#InstaChristmas, at 1:1000

1:1000 is a website that pairs photography with 1,000-word prose. Sound like your cup of tea? Go to Pinterest and select an unclaimed photograph, then write your 1,000-word piece (fiction or creative non-fiction).

My latest piece is live over at 1:1000! #InstaChristmas is my latest attempt at integrating humor and snark into my writing. In-person, I feel like I’m fairly witty. In my writing, it usually falls flat. This was a rare success (at least with the 1:1000 editors). #InstaChristmas also includes a heartwarming, seasonal character arc and somewhat meta (self-)mockery of social media madness.

Have a very Merry Christmas if you celebrate, and don’t forget to tell someone you love them, or at least share that perfectly styled Instagram photo!

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Myfanwy Thomas, written by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook

I initially encountered The Rook on Kim‘s Instagram feed over the summer, and she blogged more about it here. With a description like “Ghostbusters meets James Bond meets Memento, if James Bond were a lady spy who is also a kickass administrative genius,” I kind of had to read it. And broke my only reading challenge for the year, but whatever, it was so worth it. I like weird fiction and fascinating female characters, and this book definitely hit the spot.

The book centers around Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas, who has to be one of the most unusual characters I’ve encountered. Myfanwy wakes up with no memory  and has to piece things together through clues her past self left (in the form of notes in coat pockets) and excellent deductive reasoning.

Myfanwy has a unique set of skills that would make Liam Neeson’s character from Taken shit his pants.

Literally.

Myfanwy can control people through touch, and her past self, whom Myfanwy calls Thomas, never really explored that power. The titular Rook, Myfanwy/Thomas serves as a member of the Checquy, a secret British organization responsible for keeping a lid on paranormal activity, conducting research, and offering support to those with powers.

The combination of Myfanwy’s narrative and Thomas’s letters allow the reader a unique perspective into one person whose selves are night and day. Thomas is more timid, a bureaucrat comfortable in a more diplomatic, sometimes soft-spoken role. Understandable — traumatic experiences growing up have made her afraid to use her powers.

Still, Thomas is a force with which to be reckoned. While she might not be an “action girl,” she doesn’t shy away from getting her hands dirty, especially when she realizes that she’s on the trail of something dangerous and potentially deadly.

Myfanwy, by contrast, is more outspoken and bold. She takes chances. She delights in her own capabilities and potential, because she does not bear the emotional trauma of learning to control them. She retains that keen sense of reasoning and intuition, and she finishes the investigation Thomas started.

But for all her blunt bravado, she’d be nothing without her past self’s guidance. It creates a beautiful narrative balance, with both characters reliant on each other and their strengths and weaknesses dovetailing nicely. Two different characters embodying the same woman, seeking to achieve the same goal. It’s a funny, charming, and oddly inspiring work, so I hope you’ll take a moment to sit down and read a few pages.

There will be fist pumps, because Myfanwy isn’t the only awesome character. You’ll see.

A final note: I listened to The Rook as an audiobook and while I really enjoyed it, I would recommend reading the physical book. The narrator, Susan Duerden, does a fantastic job, but the book includes a lot of longer exposition/back story breaks in media res, and I personally find those a bit tedious during a listen.

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Agnieska? 

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Last-Minute Holiday Gifts for the Word Nerd in Your Life

It’s time for another round of last-minute gift-giving ideas!

Donations. Unless your recipient is pre-redemption, three-sizes-too-small Grinch, donations are a wonderful present. My personal favorite is Reading Is Fundamental, but a local option may be a good route.

A box of books (and related bookish goods). Book subscription boxes are somewhat coming into their own. There’s the classic Book of the Month club, which offers readers a choice among five different selections each month and the option to add-on for $9.99. Book Riot and Book Riot: YA send books and bookish miscellany every three months. I’m also a fan of Muse Monthly, which sends a book and loose leaf tea pairing. Well done.

A Serial Box subscription. Fiction released weekly, harkening back to the days of Dickens (or the Serial podcast obsession of Autumn 2014). I’ve got Bookburners queued up!

A box of writing supplies. I haven’t ordered from Paper & Pen, but a box of paper goods and writing utensils sounds like a unique gift for someone who loves organization, trips to stationery/office supply stores, or old school writing.

A magazine subscription. Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers are two of my absolute favorites, and they’re packed with relevant advice and opportunities.

Classes or workshops. Local universities or artistic communities may have in-person opportunities. There are plenty of online options through Writers Digest UniversityLoft Literary CenterArizona State University’s Piper Writers Studio, and The Brainery.

Writer’s Market subscription. If your writer is looking to take things to the next level next year, gifting a subscription to Writer’s Market is your best bet – this website will help him/her find a wide range of contests and agents.

Membership to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. There are some sweet perks in the form of job postings, submission repositories, and scholarships. Plus there’s the fun

Choose-your-own-writing-adventure. This one is kind of my favorite: Purchase a gift card to your intended recipient’s favorite bookstore (many offer online certificates, so you don’t have to leave your computer) and include this list. The writer has the option of picking the books (s)he finds most relevant and helpful.

Feel free to share other ideas in the comments!

Thanks for reading! What’s on your list this year?

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What I Learned About My Manuscript During NaNoWriMo

Note: I am one of those weird people that subscribes to the notion that my work-in-progress should be called a manuscript throughout the development process. During NaNoWriMo, I follow the established nomenclature of “novel,” but I’m reverting back to manuscript.

NaNoWriMo is thirty days of frenzied writing that, in many cases, involves lots of caffeine, little sleep, and forgetting your characters aren’t real people and discussing them as though they are (“Yeah, Cassandra was a little difficult last night but I finally figured out that her driving relationship can’t be a love interest.”)

I truly believe writers are conduits for their characters and should follow their intuition, exploring development arcs and narrative quirks that arise during the writing process. Having a plan and a general outline is great, but adapt — especially for the sake of your characters.

God, writing in Arizona can be the absolute worst.

God, writing in Arizona can be the absolute worst.

Going into the month, I had an outline. Probably the best thing that happened is that I saved it in another Scrivener file by mistake and couldn’t find it. I had to remember major shifts entirely from memory, which meant if I didn’t care enough (or more likely, if the development didn’t resonate enough), I forgot it happened. What resulted was genuine characters driving plot.

I ended up finding the outline on November 30th — the timing couldn’t have been more perfect — and I was surprised at how “wrong” I’d initially called it. What I crafted was a much tighter narrative, with some characters lasting much longer than I anticipated and some not even appearing (yet). The interpersonal conflicts I outlined never made it onto the page. Some of the basic tenets of the plot shifted. Here’s a brief, broad example from the first act, designed to be alternating storylines featuring two female characters and their “groups” (one family, the other…loosely defined). Strikethroughs mean that the planned plot point didn’t happen at all, italics are for items that remain in some form, though were significantly different than planned.

  • Seaside w/ C
    • Decent conditions but writing’s on wall
    • Group comes
    • C escapes with S to forest
    • C & S — > capital
  • Mountains w/ B
    • Accepting, natural
    • Training
    • Rising
    • Departure due to family issues
    • B’s family — > capital

Or: the entire first act changed shifted in focus, tone, and narrative. Also, now there are three anchoring groups, not two (and those aren’t dominated by the characters B and C). The character dynamics have shifted and those groups are somewhat loose in the sense that it’s obvious what connects them, but the ties that bind aren’t always the strongest.

I initially planned for the manuscripts to be four acts, and it seems content with that so far. However, it’s going to be long. I didn’t anticipate finishing the writing during NaNoWriMo – I thought I needed at least twice that for a solid first draft, since I usually write all character arcs and dialogue and then go back and indulge the senses with imagery and the like. Most of NaNoWriMo was dedicated to the first act – and the aforementioned character moments – so this manuscript is shaping to be 150K in first draft mode, easily. God help me.

Oh, and a general tip: always back up your files. I read enough horror stories about losing tens of thousands of words that I didn’t want to risk it. So I also learned that my laptop is almost at capacity now. Thanks, NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for reading! What did you learn from your NaNoWriMo manuscript?

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NaNoWrimo 2015: The Post-Game Analysis

You know, I fully anticipated updating my NaNoWriMo progress throughout the month — not every day, but at least once a week. That didn’t happen, and I only managed my kick-off post. I’m kind of glad, because it meant I spent the month writing and focusing the majority of my efforts on the task at hand. That focus reaped serious rewards for me:

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner

Yep, I did it. 2015 is not the first time I’ve tried, but it’s the first time I succeeded.

I know I should be like “Woo! I did this! I achieved greatness!”…but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

Major props to my across-the-country writing partner-in-crime Natasha. Natasha’s one of the 1:1000 editors and we texted throughout the month. Natasha ended November with 42K and the birth of her second child, and she’s my writing hero right now. I could not have kept up with writing or gotten off the struggle bus without her, and she kept me accountable throughout the month. I am 100% on board with writing buddies and support systems and writing tribes and the like.

Oh, and speaking of writing tribes — having spent the last two years writing with 1:1000, I felt more prepared in terms of crafting the story and hustling throughout the month. Normally I get stuck with character development, and while that happened a couple of times, I just jumped to another character and focused on their path until inspiration struck.

Oh, and it is hard. NaNoWriMo is a month of frenzied writing, but I didn’t write every day (which I had hoped to do). It can be draining and exhausting and some nights I just ached thinking about writing, but I made myself do it. I’m nowhere close to finishing, but I’m above 50K and that makes a massive difference.

My general tips? Create a daily routine. Be aggressive when you can (some days I wrote 5K+ because I had the time and mental capacity to do that), and adapt. Don’t let numbers get you down, and keep your characters at the forefront. It can be a personal struggle, and sometimes you have to just force yourself through that wall.

I’m not sure if I’ll do it again next year, but I know I’ll throw some support for to any 2016 participants.

Up next on the blog: The nitty gritty manuscript progress during November.

Thanks for reading! How did your NaNoWriMo attempts fare?

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Goodreads Choice Awards 2015: The Champions

2015-12-02 08.01.12 pm

Read my opening round post here, my semifinal round post here, and my final predictions here.

Congrats to all the winners this year! There were some impressive slates and stiff competition. Honestly, I feel like as the Goodreads community grows, the Choice Awards get better and more interesting.

Now, I’m coming off 30 days of frenzied writing and while I’m eager to continue, I’m reestablishing a balance with blogging, exercise, and everything else in my life. I’ve said a lot of the nominees, so I thought I’d change it up and throw some GIFs in here. Enjoy!

Fiction

Predicted: Fates and Furies or Go Set a Watchman

Won: Go Set a Watchman

300

I’ve made my peace with this one.

Mystery & Thriller

Predicted: The Girl on the Train

Won: The Girl on the Train 

tropic thunder

Guaranteed victory still requires a victory dance. Just look at the vote count: 105K for this one. Second place was Stephen King with a third of that. Hot. Damn.

Historical Fiction

Will Win: A God in Ruins 

Won: The Nightingale

vega

Not even on my radar. Guess I’ll have to check it out now?

Fantasy

Predicted: Trigger Warning

Won: Trigger Warning

ahsoka

“Neil Gaiman be like…”

Also: Sorry, Jenny.

Science Fiction

Predicted: Seveneves

Won: Golden Son

what's a galaga

Wait, what? This is the second book in a series?

Horror

Predicted: The Night Sister

Won: Saint Odd

ludgate

I’m not a Koontz fan, but yeah, okay.

nonfiction

Predicted: Between the World and Me

Won: Modern Romance

parks&rec

So, full disclosure: I am not thrilled about this. I wanted to find a frumpy-face Tom Haverford gif and this popped up initially and with a book like Modern Romance it seemed too perfect not to share. So, there you go. But also, this:

parks&rec what

Graphic Novels & Comics

Predicted: Ms. Marvel

Won: Saga

jurassic world

Or: This is not what I expected but it is awesome. 

Also, I was a huge Saga supporter for last year’s Choice Awards and surprised at the loss, so a year later this feels great if not overdue. See you next year, Kamala.

YA Fantasy & Science Fiction

Predicted: Carry On

Won: Queen of Shadows

well done

How do you feel about the winners? Drop a note in the comments!

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Goodreads Choice Awards 2015: The Finals

2015-11-17 05.11.04 am

Read my opening round post here and my semifinal round post here.

The final round is open today until the 23rd. Make sure you vote to have your voice heard! The competition remains pretty stiff in several categories.

Also, I know it’s not a countdown per se, but I have Europe’s The Final Countdown stuck in my head. Which means you probably have it stuck in your head, too. Here, have a montage for your troubles:

Reminder: I’ll be leaving out several categories (like Romance, Middle Grade, Picture Books) as my interest is limited (or nonexistent this year).

Fiction

Should Win: Fates and Furies

Will Win: Fates and Furies or Go Set a Watchman

I honestly can’t tell with this one. I’ve been pulling for Fates and Furies since the opening round, but that doesn’t mean much. The books featured include major winner potential, so I could see this one going to a more popular book that’s been out a while. I’m not sure if Go Set a Watchman will get the nostalgia vote, despite most of the book community’s critical reviews of, well, the entire lead-up to the book hitting shelves.

Related posts: You can read my Hot Off the Press post about Fates and Furies here or my Go Set a Watchman review here

Mystery & Thriller

Should Win: The Girl on the Train

Will Win: The Girl on the Train 

It will be a huge upset if this doesn’t win. Everyone loves this book. It came out months ago and continues to do well.

Related posts: Read Goodreads’ own blog post about the “runaway success” of the book here

Historical Fiction

Should Win: Marriage of Opposites 

Will Win: A God in Ruins 

I’m pulling for Marriage of Opposites to surprise, but I feel like Atkinson has this one over Hoffman. I haven’t read her books, but they delight readers and tend to do very well numbers-wise.

Related posts: Read my Marriage of Opposites review here

Fantasy

Should Win: The Fifth Season

Will Win: Trigger Warning or A Darker Shade of Magic

There’s always one category where I want to throw my hands in the air because I have no idea where voters’ sentiments lie. I’m not sure if The Fifth Season has enough backing to win. Typically bigger names (like Gaiman) are more likely to get publicized and read by a wider variety of people. I’ve seen a lot of good press for A Darker Shade of Magic – I didn’t love it, but plenty of others did, so perhaps it’ll pull out a win.

Related posts: Read about why I chose to bring The Fifth Season with me on an impromptu trip here

Science Fiction

Should Win: Aftermath

Will Win: Seveneves

…oh, and there’s also a category where there are honestly so many good nominees I can’t figure out which book gets my final vote! I’ve been pulling for The Fold, but I also really enjoyed Armada, to the point where I’m thinking that even though I read it months ago, I have fonder memories of it than my more recent listen.

There’s a lot of great nominees, but I think Seveneves may have the numbers here. Just a guess based on the Goodreads ratings, which I only look at when I’m really stumped. Well done, Sci Fi. And even though I’m voting for Armada, I’m rooting for Wendig, because he’s just a phenomenal person and writer and I wish only good things for someone who has personally inspired.

Related posts: Read my review of Armada here and my writing/conference posts about Wendig here, herehere, and here (I may be biased)

Horror

Should Win: The Night Sister

Will Win: The Night Sister

Only because I recognize none of the other finalists (authors yes, those particular releases, no), and I’m a huge McMahon fan.

Related posts: My Hot Off the Press preview for The Night Sister here and a review of an earlier McMahon work here

nonfiction

Should Win: Between the World and Me

Will Win: Between the World and Me

So many people have read this book and appreciated how it tackled heavy themes and difficult experiences (“loved” seems an odd choice for the subject matter). Coates earned this victory with a haunting look at racial politics and social values.

Related posts: Read my take on the value of discomfort in reading here

Graphic Novels & Comics

Should Win: Nimona

Will Win: Ms. Marvel

I could be completely wrong here.  I read Nimona as a web comic and it stays with you in a way only great characters can. Everyone in the series is solid, fleshed out, and necessary. And the deconstruction of tropes, especially what it means to be a hero or a villain, is absolutely brilliant. As much as I (and others) love Ms. Marvel, I’m not sure it’s quite there. Hilarious, brilliant, and Kamala Khan is hands down one of Marvel’s best characters, but it doesn’t hit Nimona levels quite yet. Unpopular opinion time, I know.

Related posts: Read my original post about Nimona here

YA Fantasy & Science Fiction

Should Win: Uprooted

Will Win: Carry On

Rainbow Rowell knows her stuff, and she’s a wonderful author who spans YA and adult genres well. I think she’s got this in the bag, but maybe I’m out of touch with the kids these days.

Related posts: Read my Women in Fiction series post about the Uprooted protagonist here

How are you voting? Drop a note in the comments!

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The Old Homestead, at 1:1000

1:1000 is a website that pairs photography with 1,000-word prose. Sound like your cup of tea? Go to Pinterest and select an unclaimed photograph, then write your 1,000-word piece (fiction or creative non-fiction).

Just a quick post today, now that my wifi starting working again (ugh; jury’s still out on whether I can open Scrivener) to let everyone know my latest piece for 1:1000 went live yesterday! I’d describe it as chilly, creepy, and atmospheric. It needed a lot of shaping and molding and whittling down, but the homestead is ready for your reading pleasure – so give it a read and let me know what you think! Thanks!

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Goodreads Choice Awards 2015: The Semifinals

2015-11-10 05.26.17 am

Read my opening round post here.

The semifinal round is open the 10th – 15th (after the 15th you will not be able to vote). The final round runs the 17th – 23rd. Look for my final round posts and winner posts later this month!

If this is your first Goodreads Choice Awards, the semifinal round is going to seem…very confusing. See, the semifinal round both narrows and widens the competition. During the first round, readers can nominate books that were left off the ballot. If books get enough nominations, they are available for the popular vote in the semifinal round. They knock out books that were on the original ballot but didn’t do so hot. You’ll see some changes to my original picks and predictions in the list below.

Reminder: I’ll be leaving out several categories (like Romance, Middle Grade, Picture Books) as my interest is limited (or nonexistent this year).

Fiction

Well, well, well. Go Set a Watchman has entered the game. I was surprised it wasn’t in the first round, but figured it might make an appearance during semifinals. Now, I’m wondering if nostalgia will carry it to the finals and to victory. I wasn’t all that impressed with the book, so I will not cast a vote for it. I’m hoping autumn darling Fates and Furies takes it.

Mystery & Thriller

No major changes in this category, at least for me. I still think The Girl on the Train has this one in the bag, even against Robert Galbraith.

Historical Fiction

I’m still hoping for Marriage of Opposites to win – and you can read my review discussing its merits here. I think A God in Ruins has a very solid chance, through, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Girl Waits with Gun, a blogger favorite, make it into the running.

Fantasy

So, this is where I wish I had rushed into reading the second Queen of the Tearling novel, The Invasion of the Tearling. I really, really enjoyed the first book and thought it was a clever take on an “unprepared female leader” narrative. Kelsea’s just a great character, and I didn’t read the second book precisely because I wanted to wait until closer to the third book’s release. Boo, hiss. I started reading The Fifth Season, but my love for the Tearling characters wins, and I hope The Invasion of the Tearling does, too.

Science Fiction

This is probably the best semifinals slate update I’ve ever seen, and I’m really excited to see the finals round ballot. There were some great updates – Nightvale, Atwood, Wendig, Armada…dang, this a good bunch of nominees, and a great balance of popular and critical hits. I’m still pulling for the The Fold, however!

Horror

The Night Sister keeps my vote, but I strongly recommend those with a strong stomach for visceral imagery check out The Deep, another great read. Also, I just learned there was a follow-up to The Three!

nonfiction

I seriously  missed the category last week, and I have no idea how. Anyway, I’m voting for Between the World and Me, but it barely beats out Missoula and Big Magic, which impacted me personally but not in the same ways.

Graphic Novels & Comics

So not only are all of my favorites from last week still there (Saga, Lumberjanes, Rat Queens, Nimona, Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel), but Wicked + Divine is nominated, too! I’ll say it again, this is anyone’s game. And yes, I’m still voting for Nimona!

Young Adult

First, read the awesome Women in Fiction guest post by Dot, then go vote for Dumplin’!

YA Fantasy & Science Fiction

I was worried Uprooted wouldn’t pull through, solely because I wasn’t sure if it registered at the same level for YA voters. Obviously I’m a fan, and a biased one at that.

How are you voting? Drop a note in the comments!

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Being the Secret: A Women in Fiction Guest Post by Dot Dannenberg

This week’s Women in Fiction post comes from Dot Dannenberg. Dot is an extremely talented writer and an editor at 1:1000.  Please check out her 1:1000 pieces on our contributors page here. You’d be remiss skipping the 10-part West series (just saying).

Dot’s post below is one of my favorite pieces about books this year, because it’s whip-smart in its observations about teenagers, body image and self-consciousness, and two of my favorite books this year (go read them, for real).

At first glance, the female protagonists of two of this year’s hottest YA novels couldn’t be more different, aside from their boy names. Will (Willowdean) Dickson, in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, is an overweight Texas high schooler who upends her small town by entering a local beauty pageant. Theo (Theodora) Cartwright, in Brandy Colbert’s Pointe, is a recovering anorexic ballerina forced to face her past when her best friend’s kidnapper is finally caught.

These two seventeen-year olds seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum in everything from race to BMI to the circumstances they face. In Pointe, the stakes are much higher than in Dumplin’–Theo’s unreliable narration swirls around the details of past and current loves while only skimming the surface of the darker things going on around her–sexual abuse, drugs, anger. Willowdean’s world is much softer. The darkest cloud in her life is her aunt, dead at thirty-five from obesity complications, who serves as both Willowdean’s guiding light and ghost of Christmas future.

I am not the target audience for young adult fiction starring seventeen-year-old girls. At times, I wanted both books to go deeper into the obsessive internal minds of these narrators, something I recall so clearly from adolescence, which is sadly missing from most YA fiction.

But I was impressed with how these two books about such different young women manage to capture a universal experience I do remember about being a teenage girl: when a boy wants to keep you a secret.

In Pointe, Theo entangles herself with a drug-dealing piano prodigy named Hosea. He understands her. He introduces her to feelings she didn’t know could exist. And, of course, he already has a girlfriend. Theo spends the book oscillating between refusing to be the secret and caving to Hosea’s advances, telling herself to have fun while it lasts–the rest of her life waiting to unravel in the wings.

I kept waiting for the reasoning behind Hosea’s secrecy to appear. Had he and his girlfriend been through some life-changing event? Was it about race, all along, because Theo is black?

But Colbert doesn’t take us there. Instead, we get the mundane truth of high school: high school boys don’t have real reasons. Hosea and his girlfriend have been together for two whole years, and at that age, longevity trumps everything, even self-actualization. Now that I read it, I see how accurate this is–how catastrophic the power-couple breakups at my high school tended to be. I remember the cutest boy at school holding my hand, then agonizing that his recently-dumped girlfriend of two years would be angry he was moving on so fast.

I even more directly relate to Willowdean in Dumplin’. Willowdean crushes hard on Bo, the cute boy she works with at a fast food restaurant. It’s clear from their banter that there’s a connection, but their romantic trysts always seem to take place in secret–behind dumpsters or parked near abandoned buildings. Willowdean almost can’t believe he’s into her, to such an extent that she doesn’t even tell her best girlfriend about her first kiss. And of course, in classic teenage boy style, Bo insists he can’t handle a relationship right now. Sure. That’s what they always say.

It’s taken me almost thirty years to re-write the narratives I told myself about growing up fat. The line I repeated–“boys just weren’t into me”–was a lie. Like Bo with Willowdean, boys were into me. They were just too ashamed to be the guy dating the fat girl. The internal battle between shame and longing rings clear and true in Dumplin’.

I wish I’d had books like Pointe and Dumplin’ when I was in high school. Watching Theo and Willowdean live through these experiences would have made me feel a little less crazy. I would have second-guessed myself less. And maybe I’d have learned a little sooner to speak up for the things I know I deserve.

Thanks for reading! What do you think of Theo and Willowdean?