I believe in the power of mere stories

Listen, I can get as political as the next guy or gal.

In fact, just this morning I sent out a nice little Twitter storm about draining the swamp versus joining the establishment. Because I have feelings and thoughts and they can be of a political bent, sometimes. I’m about to head out to march with a ton of other women in NYC, being in spirit with the thousands in DC and across the country. I have strong opinions and a voice, and I like to use it for what I think is good.

But not everything I do is political. In fact, much of my writing, my fiction writing and even my personal essays, doesn’t deal with politics. In fiction, I write young adult novels about heartbroken teens dealing with grief, loss of loved ones, loss of hope, and I delve into their ability to find joy through the mess.

In my personal essays, I talk a lot about mental health, relationships and pizza. So, not exactly political.

And I’ve seen posts saying writers and poets need to set aside the pursuit of art for the next four years and only use our voices to protest and act as watchdogs against the new government.

So first, I’m gonna say a few words about why that’s important — acting as watchdogs.

We — but I’m just speaking about me right now — are against Donald Trump for a variety of reasons.

I’m against him because he started his campaign by making racist statements. He has insisted upon building a wall on the border, but has no plan for payment.

I’m against him because he has often said things that can be inferred as going against America’s policy of religious freedom — such as indicating that he might at some point ban people based on religion.

I’m against him because he definitely did mock a reporter with a disability, even if he says he didn’t.

I’m against him because he wants to repeal Obamacare but doesn’t yet have a plan in place. Did you know that, without insurance, I would have to spend $1,200 a month on my medication or risk spiraling into depression? And Obamacare ensures I have insurance through my parents until I’m 26, and that after that I can’t be rejected for my pre-existing condition. And Trump wants to get rid of it without making a plan to replace it.

So, yes, I’m against Trump. And if need be, in the right time, I’ll speak up and out and do my part to be a political activist.

But I don’t need to always speak up about politics. Sometimes I just need to tell a story. A “mere” story. A funny, heart-jerking, tear-inducing story. That story might be subconsciously political — it might contain themes of racial equality as important or it might contain themes of female power and innovation and feminism.

Or it might not. It might just be a love story. Its message might be to teenagers that it’s OK if you never date, and that a boy or girl can’t make you whole.

The point is, it won’t necessarily be political in nature.

And I think that is just as important as the political narrative.

This Tweet here says it better than I ever could, so I’ll let it speak and then say some more words:

Yep, there it is. Stories, “mere” stories, are important and world-rocking and life-changing. They teach people how to feel for others, how to understand others, how to react and relate to others.

IMG_6387.JPGOne of the most important books I read last year was The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon. I could infer some political activism from the story, but I don’t have to. What I do have to do, though, is understand people different from myself with a vastly different narrative.

The Sun is Also a Star is about a girl who’s about to be deported to Jamaica and a boy of Korean descendant who fall in love. It’s beautiful, touching, heart-rending. It doesn’t have a nice, clean and perfect ending, but it teaches a lot.

And it’s one of the first books I’ve read where none of the title and point-of-view characters are of my race. Yet I could still relate to them, because their feelings were universal. They were human, and they felt and related to human things. And therefore, I could relate to them.

Their love story pierced my heart despite the fact that they look and act and believe things different from how I look and act and believe.

And that’s why it was important.

That’s why art is important. It opens our eyes to other perspectives, it allows us to feel things with an intensity and a piercing beauty.

After the election, I swore I would never write again, because who would care about my stupid stories in light of what’s happening in America — in light of the fact that a foreign country literally interfered in our election and our president doesn’t seem to care about the rights of anyone who isn’t male and white and just like himself. Who would care?

I didn’t write for a month after that. And then I began writing again, and I found life within myself again.

That’s why I write mere stories, silly stories, young adult novels that don’t outright deal with politics. Because it gives me life, and because it can give hope to someone else.

In this time, let’s not forsake the arts and humanities. They are, after all, what make us human.

On depression: a prose poem

 

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Photo by Alachua County on Flickr. See license

It coils itself to strike without so much as a warning rattle, fangs dripping with poison and ready to dart into flesh, retract, leave its venom to do the dirty work.

It sneaks up on you in the dark or in the light, a shadowless creature because it’s made of darkness, sucking the light out of life. It doesn’t make its presence known until it’s too late, too hard to turn and run.

It sinks its claws into your soul and won’t retract, and the only way to be free is to rip, rip, rip until a part of you is gone, forever in its clutches.

It is invincible, the king of the night, the harbinger of doom, the thing that stalks your thoughts and learns your patterns and serial kills its way through whole communities.

It sees you when you’re sleeping…it knows if you’ve been good or bad…and then it tells you you’ve been bad, so bad, the very worst, and it’s time to punish yourself.

It convinces you that the blade or the pills or the sex or the smoke will finally make you happy again, will wash you clean of all your wrongdoings, but once it’s over all you feel is dirty in your soul.

It appears when you least expect it, sneaking from your mind and winding its way through your body, until you’re racked with pain and sore and tired and numb and every thought is just…I can’t.

It lies.

It finds your weakness and exploits it, but your weakness will not be your undoing.

My weakness cannot be my undoing.

I fill find a way. When it coils to strike, I will cut off its head. When it sneaks up, bringing darkness, I will shine a light brighter. When it tries to rip off my soul I will performs feats of magic to unhook it and remain intact.

I will not listen to the lies, the ones that overcome me, the ones that hiss, You should die, you should die, you should die.

It made me think death was my idea, my desire, the only way to save myself and others. It made me think the world would spin happier, spin brighter, if my breath were stilled. It made me think, just yesterday it made me think, that if my veins bled themselves dry then maybe I would be redeemed for my mistakes.

It made me think the only way to atone for sin is with my own blood. It made me think everyone’s unhappiness stems from my existence.

I will not, I can not let it have its way with me.

My soul is weary, my heart sick, and all I want is to curl up and cry until I can be better. All I want is to eradicate myself and maybe let something new be born in my place.

I am weak. The world itself has sharp claws and they drag across my flesh, and when the blood runs it convinces me that is my fate.

But I will not let my weakness be my end.

I will gather what strength I have. I will fight. Till my dying breath, I will rage against the beast that seeks to best me. I will not go silently. I will not go at all.

My death will not be caused by my own hand. It cannot be. It will not be.

It coils to strike. I raise my blade.

Its head streaks forward. I drop my blade.

And in the end, I stand and it dies.

COVER REVEAL: “Solomon’s Bell” by Michelle Lowery Combs, lover of YA

If you’ve ever wanted to read a book about a strong teenage girl with magical powers who fights off her enemies using her own wits and abilities, well…you need to read Michelle Lowery Combs’ Genie Chronicles!

Hello, hello, and welcome to Living Life the Write Way’s very first COVER REVEAL for World Weaver Press! Today, I’m revealing the cover for Solomon’s Bell, the second installment in Michelle’s young adult fantasy series, the Genie Chronicles.

According to WWP’s website, “Ginn thinks she has problems at home until she magically lands herself in 16th Century Prague.”

A bit of backstory: Ginn is a regular teenager until she discovers she’s actually a genie. Solomon’s Bell picks up where the first book, Heir to the Lamp, left off, and takes Ginn all the way to Prague in the 16th century.

Below, you’ll find the cover, revealed today for the first time (and I’m lucky enough to be a blog participating in the reveal!) as well as a profile on Michelle, who, through her responses to my questions, has inspired and amused me greatly. I hope I someday get to meet this woman in person!

Are you ready to see the cover?

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*drumroll please!* Revealed for the first time today, the cover to Solomon’s Bell! Provided by WWP.

Michelle grew up in a series of small towns in central Alabama, bouncing about after her parents’ divorce from each other and subsequent splits from various other partners. One such home was close to a public library, and the family’s financial situation made it such that buying books was impractical, so they walked to the library to borrow them.

“My mother read aloud to my sister and me: The Boxcar Children, The House at Pooh Corner, a children’s illustrated Bible. We loved each of the stories, and experiencing them made me an avid reader,” Michelle said.

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Photo provided by Michelle Lowery Combs

As happens so often with writers, the love of reading and stories bled easily into a love of writing and telling stories. Michelle’s first experience was with writing fanfiction of Jim Henson’s Muppet story, Pigs in Space.

“I was intrigued by the idea of characters that I loved so much in an unexpected setting. If Miss Piggy could be a space traveler, anything seemed possible,” Michelle said. “I wrote about it at length—phonetically, I should add, because I used words I had no idea how to spell as a second grader.”

For a few years in middle school, she graduated to writing and reading publicly, but says those experiences were awkward and uncomfortable. “Teenage me then retreated from writing for any kind of notoriety,” she said. “I was more awkward than talented, and I knew it.”

So it wasn’t until 2012, when she was trying to place her first novel, that Michelle again entered the world of writing for the public. She won a national contest (!!), First Place for Best First Chapter of a Novel, had the piece published in a literary magazine, and that helped lead to the publication of the Genie Chronicles.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetThe second book in the series, Solomon’s Bell, is the result of research Michelle completed for the first one, Heir to the Lamp.

She hit on the idea of genies because she was exploring the concept of otherness through the supernatural, and, finding an under-representation of genies in YA literature, created Ginn, a teenage genie.

A rabbit hole of research stemming from grimoires (ancient books of magic) and meandering through the Italian Renaissance and King Solomon’s ancient temple led her, eventually, to a synagogue in Prague.

“I decided, pretty early on while writing Heir to the Lamp, that my second book would introduce a new, more ancient and possibly more dangerous adversary for Ginn…” Michelle said, “and that this adversary would take them on an adventure to 16th Century Prague.”

In her pursuit of setting a novel in Prague, Michelle had to again embark on that quest that can set a writer to pulling out their hair: research. However, she now has a wealth of knowledge about the capital of the Czech Republic.

“I can tell you the kinds of trees that grew in Prague’s public spaces in the 16th century: poplars;” she said. “The number of steps leading up to Prague Castle: 247; and just about anything you’d ever care to know about the Orloj, Prague’s astronomical clock tower.”

She described the process of writing Solomon’s Bell as very fun, and the thing she loves the most about her book is her main character’s perseverance.

“She isn’t a damsel in distress by any means, and while she is smart enough to utilize the talents of the young men (and djinni) in her life, it’s ultimately her that works through solving her own predicaments,” Michelle said.

Michelle’s aunt (and a youth librarian), Gwen Rollins, says that Solomon’s Bell will appeal to readers of all ages, and attributes this to Michelle’s skill as a writer as well as the intriguing nature of the story itself.

In addition, she said, “The characters are lively, well-developed personalities who, while colorful, are unquestionably believable. Young readers are bound to find the characters relatable since they are, for the most part, ordinary kids in anything-but-ordinary circumstances.”

Mary Furlow, a friend of Michelle’s through a local writing group in Alabama, said, “[Michelle] blends her easygoing humor with a heartfelt style that is very appealing to readers. I think people can easily identify with her.”

Gwen, who says she has known Michelle “since her red-faced, clinch-fisted, and very vocal debut onto life’s stage,” added that her niece is a special person as well as a talented writer. “She has the ability to spark excitement in others no matter the topic, and brings an energy to bear that is irresistible.”

Michelle described her childhood as one of upheaval — her parents divorced and remarried a combined total of nine times, which, incidentally, is the number of schools she attended before reaching seventh grade.

Nonetheless, despite commotion in her early life, Michelle has overcome obstacles in pursuit of writing and storytelling.

She landed upon YA as a genre because she ran out of books for young readers at her local library and wanted to add to the list of books available for youth. She had an 11-year-old daughter at the time, one who put much emphasis on her approaching 13th birthday as a day when things would magically change, and that is why Ginn, protagonist of the Genie Chronicles, is 13 when her life changes.

Turns out, I could have wished for the moon for my birthday and it would have fallen from the sky into my back yard. Oblivious to my awesome moon-falling-from-the-sky potential…

— Excerpt from Heir to the Lamp, by Michelle Lowery Combs, published by World Weaver Press

And because writing a book can change a life, I had to ask Michelle how the Genie Chronicles have positively affected her life. She cited the embrace of sci-fi/fantasy communities in the South, and the renewal of her own fan-girl persona, as positive changes.

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Photo collage courtesy of Michelle Lowery Combs

“I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting some of the most friendly and inclusive people in the whole world at some truly fantastic [conventions],” she said. “I’ve begun to entertain the notion of participating as a cosplayer at some events in 2017. I think I’d make a convincing Professor Sprout from Harry Potter, if I do say so myself.”

Michelle’s writing can be found on her blog, Through the Wormhole: Confessions of a Book Worm, where you can find stories about her life with five children ranging in age from 21 to nine, as well as the writing process and what books she’s loving. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook for more updates.

Solomon’s Bell releases March 7, 2017, which means you’ve got just enough time to order Heir to the Lamp and read it before it comes out!

 

 

A brief introduction to the world of a happy pizza-slinger

Some — many — maybe most — of you on here know me as a writer. That’s kind of my thing, the writing, blogging, over-sharing through the written word. It’s my schtick, if you will. Some people make movies, some save the world…I write.

But, as I’m sure a good portion of you are aware, I have a secret night-life as well. A second identity, something of a superhero person.

By day a writer, by night a…*drumroll please*…pizza-slinger!

What’s a pizza-slinger, you ask? Great question. A pizza-slinger is a professional seller of pizza, a man or woman whose business is transporting slices of pizza from the counter to the oven to your possession, a person tasked with “slinging” those delectable slices of goodness from place to place as swiftly as possible to ensure you get to eat it before your hungry stomach collapses in on itself.

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A pizza-slinger is also someone who wears a hairnet and masks it with a bandana. And takes selfies in the bathroom. Or maybe that’s just me…

A pizza-slinger, in short, is the reason the rest of the world gets to glory in the majesty of pizza.

I’m in charge of the closing shift at a pizzeria in Manhattan that has a combination of counter service (at the front of the restaurant) and waiter service (in the back). Which makes for a series of unfortunate events when the front fills up and people try to take their counter slices to the restaurant.

But that’s not what this post is about. No, this post, my friends, is an ode to pizza-slinging. See, I love my job, with all its ins and outs, topsies and turvies (despite the daily influx of tourists who berate me for not letting them use the bathroom and the moments of high-stress that accompany a dinner rush — phone ringing with deliveries, oven chock-full of pizza, line clumping in front of my eyes).

Pizza-slinging is maybe not considered as noble a calling as, say, doctoring or teaching or even reporting on world events, but there are many reasons it’s possible to love, enjoy and thrive in it.

See, for one, this job came at a time when I desperately needed any kind of employment — I didn’t care what form it took. This job provided a paycheck that was sorely missed and is pretty much the reason I was able to stay in New York City. Without my job as a pizza-slinger, I’d have packed up and moved back to South Carolina at the end of July. For that reason, if for no other, I can never be unhappy with this job.

It’s more than that, though. This job is a people-job, as most service ones are. It thrusts me daily into the lives of countless New Yorkers, and human interaction is not just something my extroverted self craves, but something my depressed self needs in order to survive without sinking into sorrow. Yeah, I sometimes get yelled at or am frustrated by difficult customers, but I also get to build relationships with the “regulars” (like the lady who knows my name, the man who says he misses me when I have a day off, the Italian youth who came four times in three days and sought my advice on their faulty Airbnb) and have really excellent one-time conversations with interesting people.

And, on the same people note — guys, the people I work with. I love them. They’re amazing. Several of them have graduated from work-friends to real-life friends, people whose happiness I’m invested in and who have taken steps toward ensuring my own well-being. And the rest brighten my life on the daily with their smiles, teasings, and camaraderie.

They’re my family, just like the one I was born into or the one I found at church.

And that’s the crux of it, the reason I’m a happy pizza-slinger despite my medical leave from grad school, the fact that I’m 23 and still haven’t published a book or been on a date and all the pitfalls of having an irregular work schedule: because of the people.

It always comes back to the people for me. Granted, I love the pizza we sell and firmly believe in it, but that’s not why I do it, it’s not why I work hard and devote myself fully to my shifts. I do it because I love and respect the people I work with and for.

I’m a wanna-be published author whose obsession with and craving for New York City led to a job behind a pizza counter, all for the sake of staying in this city. I could have left and, quite possibly, found a good job as a journalist elsewhere. My love for this city led to taking this job.

And now I love this job. Pizza-slinging might not be a traditional super-power, but hey — the people need pizza. I can give them what they want. That’s pretty super (hero).

Thoughts about 2016, Dreams for 2017

Back in mid-October, I finished a shift at the pizzeria, locked up, said good-bye to my coworkers, and promptly lost my ever-loving sanity. Ten minutes later, I was sitting on a curb in front of the Plaza, across the street from Central Park, sobbing.

I was in a state of panic. I didn’t want to go home and sleep, I didn’t have any friends in the vicinity but I was desperate to talk to somebody.

Thank God for Chi. My friend, a Hillsong-goer, fellow writer and dreamer, wise and brilliant Chi read the panic in my texts and called me. We spoke for at least an hour that night, as I wandered the nearly-empty Manhattan streets. I cried at times, so distracted that I headed East instead of West in an attempt to get to Sixth Avenue. I laughed outrageously and hysterically, waving my arms and probably really freaking out the poor late-night city workers I passed.

I told her everything: that I was afraid I was a burden on the world, that I was overwhelmed and exhausted and tired of striving, tired of never being enough. I told her I was thinking of suicide, again.

Chi said many encouraging things to me that night, which helped me get through that episode. One thing she said was to try and take life in small chunks. “Let’s just make it to New Year’s,” she said.

I’m not sure that’s possible, I thought and maybe said out loud.

Well, here we are. New Year’s Eve, the last day of 2016, and look who’s still kicking: me.

The fact that I’m still alive is thanks to a few people — Chi, for sure. Rowan, who, when I was telling her about a different suicidal impulse, told me I needed to stay alive for her sake. Those words were life-saving. I’m here because of Rebeca, who gave me hard talks, and my doctor, who prescribes my meds, and my counselor, who forgave a two-month silence and is still willing to help me work through my issues and even tell me I’m worthwhile. I’m here because of my parents and my family and my church and my God. I’m here because of my job at the pizzeria and because there lives a fire inside me that is only sated when I’m writing, and the thought of quenching it, ever, is terrifying.

This year, 2016, has been a rough one, for me and the world. Radicals are rising to power across the globe, death seems to lurk in every corner and some days it feels like the apocalypse truly is nigh. Personally, I struggled with several months-long depressive episodes, a summer of wretched unemployment and the need to put my graduate education on hold in order to focus on my mental health.

img_5400But some good came of it. I can count on one hand the number of cutting episodes I had, and while it sucks that the number is greater than zero, three is way better than the hundreds I hit in past years. I wrote SAVING GRACE, my favorite book so far. I finally, finally, FINALLY got the tattoo I’ve been dreaming of for literal years. My best friend moved to New York. I’ve met some amazing people and been privileged to live with women who have greatly improved my world. I’ve fallen in love and had my heart broken and yet somehow remained kiss-free. This year has been weird and wonderful.

I can’t wait for 2017. I can’t wait for my 24th birthday, can’t wait to finish editing SAVING GRACE and write SPOILER ALERT and the new, untitled YA I’m starting to dream up. I’m hoping I’ll get an agent and maybe a book deal (a girl’s gotta dream, right?) in 2017, hoping I’ll fall in love some more and maybe this time it won’t be unrequited. I’m hoping I finally learn to love myself and see some beauty in the mirror. I’m planning on getting closer to God and really, truly discovering His heart for me and the world.

In 2017, I want to live to the fullest. I want to experience every moment as brightly as possible, and then I want to relish in the memories and the expectation of more to come. I want to continue to dream and write and make friends. I want to see mental health stigmas busted. I want to travel to Greece or Turkey and volunteer at a refugee camp because the stories coming from Syria ruin me. I want Venezuela to heal. I want to shower the world with love, I want blessings to overflow on my beloveds and my enemies, I want good to spring from every well and just overwhelm us.

I want to be happy and content if none of those things come true. I want to find peace, inner peace, this year.

Guys, I am so excited for 2017. I know that whole thing about how calendar years are just arbitrary markers of time and not actual sentient things and yadda yadda yadda, but I believe that I can make a conscious decision to enjoy the arbitrary marker of time we call 2017. I believe I can make the best of every bad situation and truly enjoy the not-so-good ones. I believe it can be our best year yet — no matter what.

Will you guys join me in being excited for and dreaming about having a good year? I’ve told you what I want to accomplish and experience in 2017 — what about you? Connect with me, guys! Leave a comment, shoot me an email through the contact form, be my friend…let’s all band together and force 2017 to be awesome. We can do it, I believe. I’ve got to believe…

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Here’s hoping I have way more NYC in 2017, too 😉 

Writing with big dreams: Elri

There’s no such thing as an ideal age to be a writer; you’re never too old or too young or too middle-aged to start writing or continue writing.

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Photo courtesy of Elri

Elri is a South African teenager who regularly blogs for The Heart of Teens, a Christian blog by and for teenagers and young adults. She’s the oldest child in a family of three, with two younger brothers, and has moved around within South Africa quite a bit.

She’s already been writing for several years: she says she discovered writing when she was 11 or 12.

“For as long as I can remember I have been making up stories in my head,” Elri said. But she was also reading, and while reading the Animal Ark series by Lucy Daniels (the pseudonym for Ben M. Baglio), Elri felt inspired to write. “I wanted to create a story that made people feel and imagine and get excited like [those] books made me feel. And since then I have been trying to create stories!”

Today, Elri writes for that reason and for another, simpler one: “It keeps me sane.”

“I feel like I can let out all the emotions in me when I write,” Elri said. “It helps me express myself or make sense of a situation or even how I feel. It helps give me closure. It just feels right when I write.”

One of Elri’s good friends, Rachael, said Elri is all-around a great person, and she spoke highly of her friend’s writing.

“Her writing style is fun and and she [is] able to put her point across really well,” Rachael said. “She is one of the reasons I was inspired to be an author way back in grade 8. She even has given me ideas for some of my books… She is an incredible person and her perspective as a writer allows her to view the world with understanding and curiosity.”

Additionally, another friend, AJ, who also blogs for The Heart of Teens, said Elri is a hard worker who isn’t afraid to be challenged.

“As a writer she is raw and honest,” AJ added. “She isn’t scared to say things as they are and it makes her writing convicting and refreshing.”

AJ also said that Elri is an incredible person and that more people should be like her: “if more people were like her the world would be a nicer place with just a few more practical jokes.”

Elri’s dream is to be an author or a journalist, “probably both.”

“I see that coming about if it God’s will for my life, and with lots of hard work from my side! Or if I marry a really rich guy or win the lottery,” she added as a joke.

Elri’s testimony can be found here or you can follow her on Pinterest.

 

 

Happy anniversary to me…and New York

I’VE BEEN IN NEW YORK CITY FOR A YEAR NOW.

OK, I know you’re not supposed to start blog posts by yelling at readers, but I’M SO EXCITED and the volume in my brain is really loud right now (picture: lots of shrieking, some excited clapping and an incessant, high-pitched “OMG”) and I had to translate that to you.

Wait, it’s happening again:

THIS IS MY ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY WITH NEW YORK.

There are so many, so very, very many, emotions and thoughts and things I want to share with you guys in this moment. Because this year — it has been one heck of a wild ride.

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Holding the keys to my first apartment!

When I moved up a year ago and settled into my bedroom in Queens, I had no idea I would move two more times in less than 12 months.

Like, just look at that picture. Is that the face of a girl who knows her “first apartment” is going to last a mere six months? LOL, no. I thought I was going to be there permanently, or at least for a full year.

But life doesn’t turn out the way you expect. Life is weird, wild and wondrous (alliteration!), and it takes a lot of unexpected turns.

I’m still staring at this picture that was taken exactly one year ago, and…I might look the same, and dress the same, and talk the same as I did in the moments leading up to and right after my mom snapped this photo, but I’m so different. And my NYC adventure did not take me where I thought it would.

Within two months of my arrival, I was in a hospital. I’ve written about that experience a ton so I won’t rehash it, other than to say — that’s not what I thought would happen. I thought moving to New York would magically eradicate all of my depressive thoughts, would make me gloriously happy and 100 percent healthy.

It wasn’t to be; instead, I bottomed out. And not just the once.

After the hospital, I kept cutting for three months. Then, more than 100 days later, I did it again. I kept hitting rock bottom only to realize it wasn’t really the end, there was more room to fall. Image

At the same time, I’ve been deliriously happy. I’ve made friends who blow my mind (only a very small handful of whom are in the collage). I’ve met awesome people doing awesome things and had really cool opportunities. I’ve traveled to Baltimore and West Point. I’ve had the opportunity to see my work on Seventeen.com and Bustle.

I’ve become a braver person — there are no links to prove that, but I’ve applied to jobs I have no right to expect and faced down interviews at New York publications; I’ve reached out to strangers on the internet and made life-long writing friends; I’ve literally emailed internationally best-selling authors and asked for interviews, as though I have some New Yorker-type thing going on with the profiles I do; I’ve stopped expecting that the answer for me is “no” and instead learned to ask for what I want because sometimes, just sometimes, the answer will be “yes.”

Does that make sense? I’m not as timid as I was. I don’t walk around with my head down and my shoulders slumped expecting the rain to fall on me. I demand sunshine and favor. And sometimes, I get it.

That’s the thing about my New York year. It’s been weird. I moved up here to go to grad school and work as a journalist, and now I’m working in a pizzeria and taking time off from grad school. So I guess you could say my plans didn’t exactly pan out like I planned.

But through it all — I’ve grown. I’ve strengthened. I’ve matured. I’m not where I expected to be, but I’m somewhere good.

I love New York. I love the fact that it’s a hard city, a city that toughens you. I love that sometimes strangers will yell at me in a panic to let me know my MetroCard is falling out of my pocket, and that other times they ignore me while I dance through Midtown (yes, that’s a thing that has happened/happens). I love that I don’t care if you see me crying on a sidewalk, in the subway, or in a park, and that every once in a while a kind stranger will stop to make sure I’m OK. I love that I can get any kind of food I want, any time. I love that I can walk or take the subway and don’t have to worry about driving through rush hour or parallel parking. I love that there are so many opportunities here, that every day there’s a new job I can apply for that could be my dream job. I love that there are so many people here, and they’re all so cool and exciting and different and worthwhile.

I love this city. A year in and I’m ready to celebrate our anniversary and gear up for the next year…and hopefully the next, and the next, and the next…

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#PitchWars #pimpmybio #TooManyHashtags

OK I know it’s already way past the middle of July and there are only like 10 days until the #PitchWars submission window opens…but I’ve been so distracted stalking all the mentors that I forgot to pimp my own bio! Whoops. I’m joining the blog hop now!

For those of you that don’t know…Pitch Wars is a legitimately EPIC writing contest in which agented/book-dealed/published authors each pick one un-agented/unpublished author with a completed manuscript to mentor for two months. Then we submit to agents and have a party. I’m borderline obsessed with it and keeping my fingers crossed and prayers lifted that I get in. I’ve already got some mentors I’m willing to fight for — similar to how I fight people for subway seats. More on that in a hot second.

Onto the pimping of the bio!

About me

Things that I am:

American | Canadian | Pseudo-Italian | Missionary kid | Christian | Boarding school product | NYU grad student (journalism!) | Almost redhead Brooklyn resident-and-obsesser Pizzeria employee Novelist Poet Essayist Consummate soul-barer

Things that make my happy:

FRIENDS — both the TV show and the flesh-and-blood ones Making others laugh Making new friends Pizza Pasta Hamburgers Let’s just cut to the chase and say: FOOD. | Hillsong NYC | Did I mention friends?

Facts that are fun:

I will take a person down if they get between me and a seat on the subway. Is that a fun fact? I think so While waiting for a friend in the bathroom, I sang along to a radio song. My friend then asked me if I heard the horrible singing When I was 12, I thought police would arrest me and my parents for watching a PG-13 movie Io parlo italiano I graduated high school with a cast on my nose

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Pics or it didn’t happen — it happened

Why you should choose me as your mentee:

I work hard and am passionate, driven and ambitious enough to put forth my very best effort to make my manuscript as great as possible I am grateful for the time you’re taking even just to read this and will always respect you and your thoughts I am loyal to a fault — meaning that once we’re friends, there are no lengths I won’t go to for you, and there is nothing you can do to ruin that I am funny and you will laugh a lot, especially if we ever meet in person! I make a lot of Chuck Norris jokes and those are great I reallyreallyreally want you to so pleaseeeeeee 🙂

About SAVING GRACE

SAVING GRACE is a contemporary YA. During the sweltering New York City summer after “wild girl” Grace Hamrit’s brother is deployed, she starts dating his clean-cut best friend and working at a restaurant with her two best friends. The only hitch is she has to keep her relationship a secret from her brother — who doesn’t approve of her. Things seem to be fine..until tragedy strikes. When her life unravels around her, Grace must decide who — and what — she’s going to turn to and how she’s going to save herself. If that’s even an option anymore.

 

Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and be my best friend!

 

Storytelling to change the world: Kate Robards

She hails from the South, a town called Orange near the Gulf Coast, on the Texas side of the Texas-Louisiana border. It’s the kind of town where she could bike to her maternal grandparents’ house or go “visiting” at her aunt and uncle’s old house with the garden, where Uncle Julian was doing some project and Aunt Peggy was cooking. It’s the kind of town where, after Kate Robards lost her father as a child, the neighbors came together and supported her family with gifts of food and sometimes, if Mrs. Alford was around, clothes, lunch, eventually a job.

“I’m a sixth-generation Orangite,” Kate said, “and I kind of thought I’d live there forever. Of course I also hoped I wouldn’t.”

It turns out she did leave: Kate just completed a two-year MFA in creative writing from California College of the Arts. Right before graduating, in the midst of completing her thesis of short stories and a one-act play, she and her friends produced another one-act play.

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Photo courtesy of Kate Robards

“It was quite a feat to produce, act, and write my play at the same time my thesis was due,” she said. “I’m still patting myself on the back for that one.”

Kate’s love of writing comes from a love of storytelling. She says that even now she prefers to tell a story rather than write it, but writing is a great medium for getting a story to an audience.

“My impulse to write is an impulse to tell a story, to make things up, to create in beautiful, compelling ways,” Kate said.

Her good friend, Chris Murphy, who met Kate when she was dating one of his friends and said she eventually “charmed her way” into his life, extolled her writing.

“Her authenticity,” he said of what makes her writing stand out. “The way she captures the voices of the characters in her stories. Tempered with the rhythms of Dixie she is the equivalent of a new-age Tennessee Williams/Jack Kerouac.”

Kate has big dreams when it comes to her writing career — as she should.

“Oh, I have fantasies,” she said. “I’ll publish essays and keep working on my thesis short stories so they can be published. I’ll do a book version of my latest solo play, ‘Ain’t That Rich,’ or my first solo play, ‘Mandarin Orange.’ I’ll just keep writing and finding ways to get it out into the world.”

Speaking of ‘Ain’t That Rich,’ it’s a solo play that runs for 60 minutes, created by and starring Kate herself. It opens tomorrow at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., and tickets are available here.

Being poor is working at a restaurant for one of your five jobs in college…desperate for a tip share, and plastering on the biggest smile despite the fact that you haven’t slept and your car broke down and you need to make all the money possible to pay for it, and you see the first customer of the day and you say, “Hi, welcome to Carrabba’s Italian Grill. We’re so happy to have you here.”

— Excerpt from ‘Ain’t That Rich,’ pulled from a longer excerpt published by Luna Luna Magainze.

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Photo courtesy of Kate Robards

Kate said writing this show was hard because of its autobiographical nature and, because of its focus on Kate’s “broke” childhood, the way it explores some difficult experiences she had to go through.

“It’s vulnerable and yet at the same time, there are moments of fun for me,” she said. “Especially to be able to turn pain into humor.”

In addition, writing in general can be hard because Kate draws a lot from her personal experience, which means not only delving into memories that are painful, as she does in the solo play, but also figuring out how to be appropriately talk about the people around her.

“I also want to write about the personal, dark struggles in my life,” she said. “Sometimes that entails the people I love most, so I have to be sensitive.”

In the end, the pain and the struggle of the writing process, the fear that comes when she sends something out into the world, are all worth it because Kate views writing as something noble, a cause she wants to be a part of.

“I write because I’ve found comfort and solace in the words of other writers,” she said. “Written language and stories are magical and transformative. During my loneliest times, I’ve felt that someone else feels like me. By writing, I feel like somehow, I’m contributing to this noble cause that has saved my soul during dark times.”

Even more, Kate believes in using the gifts you’re given in life, and one of the gifts she’s been given is the gift of writing. So she’s going to keep using it and hope to make the world a better place.

To follow her on her writing journey, check out her website or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Bravery isn’t always six feet tall: Eva Recinos

Courage is more than just wielding a sword in battle or confronting an opponent. The bravest people aren’t always the biggest, most physically imposing ones. Sometimes courage is opening up a laptop and putting down some painful words. Sometimes the bravest people are the ones who are under five-feet but who speak truth even when it hurts.

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Courtesy of Eva Recinos

Eva Recinos’ Twitter profile tells us she’s a writer who is less than five feet tall. It doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about her, though.

It doesn’t tell us that she grew up in South Los Angeles, where she had to get used to “the sound of police sirens and choppers,” or that she believes growing up in a tough neighborhood helped make her strong.

It doesn’t tell us that she grew up thinking she would write fiction and poems, but discovered that she’s always loved telling real people’s stories and is discovering that maybe that’s her passion.

It doesn’t tell us that she tries to use her personal history in her writing — specifically, writing about women, people of color and mental illness. “I think people of color deserve more visibility within media,” she said. “I’ve also been writing about mental health more lately and exploring how I can use it to help others (at least so they know they’re not alone).”

It doesn’t tell us that her goal is lofty — not to write to increase her own name recognition, but to write to make a difference in the world. “What I really want to do is make sure the readers can take away something that will be personally enriching, whether I’m telling my own story or someone else’s,” Eva said.

You can get a lot about someone from their Twitter profile, but you can’t truly understand how courageous they may be until you talk to them, read their work, ask their friends and family members what makes them special.

Eva’s sister, Nydia Recinos-Garcia, 16 years older than her little sister, says that what makes Eva stand out is not just her honesty, but her bravery.

“She’s written about some personal things that I would never think to share with the world,” Nydia said. “Eva is a strong, opinionated, wonderful young woman. I am proud to call her my sister.”

Eva writes for LA Weekly regularly and has also had pieces published by Refinery29 and Cosmopolitan. She combines reporting with personal writing, and her style is moving, honest and powerful.

Despite how supportive he was, depression was always a third wheel in our relationship. It showed up to our dates unannounced. It wedged itself between us in restaurant booths, whispering anxious thoughts into my ear, encouraging me to overanalyze every single thing that happened during an otherwise fun night. It lingered at each anniversary celebration, stopping by to remind me not to get too happy.

— Excerpt from Depression Has Always Been the Third-Wheel in My Relationship, on Refinery29.

Eva described that piece above as the hardest she’s written — not because the technical aspect of writing was hard, but because she had to really delve deep and get personal, more personal and more emotional than she was really used to.

“But honestly it was hugely rewarding because people told me I put into words a lot of the same things they felt,” she added. “That was totally unexpected; people thanked me and I can’t even put into words how great (and humbling) that was.”

Two things Eva hopes to achieve in the future are writing a book (or two or three or four…”as many books as possible!”) and traveling for work. “I would love to meet underrepresented makers and creators around the world,” she said.

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Courtesy of Eva Recinos

Eva has been writing since she was a child, and one of her favorite memories is having a poem published in a school anthology. In it, she rhymed the word “admire” with everything she could think of — even a flat tire.

“My favorite thing about writing is that feeling when the words come so quickly your fingers have to keep up on the keyboard,” Eva said. “I know a blank page can be intimidating a lot of the time but to me it’s one of the most beautiful things!”

During a college internship with LA Weekly, Eva had her first print piece published.

“I would definitely consider that printed article in LA Weekly my greatest accomplishment so far,” she said. She had to attend an art show, interview people, and go through several rounds of editing. Finally, she saw her byline and work in the alternative weekly. “Seeing it in print was so satisfying and amazing.”

I called Eva brave earlier; it’s not just because she grew up in a hard neighborhood and writes about personal subjects that many are scared to talk about. It’s because her life has dealt her a lot of ugly things, and she’s worked hard to come out and keep trying, keep breathing, keep writing.

When she was 12, Eva lost her father. She said that loss affected the rest of her life.

“It convinced me that life was unfair and cruel,” she said. “In many ways it can be but I’m still working on accepting the good parts of it, too.”

That’s bravery: acknowledging that the lens through which you see life might not be clear and trying to change it, instead of just accepting it.

When asked where her sister’s career would take her, Nydia responded with enthusiasm and belief in Eva’s future: “Wherever she wants to go!” she said. “She wants to write a book and I have no doubt she will. She wants to travel the world and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.”

If you want to follow along with Eva’s writing journey and see how she continues to be brave, you can check out her website or follow her on Twitter.