The Tall People Blog Tour

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I recently published a short story. You can find it on Amazon, combined with other short stories by various writers into a beautiful anthology.

I’m not sure how the idea for the story came to me. I just remember sitting in the lounge of my sister’s Manhattan townhouse, typing away.

I suppose it was initially inspired by an article my dad told me about as he drove me to the train station the night before.

The article reported a mother who drove her van full of kids into the Atlantic ocean. So I took the perspective of a life guard and fictionalized the story. Then I saturated it with the question of how valuable is a human life?  I’ve never written a story with such determination. It was almost as if the story was telling itself, coaxing my fingers to type it out.

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How did I get it published? I follow a blogger named Ethan Renoe. What drew me to his work was an article on singleness he wrote in Relevant Magazine. I guess I was surprised to see a man writing on singleness. What? I thought singleness was a topic only women wrote about, me included.

So I became a regular reader of Ethan’s blog and one day he asked people to contribute to his anthology.

I scrolled through my google docs and came across this piece I wrote in college for a fiction writing class. The story is full of suspense and emotion. Ethan asked me to change the narrator to a female because,  as he put it, “It was very emotional in a way that most guys don’t think.” Makes sense.

The book is now on a blog tour and will appear across various blogs in the bloggersphere — yeah that’s not a word.

See more on this book tour from Geoffery Wolfe’s blog.

 

 

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Memories of Asheville

 

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I’m sitting in a local coffee shop drinking local coffee. I recently moved to a millennial neighborhood which is considered the trendiest neighborhood in Indianapolis.

Wouldn’t say I’m proud of this.

The coffee is okay, I guess. It’s the sort of coffee I’m willing to pay for not because it tastes good but because the atmosphere here is lively. It smells nice. There’s always nice people and the music evokes a comforting nostalgia.

It sort of reminds me of High Five Coffee in Asheville, a cafe a few doors down from my hostel. The guy behind the counter didn’t seem to mind when I came up short with my change one morning. “I got you,” he said with one of those knowing looks, that either means, I think you’re cute, or ugh, another penniless student.

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The window of the shop looks out into the streets of Asheville where the most interesting people pass by. They are artists or hobos, or a little bit of both. But not the type of street sleepers you see in Indianapolis. Mostly white twenty-somethings, they’re the type you might see living under a bridge by choice rather than because of an addiction.

My time in Asheville was brief but incredibly rich. I still recall the day our internship supervisor sent us out into the city to report on how the public was responding to HB2 (better known as the North Carolina Bathroom Bill). Only now that I work in state government do I even know what HB stands for. True confessions of an unqualified journalist.

I was surprised how many people opposed the bathroom bill, a law that enforced that individuals use the bathroom of their birth gender.  After interviewing some blue-collar workers, I went on a quest to find a new demographic.  But alas, I found myself all too nervous to approach the upper class. When I circled back I came upon an old white man smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant.

He blew smoke in my face as I began the interview. We talked for a while and he said it was ridiculous that there was so much fuss.

“What we need is a separate bathroom entirely,” he said in a slow Carolina accent, allowing the cigarette to dangle from his lower lip. “One for the girls, one for the boys, and one for the transgenders.”

“Do you think it will cause tension like it did before the civil rights movement when separate bathrooms were enforced?” I asked. He laughed and said, “No that was about the blacks. Well back then we called them niggers.” He chuckled to himself as the words left his mouth, causing me to wonder if he used this insult conventionally back when racism in America was more of a rising crisis than a looming issue.

Then, my legs took me through the streets for a little longer until I passed a man who asked where I was from.

“I promise I’m not hitting on you, I just want to know your ethnicity,” he stammered when I turned to look at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’m a student reporter. If you give me an interview I’ll tell you what my ethnicity is.” He agreed and I suddenly noticed we had a few onlookers. The man appeared to be mentally handicapped and I realized we were sort of standing near where the crazy people resided.

Brilliant.

He said he had a daughter who resembled me and I forced a smile. The interview went on for some time, consisting of him deeming the House Bill a decent piece of legislation and that he didn’t want perverts entering a bathroom to harm someone like his little girl.

Cars zoomed by on the busy street and the onlookers sort of drifted away until we were done. I told him I was half white and half black, and he had this sort of dazed look people get when they hear something amazing, but hard to fathom. He summed up his feelings by saying, “Wow, that’s so cool,” and I left him, making my way down the street until I heard shouts from behind me.

The shouts came from a shirtless man with a body that was s once very muscular but had begun to sag with the aging of time.  I stood my ground as he ran towards me even though everything in me said run from this half naked man. But he just wanted to have an interview as well.

“Just so you know,” he said after explaining why he supported the bill, “People in Asheville are cr-a-zy. I’m from New York and people are not as crazy there as they are here.” I stifled a laugh thinking yes people here are crazy, like you. To my dismay his language was so filthy I didn’t incorporate him into my article.

Most of my time in Asheville found me in the walls of the World Magazine headquarters. But in the evening, after lectures, we would go out and practice street photography.

I love street photography. I love taking candid photos that are unplanned and unadulterated. One night my fellow reporters and I went out into the warm streets and snapped photos in the lamp light.

We came across this guy sitting on the doorstep of a furniture shop with star lamps hanging in the windows. He was reading a book with his back pressed against a fading brick wall. I asked if we could photograph him and he said yes. Then we tested our interview skills and asked where he was from. Apparently he was from nowhere, really. He’d been wandering the country after college and living on the streets. His gentle face seemed like it hadn’t a care in the world. “I like sitting here because the stars above me are nice to look at,” he murmured.

“What’s your favorite memory in Asheville?” I asked.

“One time, about two years ago, I was sitting on these steps with my friends. We were playing music and people came around to listen, and we played on into the night. It was pretty amazing.”

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Encounters like this were ones I never expect to have again. Asheville was a time of being the Julia who was a curious journalist. When I returned home and eventually got a job, I lost this element of me, the desire to be a news reporter. Now I work a desk job and drink local coffee on the weekends, writing blog posts when inspiration hits, all the while wondering if a career in journalism will find me later in life.

 

Tell your internal editor to shut-up

The best part about writing a story is writing the second draft.

I’m working on an inspirational romance novel, and lately I’ve been stopped by my own internal editor. She sits on my shoulder saying things like, “You don’t even know how to spell that? How does that even make sense? You said she had blonde hair in the last chapter, now you’re saying ginger?”

Disheartening to say the least.

Sometimes the words fly out. But, usually I’m begrudgingly banging on my computer keys to get the story moving, all the while telling that internal voice to ‘shut-up already.’

It’s absolutely brain-frying.

But there is nothing I love more than looking over the pages I typed yesterday, and beginning the second draft.

In school I tutored at a writing center. As I helped my students write their essays, they would often say things like, “This is probably so easy for you.”

But I thought about it for a while and realized, no, writing doesn’t come easy for me. I think that anyone can be a good writer, if they spend enough time with their writing.

Good writing doesn’t spill out of the mouths of poets and novelists. It develops over time. I hardly doubt Shakespeare penned the lines of Romeo and Juliet on the first draft. I imagine he read them aloud over and over, changing an adjective here and a noun there.

So a word of encouragement to my fellow aspiring novelists. Get your story out before you begin editing. Don’t stop simply because you feel like it’s bad writing. You always have time to go back and polish.

An Unfinished Story

In college I took a fiction writing class. It was a time in my life where I learned how to take a blow from another writer.  The structure of the class was one where we read our stories aloud. Fellow classmates would then critique our work.

Sometimes our professor had us swap stories with a random person in the class and we’d critique their story, then bring it in to class and read it aloud the following week.

One afternoon I walked into class, sat down, and riffled through my folder for the story I’d critiqued the night before. My hands searched unsuccessfully as to my immediate alarm I realized the story was still back at my dorm. With two minutes ’till the start of class, I slipped out of the room and dashed down the hall.

My dorm was five minutes away, but I ran the whole thing nonetheless. Students passing by, side-grinned at me, but I ignored them because they’d probably been in a similar situation at one point or another.

The dorm was empty. Most everyone was in class by now. I ran down the hall and almost collided with a girl coming out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.

“Forget something?” she hollered after me.

“Of all the days!” I yelled back.

There it was, sitting on my desk, marked with purple ink. I snatched it up and hurried back to class. The door was closed when I returned.  This was a sure sign I was extremely late. It also meant someone’s story was being read. The cold door handle clicked opened as I held my breath and entered.

The words that filled the room as I searched for a seat took me by surprise, for it was my story that was chosen first, my story that the student up front was reading. My story that I’d crafted so carefully, penned so precisely, typed so timidly. Of all the stories.

She read on, and to my surprise the class was captivated, even the professor listened intently, eyes down, fingers folded in his lap. The girl reading my story was nearly to the last page, when she stopped right in the middle of some well-written dialogue.

“And that’s it,” she said. “It kind of just ends there.”

I looked up, in bewilderment, wondering why she’d failed to read the last page. But no one else seemed to notice. The professor asked for some critique and critique was given.

“I don’t really know what to make of it,” said the reader, “Seeing that it ends in dialogue.”

“Yes, but what did you think of the story?” the professor prodded.

I was beginning to feel nauseous, realizing that in a few minutes I’d have to admit that this half-finished story was mine.  The only conclusion I could draw was that maybe I’d failed to print the last page, when I had turned it in the week before. Maybe the printer ran out of paper. Maybe I’d only grabbed the four pages and left the fifth one alone on the printer.

Oh, did my stomach churn.

Thankfully the professor liked my story and gave it some very constructive criticism. The class asked who the author was and I raised my hand, reluctantly.

“Where did you get the idea?” the professor asked, and all eyes turned to me. My forehead was damp with sweat, my palms were itchy, and my feet were still hot from the jog.

“A headline,” came my voice. The inspiration came from a news headline I’d seen while surfing the web. The headline read, “Family found after living in hole for eight years.” The class laughed at my explanation, and my moment of humiliation was over

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What is worse than presenting a half-written story, a half completed assignment, a partially finished task?

I sometimes struggle with living a partially finished life. A life that is still moving, still going, still sitting out in the world with an end in sight but an unseen future. I like to think of my life as a story. But it’s scary not knowing where this protagonist is going to end up. I sit at the edge of my seat in the middle of a life where bad things keep happening. I’m a storyteller. I know every story needs conflict, but keeping an objective outlook is hardest when you’re the main character.

Q & A challenge from a fellow writer

How many of Jane Austen’s novels have you read, and do you have a favorite?

Interestingly enough, the novel I’m writing now is hinted with themes of Jane Austen. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, most of Sense and Sensibility and some of EmmaMy favorite by far is Persuasion.

Who are your fictional crushes/ships?

Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird. But he’s an old man, so maybe a friend crush. Movie and TV characters are easy to crush on but the one’s in storybooks have deeper characters.

Best contemporary recommendations?

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book is by a Nigerian author who creates characters of color. Her storytelling is brilliant, like nothing I’ve read before.

Nonfiction favorites?

Eat, Pray, Love. Though she doesn’t have a great worldview, the author has a wonderful voice in her writing. The Soloist is also a good read if you’re looking for something thought provoking. But for something more substantial and less entertaining, then Augustine’s Confessions.

What are your favorite historical periods/settings? Which are your favorites to write about?

I prefer modern day. I like to intertwine current issues into my stories. But previously I liked the Romantic Era. Settings are fun to play around with, but I find it easiest to write about where I’ve been: France, England, Upstate New York, and of course Indiana.

How do you write—pen and paper, computer, etc?

Always on a computer. The words flow better there. But when I have an idea and need to get it out quickly, I use a small journal to put the words down. Sometimes, for a blog post, I’ll come back to the notebook and copy it down.

What’s your favorite period drama miniseries? Favorite TV show?

I was captivated by Suits, until Netflix took it off. Otherwise I loved watching Downton Abbey, before it got too depressing. Jane the Virgin is hilarious and well written. But don’t judge me when I say my favorite TV show is the Great British Bake Off. 

Do you have any hobbies?

Baking as mentioned above is a huge hobby for me. Mostly because it’s a great stress reliever, especially now that I’m working and out of school. Exercise is also my go-to when I have some down time.

You mentioned travel, so…how many places have you visited, and what was your favorite? Any special place you have still to visit?

Places? Too many to mention/not enough to satisfy my travel fever. Four countries, soon to be five. #Southkoreabound. My favorite has to be York, England. A city I lived in for five months during a study abroad. Still need to visit my sister in Taiwan, and probably my brother in China. I also really want to see Edinburgh, Scotland. And my family’s country, Rwanda.

What are your favorite coffee shops?

Starbucks, but I’m partial because I use to work there. Costa in the UK is nice as well. But if I wanna be hipster I guess I’ll mention some local ones: Thirsty Scholar, Quills, Quirky Feather, and Pia Urban Cafe.

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