May 11, 2016

How My Reading and Writing Work in Harmony

Okay, so today I'm going to tell all you people how reading has really affected the way I write. I read as much as a write, maybe even more. (Later I will make a post on my top favorite books I have read, but one step at a time.)

1. Thank the Generations Before Me
First of all, there are a lot of things you can take from other writers. I don't mean literally take, I mean that you can see what other people have done, and you can bend it to fit your writing. I have learned a lot of techniques by doing this, and it really helps you.

But of course, there are those really bad books that you never finish because they're so boring. You can learn what not to do by other writers, too.

2. "Precision of Language!"
Hopefully some of y'all will get that reference up there...

Metaphors, personification, similes, alliteration... reading shows you how to say things in more eloquently. My teacher always told me to show, don't tell. This basically means instead of saying "It was raining," you can say, "Long streams of water ran down the windowpane," or something like that.

You can also get better words for things from books. For instance, "atrocious" is a better word for "bad."

3. It Will Take Forever
So everyone has reread a favorite book. Have you ever noticed that each time you read it, you realize how things are interconnected, how each little detail is related to the main idea? Then you think to yourself, "Wow, this must have taken forever to plan out and write!"

Yeah. It does. You should see how many unfinished stories I have collected over the past year. It's atrocious.

But somehow it teaches you to keep pushing. (I just haven't quite mastered that skill yet, but hey! I'm getting there.) It makes you feel great when you actually do finish something, if you're like me. It also shows you structural things that are very important to your writing.

I hope you liked my second non-writing post! (I will post another one of those soon, by the way.) Thanks for reading!   

May 10, 2016

The History of Writing (for me, at least.)

I used to hate to write.

There, I said it. I used to think it was one of the most boring things you could do. I liked to read, though, but I guess I thought you had to have no life or you had to be crazy to actually write a book.

I remember in second grade I would ask my dad, "What do you think I'll be when I grow up?" I crossed my fingers and prayed that he would say, "Singer," because apparently, that was what everyone wanted to be at age seven.

Instantly Dad would say writer. My heart would sink and I would scowl and try to tell him to pick something else, but he would just keep on saying the same thing. I tried over and over again to see what he would say. Writer, writer, writer.

All this time, I didn't realize that I was always writing, every day. At school I had a journal, and every morning I would write some little story about a weird, poorly drawn character. The stories were really crazy (and bad) but I really looked forward to making up the stories and sharing them with the class.

All that time, I didn't realize I was a writer. I just looked through all my spiral notebooks from second grade, and I counted three. Three completely full journals. Most people didn't even fill up one.

Some of the entries included things like, "If I could be any animal, I would be a turtle because I like to be slow," and "Did you know that cheese is mold? Well it is! Cheese is rotten milk! I know, right!"

After a while, I started to stray away from the prompts my teacher would put up on the board and I would write my own things, started with little footnotes at the bottom of the page and going on to full on, four page stories. One of the stories was what would happen if I fell out of a plane. (Apparently I sang a song the entire way down and crashed into a tree and also fed on clouds. No idea.)

My biggest story was about a girl named Gloria and her boyfriend named Sylvester. I drew a bunch of pictures of things like Sylvester's Halloween costume and Gloria and Sylvester's wedding day. I wrote long stories every day about the weird pair's crazy adventures, and introduced characters along the way, including a really fat women with facial hair named Hermes.

Everyone in my class loved it when I shared my journal, so I did it every day. I loved it. And I thought I hated it the entire time! I guess thought being a writer meant writing a book, but now I know that's not necessarily true.

Second grade came to an end, and so did my journal. I moved into a new class, leaving all of my stories behind. I started third grade, and at first I hated it. I didn't think my teachers liked me, and I didn't make friends really quick.

I had a Language Arts teacher named Mrs. F. I admit I didn't really like her right off the bat (but trust me, that has changed.) She taught me all this new stuff about writing, things I had never known. That was when I started to like writing. I had another journal that year, but I didn't write in it that much, mostly because we weren't given that much time. The things in there are a bit longer and more complicated. Fourth grade was the same way: I learned so much more and wrote so much more. I got my laptop around that time, and I filled up my Drop Box with tons of different things.

Now here I am, writing nearly every day. Now whenever my Dad says I'll be a writer, I know I will, because that is what I love. Even though it sounds kinda cheesy, I feel like being a writer is who I am.

From the Gloria and Sylvester Chronicles and beyond!

May 9, 2016

Three Men

Street lamps were the only source of light in the darkness. No cars ran down the empty street, and each house was dark. The world was asleep except for the three men sitting at the bus stop.
They sat together shoulder by shoulder, staring into the darkness and not at each other. Each of them had a million things going through their minds, a million memories, a million wishes.
The first one slouched at the end, pressing his forehead against the glass sides of the depot. He looked at his reflection, wishing more than anything he was someone else.
He was lost. He had no idea what to do. He had gotten caught up in something bigger than he was, only because he thought he could handle things, that he could catch the sand sliding through his fingers.
He’d gotten in trouble - lots of it. He didn’t think, he did idiotic things only because people told him too. He let people break him, and he was paying the consequences.
He told his parents he was dropping out of high school. He hoped, he prayed they’d understand, that they’d get that he was trapped. Instead they had told him to leave, to go and not come back unless he decided to clean up his act. Maybe they thought that would change his mind. Maybe they thought he would turn around and be what they wanted.
But he was done with people bending him, shaping him to be something he was not.
He ignored his father’s angry face and his mother’s pleading eyes, and he packed his bags.
The man next to him was like a wilted flower, bent over, eyes closed. He was so tired, so stressed, spent. He’d put work ahead of everything else, even in front of himself. He’d ignored himself and his wife, and now he was sick. The doctor had sat with him and told him the test results, and all he could do was freeze.
He was leaving now. His job was over. He was taking back control of his life, he wasn’t going to let work eat him away like his cancer. He was going to take his wife somewhere beautiful, and he was going to tell her everything. He wasn’t going to come back.
The third passenger sat at the end of the bench, his heart racing with an unbearable excitement. The hour was late but he was wide awake. His wrinkled hands grasped the arm of the bench. He felt like jumping up and dancing, but he was too old for that. But he could cry, and that’s what he did. Fat tears ran invisibly down his face, blending into his gray hair.
The phone call from his son-and-law had come not an hour before, saying he needed to come to the hospital as quickly as he could. He was going to see his granddaughter for the first time.
Three men sat at the bus stop. Three men unsure of the future that lay ahead of them. Finally a bus drove up and the doors screeched open, breaking the silence. The man sat at different spots on the bus, the first one lugging a suitcase behind him.
The bus drove quietly for a few minutes before it came to the first stop. The second man walked off, wincing when his leg hit the side of the seats. His white shirt stuck out over his pants, and his tie was undone. He tipped the driver and stepped out.
The bus drove on. Another stop came, and the first man walked off and stood by the door, scanning the street. He dragged his suitcase and walked away into darkness.
At last it was the last man’s turn to get off the bus. The bus stopped at the hospital bus station, and the old man limped to the front of the bus and walked out the door where a young man was there to greet him. He rushed inside the hospital and found the room, just in time to hear the first cries of his new granddaughter.
The bus drove off, and the night was quiet again.
Three men started a new life, each stepped into something unknown. Each was unsure of what was going to happen. Each started the day as something he was, and each ended the day a completely different someone.
None of the men took the time to look at the other’s face. Perhaps if he had, he would have been shocked at the familiarity. Perhaps he would have stopped... stared... remembered.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have.
None realized that person sitting next to him was himself.

May 8, 2016

A Necessary Secret

I was supposed to ride the bus, but I didn’t.

I guess Mom was going to kill me, but right now I could care less. I just ­had to know where that Cora girl went every day after school. She always walked towards the forest, slapping away branches to make a path, and then she would disappear behind the tall pine trees.

Nobody lived in the forest. It was way too dense to walk through, much less build a house. When I was little, people used to tell the story of Opal McMillians, an old witch that lived in a treehouse deep in the forest. If you came too close, she would send green vines after you, and then once you were trapped, she would eat you. After I got older, I realized it was just a story to keep kids from touching all the poison ivy, but part of me still believed there was something in there.

Cora had moved to the school in the middle of the year. Nobody knew where she was from because she never talked. Never. Not even to teachers. Cora was as silent as the trees in the forest.

Her hair was so blond, it was almost white. Her eyes were the bluest I had ever seen. She was as skinny as a pencil, and her hands were ice-cold. I knew because once in the lunch-line, her hand had brushed against mine. I cringed, trying not to pull away.

I had watched Cora disappear into the forest since she first came here. I had always wanted to follow her, but had been too scared.

Not of Opal McMillians, of course. Obviously.

But now I couldn’t sleep not knowing where Cora was going every day. I stood at the border of the forest and before I could even tell myself, July Baily, what in tarnation are you doing? I was in, remaking the trail Cora had made not ten minutes before.

Branches clawed at my face and hands. I winced as a twig scratched me above my eyebrow. I tripped over a million roots, and stepped over miles of poison ivy, my eyes fixed on the ground, following the soft footprints of Cora.

I trudged through the bushes for about five minutes before I came to a small clearing. The poison ivy covered the trunks of the trees, reaching up from the ground. I itched just looking at it.

But one tree to the left of me had no ivy. Walking closer, I realized there were steps leading up the rough bark.

Oh my gosh.

I looked up. High in the trees was a small wooden treehouse. A trapdoor was open in the floor.

Oh my gosh.

I froze in fear! Suddenly a head poked through the trapdoor, crazy white hair surrounding it like a halo.

Oh my gosh.

It smiled.

Opal McMillians! I was dead! I screamed and ran towards the center of the clearing, but realized I had no idea which way I had come from! I scrambled in one direction before –

“Wait! Don’t go! Here, I’m coming down!” Opal McMillians yelled from the treehouse. I knew I was a goner – she was coming down to eat me!

Bracing myself for my inevitable demise, Opal McMillian climbed out. She wore a white dress and… pink Vans? Okay, so she had some kind of fashion sense considering she was a witch…

She neared the bottom and turned around. I almost fainted until I realized that Cora was standing in front of me, smiling.

“Oh, hi. Sorry for scaring you.”

“You… you’re not Opal McMillians?” I stammered.

Cora laughed. “What? Who’s that?”

I suddenly felt incredibly stupid. “Oh, nothing,” I said quietly.

Cora scratched her arm. “You’re July, right? I was hoping you’d follow me,” she said. “I’ve noticed you watching me come here for a while now. Well, here it is! Welcome to my treehouse,” she giggled.

“You just found this?” I asked.

Cora nodded. As she climbed up the steps to the treehouse, I guessed she expected me to follow. When we got to the top, I looked around.

The treehouse was small. A table and chair sat in the corner, covered in papers and books. Cora’s backpack lay on the floor. It looked pretty empty, but what amazed me were the keys handing from the ceiling. There were all kinds, big and small. It felt almost fairytale-ish, with the light coming in through the windows. “What’s with all the keys?” I asked, wishing I could swallow back my question.

Cora didn’t seem to notice. “Oh, I collect them,” she answered.

“Why haven’t you told anyone about this?” I asked. “Why don’t you talk at all?”

Cora blushed. “I’m shy. Moving schools was hard. I guess I should talk more. It would be good for me. I just have trouble. Plus, no one ever talks to me,” she said. I felt a pang of regret. What a jerk I was! I never talked to her! “Also, my Mom would keep me from coming here if she knew I went through the forest. She thinks I go to the library every day.” Cora looked at me from the corner of her eye. “It’s a necessary secret,” she said mysteriously.

I laughed. “Well, maybe it can be our necessary secret,” I said.

Cora grinned. We sat in the treehouse together, talking and joking around. Cora was fun, not weird like I had previously thought. She actually made pretty cool kind of friend.

From then on, almost every day after school, Cora and I went to the treehouse. We even hung out sometimes at each other’s houses. Cora started to talk more at school, gaining her new friends, but she still stuck with me. She was different and unique. I liked her a lot.

She was no Opal McMillians, that’s for sure.

A Second Chance

Galveston is nothing compared to Hawaii.

Hawaii had beautiful blue water and powdery sand. Hawaii had clear, sunny days, just right for seashell hunting along the tide poles. Hawaii had sunbathers and sand castles. Hawaii was perfect. Hawaii was where I wanted to stay.

And now, standing at the edge of the beach in Galveston, Texas, I knew that Hawaii was gone.

Galveston had gray, murky water, the color of dryer lint. I wondered how fish could possibly see in all that sludge, or more importantly, how I could see. I dropped my scuba mask, making a hard clunk on the ground beside me.

I shielded my eyes from the glaring sun, scowling at the pathetic waves rolling in and out over the brown sand. I thought back to how Hawaii had fine white sand as far as the eye could see, sand that was like snow; your foot sank deep into it. Galveston sand was brown, almost green-looking. It was as hard as concrete, and my heels hurt slightly as I walked farther, closer to the middle.

There had to at least be good shells here. I scanned the ground, looking for a spiral shell, perhaps an angel’s wing. But, after a moment of searching, I realized that all the shells were broken, thin as paper.

I felt tears come to my eyes. Hawaii was the only place I felt comfortable, and that’s saying a lot since I had been to practically every place in the world. My father is a marine biologist, so we had to constantly move along practically every coastline. I’d been to Japan, Florida, Maine, England, and a million other random places, including Hawaii. Out of every place, Hawaii had been my favorite. To me, Hawaii was home.

I turned from the beach and up the wooden bridge to our small beach house. I was angry now, fiery as a pepper. I ran up the steps and to the porch, where my sister Indie was sitting on the rocking chair, staring intently at the “ocean.”

“No Hawaii, isn’t it?” she asked calmly, not taking a break from her rhythmic rocking.

I squeezed my fists. “I hate it here. I hate everything.” I didn’t say any more, worried I’d cry right then and there.

“Owen, you know how it is, Daddy’s job and all…” Indie started.

“I know. ‘It’s only temporary,’ they say. Well, I’m sick of temporary. I’m sick of moving. I just want to stay in one place. I want friends, and school, and a normal life. I wish Dad had a normal job. I hate it here,” I said, my anger boiling over. “I wish we were back in Hawaii. I wish we didn’t move. I hate Galveston. I mean, what’s the point! Why would Daddy let us love something and then take it away in less than a week? Why? I hate him!”

Indie stopped rocking. She was quiet for a few minutes, which was probably a good thing because I would’ve screamed if she had said anymore. I stared at the beach, hoping that the ugly water and sand could see me right now and would see the burning hatred in my eyes.

“Owen,” Indie said quietly, breaking the silence. “Did you know that when we first moved to Hawaii, you hated it, too?”

I turned my head away from the ocean and towards her. “What? I love Hawaii.” I didn’t remember ever not liking it. I almost felt mad at her for thinking that.

“When we first moved there, almost two years ago, you hated it. You hated the beach, and every time we would go down there, you would stare at the water and scream, afraid the sharks were going to get you. You would stay in your room all day. Mom and Dad almost considered moving again. But then you started to like it, so we stayed.”

I unclenched my fists, feeling less angry. I hated Hawaii? Did I hate it as much as I hate Galveston?

“Really?” I asked.

Indie nodded and started rocking again. “So, Owen. If you once hated Hawaii so much, don’t you think you could give Galveston a chance?”

She slid her sunglasses on and continued staring at the ocean, as calm as before. I watched my sister for a moment, and then walked slowly back towards the beach. Maybe she was right. Maybe I did need to give Galveston a second chance. Sure, it might be harder than Hawaii, and sure, Hawaii was obviously better, but maybe I could like Galveston too.
I glanced at the sand that I had once stared at with such strong loathing and realized that it would be pretty good sand-castle material. The broken shells would make pretty cool decorations, too. I walked to the water’s edge and watched it rush over my toes. A small minnow darted past my ankles, and I smiled as it tickled the outside of my foot.

Without hesitation, I began to run farther into the waves, laughing. I was too excited to notice how cold it was, how I was soaked to the bone. I got to waist deep before finally stopping. The water was fun, despite its opacity. I have to admit, I was happy. I suddenly didn’t hate the water or the sand. The blazing sun didn’t bother me as much, and the seaweed wrapping around my arms wasn’t as gross looking. Indie was right about Galveston.

I gave it a second chance.

Eva's note:

If you haven't been to Galveston, the description above is pretty much spot-on. Galveston is pretty lame compared to Hawaii, and I haven't even been to Hawaii! I liked the idea of using this contrast in this story because I thought about how people in "pretty beaches" (sorry Galveston) thought about... well.

I was going to use this story in a contest, but ended up using other stories.

I hope you liked!