THE SECOND FEBRUARY SUBMISSION WINNER: A Christmas Star Wish by Vanessa Martin

 

 

 

 

Below is our second published piece from reader submissions! This week (and only a day late) is Amber’s Pick. It is a fictional children’s short story written by Vanessa Martin.

The reason I picked this piece is ultimately because of the sweet message. Even though it may be hard to get into a Christmas mindset in springtime, once you read the story you’ll be able to feel the chill in the air and the lure of hot chocolate and twinkling lights. I also liked the originality of the two main characters. So here it is. Enjoy!

A CHRISTMAS STAR WISH

By Vanessa Martin

Franklin the Ferret sat all alone in his cage, watching the people walk by. No one ever stopped to hold him or even to talk to him. And if they did look at him, they sometimes would make a weird scrunched nose face. He didn’t understand what was wrong with him. He was friendly, he never bit anyone, and he enjoyed being cuddled. Most ferrets never wanted anything to do with people and some would even nip at their fingers, and those ferrets were always adopted and taken home. But not him!!

Franklin didn’t know why the people were afraid of him. What was so wrong with him that everyone just ignored him?

Well, you see….when Franklin was born, he was born with half a right back leg and he was also blind in his left eye. All the people wanted the animals that were perfect and since he had a handicap, per se, no one wanted him. As the Thanksgiving holiday went by and Christmas grew very near, Franklin would sit all alone looking out the window beside his cage. He started making wishes on the brightest star in the sky, for a family who would love him and want to take him home with them. He wished and wished and wished, and nothing ever happened. No family came and all the people would still walk on by without a glance.

What Franklin didn’t know was that his wishes were heard. They were heard loud and clear at the North Pole by a few of the elves, so they went and told Santa. Santa Claus could see everything happening in the store where Franklin lived and knew that he had to make Franklin’s wish come true. Santa wanted to make sure that Franklin knew and felt the miracle of Christmas. But with Christmas only two days away, he knew he would have to act fast.

***

On the other side of the city, an eight-year-old little boy named Justin sat watching his brother and parents decorate the tree for Christmas. Justin couldn’t participate or get too close because of his wheelchair.

There were only two days left before Christmas and he just wished it was already over. He didn’t believe in Santa anymore-not that he ever had. Getting tired of watching his family do something he couldn’t do made him more depressed. So he turned his chair around to face the window where he could see the snow falling. Glancing up toward the sky, he noticed that the brightest star in the sky was sparkling very intense that night. He just stared at it, too scared to make a wish. Because all the other wishes he had asked for in the past, had never came true.

He always wished that he could walk and play like all the other children, but those wishes never came true. And since he couldn’t walk or see very well, the other kids just made fun of him.

Justin was still hesitant, but he went ahead and made one last wish. Justin wished that he would find someone who could understand what he was going through. Someone who would be there with him through everything that came his way. After making his wish, he turned around and told his parents he was going to go watch one of the Christmas specials that was playing on the television that evening. As he rolled his chair to the next room, he started feeling mad at himself, but also sad at the same time. He didn’t know why he even made a wish; it wasn’t as if anyone would hear it.

What Justin didn’t know was that his wish had made it all the way to the North Pole where a pair of little ears heard it. The elf knew he had to bring this to Santa’s attention. Because no child should ever feel sad at Christmastime.

***

The little elf ran all the way to the woodshop, where Santa was doing inventory for his trip the next night.

The elf spoke so fast that Santa had to tell him to slow down. Once Santa heard about the wish, he looked through his magical snow globe into Justin’s house and could see the tiny little boy with real thick glasses and braces on his legs, sitting in his wheelchair. He could hear the sniffling sounds that were coming from the little boy as he sat watching television, trying not to let any tears fall.

Santa knew right then and there exactly what he was going to do. He could make two wishes come true that holiday season, one for a brave little boy and the other for a furry little animal. He was going to bring Franklin and Justin together.

***

The day before Christmas, Santa walked into the pet shop and went directly to Franklin’s cage, who was watching the people walk by. Santa asked Franklin if he would like to be part of a real family for Christmas. Franklin told Santa that was what he wanted more than anything in the world, and Santa told him that he had heard his wish the night before. Franklin couldn’t believe what was happening. He jumping up and down in his cage with joy. He was finally going to have a family.

Later that evening, Franklin sat beside Santa in his sleigh, all set to meet his new family. He could barely contain his excitement. He watched as Santa made his rounds; all the while Franklin didn’t make a peep. They were almost finished when Santa told him to get prepared.

Santa landed his sleigh on top of a shingled roof and held open his bag. He looked at Franklin and said, “This is your new home. A little boy named Justin lives here. Like you, he has trouble seeing and walking. And I know you will become great pals.” Franklin jumped into Santa’s bag, ready for the trip down the chimney.

Santa filled the stockings with care then ate a few nibbles of cookie and drank a bit of milk, before turning to Franklin and telling him it was time to go under the tree. Franklin jumped out of the bag and into a small cage that had magically appeared when Santa nodded his head. He said good-bye, put his finger to his nose then disappeared back up the chimney.

***

The next morning, Justin made his way to the family room and saw all the presents under the tree. But the one present that caught his eye was a little cage with a bow on it. He rolled his chair over and looked down into it. Looking back at him was Franklin, with his one good eye and his one blind eye. Justin also noticed that the animal only had half a right back leg. Justin yelled out to his mom and dad to come see what was under the tree. They both stood there, shocked, because they knew that the present had not been there last night when they went to bed. The father plucked a card off the top of the cage, while the mother opened it up and took Franklin out. She gently laid him in Justin’s arms and the little boy sat petting him, listening while his father read aloud.

Dear Justin,

I wanted to let you know that your wish was heard loud and clear—all the way to the North Pole. I knew that I had to do something to restore your belief in Santa and show you the Miracle of Christmas, and I hope I have. I would like to introduce you to Franklin. He needs a special friend and I thought of you and how good of a friend you would be. I wish you and Franklin a lifetime of fun and love for one another. Oh and by the way, Franklin really likes apples and to snuggle up on your lap while you pet him.

Love,

Santa Claus – the big guy in the red suit

His parents couldn’t believe what they were hearing or seeing. They both looked over at Justin petting the ferret lying on his lap. And for the first time, in a long time, he was smiling more than he ever had and when they looked down at Franklin, they didn’t know what to think because it looked like Franklin was smiling, too.

From then on, both Justin and Franklin never stopped believing in Santa or that wishes come true.

***

So remember, if you ever have a doubt, that Santa Claus is real and the Miracle of Christmas is very powerful. And if you ever make a wish around Christmastime, on the brightest star in the sky, you can believe…it was heard.

 

 

This is Vanessa Martin’s first children’s story, but will not be her last. She’s working on her first mystery/suspense novel as you read this. Vanessa Martin is 42 years old and lives in Ohio. She loves to read, cook, and write. This story was written for her seven nieces and nephews.

April Submissions Now Open!

We’re springing into March like a lion, fellow UpWrite Ladies! Which means that our next submission period is now open!

We will accept all  short story and non-fiction submissions for April publication up until 11:59 pm PST on Saturday, March 26th. Yes, that’s right, procrastinators and perfectionists – you get almost an entire month to tweak and hone and write and rewrite.

Once we pick our winners, we’ll contact them to ask for a profile.

Sarah will publish her pick for winning story (along with review and profile of the author) on the FIRST FRIDAY in April. Even though that means April 1st aka April Fools’ Day, we’re not fooling you! Amber will post her winning pick (along with review and profile) on the THIRD FRIDAY in March. We will open the contest again for the next month, so if your story is not selected this time around, don’t despair! You can always resubmit. After all, as Ernest Hemingway said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”

Please review our guidelines for more information and how to submit.

And don’t forget to share and forward this page to all women writers you know! Let’s keep the spring in our steps and the words flowing on the page.

THE FIRST FEBRUARY SUBMISSION WINNER: The Problem With Preachers by Rachel

Below is our first published piece from a submission by a reader! This week is Sarah’s Pick. It is a non-fiction, opinion piece by Rachel. Please note that the opinions and views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or views of UpWriteLadies.

The reason I picked this piece is because it is a well-written, well-reasoned, passionate argument. From it’s opening paragraph to the closing, it’s a griping read whether you agree with the view or not. It’s a strong view, for sure, but strong opinions make for good discussion, and I’m sure this piece will lead to lots of discussion!

THE PROBLEM WITH PREACHERS

By Rachel

I’ve got a confession to get off my chest. Few people know this about me, and I am afraid I will fall out of favor in many Christian circles if they knew the truth. I don’t like Joel Osteen. Or pretty much any Christian preacher who is rich and famous for being a Christian preacher. I know, I know, I’m just a close-minded simpleton who must be jealous of their success, and if I could just get on their bandwagon surely I would feel better about myself (the power of I am!?) and I would be able to harness all of the blessings God is obviously waiting to bestow upon my life.

But the problem is, I already have blessings from God. Even though I’m poor, and living in debt, and recognize that I am actually not that awesome of a person. Even though I think frequently about how bad of a sinner I am and recognize that I am a selfish, arrogant person. God still has blessed me with the greatest gift of all – His Son who died to forgive my sins. He has not said to wait until I feel good about myself, or really to think about myself much at all. The most important thing is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) which has nothing to do with loving yourself. Granted, the “love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 39) is vaguely about loving yourself, but more in a “you already know you love yourself so love others just as much” kind of way.

I know I struggle with a dichotomy of judgment – am I just judging these people, which I am not supposed to do? Or am I being wary of a potential false prophet? How is it that Jesus, the prophets, the apostles, they all were allowed to call people out on sin but we are now in a day and age that even mentioning sin means we are judging people and are personally subjected to God’s judgment for this? I recently heard a sermon at my church discussing the idea of judgment and how we should NOT be judging non-Christians to a Christian standard, but we should be looking at ourselves within the church and keeping each other accountable. So go ahead and call me judgmental, but I think we should hold pastors of mega churches to a Biblical standard.

I must admit, I feel a little bit like a heretic when I tell someone I’m not a huge fan of a famous, popular Christian. I see the look of confusion, or is it disgust, contort their face subconsciously. Is it because I am too much of a cynic to believe someone rich and famous could really be living right? Surely Jesus did not say that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (oh wait, that is His exact words – Matthew 19:24).

Joel Osteen is not someone I have given much thought to, because I just write-off anyone who preaches a “feel good” message as an inspirational speaker, not a pastor. But then I realized he is actually supposed to be a pastor and when he’s on TV it’s probably a broadcast of him preaching his Sunday sermon at his church. Except he is not preaching. At least, not how I understand the job of a pastor. He will not call people sinners, he will not talk about the importance of recognizing our depravity and the need to turn to our Savior for forgiveness and change. To be a pastor there is no requirement to do the visual illustration showing how repentance means turning 180 degrees away from sin and watching a pastor walk in one direction then literally turn completely around and walk in a different direction. No, you can be a pastor without the illustration. But has Joel Osteen ever done a single illustration relating to our sins and need for a Savior? Does he explain to people that in order to get these supposed blessings from God you probably have to be “on the team” so to speak, and explain how to become a Christian?

The best I can tell, Joel Osteen’s sermons are nothing more than uplifting language, making us feel like we can accomplish ANYTHING if we just believe. Which is nice sentiment. But believe in what? In ourselves? In an all-powerful genie god that will give us whatever we desire? It is hard to dislike someone when their words are sweet honey telling you that despite past failures something good is on your horizon. But alas, I do dislike him. I can’t stand listening to him talk. I can’t stand looking at his books that do little more than make people feel good about themselves and line his pockets with cash. Lots of cash.

God calls us to something greater than ourselves. One verse that inspirational preachers like Joel Osteen and other “feel-good-ers” like to turn to is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Yes, God did say that, but when is the last time you’ve heard someone uplifting with that verse explain the context? Do they mention that God was actually talking to an ENTIRE NATION and not a single person, much less talking to YOU? Do they mention that this promise was given before a SEVENTY YEAR stint in exile? Most, if not all, of the people alive when the words were written were not alive when the exile ended. Jeremiah 29:11 is about looking forward to God’s redemption not about your personal selfish journey through life. It is about the bigger picture of furthering God’s kingdom, not advancing your career. When will we stop living so firmly in this present life, being coddled by “pastors” like Joel Osteen telling us that we are great, we are amazing, we just need to change our views of ourselves and we can reach a better life.

None of this bothered me so much until I looked a little more into Joel Osteen. I discovered his newest best-selling book is called “The power of I AM: Two words that will change your life today.” Joel Osteen, I did not dislike you so much until you had the nerve, the gall, to take the name of God Moses was given in the desert “I AM” and turned it into a book title which in no way represents this God. This book is about changing how you think not recognizing the great I AM that I AM. You have lost any lingering respect I could have, and I hope that you can realize your own depravity and sin in time to change your message to one of repentance followed by truly seeking after the life God wants. It is good to want to become better, to want to live your best life. But that should not a pastor’s complete message week after week, book after book. Joel Osteen is like the sweet talking door-to-door salesman who makes you feel good about yourself, convinces you how smart you are, then somehow that convinces you to purchase his product and make him rich. I’ve never liked sweet talking door-to-door salesmen.

So there, I have let out my secret. I hope I haven’t offended anyone and made them think less of me. Oh wait, except if being concerned that people are preaching a false message instead of the true message of God’s love and salvation means you dislike me, then go ahead. I’d rather you hate my message than try to milk things down to the point none of us know the truth.

Peace.

 

Rachel was born and raised in the small town of Bennington, VT. She then moved with her husband and three children a stone’s throw south to the even smaller town of Pownal. Rachel studies nutrition policy at Tufts University and it especially interested in maternal and children’ nutrition. She enjoys cooking, and has a strange desire to cook every time the kitchen is finally clean.

How Harper Lee Helped Me Rediscover My Love of Reading

As a child, I was an avid reader. I gobbled up books like they were the last box of Girl Scout Cookies on the shelf. From an early age, I knew I wanted to do what these writers I admired did: I wanted to create characters that people fell in love with.

Before I was even in middle school, I was telling the world I was going to be a writer when I grew up.

So, I wrote.

And I read some more.

And I wrote some more after that.

Then, high school hit, and I was suddenly being compelled to read all these books for school, some of which I loved and some of which I hated. It didn’t really matter if I liked them or not, because the bottom line was I didn’t get to choose my reading material anymore. With so much homework, plus an after-school job and several school clubs, my personal reading time was drastically cut down for the first time in my life.

Once I got to college, life got even crazier and I quickly discovered that the hours I spent as a child absorbed in the pages of a novel were behind me. Perhaps forever. I didn’t have time to read the detective stories I loved so much, or the legal thrillers, or the romances. Any spare time I had was spent obsessively writing my first novel, which I completed over winter break my Freshman year of college.

I graduated from college and entered “The Real World” of job hunting and apartment finding, and for a few years it truly seemed to me that I would never be able to find enough time in a day to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a fire and just lose myself in a character I loved.

Until I picked up To Kill A Mocking Bird, mostly because it was on sale at a local bookstore.

Somehow, I had managed to get through both high school and college without being forced to read it for a class, and I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that is the case. I didn’t have to worry about writing essays, answering test questions, and participating in forced discussions. I could just let the words wash over me like a comforting balm and absorb them at my own pace, in my own way.

And, I did just that.

I devoured it in a mere two days, a feat for me since I am normally a rather slow, methodical reader. I literally could not put it down. It wasn’t a page-turner in the way a mystery or a noir is, it was something more than that. I cared about Scout and her father and brother. I wanted to know what happened to them, but more than that, I wanted to help them. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and just give then biggest hug in the world. I wanted to tell them everything was going to be okay. When it began to get hairy and danger was starting to close in around them, I wanted to protect them.

I had forgotten what that felt like.

I had forgotten how good it felt to be invested in fictional characters, to connect with an author in an authentic and passionate way, not because I was being forced to but because I wanted to. Down to my soul, I did not want that book to ever end.

Of course, it did end. All books must end sometime, but my love affair with reading had been rekindled, all thanks to a little girl named Jean Louise. I began to find ways to make time for reading for pleasure, as well as writing. I also discovered that the more I read, the better a writer I became. The two went together hand-in-hand.

So, thank you Scout.

Thank you, Atticus.

And, thank you, Harper Lee.

We will never forget you.

  • Sarah

What Frozen and Star Wars: TFA Taught Us About Love and Feminism

For years, it’s been a widely-held belief in Hollywood that a movie centered around women simply would not sell tickets. Well, Frozen and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both shattered that archaic notion. Both were not only incredible box office successes that shattered just about every record known to humankind, they also struck a chord with women and girl viewers in a way few films ever have. Elsa costumes still dominate at Halloween, and you can be sure next year Rey will be right there with her.

This is a great thing for feminism, not just because there are more prevalent female characters in popular cinema, but because these two movies offer three distinct, fully fleshed-out, and completely different role models for young girls to look up to in different ways.

Rey, the spunky and fiercely independent heroine of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a strong and confident woman who has spent her life fending for herself. She is not sitting around waiting for anyone to make her life work, much less a man. When Finn shows up and turns her world upside-down, she is initially more attracted to the adventure he offers than she is smitten by the adorable hunk. As the movie progresses, her feelings for him deepen, but she never chooses to give up her sense of independence to pursue a relationship with him.

At the close of the movie, Finn is in bad shape. Perhaps even on the verge of death. In a lesser film, Rey would have decided to stay home and devote her life to caring for him and nursing him back to health. Not Rey. She says goodbye in a heartbreaking scene, that they will meet again if they are meant to be, and sets out to fulfill her destiny of becoming a Jedi. She refuses to be defined by him, even if she is growing to love him.

Anna, the adorable red-headed heroine of Frozen, is the polar opposite of Rey in almost every way, but she is no less a strong female role-model. She is a hopeless romantic who is immediately swept off her feet by the hot-but-ultimately-totally-evil prince, but even thinking she is in love doesn’t stop her from giving everything up to help her sister at the drop of a hat. When adventure and duty calls, Anna answers by setting out on her own and leaving her prince at home to tend the castle, in an awesome gender-role reversal from the normal fairy tale structure.

Of course, it turns out that trusting this particular prince was a big mistake, but who hasn’t had a bad relationship? Who hasn’t gotten caught up in the emotional rush of a new flame and perhaps overlooked the warning signs it wasn’t going to work out in the long run? Being a strong female role model doesn’t mean being flawless. It means learning from your mistakes and growing into a better person because of them. Anna does just that. She dumps the jerk and ends up in a solid, though imperfect, relationship with a guy who truly cherishes her and values her as a person. He doesn’t idealize her, but sees her as the broken, quirky, wonderful person she is and loves her completely. Anna doesn’t have to give up romance and swear-off all boyfriends to be a strong woman. She just has to be wise enough to hold out for the one truly worthy of her awesomeness.

Elsa, her sister, on the other hand, doesn’t end up in a relationship. That’s okay, too. She has spent years literally and figuratively shutting out the world. She is a queen and has unlimited power, both politically and magically, but she still has to learn how to open herself up to love and to life. In a typical romantic comedy, she would learn how to do this by falling in love with the hot-but-slightly-goofy receptionist. In Frozen, however, Elsa learns this lesson by experiencing the sacrificial love of her sister. She’s not saved by the love of a good guy. She’s saved by the love of Anna. At the end, she seems completely happy to be on her own, and still the powerful woman she always was. Plus, of course, she gets to sing perhaps the most kick-ass Disney song of all time.

Of course, Hollywood is a long way from being perfect in their portrayal of women on screen. By no means have we reached the end of our struggle, but these two films are a great example that shows we as a society are headed in the right direction.

  • Sarah

How Long Do You Wait? by Amber Donahue

How long do you wait?

I haven’t exactly asked anyone, but nobody’s offering up advice. There aren’t any helpful Pinterest links or Buzzfeed articles. There’s no “7 Things You Must Do When Your Boyfriend is in a Coma (And 3 Things You Must NEVER Do).”

So I’ve been winging it. And it’s exhausting.

Work has been super accommodating, which is great but also makes me feel a little guilty that I’d been applying elsewhere. I’d never even got a callback, let alone an interview, and what had seemed like a bummer at the time turned out to be a blessing. I can’t even imagine having to process Percy’s accident with a new job where you’re learning new things and can’t take any days off. As it is, I’ve been able to change my schedule as needed, which has been a lifesaver, and I’m finally back into my regular hours.

I have a new routine, which is at once comforting and disturbing.I sleep at Percy’s during the week, and I walk Clarence in the morning and the evening. I visit the hospital before work and bring coffee for the nurses (at first because I had no idea how else to show my gratitude, but now it’s because we’ve become friendly), and I stop by again after work until visiting hours are over and I have to get home to walk the dog. On the weekends, I stay at my place, popping over to Percy’s only to walk and feed Clarence. Most of my clothes, my laptop, my slippers, my dirty laundry – most of my stuff is at Percy’s.

We weren’t at the living together stage – in fact, there’s a question as to the status of our relationship on that night – but I basically live there now. It helps that his apartment is nicer and that Clarence is fun and there are no roommates. Not that I hate my roommates or anything – they’ve been incredibly supportive throughout this whole thing, and even if they hadn’t liked Percy, who wouldn’t appreciate me paying rent and utilities and not living there much?

I am starting to wonder about the future, though.

How long do I pay for his apartment? His student loans? His cell phone? His car insurance? I mean, he wasn’t at fault for the accident, but I don’t want him to have a coverage gap. His car registration is up in two months. I’ve put his Netflix, his Hulu, his gym membership on hold. I’ve paid the minimums on his credit cards. I’ve spoken with his boss, Terry, and have monitored his online bank accounts, carefully watching his paychecks full of sick days roll in every other week. I don’t know how many sick days he has left, but I know at some point disability comes into play, at least I think it does. I haven’t done much research yet. And the other guy’s car insurance, that’s a whole mess I’ve been trying to sort through. I don’t know if that covers loss of income, too. I doubt it. It’ll probably barely cover hospitalization.

I’ve kept myself busy making spreadsheets and lists. I’ve reset passwords. I’ve written to utilities and talked with his landlord. It’s weird how quickly you can just sort of take over someone’s life.

His parents are dead (he lost his mother to cancer when he was ten, and his father died two years ago of a heart attack), but his friends and some co-workers visited the hospital at first. Especially because it was right around the holidays, and everyone was full of energy and kindness and high spirits. But as the days turned into weeks, then months, their visits slowed down and disappeared altogether.

I can’t blame them. There’s nothing more useless-feeling than visiting someone in a coma. You just sit there and talk to him, and he looks like he’s just pretending to sleep, but there are tubes and cords and IVs and beeping, and nobody’s that good of an actor. So you just have a crazy one-sided conversation about mundane, trivial shit that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

But what else are you supposed to talk about? How irresponsible it is that a 33 year old single adult with no children and no family didn’t have a living will? I mean, I don’t either. It’s not something you think about in your early thirties unless you’re diagnosed with a disease, or maybe if you have kids. Percy didn’t have either, so why would he have a plan for something as happens-to-other-people as a car accident leading to a coma?

He wouldn’t.

So I’m stuck trying to figure out what he would’ve wanted.

I visit the hospital every day. And every day, the doctors tell me nothing’s changed. I can easily read the subtext beneath their updates. ‘The longer things stay the same, the more likely it is that he’s not coming back.’ And then the follow up ‘and even if he does come back, he might not come all the way back. He might not be the same.’

But I don’t want to think about that, so I focus on reading Yahoo! News articles aloud to Percy. God, he hates Yahoo! News. It’s always been a thing with us. I’m not defending their journalistic integrity, but I find myself strangely drawn to their stories.

Growing up, my mom used to say that I marched to the beat of my own drum. Percy always jokes that it’s a drum machine. I never truly understand that joke, but it cracks Percy up so I play along.

Now that it’s been over three months and the initial craziness of the situation has faded slightly, it hits me how much I miss him. I mean, we’d been dating for five months, and we’d fallen pretty hard for each other. We’d even joked, on more than one occasion, that we should just elope in Atlantic City one weekend. And then at the office on Monday, it’d be like “What’d you do this weekend?” and you could be all, “Oh, not much. Did some laundry, got married, went to a movie.”

Percy even talked about our children. He used to say it so matter-of-factly, like they already existed in our future. The timeline was already written, a foregone conclusion. Three kids, two boys and a girl. We’d talked about what names would be good – growing up a “Percival” meant he was intensely passionate and defensive about names – and where we would want to raise them. We never came to any conclusions on either topic (no child of mine is going to be named Jeremy), but it was always fun to discuss.

I knew he wanted a future with me. But I wasn’t sure, until that fight – our first real, major argument and it was so stupid– I wasn’t sure I wanted that future until it was taken away from me.

I mean, I’d already been pretty miserable, playing out the different scenarios in my head well before I received the phone call about the accident. We hadn’t talked for two days and it felt so… wrong. I felt like a piece was missing, like I was just “off.” I tried to picture how the days and years would play out. Would I ever feel normal again without him? 

The phone call just cemented what I’d already known in my heart: I was head over heels in love with this man. He annoyed me to no end, he teased me, and sure, at times I hated him a little, but my God did I love him. I loved that he could tell how I was feeling and what I was thinking with just one glance. I loved how he would wake up early to make coffee for us, even though he could’ve just set the timer on the coffee pot, just because he liked to slip back into bed, all chilled, and have me warm him up. I loved the look of concentration on his face when he was hard at work – setting up the new Playstation, making a special recipe, wrapping a present.

I loved that he’d made me a little corner of the bathroom countertop. He was very attentive, much more than I ever was, and so he’d even stocked it with brands I actually used. I loved how he’d whisper corny jokes in my ear and dare me not to laugh. I loved that he was thoughtful in bed, and good, too. Thanks to my series of previous boyfriends, I already knew how rare that was. But he was thoughtful and caring in all aspects of his life. He was good with Jenna’s kids, and Clarence was like a member of the family (not in a creepy way, though. He’s a very sweet and well-behaved dog). I loved how long it took him to pick a movie to watch on Netflix. I loved how Percy would give me a little wink from across a crowded room. Or that look he’d give me when he wanted to know if I was okay. I loved…him.

It’s been three months, six days, seventeen hours, and a handful of minutes. It feels like a lifetime, and it feels like just a moment.

Now I’m lounging on Percy’s couch, Clarence curled up at my feet. The TV’s on, but I’m not watching it. Instead, I’m trying to think of the last time we spoke – before the fight, because sometimes the flight is the thing that I remember most clearly. Five months without a single disagreement, and then a yelling match right before a coma. It isn’t fair.

I can’t remember.

When I get like this, I call Percy’s phone (which of course is sitting, silenced, on the table next to me) and listen to his voicemail greeting. It’s not like it’s profound or funny or anything – just a simple “Hey, you’ve reached Percy. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” But it’s a comfort to hear his voice. The friendly drawl. The flustered way he rushes the “as soon as I can.”

I also have a stupid video taken during a night out with his friends. That one hurts more than helps, so I don’t watch it much anymore. It’s just a stupid karaoke night, but his friend Kyle takes the phone for a minute, and he catches this shot of Percy and me, just the two of us, beaming at each other like drunken idiots, and Percy reaches over almost all the way to kiss me, and then I kind of have to hop up to complete the kiss (because Percy’s so much taller than I am), and he grabs me and holds me up, and I bust out laughing but we’re still kissing, and laughing, and it just hurts.

It seems so long ago. It seems impossible.

Clarence starts to whine at my feet, a clear indication that he needs to go outside, and I begrudgingly get up from the warmth of the couch. I check my phone, and it’s much colder outside than I thought. Figures. My only warm clothes here are my flannel pajamas, and there’s still in the dirty laundry pile.

I stand for a moment and stare at Percy’s coat rack. He has that nice warm peacoat, and it probably even still smells like him.

Gingerly, I lift it from the hook and slip it over my shoulders. It’s heavy, but comfortable. It comes down almost to my knees, but I’m instantly enveloped in warmth and Percy’s cologne and body wash and nothing else matters.

I shut off the TV, clip on Clarence’s leash, tie a clean waste bag around it, and grab the keys.

It’s cold out, cold enough that my breath is almost visible. I shove my hand holding the keys into the warm pocket of Percy’s coat, and I hit something. My fingers automatically release the keys in the pocket and grab the object, pulling it out.

Clarence trots along ahead of me, carefully maneuvering down the stairs to the sidewalk. He tugs at the leash when he realizes I’ve stopped on the third step down.

It’s a box.

The kind of box that cheesy Hollywood movies and jewelry store commercials have taught me all about.

I stand there a moment, Clarence tugging desperately at the leash in my one hand, and me holding an engagement ring in the other.

Do I dare open it?

I carefully wrap my hand around the box and shove both back into the pocket. I walk down the stairs behind the dog, feeling funny.

It feels like snooping. My first month or so “living” at Percy’s, I felt like I was snooping all the time. We’d been dating for five months, but I hadn’t had any need to dig through his drawers or under his bed or in his nightstand. Not until the coma. It still felt like snooping, when I was trying to find his little notepad with his passwords, or change his bedsheets, or find his landlord’s address, but it felt like necessary snooping. Did I find some things that he probably never wanted me to see? Definitely. But he’d understand.

But this, this is something different.

As we round the block and Clarence stops to do his business, I wonder briefly if maybe the ring isn’t for me after all. Maybe a previous girlfriend? Maybe he’s holding it for a friend.

But we’d had the exes talk, and there was no mention of a recent relationship serious enough to warrant a ring in a winter coat. And any friend he was holding it for would’ve asked me about it when Percy went into the coma.

No, it had to be for me.

In the many hours since the accident, I’d wondered thousands of times whether he had wanted to get back together. Whether we were even “broken up” or were just giving each other time to cool down. Whether we would’ve realized how stupid it was to fight about where to go on vacation, and who always gets to pick what we do.

Whether we’d just be happy that we get to go anywhere and do anything together.

I like to think so. And it looks like Percy did, too.

Now, more than ever, I want to talk to him. I want him to wake up so I can tell him everything that’s been going on, and how sorry I am, and how much I’ve missed him.

By the time Clarence and I walk up the stairs back to Percy’s apartment, I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going to open the box. I’m not going to look at the ring he bought for me. It’s going to sit in the pocket of his peacoat. Waiting.

Because I want to be surprised. I want to hear him ask the question. I want to wait for him.

But how long do you wait when you realize you would’ve said yes?

The Five Elements of Great Query Letters

We here at UpWrite Ladies are proud to partner with other writers. I mean, it’s kinda what we’re all about. So please enjoy this helpful article from guest blogger Odelia Emmanuel.


The Five Elements of Great Query Letters 

If you’re reading this it means you’re probably getting ready to send your novel or other project out on submission.  There are certain characteristics every query letter should have to make it stand out in the slush pile:

  • Clarity.  I have critiqued many a query (just last week in fact) and a lot of the times after reading one I’m not sure what the story is about.  If your query is confusing to critique partners it will be confusing to agents.  Agents don’t want to keep track of seven named characters or try and connect points A, B, and X to figure out what you meant or what the point of your story is.  They want a succinct preview of the plot (i.e. book jacket copy) that makes them want to keep reading.  One thing you can do to avoid a confusing query is to write it before you even start your novel.  I do this to help myself stay on track and so I have a clear idea of where the story is headed.  A query is your first chance to impress an agent.  You don’t want to blow your shot because you confused them.
  • An original premise.  This is easier said than done and somewhat subjective, but as a writer you should read enough to know what is or isn’t being written about and whether your manuscript fills a hole in the marketplace.  If your query involves a vampire love triangle that’s a problem.  Maybe somewhere there are still agents who are on the hunt for these types of novels, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  If you don’t have enough time to read as much as you should, check out Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus.  Reading book reviews is faster than reading an entire book and is a quick way to know if your story has already been done.
  • Interesting, relatable characters. The setting of your story is important.  Plot is important.  But characters are what suck readers in.  If you don’t paint a picture of an intriguing character the rest of your story doesn’t matter.  Make sure an agent can immediately identify with your main character.  Details about who they are and what they want/what goal they are trying to achieve should be included in the query.  Also, it needs to be clear that there are stakes for your character.  Something has to happen to them.  Whether it is external conflict, internal, or both, agents need to be assured that something exciting is going to happen when they read your manuscript. A query letter is your chance to convince an agent to come along for whatever ride your character is on.
  • A short, movie-like pitch. The best queries can be boiled down to one sentence.  To be able to sell your book you need to be so familiar with it that you can summarize it in a single statement.  If you can’t sell it, how can you convince an agent he or she can sell it?
  • The basics. Include the genre, word-count, and title of your work.  Tell the agent why you are querying him or her.  Refer to the agent by name, not “Dear Agent.”  Mention any relevant bio information (awards won, conferences attended, education, some nugget about what makes you the ideal person to write this story).  Do not tell the agent about your favorite band or that you own three dogs unless it is completely relevant to your work.

Following the above advice will help you refine your query and get it into the best shape possible for submission.

Happy writing!

About the Blogger:

Odelia Emmanuel is a contemporary young adult fiction author.  She has worked in radio, television, and magazine publishing, but her greatest passion is writing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.  She writes from wherever she happens to be, but the majority of her writing is done from Chicago.

When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and family.

To get updates on Odelia and her books sign up here or visit her site.

5 Podcasts That Were Killing It Before Serial

We all know that Serial came along and changed the podcasting game forever. Believe me, no one is a bigger fan of Serial than me, and I don’t begrudge it any of its success. I live and die by those now bi-weekly updates to my podcast feed. However, what a lot of people don’t seem to know is that Serial was not the first podcast to ever exist.

Shocking, right?

The truth is that before Serial burned up the iTunes chart, there were hundreds of podcasts that had been around for years, killing it every week with brilliant hosts and amazing guests. If your podcasting knowledge begins and ends with Sarah Koenig, these are some shows you need to check out as soon as possible.

Like, when you’re done reading this, start listening to these shows.

For real.

1 – The Flop House

Ostensibly a “bad movie podcast”, where the hosts watch a bad movie every other week and then talk about it, The Flop House transcends all labels and confounds all attempts to explain it.

Daily Show writer Dan McCoy and his two co-hosts, former Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan and ultimate too-cool-to-define-party-dude Stuart Wellington, try to work their way through the inane and often incomprehensible plot of a bad movie and poke fun at it, but they rarely get more than a sentence or two in before being derailed by insane tangents, goofy songs, words that sound like other words, and, of course, correcting the way Dan pronounces just about everything that comes out of his mouth.

Every episode is a roller coaster ride of laughs where the movie being discussed is the least important part of the show.

It’s difficult to point to what makes this format work, because it’s a combination of everything. It’s a perfect storm of personalities, wit, self-deprecation, stupidity, brilliance, and an incredibly deep and encyclopedic knowledge of film history.

In short, it’s amazing.

2 – My Brother, My Brother And Me

Okay, full disclosure: I am a loyal Maximumfun.org donor (the podcasting empire started by NPR’s Bullseye host, Jesse Thorn), so if it seems like this list skews heavily towards MaxFun shows, it probably does.

My Brother, My Brother and Me is among the best this network has to offer. Started by real-life brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, who are now podcast magnates in their own right, this show is pure comedy under the guise of offering advice, a la Dear Abby.

If Dear Abby was on crack, and also a great comedian.

The Brothers pull from listener’s questions and Yahoo Answers and then riff on them, creating unforgettable bits in the process, and even spawning their own holiday. With three very different points of view, but a common desire to be decent human beings, you never know where an episode is going to take you. It’s a journey through madness, and as listeners we are merely along for the ride.

The Brothers also use their considerable influence to encourage their fans to give to worthy charities, and their fans respond in a big way. It’s heartening and inspiring to see so much good being done in the world by something that on its face seems so goofy.

3 – Answer Me This!

Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, along with Martin the Sound Man, host this British podcast that goes beyond simply giving advice. Listeners use e-mail or Skype to submit questions on any topic, from word or phrase origins, to historical origins of traditions that make no sense, as well as advice about sex, and everything in between. Helen and Olly are then duty-bound to provide well-researched and hilarious answers to these queries.

Which, of course, they do. Time after time. It’s amazing how consistently witty and bright these hosts are, even after years of doing the show. It feels just as fresh as ever.

The show hums along at a brisk pace, without lingering too long on one question or bit. There is also a lot of original interstitial music that adds to the comedy, as well as gives the entire show a unique, jaunty feel.

Overall, it’s just a very professional sounding, well-produced, and funny podcast with extremely likable and charming hosts. They just began a three month hiatus, so now is a perfect time to get caught up!

4 – Black on Black Cinema

As a white girl originally from one of the whitest states in the Union, Vermont, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to admit I listen to this show. I know I’m not the intended demographic, but I love it. Unlike bad movie podcasts, which limit themselves to painful movies, Black on Black Cinema explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of Black films. They also dive into issues of Civil Rights, current events and politics, American history, and film history. My personal favorite episodes are the Tyler Perry movie episodes, which leave the hosts so befuddled and angry they can barely form coherent sentences.

I love hearing a point of view I’m not used to hearing in popular culture. I love hearing smart, articulate, passionate people debate the merits of a film they either loved or hated. And I love hosts that constantly insult and needle each other like best friends. It’s entertaining, enlightening, and just a lot of fun. Jay, Rob, Micah, and Ter-Bear (hopefully he doesn’t violently murder me for calling him that) mix serious social commentary and humor perfectly.

Full episodes come out every other week, but this is one show where the “mini” episodes are worth taking a look at, too. The shorter episodes feature debates and conversations about a specific issue.

5 – We Hate Movies

We Hate Movies takes bad movies personally. They seem to see each horrible frame as a personal assault on their souls, and that’s what makes this podcast work. Their righteous indignation at being subjected to crap, as well their joy and exuberance at finding hidden treasure amidst the dung heap, is infectious. They are definitely the angriest of the bad movie podcasts, but in a totally funny way.

Of all the bad movie podcasts I listen to, this one has the most deep cuts into obscure horror and titles I’ve simply never even heard of. Their depth of knowledge belies their ironic title. They don’t just not hate movies, they love them more than is perhaps, strictly speaking, healthy.

This love makes them extremely accessible, to the point you will even grow to love their bad celebrity impressions.

I could go on and on with this list. So many podcasts out there are absolutely amazing, and have been for years. I have been an avid podcast consumer for over five years now, and I’m no where near done yet. If you’re just starting your podcast journey, welcome to the madness. We’ve been waiting for you.

  • Sarah