Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Earlier this week I was tagged in the Writing Process Blog Hop by the awesome Fifi the Ninja! Hi, everyone joining me from her blog--I hope I don't disappoint!

Soooo... here we go!

1. What are you working on?

While I'm waiting (nervously!) on edits on Bookishly Ever After, I've been pouring my time into other writing projects. Lately, I've been torturing myself with Summer Story, a WIP my regular blog followers might notice I've been whining about since last August. It's hard and beautiful and scary. Like I always say, it's probably not very marketable, so I'm really writing this for me, to get it out of my system, even though it's hard.

Plan: I'm bringing the first 10 pages and synopsis with me to the Poconos retreat peer critique session in May, so I need to, well... write the synopsis.

Confession: I actually like writing synopses *ducks*

Problem:  I don't think the main character's stakes I'd originally planned are high enough. The internal conflict is on track, but the external conflict is... meh. I'm back to throwing around plots and diving into character motivations. It's good for me. It also gives me heartburn.

I know Summer Story will be lovely. It already makes me smile and gives me chills when I read what I'd written to this point. I just need to get past this latest round of "this WIP is going to age me a gajillion years."

I will, until the next round of "this WIP is giving me heartburn" hits.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I wrote it.

Here's the thing--unless you're a mind reader, we never know what and how others see the world, except through their books. No matter how different my characters can be from me, my writing will always be colored by my experiences, how I see the world, how my eyes interpret colors and nature and buildings around me. You get a peek at the world I see and hear and feel.

It's the same with every writer, and that's why reading is so magical. For a little while, we get out of our heads and get to jump into someone else's world, even become someone else. (That's why studies show reading increases empathy!)

3. Why do you write what you write?

Because the voices in my head tell me to?

I write for and about teenagers because they're amazing and interesting people. I write what I like to read and what YA me would have wanted to read. And I'm so lucky that's the voice I write best.

4. How does your writing process work?
  • First comes the idea, jotted on whatever flat, portable surface I have on hand or recorded into my phone or voicemail if I'm driving. Sometimes, it starts with dialogue or a scene. Then, I put the idea aside.
  • Into the moleskine: Every idea that survives sitting for a few days gets a mini moleskine. I jot down characters, locations, bits of dialogue, and plot concepts, enough to get it out of my system and save it until I have time to work on it.
    • That keeps me from chasing a million plot-bunnies and having multiple WIPs
  • From moleskine to planning: I try to get a good idea of where I want to go, key scenes, etc. Those get jotted onto post-its.
    • Usually at this point, I start writing out a scene or two to understand my characters, especially if that scene is screaming to be written. This might change the plot as I get to know my characters.
    • I'm a plantser. I can't write without a map telling me where I need to go, but I do change my plot sometimes. Usually when I'm stuck, it's because I don't know where to go.
  • I write clean-ish first drafts. I know a lot of people want to get all the words down fast, but I don't work that way. It's not perfect and sometimes the plot is wonky, but I like fixing glaring errors and typos as I work. Then, I go back and re-read, looking for places where the plot isn't working or fixing the plot.
    • Cleanish draft or no, there's still a TON of revision. My first draft never goes out to anyone--usually, I only start thinking about sending it out to my critique partners around the third draft, and even then I know it might have a long way to go.
Aaaand, that's my process! Now, I get to tag three other people to share their processes!

First, Veronica Bartles, whose debut novel, Twelve Steps, just released not too long ago and is sitting in my Nook, begging to be read (I need to clone myself, seriously.) While you're visiting her blog, check out her books and her crock-pot recipes. Plus, she's a fantastic critique partner who I met through cpseek.

Next, Deena Graves. I've been lucky enough to read some of her MSS, and woah, I can't wait to see these on shelves! Seriously. She's also invaluable both as a CP and as a friend, especially lately when I frantically text her for fashion advice or during nail-bitingly massive nervous moments.

And last, but not least, Diana Sousa. We met during (I think) the Writer's Voice about a year and a half ago, and I was fascinated by her pitch, and we became twitter friends. Plus, she's a bilingual writer whose primary language is Portuguese but who writes in English and is all-around super talented. You have to get to know her!

She also is nice enough not to make fun of my laughable Portuguese tweets :)

Now that you know my process, any thoughts? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? How do you write?

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Mountain-y Road to Bookishly Ever After

Before I go into any agent/editor stories for Bookishly Ever After, I wanted to talk about the place that made this little book happen. A lot of people and places helped shape and form me as a writer, but Bookishly may never have been written if not for a little mountain range in northeastern Pennsylvania called the Poconos.

Prequel: Back in 1995, I was my sister's class' 6th grade camp counselor at the Poconos Environmental Education Center. Some of that rolled into the manuscript, but that's a story for another time. Fast-forwarding to this decade:

The story started as a spark of inspiration in February, 2012, thanks to comments from a few friends about something I'd posted about in this blog. I wrote a scene in the woods between Phoebe and Dev, two characters that popped into my head, and the idea for a YA contemporary took root.

But. I didn't want to write a contemporary. I wrote contemporary fantasy and paranormal and, wow, "plain old" contemporary was hard. And didn't have magical things (or so I thought!) Still, the idea bugged me, begging to be turned into a book-shaped thing.

Contemporary was... meh. But... intriguing.

Then, Kimberly Sabatini talked me into going to the Eastern PA SCBWI Poconos conference in April, 2012. Listening to her was the best decision I ever made. Even though I was clutching my contemporary fantasy at the conference, every single workshop fit together in my head like perfect Bookishly-shaped puzzle pieces.

  • In Stacy Cantor-Abram's workshop, I found Phoebe's voice and a good percentage of the paragraphs I wrote thanks to her writing prompt actually make up Bookishly's first page (for now... we'll see where edits take it.)
  • In Sara Sargeant's workshop, I was finally able to work out the timing and pacing of the plot and how to stretch a story over a year without being clunky.
  • In Laurie Halse Anderson's workshop (after I stopped crying on her like a baby) I learned how to love revision. Now, I truly believe what she told us-- Revision truly is the best part.
  • And I made friends at the conference who turned into supporters who cheered me on through this journey and critique partners who made Bookishly better through a gajillion revisions.

April 2012-April 2013: I wrote and revised. I kept falling in love with my story. "You and I" turned into "Bookishly Ever After" and I revised again (see the gajillion revisions and 'Revision is the best part' above.)

Contemporary wasn't so bad, after all. Nope. In fact, I kind-of loved writing contemporary.

April 2013: Back to the Poconos, this time at the Highlights Foundation, where I shared the most adorable cabin on the planet with Deena. That year, they had two tracks for middle grade and YA: one for finished books with Kathy Erskine, to help push them the rest of the way into query shape, and one for unfinished WIPs. I dragged my Bookishly printout into the finished book workshop. Between Kathy's workshop and the peer critiques, I was able to work out some of the parts of Bookishly that were bothering me. After a weekend in one of the prettiest places on the planet, I came back home refreshed and ready to take on anything.

Contemporary rocked (and I found the magic in it.)

I call Bookishly Ever After my SCBWI EPA Poconos conference book because it came full circle at this conference. This May, I'm going back to the conference, WIPs in hand and ready to keep learning and growing.

I can't wait.

To learn more about the Poconos conference, go here.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The One Where I Surprise Myself

My snowflake dress in action!
The last time the Eastern Adult Sectional Figure Skating Championships was in New Jersey, I was a fairly beginner skater. I'd just started jumping and competing. Unfortunately, Achilles tendonitis not only sidelined me from that competition, but also landed me in a walking boot for weeks. Since I don't travel overnight for competitions, that meant no Sectionals for years.


This year, when it was announced Sectionals were going to be held in New Jersey again, my coaches and I made a battle (and training) plan. I'd only sign up for a dramatic event since those events are all about interpreting the music and we could choreograph around any injuries. I'd be extra careful and train seriously, avoiding any possible off-ice injuries.

I was careful, but, a little over a month before the competition, I developed incredibly painful tendonitis in my left ankle. Because my body has perfect timing.

I could barely walk and, on ice, I couldn't use my left outside edge. Jumps, except for the loop (which takes off and lands on the right leg,) were out. No spins on my left leg, even some of my footwork was out of the question. I really could... should... have dropped out.

But, hey, the entry fee was non-refundable and my coaches and I are nothing if not adaptable. Plus, with the number of skaters in my group, I was guaranteed to medal even if I placed last. Why not skate? (carefully)

Yes, I competed with my ankle taped in double layers of kinesiology tape.

Yes, I didn't skate the fully modified program to my music until the actual competition. We just didn't have the time and I couldn't stress my ankle.

Yes, I relearned how to spin like a lefty for my first spin in the program. (It's not normal to spin in both directions. I originally skated lefty and switched to righty. Because of this, I plan on working towards my lefty scratch spin!)

Yes, I didn't expect to beat anyone.


Oh, the arm flails! My backspin was off because I couldn't push off properly with my left leg, but the last spin was in my "real" direction--we put it at the end so my ankle would be really warmed up before I put that much pressure on it. I only practiced the spin once the whole week, and that was in the last minute of the 5 minute warmup ice.

It's not a great program. I wish I could have shown off my salchows and scratch spin. I wish my footwork was complete with all the twizzles and the spreadeagle. I wish I wasn't so flail-y.

Still:

GOLD!!!
Podium pics (in my lovely ugg-like boots because my ankle ached so much)

I could have dropped out and given up. Cursed my stupid ankle and bad timing. But, instead, given the opportunity to adapt and to go in with no expectations whatsoever, I really surprised myself.

I also had so much fun in the process.

Sometimes, it's about knowing you probably won't win and just doing something for yourself. Sometimes, it's nice to let the world surprise you.

I need to finish snowflaking the hem of my dress. These came a day too late!
Oh well, more sparkles for the next competition!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dear Ten Year Old Me (And NEWS)

Dear Ten Year Old Me,

I picked you for this letter because, right about this time, you're coming off a high of binge reading and rereading the Emily series you were given at Christmas. Even though you've wanted to be a writer from the moment you could pick up a crayon*, this was the first time books really spoke to you about being an author. Finally, there was a character like you, who was a little weird, loved to tell stories, and wrote because she just had to write. Emily was a writer. Her story told you about all the hard work and rejection and sacrifice... but also the joy... of trying to climb the Alpine Path.

"For writing, to Emily Byrd Starr, was not primarily a matter of worldly lucre or laurel crown. It was something she had to do." (Emily's Quest, LM Montgomery)

Until college, writing will be as important to you as breathing. You'll write "books" to give as gifts to your fifth grade teachers. You'll dabble in (bad and sometimes tolerable) poetry. In high school, you'll write massive amounts of fanfiction and a horribly Mary Sue-ish Star Trek novel-length story. You will fill a ton of journals, and your beloved copy of Emily of New Moon will start falling apart.

There will be a few years during and after college where you just give up. Years with too much math and science filling your head and sucking up your time and making you think you lost any chance of being a "real" writer. It will take a long time to find your way back, silly you, but you will.

You will write and fail and get rejected. You'll learn to take criticism and to have a love/hate relationship with your email** inbox. You will meet amazingly talented and supportive people along the way.

People who will believe in you, too.

Ten year old me, you're not afraid to dream, and anything is possible in your world. You might forget for a little bit when you grow up, but I'm here to tell you that you were right, and this is how I know:




Sorry it wasn't the horseback riding girl detective book that I'm sure you would have preferred, but I hope this works.

Thank you for dreaming.

Love and kisses,

Grown-up Me

*and Mom has the "books" to prove it. Oh, lordy, does she. BTW, thanks for entertaining us at dinner the other night

**Don't worry, you'll learn that word in high school. Sorry to tell you that we don't have flying cars, though. I hear we might get the self-lacing sneakers from Back to the Future soon, if it makes you feel any better.

(I'll post a more substantial post about my actual calls, both agent and editor, later, but first I just wanted to share the news! I couldn't have gotten to this point without all of your support, my amazing critique partners and betas [special shout-out to Veronica, Stephanie, and Deena for reading it a gajillion times and Madeline for all the kissy scene support,] my awesome agent Carrie, and Patricia and Asja at SHP for believing in Bookishly Ever After enough to give it a home.)

I normally don't use anything but my own photos on this blog, but I just couldn't help but make this. Yes, I'm being a total drama queen :)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Letting Go

I really didn't want to like Disney's Frozen. The Snow Queen is one of my favorite fairy tales and I was annoyed at how their "inspiration" only meant giving Elsa snow powers. Where was the mirror? The robber girl? Gerda, who was a great heroine to look up to because she was strong and smart and faithful? And, of course, the awesome Snow Queen herself, with her sled and ice puzzle. Heck, I even dressed up as the Snow Queen for two Halloweens, all icy makeup and snowflakes (and my blue medieval gown) because I love the story so much. Let's not even get into Disney's problematic limited use of people of color, especially since they quote the source material as reason why the characters need to be white, but then throw the rest of the source material out the window. /rant

I'm rhinestoning my skating dress with snowflakes.
Elsa's gown maaaaay have been an inspiration.

But, then, enough people convinced me to watch it. And while a few things annoyed me about the story, I fell in love, especially with Elsa's character and struggle. As the oldest daughter born to incredibly practical parents who didn't quite appreciate her artistic bend and "not quite normal" (aka, fun and interesting) way of dressing, the writer they insisted become an engineer, I totally identify with Elsa. Be quiet, don't make a fuss, don't try to stand out (unless it's with straight As and academic awards, of course.) Heck, I think Elsa is a very identifiable character. Who hasn't had that feeling of freedom when they've let go of prior preconceptions and fears to embrace themselves?

(I may have gone overboard on the makeup and doing things like medieval society in college. Nothing breaks you out of your shell like wandering around campus in a gown designed to look like it's from the 1100s or 1500s.)

Letting go doesn't always mean running away (oh, Elsa.) Letting go sometimes means facing your fears straight on, because leaving behind the things you knew is terrifying at first. You open yourself to unknowns and failures. It can be paralysing.

Letting go also means believing in yourself even when you might be the only one who does.

Two years ago, I blogged about dying to the things in my life that I need to let die, like Faukes the phoenix on a dying day. These themes are related.

Lent is coming up for those of us who celebrate it. Maybe this year, instead of just giving up on chocolate or pizza, try letting go. Try being conscious of those tattered things and ideas in life that aren't letting you fly. Try embracing your strengths, talents, and dreams.

Twoish years ago, I died to the idea I couldn't write any more. I let go of my fears of failure and rejection. I'm slowly getting closer to realizing my dreams.

So... Let it go-- the past is in the past.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pen Name? Me?

Anyone who knows me in real life or even on Twitter knows Isabel isn't my first name (it's actually my middle name.) I respond to Isabel/Issy, it's my confirmation name (and, thus, the name of my patron saint,) and if my parents hadn't been adamant about keeping my first name, I would totally have changed over to Isabel officially when I was five. But, nope, Isabel, while still one of the parts of my Portuguese-style first-middle-mother's maiden name-father's surname legal name, is a pen name. Of sorts.

I get the "why" question a lot from people who know me. "Why not Firstname Isabel Bandeira" or, "heck, go fancy-schmancy and throw the whole 'OMG, your name is reaching British Royal proportions and the DMV hates you because it won't fit on a license and stupidly asks you to change your legal name because of character limits' shebang up for the world to see?"

Issy's reasons for being Issy:
  • I love the name Isabel. I still haven't forgiven my parents for changing their minds and switching it to my middle name when I was born. *narrows eyes at Mom and Dad*
  • There's another person around my age in my state with the exact same name who went to college in the same city as I did (not the OMG british royalty proportions one, but Firstname Isabel Bandeira.) Back in college, there was an uncomfortable e-mail case of mistaken identity, and it's been interesting ever since. Especially since she has a much more active (and not as cautious) online presence. I already have to deal with people mistakenly thinking the search results from her apply to me!
  • Oh, holy heavens above, people already can't spell Bandeira and you want me to ask anyone to deal with even more names to misspell if I use my exceeds-DMV-character-limits name?
  • I want to keep my two work worlds separate. Which leads to my last reason:
  • I'm a woman in a male dominated industry. I've worked hard to get men in this industry to take me seriously because, I hate to say it, inherent sexism still exists in my profession. While my male coworkers are generally fantastic*, over the past 12 years I've experienced being ignored in meetings, getting dismissed by surgeons (many of whom will automatically default to the men,) and having to fight to have my voice heard without being labeled a "bitch." Writing YA, my glitter obsession, chatting about how fictional dead boys are awesome, discussing disordered eating, talking about kissy scenes-- those are all things that can seriously set me back with people who are still stuck in the eighteen-fifties. I wish the world wasn't that way, but I don't want to be impacted by that bias when a customer or employer does a web search on my name.
*Fantastically fantastic. Many of my current coworkers know I write and have been nothing but supportive. The men I work with respect me as an engineer and as someone who can whip off a good memo in no time flat. I've been able to wear (minimal) glitter while kicking butt in a technical discussion. There's the occasional mansplaining... but, in general, they're great. Still, I need to think about my entire industry (not just my office microcosm) and engineering career as a whole while feeling free to be the YA-loving writer you see on this blog and on Twitter, Pinterest, etc, etc.

So... pen name. Isabel. I'm rocking it, with a ton of teal glitter.

From this morning, where I showed off a cute eyeshadow look I was trying.
(Yes, this was from a Frozen-inspired tutorial. I love Elsa's style!)
Tried another shot of the eyeshadow, but I just look unimpressed by all the snow.
Ignore the unimpressed look, because I still love the white stuff- ice! skating! SPARKLE!

Any of you ever use a pen name? What were your challenges?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Eat The Damn Brownie

The other day, I was at a work lunch. I was sitting at the same table as one of the other women engineers who is a competitive (amateur) ballroom dancer and we were talking about our upcoming competitions.

I had grabbed a brownie and cookie from the dessert table and offered her a cookie. Her automatic response was "Oh, no, I can't."

My reaction was instant. "I really shouldn't, either. I'm competing in a month and with my ankle injury*..." And then, I stopped myself.

Back in December, one of my friends--an incredibly talented, beautiful, and intelligent athlete--ended up checking into a clinic for her eating disorder. I hadn't seen her in months because she was away at college, so I didn't know how much weight she'd lost. When she finally became an outpatient and I got to see her again, she was a sliver of the girl I'd known.

Remember this post, where I vlogged about my disordered eating? About the 800 calorie-a-day goal and my exercise bulimia? Her calorie intake didn't go over 200 calories a day. She got to a point where being fed normal amounts of calories during treatment actually hurt. My heart broke hearing that, hearing about the body image she is still struggling with. And the night before that work lunch, I was in tears after a text convo with her because, damnit, I hated seeing another girl dealing with that stupid, awful illness. (If you follow me on twitter, you might remember my "Effing anorexia" anger tweets from that night.)

So, mid-saying I shouldn't eat a stupid little brownie because I wanted the tiniest butt possible to fit in my skating dress, I stopped. I looked at my slim coworker and shook my head. "No, you know what, I can eat this brownie. I'm eating the damn brownie because I'm perfect the way I am and so are you."

Yes, a year and a half of continuous downtime thanks to my injuries means I'm trying to slog off twenty extra pounds to fit back in most of my pants. But I'm athletic and healthy. Even with these extra pounds, I'm still beautiful and no doctor would say I need to lose weight. But society has programmed us into these automatic responses and reactions and even knowing that, I'm not immune.

If I say it on this blog a million times, it won't be enough. You are perfect. Be healthy, but don't let airbrushed images and a media that thrives on unrealistic bodies drive who you should be. Exercise because it makes you strong. Eat because it fuels your amazing body and because it's one of the wonderful pleasures of life.

And every now and then, eat the damn brownie.

(filmed on December 15th. Not my fastest spin, but this body lets me do things like this!)
Sorry about the black lines- it was the first time we video-ed with my phone!



*yup, injured again. A month before Adult Eastern Sectionals. Because my ankle and the universe hate me.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Post Where I Learn My Subtlety Was... Too Subtle?

I let some news slip in my last blogpost, but I was told by a few people I was so subtle they missed it.


Ditto my tweeting it once.


So... I bolded the news. Check it out :)


Because, yup, I still love subtle.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Oh, December


So, December was... insanely busy. Correction: November and December were incredibly busy.


I guess anyone who ever worked in Corporate America knows the feeling*--the yearly complaint that work ruined any chance to enjoy: Advent, preparing for Christmas, or even the decorations, and forget about shopping (I get it done in early November to avoid crying in line the last few days before Christmas.) I still have my cards and some decorations up because I want to enjoy them, darnit! January is my Advent do-over.


My focus for most of that time revolved around work, travelling for work, and some other stressful things that happened to come up in the meantime. I usually ate lunch and dinner at my job. Sometimes breakfast. By the time I hit my vacation time, I was ready to forget the day job for two weeks.


There was a point sometime in early December when I had a mini breakdown and even yelled "I give up!" with my forehead pressed against the steering wheel in the parking lot of what I lovingly call "apartment hell."** It might have been right after a really stressful morning drive. Or maybe the nutty apartment complex lady had just passed and peered into my car. Twice. (She's a little creepy that way.)


Having a call with my agent, Carrie Howland of Donadio and Olson, right outside a work cadaver lab (I have a weird job) might have balanced things out that month the tiniest bit, though.


Anyway, the first third of December was insanely busy. I have to admit, the last third was fun, except it was so hard to keep some exciting news secret. And now I'm back at the day job, recharged, and ready to, well, you can read the note I wrote to myself this morning:


(Deena made this mug! It’s a chalkboard!)


How is 2014 treating all of you?


*unless you work in finance in a company whose fiscal year doesn't end in December. And, yes, I somehow know way too many people who have odd-time-of-year staying late and ordering pizza to the office stories.


**It's not awful, just populated with the strangest cast of characters ever. And 2 hours from my beloved Pine Barrens. You tell me a place isn't weird when the old guy across the way pops out to talk to you wearing just his boxers. Or when the other old guy upstairs yells at you for closing your door too loudly. Or when one of the upstairs neighbors keeps shoving stuff down the drain so that my bathroom floods (this happened three times.) Or when your tub fills with sewage during a storm (also three times.) Oh, apartment hell.



Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 No-Kiss Blogfest!

*slides into the blogosphere* Safe! (aka, actually made it!)

This year, I thought I'd post one of the versions of a scene from Summer Story (aka Evenfall, aka the WIP that scares me and that I occasionally write when I need to torture myself)--the other one just has a little hand-holding compared to this one's almost-kissing, but both have the same start and result. Summer Story is about a lot more than just a relationship, but I do think this passage kind-of captures Teri and Justin's relationship (and he's such a cutie. Picture Nicholas Hoult from X-Men: First Class, glasses and all.)

I think I'm starting to get a little less scared of kissy scenes. Maybe. Now Summer Story? Still scares the heck out of me.

*********
Justin took my hand and pulled me away from Hailey and the rest of her friends just as the fireworks started lighting up the sky.

I’d gone mute, too weak to pull away and insist that we stay where we were. Safe from anything he could say or I could do. But the feeling of his fingers curled in mine was like witchcraft, turning me into a shadow and I couldn’t help but follow.

He settled us right on the edge of the water, propped on a large rock jutting downwards at a sharp angle that made climbing down to it a little scary. But once we were there, it was like we were removed from the crowds on the lakeside, cocooned in our own rock sofa. Fireworks burst above. Their shapes reflected in the lake and, for that moment, it was like we were surrounded by light.

This place was dangerous in more ways than one.

I finally found my voice as the cold and damp of the rock seeped through my jeans and into my legs and I untangled my fingers from Justin’s. “Maybe we should go back to Hailey and Ava.”

He ran an agitated hand through his hair. “I need a break from Ava. Velcro doesn’t have anything on that girl.”

I couldn’t help the little smile that tickled the edge of my lips. “I think it’s because she really likes you.”

“Yeah, but I’m not into her.”

I let my toes dangle over the water, my flip-flop dangerously close to falling off and floating away. I kept my eyes trained on the edge of my shoes. “Poor Ava.”

“Poor me. She’s nice, but…” He trailed off, then waited for the whistle and boom of a few rockets exploding overhead to die off before saying, “Anyway, you never told me why wanting to make jewelry was a deep, dark secret. Did you make knuckle rings for a gang or something? Spy earrings with listening devices?”

“Not really.” I couldn’t help but snort at his guesses. “I don’t know.” My fingers scrambled in the dark for a rock to toss into the water as I forced myself to look nonchalant. I was keeping a big, huge chunk of who I now was a secret and maybe that was written all over my face. “Some people think it’s weird, I guess, to make a job out of something like that. Everyone else wants to be engineers or doctors or social workers. But, anyway,” I finally found the rock and tossed it so the water reflected wavy circles of fireworks, “I’m not doing that anymore.”

“No, I know what you mean. I really want to spend the rest of my life working as a wood-carver, like Mark Lindquist. His sculptures are incredible. Or even just making furniture. Not just chairs and stuff, but the kind of things you see in museums or as art pieces.” His face lit up brighter than the fireworks and he gestured widely with his hands. It was impossible not to smile at his enthusiasm. “It’s an amazing feeling, just looking at a piece of wood and seeing the possibilities in the grain. And then, when I get to peel away all the layers to shape it into something, it’s like like alchemy. Taking a shapeless thing and turning it into something golden.” He looked over at me, his smile turning sheepish. “I know that probably sounds weird.”

            “It doesn't.” I shook my head and allowed my smile to grow wider. “I get the same feeling when I’m working with wire. Or on a lost wax casting. It really is magic.” I whispered the last sentence.

Nodding, Justin tilted back again to watch as sparkles of blue and gold fell, rain-like, above us. He spoke to the fireworks, but his next words were aimed at me. “You know, you’re the first person I’ve really felt comfortable around right from the start.”

My heart clenched and, for a second, fear chilled my entire being. My heart and lungs felt just like they did when the first symptoms of the disease took over, slowly choking me. I forced a breath and it was like breathing dust through cheesecloth. “If you call insulting me ‘getting along.’”

“I didn’t insult you.” The agitation soaked from his fingers to his voice. “I’m trying to say I like you, Teri.”

There it was. The one thing I was trying to avoid and Justin put it out there, anyway. I tried to crush the wonder-filled hope that wrapped around me like an electric coil. I froze, an After-me statue tilting on a dangerous ledge. The day washed over me, the easy laughter and firework moments when our fingers would brush each other’s and, just for a second, I indulged in a daydream I couldn’t afford. There was a potential and chemistry between us like I’d never felt in my life that Before-Me would have jumped to explore. Justin pressed his hand on top of mine, fingers curling between my fingers and leaned in close enough that I could make out how the faint tortoiseshell pattern on his glasses frame matched the dark rim around his eyes. “Really like you.” His gaze held mine, serious and nervous and adorable all at once.

Justin’s breath, minty from his gum, played over my lips. I closed my eyes, imagining what it would be like if I just listened to Before-Me and closed the distance between us. His other hand smoothed back my hair and I lost myself for a second in the energy that trailed his feather-light touch as he traced my cheek and neck. I inched the tiniest bit closer, almost brushing his lips before a memory washed over me, the voice as clear as if the speaker was standing right behind me. A tight, baby-powder scented hug and someone saying, “You’ve had such a blessing. You can’t throw your life away on a mundane little life, Kateri, You’re meant for greater things. Remember that.

The memory shook me out of my downward spiral. Before he could get any closer or the hormonal part of me could change my mind, I slid my hand away and dropped my chin, trying to make my voice steady. “And I really like you, too. As a friend.” Booms from the fireworks tore my soul to shreds and, without his warmth, my skin felt colder than the top of the CN tower in February.

“Oh.” Justin sat back and a personal space forcefield wrapped around him, closing him off the tiniest bit. “You have a boyfriend.”

“No.” I played with the edge of my shirt. “It’s just not a good time for relationships right now.”

“I thought...” He trailed off, cleared his throat, and tried again. “I just want to let you know I’m not like those guys who just gets together with girls for the summer because they’ll be going away in September.” There was a lull in the fireworks, but it wasn’t so dark I couldn’t see an odd sort of embarrassed sincerity on his features.

Now I was making him feel bad. The same embarrassment crawled into my Oz-sized tornado of emotions. “I didn’t mean that,” I said and wished real quicksand would come and swallow me. “I just…” I flailed, ignoring the final salvo of fireworks. “I just need friends this summer.” Before he could start feeling any worse, I tapped his foot with mine, not meeting his eyes. “Can you help with that?”

“Yeah.” He paused, then took a deep breath and said in a stronger voice. “Sure. I hope it doesn’t make things weird between us.” He leaned forward and twisted until his face was in my vision. “I wasn’t kidding about how much I like hanging out with you. Even if you are woefully misguided about decent hockey teams.”

The incredibly sad rush of a what-if passed over me and I forced a laugh, reaching out to shove him, but not hard enough to knock him off the rock. “C’mon. Let’s get back to Hailey and Ava before we fuel the town rumor mill.”
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I can't wait to hop around to all your blogs and see all your no-kissy goodness (linked here!)