Black, white, brown, yellow, red, pink skin. Giant, small, lopsided, almond-shaped eyes. Broken hearts, swelling pride, fragmented dreams, wondering what happened to fuel them this far.
A billion stories reside within the souls of these people, and the depths of discovery here have no limit. There must be millions on these busy streets, in the swelling metropolis of New York City, as the hubbub of car horns blasts from the roads. But I don’t want to be anywhere else, even as their body heat turns my cheeks ruddy and a woman falls over me.
It is chaos: A sweet, simple, human chaos. A chaos I don’t pay attention to often, a deep dream that is blurred by my career, my family, the city itself. Usually I am a thoughtless wanderer, off to work, off to the routine. But for a strange reason, today, I watch those around me.
A girl on her father’s shoulders stares out in the sea of bodies asking for cotton candy.
Businessmen and women chirp into phones, sipping on warm coffees, pupils aglow with the thought of greenbacks.
A hipster dances past, headphones deep in his ears.
A young teenager attempts to read a novel without bumping into anyone else. Good luck, kid. I wish I had that skill.
A few paces ahead, the dark red hair of a woman catches my eye–that luminosity, the shine, a color that stands out anywhere.
But it’s when my mind captures individual faces, I am astounded by the complexity of our world, and how this is where I am meant to be at this exact moment. For a reason. My heart swells inside me like a rushing tide ready to break free onto warm sand. Humanity is unimaginable, incomprehensible, and I am a witness to the individual facets of this species.
And then I see him.
Up ahead, a tall man glides down the road, a peculiar hat perched on his head despite the cloudy day, the perfect weather. He glances back, sweat trickling down his cheeks like dripping candle wax. My eyes unfalteringly set on him. He blends into the crowd. His head bobs over the regulars and the tourists, but there is nothing special about him. Normal features, normal attire, normal everything, really. Could be a banker or a teacher, who knows. He tugs on his hat a few times, pulling it closer to his crown. Maybe he’s a murderer, I decide in the loneliness of my skull; maybe he’s an angel. He glances back around him, avoiding stubborn souls sweeping down the sidewalk.
Somehow–and for whatever reason–he locks eyes with me. As my gaze focuses in on his warm amber irises, it happens like magic: He is gone, a departed ghost. A mysterious flash, within the blink of an eye.
I stop in my tracks. A man barrels over me, and then like the parting of the Red Sea, people swim around me down the street. But I pay no attention. I look down the way to the spot where I saw this man disappear, and a squirmy ache in my heart sickens me. What did I witness? He was gone in a literal flash, like the sudden disappearance of the sun on a perfect day.
With careful examination of the crowd, I see nothing. Even if he didn’t disappear or I simply blinked and he was gone, I would never be able to find him, not with the hordes of people pushing past me now. They pass me by, their arms grazing my flesh, and I realize how lonely inside I am, how crazy I must be. People don’t disappear into the clouds. With a thumping heartbeat, I look up into the sky, as if this is a plausible way the man left the streets. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t.
Tiny teardrops of water hit my nose. Did anyone else notice?
Oh, my beautiful readers! This post is one of the weirdest I’ve done in a while, and that’s because of the story around it.
As some of you guys know, I’m working on a novel right now called Church Boy. It’s a 55,000 word Christian romance novel that I’m hoping to publish soon. And somehow as I was editing this book late at night on August 5, I stumbled upon my Submittable account. What is Submittable, and why does it matter?
Submittable is a way for writers to query multiple agents at once. It’s an easy tool to use, and somehow I fumbled upon my account and saw my previous works I’ve sent off to agents in the past few years. And “Catch the Wind” was one of them.
According to this entry date, I submitted this short story to a magazine in February 2015. (Over four years ago, what in the world?). Now what’s really wild is that I have no trace of this short story on my new computer, and I don’t remember writing it. That being said, I know this short story is important, because as I read it, I thought to myself: Why not put this on the blog?
“Catch the Wind” is a short story that made me stop in my tracks, now that I’m reading it four years later, because it convicted me. It made me think that I pass so many people on a daily basis, and I ignore them. It isn’t humanly possible to recognize every single person on the face of the earth, but I do think we have a responsibility to put our energy into the people who come into our lives unexpectedly.
In 2019 it is easy to hide behind a screen, especially in public places. We’re selfish people, and we tend to find momentary happiness in stroking our own egos, but I believe there is long-standing joy in strengthening our relationships with others. This can happen through budding friendships, waving at strangers, and casual conversation with an old friend.
What I mean is that we have a limited amount of time on this planet, and we need to make the most of it. When we see that someone’s hurting, we need to help him or her. When our intuition goes off and implores us to help another, we should follow this sense.
This life is much more about we can individually do. It’s about coming together, as corny as that may sound.
Because what if, going back to my story, we are the man who disappears into thin air? What happens then?
Okay, enough ramblings from me now. I just thought this story would be a perfect Friday morning blog post, and I hope you enjoy this little guy from a seventeen-year-old Katie Kay.
Today’s post is going to be a little different than most, because I have a request to make of you. Though I could ramble on and on about nonsense to pique your interest even more, I’m just going to put it out there:
If you’d like someone to review your materials, I’d love to be that person.
What does this mean? Well, let me share with you guys. Over the past few months, a few of you have sent me your books, and I’ve loved every moment of reading and reviewing what you send. So…
For the people of you who want feedback, send me your books, poetry, etc. I’m not a full-fledged editor or anything, but I really do enjoy getting to know you more through your writing.
What I’m offering is simple: I’ll read your work, offer a review on Amazon/this blog/wherever, and let you know what I think. Why am I doing this? Because I want to. In the midst of wild life, this blog has been a source of escape for me, and you guys transport me to your worlds. You have that kind of power as a writer!
So if you’re down to share with me, I’m down to share in response.
This was a short and sweet little post, but I am super excited to write more in the next few weeks. This blog has grown so much in the past few months, and I’m super excited to see where it goes next. The sense of community here is amazing. Truly amazing.
As promised, today’s post is going to revolve around our favorite topic… WRITING!!!
The past few months have been heavily devoted to life updates, poems, and musings, so it is about time for some source material on this blog, and that is the art of writing!
The truth is that we as writers should always strive to build our craft. While some people have a natural knack for words, there is still so much behind this skill that must be carefully maintained in order to persuade and inspire an audience. Therefore, we must remember to be patient and implement these upcoming five tips in our art.
Without further ado, let’s hit the list!
1. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
No literary great became great overnight.
This is inevitably one of the most important tips on this list, because you must practice your writing in order to improve. As a student pilot, I couldn’t just hop in an airplane and expect to know how to get off the ground… And even if I did get off the ground, what about the landing? Maybe this isn’t the best example, but I hope it hits you a little bit in the heart. We must recognize that we are students of words.
Here is something I want you to think on: What was your first story? What was your first poem? Your first journal entry? What about song? Or whatever your method of writing is? Now think about why you wrote that. How did you write it? What were you trying to say? What insights did you want to give to the world?
You’re also probably thinking: What the heck was that trash? And that’s okay! You can be proud of your first work, but the truth is that there’s probably a lot you would change if you could. And that means you’re doing what you should be doing: Practicing.
So, what exactly does practicing entail? Well, you’ve gotta sit down, ignore the world around you, and get to work. You have to be willing to commit to your art, and stick to it. If something isn’t working, figure it out. As you write more and more, you will develop your own methodical approach of writing and editing (which should arguably take longer than the actual writing process, if we’re being honest). And there is a great feeling when you’ve got your ritual of writing down.
What’s even greater than that?
Seeing how far you’ve grown.
2. FOCUS ON GRAMMAR
Some of us are grammar nerds, and others aren’t. I fall into the first category. One of the first things I notice about anything is how grammatically strong it is. If there are countless errors, I’m probably going to grow a little agitated. Why is that?
Well, when I pay for a book, I expect it to be the perfect copy of what was once the writer’s surreal conception. If I’m going to toss fifteen bucks to the industry, I want to know that I’ve paid for something borne from hard work and creative beauty.
Maybe you’re not the same, but I’m going to ask you to consider this point carefully then. Your audience will know whether you put the time and effort into your manuscript, and one of the tell-tale signs is through grammar. For example, my mom is a grammar fiend who will pick apart any of my works. While this can be frustrating, I know that she is coming at my work with an analytical mind, and that’s a good thing. When we write for an audience, we’re writing for people who don’t necessarily think like us. And if you want to impress your writers, you need to know how to write effectively.
So, how do you know if your grammar is satisfactory? Some websites I have used in the past include these:
We live in the technological age. Do not be afraid to use online programs, spellcheckers, and your friends to help you with grammar. Nobody’s perfect, but we must humble ourselves and seek advice when it comes to our writing. How else will we improve?
3. USE YOUR AUDIENCE
All right. How could we talk about improving our writing without a shoutout to the people for whom we’re writing?
We writers are selfish (or maybe it’s just me). I’ll admit it: I write as if I’m the main character. Some of my characters are actually based on people I know. Some plot points are borrowed from real life.
But guess what? Your stories aren’t going to sell if you don’t have a mind for your audience.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who is just writing for yourself. Maybe you will never publish anything. However, a lot of you guys are bloggers, and that means you are publishing things. The truth is that you must have a knowledge and appreciation of your fanbase, because there are people who will be reading and analyzing your materials. And if you want your audience to like you, you must be willing to write for them.
What I mean is that if you want to write beauty advice posts, then your target audience has to be the people who are interested in your topic. So leave Easter Eggs for them! Write posts and see how they respond. If they’re not super interested in certain aspects of what you’re producing, check in and see what else they’d like to see from you. Your audience knows when you’re invested in what you write, and they’ll be more likely to invest in you as a result.
4. READ UNTIL YOU CAN READ NO MORE
When I was in elementary school, I remember telling my teacher, “Yeah, I love writing so much, but I hate reading.” While that was most definitely a lie, and who knows why I said that, it is simply a law of the universe that a writer must read in order to improve his or her craft.
Although I do believe a writer’s style has unique elements, I also know that we develop our styles through the writers we read. We borrow aspects we enjoy and toss what we hate into our mental trash cans. When we read thousands of works in various genres, we learn what works for the audience and what doesn’t.
If you want to write commercial fiction, study the masters like King, Grisham, and Steel. You may not like their writing techniques (I certainly do not like Danielle Steel), but they’ve become super successful for a reason. If you’re invested in poetry, study the different forms and practice your own. If you want to write songs, you have to study what goes into songwriting, and study through those who have done it in the past.
Plus, if you want to make it big, you have to know the environment. You get a better picture of the environment when you know what’s selling best right now. If you don’t care about making it big, you should still aim to improve your writing. So don’t make excuses; start reading.
5. WRITE FROM THE HEART
Others will argue with me on this one, and that’s okay. While this list is in no particular order, I believe that the biggest tip to improve your writing is to write from your own heart.
You have your voice–and no one else’s. That is why people will be drawn to what you produce. And, as I’ve stated previously, your audience will recognize when you are writing from your heart (or not).
What does this even mean then?
Think of the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard in your life. What makes it beautiful? The notes, certainly, but it’s also the build-up of emotionality behind it. I will never forget hours and hours of dissecting piano music and learning the hardest songs I’ve ever played. While I would hit every note with precision from all the practice, my one-of-a-kind teacher, Mrs. Xu-Peppers, would shake her head and say, “But you aren’t playing with your heart.”
What? I was sixteen, my fingers flying across those keys, and my teacher was still disappointed? But then I got it: There is more to music than the notes. Like she wisely said, I had to learn to play with my heart, because only then would I understand what the music was saying to me and to my audience.
Writing is the same exact thing. You can write like a pro, but if you’re not writing from your heart, then you’re going to fall flat. You have to write things that matter to you. You have to write with honesty and convey your unique perspective of the world. You must be willing to share the raw side of you, so that we can gain understanding from the emotions that flow through your blood.
How do you do this?
Write as if you’ve only got one day left on Earth to live. Write as if your life depends on it. Write as if you’ll never get the chance again.
GET TO WRITING, GUYS!
My hope is that you guys have taken some of these tips to heart. While I’m blabbing away on this topic, I definitely feel convicted by some of the tips listed above, and I will try to implement them more in my own writing life. Never forget that none of us is perfect, and that’s probably why we’re all on these blogs, so that we can share our experiences and learn from others. 🙂
The point of this post is to encourage you. You have so many opportunities, so use them! Forget the insecurities in your head, and get to work. You’ve got an audience waiting to hear from you. ❤
Keep me updated on your goals and writing life. I am super excited to hear from you.
FOR EONS NOW the First Baptist Church of Colonia, Mississippi, had been the social hub of the entire county.
On Sundays every business shut down, except the bookstore run by the only Jewish man within fifty miles. Church was expected, not just a friendly tip. It was so expected that even the morally ambiguous put on their shiny shoes and zipped on over to their chosen place of worship—and there were plenty to choose from.
But nothing was more distinct than the First Baptist Church. Most churches within the area had long since given up their status as being first in their particular denomination: First Presbyterian had become Hope Pres, and First Lutheran, with its ten congregants, had become Friendship Lutheran. First Methodist, First Baptist’s loyal enemy, had stayed the same to spite those said Baptists, and the Church of Christ up and moved to the country, needing a respite from Colonia’s self-righteous residents.
Now it was true that most Southerners were, aptly so, Southern Baptist. It was a tradition with a rigorous history, and though its membership had been on the steady slope downward for a while now, Colonia’s First Baptist Church was as strong as ever. Nearly four hundred churchgoers flocked to the pulpit at ten-thirty on Sunday mornings, donning suits and dresses and the occasional skirt or slacks. Some women wore lace hats that plumed like peacock feathers, while others covered dainty hands with satin gloves. Everyone clutched weathered Bibles, including the youngsters who sprinted across the aisles with annoyed brothers and sisters trying to catch up.
Miss Sue, a religious attendee at First Baptist since the 1940s, was no stranger to the scene. Miss Sue, who was the opposite of a stickler, felt her panty hose rip right down the middle of her age-spotted leg as her great-grandchild, Emma Ray, bounced into Deacon Todd, who was a righteous son of a gun.
“What in…” shouted Deacon Todd, who held a stack of pamphlets in his leathered hands.
“Hiya!” shouted Emma Ray as Miss Sue caught up.
“Where is her mother?” snapped Deacon Todd, but when he caught a wicked glance from Miss Sue, he readjusted his tie.
“I’m a good enough substitute, don’t you think?” replied Miss Sue, shaking her head. “I know you wouldn’t have a clue, Todd Appleby.”
“A clue as to what, Sue Richards?” he growled, tossing a bulletin to an unsuspecting guest.
“How to live a little, and remember that children are children. Now, you come here, little miss!”
Emma Ray snaked her way out of her grandmother’s arms once more and dived into the sanctuary, her church shoes somehow screeching against the emerald green carpets that had been laid in the ’70s, back when Emma Ray’s mother was her size. The little girl was a tornado as she burst through throngs of gossips and guests and terrified people in general. Everyone had always thought there was possibly a curse in the Richards family line, because none of those Richards women could calm down.
“Emma Ray!” screamed Miss Sue, almost tripping over her nemesis in the process.
The nemesis, Rita Scarborough, licked her lips and rolled her eyes. She lifted a red-painted fingernail into the air and shook it back and forth as she chatted with her gaggle of best friends, all of whom had been born, survived, and would die in Colonia, Mississippi.
“Sue Richards,” she muttered.
“Emma Ray,” said of the friends, in a nasally accent, “is such a mess in comparison to your little Margaret Ann.”
Just at that moment Margaret Ann appeared, docile and doe-like in her mother’s arms. Rita took her granddaughter, kissing both china doll cheeks, while Emma Ray or Miss Sue (it was hard to tell) shrieked across the aisle.
“Grandma,” said Margaret Ann, pushing back a few perfect curls from her face, “Grandpa was looking for you.”
“Was he now?” asked Rita Scarborough. She knew it probably wasn’t true. Her husband of nearly forty years was always somewhere or the other, collecting even juicier news than she could. It was what had attracted them to each other in the first place, if you didn’t count the Ole Miss degree, fancy diamond ring, and the fact that they’d been matched since birth, when their families prayed over them at the baby dedication.
And, in reality, Wesley Scarborough was not looking for his wife. He stood beside Deacon Todd, greeting guests and regular attenders alike, learning as much as he could about anybody and everybody. Todd passed out the papers, and Wesley passed out the Southern hospitality.
At some point, as the sun rose higher in the sky on this particular Sunday morning, Wesley grew a little tired, because he needed a doughnut or a bagel or anything with caloric intake. Since it was almost show time, the crowd had withered in the lobby. Deacon Todd ran out of bulletins and grouched off like an elderly crab, leaving Wesley alone and at peace, because he enjoyed his solitude too, even in the midst of a place as spiritual as this.
But then, out of nowhere, the front doors opened, and there was a young woman he had never seen before. She was so young, he noted, that his wife would either take her under her wing or scoff at her for the rest of time, and so he estimated her age to be twenty-four. She wore an acceptable dress, her curly hair bouncing down her back, and she clutched a Bible with nervous hands. He knew they were nervous hands because he’d been in those shoes, long, long ago, when he also visited First Baptist Colonia after a long bout of disbelief and anger and grit and grime.
“Welcome, young lady!” he said, extending a hand.
“Am I late?” she asked, her eyes huge and green. “I wasn’t sure if… I don’t know. My neighbor invited me, and…”
“You’re all right,” said Wesley, wondering where this creature had beamed in from. “What’s your name, dear? I’m Wesley Scarborough.”
“Olivia Scott,” she said, the Bible a barrier between them.
“It’s nice to meet you, Olivia. Who’s your neighbor?”
Wesley smiled to himself. “Lisa Richards, one of the most active members in this congregation! I swear—well, I suppose I shouldn’t swear, on account that we are Christian people, Miss Olivia—but half of this congregation belongs to the Richards family!”
“I’d believe it. There’s always something going on at that house.”
“Here, let’s see if we can see her. You’re just in time, dear. No worries if you’re late, either. We’re a talkative congregation.”
They walked to the edge of the sanctuary, where all four hundred congregants chattered and buzzed around like the busy bees they were. Wesley caught a glimpse of Deacon Todd throwing Emma Ray onto his shoulders, while Miss Sue chased him down. He then saw his wife and his daughter and the grandkids and smirked. There were the Pipers, debating politics, no doubt; and Mr. Blake Sampson, who’d never taken a wife, and Reece Jetterby, the richest man in the county, and Oscar Thomas, the poorest man in the county. But where in the world was Lisa Richards?
“It’s okay if you can’t find her,” said mild-mannered Olivia Scott, “because I can find her after the service. I just promised her I’d come, and so here I am.”
“Well, you’re more than welcome to sit with my family and me if you’d like, or I can point you in the direction of the young people’s section, or…”
“Hi, Wesley,” said a strong voice behind them, and Wesley twisted around to face the young pastor, Luke Sweeting, who’d been in town for three years but felt like a forever presence in the church home. Luke was twenty-eight, a Georgia man who’d been educated up North and came home with a desire to preach. He’d come to Colonia on a whim. But as everyone believed in Colonia, there was more to it than just a whim. Things always worked out according to God’s miraculous plan, and they had hope that things always would be that way.
“Pastor Luke!” shouted Wesley, grabbing the man’s hand, pulling him in for a hug. When they drew apart, Wesley began with, “This is our dear guest, Miss Olivia Scott.”
Olivia blushed, and Wesley found this interesting.
“Very nice to meet you, Olivia,” said Luke, shaking her hand. “Welcome to our church. I know it can be overwhelming, but I hope you enjoy your time here, and that you feel God’s presence in the meantime.”
“Thank you,” she said, and Luke excused himself, heading off to the worshippers, a shepherd collecting his flock.
“That’s the pastor,” said Wesley again, and then he nodded. “Well, I’m going to have to insist you sit with my family, Olivia Scott.”
This poor girl, thought Wesley to himself. At least she’d have a story to tell.
My beautiful readers! Thank you so much for reading this far. I hope you all are doing spectacular!
As you guys know, I have challenged myself to write three books this summer, one of them being this short but sweet romance, Church Boy. When it is finished, it will clock in around 50,000 words and be self-published through my go-to website, Smashwords, which you can find here: Link to my books!
Church Boy is a Southern, Christian romantic comedy. Some of you will probably cringe right there (and I absolutely feel you). However, I conceived this story a few years ago, and it felt like the time to crank it out before I totally lost the energy to write it.
This book pairs two unlikely leads: Luke Sweeting is a kind Southern Baptist pastor, whereas Olivia Scott is a struggling law student who is new to town. The two meet at Luke’s church in Colonia, Mississippi, where things do not exactly go according to plan…
Therefore, I wanted to give you guys a little teaser before the book comes out. Right now I am hoping to get it out there by June 1, but it may be pushed back to June 15. We will see, we will see. 😉
Okay, I have to go study for now, but expect more blog posts soon. Thank you all for reading!
It is a joy to be able to write to you guys on this very important day (Good Friday). However, this post is going to relate to five very influential writers who have impacted my writing life. While these five are the ones I remember, there have been hundreds of other writers who have left me inspired to be as inspiring as they were to me.
Also please comment below which writers have inspired you and impacted you the most. I am constantly on the hunt for a new book, and you guys are an amazing resource to do this!
1. WILLIAM FAULKNER
The king of Southern Gothic literature, Faulkner has been the most impactful writer to me in the past two years or so. Faulkner is probably the most influential writer from Mississippi, and his works have secured his legacy.
When I was growing up in the South, I hated every minute of it (or at least, I told people I did). I wanted nothing to do with the culture or the history or anything about it. I’d tell people I was a Yankee since my parents are from West Virginia, and I’d refuse to associate myself with my home state of Tennessee. As a result, I was not a fan of Southern literature, though I’ve since converted, let me tell you.
However, that all changed when I asked my mom who her favorite writer was.
“William Faulkner,” she responded.
“Why?” I asked. I’d heard of Faulkner before, but none of his works were ever required reading at my school (though they should be).
“Read some of his books, and you’ll see why,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
And so I read As I Lay Dying in the summer of 2017, after I realized the South isn’t a terrible place, and that despite its problems, it is my home. Faulkner’s emotional depth struck a chord in me, especially with a wide range of characters and controversial situations that weren’t easy to discuss when he wrote in the 1920s and so on.
Faulkner is famous for Yoknapatawpha County, where several of his novels take place. Yoknapatawpha almost perfectly fits the Southern Gothic realm, in which deeply flawed characters are exposed to curious readers. Faulkner’s deliberate, pointed style of writing has also inspired me to play around with narrative.
While in creative writing class, my professor harps the concept of having one main character who struggles with internal conflict, Faulkner displays the beauty of having various protagonists whose struggles intertwine into one complicated organism.
Highlights from Faulkner: Southern Gothic; Yoknapatawpha County; stream of consciousness
What I’ve read by Faulkner: As I Lay Dying; The Sound and the Fury; Sanctuary; “A Rose for Emily”
2. JOHN GRISHAM
Possibly my favorite writer of all time, John Grisham produces some of the most thrilling novels known to mankind (try to argue me on this, please). Another Mississippi legend, Grisham is the king of the legal thriller.
The first book I read from Grisham was The Pelican Brief in 2016. I’d heard of the master, but I didn’t think legal thrillers would suit a then-eighteen-year-old girl. But man… Was I in for a real wake-up call. This one book left me on the edge of my seat, and it challenged my perception of Washington, D.C., and our government system. Of course The Pelican Brief is fiction, but it felt real, and it was amazing.
As you can see below, I’m a Grisham nut. I have so many more books to read of his, but I can think of no other writer whom I talk about more. I wish it were acceptable to tell people, “Oh, yeah, John Grisham is my favorite writer,” because so many consider him to be a so-so writer since he is so popular (this seems like ridiculous logic, and it is).
So why do I like Grisham so much?
I think I can attribute it to the fact that his stories are so unique, and I honestly cannot predict what will happen next in any story he writes. Sometimes his stories are set in big firms in New York or D.C., and then another book will be something as socially relevant as A Time to Kill, his probable magnum opus. Then he’ll pop out with a book like Bleachers, which is more of a nostalgic ode to the past and has nothing to do with the law, and it’s like: I want to write like John Grisham!
His writing is very to-the-point. There isn’t much flowery language or description like some of the others on this list, but that’s because his novels are very much like movies in print. He wants to keep his readers hooked into the action of the novel instead of setting, and it’s why he’s one of the bestselling authors of all-time.
Highlights from Grisham: Legal thriller; political thriller; activism
What I’ve read by Grisham: A Time to Kill; The Firm; The Pelican Brief; The Partner; The Testament; Gray Mountain; The Summons; Rogue Lawyer; The Associate; Skipping Christmas; Bleachers
3. LIANE MORIARTY
Another writer I discovered when I was in high school is the Australian queen of women’s literature, Liane Moriarty. And also I hesitate to use the term “women’s literature,” because Moriarty is such a talented writer, and I don’t want to limit her to just the “chick lit” genre. Her books are primarily targeted to a female audience, though anyone can become easily invested in her material.
I’m not sure what the first book I read by Moriarty was, but I remember knowing her as the writer of Big Little Lies, one of the hits of 2014. Whenever a popular book comes out, I devour it: Gone Girl (2012) or The Girl on the Train (2015) are examples. While I am quite a fan of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins, Moriarty is a popular writer who has stuck with me in terms of how I want to write.
Liane Moriarty is an unapologetic observer of the world she writes. She is a professional at creating flawed but believable characters who make entertaining bad choices, whether that be the hypnotist in The Hypnotist’s Love Story or an amnesiac housewife in What Alice Forgot.
When I was eighteen, I wrote a novel called The Forever Optimist that was an attempt at mimicking Moriarty’s writing style because I was in love with it so much. She is a magician at penning beautiful phrases and settings that make me want to hop on a jet for Sydney immediately.
Highlights from Moriarty: Complex characters; rich description; modern storytelling
What I’ve read by Moriarty: Big Little Lies; The Husband’s Secret; What Alice Forgot; Truly Madly Guilty; Three Wishes; The Hypnotist’s Love Story; The Last Anniversary
4. KHALED HOSSEINI
Khaled Hosseini is one of the most inspirational writers on this list. Though I do not know much of his personal backstory, I can tell you that this man escaped unbelievable horrors in his home country of Afghanistan in order to forge a future in the United States. Hosseini is an example of the American Dream, as he rose from a refugee into one of the 2000s most respected writers (all while being a doctor).
When I was thirteen, I attempted to read The Kite Runner for the first time, and I was disgusted by the first chapter. There was plenty of foul language and adult themes, and I refused to read more. When I was in my senior year of high school, my best friend and I decided to read The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns at the recommendation of our teacher.
We were stunned.
Hosseini’s books are not appropriate for a thirteen-year-old, obviously, because they are so starkly honest and brutal. Hosseini’s literature focuses on the atrocities of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Hosseini writes with a forceful emotional capacity that left my friend and me speechless. As American girls we were astounded to read about things we had no idea were happening on the other side of the world. (Again, Hosseini’s books are fictional, though many situations are based in reality.)
Hosseini’s books are not for the light-hearted; however, they are for every human out there in the sense that we must listen and respect others from different cultures and backgrounds.
Highlights from Hosseini: Historical fiction and drama; sharp critique of culture; emotional writing
What I’ve read by Hosseini:The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns
5. GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ
What would this post be if I didn’t mention the man who taught me my favorite genre of literature to ever exist? Gabriel García Márquez is the papá of magical realism, a medium of storytelling that uses magical elements to highlight a realistic or mundane world. The way I explain magical realism is to highlight the real world, and to minimize the magical.
My roommate freshman year of college asked me why I hadn’t read One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book she was reading. “You’re going to Argentina to study abroad,” she said, “so you should probably know what magical realism is.”
I shrugged. One Hundred Years of Solitude looked like a long book, and I was reading other stuff at the time.
But then something happened. A new novel idea dawned on me, about a young woman who goes to a mystical Mississippi town in order to find her missing sister. I wasn’t sure what genre it would be, as I am not the biggest fan of fantasy, and I’d read nothing like the story I wanted to tell.
Suddenly, I remembered my roommate’s excitement about magical realism and One Hundred Years of Solitude, so I gave the book a shot, and it was absolutely crucial for me as a writer. Anyone who wants to write magical realism has to devour the fine course known as One Hundred Years of Solitude.
García Márquez’s world is believably magical, with characters who make no sense at all and the most sense known to man. There is a strict order to what is possible and what is impossible, and the reader is left to decipher the symbolism of the literary gold of this incredible man.
Now, though I love Gabo, I do think he can be wordy, and his books take a long time to read. Compare this to Grisham, and you’re looking at two very different writers. However, that is why we are looking at so many different writers today, to see what stands out from each.
Highlights from García Márquez: Magical realism; Latin American literature; almost biblical narrative style
What I’ve read by García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude; Love in the Time of Cholera; “La prodigiosa tarde de Baltazar”
WHY THESE WRITERS?
Obviously each person out there is affected differently by different writers. However, I am so glad that I got to share a few of my favorites with you today. It is always fun to write about writing.
I’d love to hear from you guys! Who are your favorite writers and why? And if you want to argue with me on John Grisham, I’ll be waiting. 🙂
I hope you are all doing wonderful and having a great beginning to April. I am sorry for not posting as much this month, as things have been quite busy as the school year wraps up. That being said, I wanted to do a quick post and tell you guys some very big news.
My newest book, Yours Truly, is out today! This book is a thriller that takes place in both New York City and Mississippi, and I’ll give you guys a brief overview below.
Eight years ago Eliza Oehlstrom was a college senior aching to graduate and get discovered by New York literary agents. Today Eliza Oehlstrom is a bestselling writer who has retreated to the quiet Mississippi hills.
Both Elizas are forced to reckon with unwarranted and haunting notes from a stranger only known as Yours Truly, who seems to know Eliza’s every move. While Yours Truly supports Eliza’s writing career, the stranger also makes it clear that Eliza’s every move is being observed.
But Eliza can only take so much.
Told from these two time periods, YOURS TRULY poses the question: Are we ever really alone?
***The book will be published on Smashwords, iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other formats. Since it is just now coming out, the URL links are not available yet, so I will make sure to come back and add in those links ASAP.
Thank you guys so much for your support! I promise I will keep writing soon. (Things will settle down here in a week or so, and I’ll get back to my regular schedule.)
It has been quite some time since I’ve published anything, and that is why I’m super excited to announce my newest novel, Yours Truly, will be available on April 1. It’s about time, isn’t it?
Well, what’s the book about?
Eight years ago Eliza Oehlstrom was a college senior aching to graduate and get discovered by New York literary agents. Today Eliza Oehlstrom is a bestselling writer who has retreated to the quiet Mississippi hills.
Both Elizas are forced to reckon with unwarranted and haunting notes from a stranger only known as Yours Truly, who seems to know Eliza’s every move. While Yours Truly supports Eliza’s writing career, the stranger also makes it clear that Eliza’s every move is being observed.
But Eliza can only take so much.
Told from these two time periods, YOURS TRULY poses the question: Are we ever really alone?
Yours Truly is definitely a project that has been time-consuming, arduous, and emotional. The novel is unlike any other I’ve written, and to be honest with you guys, I’m not sure if it’s good or not. It’s a book that dives into my psyche, and it’s one I’ll probably regret self-publishing in a few years. But that’s the magic of being a writer, and I want to showcase my writing from all different eras and ages of my life.
And, added bonus: The book will be free to download. (Yeah, no excuse not to get this book!)
I will post on Release Day, but I just wanted to give you guys a little heads-up about this project. I’ve put a lot of time and energy to it, and I hope it interests you. If not, no worries. That is the beauty of the free market system. 😉
“One life… A little gleam of time between two eternities.”
THE SECOND NOTE came on a crisp autumn day, snuggled in dead strips of violets. Fitting, considering that I was stepping on a pile of dead leaves at that precise moment, and the crunch sounded like the growl of my empty stomach. I was on my way to the cafeteria, and suddenly I didn’t feel so hungry anymore, though my body thought otherwise. College was a constant battle between anxiety and starvation, and the note didn’t help things.
But this was the secondnote.
I gripped the seemingly aged envelope between sweating, clammy hands. If this was a joke, I’d sock whoever was up to it. If it was real, then there’d still be consequences. Who would mess with me? Who’d want to mess with me? Who’d be stupid enough to?
I stared at it like mustached art critics fixate on Picasso. I held it like a mother clutching her baby when all she wanted to do was toss the chubby thing in the crib. And I finally caught the gumption to open it, my stubby fingernails crackling against the paper, something snapping inside me like a fistful of hair stripped from the base of the skull.
I knew, even then, that what was happening would not get easier, that this situation would only fatten up like slaughterhouse cattle, and I needed to prepare myself. Make something up. It’s what you’re good at, Eliza. Defend your senses before it’s too late.
And so, as I walked, my aching feet rigid against too-tight tennis shoes, I sorted through the possibilities. What if it was finally somebody who started to like me? What if it was somebody who wanted to let me know that I was attractive, important, admired?
A secret admirer didn’t sound so bad when I thought of it like this.
But then the world bit into my jaw, and I was left reeling instead.
And so I did.
The note was on a piece of snow white paper, so white I felt like I was gripping an icicle. The font was sprawling, looped like a woman’s writing, but I knew it wasn’t a woman’s writing. This was something else. This wasn’t a love note, or a congratulatory note, or a mistake. This wasn’t a joke, and it wasn’t real, and there was no one to punch for it.
The icicle punctured my skin, leaving a trickle of blood to foam against the paper. Even the paper cut didn’t sting.
Emerald looks stunning on you. And, by the way, I can’t believe you haven’t told anybody yet. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Of course you do.
Only four little statements, addressed to Elizabeth from Yours truly. Who even came up with that stupid, perfunctory phrase anyway? Yours truly? I was nobody’s except my own, and the two words sounded a whole lot like some ’50s gibberish. No one wrote letters anymore, which was a pity; but I didn’t want to start a new trend like this, with some creep watching over me and critiquing my meager fashion sense. It was in poor taste.
That was what threw me off.
My fingers gripped the metal door handle to the caf, and I wanted to scream. I hated the food and the overwhelming hordes of zombie-like twenty-year-olds, but I was even more zoned out than normal. Who was watching me? Who knew, and called me Elizabeth anyway? Who was there?
The endless grumble and scream of the everyday college kids sprayed drops of anxiety all over my body. I entered the lobby and wanted to take cover. A pack of freshman girls slid past, squealing about some frat party that night, while I still held the note in my hand, a scaly scab on my finger. Though the girls were only in my periphery for mere seconds, I stared at them with forced unease. As soon as they zoomed by, there was a youngish guy with floppy hair and a bad mustache. He was pecking away at his phone, headphones jammed tight in his ear canals, and he glanced up at me, a snarl on his lips. I almost tripped over my feet at the situation, but managed to carry myself away from these people and to the food.
It was seven o’clock, but there were still too many people here. There were always too many people. The dish of the night smelled rotten and looked like fried squid, and I settled once more for stale cheese pizza and a warm Diet Coke, thanks to poor refrigeration. It cost ten dollars, and I wanted to send my university a thoughtful note (maybe addressed from Yours truly?), but I finally grabbed my food and dodged outside to the patio, away from the endless cacophony of young people, to the freedom of anywhere else.
The patio was an all right place. It overlooked the lumpy hills of the college, and if you strained your eyes enough, you could see the Little Fork River cutting against the valley. Since it was another crisp autumn day, it was mighty chilly outside, and my skin was already stained pink from the temperature. I shuddered and pulled my sweater tighter to my bursting skin, though it was cotton and thin and wouldn’t do much to help me.
But even if I was freezing outside, at least I was alone.
I pulled out my books and slammed the second note into my stats assignment. It would all go away. It didn’t mean anything. It was not like I was being threatened, or harassed, or assaulted. It was simply a critique of my fashion sense, however odd that may be, and did it mean somebody was watching me? A lot of people were always watching me. I had a sometimes prank gang with some of my friends, so it would be natural that they’d prank me back. But we hadn’t pranked each other in months, maybe even a year. Maybe this was still a joke. It could be. It could possibly not be.
“Get back to work,” I hissed at myself, hoping that this would be the cure: A tongue-lashing from myself. As if that ever does anything.
But one thing did the trick.
All the textbooks in the world didn’t matter for the work I whipped out from my backpack. The unfinished manuscript was in my hands like a gold rush, and I smilingly set it down across from me. One hundred and fifty double-spaced, back-to-back printed words on a page. A book, if you want to call it that. The only work that mattered to me.
My hands caressed the glossy pages as I admired my second novel. A gust of wind slammed against me, but my hands were locked against the book, and though the pages wanted to flutter away from me, they had no choice but to stay just where they were, ready to be clobbered by a rigorous editing process. I whipped out a pen and highlighter to begin this somehow soothing procedure, and my spirit was dampened just a tad by the roll of a boom of thunder in the distance.
“Seriously?” I shouted to no one in particular, since no one else was outside. It was fall—not exactly thunderstorm season—and here we were, having this random pop-up storm. At least it would keep all the other college kids away.
I glanced over the hills and noted the hint of the black clouds out in the distance, but I was going to hope and pray that it stayed over that way while I worked here. I didn’t want to go back to the apartment, since I knew what I’d stumble into there, and the library was under reconstruction, Starbucks was closed, and my friends’ places weren’t the best locations for creative discovery.
I took a bite of the stale pizza and tried not to spit it out like regurgitation. I took a swig of the Coke and imagined, years down the road, when I would finally be established and have a regular job. Who would that Eliza Oehlstrom be? What would she do in her spare time? With whom would she spend her spare time? Nobody has time to answer what if questions, because they’re infinitely endless, and so I returned to the soft comfort of my writings, my pointless musings. She probably wouldn’t be eating pizza that tasted like swollen cardboard.
I leaned over the pages and pretended I was Stephen King, at the cusp of my literary awakening. I had everything to gain, nothing to lose.
Unimportant, said my racing heartbeat. It was not even important. Everything to gain, nothing to lose. The stakes are high, and at the same time they’re low. It’s all a matter of choice.
The note was just a joke.
“Elizabeth?” somebody whispered, clear as iced glass, and my body immediately tensed like the harsh snap of a noose.
A gust of the stormy wind blasted across the table, but my hands were firm against the stack of papers. I twisted around and examined the surrounding area, searching the empty tables and the untrimmed hedges. There were trees leaning against the columns of the patio. But no psychos, nothing but the sound of the whistling wind. A bird flapped its wings out of nowhere, and it leapt into flight faster than I could blink.
And now I was hearing things.
My eyes were bulging out of my head, and my hand ached to text my roommate, but Sarah wouldn’t believe me. How could she? She’d think the second note was from an admirer, that I was hearing things. After all, she was probably not wrong. That being said, I couldn’t help but squirm in my chair. My hand was twitching, and my skin was flayed by the crisp air. Put on a jacket, Eliza. Where’s your umbrella, Eliza. Who are you, Eliza.
The words on the page were blinking at me like stars, each word a slice of terror. What was it I’d written? And yet I thought this was literary excellence? I thought I could compare myself to Stephen King?
She walks across the pond’s cool, fresh edge, the skin of her feet chafed from the rocky shore.
No one called me Elizabeth.
“My name’s Eliza,” I whispered to myself, a little mantra, and another gust whipped across my face, stinging my skin this time. After I removed a clump of hair from my chapped lips, I looked up and saw Will, and my heart sunk like a damaged vessel. He was oblivious, just for this moment, but he’d see me at any second, so my eyes darted low. I dipped my head down, a writer focused on her most prized work, pushing the rest of the world away. Pushing Elizabeth away, and the person who called her name.
I wanted to hear him call my name, I wanted to hear his voice, but there was nothing but the sly, snaky hiss of the wind. And the only person who called for me was my imagination.
Though I couldn’t focus now, because of a stupid boy, I had to pretend like I was hard at work, like I had a purpose for being on this patio, all alone despite the foreboding weather, the diving temperature, the thud of my heartbeat that felt like it would jump out of its cavity.
I circled a phrase in thick red ink that smeared like blood. The words meant nothing.
It was a long, arduous walk back, but variables don’t matter when you get the chance to go home.
As soon as my eyes finished the sentence, they put me in jeopardy. I blinked up, just for the briefest of seconds, and Will saw me too. There was a catapult in me, and I swore I’d float to my death like a popped balloon. Will lifted up two fingers in a cool, casual wave.
He was at the table just across from mine, despite the endless, friendless tables all around. He was the kind of guy who wants to be around people, even though he was more quiet than most. He smiled at me, and it felt like a mustache had been pulled from the top of my lips. Painful.
“Eliza?” he asked, because I was staring at him, at Will, like a real creep.
“Hi, Will,” I said, steeling my voice, feeling like there was a giant glob of pepperoni on my front teeth. I hated small talk, and I hated it even more with him.
“How’re you doing?” he asked, though I wasn’t sure if he wanted the answer or not.
“How are you?” I shot back, though I didn’t mean to be rude. I should have answered his question.
“Good, I guess,” he said, pointing toward his books. “A lot to study.”
This was what we always said to each other. We were always poring over our work, too busy for anything else. When we saw each other on campus, we always sent each other personal little smiles and waved and said a chipper hello, but it was moments like this when it was so obvious that your heart could just burst.
In any other circumstance, maybe Will and I could have been something. Something great.
It’s obvious he wanted to talk to me; I wanted to talk to him. But where would it even begin? Where could it begin?
My eyes fell back to my book. Always got your head in a book, Eliza Oehlstrom, so that when the people pass you by, you don’t have a clue.
Suddenly, I was reminded of the shallow voice, right behind my head, a terrifying nightmare. Elizabeth.
My soul was clamped down tightly, and I was certain I would pass out, if a tornado didn’t get me first.
Will was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear him, because of my bleeding heart and that same hypnotic voice, like Scandinavian ice down my spine: Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth.
“Eliza?” Will asked, and I remembered everything.
Everything came back again, all at once.
The strange obsession with my name.
Maybe I needed that storm to come for me after all, let the storm wash away my grizzled bones and picked-at flesh.
I stood up, my feet digging into the soles of my worn-down tennis shoes. Without another word, I slipped away from Will, from the truth, from the thing that called me Elizabeth.
I hope you all enjoyed this excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Yours Truly, which should be out in the next few months. This book has been a very personal one to write, though very therapeutic as well.
Yours Truly has taken months to write, and it’s not necessarily my favorite novel ever. And, to be honest with all you, I am still in the throes of the editing process.
That being said, it has been a while since I’ve published any new novels, and this book is a good change from my normal material. I do believe that writers should challenge themselves, and therefore I wanted to go a different path in tone.
I hope you guys enjoyed this snippet. Just know more will be coming shortly.
IT WAS THE grayest, dreariest day of the year at the Golden Gate Bridge, which seemed unfair—but also quite fitting. The fog floated upward, choking off the reddish glow of the Bridge for the visitors and commuters alike. The atmosphere was ripe with a terrifying eeriness, almost as if God’s sadness was blanketing the Bridge—but blanketing the people there too.
And then there the crazy ones—like me—who walked across at a time like this. My legs ached from the arduous trek across the Bay, but it wasn’t like I could see anything; it was much too misty to stop and say reverentially, “Wow! What a beautiful day!” While the throbbing in my thighs was annoying, it seemed as if something more substantial hurt underneath the surface. A manic restlessness, perhaps.
With my hands stuffed in my pockets, I was hard at work thinking, remembering thatafternoon with severe clarity: How it had been bright, the round sun like a gold ring up in the sky, the clouds wispy and cirrus, like little breaths from gods up above. The two of us had been happy then. She’d bought a gold necklace and strung it across her neck, saying, “You know, I should buy you one too.” In our childhood, we’d had two little lockets that, when pressed together, created a unified heart. When separated, the hearts were broken. Yet on that day at the Fisherman’s Wharf, we had admired our identical chains with pleasant smiles. Distance can’t break us anymore.
Then there was today. I was alone.
My mind worked in overdrive. It was like my body couldn’t stop, as if I’d been propelled like a wind-up toy. My entire body ached.
I wiped my hand across my face, and it came back wet. It was cold up here. It was freezing. My heart shivered, and I felt the tidal wave crash over me, like the thousands of others that had come before it. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. Some people survived when they jumped. The odds were infinitesimal, but still there. Why hadn’t Sarah?
A shiver glided up my spine, tickling me until I couldn’t hide the fact I was crying. Luckily, I’d been smart enough to forgo makeup, as this was the anniversary of the darkest day in my entire life. No day could compare to the stark burn of August 19th, 2013—at least in the specificity of my own little mental fortress.
For a moment my thoughts only churned around the possibility of escaping this prison. Why had I decided to come out here in the first place? It was loud and scary—as the cars whooshed by like bullets—and the fog refused to let up. And here I was, rooted to the sidewalk, wondering what was below that hadn’t been discovered. Skeletons lay at the shallow depths of the water beneath my very feet, cuddled in the silt and sediment of the estuary. My own sister had once been part of that place too.
I imagined that gold chain glinting in the darkness down below, wrapped around her lifeless body. It almost felt like a memory, yet I knew it had to be my overactive imagination. It was as if a jail cell had been opened, allowing a part of my mind to be released. It was true: Idid have an overactive imagination. I appreciated people and possibilities. Or was that something my sister did?
Everything was cloudy now, inside my body and out.
A few passersby greeted me with toasty smiles, but I was left frozen in this unique spot, unable to wave or respond at all. They looked like tourists who were at peace with whatever had uniquely happened to them. In a way, I was visiting like them, just stopping by; but in another way, I was here because this place had claimed something that was mine. Something I would never be able to take back.
The wind chill was impossibly biting, and for a moment, I stopped breathing. Sarah had attempted suicide once before. She’d jumped into a swimming pool and refused to breathe. That stubborn girl, who always fought like she wanted to, passed out as if she were about to take a dreamy nap with mermaids and starfish and cerulean seas. My father, with his bad back and clinical depression, found her face-down like a limp doll. He sprained a knee to save her life.
In the days that followed, Sarah simply said, “I didn’t mean to; I just wanted to feel what it was like.”
“How could you be so selfish?” I screamed so loudly it felt like my vocal chords could pop. “What is it with you and your fantasy about death?”
Sarah never answered the question. She only frowned.
“It’s a bit frosty,” chirped a voice behind me. My skin flared. I turned, wishing I’d brought a can of pepper spray. However, it was only an old man, a cap pulled over his head and a jacket made of wool and warmth hugging his frail body. “Are you okay?” I saw it in his eyes. He thought I was here to stumble over like the others before and after Sarah. Jumpers.
“I’m fine,” I said sharply, hoping I could convince both him and myself. The voice didn’t sound like mine. It sounded hollow. “I’m fine.”
“You know, this is a bit of a strange time to be out on this old thing.” He blinked.
“Why are you here then?” My voice came meek this time, betraying me. So much for acting tough.
He lit a cigarette, his old hands wrinkled and big. The smoke rose through the air in swirls, like I imagined that blue water to do when a body fell into it. Ripples, each defined and sharp. “I’m here because it’s the anniversary.” Then I noticed his hand trembling. He glanced up, his blue eyes watery and old.
Had he lost someone he loved? Well, obviously he had. He seemed torn-up, but for some reason, it seemed as if there were something else. The fogginess swirled around us, draping us so we were alone together.
I’d stopped moving for once. I could feel the unease seep into my soul. The disgust plagued me. Why did this seem so utterly familiar, especially this particular spot? Restless.
“Me too.” Soft. Sarah would have been ashamed. You’re anything but soft. You’re my big sister, and I know you more than anyone else. She would have poked my arm and smiled too, because she loved me and I loved her more. This is what I wanted, remember? Don’t be sad because I made my choice.
The old man was surprised. He placed a weathered hand on the railing. His chest heaved as he looked down. “It took me years to come out here. Years and years. When I came, I knew this was better than visiting that gravesite. ‘Under every tombstone is a story.’ It didn’t ring true this time. This is where it happened, so this is where I come now.”
My hand, a little thinker all on its own, wiped a stray tear from my cheek.
“I don’t mean to keep you long.”
“Sometimes,” he said, the smoke infiltrating my own lungs, “sometimes, I can see how easy it is for them. What drives them to do such a thing.”
I was quiet.
“It’s like this fog. It chokes you until you can’t see anymore. So what do you do? You either wait until you find the light—which might never come—or you go find the sun. It’s a very simple proposition. No matter what, though, it seems we’re always roaming.”
A murkiness ebbed over my mind, like an eraser swiping across a chalkboard, leaving a filmy wave of dust in its wake. The images in my mind were painful like raw slices of flesh. They were very, very personal.
Sarah had been nineteen when she jumped, and while it had been the culmination of a billion little acts leading up to that one point, I refused to let her deathdefine her. She had been a jack-of-all-trades, popular and nerdy, blonde and relatable, happy-go-lucky. She was the girl who offered a pen to those who needed one, and she offered to drive twenty minutes away to pick up a friend before school. Some hated her for her kindness, and others loved her for her generosity.
Though I was the older sister, people always said to me, “Oh, your sister is Sarah Nolan! What is it like?”
I’d look at them and smile, offended but understanding, and say, “It’s rough at times, but I can’t complain.”
In reality, I didn’t remember much about myself. I knew the basics: I hated bananas and had an affinity for queso dip; I had dark red hair that looked purplish in certain lighting; I wanted to be a doctor because my grandma had been one.
But what’s really there?
It didn’t feel familiar to think of myself so personally. It was as if my mind had closed itself up tight so I couldn’t see into myself.
One thing was for certain: Sarah was my best friend. When I turned twelve and she was nine, we hiked into this lush copse of trees behind our house, even though we both hated the outdoors. We walked nearly half a mile to a little babbling brook, where she’d jumped over the water with ease. It was barely wider than three feet, so it gave her added esteem.
“Look! I can jump over it!”
As she leaped back over, her foot caught, and she sliced the top of her ankle at the tip of her sock. There hadn’t been much blood, but it still pained her. She’d cried crocodile tears and made me carry her all the way back home. It was funny that I didn’t remember her ever telling me this, but the real reason she’d made me carry her was something besides her alleged injury. Under that emerald canopy, she had wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “You know, I don’t think I’d trade you, even if I could. Also, why don’t I have blue eyes?”
“Thanks, sis. Also, it’s genetics,” I’d said, enunciating that last word with precision. Never would I trade Sarah for the world, either.
In the present, the old man studied me like I was science. Quickly I turned on my heel and left. My body shook as one foot followed the next. It was a little rhythm for a moment, until I found my hands clenching the railing, the skin turning deathly white. I realized I was wailing. Some people probably thought I was a lunatic. I didn’t care.
“Sarah!” My lungs burned. “Why did you leave me like this?” Each whimper wracked my chest. “How couldyou?” The phrases came out jumbled. Slobber dribbled down my chin. How long had it been since she’d died? Time was scrambled like eggs in my brain. I knew the day she died like the back of my hand. It was the anniversary today, wasn’t it? How long ago, though? Years and years?
This is what I wanted, remember? I wanted to leave this place.
The afternoon before she jumped, Sarah had been herself, at least for a little while. My parents asked me to take her out around San Francisco, where I went to graduate school. “It’ll be good for her. She needs you to reallybe there.” It was true: We’d grown apart, as often happens with human beings. I had school and a burgeoning career, while Sarah had high school and all its activities. Her entire life had been based around the idea of attending one of the UC schools, and then, one late night, she’d told my parents, “I don’t want that anymore.”
Even though she didn’t want it, she did agree to try it out. She left college within a month and found herself lonely most of the time. It seemed like everyone was headed into very different directions, and she was stationary.
So, remembering that one day at the babbling brook where I was her little savior, I decided a day out together would be nice.
Sarah and our parents lived in sunny Santa Barbara, so we met halfway, and then I showed her the sights: the fishy smell at the Fisherman’s Wharf, the busyness at Union Square, my favorite restaurant in Chinatown. We shopped and dined like nothing was amiss, like my sister hadn’t been depressed for the past few months, like we still didn’t understand why. I bought her a little windblown butterfly painted lilac and teal. She’d cradled it in her palms and said, “Thank you,” but it wasn’t what she’d said—it was how she’d said it. It was the brokenness I felt as I remembered that day. It was the bittersweet happiness. I loved my sister. I would never do anything to hurt her.
I wanted this.
We did not go to the Bridge that day. Of course we saw it, how could you not? It was out there, and I made references to it. I chatted like my life depended on this conversation, when it was really the other way around. “Look at it, Sare! Can’t you see it? What a testament to humanity!”
Her eyes became vacant when their gaze landed on that Bridge. Maybe it was my memory of that day that created this vision. Maybe she understood she would fling herself from there. I finally stopped mentioning the Bridge altogether.
That night, underneath a cloak of crystal-clear sky, Sarah vanished from my studio apartment in the heart of the city. The next morning, I found my keys missing and my car gone. The terror that pounded through my veins was murderous itself, but somehow, I pulled myself together for that morning. Somehow, I called my parents and told them Sarah had vanished with my car, and I wasn’t sure where she was. Somehow, that morning, when the cops greeted me with blank stares and said, “We think your sister has jumped off the Bridge,” I managed to pass out and become hospitalized for a week straight.
Sometimes, I saw visions of her standing with me, like she had stayed on Earth. She never stayed in the same place for long, as if the movement she had craved her entire life had suddenly been given to her. These visions were nothing more than dreams, perhaps. Weird things happened in hospitals.
The honest truth was Sarah Nolan, my beautiful sister, had been a jumper. In my study of those like her in the years afterward, I knew the statistics like the back of my hand. Only 2% of jumpers survive impact. That alone was enough to elicit the pain inside me. Sarah Nolan had become a statistic, even though she could never be defined by this fact. To me, she’d always be my little sister, the only person in the world for whom I’d die.
Out in the distance, a little sliver of light began to peek through the endless grayness.
Someone in the distance cried, “Help! Help!” It was from the direction where I’d met the old man.
A woman clutched her lover. They were locked in some sort of weird embrace, staring at a man standing on the ledge of the beam. The woman shouted, “She’s going to do it! She’s going to jump! Help! Help!” It was like a spotlight had been cast on them for a moment, highlighting their terror. She? But it’s a guy on that ledge.
Like a slap to the face, I opened my eyes and saw the spotlight—and that couple—was gone. One moment they were there, and the next… It was almost as if it had been a memory, listening to the screams and the fear and the desperation from them.
Then two perfectly blue eyes filled my vision. Two very familiar blue eyes. Blue the color of azure ice. They were smiling eyes. Happy eyes. The last image I’d seen before I hit the steely water.
They weren’t Sarah’s. They were Leah’s. They were mine?
Shake it off. Help the guy!
Now, before me, this new jumper was shaking uncontrollably, his body wobbling as he hung onto the support beam. Tears dripped down his face, but it was impossible to tell if it was the condensation or not.
I imagined Sarah watching from above. What had she been thinking before it happened? Sadly, I realized the strip of gold in the sky had diminished completely, almost like a dying ember. Yet the ember had begun to burn inside my heart, and I felt her with me, and I understood she wanted me to live my life since she didn’t have the chance anymore. But this wasn’t just about me.
The young man clutched the support beam, the zest in his eyes gone, the vacancy becoming mortality. “This is what I want!”
“No, trust me! It’s not!” I reached out a hand to him, praying he’d take it.
Down the road, I saw the old man turning back. The mist began to swirl around him so that he looked like he was disappearing from this jagged earth. Sometimes, I can see how easy it is for them. What drives them to do such a thing. He began to step closer and closer to us until I heard, very slowly, “You don’t know what it’s like.”
I glanced up, my heart rocking back and forth in my chest. The young man’s mouth was wide open, his shame and terror as evident as the foggy day. He stared directly at me.
“You can’t stop me,” he said tearfully, a collection of sobs blanketing the air around us. Those words were hauntingly familiar.
The spotlight returned, just for a moment, so I could see that couple who had tried to talk me off the support beam. This couldn’t be just an overactive imagination anymore. They had tried to save me.
It was my choice to save him.
I raised my hands defensively. “No, I can’t, but you can stop yourself.”
“Don’t even try! I’ve already made up my mind.” His voice was hard. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of his jacket.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the old man approaching steadily, his eyes sullen and grotesque, as if he were watching his own death sentence. He hobbled like his life depended on this one mission, this ability to be part of this distinct event.
I heard their voices again. It was like their screams came deep within my core, within a well of pent-up knowledge. That woman shouted, “Just come down from there! Come down!”
The wailing subsided. It went silent. The old man and I exchanged a solemn look as we waited for the young man’s next move. He tugged on his shirt over and over again. “So now people start to care?” His words were like chains to his audience. What could we do to free him? What could he do to free us?
I realized my legs had stopped moving. I was standing in one position.
I had once asked that question, simply in passing to my sister. It had been a dreary day when we were both in high school. It had been a good day for us, I thought, since our parents had let us drive to Oxnard for the afternoon by ourselves. It had been a beautiful day, one spent along the majesty of that turbulent, mysterious Pacific. Simply, she sprained an ankle, and it cut the day short. She’d been so angry after that, I wanted to slap her (but when did I not?). When we returned home, our parents fawned over their little girl. My chilling words had been, “So now people start to care? This matters—but everything else doesn’t?”
I found my voice then. The young man was staring down, waiting for one of us to rise above and be brave. “Yes!” I moved a step closer, believing deep down he wouldn’t hurl himself into that abyss just yet. “Yes, we care!”
The young man seemed surprised. He said nervously, “I don’t think so.”
“If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t be standing here watching you do this.” My own voice was keen. The toughness had returned. The ability to wallow diminished, the ability to soar returned. Sarah had killed herself like this, by jumping off this Bridge, and there had been many before her—and many after her—who had done the same thing.
“We can’t stop you,” I said pointedly, “but think of your family. Think of what it would do to them to see you up here.” Why does this sound so familiar?
He cocked his head at me. “I don’t have family.”
“You have to have someone.”
The old man’s presence behind me sharpened my senses. He stared up at the situation, but he was deathly quiet, almost as if he weren’t really there. I turned my head and pressed on the old man’s winter coat. He turned toward me, something fierce in his eyes. He blinked, and then we both focused on the jumper.
“You can’t jump!” I screamed, my voice like broken glass. It didn’t sound quite like me. It sounded muffled by the pain in the air, the chill of the afternoon.
The young man shook his head. “I… I don’t know what’s real anymore.”
It came back into focus.
The toasty smiles.
The couple on the bridge.
My own tears as I stood above the Bay, watching those blue waves crash into each other.
There is something about a memory that can trigger an explosion. The shrapnel rammed into me like I was being pushed off the Bridge. “I… Leah, I don’t know what’s real anymore.” My hand instinctively reached up to touch the curvature of my neck.
The gold necklace.
It hung against my neck.
I opened the locket. A picture of Leah, with her big blue eyes, was enclosed.
The shocking reality of the situation hit me like a train at full speed, as if I had been left on the tracks like a little cocoon of a human. This Bridge, the ethereality of it all, the vividness of terror—and that gold chain.
It had been a gift from my sister.
I knew Leah, my beautiful sister, who taught me to believe in mermaids and starfish and cerulean seas. Leah—my sweet Leah. The memories came over me. The happiness from that afternoon before I gave it all away. This was my grief, my penance, my hell: To remember what I’d done to her, how reckless I’d been, how I hadn’t sought help beforehand. My Leah was out there, somewhere, her life being lived. She no doubt wondered about me. She no doubt had sorrow, and strife, and her own demons, too. Leah, I wanted to scream, I pray you got over this.
I turned toward the old man. He stared at me with recognition. He must be dead, too. He must have jumped—just like me. We both turned toward the man on the ledge, his eyes now glassy and vacant. The sky behind him seemed livid with rage. I said, quite carefully, “What is your name?”
“Jonah, you can step down now. Here, take my hand.” We made contact, and he stared at me like he believed he was crazy. Was this reality or not? The only thing that mattered was his understanding that some people do actually care.
“What is your name? Your hands are so cold!” he exclaimed. Behind him, a light suddenly brightened. It may have been my “overactive” imagination. It could have been a memory. It could have been God calling us home. Whatever it was, it reminded me of my sister.
I finally remembered the answer to his question. A warming smile tickled my lips. “My name’s Sarah.”
Here is another writing sample from me. 🙂 I wrote this short story for my first creative writing class in October 2016. The writing exercise was actually pretty cool: My professor had us choose two slips of paper from a cup, and we had to write a story based on these two slips. What were my words?
Somber and Golden Gate Bridge.
I remember thinking, Gulp.
And then everything came to me, like a lightning bolt.
I hope you all enjoyed this short story. “Jump” isn’t the most light-hearted, but I hope there were good takeaways from it, and I really encourage all of you to listen to those around you. We meet people for a reason, and there are so many who could use a friend. Therefore, please be willing to lend a hand, and do your part to be kind to all with whom you come in contact.
You must learn to let people go. You must learn to do this so that you will live, so that you will have the opportunities I desperately wished for you.
I love you, Abigail, but I’m afraid it’s too late.
GREEN, GREEN, GREEN, the color all around me. For an endless pop of seconds, I can’t see anything but green, and my eyes are desperate for anything—anybody—else, and I’m wailing, screaming, howling at the moon, and when I realize it’s a stupid idea to do that, I bite on my knuckle, as hard as I can, silencing my cries.
My brain’s on fire, my body flailing like the husk of a snake. Tears are streaming down my face. Some people feel resolute, ready, when they are called to die, when life slips through them and heads into the next soul, but I’m not that kind of person. I’m selfish. I want my time on Earth, and I want as much of it as possible.
“Not yet!” I scream, and though I want to furl into myself, I spread out, and I’m scared senseless, but I can think of nothing less than escape. Than saying one last I love you before it’s too late, before I never get the chance again. And I know—trust me, I know—that being left behind is even more excruciating than the act of dying itself.
THE FIRST THING my mother said to me when I moved back into my childhood home at the age of twenty-seven was simple: “How long before your next job?”
I smiled, but my heart was heavy, and my wallet was not. “A few weeks, tops.” And I said it smugly, with gusto, pride.
“Are you sure about that?” she asked, her eyes narrowed like slits, lifting a mug of hot coffee to her lips. She always had the uncanny ability to see right through me.
“Trust me,” I said, because I want out of here as much as you do.
She nodded in approval, which somehow caused her to drop the mug. It shattered and sliced her foot open. It was her favorite one, the one I bought in Uruguay when I was nineteen and studying abroad. Now it was blasted to smithereens.
But the weeks started to vanish by, each moment like an unseen ghost, and there was nothing for me to do in our town. No copy editor positions open, not since the decade before; no need for journalists, because the news always seemed to be the same. I’m not even a journalist, but I know how to report on the things I see, the things I feel, and there was nothing for me. I applied for everything, including a cash register position at a nearby Hobby Lobby store.
After days and days of sluggish non-activity, I grew more and more frustrated. Writers don’t have much option in life, except to find an agent and publish a novel. And if you’re really serious, maybe you can go get a job as a librarian, try out slam poetry, be the next Sylvia Plath. Grab a guitar and write some songs, wait for a label to pick your name out of a hat. But that’s not what I’m about. I’m not your normal writer who gets high off manuscripts and coffee and the buzz of an unseen world and strong, admirable heroes. In fact, I don’t even like writing. It’s just something I happened to get good grades in when I went to school, which doesn’t really help post-college. And, if we’re being honest, the real reason I was a writer—back then, at least—was because it allowed me to go places.
One night, about two months into my stay at my mother’s home, which certainly wasn’t my childhood home anymore, I opened my laptop and dragged the cursor over countless photo albums.
SOUTH AFRICA 2016.
FLORIDA KEYS (round 2) 2014.
SAN ANTONIO 2018.
Since I had hours to kill and nothing better to do, I pushed myself through every album on that computer, the files like sudden snaps of memory. My fingers traced outlines of Scandinavian fjords and English crags, Caribbean islands and flat mesas across the American heartland. My mind was on fire, my eyes ripe with tears. There were photos of South American cuisine and my attempt at riding the hump of a camel in the Jordanian desert to Petra. I stood on Swiss cliffs and Hawaiian volcanoes. It was another woman I saw on the computer. An unrecognizable woman. Certainly not me.
But as soon as I came across the album dedicated to him, I slammed the computer shut and threw the expensive piece of technology against the wall. I had to cover the hole it left with a poster of cats I bought for ten bucks at Walmart. At least my mother would appreciate it if she ever stumbled into my childhood room again. She’d think it similar to his favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, but I don’t get to escape like the clever Andy Dufresne.
It isn’t easy, losing your passion at twenty-seven, when you’re one of the top travel writers in the United States. It isn’t easy getting fired for losing your brain, for losing your love of adventure, when you suddenly have the desire to hole yourself up in your room for hours at a time and cover the windows with black curtains. It sure isn’t easy when you lose who you are, what makes you tick and survive off a bone-crunching salary, but hey, you get a lot of airline miles stored up. You could always surprise your coffee-addled mother and take her to Montego Bay. But that’s only if your mother likes you and can leave the house. Not if she hates you, which my mother does.
The day after throwing my computer at the wall, I snagged a job at a gift shop in the country, where I became a sort of therapist for my customers. I learned about rich Southern aristocrats who’d been in the area for centuries, and I found myself in political discussions where I hid my ideologies. I made about the same amount I did in high school, barely over Tennessee’s minimum wage. But it made me feel safe and comfortable, working there, wrapping little pottery dishes in pink tissue paper, handing presents to the very few souls who chanced upon the store.
“What’s a girl like you doing here?” asked one brave woman, whose name I have since forgotten. It’s not important. They loved to tell me their names, and I forgot them just as quickly as I’ve forgotten the files on my computer.
There were moments when I suddenly clung back to the woman I was. When I saw a little teacup and it reminded me of India; when I found myself in a field of sunflowers and remembered London streets in the springtime. And moments when somebody would say, expecting a true, honest, distinct Southern answer: “What’s a girl like you doing here?”
The one brave woman meant the question about my career choice. But it hit me in the head, the fact that I was in a small, Podunk town. A town five miles from my mother’s house, when I’d spent the past decade traveling around the world, never settling down, never ever wanting to. Never needing to, either, because I was one of the lucky ones. Somebody who got to do what she loved and was paid to do it.
“I don’t know,” I said, though it came out like a squeak, like a mouse. I’m not a mouse. You need to know that now.
The woman who asked me the question did not have a response for me. She could see the faraway look in my eye, and she took her gift and her receipt and jetted out of the store in her periwinkle blue flats. She was beautiful, married, and a mother. She had her creed, and I had mine.
I cried for an hour after she left. Luckily no one came by the store in that hour, but I—who had never been a crier before in my life—suddenly felt like a well had broken loose in my soul. It was like my organs had burst and drained me in their juices. I couldn’t stop crying until I crammed my stomach full of cold pizza that tasted like the bottom of my shoe.
As I reapplied my mascara (I had to look presentable for my older clientele), the bell above the door tinkled, and I was alone no longer.
Though I preferred the solitude of the store, when the hours slugged by and there was nothing but me and the sound of the broken radio speakers, this was something different altogether. My boredom was sucked dry, and in its place was a sort of abysmal fear, a sort of primal awareness that I cannot even begin to describe. My intuition is sharp, or at least I pretend it is, and I felt like a cat ripped from its pride. I was suddenly damaged by a pain that crushed my skull, and it all happened so fast that I was certain I would pass out. There was the sudden awareness that I was alone, and no one would be there to help me if I needed it.
The woman was strange. She walked in, and her shoulders were severely slumped, like she had been mashed to an utmost insecurity. Her hair was strawberry colored and was tucked away in a ratty ponytail. Wisps of the strawberry strands puffed out all around, the baby hairs like flagella. Her lips were pursed so tightly that I could not imagine her ever smiling, not once in her life. Her eyes were a light green, like fading grass, and the whites around them were yellowing with age. Crow feet striated the skin around her eyelids, and I was struck by the realization that this woman was actually beautiful, even though I was noticing her flaws first and foremost. Despite this, she was gorgeous, and it was so strange, because beautiful people are normally confident, right? But this woman… It was as if she had been used to so many bricks on her shoulders that she’d physically shrunken and coiled into herself for protection.
I was so struck by her, so awed and fearing her so deeply, that I said nothing. It was my job to welcome people into this store, and since people were few and far between, this was my second probable sale of the day, and I needed to woo her, charm her to gain her credit card numbers, but I couldn’t say anything. I was too struck.
She didn’t look at me at first. She glided around, pushing her fingers against silver wind chimes, so that the spookiness was even more surreal, this time in the form of music. It was as if the sun had fallen away, and there was a gathering of gray clouds outside. I wondered if I would have to drag in the outdoor embellishments in case of rain.
Eventually, the woman curled around toward me. It was sharp, as if I was nothing, and then I was everything. Her eyes pierced into my own, flailing me open like I was a burning fish, hot on the frying pan. She stared at me with a beaming curiosity that seemed impossible from such a shrunken figure as she, and when a little grin stretched across her cracked, peeling lips, I felt like she could kill me, right here and right now, and I wouldn’t even scream.
“What is your name, dear?” she asked, her voice clear and professional. It was a melodic tune, as if she’d had years and years of training, and how would I be able to tell this fact if I’d just heard her ask one question?
“Abigail,” I said in return, though I knew I looked like one in defeat, one in submission. But what battle had I just fought? Was it internal, my keeping quiet, a steady defense against the woman in my store? Maybe my boredom had churned itself so deeply into my brain, that I couldn’t resist creating this elaborate fear toward the woman.
“Abigail,” she said, and it flared my skin. I glanced down and saw red splotches all up and down my arms. “Abigail is a classical name. A traditional name.”
“Abigail Ross,” I said back, and I cursed myself for giving out more information, but I knew she was going to ask anyway.
“Very Americana,” she whispered back, turning away, stroking a slip of baby blue pottery. There was dust on her finger, and she blew it away with paper-thin lips. “Well, Miss Abigail Ross, what is a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Ageism does exist, just like racism and sexism and discrimination. It always will, when hearts are rotten by the germs of our culture. But here I found myself speculating as to how old this mystery woman was in the shop, out of my own curiosity. I couldn’t tell if she was spectacularly old, or younger than myself. I wondered if this would change my opinion of her, knowing whether she was old or young, and I bit my tongue as I remembered the question she’d just speared at me.
She glanced up and waited.
“Why are you here, Miss Ross?” The woman suddenly slammed her palms against the countertop, and a deep red bloomed across her angered skin. She was staring into my soul with intention, and it threw me for a loop. I stumbled back and my back brushed against the wall. Noting my terror, she moved away and started chuckling to herself.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” I sputtered, wishing I had 9-1-1 already plugged into my phone. It was possible she’d lunge across the counter and grab me by the jugular. “Why am I here?”
“Yes. Why are you here?”
“I needed a job,” I said, and I prayed somebody else would enter the store, anybody who could save me from this. I still couldn’t tell if I was making up the fear, or if it was real, and that is more terrifying than the act of fear itself.
“You need a job?” she asked, and another haunting smile lit up her face, like a bolt of lightning on Halloween. So much for assuming she couldn’t smile. She cocked her head at me, and I wondered how I’d analyzed her slumped, insecure posture, and now she seemed nothing but the most confident, self-assured woman on the planet. Her teeth flashed in my direction, butter yellow like corn, and she continued: “You’re a writer, aren’t you? Writers always have a look to them. It’s their eyes, maybe. It’s what’s in their eyes.”
“Really?” I asked in disbelief.
“No,” she said with a cocksure wink. She slid her finger against the pottery again, enjoying the feel of the dust on the skin. “The truth is that I heard some ladies talking about you at the restaurant next door. Now don’t grow mad, please. Every woman participates in the gossip wheel at some point, and since it’s a wheel, you’re bound to get caught in it sometimes.”
“And… What were they saying?” I knew I was red with shame, wondering what I did wrong.
The woman had me in her snare. “That you’re not like the women from these parts. That you don’t have the refined accent from years of practice. But they say the same thing about me, and I’ve lived here for ages.”
“Why do they say that?”
“About you? Because they’re jealous. About me? Because they’re scared.”
I had no idea what to say. I was growing more relaxed, but there was still the underlying rush of adrenaline flowing through my veins, and the woman was chuckling to herself again. She shook her head, and I caught a glimpse of a star-shaped freckle on her jawline.
“You can do better, Abigail Ross,” she said to herself, and I could tell she had places to be, other thoughts to think. “Much better.”
And with that, she turned on her heel, and the gray clouds seemed to lift, and the hot, draining sunlight was bursting through the windows again. I hurried to the window, watching as she disappeared into the nothingness, because there was no car around, and she was gone, gone, gone, and I wanted nothing but to leave too, and I thought back to my mother:
“How long before your next job?”
By the Skin of My Teeth is a project I worked on this past summer, and it was incredibly fun to write, because it challenged my writing skills. This was my first attempt at a psychological thriller (and Southern Gothic as well), and it showed me the value in trying new things. (As you guys know, I primarily write romance and magical realism.)
To give you guys a little backstory, Abigail Ross is a talented travel writer who experiences a dramatic loss. When she loses the will to write, she takes a mysterious job from a woman named Josephine Ashley, the owner of a dilapidated Antebellum mansion. Nothing is as it seems…
Therefore, I thought it would be a little fun to preview the first chapter of the book while I query to agents and attempt to get this bad boy published. Of course, who knows what will happen with that, but why not try? If I can’t get it agented, I will publish the book online within the next six months.
I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but maybe I will offer snippets of the next chapters in following blog posts. Leave your feedback and comments, please!