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.

IMG_2843

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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LINK by Summer Wier: Exclusive Excerpt!

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

Let’s do this thing.

Link CoverAbout LINK:

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

Or at least, it used to.

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

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

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

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

Book Trailer:

About Summer Wier:

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

Ready for this excerpt?

*****

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

“Oh, you’re absolutely reckless.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

Giveaway Graphic

You can enter the giveaway at the link below:

Click here for the Rafflecopter giveaway!

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

~Julia

Third Blogiversary GIVEAWAY!

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

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

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

DRUM ROLL PLEASE.

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Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Panic by Lauren Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between the Stars and Sky by David James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WIN_20141218_184737Good luck!

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Lullaby

It’s currently 2:15 PM on Wednesday and–WAIT. LOOK AT THAT. IT’S ACTUALLY WEDNESDAY. (I think I deserve an award.)

Things are crazy right now, but what else is new? I’m kind of in love with this semester. It’s hard keeping up with everything, and it’s about to get harder, but “everything” consists of really awesome classes, and projects I’m super excited about, and people I love, so it’s worth it, you know? (Now if only I had time to sleep for more than six hours a night.)

Things that have happened since last week:

The first Ch1Con Chat!

Members of the Chapter One Young Writers Conference team and our friends got together to talk about writing and books for our first ever Ch1Con Chat. We’re going to be doing a Ch1Con Chat the first Thursday of every month at 8:00 PM eastern. Want to help us choose the topic for the next chat? Vote here! And you can watch this month’s chat below. [Beware the numerous technical difficulties.]

Hannah and Julia’s Vlog is back!

Check it out! Hannah and I talk about what we did this summer.

I’m giving away a copy of Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place!

You read that right. I’m giving away a copy of Amy Zhang’s debut YA contemporary novel Falling into Place. You can learn about the book and giveaway here and enter to win here. (It’ll run until October 17th, so you’ve got about a week left to try to get your hands on this amazing book!)

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a lullaby-ish-thing I wrote last week. I felt like playing guitar, but I was really tired and the sun was all warm, so I basically ended up putting myself to sleep.
**********
VERSE1
Turn the lights down low
Lay your head down now
It’s okay to sleep
When the rain is coming down

Tell me all your dreams
They’ll be less scary
Once you set them free
Feel free to talk to me

TRANSITION
This is all a fever dream
It’s so much less than it seems
You’re falling, but it’s only to sleep
Tell me, are you counting sheep today

CHORUS
This is all going to disappear
When you wake up from here
Close your eyes and you will see the sunrise,
what’s left of me
I’m just a whisper in your ear
You’ll wake up far away from here

VERSE2
You will dream of the sea
On a warm summer day
With the water so blue
Flowers blooming like in May

And you will dance in the sand
Holding my hand
Don’t you look at me
Or I’ll be sea glass beneath your feet

TRANSITION
This is all a fever dream
Faster than it seems
You’re flying, but it’s only towards
A door opening to a better day

[Repeat CHORUS]

BRIDGE
I know today is hard
Like burning out the stars
But there’s always more,
I promise

You will find your way
Just not today
So close your eyes and sleep
These dreams are yours to keep

[Repeat CHORUS]

**********

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you’ve been up to, in the comments!

 

~Julia

Giveaway: FALLING INTO PLACE by Amy Zhang!

So I’ve been promising to do a giveaway for approximately forever, but as I’m sure we’ve already established a thousand times, I am the laziest human being alive. Sorry about how long it’s taken to get this up. (I ran out of ways to procrastinate today. It’s a sad life.)

Anyway: Amy Zhang was the keynote speaker at the 2014 Chapter One Young Writers Conference, and we absolutely loved having her! Amy is hilarious and smart and seriously so talented oh my gosh. (I want to be her when I grow up.) Her debut novel, a YA contemporary called Falling into Place, came out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in September and is just as incredible as you’d expect.

From GoodReads:

On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road.

Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect? Amy Zhang’s haunting and universal story will appeal to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher.

Sounds great, right? Well, now it’s your chance to win a copy of Falling into Place!

You have two weeks to enter using one or more of the options in the Rafflecopter giveaway linked below. The giveaway will end at midnight Friday, October 17.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER ALL YOU COOL READERS!

Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor!

 

~Julia

Happy 2nd Blogiversary!! (+GIVEAWAY)

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Wordy Wednesday to announce: IT’S OUR SECOND BLOGIVERSARY! This pretty young thing’s been around for two whole years now. Which I guess means it’s no longer all that young, but shhh.

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me through the highs and lows. It’s been a crazy two years and SO MUCH has happened since I started this blog.

I was a senior in high school, then, who had no idea what she would do after graduation. Now I’m a sophomore at my dream college with a dream major to boot.

My first blog postwas about how my cat, Willy, was on the brink of death (such a pleasant topic, right?) and I wasn’t sure how much longer I’d have with him. Willy survived through that first week of mindlessly blogging as a distraction and lived on to the ripe old age of seventeen, when he finally passed this summer.

I’ve met favorite authors and actors, traveled to all sorts of different places, and gotten to know so many wonderful new friends.

And I am incredibly grateful for all of it.

So, to show my appreciation, I am giving away TWO SIGNED BOOKS for this year’s blogiversary. (Geddit? Two?) They’re by a couple of authors I admire to pieces, and if you haven’t read any of these ladies’ novels yet, I highly recommend them.

Here we go.

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What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang

WHAT'S LEFT OF ME by Kat Zhang

I had the honor of meeting Kat Zhang this summer at the Young Authors Give Back tour, and she’s just about as awesome of a person as she is a writer (and that’s saying something). In addition to the signed copy of the first book in her Hybrid Chronicles series, this prize includes a signed card advertising What’s Left of Me and book 2 (on the side not shown in the picture above), Once We Were.

Goodreads Description: I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

*****

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter

PERFECT SCOUNDRELS by Ally Carter

Ally Carter is one of my absolute favorite authors EVER, and I basically had a heart attack when I got to meet her in February. She’s such a sweetheart, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve reread some of her novels. I’m giving away a signed copy of one of her 2013 releases, Perfect Scoundrels, which is the third book in her Heist Society series (but no worries if you haven’t read the first two in the series, Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals, because it’s written fairly episodic, which means that you can jump in at any point and still follow what’s going on).

Goodreads Description: Katarina Bishop and W.W. Hale the fifth were born to lead completely different lives: Kat comes from a long, proud line of loveable criminal masterminds, while Hale is the scion of one of the most seemingly perfect dynasties in the world. If their families have one thing in common, it’s that they both know how to stay under the radar while getting-or stealing-whatever they want. No matter the risk, the Bishops can always be counted on, but in Hale’s family, all bets are off when money is on the line. When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother’s billion dollar corporation, he quickly learns that there’s no place for Kat and their old heists in his new role. But Kat won’t let him go that easily, especially after she gets tipped off that his grandmother’s will might have been altered in an elaborate con to steal the company’s fortune. So instead of being the heir-this time, Hale might be the mark. Forced to keep a level head as she and her crew fight for one of their own, Kat comes up with an ambitious and far-reaching plan that only the Bishop family would dare attempt. To pull it off, Kat is prepared to do the impossible, but first, she has to decide if she’s willing to save her boyfriend’s company if it means losing the boy.

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So, there you have it. Two fantastic, signed books. Two chances to win. One blogiversary giveaway.

The sweepstakes will run until the end of the year, so that means you’ve got until the ball drops on January 1st, 2014 to enter. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Follow this Link to the Super Crazy Awesome 2nd Blogiversary Rafflecopter Giveaway of Awesome

In other news, Hannah and I are participating in Project for Awesome this year (what is Project for Awesome? learn about it here), and it would mean a lot to us if you watched our video, left a comment, voted for our cause, whatever. Our video is about Girl Rising, which is an organization spreading education throughout the world one girl at a time. (And if you aren’t interested in supporting Girl Rising specifically, it would also be awesome if you just supported Project for Awesome in general, because it’s such a great opportunity to make the world a little bit better.)

Watch our video/vote for Girl Rising here.

Learn more about Girl Rising, from the source, here.

Check out Project for Awesome here.

And a couple other Project for Awesome videos you should watch: DFTBA UM for Cancer Support Community and National Novel Writing Month.

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Thanks for all the support the past two years, and Happy 2nd Blogiversary to you! Let’s make the next two years even better.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“Let Go”)

As predicted, I got exactly zero writing done yesterday, and I missed two of my classes, due to feeling so crappy and being so far behind on my homework, since I wasn’t able to finish anything Monday.

So I’m now a good 4k+ behind on my NaNoWriMo goals, and even behind by the site’s daily word goal standards, and that rocks, but oh well. This sort of thing has happened before. I’ll just have to write my butt off this weekend to catch back up. (Anyone up for doing some word sprints with me on Saturday?)

The winning option for this week’s Wordy Wednesday is poem/song lyrics, and the poem I’ve selected for you is called “Let Go.” I wrote it a couple weeks back–as I mentioned before, I’m going through some stuff right now, and this poem talks a bit about all of that.

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I wrote the words in purple ink

the shade of notes and planning and practiced signatures

and the words were at the base of my right thumb,

angled out, the easiest position to write

let go.

Throughout the day I filled them in,

ran over the lines until they bled across my palm

my skin became a manmade bruise, tattoo spreading

until my entire hand thrummed with the words

let go.

I traced the purple letters with tired eyes,

dry and slow and itching to scratch

I didn’t touch a thing until they were a part of my blood,

transported the poison to my brain through my heart,

and the ink was an eraser against the pain,

and the purple was the symbol of starting anew,

and I forgot what I needed to forget

I forgot enough to

let go.

I scrubbed the words with calloused fingers

that once ached with age but now were young,

and my skin is pale with starcrossed lines,

a thousand more stories ready to live

with costumes, black ink, and a white paper stage

singing of how she

let go.

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(Look, it’s the return of the NaNoWriMo Excerpt option!)

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 day 6

~Julia

PS. Let this “PS.” stand as a reminder that you have until midnight tonight, eastern time, to enter to win a signed copy of Veronica Roth’s ALLEGIANT either on this blog post or on my Facebook page. I should be drawing and contacting the winner sometime tomorrow!

Wordy Wednesday (“Short Story-Writing Checklist”)

Right now several of my friends and I are in creative writing classes, focusing on short stories. I’ve never paid much attention to what goes into a short story–it’s not my favorite form of writing, so I pretty much only do it when I have to for a class or contest. However, lately I’ve found myself focusing more on what exactly you need to include in order to tell a complete, interesting story in about ten pages or less (mainly so that I can write my class assignments faster, then get back to working on novels) (or watching HGTV) (or both).

At this point I’ve ended up with a bit of a “must include in the story” checklist that I go over before turning in a short story. And since Writing Process won this week’s Wordy Wednesday poll, now you can use my nifty little Short Story-Writing Checklist, too. (You know. If you want to. If you don’t, that’s cool too.)

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1. At Least Two Conflicts

[Image from: http://vincentmars.com/2013/08/07/should-we-argue-or-should-we-not/%5D

It probably sounds obvious, but every story needs conflict, no matter the length. When it comes down to it, the definition of what makes a story a story is the conflict.

My rule of thumb is to try to include at least two conflicts in every situation: (1) the external and (2) the internal. The more layers of conflict I can squeeze in, the better.

For example: Suzie and Tommy might be arguing about where to go to dinner, but the underlying conflict between them is that they never agree on anything, so they’re thinking about breaking up. Meanwhile, Suzie has the internal conflict of the fact that she loves Tommy but he drives her insane, while Tommy’s struggling with the fact that he doesn’t actually love Suzie but he doesn’t want to break her heart by breaking up with her.

Boom. Four different conflicts, all happening within one argument. You’ve got a story.

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2. Keep Them Moving

[Image from: http://www.shawnhoke.com/2011/05/film-photography-night-school/%5D

This is one that only just occurred to me about a week ago–a story needs movement. While it’s possible to write a good story in which the characters are just sitting on a park bench talking, you still need to have them move in little ways. Whether Suzie fixes her hair or Tommy taps out a rhythm on his knee, they need to move, and the movements need to mean something. It’s not about moving for the sake of moving, but moving to further the story.

Meanwhile, the larger the movement, the easier it is to hold on to the reader. This is sort of a chicken-and-the-egg kind of situation, with conflict, but if two characters are arguing while alone in a room (conflict), chances are one of them is going to pace, or slam her hand against the wall, or repeatedly sit down then stand back up again while making a point (movement). Basically: the louder the conflict, the bigger the movements. And the bigger the movements, the easier it is to grip the reader.

*****

3. Include Dialogue (And Multiple Characters)

[Image from: http://adhiguna1st.blogspot.com/2011/12/tips-talking-with-other-people.html%5D

You can write a story that has absolutely zero dialogue in it, and it can be amazing. But I find that including dialogue (and therefore also having more than one character involved in the story) makes things a lot easier.

My general formula is to include two characters in a scene, and to write their dialogue solely addressing the surface conflict between them.

For example: In the case of Suzie and Tommy, their dialogue would revolve around where to go to dinner, not their possible future breakup. I keep dialogue focused on the surface conflict, then use the characters’ thoughts and movements to tell the underlying stories of the rest of the conflicts going on.

Plus, dialogue is a great place to establish and strengthen voice, which is muy importante in a short piece.

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4. Defined Setting

[Image from: http://jbwoods.deviantart.com/art/Vermont-Diner-HDR-and-Black-n-White-302892970%5D

I don’t know about you, but setting’s really important to me in stories. I like to be able to center myself in the scene–to know exactly what the characters are seeing and touching and smelling. Because short stories are, you know, short, that means you have less space to give your reader a memorable setting. So, I like to use settings that are easy to describe–ones that are probably already fairly defined in the reader’s mind: city streets, lake houses, small town parks, etc. These are things that we’ve probably all been exposed to before in some way, shape, or form, so we don’t need as many details to know what we’re looking at.

By using a well-known setting, you can cut down on the amount of description needed, adding to the amount of space you have to do the next step in crafting a defined setting: show how this setting is unique.

Instead of writing about just any old lake house, talk about how the porch sags, or the neighbors’ cottage is so close your protagonist can hear them arguing when the husband comes home drunk at two in the morning, or the water’s too cold to go swimming even in July.

If you’re writing genre fiction (scifi, fantasy, etc), try to begin with an ordinary setting that we all know fairly well (like a forest, diner, school, etc.) and then warp the smaller details to transform it into something unique.

*****

5. Back Story

[Image from: http://favim.com/image/188660/%5D

Back story is extremely important in short stories (and, of course, writing in general). To know where a character’s going, you need to know where they were before the story began, too. On the other hand, you don’t want to overload the reader with back story. Ultimately, you want to include just enough to give the reader a general idea of the Before without giving them the exact, nitty gritty details. And–returning to conflict, again–you want to include back story for all the different sub-conflicts you’ve got going on (unless one doesn’t have any back story, because it begins during your short story itself… in which case, you know, just skip this step).

Try not to give away your back story in info-dumping paragraphs, but rather just touch on it here and there in details. Like you can mention how Suzie is fixing her hair because Tommy ruffled it earlier, even though she knows that he knows that she hates it when he does that. Or Tommy could be tapping his fingers because he can’t get the song out of his head he was listening to earlier, which was on a love song playlist Suzie made for him–but this agitates him, because he knows he needs to break up with her, despite her good (or bad?) taste in music.

The more you can make your back story invisible by weaving it in with the story presently happening, the better. It’ll give you more depth/layers to play with and make your story feel much more like a 3D, this-is-actually-happening event, rather than just a random, five page assignment you had to turn in for class.

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And there you have it, my Short Story-Writing Checklist!

Reminder that you can enter my thank you giveaway up until 12:00 AM Monday! We’ve got a Beanie Baby, golden Oreos, and a B&N gift card up for grabs.

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~Julia

PS. Are there any other specific elements you look for in short stories, or make sure to include in your own? Share them in the comments–I’m always up for hearing more writing tips, and I’ve got plenty of short story-oriented classes to use them on in my future!

Giveway to Say Thank You!

A lot’s been going on the past couple months, and although I haven’t been able to share the majority of it with you, the amount of support I’ve received has been absolutely outstanding.

So, to say thank you for sticking with me through all my cryptic busyness (along with the fact that THIS IS OUR 200TH POST OHMYGOSH), I’ve decided to do a giveaway! My critique partners are all in the midst of receiving gift bags from me to thank them for editing Cadence, and now you have the opportunity to win one of these fun lil’ bags as well.

Thank You Giveaway 2013

Inside you’ll find a roll of Golden Oreos (my go-to cookie, since I’m allergic to chocolate), a TY Beanie Baby puppy who’s just begging for a good home, and a $10.00 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble to spend on the fabulous book of your choosing.

Sound like a good deal? Enter to win below! (The giveaway will run from 12:00 AM EST, Tuesday, September 17th through 12:00 AM EST Monday, September 23rd. Read the full terms and conditions linked in the widget for more details.)

Click me for the giveaway!

Thanks again for all the support, and good luck in the giveaway!

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~Julia

An Apology and This Week’s Wordy Wednesday (“I Am”)

First off, I want to apologize so much for forgetting to post this week’s Wordy Wednesday yesterday! In my defense, I had a lot going on yesterday (doctor’s appointment, visiting my high school for the holiday choir concert, hanging out with friends, etc), and I ended up having an epiphany in revising Dreamcatcher that took up quite a bit of time, but really: I spent a good half hour watching a Good Luck Charlie re-run on Disney Channel. I could’ve posted the Wordy Wednesday. So, sorry about that–it just completely slipped my mind. Forgive me? Maybe?

Second off, now that the Semester of Death, Doom, and Destruction’s finished–and I officially passed Spanish(!!!!!)–I’m going to be getting back to posting more often again! So be looking out for weekend posts and Fashion Fridays and all kinds of fun stuff! Whoohoo!

Third off, a reminder to enter my one year blogiversary giveaway! You can win signed copies of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, and Goddess Interrupted by Aimee Carter, and the only prerequisite to enter the raffle is that you have to be following this blog: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/50b1be0/ The giveaway ends at the end of the year!

Fourth off, here’s your very belated Wordy Wednesday, finally! I wrote this memoir my sophomore year of high school, after the death of my great grandmother. It’s a little bit rough, but it was good enough to win a silver key through the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards this past year, so hey: it must be decent, right? 😉

 

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Here are two truths: The first is that it is human to talk about everything, from our favorite band to our least favorite teacher. The second is that there are some moments, some experiences, it is absolutely and irrevocably impossible to speak of. There are moments that change everything. There is a before and an after, and you can’t say anything about the in between.

There are words, but none that can explain the root emotion, the tearing sensation in your gut and the burning in your throat. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot fully explain the pain that came with my great grandmother’s death… but I can explain how it affected me.

Going into March, 2010, I had lost a lot and I was using that as an excuse for my decisions. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t responsible for my actions in grief, and although this is true, it was when I became aware of what I was doing, how I changed and hurt those I loved, that I did become responsible. It was then that I started lying to myself; that I refused to take responsibility for my actions in the aftermath and that I lost who I was.

I wanted to be mature, so I forced myself out of hoodies and into showy blouses. I wanted to be edgy, so I wore heavy makeup and too much jewelry. I ditched instant messaging on AOL for Facebook and began ignoring my “uncool” friends for more popular ones. I became obsessed with climbing the social ladder, with no particular goal in mind but to make it to the top.

This moment in March, 2010 took place during some cloudy day that was indiscernible from all those around it, except that it was wet not with rain but with tears. My great grandmother was two months away from her one hundred and fourth birthday, and she had told us on her one hundred and third that she wanted it to be her last. She said she was ready to go, whenever God chose to take her. We told her we weren’t ready for her to leave. She was the spunk, the spark, the spirit of my family. Something in her eyes promised us that she wouldn’t leave until we were ready.

Something promised that she would say goodbye first, so that we would be prepared.

That day in March, I sat in my seventh period geometry class, taking a test I was not at all prepared for, when the teacher’s phone rang. There was an unexplainable knot in my stomach, a dryness in my mouth. My skinny jeans felt too tight, my chic black vest making it impossible for me to get a good breath into my lungs.

I put down my pencil, turned off my calculator, and did everything short of taking my test up to Mrs. Hugh’s desk while I waited for her to finish talking to the attendance office. When she looked up, I met her eyes immediately. She said my name slowly, almost in a daze, and beckoned to me. “You need to go down to attendance. Take your things with you. You can make up your test on Monday.”

She didn’t need to say more than that for me to know, but still the shock of it turned my blood to ice and made me shiver uncontrollably. It’s like stepping onto the diving board and looking down, knowing that the water’s freezing cold, and then the actual feel of it against your skin when you take the leap. Or when you’re creeping up the first hill on a rollercoaster and you know you’re going to hate the feeling in your stomach when the cart plunges, but it’s ten times worse and more real when you actually begin to go down the other side. The worst part about that feeling is that there’s no going back once you’ve started falling. You can’t go back in time to before, to safety. And not matter how unprepared you are for the nosedive, you’re going to have to endure.

Here are two truths: The first is that time is just a frame of mind, a perception of your reality. The second is that grief makes your memory record in snapshots, a series of individual pictures rather than a full movie scene.

I remember I met my cousin at the door to the attendance office, and I remember the way he shuffled his feet and wouldn’t meet my eye. Neither of us spoke while we waited for someone to tell us what to do. A few minutes later, my mother arrived to drive us to the nursing home.

I remember that while we walked out of the school I whispered, “She’s gone, isn’t she?” and I could feel my face sticky with tears, though I wasn’t aware of the actual sensation of them falling.

I remember Mom whispering back, “Not yet.”

It was just my mother, my cousin, and me in the hallway, and our voices echoed over and over again like the sounds would never fade and would just go on and on after us.

“They just called me,” Mom went on, “and they said it could be a few minutes or a few hours… who knows. That’s why we’re going right away. We still have a chance to say goodbye.”

The way she said it just made me cry harder. Grandma and my mom were best friends.

I remember that it was while we were still in the car, but about to pull into the nursing home parking lot, that my grandparents called to say it was too late. Mom broke down crying and was barely able to pull into a parking spot because she couldn’t see through her tears. My heart broke seeing her like that, and I cried even harder. Not because I wouldn’t get to say goodbye, but because my mother wouldn’t.

While we waited in the elevator on the way up to Grandma’s floor, I was reminded of the last time we were there, a few weeks earlier. Grandma had had me read one of my poems to her. She always loved that I liked to write. I thought about how she wouldn’t get to see the musical I was the assistant director for at school, now. It was my first staff position for a show and I had really been looking forward to that.

The initial numbness began to wear off a bit, then. The realization began to sink in. Grandma was gone. She would never hear another piece of writing or see another show. She would never see me graduate, fall in love, fulfill my dreams.

When we got to her room, everyone else went straight inside to where her body lay on her hospital bed, small and frail and shrunken with age, but I refused to go in. I couldn’t see my lively great grandmother that way. I remained alone in the hallway while nurses and visitors bustled past me, too preoccupied with their own cares to take notice of the weeping girl on the floor. Or maybe they’d just seen too many crying people already.

Directly across the hall a TV blared a commercial for a Disney Channel show, but I don’t remember which. Inside, an elderly woman sat with her two granddaughters, both at least a few years younger than me and still rather pure and young-looking. I smiled through my tears. The older one was probably about sixth grade, the younger maybe third or fourth. It hit me that I missed the time before high school, before everything got so confusing. They were dressed in pink and blue clothes from Justice and the children’s section at Target, with white ankle socks and Crocs, and their hair long and in messy ponytails. They reminded me of me when I was their age.

The evening wore on in a relentless fashion. More relatives showed up, everyone stood around sobbing, and nurses and ministers and doctors and counselors kept coming up to me and trying to tell me that everything was going to be okay. No matter how much they said it, it wouldn’t sink in. I wanted to be left alone, to crawl into a ball and disappear.

I remember that just before we left for dinner, one of my aunts called into the room with the two little girls to say hello. Apparently she had met them before and they were friendly. The girls came out and they talked to my aunt like Great Grandma was their own grandmother, which didn’t surprise me since she was the kind of person who touched everyone she met, but I was surprised when they refused to acknowledge I was even there, standing beside my aunt. I forced a smile through all the pain and tried to talk to them a bit, but they wanted nothing to do with me.

I greeted them with, “Hey!” and they did this slight, shy little nod thing and looked away. I asked them what show they were watching and they glanced up and down my body dubiously and look away. I told them I liked their matching friendship necklaces and at that they looked away… mainly, they just looked away.

Here are two truths: The first is that your entire view of life can be changed within a day, or even just a few minutes. The second is that it’s when you care the most that you understand the least, and if you care too much about finding yourself you can forget what it’s like to be found.

On the way out of the nursing home, I glanced into a mirror out of pure reflex. I had on dark wash skinny jeans, black ballet flats, a tight fitting white t-shirt, and a black vest, all splotched with tears. My hair was short and sticking out in every which direction, still growing back from the chop job I’d been forced to get for a theatre production I played a boy in a few months earlier. I had on a ton of jewelry and makeup.

That afternoon, I had thought I looked trendy and edgy and cute. At that moment, I thought that I couldn’t look any more self-absorbed. Or any less like myself. Why wouldn’t those girls not want to look at me? I didn’t even want to look at me. I was fake, plastic, and a total stranger.

Children have always had a way of seeing things the rest of us can’t.

I learned a lot of lessons from my great grandmother. She always helped others before herself and had a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on waiting whenever anyone needed it, whether it was me or my mother or someone else. She had this constant twinkle in her eye that made her look like everything she said was either a secret, or a great adventure just waiting to happen, or both.

She gave me one last lesson in that meeting with the two little girls: For someone who has always held on for too long, I had really let myself go. I had lost myself in trying to be just like everyone else. Sure, my new friends thought I looked cool, but I didn’t. I didn’t look like myself. I didn’t look like who I wanted to be. In death, my great grandmother reminded me who I was, who I used to be, and who I wanted to become.

The next day we spent cleaning out her apartment. At one point, my dad told me to take a purse he found in the kitchen into her bedroom closet so that it could be boxed up with the rest of her bags.

The moment I walked into the cluttered room, it was like I was alone with my great grandmother again.

Of the entire apartment, it was the only place that entirely smelled of her still, not yet tainted by busy hands and packing tape. I buried myself among her coats and blouses, and the fabric blocked out the sounds of the rest of my family. In that moment, I realized that Grandma had done just as she had promised… she had told me goodbye.

The last time I had seen her, when I read her the poem I had written that day. There was a certain finality about our visit, about looking out the window at the courtyard below, everything still frozen in wintery mush. “Bye, Grandma,” Mom had said, awakening me from my daydreams and my staring out that window as I had done at least twenty times before during the short period of time Great Grandma was in the nursing home. “Come on, it’s time to go.” Mom had turned to me.

I walked over to Grandma, knelt down so that I was just in sight of her as she lay on her side in bed. “Bye, Grandma,” I had said. “I love you.”

“I love you,” she whispered back, her voice raspy and tired. She had planted a wet kiss on my cheek. I couldn’t remember a single time in years that Grandma had kissed me. I hadn’t wanted to let go of her. Both of us knew in that moment that we were saying goodbye.

How in all the hustle and bustle of life did I forget that moment? Why did I let myself hurt before I remembered?

Here are two truths: The first is that a city must burn before it can rebuild. The second is that sometimes this is true with people, too.

When I stepped out and away from Grandma’s shirts, letting the smell fade from my pores, I went back out into the living room where everyone else was continuing to pack up. There was a mirror there, and I stopped for a moment to take in my reflection. My hair was still spiky and short, but I had managed to get some of it into a ponytail. My makeup was light and minimal. I had on an old pair of straight-legged jeans, Converse, and a grey sweatshirt that said I Love Dance.

Who I saw in that mirror was that same little girl I had been when I was in elementary school, staying over at Grandma’s house in Florida back before she moved up to be with us in Michigan. The little girl who ate way too much Kraft macaroni and cheese, loved the Dumbo ride at Disney World, and thought the most entertaining thing in the world was to try and catch those little lizards that are everywhere you look in Orlando. I was the little girl who wanted to be wanted, but wanted to be herself even more, and still believed in miracles. I was just a little bit older, a little bit sadder, and a little bit stronger.

No longer would I be a puppet. No longer would I be plastic. That day was the first day of rebuilding. I was going to be a better person, more like my great grandmother.

The great thing about Grandma was that she always accepted me and everyone else, no matter whom we were and how we acted. She always knew who we were on the inside, deep down. Some adults go and try to change you when they see you branching off onto the wrong path, but Great Grandma let me make my own mistakes and guided me in the right direction by doing so. She supported me in anything I did, and was there to catch me if I fell. She was someone I could trust and always count on, and even in death she gave me a gift that nobody else was able to: perspective, direction, reassurance. She gave me my heart back.

Here are two truths: The first is that out of everything I got from Grandmas’s apartment, my greatest treasure is a year 2000 special edition Beanie Baby. It smells like her; it reminds me of her. It reminds me who I wanted to be and who I promised to become. The second is that since that day in March, 2010, I have become it.

I cannot explain in words the loss of my great grandmother and the pain it caused me, but I know the good that followed, that came of it. There is a before and an after, and I can’t say anything about the in between, but maybe that’s a good thing after all, because Great Grandma would have rather I focused on the happy “after” part anyway. And that’s the truth.

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~Julia