Asta is going on tour!

Hello everyone!

Just wanted to let you guys know that Asta and the Barbarians is going on a week-long blog tour starting today. Here is the schedule:

May 21:

1: Andi’s Book Reviews

2: BooksChatter

3: Dark Treasury

4: Jazzy Book Reviews

5: It’s Raining Books

6: Let me tell you a story

 

May 22:

1: Christine Young

2: Kit ‘N Kabookle

3: Mythical Books

4: Long and Short Reviews

5: MIxed Book Bag

6: Natural bri

 

May 23:

1: Emily Carrington

2: Sharing Links and Wisdom

3: Wake Up Your Wild Side

4: Straight From the Library

5: Readeropolis

6: Stormy Nights Reviewing & Bloggin’

 

May 24:

1: Beyond Romance

2: The Avid Reader

3: Welcome to My World of Dreams

4: Wendi zwaduk – romance to make your heart race

5: White Sky Project

6: Tina Donahue Books – Heat with Heart

 

May 25:

1: FUONLYKNEW

2: Hope. Dreams. Life… Love

3: Queen of All She Reads

4: T’s Stuff

5: books are love

6: Deal Sharing Aunt

 

Pop in any time this week to support these bloggers and show some love for Asta! There’s also going to be a raffle where I’ll be giving away more of my custom made bookmarks, coasters, and magnets. I’ll be stopping by each blog throughout the week so be sure to leave a comment to let me and the host know you’re there. Looking forward to chatting with you all!

In the Dark Quiz

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the time has come for the long awaited In the Dark Trivia Quiz! One of my blog followers brought it to my attention that twenty-five to thirty questions might be a bit much for my first quiz so I’ve cut it down to fifteen questions.

Remember: to participate, copy and paste all fifteen questions and your answers into the body of an email, and send it to rjagundez5@hotmail.com. Please include your home address at the bottom of the email so that I can mail your prize. Answers should be emailed to me no later than Monday, February 19, midnight MST.

The person who wins first place will receive an autographed, first edition, paperback version of I Dare You to Love Me, a bookmark, and two coasters.

The second place winner will receive the bookmark and the coasters.

Third place will receive the bookmark.

Thanks for stopping by and good luck!

 


 

  1. How long were Lindsay and Avery together before he cheated on her?
  2. Kyle had a note from a girl in his pocket when he was kidnapped. What was her name?
  3. At the beginning of chapter four, Avery said, “No use crying over spilled …” What?
  4. What is the name of the first werewolf lord?
  5. After Lindsay was bitten, she and Wayne met at her grandmother’s cabin for werewolf training. Where was the cabin located?
  6. Wayne told Lindsay she smelled like, “Strawberry and kiwi shampoo, vanilla
    lotion. . .tart, messy but filling. Like … …” What?
  7. Shannon was raised in an orphanage in New Mexico, run by nuns from the San Isidro Catholic Church. What was the name of the nun who watched over her?
  8. What was the cover story Wayne, Lindsay, Shannon, and Caleb were going to use to to explain their presence in Poland?
  9. What is the “alpha’s mark?”
  10. How did Wayne, Lindsay, Shannon, and Caleb lose Casimir’s shadow in Poznan?
  11. Where were Kyle, Bailey, and Cordelia holed up when Wayne found them in Budapest?
  12. Who pretends to be Avery to trick Casimir?
  13. Complete the sentence: “I’m just Wayne, not … … …! I can’t be everywhere at once. People are still going to get hurt, Caleb.”
  14. Who comes to live with Avery after he returns to Laguna Beach?
  15. Wayne was asked to consult on the construction of a new werewolf settlement near which city?

Publishing Updates

Last week, I signed a contract with Inkitt to publish my young adult fiction novel, I Dare You to Love Me. It was a challenging decision for me to make because I had been given the opportunity to Revise and Resubmit this manuscript to an acquisitions editor from Filles Vertes Publishing. I wanted to remain loyal to that editor; she’d given me a second chance along with some invaluable constructive feedback. But after seven weeks of silence from her, it was time to move forward. I never thought I’d have to send a rejection letter. I’ve received enough to know how to write a cordial one, but it still wasn’t fun. All I can do is hope she’ll understand why I decided to accept Inkitt’s offer.

Just before this, I received word from Tirgearr Publishing that they decided to publish Asta and the Barbarians after they publish In the Dark! So now all of my completed manuscripts are going to be published. (Insert girlish shriek of excitement here).

The publishing schedule for my novels is as follows:

I Dare You to Love Me — October 2017

In the Dark — January 2018

Asta and the Barbarians — April 2018

Inkitt is giving readers the opportunity to receive a free ebook copy of I Dare You to Love Me on launch day. If interested, click here.

It’s still hard for me to believe. Everything’s been happening so fast. I’m exhilarated and proud and humbled and thankful and terrified all at once. Have I mentioned that already? Well, it’s worth mentioning twice! I don’t know what these next few months are going to be like. I’m taking three writing classes this semester, working full-time, and trying to finish another manuscript. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get these novels ready for their publication dates, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a new routine as things develop. It’s just like the beginning of a school semester. Looking at the syllabus and the assignments that are going to be due, it overwhelms me. But, so long as I take it one week at a time, it’s manageable. At the end of each semester, I’ve been able to look back and think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

Everything I’ve done for my manuscripts has led up to this point. It’s real now. It’s go time. I can’t wait to get started!

Pitch Madness

For those of you who don’t know, Pitch Madness (also known as PitMad) is a Twitter event for undiscovered writers, which happens several times a year. It gives writers a chance to pitch their stories (in 140 characters or less) to participating agents from publishing houses all over the country. A writer can pitch as many of their stories as they want, but only three tweets per story. Writers who want to support their peers are allowed to retweet the pitches of others, but only agents can like (or heart) a tweet. Agents can choose to log into their twitter accounts and go to the PitMad page where hundreds of thousands of pitches are on display from 8AM to 8PM. By liking a tweet, that agent has given the writer permission to submit a query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters of that particular story with #PitMad in the subject line. I’ve heard some agents give participating PitMad writers’ submissions priority over unsolicited submissions.

On Thursday, I will be participating in Pitch Madness for the third time. I have mixed feelings about this event. I know it’s a great opportunity. When will I have the attention of so many different agents at once? Being able to add that #PitMad into the subject line of my submission will give me a better chance than if I sent an unsolicited submission. But at the same time, it’s so stressful. The number of pitches on the PitMad page is overwhelming. There are countless other undiscovered authors doing the same thing I am, succeeding in sticking out from the masses, doing a much better job pitching than I ever could.

I struggle with writing pitches. I’m a long-winded summarizer. Always have been. (Anyone who asks me what my stories are about or what book I’m currently reading is immediately sorry they asked). In all the examples I’ve studied and “How to Write a Good Pitch” articles that I’ve read, they say a pitch needs to include three things: the protagonist, the main conflict, and what is at stake. Sound simple, right? Wrong! It has to be intriguing and exciting but not too flowery, all the while engaging the agent emotionally, giving them a reason to care about the main character and his/her journey. Because a good pitch will make an agent request the whole manuscript, while a lame pitch will have them turning away before they even finish it.

With so much weighing upon this 140 character long pitch, can you blame me for stressing out? Can you blame me for looking forward to this event while also dreading it?But I can’t ignore such an obvious opportunity to showcase my work. I’ve tried the unsolicited query route long enough with no success. I got closer to publication during the last PitMad than I ever have. I need to keep pitching, no matter how gut-wrenching the process may be.

The last two PitMads snuck up on me. I did my best to come up with compelling, interesting, and concise pitches on the spot but it was really hard. Since I found out about this PitMad ahead of time, I can prepare. I can read up on new articles about the Dos and Don’ts of pitching. I can brainstorm and work with words to create several different pitches and see which ones sound better. I can ask for advice from beta readers and other writers. I have time to look over the opening chapters of my novels, polish them up even more, make them ready for new eyes. Maybe, just maybe, this PitMad will be different.

On the subject of querying

I met an editor thanks to my grandmother.

She heard about a creative writing class being taught at a community center in Phoenix and thought it was something I’d be interested in. She paid the fee and told me to have a good time. This was the first writing class I’d ever taken. Up until then, all I’d learned about creative writing I’d picked up from my favorite authors. I was excited to learn more about the writing process and get a glimpse of the publishing world. More importantly, I wanted to meet the teacher. She was an editor. As shy and awkward as I was, I was suddenly determined to talk to this person and get her to look at my fledgling manuscript. She would be honest with me. She wouldn’t have any bias whatsoever. If I didn’t have any talent, she would tell me. And if she told me I should give up and choose another career path, I would do it. (Or so I kept telling myself.)

Most of the techniques and terms I heard about in this class were things I already knew; she just gave them names. But the most rewarding part of the class was that she gave us her contact information at the end, and told us to email her if we ever needed someone to edit our work. I thought this was perfect! I didn’t even have to give her the speech I’d been preparing. I let some time pass before I contacted her, partially because I didn’t want to sound desperate and partially because I wanted to read through my manuscript one more time. Once I was convinced it was as perfect as I could make it, I emailed her. I got a response about a week later. She was interested in my story. She wanted to take a look.

I worked with her for five to six months. She edited through my work, we met up at a nearby Barnes and Noble to talk about some of the things I could improve or take out of the manuscript, then I went home and worked on it. Then I emailed her again with the newest version and waited for her to have time to look at it. All the while, she was convinced I had talent and could get my story published. It was a dream come true. An adult, a professional, thought I could make it as an author! It was all the validation I needed. I saw her one more time with the third and final version of my manuscript, and she declared that there was nothing else she could teach me. Not really, but she said it was as polished and neat as it could possibly be. She gave me some tips on query letters and some good articles to read. Then she wished me the best of luck, telling me I could email her any time with questions or future projects.

And so my querying journey began. I had very high hopes despite the voice of reason at the back of my mind, murmuring that I should probably prepare myself for a few rejections. I spent several weeks doing research on the elements of a perfect query letter, reading query letters that succeeded in hooking an agent, and applying some of those elements in a letter of my own. I spent several more weeks doing research on agents, hunting for the select few who advocated for my genre and had published books similar to mine. I made lists, I wrote and rewrote my query letter until I thought it was perfect, edited through my manuscript one more time, and then I began emailing agents. I must have emailed at least fifty agents. Then came the horrible period of waiting. I lost track of the months and the many times I checked my email, holding my breath as the page loaded, wondering if that day would be the day when I would be discovered and my dreams would come true.

That day, unfortunately, never came. Instead, I received a plethora of polite rejections and assurances that just because one agent wasn’t interested didn’t mean no agent would ever be interested and that I should keep looking for that perfect fit. After almost a year of this, I had experienced a range of emotions from confusion to anger to determination to hopelessness to self-deprecation. I read more articles, did more research, worked on my query letter some more, and tried again with another fifty or so agents. I kept telling myself I had been stupid to hope I would hit gold on the first try, but maybe the second time would be different. No such luck. More polite, sickening, heart-breaking rejections. Then one kind agent added something else to their rejection letter: a website for beta readers. The only people who had read my manuscript at this time were me, the editor, and my sister.

Any shyness or insecurities were tossed out the window then. I couldn’t understand how a manuscript could be liked and approved by an editor, and then not get any bites in the agent pond. I needed to be bold. I needed to try something different. So I joined this writers’ forum and got a few beta readers for my manuscript. And then I found out the truth. My editor had been nice. Too nice. I still had a lot of work to do if I wanted my story to appeal to the age group I had in mind. I admit that I was officially done at this point. The amount of work I still had to do was overwhelming. I thought, “There isn’t enough time in the world to fix everything that’s wrong with this story!” I took a break from it. I dabbled in other stories and edited through older manuscripts, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I kept thinking, “Why does it matter? No one will ever read these stories anyway.”

It wasn’t a good time in the life of Becca. I was pretty much questioning my whole existence. Ignacio from Nacho Libre summed it up best. “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”

But there was something about this particular manuscript, this story about faeries and a minotaur tyrant who wanted to take over the world and a group of friends who were closer than sisters and were strong enough to bring down the big bad together. Something about the magic of this island, the battles, the lessons, the drama. There was so much this story could teach young adults, so much hope it could give even though it was set in a mythical world. I thought of J K Rowling and all the rejections she received before Harry Potter was published. And look how that turned out for her! It was a major success and is still touching the lives of people to this day. (I don’t think I want to be as famous as J K Rowling, but I still greatly admire her work.)

I gave up on querying, but I didn’t give up on my writing. Obsessing about getting published was sucking the joy out of creating new worlds, characters, and plots. I went back to the basics, the simple task of putting words on paper. I kept my beta readers, though. With them, I slowly began to improve my craft.

That was three years ago.

I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m not the only one who thinks so either. My beta readers and fellow members of writers’ forums seem to think so too. I’m still not done with the faerie manuscript. I’ve managed to finish three other stories, but I’m still figuring out the best way to tell this story (The Sentinel’s Test). I’ve gotten confident enough in my other manuscripts to try querying again. I still haven’t gotten anything other than polite rejections, but I’m surprisingly okay. The desire to be discovered is still there, just buried a little deeper. I have a slightly more realistic picture of the publishing process and what it’s going to take for me to hold my printed book in my hands. It’s going to be hard, but I know now that I can’t allow myself to get discouraged. Or if I do get discouraged, I can’t stay there for too long.

As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Surrounding myself with other authors and aspiring authors has helped. (Thank you, Twitter!) It turns out, I’m not the only one who has gone through this. That is always good to know. Hopefully, someday I’ll be finishing my querying journey and adding to this post. Someday, I’ll get my happy ending. For now, I’m just going to keep writing.

The vamp and the boring dud

Nina left the room after I announced my engagement.

Papa already knew because Wes had asked him first, but he smiled and congratulated us just the same. Momma let out a girlish shriek of excitement and ran into the kitchen for that bottle of cider she’d been saving for a special occasion. My brother, Phillip, rose from the sofa to help his very pregnant wife stand and give us hugs. He proceeded to shake Wesley’s hand and give him a crooked smile.

My sister-in-law squeezed my shoulders despite the baby bump between us. “Oh, Bea! That’s wonderful news! I’m so happy for you two!” She released me to take Wesley’s face in her hands and beam up at him. “I knew you were going to stick around! I just knew it!”

Wes smiled around the hands over his cheeks. “Thanks, Opal.”

I turned to smile at my sister, expecting to see her still standing by the floor lamp, waiting for her turn to congratulate me. But she was gone, the screen door closing behind her with a quiet click. I kept the smile on my face despite my disappointment and excused myself before slipping out into the night.

Nina leaned her elbows against the railing and lit the cigarette dangling from her lips. I used to think she looked so cool with a ciggy between her fingers, colored eyelids drooped, long lashes casting shadows across her prominent cheekbones, ruby red lips pouting ever so delicately. Nina was blessed with all the confidence and genes needed to be a choice bit of calico in this decade. The dress of a flapper couldn’t hide my curves and my bob could hardly be contained by a cloche hat. Plus, I’d always been too afraid of Papa’s disapproval to smoke.

I took a deep breath and stepped forward. “What’s eating you, Nina?”

She was too quick to smile. “Everything is Jake, Sweet Bea. I was just craving a smoke.”

I joined her by the railing. “Did I upset you with my announcement?”

Nina blew a raspberry and rolled her eyes. “Course not. It’s a surprise but not something to be upset about.”

I blinked. “Phillip bringing a woman of color home to meet our parents was a surprise. Wes and I have been going steady for over a year now. It’s only reasonable that the next step for us would be—”

“Julius and I have been seeing each other about the same amount of time and you don’t see me sporting a handcuff.”

I bit my lip and averted my gaze, sliding a hand over my engagement ring. I hated her a little for ruining this night for me. I wanted to say Julius was too much of a coward to get a divorce and would probably never be faithful to Nina even if he did. But I held my tongue.

Nina took a drag from her cigarette and sighed. “I’m sorry, Sweet Bea. I really am happy for you. Wesley is swell. You’re going to be a great wife.”

Now say it like you mean it, I thought. “Thanks…”

Nina scrunched up her face. “But level with me, sis. Are you sure you’re going to be happy having so little? Being a waitress can’t pay much and Wesley’s job at the railroad isn’t exactly a career.”

“I have everything I could possibly want; parents who support me, an honest and hardworking man who’s goofy about me, friends and siblings who care about me, and a steady job. What more is there?”

My sister chuckled and turned back to the Chicago skyline. “Oh, Bea, you’re adorable.”

“What more is there,” I said with a frown, “that matters?”

Nina’s smile grew sadder and slightly less condescending. “You’ve always been so easy to please.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

Nina waved an impatient hand at the house behind us. “You’re content to be a clergyman’s daughter and follow his rules and sit in church every week. You’re happy waiting on customers and wearing our cousins’ hand-me-downs—”

I defensively wrapped my arms around my jumper.

“And being a good housewife and bearing children and serving the same man until you’re old. You’ve never thirsted for something more, something better, in your entire life. You’ve never been the least bit curious about new things or brave enough to voice your opinion.”

I remembered with bitter clarity the last time I had ‘tried something new’ with my sister.

 

Nina had persuaded Momma to let me spend the night at her place because she was long overdue for a girls’ night. I was under the impression that we’d get dolled up and go out to eat, maybe go to the movies before returning to her flat. The moment I stepped through Nina’s front door, she dragged me to her closet to ask for my opinion on what she should wear.

“Julie’s meeting us downtown and I have to look keen.”

To which I replied, “I thought we were having a girl’s night, Nina Bean.”

My sister huffed. “Don’t call me that! I’m hardly as thin as a string bean anymore. We’re still having a girl’s night. I just want you to meet Julius first.”

So I gave my opinion on Nina’s outfit and squeezed into one of her flapper dresses. I let her do my makeup and wrap a silk scarp around my head, and then we were off. Nina was acting like a schoolgirl, giggling and gushing about her new sheik, while we waited for him outside the speakeasy that masqueraded as a diner. This man, who was the coolest ‘egg’ Nina had ever met, pulled up in a shiny new breezer and honked his horn at us. Nina plastered herself to the side of the car to give the driver a kiss.

Once out on the sidewalk, Julius wrapped an arm around my tall, slender sister and walked over. His head barely reached her breast, but he spoke loudly enough to be noticed by all. His dark hair was sleeked back under his maroon homburg. He sported a gray pinstriped suit with a maroon vest to match his hat, and black and white lace up oxfords. He called Nina ‘smarty’ and complimented her dress before he even noticed me.

“Julie, this is my sister, Beatrice. Bea, this is my Julius,” Nina said.

Julius vigorously shook my hand. “Nice to meet you, doll.”

“Oh, you’re such a charmer!” Nina exclaimed before turning to me. “Isn’t he a charmer?”

“Sure,” I said, not that she heard me.

“Let’s go inside. I’m dying for a lap.” Nina led the way, arm-in-arm with Julius. She spared me a glance over her shoulder when she’d reached the door. “Don’t look so terrified, Sweet Bea. This juice joint is hip to the jive! It’ll be fun!”

With great trepidation, I followed them into the basement. Three drinks, four songs played entirely too loud and fast, and two dances later, I was being groped by a man I didn’t know and had no intention of knowing. The lovebirds I was tagging along with magically reappeared from wherever they had slipped off to. Julius slugged the stranger in the stomach while Nina dragged me outside and away from the ruckus. We reached the alley in time for me to throw up all over the pavement and Nina’s dress.

“Oh, Bea! I’m so sorry! Are you all right?” Nina tugged a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed at my face.

I let out a moan and sank back against the wall. “I want to go home.”

Nina sighed. “I can’t bring you to Momma like this. Let’s just go back to my place, all right?”

Julius emerged then, looking angrier than a swarm of bees. “That futz-face won’t be coming around this place again. How’s your sister?”

“She’s fine, Julie, but I really think I ought to put her in bed. Could you take us home?”

 

I crossed my arms now, mentally channeled this memory to my sister, and waited for her to remember.

Nina cast me a sideways glance. “The night you met Julius doesn’t count.”

“Why not? It was the first time I’d ever been to a sp…”

A burst of laughter from inside the house reminded me there was only a screen door and several footsteps between us and the rest of our family.

I lowered my voice. “It was the first time I’d ever done something illegal before. And what about my hair?”

Nina shrugged. “What about it?”

“You shamed me into getting it cut this way because you were so certain it would make me look fashionable! ‘All your life it’s been long,’ you said, ‘and wouldn’t it be nice to have it styled differently for a change?’ Maybe if I’d been ‘brave enough to voice my opinion’ and said no right away, I wouldn’t look like I have a crow’s nest on the top of my head!”

Nina coughed and sputtered out a laugh.

I self-consciously patted my curls and scowled at her. “I know Wesley hates it, but he’s too much of a gentleman to say anything. It’s a good thing we’re waiting until the spring to get married, otherwise I’d have to…”

Nina rolled her eyes. “It looks fine. You’re being ridiculous.”

“Speaking of ridiculous, just what is wrong with being a housewife and having children?” I demanded.

My sister blew out a stream of smoke and flicked the cigarette butt into the grass. “Nothing, of course. Why would you do anything different? It’s all women are good for.”

I gritted my teeth to keep from swearing. I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Just because I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life with the man I love doesn’t mean I’m ignorant or stupid.”

Nina cast me an annoyed glance. “I never said you were.”

“Then stop insinuating that your way is best! Not all of us want to be vamps who drink until they vomit and dance with strangers. Some of us actually want to grow up.”

Nina’s jaw dropped. “Bea…”

“Tonight was supposed to be a celebration!” My voice cracked. “Why couldn’t you just be happy for me?” I spun on my heel and marched into the house, blinking away tears.

 

Wes climbed the tree by my bay window and tapped the glass with his knuckles. I rolled out of bed and threw on a robe before shuffling over.

“Were you sleeping?” he asked once I’d opened the window.

I sat on the cushioned bench and hugged my knees. “You know I can’t sleep after I’ve had a fight.”

Wes shifted on the branch, most likely to get into a more comfortable position. Leaves came loose with an audible shuffle before they flitted to the ground. Wes flinched and looked down at my parents’ window. He let out a sigh of relief when the light stayed off. Then he turned those soft green eyes on me. “What happened tonight, Bea?”

I swallowed the lump of anger and self-pity as best I could. “Oh, it was just Nina being Nina. I’m not dating a married man and twisting the night away like she is so, naturally, I’m a boring dud.”

Wes frowned. “She wasn’t happy for you?”

“Marriage apparently was designed to belittle and enslave women all around the world. Ugh! She drives me crazy!”

“Did she say those words exactly?” Wes asked.

“No,” I murmured, “but she was awfully upstage about the whole thing. I don’t understand how she came to hate marriage so much. My parents have a wonderful relationship. It’s not perfect, never has been, but they’ve found happiness in whatever situation they’ve encountered because they have each other and God between them. Opal practically saved Phillip after he came back from the war! True love and commitment are so medicinal to the soul. Why can’t Nina see that?”

Wes chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment. “Could it be that she’s jealous?”

“Free-spirited, sophisticated Nina jealous of me?” I scoffed. “Unlikely.”

“Well,” Wes said carefully, “her younger sister is getting married before her. Despite what she thinks about marriage, the fact that she hasn’t been asked yet says something about her.”

I shook my head. “Even if she was asked, she’d just say no. The thought of depending on or being under anyone’s rule is too horrible. Why do you think she left home so soon after finishing high school? Momma and Papa were willing to go into debt to pay for higher education, but she wouldn’t have it. She worked herself to the bone paying for college and rent all so that she could be free.”

Wes reached out to take my hand. “You shouldn’t let this bother you so much, Bea. We’re still getting married.”

I half smiled when I noticed the leaf caught in his hair. I sat up and ran my fingers through his golden locks to remove it. He was right. Of course, he was right. I didn’t need Nina’s approval. It was only…

My smile faded. “I’ve always been able to talk to Nina about anything. I was looking forward to planning the wedding with her and Momma and Opal. I wanted to ask Nina to be my maid of honor. I don’t think any of that is going to happen now.” My eyes stung with the coming of new tears. “The more we grow, the less we have in common and I feel…Oh, Wes, I feel like I’m losing her.”

“That could never happen,” Wes said with confidence. “She’s your sister. She’ll come around to supporting our wedding when she realizes how much her involvement means to you. You’ll see.”

 

Nina never apologized for what happened that night.

I extended an invitation through Momma when I was going to try on wedding dresses several weeks later, and Nina brought her biggest smile. She gave her honest opinion on every dress I tried, and gushed about flowers and lace. She held her new nephew and complimented Opal on making such a beautiful boy. She didn’t even complain when the child spit up on her. My sister graciously agreed to be my maid of honor and be as involved as I needed her to be.

The months flew by. The day came. Nina stood behind me while I tied the knot with Wesley. She smiled for the pictures, she made a toast, and she joined the rest of the bridal party into tying cans to the back of Wes’s car. She threw the rice and waved goodbye. I saw very little of her after that. Married life proved to be more hectic than I expected, but even when I tried to reach out to her, there was always a good reason why we couldn’t get together. Then Christmas time came around and Momma told me Nina had promised to come home for dinner. As excited as I was to finally be in the same room with my big sister, I quickly realized nothing had changed.

Nina arrived with Julius, wearing a fur trimmed coat and suede slippers. She was cordial to Wes, but only spoke to him when she absolutely had to. She talked about her gossip column at the newspaper and the new friends she’d made at a publishing house. She was writing a book and, by golly, it was going to get published. Julius’ car sales business was booming. He and Nina had gotten a place together, bigger and more impressive than Nina’s old flat. But he was still married. His wife came to the house halfway through our gift exchange, forcing Julius to hurriedly retreat. I watched Nina strike up conversation with Phillip while her sheik and his wife argued outside. That plastic smile of hers did little to hide her unhappiness. I couldn’t take it anymore. I snagged her arm and led her upstairs to my old room.

“Bea, what in the world?” Nina said as I shut the door behind us.

“How can you possibly be happy with him?” I demanded. “You’ve been together for two years and he’s still with his wife!”

Nina rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Ours is a complicated relationship, one I hardly expect you to understand.”

“Hooey!” I said with barely controlled fury. “You’re giving him the freedom to switch from her bed to yours whenever he feels like it. And why? Because he buys you nice presents and pays for your new apartment?”

“Stop judging me!” Nina snapped. “Not all of us are happy to live in rags!”

I threw my hands in the air. “When have you ever lived in rags?”

Nina laughed harshly. “All throughout college, and a year or so after that while I was looking for a job.”

That was the first I’d ever heard of it. I sputtered in disbelief before I found my voice. “If you needed help, why didn’t you come home and let our parents take care of you?”

Nina waved my words away, lip curled in disgust. “Papa and Phillip both tried to talk me out of leaving, but I was sure I was ready to be on my own. I would rather starve than prove them right.”

I made a sound of pity and disbelief at the back of my throat. “You’re a dumbbell if you think either of them would ever say ‘I told you so.’”

Silence descended.

Nina ran a hand through her hair. “Am I such a terrible person for wanting some security, some luxury?”

“Of course not,” I said. “But you’re going about it all wrong.”

Nina smirked. “Says who? Momma and Papa?”

I frowned. “Says me. You and Julius are just using each other for your own means. You want to be pampered? You want to be provided for? Find a respectable man with a good career and an even better heart, fall in love with him, wait until he loves you enough to deny all other women, and say yes when he asks you to marry him.”

Nina chuckled. “Not all of us can have the same perfect, happy ending as you, Bea. Julius and I work for now. Why can’t you just be happy for me?”

“Because. It’s. Wrong. Why is this so hard for you to understand?”

Nina rolled her eyes yet again, marched over to the bay window, and wrenched it open. She dug around her new purse for a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said, suddenly tired.

“What can they do?” Nina asked around her ciggy. “I don’t live under their roof anymore. I’m not a child.”

You could’ve fooled me…

I knew it was wrong the moment I thought it. Nina was never like this when we were girls. As a young lady, she was stubborn but brave. She knew what she wanted and went for it. She didn’t let anything get in the way of her dreams and she held onto her convictions no matter what. She always stood up for her shy, self-conscious, little sister. We used to whisper and giggle at all hours of the night until Momma would pound on the wall, remind us what time it was, and tell us to go to sleep or else. We used to be inseparable.

Nina took a drag and glanced at me out of the corner of those dark eyes. Exhaustion and sympathy tugged at her face. “Don’t cry, Sweet Bea. I don’t hate you. We’re just different, that’s all.”

I wiped my face.

Nina abandoned her place by the window and approached me. “We’ll always be sisters.”

I chuckled bitterly. “Sisters who only see each other on holidays? Sisters who argue because they don’t have anything in common?”

Nina brought the cigarette back to her lips, hand trembling. But she didn’t take another puff. Instead, she croaked, “I love you, Bea.”

I wrapped my arms around her and buried my face in her shoulder. She was so thin. So fragile. Suddenly, I wanted to take her someplace far away where she’d be safe from her world of smoke and gray areas and warped priorities. “I love you too, Nina Bean.”

She stroked my hair with her free hand. “I’m so proud of you. Have I ever told you that?”

I shook my head.

I could hear the smile in her voice when she said, “You have a sweet attitude and such simple needs. You’re so…happy with your lot in life. Sometimes I wish I could be more like you.”

I laughed into the beaded swirls of her dress. “Sometimes I wish you were more like you and less like the 20s.”

Nina pulled away. “It’s the world we live in, Sweet Bea. I’m just trying to survive in it.”

 

I didn’t see Nina for two years. I only heard little snippets of news from Momma. I often prayed for my sister and wished her well. I missed her all the time, but whenever I found the courage to write to her, the words escaped me. I’d sit at my desk and stare at the empty page, pen poised, head empty. I’d get so sad and so angry; I’d just end up crumpling up the page and tossing it across the room.

Then my daughter was born. She came early. Phillip and Opal were out of town visiting her folks, but Momma and Papa were on their way to the hospital. Wes was getting a bite to eat in the cafeteria. The door to my room opened and I looked up from my baby girl’s face to see my sister enter.

Her hair was still short, but she wore less makeup. Her dress still ended below the knee, but it was a wrap around with quarter sleeves and made of cotton. There was no fringe or beading. A short string of pearls hung from her neck and black pumps decorated her feet. She carried a small box wrapped in bright pink paper. She gave me a sheepish smile. “Hello, new Momma.”

I smiled back. “Hello, Aunt Nina.”

She slowly approached, like I was a skittish horse that might run away if she came too quickly. “What’s her name?”

I watched my girl’s sleepy little face for a moment. “I can’t decide between Eleanor or Elaine.”

Nina placed her parcel on the bed beside me and leaned in to take a peek at the babe in my arms. “She’s definitely an Eleanor. She’s beautiful, Bea. A perfect little doll.”

“Thanks.” I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. “You look good.”

Nina placed a hand on my shoulder. “Considering you just gave birth to another human being, you’re not looking so bad yourself.”

I laughed and held the child out to her. “Would you like to hold her?”

Nina took Eleanor in her arms, brow wrinkled in uncertainty. But the more she held that baby, the more relaxed she became. I made room for her on the bed and patted the spot beside me.

I playfully nudged her once she had settled in. “So what have you been up to?”

We reconnected in that hospital room. We talked and laughed like we did when we were girls, as if the past few years had never happened. Nina was still Nina; fearless and stubborn. But she was an older and more weathered version of my sister, one created by years of wandering this city and figuring out this life on her own. Different though we still were, it was suddenly all right because these versions of ourselves, like the ones that came before, were temporary. Necessary phases. Parts of our history. Pieces of a puzzle not yet whole.

 

A short story for ya

When the world becomes far too large, I jump into the car and retreat to the safest place I know; a village thirty minutes south of the Mexican-Californian border. I know the road well. The two lanes are separated by a faint line of white paint stretched over crumbling gravel and exposed earth. To my left, the mom and pop shops that experienced their grand openings when I was a child advertise their discounted merchandise on faded signs. To my right are the gas station and the textile factory. Then comes the billboard announcing the new neighborhood of duplexes, with all the latest features of the year 2000. Even with the outlandish gate of metal and stone surrounding the property, rows upon rows of perfect, cookie-cutter houses can still be seen painted in various colors.

As a child, I was ignorant of the poverty consuming the land I loved. I saw the barren miles of soil that separated one town from the next, and thought it normal. Different from my home across the border in the US, but normal for the country I was born in. I saw the cluster of buildings constructed around the only highway, inhaled the smog that trailed into the car even with the windows rolled up, waved at the people riding in open beds of pickup trucks, and found nothing wrong with any of it. Why would I? It had been this way for as long as I could remember. That meant things were the way they were supposed to be.

Visiting as an adult, I’m struck with grief.

Once on the highway, the road becomes smooth. The buildings trailing along on either side are more in number and better in quality. But it’s only for a few miles. Then traffic thins. It’s just me and the road again. I get off the highway when I see my exit, cross the bridge when it appears, and enter the village called Tamaulipas. It’s always quiet here, even on New Year’s Eve when everyone is lighting bond fires, sipping hot chocolate, and sharing tamales with their neighbors. The occasional firework will crack through the air or explode with a single boom, but once those fade, the silence remains. Each modest home is separated by a yard or some trees. Only two homes stand beside fields, one of which belongs to my grandparents. I park my car along the iron fence and climb out.

My grandmother loves plants. It’s evident simply by looking around the property. Some flowers grow from the ground, some grow in heavy pots and sturdy planters, and others in cracked, colorful buckets or old commodes. A vine stretches over the roof of her front porch and falls gracefully down the side, like a green waterfall with white flowers.

I fell out of the tree in the front yard once. My father told me not to climb it because it was dangerous, but I didn’t listen. My grandfather saw me disobey and promised not to tell, knowing I’d learned my lesson in the fall.

More trees, wild shrubs, and bushes grow beside the house. I used to race along the walk separating the wall from the greenery on my bicycle, imagining I traveled on horseback through a dense forest. Citrus trees line the west side of the property better than any fence could. There I had many a jungle adventure with my cousins.

My father said there were once cows and horses on this property, but they were sold long before I was born. The chickens remained for a time but were also, eventually, sold. Blackberry vines used to grow up the side of the coop and over the roof. My cousins and I would climb up the vine, scraping palms and bare feet as we raced to collect the sweet berries in the summertime.

Today, only the dogs remain. There always seems to be at least five. They flock to my grandmother from places unknown. She feeds them scraps from her table even if she’s never seen them before.

Some things stay the same no matter how much time passes. My grandmother still hangs clothes on a line. They flap and wave at me with the help of the whimsical breeze that always seems to be blowing. She still has the thirteen-year-old watercolor painting of sunflowers my sister gave her for Mother’s Day hanging up on the fridge. Every awkward, horrible family portrait we ever sent her still sits in a frame or in her hutch, telling the story of our development. The battered radio broadcasts the same station while she makes fresh tortillas at five o’clock every morning. Despite being “retired,” my grandfather still wakes up early to tend to his crop. He drops in for lunch at noon, returns to his work, and then comes trudging in after sunset, covered in dust and sweat. Every few years the furniture is rearranged or the house is painted a new shade of creamy yellow or a new appliance finally replaces the one that should’ve been thrown out long ago.

And yet, as I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed the almost magical appearance of things that don’t seem to belong here. Like the landline and the flat screen TV for example, or the laptop and the internet that I suspect were installed to accommodate the needs of our ever-growing, ever-changing family. They’re too strange for me to acknowledge. Most of the time, I pretend these new toys simply aren’t there. The antiquity and simplicity of this place must be preserved.

I don’t remain indoors for long. I can’t seem to fight the call of this land. I walk the well-worn path through the citrus trees, to the edge of my grandfather’s field. I give the tractor repair hangar a wide birth. Because of the sharp machinery, I was prohibited to play near the hangar as a child. The instinct to skirt by remains. I follow the field around the property of an unknown relative, past chicken coops and barking dogs chained to stakes in the ground, to the natural canal that cuts through the village. The earth is different here, dry and powdery. Little puffs of dirt erupt at my feet each time my shoes make contact with the earth. I hike along the bank to the old, old tree.

I don’t know what kind of tree it is exactly. Its bark is rough, with crevasses and fissures running up and down the trunk. Like the weathered face of an ancient, wise man. Its branches are thick and strong, but the leaves are strange. They’re long and thin, like the needles of a pine tree, and they hang down low. Like wispy locks of hair that get caught in the wind. Its roots are firmly buried in the loose, chalky earth, reaching deep into the core of this land. Its trunk curves out and up; its shadow falls over the field. With today’s technology, I’m sure I could look it up by description and find its true name. But it will always be my old, old tree. I crouch at the tree’s base and take in my surroundings. The quiet is deepest and purest here. The breeze hissing through the strange pine-like-needles is all I can hear. From this vantage point, I can see what was once my whole world.

This was it. All I knew. There were times when I’d come here and squint against the glaring sun, hoping to see what lay beyond the horizon hundreds of miles away. Did the field truly go on forever as it appeared? Or was there, perhaps, something greater that lay beyond? At my most adventurous, I imagined myself packing a bag and simply running until I discovered the answer. But then I would realize just how far from home I’d have to go. Home was here, where I belonged, where I would hopefully stay forever.

Unfortunately, this thing called “life” happened. This wonderful, monstrous thing took me away from everything I knew and farther than I ever imagined I would be brave enough to go. Sometimes I’m proud of how I turned out, of the places I’ve dared to venture, and the decisions I’ve made. But the world is never completely discovered and life is never truly figured out. Sometimes I need to return to what was simple, safe, quiet.

I take a deep breath of earth, sunshine, and memory, and rise from the base of that old, old tree to begin trekking back to my car. Because I can’t stay forever. I can’t go back in time. I can only move forward. As I reach the bank of the canal, I can’t help looking over my shoulder. I can almost see the shadow of a little girl, sitting in the shade of her tree, fearfully watching the horizon, arms wrapped tightly around her knees, bare toes curled against the loose dirt. Waiting for life to start.

So I finally cracked

I’m not a blogger. The cool authors blog and all the articles about becoming a cool author recommend blogging. But still…I wouldn’t know what to blog about, I always thought. My life is simple; I go to work, I do online school, I hang out with my husband, I go to church, I occasionally go out with friends, I watch my shows, I read books, I work on my manuscripts, and repeat. I’m not the kind of person who has strong opinions about too many important things. Who would want to read my thoughts on politics? They are few and far between. Would anyone care to know how I felt about the latest Star Wars movie? (It was sad but I kind of expected everyone to die because none of the new characters came out in A New Hope. If I just spoiled it for someone, I’m sorry but it is January and if you haven’t seen it yet there might be something wrong with you.) Despite all the reasons why I was sure I’d be the worst blogger in history, one thought kept resurfacing.

Nobody knows who you are.

I used to find comfort in this. As an extremely self-conscious introvert, I spent my teenage years trying to go unnoticed. I hid behind my books and my bangs, and thought an awful lot about what I was going to say before I spoke (if I spoke at all). I was terrified of sounding or looking stupid. My big sister tried to tell me that everyone sounded or looked stupid sometimes. “So long as you shake off the embarrassment and go with it, nobody will think less of you, Ted.” (More on the nickname later.) I didn’t start believing her until about four years ago, after I’d graduated from high school, moved away from home, and had dared to speak without thinking on more than one occasion. It turned out she was right. Nobody looked down on me for saying something silly or for being a klutz or for laughing at a really lame joke. I guess people thought I was genuine and sort of liked me for it.

The result of this was a simple but revolutionary discovery: I’m a semi-likable person with skills. A very short list of skills, but skills nonetheless.

This new thought made it suddenly okay to be noticed by other people. It was this thought that gave me the courage to join writer’s forums, enter my short stories into contests, surround myself with beta readers, and hunt for an internship at a publishing company. I’ve been given validation and harsh criticism. I’ve learned lots about the writing industry only to find out that I don’t know anything. But one thing has become very clear to me, especially in the last few weeks. I’ll never become a successful writer without building my readership and the only way to do that is by being known.

So here I am.

Starting a blog.

Attempting to join the cool authors.

Putting myself out there.

Wrestling with the teenager inside of me who still wants to hide.

Should I post this? Was I funny enough? I hope I didn’t offend anyone…EEK! THIS IS STRESSFUL! Forget it. I don’t have to become a published author. I’ll just keep my writings to myself and bury my head in the sand.

Take a chill pill and relax into the back seat, girl. It’s going to be a long ride.