I wish you could all get the chance to come to at least one of my Spanish classes. Because they can be really hilarious. We meet a friend’s house once a week and their mom is kind enough to teach five of us how to speak Spanish. We’re all females. We’re all middle/high schoolers. And we all love to talk and laugh, obviously. So the results are definitely humorous.
Anyway, our teacher has this weird thing about the name “Antonio”, which definitely cracks me up. Every time she reads it in our Spanish textbook, she wiggles her eyebrows and drops her voice a few octaves. “Antoooonio.” Then all the girls start laughing and nudge each other. “Oooooh….Antoooonio!” I’ll read the sentence “Rachel stands next to Antonio” in Spanish and everyone will erupt in giggles. “Lucky Rachel. I wish I could stand next to Antooooonio!”
The first few weeks of class, this kind of confused me. What was so great about the name “Antonio”? I don’t even know an Antonio. How can a name be so…funny?
The longer it went on, the stranger the whole concept seemed. It’s almost like Antonio is a real person, the way everyone talks about him. Every now and then, Hannah or I will make some joke about something “Antonio” did and a friend will ask who he is. Then we’ll glance at each other and start laughing, telling them that he’s some guy in our Spanish class. Definitely not normal.
Then one day I started thinking. I decided that it wasn’t just the name “Antonio” that got everyone going. It was what Antonio stood for. Antonio, according to our teacher, is the most handsome Spanish man in the world. He is tall. He is dark. He has a smooth, velvety voice that makes all the senoritas go crazy. He is…Antonio. That man.
That’s when it dawned on me: There are a lot of people out there who know about “Antonio”. And I’m not talking about the tall, dark Spanish rogue. I’m talking about the fantasy–the man that ceases to exist. We all have someone that we’ve built up in our minds as the ideal of perfection, whether they’re real or not. The ideal husband, who will one day sweep you off your feet and carry you away. The best friend you never had. The perfect children dressed in their matching Ralph Lauren polo dresses with starch white bows in their hair. The exact opposite of reality–of how things really are.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not that pessimistic of a person. I know that with God, all things are possible. I understand that people can change. I do think that there is someone out there for everyone. But I also know that no one’s perfect. That everyone has quirks and mistakes. And that, wish as we might, Antonio will never be real.
But you know what? That’s what’s so wonderful about life. Once I started thinking about Antonio in a mature, philosophical way, I realized that I don’t want to be that kind of person. I don’t even want to know that kind of person. I believe in a world full of people that are messed up and blemished, but also real and relatable. And even though it’s difficult not to wish for the impossible sometimes, I know that God will give me what He wants me to have, and that it will be better than the stuff of dreams. Or dreamy Spanish men.
Okay, so I recently got an email from a reader asking me a lot of questions about writing and publishing etc., so I thought I’d do a blog entry posting some of my answers to questions I get a lot for the general benefit of everyone! I love doing this sort of thing, so if anyone has any other questions they want to ask, just comment and I’ll try to answer it as soon as possible!
Q: How long does a book have to be to get published?
A: Well, it really depends on what genre you’re writing. My book is YA Fiction, so editors suggested I make it anywhere from 50,000 to 75,000 words. With adult fiction, it’s usually 75,000 and up.
Q: How did you find your agent?
A: Well, it was pretty much all God! No, seriously! I went about things the blind way….Googling “Christian Literary Agents” online and sending it to half the people on the list. I think it was thirteen overall. Only two emailed back and were even interested–all the others either flat out rejected me or ignored me! Bill was just the nicest, greatest guy ever, though. He was very kind about my writing, but was critical when he needed to be. I couldn’t ask for a better agent.
Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
A: It’s obviously a very widely used and accepted type of publishing. I think it’s great for someone who doesn’t want to deal with all the work that normal publishing can include. I know several homeschoolers who have self-published and just rave about it. My only negative thoughts on it, I think, would be the money factor. Self publishing usually costs money. I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t want to be published by a big company because of the cost but–really–I didn’t have to pay anything at all! In fact, I get money for my book rather than paying it. So I think, in the end, self-publishing is great for getting your feet wet, but I don’t think I will ever dabble in it. Personal preference.
Q: What is this whole process like for you, since you’re underage?
A: Well, my parents are obviously very involved in everything that goes on. The contract is actually in their names, and I can’t have full control of my royalties until I’m eighteen. My mom also sits in on all my phone calls and sometimes gives her feedback. She has a good relationship with my agent, so he makes sure he asks her opinions about things a lot. Overall, my parents are both really supportive and do a lot of praying for me, while offering their wisdom and advice.
Q: How often do you write? Every day? For how many hours?
A: Not that much, actually. I think the whole process of writing a first draft of a book only takes me about 3 months usually. In that time, I write maybe 3-4 times a week. Usually it’s in the evening, after everyone else has gone to bed. I’ll lock myself away in my room (well, not really, but it feels that way!) around 7 PM, and write until nearly midnight. Then my eyes start bleeding and I have to push down my eyelids and fall asleep like a dead person. The next morning’s pretty rough, but it’s worth it.
When I’m doing editing, planning, etc. I’m way more sporadic. Sometimes I’ll go days, even weeks without writing. And you know what? I don’t feel bad about it! The people I work with probably get frustrated, but I think it’s good for me to step back sometimes and take a breather. Then when I return to the work at hand, I can look at it with a fresh point of view.
Q: Are you working on something now?
A: Um, yes. Not telling you anything about it, though…. Yet.
Like I said, if you have any more questions, shoot away! I have a couple more I’m thinking about posting sometime as well…
Our family has a pretty old habit. I can’t even remember when we started doing it–probably a few years ago. But usually, when we’re all out to eat together, we like to chat up our waiter or waitress. We find out a little about them, tell them a little about us… And then, right after they give us our food, we pause before we give thanks and take the time to ask them if there is anything going on in their lives that we can pray for.
You will not believe the answers we have gotten to this. Some people are thankful, and tell us that they are Christians, too. Others turn red and embarrassed, and mumble a general, “Oh, just anything, I guess.” There are also those who get defensive, and firmly tell us no, they don’t need our prayers. So we pray for them anyway once they are gone and hope that God has used our simple gesture for some good in their life.
But I don’t think any response to this question has been so touching as our waiter’s answer while dining on the cruise ship. We were served by a man named Sa, from Thailand. He was shy but very friendly, and told us about his two boys back home, and how he would get to see them in about five months. On that first night, when my dad asked if there was anything we could pray for him, he was startled. He nodded and said, “Yes. For my family, and for my friends.” Then he stopped where he was and bowed his head, waiting for us to pray.
We were a little bit startled too, as we’d never actually prayed with the waiter. But we closed our eyes and listened to Dad’s nice prayer for Sa and his friends and family. Then we said, “Amen” and Sa nodded and left. Nothing else was said about it the rest of the night.
Imagine our surprise when the second night, before we’d even gotten our food, Sa asked if we were going to pray again. He didn’t have time to stand with us that evening, but he expressed his thanks as well he could. “I appreciate your family,” he said to us in broken English. “Eight years I have worked here and no one has ever prayed for me before.”
That just about brought tears to our eyes. He shook our hands and left to go get our food, but not before thanking us one last time. The next night, when he brought our food, he asked to pray with us again and then told us, “I will pray for you and your family. I am thankful for you. I will be thankful for you in my prayer.”
Later on, as we were discussing this as a family, my parents took the time to stress to us kids the significance of what had happened. We’d only seen Sa on a dozen or so occasions. We’d probably never see him again in our lives. But by sharing a simple prayer with him, we had built a connection that both families will probably remember for years to come. You never know who you can reach out to, simply by offering to pray for them or telling them a little bit about your faith. You never know who you will touch, and what that person will reveal to you. You never know who is hurting or lonely and needs to know that someone cares about them. That is what I learned this week.
I couldn’t fit them all in one post! I have sooo many photos I want to post, but–alas!–I can only show you all but a few.
So, as many of you have guessed, I have been away the last week on vacation. Our family actually decided to go all-out this year and take a week long cruise to Bermuda. We left out of Charleston, South Carolina and headed out to sea. It was, obviously, mounds of fun. Everyone we told was worried we would be seasick, but even though the waters were unusually choppy, we all managed to stay pretty healthy all week.
You all know me–I kept my camera stuck to my face practically the whole week. The picturesque architecture of Charleston, the “grooviness” of the ship, the pastel beauty of Bermuda… It was all too much!!!
Highlights of the week: Learning how to do the Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance; Listening to a live band and cha-cha-ing by the water in Bermuda; Free icecream 24/7!; Climbing up the 54 steps to the waterslide a million times… The list goes on and on, now that I think about it!
Anyway, the last day of the cruise was mine and my mom’s birthday! (Yes, I was the best birthday gift she ever got–my dad got lucky that year!) Our waiters made us little hats out of cloth napkins and serenaded us with their Far Eastern accents. It was definitely unforgettable.
Here are some photos from the week:
So… Today is my sixteenth birthday! Ha ha, it feels so great to actually write that. I didn’t really do anything too clichéd. Except for dancing around to Hilary Duff’s “Sweet Sixteen”, thus fulfilling one of my greatest aspirations from way back when I was ten years old. It seems like when I was a tween, sixteen seemed like such a magical age. I don’t really know why that is. Maybe because our culture places so much emphasis on that particular birthday. I think that the sixteen year old girl is supposed to be like the epitome of American youthfulness. Flirty and wild and precocious and what-not. But you know me. I don’t really think I’m any of those things. Too rebellious to be stereotyped, right?
Anyway, even though I celebrated a month ago, I decided today still deserved a special entry. I sat and thought a little about what happened over the last year, and wondered what this year might bring. At ten years old, if you had asked me what I thought my life might look like at sixteen, I probably would have given a way different description than the way it really is today. I mostly likely would have guessed I was a young Broadway star or something, living in New York City. (I really don’t know why I wanted to be a Broadway star–I can’t even sing!) I imagined I would be driving a sporty little car, most likely taking long roadtrips across the state with my girlfriends piled in the backseat. Just about any scenario out of a Mary Kate and Ashley movie would have already happened in my crazy life, and I would always be surrounded by friends and attention.
I never would have imagined I’d write a book. I definitely never would have thought it would be published at sixteen. There’s no way I could have thought up all the wonderful friends God has brought into my life who, instead of screaming in the back of my car, encourage and support me through life’s ups and downs. My ten-year-old self definitely would have died with joy if she knew that I now play the piano. Or take pictures, because I remember thinking that was really artistic and cool.
Who knows where the next year will take me? What plans God has in store for me at “Sweet Sixteen”? It may be anti-climatic; a year of relief and peace from the never-ending business of life. Or it may be huge. Much huger than I ever could have imagined.
There’s one thing I know for sure: I can’t wait to find out.
I recently “stumbled” upon this incredible poem by Frank O’Hara. (I say “stumbled” because it is apparently a very famous poem) For some reason, this poem seems to sum up my idea of romance. It’s not red roses or candlelit dinners or walks on a beach. It’s having a coke, and prefering to see the ordinary face of the person you love, rather than a famous portrait. It’s simple, and it happens every single day, and yet it is magical every time.
Having a Coke with You
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
After hearing the story of how I came to be published at fifteen, several moms I know asked me to write up a list of books that influenced me when I was a child, and my writing when I grew older. To tell the truth, this seemed like a daunting task, but was definitely one I was willing to undertake!
So I recently sat down to compile a list. A list I like to call, “Ten Books Every Child Should Read”. (I love the name–so straightforward and, well, straightforward) It is made up of ten books I read in elementary school (and one in high school), that had the greatest impact on how I viewed fiction as well as writing. And the best part is that they are all books I still enjoy reading today! So whether you are eight, eighteen, or forty-eight, these are books you will probably enjoy reading. Pass them on to your children, friends, or anyone else you know who is interested in reading good fiction, and wants to write good fiction, too.
Ten Books Every Child Should Read (Boy or Girl!)
- Tom Sawyer – And please, please, please do not give your child an edited version. Yes, I know it has questionable language and content but it is reflective of the times. Other than that, it is funny, engaging, and (sometimes) sweet.
- Alice in Wonderland – For increasing your child’s vocabulary. Don’t be alarmed if he or she begins calling things “curiouser and curiouser” and asking “how is raven like a writing desk?”
- Peter Pan – While I am avidly against magic—white or black—there is one “magic” I do believe in: the imagination of a child. Foster your child’s imagination, don’t squelch it. There are few things better for your boy or girl than to rough and tumble as pirates in the woods or run around the kitchen with spoons as sword fights. There is a rare and beautiful innocence about a child’s play world that will fade as he or she grows older. So cherish it while it’s here!
- The Witch of Blackbird Pond – No, it’s not really about a witch. But it is historically accurate and intriguing all the same.
- James and the Giant Peach – Believe it or not, reading this book as a child actually caused me to sit around and think for a while afterwards.
- The Little Prince – Agh! A philosophical book disguised as a children’s story! The genius! This book actually made me cry after I read it.
- Cheaper By the Dozen – Wildly hilarious and filled with very rich characters.
- A Wrinkle in Time – Classic.
- Bridge to Terabithia – Check on your child when he’s finished reading and see if there are any tears sliding down his cheeks. I’m almost willing to bet there are.
- Gone With the Wind – This is my absolute favorite book, just because it’s so well written, but I would suggest waiting until high school to let your child read it because it can be kind of heavy.
You’ll notice the two most important characteristics of books for me is that they have to be imaginative and funny. If you have a sense of humor and an active imagination, chances are someone or another will love to read your writing.
Let me know if you have any questions!
Just thought I’d give you all an update on what I’ve been up to lately. First off, I started a video blog (vlog) on Youtube! This was Zondervan’s suggestion–they thought it would be a great way for my readers to get to know me even better. I’m hoping to update it about once a week, probably on Sundays, with the latest stuff going on with my book! You’ll probably find lots of stuff on writing and the life of a writer on there, as opposed to a lot of the everyday stuff that’s on this blog. But I encourage you to check it out anyway, and bookmark the channel! (Please excuse how awkward I am when I talk. I’m a writer through and through)
Also, I was invited to guest blog on a website some friends recently set up: http://inside-out-girl.blogspot.com/. My post, “Enjoying Life Now” is on there today. I encourage you to check it out–it’s a really amazing blog for young Christian women! The girls who run it are very talented and I assure you that you will be blessed by what you read there.
One question I don’t really like being asked is, “Do you remember 9-11?” Because the truth is no, I really don’t. At least not that well. I was only five years old at the time, and we were spending the night at my Grandma’s house. As soon as the footage started coming in, my mom sent me and my little sister into another room and occupied us with a sing-along VHS. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and many years passed before I truly understood the significance of that day.
Sunday was a tough day for me, for some reason. They were playing a lot of the footage on TV in the early morning hours. My dad switched on FOX News and left to go for a run, and my sisters and I sat there watching it alone while my mom got ready for church. I don’t think I was fully prepared for what I was about to see. As I sat there watching all the clips of the towers falling and screaming people running from the crumbling debris, their faces white with dust, I realized: I’ve never really seen footage from 9-11 before.
Once this fact sunk in, I grew more and more horrified at what I was seeing. People jumping from buildings. Men and women running with their children haphazardly carried in their arms. Phone calls with the panicked last words of parents who would never come home that evening. It was all so unbelievably wrong.
Tears started welling up in my eyes as I stared in shock. It was like it was happening right now–live. My mind couldn’t wrap around the fact that this happened ten years ago. That the rest of the world had already moved on and restored, and were just taking the time to look back on the anniversary. For me, it was like it had just happened.
One thing all the news stations were stressing was the heroism of the firefighters, and all the other everyday civilians who gave their own lives to save the lives of others. For some reason, this was probably the hardest thing for me. I spent a good part of the morning feeling confused and upset. Why? Why would God allow this to happen–to let so many innocent people lose their lives and loved ones as a result of the sick, twisted hatred of one group of men?
It was so troubling to me. It seemed like the biggest tragedy and injustice of all time. The thoughts troubled me all morning. But then, as I was sitting in church, God gave the answer to me. “Today, as we remember the great tragedy that took place ten years ago,” our music director said, “Let’s take time not only to remember all the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in the place of others, but also remember Christ, who sacrificed His perfect life in the place of all.”
That’s when it hit me: 9-11 has a bigger picture. Even in that day, and all its horror and ugliness, I can still see the beauty and mercy of God’s love for mankind. When I look at those crumbling towers, and the evidence of the evil of man, I can see the horrifying death of the cross, brought on by the evil and sin of every man. And yes, I stand amazed at the heroism that mankind showed that day, rescuing people from the burning rubble, but greater still is the amazing love that Christ showed two thousand years ago. Because Christ died not for the innocent, but for the guilty. Christ bore the weight of not the worthy, but the wicked and depraved. And that was me. And that was you.
Tears still well up in my eyes as I write this, thinking about everything that happened ten years and one day ago. I still feel angry, and saddened, and sometimes even a little without hope at the future of our country. But it’s not that way with the tragedy of Christ’s death. Because the death of Jesus didn’t cause more deaths, or years of seeking out revenge upon his executioners. It only led to everlasting life, for those who believe. And when I think of the cross, and how even in the greatest tragedy of all history, God is glorified, I know that He had a purpose for the horrific events of 9-11. And maybe I don’t know what that purpose is right now, but I trust that He will make it known to the world some day. Until then, I can only remember the ones who died, and hope for a brighter future for those who survived.