want them to–and that I, as a writer and individual, need to learn to trust my own instincts, sometimes.

That does not mean I will not take critique. That does not mean I’m not willing to rewrite scenes and revise plot lines and work with someone else to make my writing stronger. It just means that I’m learning to bring myself into the equation, as well. If I disagree with a suggestion, I’m going to bring it to the other person’s attention, and work with them to come up with something that we both agree on, rather than blindly following what they tell me to.

Critique is good, dear reader. But it’s all about how you interpret it. And that is the point of this post.

I really don’t know how much of all of this I should be saying. And by “all of this” I mean “talking about the revisions I’ve spent the past month doing on CADENCE.”

I wasn’t planning on talking about the revisions at all, actually, but Wednesday felt like a perfect time to mention them. And, here I am again, two days later, writing another blog post.

Because while I wasn’t planning on talking about them, right now I feel like I need to.

I finished my own changes to CADENCE on Saturday. They involved lots of rewriting, cutting and condensing and adding scenes, and attempting to deal with my apparent obsession with dialogue tags (I have no idea WHY there were so many dialogue tags in CADENCE up until this point, but I cut about a thousand words worth of them during line edits last week). Then I sent the manuscript off to four critique partners, all of whom I would trust with my life, and therefore I trust with a red pen.

The first critique landed in my inbox just a few hours after pressing send: CP Numero Uno loved the novel, loved the changes I had made (she and CP #2 had both read an earlier draft, back right before I began querying) and had very minimal suggestions for improving it.

The next day, CP #2 sent me her critique of the first few chapters, with the same sorts of suggestions: “Oh, there’s a typo here, an awkwardly worded sentence there. Maybe add something to further flesh-out what you’re saying in this paragraph?”

–All in all, those are the kinds of critiques I live for, because they mean I must be doing something right. They give me confidence in my decisions as a writer, and make me feel like my “maybe, someday I’ll be good enough to be published” pipe dream isn’t all that much of a pipe dream after all. I happily implemented my CPs’ suggestions and tucked the manuscript away for when the critiques from my other two CPs–the ones who hadn’t read CADENCE before–began appearing in my inbox.

The next couple days passed in a whirl of WriteOnCon and relaxing with books that have already been published (because, believe me: you get tired of reading ones you need to edit, after a while). Then Thursday came, and with it the next wave of critiques.

And Critique Partners Numberos Tres & Cuatro were not nearly as glowing as the first two.

Now, don’t get me wrong: neither CP #3 or 4 were mean or rude or ANYTHING of the sort in their critiques. These girls are awesome, and they really have just been giving me the tough love treatment I ask my critique partners to hit me with. However, their tough love also involved comments on rewriting scenes, restructuring whole chapters, and other major overhauls that made me want to simultaneously vomit my heart out and throw my laptop against hard surfaces. Like concrete, from the top of a very tall building.

I trust my critique partners with all my being. I know they just want what’s best for my novel. There’s a reason I chose these particular four people, out of the more-than-a-dozen who volunteered to read CADENCE without my even asking*, to be my CPs.

But as I sat alone in my room freaking out last night about which comments to take seriously, and which ones to disregard as we-write-different-styles opinion, and which ones to take into consideration but ultimately not act upon right now, it occurred to me that I’ve been spending so much time trusting my critique partners’ judgement–trying to make the novel what they want it to be–that I’ve stopped trusting my own.

As much as I love my CPs and want to make them happy, what’s ultimately important, with CADENCE, is making myself happy. It needs to be the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it. And if I don’t agree with one of their suggestions, I should trust my own judgement enough to make a decision on how to handle it.

It’s hard to swallow, but it’s true. This is not something to rely on other people to figure out. If they don’t like something that I’m doing stylistically, or they don’t like my plot or narrator’s voice, oh well. It’s not for them to decide. It’s my responsibility.

I don’t know if it gets easier, when you’re older, to look at these sorts of things and go, “Okay. I value your opinion. But since this is my novel, ultimately I need to value mine more.” Maybe it’s just because I’m nineteen years old and everyone always talks about putting others first. But it’s difficult to look at something and truly believe that my opinion matters more than–or even just as much as–someone else’s.

And I’m working on that. When it comes to me, when it comes to my own personal work, my opinion needs to matter, above my friends’ and family’s and colleagues’. I have the final say in what happens with my writing for a reason. While most of the time it’s good to put others before me, this is one situation where it’s important to put myself first, because CADENCE is my novel. I need to take ownership of it. I’m the only one who can.

So yes, it’s important to listen to and respect my lovely, wonderful, brilliant critique partners (you have no idea how much I love you guys). But it’s also important to look at some of their suggestions–like rewriting my opening paragraph because it didn’t grab CP #4 enough, despite the fact that none of the other CPs had problems with it–and say, “You know what? This opening paragraph has been working just fine for me so far. It’s gotten me requests from literary agents. I like my opening paragraph and I worked really hard on it. At least for now, I’m not going to change it.”

Someday down the line, I may rewrite that opening paragraph anyway. But for now, these opinions on CADENCE are just that: Opinions. Not law I need to follow. And they’re coming from only a couple of readers (most of whose advice has been oh-so-helpfully contradicting one another’s), out of what will hopefully someday be many (knock on wood).

It’s time to stop listening to what everyone else wants CADENCE to be, and focus on making it my own instead.

Everyone in the publishing industry is always talking about how you need a thick skin in order to take rejection and critique and reviews. But I think there’s also something to be said about knowing when to look someone in the eye and say, “No.” There’s something to be said for standing up for yourself, against your own doubts and fears; in trusting your own judgement.

I will never be able to please everyone with my writing, but at the least I should be able to please myself.

Of course I’m going to listen to my CPs about some things–like maybe how a sentence reads awkward or a paragraph needs a little more fleshing out or a sequence is confusing. But otherwise, it’s time to start listening to my own judgement. It’s time to start believing in and backing my own decisions. Because at the end of the day, this novel isn’t theirs. It’s mine.

One of my major fears, last night, in deciding what to do about these not-so-glowing critiques, was trying to figure out how I would feel over CADENCE being rejected, based on whether I took the suggestions or not. If I took them and agents rejected me, would I feel like I’d sold out? What would those what-ifs be? “What if I hadn’t listened to my CPs? Would the agents have still rejected me if the novel was more my own?” But what if I didn’t take the suggestions, and they rejected me then? “What if I had listened? What if the agent had preferred the plot to go in that other direction instead?”

I will never know how this whole thing would have turned out if I’d decided to rewrite parts–and possibly most–of CADENCE, based on the conflicting, confusing reactions of my critique partners. But it’s not something I should worry about.

I would much rather have an agent reject me for something I’ve consciously done on my own terms than accept me for something that no longer feels like it’s mine.

This story isn’t over yet. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, where it’ll end. Maybe it’ll be a happily ever after, and maybe it’ll be yet another dead end on the path to publication. But either way, it’s time to start trusting myself again.

I don’t know which is worse, jumping blindly or jumping with your eyes wide open. And I’m not exactly sure which I’m about to do.

But I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of not trusting my own judgement and trying to please everyone else, even at the detriment of my own happiness.

So I’m going to jump. And I’m not looking back.

 

~Julia

*If any of you are reading this, by the way, I want to give you a massive hug, because you’re great and I love you and I’m so thankful for having you in my life. (But no, you’re not getting a copy until it gets published. And that “until” should be read as a very big “unless.”)

Story Time: How I Met Darren Criss

I promised you the story… and I figured I should probably tell it before I abandoned the blog for two weeks.

So: How I met Darren Criss. And just my day on Thursday in general.

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(If you don’t know who Darren Criss is, he’s from Team Starkid (Harry Freakin’ Potter in A very Potter Musical, etc) and Glee (Blaine), and recently had a brief stint on Broadway as the lead character in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, taking over for none other than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). He’s also a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance and an all around extremely talented musician-actor-dude. — And now, continuing on.)

Being the super lucky person I am, I’m currently a student at the University of Michigan, and my hometown isn’t too incredibly far from Ann Arbor, so making day trips there during the off-months isn’t a big deal. In honor of the time he spent at U of M for his undergrad, Darren Criss decided to make a stop in Ann Arbor on his summer Listen Up! tour and, you know, happen TO MAKE THE SHOW FREE.

As in: You could see Darren Criss. In concert. At U of M. FOR. FREE. (If I could put fireworks around those letters to tell you how exciting that was, I would, but WordPress is yet to come up with that feature.)

The only problem with it being free was the fact that they had 1,800 seats in the venue, and they decided to give out 1,000 Crissband-wristbands ahead of time, to those inherently lucky people who live in Ann Arbor for more than just the school year (or who at least had a way of getting to Ann Arbor in five seconds flat in order to grab a Crissband at one of the giveaway spots). Aaand then they up’ed that number to 1,100 given away ahead of time. And then, day before the concert, they announced that they had up’ed it again. To 1,350. WHICH MEANS THAT THERE WERE ONLY 450 CRISSBANDS LEFT FOR THOSE OF US COMING IN FROM OUT OF TOWN THE DAY OF THE CONCERT.

I found this out while two of the three girls I was attending the concert with were at my house Wednesday night for a “sleepover” (despite our best efforts, hardly any sleep actually happened–our driver only got two hours). So that was a pretty depressing and nerve wracking thing to happen, and we had several conversations throughout the night that basically went like this:

UMICH FRIEND #1: Should we just leave now? Should we just go to Ann Arbor right now?

ME: No, they said you can’t start lining up until 6 AM. We’ll just have to make sure to get there before that, so we can rush the front of the line the moment they start letting you line up. We’ll be okay… I hope.

DRIVER FRIEND: I WILL BE SO ANGRY IF WE DON’T GET INTO THE CONCERT. I SWEAR. SO. ANGRY.

… But, nonetheless, we did manage to drift off for a few hours during the night, and then we were up again at 4:00 AM in order to get ready. It was a mixture of exhaustion and adrenaline as we all got dressed and stuff bagels in our mouths–a wonderfully strange combination that continued throughout the morning, as we drove through darkness and rain so hard it might as well have been a tsunami in order to reach the Michigan Theatre by 5:45.

We figured, “Hey. We’re fifteen minutes early. That’s great. That’ll give us enough time to park the car and maybe grab some Starbucks before getting ready to sprint for the front of the line at 6:00 AM.”

But no. Lo and behold, the people running the concert (Sonic Lunch–they’re super cool, check them out) hadn’t managed to keep the fans at bay until 6:00 AM as planned, so when we showed up FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY, there were already over 100 people in line to get Crissbands. We sped off to the nearest parking garage and then sprinted for the line, and managed to get in it with about 150 people ahead of us. At 5:50 AM. AKA ten minutes before you were even supposed to be allowed to line up.

By 6:04, there were people walking away with their heads hanging, feet dragging, not willing to wait in line for the next hour and a half before Sonic Lunch started distributing wristbands, because there were already so many people in line there was next to no way these barely even late people were getting in.

The fourth member of our party showed up, the group-wide adrenaline rush began to falter, and the sun slowly rose behind the clouds happily peeing all over Ann Arbor. (Just a warning, if you didn’t already figure this out: This is going to be a long blog post. Like a REALLY long one. There’s a reason I’m a novelist; I can’t tell stories quickly to save my life. If you want a more condensed version of all this, just look at the pictures and ignore my rambling, gushing words.)

Finally, after standing there for about two and a half hours, it was our turn to pick up our Crissbands and move to wait in the next line,  which would determine where we sat in the Michigan Theatre.

The day wore on, it continued to rain, and rain, AND RAIN SOME MORE, and basically, we ended up having to stand in line for like six hours. And when I say “stand,” I literally mean “STAND,” because even after it finally stopped raining, the ground was still to wet to sit down on.

IMG_0392Check out dat Starkid swag.

Everyone took turns going to Starbucks and CVS to pee and get rations (hello, chocolate bars and Skittles), and about once an hour a dude with a camera ran up and down the line grabbing footage of all of us screaming ourselves hoarse and acting like we weren’t totally delirious from waiting in line for so long. At one point, he stopped to talk to our group, and the conversation went something like this:

UMICH FRIEND #1: Hey, what’s all the video for? Is Darren going to see it?

CAMERA DUDE: Oh yeah, it’s to advertise for Sonic Lunch. And I’m sure we’ll show it to Darren at some point. Do you want to say something to him? [held up the camera]

UMICH FRIEND #2: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome!

UMICH FRIEND #1: What do we say? What do we say?!!

DRIVER FRIEND: Yeah, I’m just going to stand in the back. Smile and wave.

ME: WHAT DO WE SAY???!!!

UMICH FRIEND #2: I DON’T KNOW!

[CAMERA DUDE slowly backed away and ran off up the line with a terrified expression on his face.]

So that was fun and not at all embarrassing.

Went and bought merch, received free merch right afterward (yay for spending almost a hundred dollars on t-shirts and posters and crap, only get a free Darren Criss postcard and t-shirt right afterward), and finally–after several delays because the sound system wasn’t working or something–they let us in around 12:00.

IMG_0394This was the point where we were like, “Oh my gosh, guys. We might actually get into the venue before we die of exhaustion.”

Of course, we had about 1,500 of the 1,800 Crissband-holders ahead of us in line, so we figured we were going to be in the really crappy seats at the back of the balcony, but instead, we turned out being super, SUPER lucky, because we were one of the last groups they let into the main floor. Our seats were about two-thirds back, center section, next to the stage left aisle.

The concert began promptly over an hour late, but we didn’t even care, because we were finally inside and Theo Katzman (the opening act, and another U of M grad) was SO. FREAKING. GOOD. He has some more concerts coming up later this summer, and we’re planning on going to see him again.

IMG_0402I give you: Theo Katzman. Enjoy.

Theo finished with his set, the stage lights went down, and the wait for Darren Criss himself began.

There was a pretty long break between sets, and I’m pretty sure they did that on purpose, because while they were prepping the stage for Darren, they kept the audience lights turned down low and played smooth jazz. At one point I looked around, and the entire row behind me was conked out with their heads resting on each other’s shoulders domino-style.

Time passed, we fought the urge to take a nap, and then suddenly the stage lights turned on and the audience lights went off. Then the stage lights went off and the audience lights turned on. Back and forth they went a few times, before we finally figured out: Darren Criss wasn’t entering from the stage. They were trying to confuse us.

We turned around to face the back of the audience just as a mob of security guards burst through the door on our aisle and the band began to play Circle of Life from The Lion King. In a matter of seconds, Driver Friend and I had squished ourselves up against the aisleway and watched in disbelief as Darren Criss (THE. DARREN. FREAKING. CRISS.) passed us, pink sunglasses and all.

IMG_0410Yes, somewhere in this ultra blurry shot is Darren Criss. You’re welcome.

Darren’s performance was even more incredible than I was expecting. The guy can sing, and he kept stopping every couple of songs to tell us how grateful he was for our support and how excited he was to be performing at the Michigan Theatre (he used to usher there, back in the day).

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He played an extra long set for us, bringing out Charlene Kaye (another Wolverine–everyone performing at the concert was a U of M grad) and playing “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” from A Very Potter Musical, which became kind of really emotional when it hit all of us that this song that had first introduced the world to Darren Criss was also kind of about him being back at the Michigan Theatre, at the University of Michigan. Which was, in a way, Team Starkid’s very own Hogwarts, along with all of ours.

When he came out for the encore, he didn’t just play one more song, but several, including Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, which is the song that skyrocketed him into the stratosphere during his first episode of Glee.

IMG_0511Unfortunately, my camera died partway through the concert, so I don’t have any pictures from the later parts.

The instant the show was over, my group of four went racing out of the theatre in order to get around the block to the alley the stagedoor was in, where we then waited patiently for an hour for Darren to come out, to get pictures and autographs.

And then, you know, waited not-so-patiently for another hour for Darren to come out.

And then wait not-at-all-patiently for another hour.

What you need to know about all that waiting: We only got two or three hours of sleep going into the day. We had been up since 4:00 AM. We hadn’t eaten anything but candy since around 4:30, and we hadn’t had anything to drink since around 11:00. We had already been standing, between waiting in line to get into the concert and the concert itself, for a collected nine hours.

We were hungry, tired, and going more than just a little bit insane.

The nice people at Sonic Lunch eventually came out with a few bags of Skittles for the seventy five or so people waiting at the stagedoor to share, but that involved each of us only getting a couple of Skittles, so that raised our blood sugar for about point-five seconds.

We started our stagedoor vigil around 3:15 PM. We waited there until about 6:15 PM. Around 6:10, one of the security guards told us that Darren had just finished dealing with the VIP people inside and he’d be coming outside to see all of us devotees in just a minute. Everyone cheered and freaked out and peeled themselves off the ground in order to crowd around the stagedoor.

One minute passed. Then two.

Then another of the security guards got a message through his earpiece that made him pale and look around at the mass of teenagers standing around him in such a way that told us he was truly afraid for his life.

With a sullen look on his face, he announced that Darren had just made a very un-Darren-like move and snuck out the front entrance while we were all waiting at the back.

At first, nobody moved. We were all in such disbelief. We had waited there for three. hours. to see him, and he’d just blown us off? After making such a big deal over this particular concert, this particular group of fans, being so special too him, because we were Ann Arbor? What? Darren Criss wouldn’t do that to us. Darren Criss was a Wolverine. He was one of us.

But sure enough, it soon became obvious that he truly had left out the front door, through the venue’s lobby, and we weren’t going to be meeting Darren.

Angry and confused, half-dead and disheartened, my group trouped on out of the alley and went to move the car we’d left in the overpriced garage right by the theatre to the cheaper lot outside my old dorm. Then, still ranting, we walked back to the Chinese place by the Michigan Theatre that we had been salivating over during our entire time waiting in line in order to finally answer our stomachs’ calls for nourishment.

While waiting for our food, we found out via Twitter that the reason Darren Criss hadn’t come out to meet his fans at the stagedoor was because he was playing a “secret” show at the Blind Pig (a bar-performance venue-thing in downtown) at 8 PM, and he needed to go get ready for it. Which honestly just made us even more upset, for two reasons:

A) He had tweeted since abandoning all of us there, but hadn’t apologized for it (and the one other time during the Listen Up! tour he hadn’t been able to stagedoor, he’d apologized).

And B) We couldn’t go to the Blind Pig show, because people in our group needed to work tomorrow (AKA yesterday, at this point, as I’m writing this post on Saturday).

We sat there, eating and sulking and talking about how, if we ever had the chance to meet Darren Criss, we were going to give him a piece of our minds, when–in the middle of discussing the degree to which we wanted to slap him across the face–suddenly Driver Friend and I, who were sitting facing the window out to the street, stopped and stared in disbelief. Our mouths dropped. Our eyes opened wider than should be humanly possible. And I simply pointed.

UMich Friends #1 & 2 turned, confused, to face the window. And the group of us promptly forgot all about slapping Darren Criss’s beautiful face, because said beautiful face was walking past TK WU right that moment.

Darren and his friends spotted us through the window as well, obviously fans based on our reactions and Starkid t-shirts, and this is when the story really starts getting crazy: Darren turned and made these faces:

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Snapshot_20130615_1Obviously a lot better looking on him than me.

He was so unbelievably happy to see us, one of the very few groups of fans still hanging around Ann Arbor at that point, that our hurt and anger evaporated as quickly as my hunger had when a fly decided to kamikaze on my vegetable fried rice five minutes earlier (I am NOT joking when I say this sort of thing happens to me too much).

As soon as Darren was out of sight and we had recovered enough to stop screaming at the tops of our lungs (the other diners weren’t exactly in love with us, to say the least), UMich Friend #2 raised her hand the way people do in the movies, like “Waiter! Check please!” and–after squeeing some more with our very nice and chatty waiter (he asked us if Darren Criss was cute; we replied by screaming), we raced out of TK WU and down East Liberty Street towards State, the direction Darren Criss and posse had been heading.

Unfortunately, when we reached State Street, we then had the conundrum of which direction to go. Fortunately, UMich Friend #2 knew that Darren used to work at Potbelly, which was directly to our right, so we decided to use that as our deciding factor and headed that way, towards the Diag and Law Quad and all of that (here’s a map of the University of Michigan’s Central Campus, for reference). We figured he was eating dinner somewhere, so we peered in through all the restaurant windows like the not-at-all stalkerish people we are, until finally, while walking past Nickel’s Arcade (a covered walkway between two buildings with shops lining it), we spotted Theo Katzman (remember the amazing opening act guy?) and a certain head of dark, curly hair.

A couple of other fans had caught Darren in the Arcade to take pictures, so we took the couple of seconds they bought us to race crazily towards the group, iPhones at the ready, in hopes of getting a group shot with Darren before he ran off.

He finished with the other fans and turned towards us, ready to take more pictures, when he got the most confused look on his face, like he obviously recognized us but didn’t quite believe it.

Driver Friend quickly informed him that we were indeed the four girls he had seen at TK WU just five minutes before–and that fact, shockingly, seemed to put his mind at rest (let’s be honest–if it were me, that’s when I would have called for a restraining order).

He told us that he could only stay for a minute, because he needed to get to the Blind Pig soon for the secret show, and we said that was fine, we just wanted one picture.

At which point he grabbed UMich Friend #2’s iPhone and decided to take individual pictures with each of us.

Let me make this clear: Darren Criss. Took selfie shots. With each of us. Like he held the iPhones. While resting his head on each of ours. To voluntarily take individual pictures. He even hugged both UMich Friends #1 & 2.

Oh hey there Darren CrissCan we address the fact that he is somehow even nicer and better-looking in person than in interviews and on TV and all that, which up until now I’d thought was ACTUALLY AND LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

We all gushed about how much we loved the show and how much we loved him and how honored we were to meet him, and then skedaddled out of Nickel’s Arcade before we embarrassed ourselves too much, in absolute disbelief that we had just run into Darren not once, but twice in ten minutes (okay, so the second time was kind of totally because we were searching for him, but whatevs–there was a good chance we weren’t going to find him).

(Also, another little thing to throw in here: When we were heading out to find him, I brought up that if I were a famous person coming back to visit my alma mater, the first place I would go was the Diag, which is basically the center of campus-life and one of the most well-known parts of the university. A little while after getting our pictures, Darren posted two Vines from over near the Diag. I AM BRILLIANT.)

We almost headed back to the cars at that point, but then we remembered that we had been planning to get frozen yogurt after dinner, so instead we made our way back to East Liberty, where we grabbed mountains of yogurt at Yoggie’s, still spazzing about our Close Encounters of a Darren Kind.

I was right in the middle of joking about how crazy Darren Criss would think we were if the Sonic Lunch people decided to use the footage of us being dumbstruck in line that morning in their video when you’ll never guess who spotted us through the restaurant window.

THAT’S RIGHT. IT WAS OUR OLD BUDDY DARREN CRISS.

This time his expression was like this:

Snapshot_20130615_4Like, “HOW IN THE WORLD DO I KEEP RUNNING INTO YOU PEOPLE? THIS IS SO CRAZY!!!”

… Which brings up the very important realization of: Darren Criss recognized us. HE RECOGNIZED US. HE KNOWS WHO WE ARE.

After spazzing some more, laughing as we made faces at each other through the window while his group walked past (the rest of them seemed much more concerned by the way we kept seeing each other than Darren was), we then concluded that we had basically had the best day ever experienced by a human being ever. And that seeing Darren randomly around town three times in twenty minutes totally made up for the three hours we had wasted waiting at his stagedoor. And that we must be the luckiest group of Darren Criss fans alive.

Walking back to the parking lot across from our old dorm afterward (UMich Friends #1 & 2 and I are all a part of the same college within the university, so we all lived there), it was an extremely surreal moment of realizing that we had just met our idol basically at our home, and that it was his home too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used Nickel’s Arcade to shelter from the rain or snow; how many times I’ve walked through the Diag on my way to class, read the marque at the Michigan Theatre to see what was playing, sat snuggled up in my dorm room watching Darren Criss on Glee and in Starkid stuff.

I mentioned a year and a half ago when I went to see Darren in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Broadway, during the Writer’s Digest Conference 2012, that if I got to meet him, I would then be able to die happy. You don’t know how much I’d give to go back to my seventeen year old self and say, “Guess what. You don’t get to meet him at this stagedoor, and you didn’t get to meet him at the Glee Live concert, and you won’t get to meet him at the Listen Up! tour stagedoor either–but you will get to meet him. And it’ll be worth it.”

Because although that sounds dramatic and corny and immature, I really do have a lot to thank Darren Criss for, even though he’ll never realize it. I grew up a Spartan–hardcore Michigan State fan. The University of Michigan wasn’t even on my radar as a place I might go to college at someday until I saw A Very Potter Musical my sophomore year of high school. It was then that I began to think, “Hey. These Wolverine people might not be so bad.”

And of course it was then finding out that U of M had a great creative writing program, and the most amazing campus, and other people just like me that made me ultimately choose it. But if it weren’t for hearing “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts” sophomore year, who knows if I would have ever come to the realization that U of M should even be an option.

My life has changed so much because of Darren Criss, and Team Starkid and Glee in general. I’ve made new friends, pushed through some hard times, and had amazing, unexpected experiences. Getting to meet him in such a unique and spontaneous way was just the culmination of it all, and I still have a little flutter of disbelief whenever I see the picture of the two of us together.

If Darren Criss ever magically stumbles across this post: Thank you so much, for being yourself, and being such a big inspiration to me and countless other people, and being so nice to my friends and me despite the fact it was kind of obvious we were stalking you at Nickel’s Arcade.

Dear reader, if you pushed through this entire, novel-length post: You deserve to meet Darren yourself, you crazy, totally awesome person.

And if you just looked at the pictures: That works too.

Talk to you when I’m back from vacation! Have a good couple of weeks, and treat the guest posters nicely!

Snapshot_20130615_8

~Julia

PS. This post has had absolutely zero proofreading. I apologize if there are any awkward typos, because knowing me there are. Just in case, here’s an, “Oops. Sorry ’bout that,” in advance.

Story Time: Dead Things in My Food

Okay, so I should really be doing my Spanish homework right now, but it’s Thursday, and I had a test today, and my auto-immune allergies are going nuts (I am literally allergic to my own body, if you didn’t know), so you know what? Spanish can wait another fifteen minutes while I talk about this. Because I feel like this is a very important topic to discuss and it’s been bothering me lately.

I am a vegetarian. AND I KEEP FINDING DEAD THINGS IN MY FOOD.

I swear fate is out to get me or something, because I never used to have this sort of problem, back before I stopped eating meat. But in the past three years or so since I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian, I feel like I’ve been nearly constantly finding dead bugs and small animals in my food. Or sometimes even living bugs. Like one time there were moth larvae in my apple sauce, squirming around in there. I nearly threw up. In the middle of my high school cafeteria. But that would just add more gross to the already disgusting situation, so I managed to hold the puke down.

So that’s example number one.

Example number two: Dead moths and moth eggs in my cereal.

My house has this unfortunate habit of getting infested with insects every few years. One time it was house flies. Another it was moths. The house flies mainly took over the spare bedroom, so it wasn’t too big of a deal (or I’ve probably, actually just blocked out the memories because they were so horrifying, but whatever–what I can’t remember can’t hurt me, right?). The moths, on the other hand, were a massive deal, because they took over the pantry. Where all of our food was. And despite my best efforts to make sure I never picked up anything that looked like it had been tampered with by the moth invasion (well, quite a few times I actually did open a box of crackers or mac and cheese, only to find a bunch of eggs in it, but I never actually ate any; those went straight to the trash)–but anyway, at one point I did get my hands on a box of Special K that apparently had a few more vitamins in it than it had been manufactured with, and boom: halfway through eating a bowl of cereal, suddenly a dead moth comes floating to the surface of the milk. And I screamed so badly my mom thought I’d managed to pour scalding water all down the front of myself (again).

I didn’t eat any food out of the pantry for like the next two years, until my parents could prove without a doubt that all of the moths were gone, along with all of the food that had been around while they were. I kept all of my food in sealed containers in my bedroom. I’m not joking. No me gusta dead moths in my cereal.

Example number three: House fly in my jell-o.

I don’t know what dining halls are like at other colleges, but at the University of Michigan, the food selection mainly consists of two things: Meat. And dessert. Since I don’t eat the meat, I generally stock up on a lot of the dessert (I’m a really healthy person, you know).

Well, this one time I wasn’t feeling all that hungry (probably I’d had a few too many cookies the night before or something), so at the dessert counter I made sure to pick up the smallest bowl of jell-o available. This fact is important because that means I picked THAT bowl of jell-o to eat specifically. I could have had any of the bowls of jell-o, but no: I stood there and debated over the options and chose the smallest one possible.

Finished eating the rest of the meal, went to take a bite out of the jell-o, and what do I see sitting there, very dead and very jiggly in the middle of my very wiggly bowl of jell-o? A DEAD HOUSE FLY. A big fat one, too.

What made it even worse was the fact that I was at Spanish Lunch, where you’re not allowed to speak at all in English. And it was only like the third week of classes. So I honest-to-goodness had no way of communicating to anyone why I suddenly was looking rather green, outside of pointing to my jell-o and making grossed-out-faces. Like this:

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This is a reenactment. No flies were harmed in the taking of this photo.

That’s the Michigan Difference for ya.

And now, for the most recent example and the one that’s been bothering me the most: Finding (what was quite likely) a dead mouse in my nachos.

I say “quite likely” because I didn’t want to look at it hard enough or long enough to figure out what it actually was.

The story basically goes like this:

One of my favoritest things to do when I want a snack is to make a couple plates of “nachos,” which are basically just tortilla chips with Kroger Mexican Cheese melted over them in the microwave, because I am too lazy and too picky to make anything more elaborate.

A couple of weeks ago, I was hungry, so I made some nachos, was eating them, and lo and behold, what did I find? A BURNT CHIP. IN MY NACHOS. This had never happened before, so it kind of startled me, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal, threw it out, and then kept on eating.

Finished that plate of nachos and I was still hungry, so I decided to make a second plate.

(Note that my bag of tortilla chips was nearly empty at this point, so I wasn’t really shaking some chips out onto my plate any more, as much as just turning the bag upside down and dumping what was left of its contents.)

Lo and behold, again–there was a SECOND BURNT CHIP.

Oh well, I thought. It’s just one chip. So I reached down to grab it off the plate before I sprinkled the cheese on, all prepared to throw it out like it wasn’t a big deal, but no–there was something stuck to it, hidden under the other chips. I pulled on the burnt chip until it and whatever was stuck to it came out from under the pile, and guess what. That “something” was this large, burnt grey mass that had fur sticking out of it.

Just like the bowl of cereal the moth was in, I had already eaten the majority of the food that had been touching this thing, because it had been at the bottom of the bag. The rest of the bag’s contents were in my stomach. Which meant that I had MORE THAN LIKELY INGESTED DEAD MOUSE PARTICLES.

I am a vegetarian. I go out of my way to avoid interacting with dead things, especially dead things on my plate, where they might end up in my stomach. And fate is just out to get me it seems, throwing one dead thing at me after another.

I’m like paranoid to eat anything now, because one of these times it’s going to be a full out dead cat hiding out in my pudding or something.

Anyway. I just thought this matter needed to be addressed–maybe fate needs written proof that I see what it’s doing (not so sneaky over there, are ya?). Sorry for the gross topic!

~Julia