Quote of the Week, for Sam

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

~ Maya Angelou

One of my best friends passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday. It breaks my heart that I can’t call him to talk for hours about anything or nothing at all. He was one of those people with whom I felt safe saying whatever came to mind because I knew he’d understand me. We were friends for almost 15 years. He’s seen me at my worst, and at my best, and loved me no matter what, just as I loved… LOVE… him.

So many times in the past two days I’ve felt myself reaching for the phone because whenever I’m this upset about anything, he’s who I call. I’d vent, he’d talk me down, we’d switch topics and laugh at someone else’s expense, and I’d hang up feeling better.

He went through a rough time a few years ago regarding a relationship. He’d need to talk and I was there, any hour, day or night. During one of these talks, he told me the most heartbreaking story about a morning that had gone from idyllic to horrible in a matter of hours. I was so moved by the picture he painted, I asked him if I could write it down. He said yes. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to expand on it and tell the whole story of what he was going through. We talked about it, agreed on what it should be, and he gave me permission to use it as I wished.

As I’ve worked on my book, I’ve never forgotten nor abandoned his story. I promise… I SWEAR… I’m going to write it. I always pictured it as a script. And when I was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, he was going to be my date at the Academy Awards. 🙂

He always believed in me as a writer, and he was no slouch with words, either. In fact, in the very first post of this blog I thank him for his humor and constantly reminding me how much fun playing with words can be. He finished his own manuscript, as a matter of fact. I’m sorry I never got a chance to read it, and I’m sorry he never got a chance to read mine.

One comfort is that he got his Christmas and birthday presents from me a couple of weeks ago. I sent them two weeks before Christmas, but you know how that goes. The last text message I have from him is telling me how much he loves it. (Regular readers of this blog might remember a painting I did of the San Antonio River Walk. I sent it to him so that he’d have a little reminder of home. I’m glad he was able to enjoy it for even a little while.)

I miss you, friend. I’m sad… we’re all sad… but we’ll be okay. You can rest in peace.

Love you forever,

Stefanie

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Wonderful + Terrifying = Wonderfying

A query letter is a one-page letter to a lit agent that is asking them to please, please, PLEASE, request to read your manuscript. Except you can’t ask like that. You have to ask like this:

Dear Agent,

Here is a catchy paragraph about my character and my plot’s hook that needs to pique your interest.

Then there’s this paragraph that sums up my entire book. In a paragraph.

Here are the details like title, word count and why I think people will like to read it based on my own comparisons to similar works in the same genre.

Finally, here’s a little bit about me. And if I am able to mention specifically why I chose you to query, I’ll do it here, too.

Thank you for considering a look at my manuscript.

Sincerely,

Me

Guess what, y’all? I wrote one of those. I would share it here, but I think that might be a bad idea. Why would an agent bother requesting my manuscript if they thought other agents might have seen the same query letter on here and requested it already? That might be a bit presumptuous on my part, but instead I’m thinking it’s a better-safe-than-sorry decision.

I will tell you this, though: writing that letter was HARD. Summing up a whole book in a paragraph? Making it interesting without giving anything away? Sounding like I know what the hell I’m talking about? Not easy. And it took hours. HOURS!

But, it’s done, and that’s a victory. It also means that the time has come. The first queries are going out next week. This is equal parts wonderful and terrifying. It’s wonderfying.

Eat. Pray. Blog.

For nearly three months last fall my cousin Alysse took an epic trip around the globe. In a stroke of excellent luck, she drew my name for Christmas and I received a gorgeous bag from Thailand. In a stroke of awesome cousin-ness, she agreed to write a post about her travels. I asked her to do it because I believe a person can’t have an experience like that and not come back somehow enlightened. (I’m right.) All of the astonishingly beautiful photos are hers.

A combination of things inspired me to take my trip: I wanted to see the world and I felt like I was getting stuck in a rut at work and in my normal routine. I decided to go solo. It sounds cheesy, but I felt like I was really going to accomplish something if I was courageous enough to travel alone — I wanted to be proud of navigating my way around the globe. At first I didn’t have 100% support from everyone (mainly certain family members), but eventually they realized it would be better to support my trip because it was really happening!

I visited Canada, France, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. Canada was very similar to the U.S., but a bit more laid back and very friendly.  My best friend joined me for the first leg of my trip and we basically partied our way from Toronto to Montreal. It was a blast! 

Niagra Falls

Niagara Falls

From there, I headed to Paris, where my sister was patiently waiting. Paris is now one of my favorite cities in the world! After getting over some extreme jet lag, Noelle and I ate and walked our way through this beautiful place. We of course saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. We drank lots of wine and ate about 5,000 different desserts. And we saw Lady Gaga at the Stade de France… jealous yet? 😉

Arc de Triumphe

Arc de Triomphe

At the Eiffel Tower

At the Eiffel Tower

Sweets in Paris

Sweets in Paris

India was my next stop. It was not what I expected — it was worse. I have never felt so unsafe as a solo woman traveler. I saw the Taj Mahal and took an awesome cooking class, and I left as soon as I possibly could. 

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Henna

Henna

Thailand is my favorite country I’ve ever visited and where I spent the bulk of my time. The locals are incredibly friendly, the food is incredibly fresh and everything is so affordable! I’m talking $6 per night for a nice room! I spent a few days in Bangkok, which is a must if you are visiting Thailand, and did way too much partying on the famous Khao San Road. I also went on a jungle trek, rode an elephant and met a great group of English girls who I met up with again later in my trip. 

Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand

Khao San Road

Khao San Road

Welcome to the jungle...

Welcome to the jungle…

From northern Thailand I took a slow boat to Laos, which meant two full days on a really… slow… boat. This was not the most enjoyable thing ever, because I was recovering from “Thai tummy.” (Plan on getting sick at least once if visiting Southeast Asia.) Laos was a beautiful country! I stayed in a city called Luang Prabang, which sits right on the Mekong River. 

Laos

Laos

Mekong River

Mekong River

I headed to southern Thailand next and was in absolute heaven! I went to yoga in the morning, spent the day at the white sand beach and relaxed with other travelers at night. I’m pretty sure I could live in southern Thailand for the rest of my life 🙂 

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Kayaking

Kayaking

A room with a view

A room with a view

Cambodia was next, and I will one day go back. It is peaceful, simple and breathtaking. There are hundreds of old temples around the city of Siem Reap, which is where I stayed. I spent three days touring these temples, including the most famous, Angkor Wat. Walking around these ancient ruins was totally worth being completely drenched in sweat by 10 a.m. (Did  I mention the humidity in Southeast Asia?) 

My very last stop was Singapore. I was there for less than 24 hours and didn’t even book a place to sleep, unless you count the airport. In that time I rode the Singapore Flyer (the tallest Ferris wheel in the world), saw a Korean pop concert, went to a casino and waited two hours in line for a taxi. From Singapore, I flew to LAX; L.A. to Dallas was an easy 29 hours on a Greyhound (that’s a whole other story in and of itself.)

This trip was one of the best times of my entire life. I met so many great people from around the world, some who will be lifelong friends. I got to experience things that some people never get to see. What I learned can be summed up in one word: happiness. I met and interacted with so many happy people, especially in Southeast Asia. These people weren’t happy because they had a lot of money, great jobs or fancy cars. They were happy with exactly what they had. They were happy to be in their beautiful surroundings, whether that was the thick jungle of Chiang Mai or the crystal ocean in Koh Samui. They were happy to be alive and surrounded by other happy people.

The other thing that my trip made very apparent is that holding back sucks. I think it is better to just go for things and take chances than to lead a boring, safe life. My trip has given me a huge surge of confidence — I feel like I can really accomplish the things I want with all the opportunities that are available to me.

I absolutely LOVE the bit about happiness. It reminds me of Tom Shadyac’s documentaries, “I Am” and “Happy,” which I cannot recommend enough. In short, he shows that true joy is not found in possessions or individual accomplishments; rather, in moments of selflessness, community and shared experiences.

I am so happy for Alysse to have had this experience, gotten something out of it and that she shared it with us. 🙂