This past weekend marked my 11th round of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to compete. I’m currently immersed in the latest draft of my novel, and shifting gears pained me. It pained me even more when I received my score for the first round of this year’s contest.
Okay, okay. That’s not horrible considering I’ve never attempted to write pure comedy, and comedy is one of the most subjective genres out there.
Low score aside, I still had fun this weekend. Well, mostly…
As a quick reminder, NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. All competitors get to compete in two of the four rounds. This past weekend was the second round, which kicked off at 10 p.m. (MST) Friday when prompts were released.
First impressions of my group’s prompts:
Location: Waterfront esplanade
Object: Animal horn
When I saw my prompts, I went through a myriad of emotions all at once: horror, amusement, irritation, confusion. I mean, seriously, what the heck is an esplanade? I had to google it before I could do anything else. (FYI, an esplanade is “a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk.”)
Once I had my location prompt figured out, I turned to the main matter at hand: brainstorming a plot.
Per usual, I talked things out with my favorite writing critic: my mom. For the first time ever, we didn’t banter back and forth on how to approach the prompts. I already knew the general direction I wanted to take.
Yeah, yeah fantasy lovers. I know Gollum isn’t a goblin. However, I decided a long time ago that if I ever received fantasy in this contest, I’d write about a Gollum-goblin-like character. So, I did!
Next, I had to figure out the “animal horn” prompt. Obviously, my first thought was, “Unicorn!” I’m sure it was everyone else’s too, so I stayed far away from that and brainstormed other possibilities. As I did, my seven-year-old nephew curled up next to me with his tablet and watched one of his favorite videos: “Giant God Warrior” (a Japanese short fantasy monster action film). I stared at the creepy creature on screen, studied its horned back, and voila! I had an idea!
Well, sort of.
I packed up my computer and went home. By this point, it was approaching 1 a.m. and I’d been up since 4 a.m. So…yeah. The second I got home, I collapsed in bed and stayed there much longer than I usually do during these contests.
Once I found the motivation to get up on Saturday and start writing, my internet crashed. GAHHH! That threw me for a loop since I needed to do some much needed research on goblins.
[Cue twiddling thumbs, cleaning house, texting friends…]
An hour later, the internet returned, along with my focus. I sat down and spent the rest of the day hammering out a first draft. Mid-afternoon, my mom showed up to read what I’d come up with and help me chop over 600 words (doh!).
My favorite part of the contest occurred when my mom and I tried to think of names for my characters and the fantastical world they lived in: Letchmo. Catastrafo. Fodhopper. Evilgore. Mcnasty!
After we pulled ourselves together (and found a few serious names), my mom left and I sent a draft off to my beta readers. On Sunday morning, I awoke to their feedback. To my surprise, they liked it–much more than I thought they would.
I fixed the big problems, chopped the remaining 200 words I needed to chop in order to meet the word count limit, and submitted my story.
Was fantasy my favorite genre? No. Did I like the story I came up with? Yes. It’s not my favorite NYCM entry, but I’m proud to present it to the judges, my competitors, and, maybe someday, a publisher.
For those interested, here’s my title and synopsis:
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Zili, a gentle goblin, wishes to walk in the light as a man. A horned creature grants his wish . . . and more.
If you’d like to read my entire entry, let me know and I’ll send you the password.
Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!
Photo Credits: giphy
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Neil Gaiman book signing.
And. It. Was. Epic!
It all began when a friend posted about the event on Facebook. At first, I hesitated because:
- The signing landed on a work day.
- It was at Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins (about an hour and a half north of where I live).
- I didn’t want to go alone…Yep, I can be a scaredy cat who needs someone to hold her hand when she’s completely out of her element.
My resistance, however, crumbled when my friend solved two of my three dilemmas. He offered both company and a ride. I happily scheduled the day off of work and spent the next two weeks preparing myself to meet one of the most influential, inspiring, and creative authors around.
Yes. An adventure…
Dear God! I had no idea the book signing would be such an adventure. I completely underestimated Neil Gaiman’s popularity.
The epic day began when my friend and I departed Denver at 1 p.m. With the signing starting at 4 p.m., we figured this would give us plenty of time to deal with traffic, drive to Fort Collins, find the bookstore, and get a decent place in line.
Yeah, wishful thinking!
As we pulled up to the bookstore, I asked, “Is that the line?”
“Yeah, I think so.” My friend looked equally shocked by the crowd stretching from the bookstore’s entrance, down the sidewalk, and around the building. We parked the car, hurried across the street, and searched for the end of the line.
And searched…And searched…And searched…
Seriously! There were so many people. I couldn’t believe it.
We finally found the end of the line and hopped in. While we waited for the signing to begin, we marveled at Gaiman’s popularity, the ever growing line, and the eclectic crowd. It seemed everyone and their brother loved Neil Gaiman.
As my friend and I discussed some of Gaiman’s work, a woman behind us jumped into our conversation. Then the guy behind her jumped in as well. And, before we knew it, we were in a small chattering group.
Side note: It always amazes me how quickly book nerds bond. You can be total strangers one minute and best friends the next.
After about an hour, the line started moving.
An enthusiastic cheer went up!
…And then quickly died when we only moved a few feet.
Yeah, in that moment, I knew it was going to be a loooooong afternoon. But, hey, at least it was warm! We’d lucked out with the weather that day–an unseasonably warm 75 degrees!
In fact, it was so warm, I’d decided to leave my jacket at home. Why would I need one when I’d be back in the car by the time the sun set?
Yet another idiotic assumption on my part.
For the first three or so hours in line, I was relatively comfortable. My feet hurt a little, I was a tad hungry, and a bathroom break would’ve been nice. But nothing major. I could easily deal with it all.
Then the sun slowly set…
As the temperatures slipped and the first shiver hit me, my friend kindly offered to go get his jacket for me in his car. And what did I say? “Nah, I’m good. But, thanks.”
Gah! I’m so stupid and stubborn and stupid!
Note to self: It’s okay to accept help from others. You don’t have to suffer because you’re too proud to show weakness.
Thankfully, a bookstore employee came by with hand warmers and I was able to use them to heat up my hands, arms, and feet (don’t ask about the feet; my plan failed). I also tried to–subtly–steal body heat from those around me by scooting closer and closer.
Actually, the chilly weather became a bit of a joke amongst our group. As the hours wore on, we realized the line wasn’t moving. It was just condensing from all the people huddling together.
Anyway, being cold was by far the toughest part of the experience for me. Sure, I was hungry. And, yeah, I had to use the bathroom. And, duh, my feet, back, and head hurt. But it was the cold that nearly did me in.
Thank God for the amazing people keeping me company in line. If it hadn’t been for their entertaining conversation, relatable sense of humor, and (semi) fanatical enthusiasm, I would’ve given up on the five hour journey to the bookstore’s entrance.
Yes, you read that correctly. Five hours! And it took another hour of windy-weaving through the bookstore to reach Neil Gaiman.
As we drew closer and closer to the famous author, my nerves got worse and worse. I had no idea what I wanted to say when I handed him my book: “You’re an inspiration.” Or, “Thank you for all your advice to aspiring authors.” Or, “I love your work!” Or…?
Everything I thought of sounded dumb and cliche. And the closer we got to Gaiman, the more I panicked.
Finally, I decided to mimic those in front of me with a short and sweet, “Thank you.” Yeah, not exactly the most eloquent or memorable thing to say, but at least I wouldn’t embarrass myself with an epic fangirl moment: I’m, like, your biggest fan, like, EVER! That would’ve been mortifying. And, also, untrue. Yes, I’m a Gaiman fan, but no, I’m not the biggest one. I’m pretty sure that lofty title goes to a guy in our group. After he got his book signed, he looked ready to pass out.
As for me, well. I honestly can’t even tell you what happened when it was my turn to meet Neil Gaiman. I vaguely remember leaning in for a picture, and I think I stuttered through a pathetic “Thank you”, but other than that, I have no idea. I likely looked like an overwhelmed, OMG!, dazed moron.
Once I had my book signed, I staggered over to the exit to wait for my friend and the rest of our group. I’m not sure if it was exhilaration, exhaustion, or a combo of the two, but I had the worst urge to giggle. I couldn’t believe I’d just met Neil Gaiman!
I opened my book and admired his signature.
Once everyone had their books signed, we left the bookstore. By then, it was almost 10 pm. Sheesh!
After a failed trip to Starbucks (grrr, so annoyed they’d already closed for the night!), and a farewell to our buddies from the line, my friend and I returned to his car and made the trip home.
Later, as I collapsed in bed, I laughed and thought, “Did that really just happen?” Of all the ways for that day to go, I hadn’t expected it to go that way. But, you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing…Well, maybe I would’ve accepted my friend’s jacket, lol. But, besides that and the discomfort of standing in line for over six hours, I enjoyed every second of the Neil Gaiman book signing.
February 6th, 2015 will definitely go down as one of the funnest, craziest, and most adventurous days of my life. Thank you to those who stood in line with me and kept me distracted and motivated. And thank you to Neil Gaiman for being such a creative, inspiring, and patient author. I don’t know how you signed that many books without your hand falling off! Truly amazing.
If you’d like to read more about Neil Gaiman and his work, click here!
It seems lately whenever I bring up one of my favorite books/series, people respond with a blank stare, a careless shrug, or, worst of all, an “I’ve never heard of it” type of comment. AHHH! So, I decided it’s time for me to give you the heads up on some books you MUST read if you haven’t.
Jen’s Top 10 “How Have You NOT Read This?” YA Books
1. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
On average, I read a book a week. AKA, I read a lot. However, no matter how many pages I turn, or how many stories I finish, Daughter of Smoke & Bone remains one of my favorites of all time. And it’s troubling how few people are even aware of it. No offense to Hunger Games or Twilight, or even Divergent, but I wish the mass population would revere this story. Simply put, it’s awesome. Daughter of Smoke & Bone has everything a reader craves: intrigue, romance, humor, and, of course, adventure.
So go read it! And be sure to spread the word how awesome it is.
Check out my full review here!
2. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
Check out my full review here!
3. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Believe it or not, there are still people in the world who haven’t read Harry Potter. *cue gasps* Every time I encounter one of these rare beings, they usually tell me, “Well, I tried watching the movies, but I just wasn’t into them.”
…That’s all I have to say about that.
4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
When people ask me, “What’s your favorite book?” I first glare at them, and then I tell them I don’t have a favorite (what book nerd does?). Then, when they still won’t leave me alone, I spout off a handful of memorable titles. The Book Thief is always on the list. Always. And it should be on yours! I promise, it’s a tale you’ll never forget.
Check out my full review here!
5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Barking spiders! You haven’t read the Leviathan series? Are you mad? What’s not to like? A round-the-world adventure? A would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne? A commoner girl disguised as a boy? Daring deeds? Fun? AMAZINGNESS!
Hey, all you sods, I can fly and you can’t! A natural airman, in case you haven’t noticed. And in conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m a girl and you can all get stuffed!
…Hmmm, I think even I need to go read this–again. So much fun!
Check out more about Leviathan here!
6. Legend by Marie Lu
In a nutshell, Legend is…
Read more about Legend here!
7. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Have you ever read a book as slow as possible? Because you’re dreading the end? Because you know when you turn that last page, the story will be over and you’ll be sad for days and days? Well, that’s how I felt while reading The 5th Wave. Although I’m not a huge fan of stories revolving around aliens, this one is both awesome and terrifying. It actually made me stop and think, “Oh crap. What if this actually happened?”
Dun, dun, dun…
I dare you to read it…Okay, forget the dare. I’m telling you to read it. Scoot, scoot.
Check out my full review here!
8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Rainbow Rowell is officially one of my favorite authors of all time. In fact, I had a difficult time choosing which of her novels to recommend. The truth is, I recommend all of them (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park, and Attachments). Rowell is a master at character development and writing stories that have meaning and relevance. Trust me, you won’t be the same after experiencing one–or all–of her books.
Check out my full review for Fangirl here!
9. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare
Adventure. Wit. Tears. Mystery. Romance…The Infernal Devices has it all! This prequel series to Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments is a MUST-READ! Especially if you’re looking for a new giddy book crush.
Oh, Will Herondale…
“How rude. Many who have gazed upon me have compared it to gazing at the radiance of the sun.”
Jem still had his eyes closed. “If they mean that it gives you a headache, they aren’t wrong.”
Read more about The Infernal Devices here!
10. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Check out my full review here!
Okay, I have about a hundred more books/series I could list, but I’ll end things here. Just take my word for it, these are books you MUST read! You won’t regret it.
What about you? What books make your “How Have You NOT Read This” YA book list?
Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi
“The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do–and they are just as determined to stay together.
Within the confines of a cave they’re using as a makeshift refuge, they struggle to reconcile their people, Dwellers and Outsiders, who are united only in their hatred of their desperate situation. Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. Then Roar arrives in a grief-stricken fury, endangering all with his need for revenge.
Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble an unlikely team for an impossible rescue mission. Cinder isn’t just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival–he’s also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most.
In this final book in her earth-shattering Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi raises the stakes to their absolute limit and brings her epic love story to an unforgettable close.”
Into the Still Blue was exactly what I wanted it to be: adventurous, romantic, suspenseful, addictive, surprising…Basically a perfect wrap up to a fantastic series!
Since this is the third and final book in the Under The Never Sky series, and since I despise spoilers, I’m going to keep this review short and sweet.
The characters were as likable and endearing as ever. The plot was tightly-woven, fast-paced, and plenty dramatic. The writing itself was crisp, smooth, and easy to follow. And the ending was–whoops! Not going there 😉 You’ll just have to read Into the Still Blue to find out for yourself how Veronica Rossi decided to conclude Aria and Perry’s tale.
I’ll just say this: If you enjoyed the first two books in the Under the Never Sky series, then you’ll definitely enjoy this one. And if you haven’t read any of the Under the Never Sky books yet, then I highly suggest you do, especially if you like dystopia and adventure.
Read more about Into the Still Blue here.
Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi
time for war.
Juliette has escaped to Omega Point. It is a place for people like her—people with gifts—and it is also the headquarters of the rebel resistance.
She’s finally free from The Reestablishment, free from their plan to use her as a weapon, and free to love Adam. But Juliette will never be free from her lethal touch.
Or from Warner, who wants Juliette more than she ever thought possible.
In this exhilarating sequel to Shatter Me, Juliette has to make life-changing decisions between what she wants and what she thinks is right. Decisions that might involve choosing between her heart—and Adam’s life.”
Overall, Unravel Me was
fine okay good. Did I love it as much as Shatter Me? Unfortunately, no. Shatter Me was better. A lot better.
In the first book of the Shatter Me series, the protagonist, Juliette, was uncertain, fragile, and scared. And in this sequel, she was uncertain, fragile, and scared. And I’m betting she’ll be uncertain, fragile, and scared in the third book, Ignite Me.
Yeah, obviously I’d
hoped wanted expected to see more character development with Juliette in Unravel Me. Her “I’m so scared and weak and useless” mindset quickly became frustrating. And what made it even more frustrating was in every chapter, she’d make some kind of vow to be “stronger” or “nicer” or “happier” after a pep talk/lecture from her friend, Kenji, or Omega Point’s leader, Castle…but then she’d encounter her boy toy, Adam, or she’d accidentally hurt someone, and she’d fall right back into her ol’ weepy, self-loathing ways. I hate to say it, but the only time I liked Juliette in this book was when she turned into that “monster” she feared. Then, she was cool insane badass.
On the plus side, I still
worship praise adore Tahereh Mafi’s writing style. I can’t tell you how many times I’d re-read a sentence/paragraph for its sheer beauty or imagery. “My fists are full of unlucky pennies and my heart is a jukebox demanding a few nickels and my head is flipping quarters heads or tails heads or tails heads or tails heads or tails.” Mafi truly has a magical touch (no pun intended) with words.
I also loved many of her secondary characters, especially Kenji and Warner. Kenji is just plain fun. In fact, he’s probably my favorite character in this entire book. Strong, daring, hilarious. Kenji rocks. However, his many “Ugh, Juliette! Will you stop whining/crying/beating yourself up/making out with Adam?” moments highlighted Juliette’s many faults.
As for Warner…
Unlike most, I fell in love with Warner in Shatter Me. I sensed there was more to him than
lunacy cruelty bloodlust. And there was! In Unravel Me, we discover many of Warner’s humanistic emotionally scarred delicate layers. However, as much as I love love love Warner, I don’t love love love his involvement in the love triangle with Juliette and Adam. It’s too reminiscent of Bella, Edward, and Jacob…Okay, quick side rant: Juliette is blindingly beautiful. Adam is blindingly beautiful. Warner is blindingly beautiful. Everyone is blindingly beautiful in this book! Why? And why does that beauty overshadow more important qualities like personality? I just don’t like it when a protagonist has serious emotional/personality problems, yet she’s desired by all because she’s “hot”.
Well, anyways. I know it may not seem like it, but I did enjoy this book. Yes, it’s flawed, but yes, it’s good. And yes, I’d recommend it. And yes, I’m planning to read the third book in the series, Ignite Me. But, if you LOVED Shatter Me, all I can say about Unravel Me is:
Cress by Marissa Meyer
“Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard.
In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.
Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.
When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.”
Well, that about sums up my feelings for Cress. Yippy, ya-hoo, woo-hoo, yea, yeah, yes! Seriously, can Marissa Meyer write a bad book? I mean it. I thought Cinder was great, Scarlet was amazing, and now Cress? Wow! I’ve never read a series that gets better and better and better. Not only is the story itself evolving at a highly satisfying pace, but it’s building upon a cast of characters that are some of my favorite characters of all time!
I won’t lie, Scarlet and Wolf remain my favorites in The Lunar Chronicles (and I was a little bummed those two didn’t play a more prominent role in Cress). However, I absolutely loved the main duo in this book: Cress and Captain Thorne.
I can’t even begin to tell you how endearing and amusing Cress is. This Rapunzel inspired character was a perfect combination of sweet and naive, and edgy and brave. Half the time I wanted to laugh and shake my head at her daydreamin’, romantic fantasies, while the other half I wanted to give her a high five and thank her for not being a total damsel in distress.
“A roar clawed up from her throat and she swung her elbow, as hard as she could, landing a solid hit against his jaw…She didn’t check to see if he was unconscious, or if she’d given him a heart attack, or if he was in any shape to get up and follow her. She wrenched open the door and ran.”
And then there’s Captain Thorne. (cue dippy sigh)
If you read Scarlet, then you’ve already been introduced to Captain Thorne. And if you didn’t fall in love with him then, I promise, you will in Cress. Through countless adventures and an unfortunate accident, Captain Thorne proves to be more than a charming, arrogant, self-centered fop. He shows us he’s also a genuine, patient, caring guy. And a man of his word.
“I’m going to die. And I’ve never been kissed.”
“Cress. Cress. You’re not going to die.”
“We were going to have such a passionate romance, too, like in the dramas. But no–I’ll die alone, never kissed, not once.”
…”I promise, I will not let you die without being kissed.”
Yeah…I think that calls for another dippy sigh, right gals? 😉
Really, everyone, I could go on and on and on about this book and the rest of The Lunar Chronicles. So, I’ll save my breath and simply urge you to go read it. Go read all of them. Now! Move it.
To read more about Cress, click here!
Here it is! My official entry for the 1st Round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. As many of you read here, this turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I anticipated. However, I’m satisfied with the final outcome. So enjoy. If you have feedback, I’d love to hear it!
Reminder, I had to write a 2,500 word short story based on this assignment:
by Jenna Willett
Brief Synopsis: A little boy escapes his mom’s wedding to hunt fairies and imaginary monsters in the forest. Little does he know there are real monsters in the shadows waiting to pounce and swallow him whole.
“Was that thunder?”
Charlie glanced up from his second slice of wedding cake and frowned at the pigtailed girl. Annie’s blue eyes were wide and focused on the sky beyond the white tent. The black night looked even blacker against the white tables, white candles and white flowers surrounding him. Even his white suit seemed to glow against the dark.
The little boy stared into the darkness with his best friend, but he didn’t see anything. “I dunno. Maybe it was a dragon?”
“Really?” Annie gasped.
Charlie nodded and took another bite of cake. When they’d first arrived at the ginormous mountain cabin yesterday, his mom had pointed at the misty forest bordering the manicured lawns and said, “Don’t go in there, okay? There’re monsters that’ll swallow you whole.” She’d snapped her teeth and ruffled his black hair. Charlie had stared at the swaying pines, fascinated. Real monsters to hunt, battle and slay? Awesome!
Unfortunately, his new stepdad hadn’t given him a chance to find one.
Charlie scowled across the wedding tent and wrinkled his nose. He didn’t like Paul. Paul frowned too much, he smelled like smoke and toothpaste, and he always tried to act like Charlie’s dad, even though he’d never had a dad and didn’t see why he needed one now. Plus, Paul stared at him. Like, always. Charlie would look up and catch him watching him across a room or in the rearview mirror. It was weird.
But Paul wasn’t watching Charlie then. Nobody was. Not even Annie’s parents. Her dad was snoring across from him, and her mom was asking a waiter about the chef. (“I must have his card! I’m hosting a charity event…”)
Charlie swallowed his last bite of cake and slipped off his chair.
“Where’re you going?” Annie hissed.
“Meet me on the back porch.”
He was already slipping through the crowd, quickly, before anyone could stop him. He sprinted out of the tent, across the front lawn, and into the cabin. Upstairs, he snatched his small Superman flashlight from his bedroom and stuffed it into his pocket. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, but Annie was. Plus, he didn’t want to get lost in the woods.
Charlie bolted downstairs and into the fancy kitchen.
“Hey, little man! Aren’t you suppose to be out front?”
He skidded to a halt by the back door and looked up. Mr. Harris’s round face smiled down at him while his chubby hands packed leftover meatballs into a container. Charlie stared at the meatballs. Earlier, Mr. Harris had given him a plate of them. “I added barbecue sauce for you.” The chef had winked and then told Charlie magical stories about the forest as he ate them.
The same forest Charlie was determined to explore.
Before he could think of a lie to tell Mr. Harris, the kitchen door swung open and Paul swooped in. His black gaze shot from Mr. Harris, to the bustling waitstaff, to Charlie. His bushy brows snapped together. “Where are you going?”
Paul’s scowl deepened. He walked over and kneeled in front of him. Charlie held his breath. He hated that smokey, minty smell!
“You know your Mom doesn’t want you wandering off. Not with all these strangers around.” Paul motioned behind him.
Mr. Harris stuck his tongue out at his back. Charlie almost laughed.
“Come on.” Paul stood and held out his hand.
Charlie ignored it. “But Annie’s waiting for me. We’re gonna…catch fireflies.” It was the best lie he could think of.
“Fireflies?” Paul looked suspiciously at his empty hands. “Don’t you need a jar for that?”
“Here you go.” Mr. Harris appeared and handed Charlie a jar with a wink. Charlie grinned. Why couldn’t Paul be more like him? Nice. Fun. Cool.
His stepdad glared at the pink-cheeked chef and then at Charlie. He shook his head. “You’re going back to the wedding. Now.”
“Or I can take you upstairs and–“
The lights flickered.
“What the hell?” Paul frowned up.
“It’s probably just the comin’ storm,” Mr. Harris said. “The power acts up whenever we get a dandy.” To prove it, thunder rumbled outside. The lights flickered again.
Once. Twice. Off!
The kitchen went black. Someone gasped and dropped a plate. Mr. Harris sighed, Paul swore, and Charlie ran. He yanked open the door and crashed into Annie waiting on the porch.
“I know, I know.” He thrust the empty jar into her hand and took out his Superman flashlight. “Let’s go!” He jumped off the porch and sprinted for the forest.
“Charlie! Wait! Where are we going?”
“To catch fairies!”
“Yeah, I heard they live in the trees and only come out at night!” Mr. Harris had told him so that afternoon while he’d eaten the meatballs.
Without looking back at the shouting voices inside the black house and black tent, they sprinted into the woods. Fat raindrops started falling and lightning flashed across the sky. Annie squealed, but she didn’t ask Charlie to stop or go back. They raced on, deeper and deeper into the woods until they could only hear the thunderstorm and their own breathless laughter.
“There!” Charlie stopped. “Did you see that!”
“The trees!” He tilted his flashlight up. “There!” He plucked an imaginary fairy out of the pine and wriggled it in front of Annie’s round eyes. “See?” She giggled and opened the jar’s lid. He dropped it inside.
They hunted and plucked fairies out of the trees until Charlie grew bored. He found a sharp stick on the wet ground and held it up like a sword.
“Hey, I want one–“
“Shh! Do you hear that?” He crouched and pointed the light at a clump of trees.
“No, what?” Annie whispered.
“I think it’s a dragon. The one we heard earlier.”
A growl of thunder rumbled around them. Annie gasped and clutched his arm. Charlie grinned and pictured a fire breathing monster stomping out from behind the branches.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I just need to stab it through the heart and–“
A crack of thunder exploded over their heads. Annie screamed and dropped the jar. The lid popped off and all but two of their invisible fairies escaped into the stormy sky. So did his dragon. Charlie watched it fly up, up, and away with a disappointed frown.
“Ch-Charlie? Can we go back now?”
“Back?” He lowered his sword and looked at Annie. Her teeth chattered and her blonde pigtails looked like wet spaghetti noodles. His own skin was covered in goosebumps from his drenched suit.
She nodded. “Please?”
His shoulders slumped. He didn’t wanna go back, not if it meant his mom was married to Paul. Stupid, smelly, frowny Paul who watched him too close, like he actually cared about him. But how could he? Paul wasn’t his real dad. He couldn’t really love Charlie.
A twig snapped behind them. Charlie spun around and aimed the flashlight at another clump of trees. The branches rustled. Unease crept up his spine. Had his dragon returned? Or was this another monster? A real one?
“I wanna go back!” Annie squeaked. “Please, Charlie? Please?” She yanked impatiently on his arm.
“Okay!” He gripped his sword and slowly backed away from the trembling pine needles.
The ground had become slippery and slimy, and they were forced to shuffle along. Even then, Charlie fell once and Annie dropped the jar of fairies twice. One of them escaped as another twig snapped behind them. He swung the light around.
“Shh!” He held his breath and searched the shadows, certain he’d find a beast…But there was nothing. He lowered the light, confused. Was it all his imagination? Sneaky goblins and mischievous fairies? Or was there a real monster out there? One that could swallow them whole?
“Here.” Charlie gave Annie the flashlight and gripped his sword with both hands. She happily took it and started walking again–fast.
“Hey, slow down!” he yelled when she’d gotten too far ahead of him.
“I’m trying–” His foot slipped on a rock, and with a surprised yelp, he tumbled over. Mud soaked into his knees and pebbles scraped against his palms.
“I’m fine!” He groped around for his dropped sword while looking over his shoulder at the shadows. He swore one was moving closer and closer to him. Fear churned the wedding cake in his belly.
Annie’s bloodcurdling scream pierced him at the same time something big landed on his back. It shoved Charlie to the ground and crushed him beneath its suffocating weight. He cried out as its sharp paws sunk into his suit and its hot breath puffed against his neck.
Charlie whimpered, too terrified to move.
“Get off him!” Annie’s shrill cry was followed by a dull thunk and a howl of rage from the monster. It sprang off of Charlie. He rolled over and froze.
Annie was gone.
And she’d taken his Superman flashlight with her.
He blinked into the pitch-black, only broken by an occasional flicker of lightning. Charlie’s quivering fingers scrabbled through the mud until they found his sword. Relieved, he stumbled to his feet. But he didn’t know what to do, where to go. Which way was the cabin? His mom? Paul? Suddenly, his stepdad’s stern watchfulness seemed warm and safe.
Lightning flashed overhead. The woods lit up.
A monster was barreling towards him, white and vicious and huge! He dove around a tree. “HELP! HELP! HEL–” The monster’s claws tore into his shirt and tackled him to the ground. Charlie rolled over and stabbed upwards.
He stilled, stunned by the familiar voice. “M–Mr. Harris?”
A blue bolt illuminated the chef’s pink face. Charlie stared up at it, speechless. What was Mr. Harris doing there? And why was he attacking him? And why was he looking at Charlie like he wanted to swallow him whole?
“Naughty boy.” The chef yanked the stick out of his shoulder and flung it away. “Very, very naughty.” He licked his lips and winked at Charlie. Winked, just like he’d winked at Charlie a hundred times that day. The cake rolled in his stomach again. He didn’t understand. He’d only ever battled goblins and dragons, not men who liked to smile and wink.
“You should’ve gone back to the wedding like your daddy told ya.” Mr. Harris leaned down and shoved his nose into Charlie’s hair. “You smell so damn good. And you taste like sugar.” He licked Charlie’s cheek.
The cake burned the back of his throat. Charlie swallowed the bitter sweetness to scream for help again.
“Shhh!” Mr. Harris covered his mouth. “This’ll be our secret.” He began pawing at Charlie’s muddy clothes. “Our little, itty-bitty secret.” He reached lower and fumbled with Charlie’s belt. He yelped and started thrashing and kicking.
It was useless. He couldn’t fight this type of monster. Mr. Harris was too big, too strong. Too real.
Charlie closed his eyes and pretended he was on a ship sailing across an ocean with Annie. Annie, who was probably dead. Dead because he’d been angry with his mom for marrying Paul. Paul, who cared enough about Charlie to warn him to stay close because the wedding was full of strangers. Strangers, like Mr. Harris, who liked to wink and kiss his throat.
“Get off my kid, you sick fuck!”
The furious roar echoed through the forest. Charlie’s eyes snapped open as another shadow sprang from the trees. It dropped its flashlight and yanked Mr. Harris off of him. For a moment, Charlie was too shocked to react. Then he crawled to the flashlight and aimed it at the two snarling men.
“Paul?” Charlie gasped.
“Run!” his stepdad ordered. “Go! Your Mom’s through there.” He jerked his head in the direction he’d magically appeared. Charlie was too numb to argue. He stood up to retreat, but tripped over a stick. He looked down. His sword! He swooped it up in a thankful grip.
“The kid was beggin’ for it,” Mr. Harris hissed. “He wanted it!”
“How dare you, you twisted piece of–“
The chef slammed his fist into Paul’s furious face. Blood sprayed out his nose and he collapsed with a muddy splat. The chef grabbed a rock and lifted it up.
“No!” Charlie lunged forward with the sword raised. Mr. Harris was a monster. A real, living breathing monster. He needed to be stabbed through his cold, evil heart, and slain just like any dragon or goblin.
A screeching purr paralyzed him.
From the shadows behind Mr. Harris, a ball of fur leaped out and wrapped its paws around him. The chef shrieked and twisted away, but it was too late. The bigger monster sank its razor-sharp jaws into his neck and thrashed its head side-to-side like a dog with a chew toy. Charlie gaped at the red-black blood gushing from Mr. Harris’s ripped throat, entranced and horrified.
Mr. Harris’s thrashing body slowed to violent twitches. Charlie stared into the dying monster’s eyes. They winked at him once more before dimming forever.
The wedding cake finally came up, vanilla chunk after vanilla chunk. Charlie kept heaving even after Paul picked him up and carried him away. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he repeated until they reached a group of shouting voices and blinding flashlights. Amongst them was his mom. Her white wedding dress was smeared with mud, and something black streamed down her cheeks.
“Charlie, Charlie. Oh my God, Charlie…” She hugged and kissed him and didn’t let go until they’d reached the cabin.
It wasn’t until much later, after the cops had talked to Charlie, a doctor had examined him, and his mom had put him to bed that his queasy numbness began wearing off. He stared at his nightlight and listened to his mom crying down the hall. She kept sobbing the word “Therapy”, while Paul’s deep voice comforted her with, “He’ll be okay.”
Hearing his steady voice warmed Charlie’s chilled heart. Paul really did care about him. No, he loved him. He always had. Charlie could accept that now, and he was thankful the smoky, minty man had married his mom.
Charlie sighed and looked down at the jar in his hands. Annie had asked him to keep an eye on the last invisible fairy while she went to the hospital. They’d found her huddled beneath a tree with a broken arm. She’d sworn a werewolf had crushed it after it had chased her away from Charlie.
Nobody had bothered to correct her, not even Charlie.
He opened the jar’s lid. The fairy flew out and fluttered around the bedroom until it found a crack and escaped into the night. Charlie watched it fly away with a heavy heart. It would be the last imaginary creature he ever believed in. After that night, he’d never pretend again. He didn’t need to.
Mr. Harris had proven monsters were real.
To read more stories, visit the Jen’s Pen Page.
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
“No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she’s finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she’d lost forever.”
“You can’t touch me,” I whisper. I’m lying, is what I don’t tell him. He can touch me, is what I’ll never tell him. Please touch me, is what I want to tell him.”
I loved loved loved this book. So much so much so much. You
should need must read it!
Okay, sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I guess Tahereh Mafi’s writing style rubbed off on me a bit. It was so
different unique strange. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. Actually, I mean it in a very good way. I thoroughly enjoyed Mafi’s fun take on formatting. I wasn’t at all fazed by her lack of commas and periods, repetitious sentences and crossed out words (I’m sure her Word document would beg to differ; I bet the entire thing was underlined in green squiggly lines).
However, Shatter Me wasn’t X-Men. It was too
pretty poetic artistic. So many of Mafi’s lines would literally make me sigh out loud. She definitely has a way with words and painting them in a beautiful, imaginative way.
As far as her characters went, I found them to be a likable, complicated and endearing group. The protagonist, Juliette, was a big bag of polar opposites: quiet yet loud, weak yet strong, passive yet aggressive. And Adam, the love interest, was what every girl wants in a boy: gentle, protective and hotttt…Oh yeah, I’m still cooling off, ladies. Adam definitely qualifies for my Book Crush Club. And, if I’m being honest, Warren–the antagonist of this dystopian tale–might too. I know it’s weird and wrong, but his
bad boy psycho complex personality was too interesting to dismiss.
I only have one complaint about this entire book: Adam’s eyes. Did you know they’re blue? No? Well, you will after Mafi tells you about them a hundred times. “Adam stares at me so long I begin to blush. He tips my chin up so I meet his eyes. Blue blue blue boring into me.”
Blue blue blue…
Despite the countless ooey-gooey descriptions of Adam’s blue blue blue eyes, I adored Shatter Me. And I highly recommend it. I do I do I do. So go go go to the bookstore and buy it. Now now now.
Okay, I’m done.
“The best readers are the best writers.”
A friend spoke these words to me years ago, back when I was still a “closeted writer” who feared her lack of an English/writing degree would prevent her from being accepted in the official “writers club”. At the time, I didn’t really get the meaning of this quote. I mean, I definitely liked it: “The best readers are the best writers.” Well, that’s great, I thought, because I read. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot, a lot!). Yet, as the years have gone by, and my stack of read books has grown taller and taller, I’ve finally come to understand it.
Reading = Knowledge
Reading = Inspiration
Reading = Writing
It’s true. Well, at least for me. Reading books has taught me how to write (and, yeah, sometimes how not to write). There’s no doubt in my mind that books have strengthened my storytelling skills, expanded my creative horizons and given me a plethora of inspiration (oh yeah, I totally just used the word plethora). Now, I can’t tell you exactly how many books I’ve read (500? 1,000? 10,000?), but I can tell you which authors have impacted me the most.
Today, in honor of celebrating women in fiction (#ReadWomen2014), I’d like to pay tribute to the female author’s who’ve effected me the most. If it weren’t for their various inspirations, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.
Patricia Beatty: The Dream Starter
“What a young person reads becomes part of his or her mental luggage forever! This is the learning time, short but vital to the future adult. That mental luggage deserves to be filled with the best stuff only, not pap. It may have a long, long way to go.” – Patricia Beatty
The day I picked up “Charlie Skedaddle” by Patricia Beatty was the day I became a book fanatic. It was also the day I realized I wanted to be an author when I grew up. After reading and absorbing Beatty’s novels (multiple times), I nervously began writing my own. Admittedly, most of this “writing” took place in my daydreamin’ head, safe and sound where nobody but me could experience them. However, a few made it into a notebook I kept hidden under my pillow, and one even made it onto a computer when I was in 6th grade (a 32-page story about a girl who traveled back in time to the Civil War era…Yeah, it was awesome.). Despite my terror to admit to the world I wanted to be a writer (that confession wouldn’t come for years, after I graduated college), I was able to admit my creative passion to myself. Even though I was only 10-years old, I knew I wanted to spend my life telling stories.
So, thank you, Patricia Beatty. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with reading, and I wouldn’t be pursuing my dream of being a published author.
Marie Lu: The Style Guru
One of the up’s (and down’s) of reading a lot while you write is you accidentally mimic the author you’re currently reading. This happened to me while I was devouring Marie Lu’s “Legend”. Suddenly, my writing became clearer and more precise, my characters more likable and endearing, my plot faster and tighter. Ever since that happy accident, I’ve aspired to keep writing in a fashion similar to Lu’s. To use my words and sentence structures in a way that draws the reader in and keeps them there. To weave simple, yet complex story lines around my audience–around and around–until they’re trapped and can’t break free, even after they’ve finished the book.
So, thank you, Marie Lu. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand what good storytelling looks like and how to ensnare an audience.
“And if we get caught, I will claim I made you go. At gunpoint. I am American. People will assume I’m armed.” – Maureen Johnson, “The Name of the Star”
People tell me I’m a funny person. And I’ve been told I can be a funny writer, too. However, I don’t like to write comedy. I just don’t. My comfort zone tends to be in the suspense/horror/thriller categories. Yet, despite my preference to write about tenser subject matters, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare have shown me even dark genres need to be lightened up every now and then. Adding dashes of cleverness and wit to a story can add surprising depth and meaning to a plot and its characters.
So, thank you, Maureen Johnson and Cassandra Clare. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t understand how humor can give any story layers and make it more memorable.
“Let me give you a piece of advice. The handsome young fellow who’s trying to rescue you from a hideous fate is never wrong. Not even if he says the sky is purple and made of hedgehogs.” -Cassandra Clare, “The Infernal Devices”.
Laini Taylor: Weirdness is Goodness
“I write books for youngish people, but they can also be read and enjoyed by oldish people, aka grown-ups. You know grown-ups? They tend to be a little bigger and hairier than kids. But not always.” -Laini Taylor
Okay, I admit it. I can be weird (hellllo, I’m a writer; we all have a weird screw inside of us, right?). Well, it wasn’t until I read Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” that I was able to confidently infuse that weirdness into my writing. Taylor taught me that being quirky–saying things, thinking things and creating things that make the reader go, “Huh?”–can be a wonderful and powerful tool. For example, rather than having a protagonist with brown hair and blue eyes, why not have a protagonist with blue hair and brown eyes?
“Think outside the box!” Taylor’s writing shouts when you read it. “Like way, way outside the box. Do it, do it, do it!” So, I try. Every time I sit down at my desk, I think, “Be odd. Be different. It’s okay. Laini Taylor said so.”
So, thank you, Laini Taylor. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have embraced my eccentric tendencies and breathed them into my stories.
Marissa Meyer: The Delightful Contortionist
“Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time.” -Marissa Meyer, “Cinder”
I’ve always prided myself on being a writer that likes to brainstorm concepts that are as original as possible. I’m always sniffing around the misty alleys of my mind, trying to find an idea that just might be “the next big thing” in the YA market. I’ve never been a fan of taking already written stories (like a fairy tale) and putting a unique spin on them. Then I began reading Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” and my entire outlook changed. Her crazy sci-fi contortion of “Cinderella” totally sold me on the unoriginal-original concept. Why not put a new twist on an old story? Why not embrace a solid foundation and build your own–original–world on top of it? Being a writer means being creative, and if I can create a spectacular story using a tried and true formula, you should. Why not?
So, thank you, Marissa Meyer. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be willing to open my eyes and see there are stories all around me that can be bent, shaped and warped into something fresh and dazzling.
Rainbow Rowell: Character Jedi Master
“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” -Rainbow Rowell, “Eleanor & Park”
One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer has always seemed to be my characters. And I think I’ve finally figured out why: Until 2013, I’d never read a Rainbow Rowell book. Guys, if you want a “how to” lesson on character building, this is your teacher. In her novels like “Attachments” and “Fangirl” Rowell has inspired me to dig deeper and reach higher when it comes to my characters. She’s shown me characters shouldn’t be 2-D individuals who entertain an audience. They should be 3-D humans who punch through a black and white page, straight into a reader’s heart. Characters should be likable, relatable, convincible. Characters should leave a dent even after the last page is turned.
So, thank you, Rainbow Rowell. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even know how to begin writing better, deeper, truer characters.
Kathrynn Stockett: The Cheerleader
“If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, ‘She never gives up.’ But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, ‘She. Never. Gives. Up.‘” -Kathryn Stockett
When people ask me what I do for a living, I joke and say, “I’m in the Industry of Rejection.” Sadly, it’s a true statement for most writers. I began sending query letters back in 2009 after I finished my first real manuscript. I was so excited, so certain I’d written a story that would get me an agent…Then I got my first rejection letter, and ooouuucchhh! That was followed by a second, and oooh, eeks! Then a third, a fourth, a tenth, a twentieth…That’s when I realized I’d chosen a career that wasn’t only hard, but could very well break my spirit.
“I loved your story, but…”. “Unfortunately…”. “Your story still needs work…”. “We regret to inform you..”. “Thank you for your submission. However…”. “Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors.”
Yeah, let’s face it, rejection hurts. Every. Time. And, I’ll be honest, after a particularly harsh round of “Thanks, but not thanks,” responses from agents, I’ve considered throwing in the towel (or maybe even smothering myself with a pillow). The biggest reason I haven’t though is because of Kathryn Stockett, author of the wildly popular novel, “The Help”.
Did you know Stockett’s bestseller was rejected 60 times before an agent finally gave her a chance? 60. Times! And, yet, after each stinging rejection, she didn’t give up. She went back, revised and then sent out more query letters. That’s how much she believed in her story. Despite the “Unfortunately”‘s and the “Best of luck”‘s, she refused to quit. Stockett’s never say die attitude has taught me that rejection isn’t the name of the game. Determination is. If you believe in your story, you should never give up on finding it a home. Keep writing, keep fighting! (Read about Stockett’s relentless journey here).
So, thank you Kathryn Stockett. If it weren’t for you, I may have given up on my dream a long time ago. And if it weren’t for you, I may not have the stamina to keep going now!
Thank you to all the women authors who’ve inspired me. This short list doesn’t even come close to naming all of you out there. But, trust me, if it weren’t for each and every one of you, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.