Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carey Torgesen: published author? A Personal Publishing Paradox

So I know many of you have been witness to many tweets about my experience with a small press and the release of my book, The Princess Paradox. While I have many things to say, I won’t feel completely free to talk about them until everything ends and the dust settles. What I can say is that by November 15, my book will no longer be available.

The press I signed with is closing its doors and will no longer be in business. The good news is that this ends a long time struggle I have had with this "press". It means I get my rights back to my book and if I should choose, I can self-publish it. It means I am no longer having to give profits to a publisher who really hadn’t done a lot in terms of what I was promised. It means that when everything is over, I can actually talk about this entire experience without worry of being sued, even though everything I will share is absolute truth.

But it also means my book, the one that started me on this whole journey won’t be out there anymore. It means Nora’s story is probably done. Because I really didn’t ever want to self-publish my own books, for many reasons. I want to be agented. I want to get a contract with a big publisher. I want my books to be on shelves at big time bookstores. I want to do readings and signings and conferences. That would be my dream. (All of which was promised when I signed the contract.) Unfortunately, that’s not what usually happens with self-published books.

But Carey, you say, I have heard of people who self-pubbed and attracted an agent that way! Have faith! And to you I say, that is akin to winning the lottery. Does it happen? Sure. Is it likely? Not really.

I'm not bashing those who choose self-publishing at all. To those that have the time to promote and market and do what needs to be done, awesome. I really admire you. It’s just not what I want, nor do I have the energy for it.

The reality is to self-publish a book and do it WELL, you need to have money for things like covers, swag, and promotional materials. You need to have someone be able to edit and format your book into e-book and print format. You need to be able to buy and have an ISBN number and get your book registered and copyrighted. There are tons of related costs that people don’t think about. Then there are the press releases, writing to magazines to try and get your book read and reviewed (and usually big magazines like USA Weekly and New York Times won’t touch a self-published book). And in case you didn’t know, most indie bookstores and major ones won’t stock self-published books. They simply lack space on the shelves.

You know all those major displays with new releases and such? Those all cost major dollars. Yep, publishing houses pay for those books to be displayed. And they pay big.

So this whole journey has been bittersweet. Sure, my book was out there. For a few weeks anyway. I don’t know if I had it to do all over again if I would. I am heartbroken that this book I loved so much will never be touched by a press again, that no agent will ever want it, that the press that “debuted” my book—knowing they were about to go under— pretty much screwed my writing career. I can’t use this as something on my query letters, I can’t say I’m published, but I can’t say I’m not either. I am in this weird netherworld where nothing really makes any sense at all.

I guess I should be thankful. I didn’t have to pay for a lawyer to get my rights back. No one will make money on my hard work.

But, it’s like a death in many ways. I am having to say goodbye to this dream that I’ve had for over two years (yes…that’s how long ago I signed…that’s how long it took for them to release my book…which was supposed to be released last year…twice. And then this year…twice. But the rest of that story is for another post.) I am having to part with this book, these characters, this world because I will never get published with this one, and it makes no sense to put in the amount of hours it takes to write a book, just to not be able to query it traditionally because it’s a sequel.

This, on top of a loss of a very different type that I can’t even begin to explain, makes it all so much worse. I want to keep writing, I do. But right now, my faith and hope is really at an all-time low, in pretty much every area of my life. If I were a hero in a book, I guess I would be at the Supreme Ordeal. I am not sure how my own story ends right now. Maybe this is the closest I will ever come to being published. Maybe for some, the stars are just too far to touch. I really don’t know.

If I end up self-publishing, I will be sure to let you all know. Until then…I guess I’ll just have to wait to see how my own story ends. And there will be tears and tissues and plenty of wine and chocolate to help me cope with these emotional bruises.

Friday, July 3, 2015

YA books aren't REAL books and other nonsense

Hey guys,
I can't believe it's been February since I've blogged. But that's the way life is, you know? Things happen. Priorities shift.

I've had a lot of things I've been meaning to blog about; some writing related, some not. I think I'm just trying to figure out what exactly should be said and how to say it, because it's delicate stuff, yo.

Anyway, this week in twitterville, there has been a little bit of a kerfuffle going on having to do with YA writers, YA readers, and all things YA. So I wanted to address this and give my perspective to add to the fray. Because I generally like all things fray.

For a long while, there has been this invisible line in the literary stratosphere dividing Who Reads YA and Who Does Not. This line has been made clear by those on both sides and both are very vocal about it. I can't speak for everyone, obviously, but I can say why I read and write YA. So, have a seat. Can I get you some tea? Coffee? Ok. Good.

First and most obvious, I read  (and write) YA because that's what my students read. I want to be able to rec good books and that is pretty simple. But more than that, I read YA because growing up was rough. I constantly felt awkward and alone, different from all my peers for many reasons. I had a lot of fights with my mom, some that sent me into a depressive tail spin. And more often than not, I found myself saying "I'll never forget what it's like to be young. I won't be like my parents."

Well, years have passed and I'm probably more like my parents than I'd intended. BUT I've always retained my thoughts...I remember what it felt like to be a teen. I remember those nights, ruminating over a guy that I just knew I would be with someday. (spoiler alert: I wasn't) Someday he'd see me, beyond the awkward, beyond my insecurity. He'd see past all that and fall for me anyway.(He didn't) I remember having this world view that if only the government and adults in this world would listen, see it my way, that most of the problems would be solved. I remember feeling insignificant to the world. And to those around me. I remember feeling small and bottled up and wondering who I am and how I fit in to this world.

And when I open a YA book and read, that girl is ME. I KNOW her because I WAS her. So yeah, maybe are some of the things in a YA book cliche? Might they sometimes be overdone? Oh yeah. I find myself thinking there needs to be originality. However, the EMOTIONS in the book, the feelings are the same. And they should be. Because (if you adults care to remember) THAT is what being a teen is. I wished all the time that I was somehow destined for something better. That I was special.

Now, as an adult, I realize those are foolish fantasies and that life isn't that simple. That there are complexities to life you just can't understand at 16. And life experience gives you wisdom, but it also makes you jaded and cynical. Adults rarely look at life with that expanse of hope that teens do. The knowing that there is so much adventure ahead and an excitement to find out where it all leads, I think a lot of adults lose that. Call it my Peter Pan syndrome or whatever, I refuse to be that adult who can't remember what it was like to be a kid. That's why I read YA. To remember. To reconnect to that inner girl. She screams to not be forgotten. In some ways, she's the best part of me. In some ways, she's the worst.

I read YA because my teen years, though they are far behind me, are some of the best memories I have. Ditching school to go to the beach, the late night bonfires down at The Strand, going to parties only to get busted by the cops, late night Del Taco runs, Denny's at midnight (I'll have the garden salad with ranch on the side, a coffee, and a side of fries, please.) I'll never forget that day Jason Arnold stuck up for me with his friends, or when he took me to get spare gas and helped me fill up my empty tank (not a euphemism, jeez people), or when I found out he was leaving to surf in Hawaii and that hug he gave me that I swear I counted the seconds while I breathed in his cologne. I remember what he was wearing (white wool sweater with jeans) and the feel of his body warmth. Or when I found out my dear friend Chad wanted to ask me to the prom but was afraid to because we were just friends but he wanted something more and I'd never even realized it. And that finding that out, I began to have feelings for him, but it was too late. He'd moved on. (cue tears) Those memories are as vivid now as they were back then. And if they sound familiar at all, it's because you've probably seen those in a book somewhere. THAT'S why I read YA. It takes me back to those times when my life seemed like it could've really been a book.

My life is a lot more boring now. Not a lot of opportunities are on my horizon. My life isn't how I wanted it to be, how I pictured. So now, even more than before, I long to be taken back to the times when life had endless possibility.

And to people who say YA books aren't REAL books, you don't get it. You never will. Because that kid in you is long gone and you've chosen to forget they were ever there. I feel sorry for you. It's like saying science fiction isn't a real book because it's about aliens and space. Or fantasy isn't a real book because it's about magic. Or historical fiction isn't a real book because it didn't really happen that way or those people weren't real. Or romance isn't real because it has no real conflict and it's all love and kisses. Who are you to say what is real and what is not? Are you so pretentious and pompous that you have to scoff at books just because you don't read them? Readers of YA aren't dumb. We're not reading YA because we can't "handle" a "real book." We're reading YA because we've chosen to not forget who were were when we didn't quite know much else.

The truth is reading Girl On the Train doesn't make me more intelligent. If YA is hopelessly optimistic and trite, then adult fiction is hopelessly depressing and ominous. If YA is childish, then adult fiction is uptight and morose. And reading Junot Diaz, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bradbury (whom I love) or Stephen King doesn't make me a better person--though I've read and enjoyed them all. It makes me sad and think the world is doomed. And maybe that is inherently the issue. Adult fiction (with the exception of romance and chick lit which these same readers/writers love to toss into the pit with YA) resolves leaving the reader feel a little like "at least my life doesn't suck that bad" where YA leaves the reader with "maybe there's hope, or a reason for all this." Maybe "adulting" has more to seeing the doom and gloom (perhaps some would say reality as it is rather than how we wish it to be) in things whereas being a teen is about eternal optimism, that everything will be OK. Maybe reading YA leaves a reader thinking "I wish things were like this" or "Why can't life be this simple?" Maybe readers of YA tend to be the sort to dream bigger, want more, and to hold on to that part of their lives that seems so fleeting now. YA readers and writers, in short, believe anything can happen. And honestly, the beauty and folly of life is...anything can.

I don't begrudge anyone who wants to read what they want to read. But to point fingers or have this attitude like a YA book isn't a real book, that it doesn't challenge convention, enrich minds of all ages, that the prose or word choice isn't sophisticated, or that it in any way threatens the livelihood of "grown up" books, is contemptuous at best. I LOVE the growth of this market. YA authors are taking risks, challenging traditional storytelling methods, growing and changing the whole publishing industry one word at a time. Storytelling in YA books have been more unconventional than I've ever seen in other genres. I love the trend and hope it continues.

I challenge those who have never really read a YA book, the ones who poke fun at "YA writers" to actually sit down, and read a few. It won't kill you. I promise your brain cells won't wither and waste away. You may even *gasp* find that it's pretty good. If you need some recommendations OR if you have some recommendations for books to turn cynics into believers, leave a comment or two below.

Maybe there's enough fairy dust in this blog post to get you back to Neverland.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tropes in YA: why it's not so simple

Hi readers. It’s time for another blog post. I really would like to get regular on these. Is there a fiber fix supplement for writers to get regular? If not, there needs to be. I think it would involve caffeine and chocolate.

Anyway, back to my blog post for today. Today I’m talking tropes. More specifically, tropes in YA. I have been thinking of this ever since a certain twitter handle has come up in my feed, spawning numerous others. And on one level, it kind of highlights a lot of things people (especially detractors) of YA argue—that YA books rely heavily on tropes and are over simplistic and overly dramatic.

I really started to think about how most YA books are guilty of some clichés and overdone characters. It’s fun to point it out, make fun of it at a certain level. And certainly what it has created is a need for YA books that push the boundaries and challenge these notions of what YA literature is.

I spend most of my day around teenagers. Ok, almost all of it. As a teacher, I’m constantly wondering how to reach my students, how to help them, and connect with them. I started doing a little research on adolescent brains (which I find fascinating) to figure out why my students make such poor choices when it comes to academics. What I realized while researching, is that first of all, the teenage brain is WAY weird. Second, the formation of the frontal lobe (where most decision making is done) is only partly developed in the teen years. It won’t be fully developed until 24 for women, 27 for men. And thirdly, teens run mostly on the amygdala—the pleasure and reward seeking part of the brain.

“So I thought you were posting on tropes, Torg? WHAT THE HELL? You lied!”

No. Control that amygdala, people. Patience. I’m getting there.

You see, I’d argue some of the most prolific tropes/clichés of YA aren’t really overdone at all. I’d argue that this is the teen condition. And the people who criticize them are forgetting what teens are really like.

Criticism 1: Insta-love

Remember that amygdala I was just talking about? This is why there is so much insta-love in YA. And it’s why insta-love for adults (who function with more reasoning of the frontal lobe) seems ridiculous. But really, it’s not. Teens want instant gratification. They seek situations that primarily FEEL good. And having a cute guy/girl you’ve been crushing on return your affection feels pretty good. Dare I say, a teen would seek out that person at all costs. Think about them constantly. Probably rearrange their whole school class schedule so they could be in classes with that person. Hypothetically, of course. I would never have done anything like that. It’s just plain silly. (I may have done that very thing.) The thing is teens DO experience life changing insta-love. They are wired for it. Don’t blame them. Blame the amygdala.

Criticism 2: Females are weak/clumsy/lack decision-making

Again, teen brains are not good at decision making. There is a lot going on in the brain but essentially here is why. Reasoning hasn’t kicked in yet. So teens can’t see consequences of their actions. They’re unable to think and process about the outcome of their choices. Everything is done for the immediate reward. This combined with their changing bodies and an awareness that with those feelings of insta-love or whatever, they are fighting against cultural norms saying what they should be like or look like. Girls are constantly waging a war against judgment in all forms, inner and outer. It comes from others, media (perceived) and it comes from themselves. With this feeling of insecurity comes the incorrect assumption that these females are weak. They aren’t. They are just trying to figure who they are and where they fit in. They’re trying to walk the line between good girl and bad girl. (it’s practically a non-existent line.) They’re trying to avoid labels meanwhile they are all too well handing out their own. If you add on to this that teens are growing and this causes a lack of center of balance, you can see why they might be insecure and clumsy. The cerebellum, responsible for physical coordination, is rapidly developing during the teen years as well. This is why teens can be gangly and awkward. It’s not a trope. It’s the brain at work.

Criticism 3: Love triangles

Here is the thing, as fast as teens can fall in love, they can fall out. And if the amygdala isn’t receiving it’s fair share of excitement and reward, it will seek new situations. Hence, that girl or guy can fall in love with someone else pretty quickly. And to have TWO suitors…well if that isn’t pleasure and reward giving, I don’t know what is. So a love triangle is not just a tool for a plot twist, it’s reality. We always covet what we don’t have. And for teens, this is even more true. And in high school, where classes change every forty-some odd minutes, alliances and swoon worthy love can change just as fast.

Criticism 4: Why so emotional?

Because the brain is changing at the same rate as it did when that teen was a toddler. The growth exhibited by the brain is the SAME PERCENTAGE growth from 12-17 that is was from 0-3. Think of everything kids learn how to do from birth to toddler. Eating, swallowing, drinking, talking, walking, recognizing faces, motor skills. It’s crazy. You would never look at a 2 year old and criticize them for their lack of decision making. You expect they will be testing boundaries and seeking pleasure. So does our teen. And everything is life or death with a teen because they lack the long term vision and planning it takes to understand the consequences of their actions. So when they fall in love, it’s quick, it’s strong, and it will last forever in their minds. When they hurt, it’s to their core. With hormones raging and their intellectual capacity to learn peaking, while judgment and reasoning being relatively small, we see how the things that happen to a teen will impact them far greater than any other age. Even when shown troubling images, teens are shown to react with stronger emotion than both adults and children. So how, then, can we blame our teen main characters for being emotional?

Basically, teens are morphing and changing in so many ways and it’s all because of their brain development. If we are to write true characterizations of teenagers, then all of these things should be taken into account. Adult readers who are quick to say these things are tropes or clichés are missing the point. It is no more cliché to have insta-love with teens than it is to have a toddler eat something he shouldn’t or to have an adult get married. These are not clichés, rather they are characteristic of a time in life.

That’s why readers who love YA will defend it. It reminds us of who we are at heart, and how far we’ve come. It helps us think about our emotions a little more, consequences a little less, and that sometimes, pleasure is important to seek out. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn from YA tropes. We should all be a little more open to the teenage mind, willing to take risks with no fears, and live like love lasts.

What do you think? Yes on tropes or still not a fan?

Want to read more on the teen brain? Check this out from National Institute of Mental Health

Sunday, February 8, 2015

WITH SERIES POTENTIAL: how books are becoming "Hobbitized"

Today's blog post comes from a topic that my friend and colleague (Erin H) were talking about a bit ago. We were talking books, which we do a LOT, and she said something that really resonated with me.

"I''m kind of over the whole every book is a series thing. I just want to read A book,"

And though at the time, I didn't really think about it, or why it bothered me, it kind of just sat there, simmering.

I just want to read A book. As in, one single book. Be able to wrap it up in a day.

I got to thinking, and kind of becoming resentful, of all the damn series books out there. As an active person on twitter and in the writing community, I am constantly barraged with book after book in a series.

When I go to buy books, it's like "BUY THIS ONE AND THEN GET THE WHOLE SERIES". Then I end up buying three books when all I really set out to do was buy one. And that's OK. Once in a while. But...this is no longer once in a while. It happens with every damn book.

Flashback to last year. I was talking to some author friends of mine and was surprised to find a book that was originally sold as ONE book, has now been stretched into a trilogy and that the whole story that was once told in one book, is now going to be three. And my brain kind of went..."WHUT?"

I get it from a business standpoint. The publishers and agents and authors can make more money on several books because I can't just buy one. It's like the OCD in me won't let me just buy one. I HAVE TO HAVE THE SET. So, that's awesome for the author and the publishers and all. Not so awesome on my wallet. Or my family when I can't pay bills. (Okay, that's an exaggeration, but you see where I am going?)

On one hand, as a teacher, it's awesome. Because if I get that kid hooked on a series, I've got them reading for a while. BUT, it's also THE WORST.

Because what happens a lot in my classroom is one kid loses the middle book, now the series is an expensive paperweight. Then I have to buy the damn middle book...AGAIN. Or even worse is when the kid wants to read a series and can't find the first book. AGHHH.

And imagine yourself as a young reader. Even better...a STRUGGLING reader. You walk into a library to grab a book for your English class--damn teacher always makes you have an independent reading book, damn her--and you pick out what you think looks like a cool book, people say it's popular and whatever, you start reading and you're lost. You think it's YOU that's dumb. Why? Because it's book three in a series. And you haven't read book 1 or 2. But you don't know all that.


I just want to pick up A book. I want to read A story. I want to fall in love and be mesmerized and have a glorious book hangover that makes me want more of  that book.

You know how when you're young and in love, you just want to wrap yourself up in every moment with that person? You want every touch, every whisper to just freeze because you know that soon, it will end. And when it does, you whirl around in your bedroom, cheeks tired from smiling all night, and let the memories lull you to sleep?

Then, once things are over, you can look back and remember how great it was once. Then three years later, you bump into that same person. You go to coffee and catch up. Thing is, now that you look closer, the person isn't as great as you remember. They're breath kind of reeks and they are kind of...meh. You walk away from the whole experience now, and instead of the wonderful memories you had before, they are tainted with meh.

That's how a lot of series are for me. Tainted because it went on too long. The story got tired. The world wasn't as unique as it once was. And honestly, the things I liked about the characters in the first place I now find cliche and overdone. The other thing that happens is it becomes unrealistic. How many times can our hero battle a villain and always come out victorious? How many odds does this one person have to face? How many times can we see a corrupt government/ leader/ organization/ kingdom/ overlord/ (fill in your own noun here) that our hero has to take down?

It starts to get drawn out and it ruins the whole story for me. Even the books that came before. It has happened to me so many times, I now stay away from buying series. And I feel led on if I read a book that is supposed to be one, but then another one comes out. Like...if I would have known a guy never wants to commit, I would never date him. Same thing with books. If I knew this story was going to be 1 in a series of 5, I would've said "no, thank you."

As a writer, I think there are so many interesting worlds to explore, so many lovely heroes and heroines I want to swoon over, so many plots and conflicts and twists I want to see, I don't have time for an epic saga. That is what it seems like every book is becoming.

And now that is also bleeding into film. Notice how what was once one movie is becoming two? Three? Hobbit much?

Finally, from an industry that seems to constantly tell writers to be succinct and cut unnecessary things from the story, to then be told to stretch it out, build on to the story, make it longer...seems counter-intuitive. No exposition but LONG EPIC SAGA. Wait...what?

Let's learn a lesson (yet another one) from LOST. Those writers had it right. They knew the series couldn't go on forever. They didn't want it to become a victim of "now what do we do?" on season 10 or 11. So, they told ABC we want it to end. And they gave their own timeline. It was unheard of in a industry all about the bennies. But, they did it. And ABC agreed. And they ended the series before it got tired. I know people disagree with the last season, and the direction they took, but what can't be argued was the fact they didn't keep it going long after it should have. Most people wanted different endings, but we don't get to decide (as readers or viewers) how stories end.

I think publishers could use a lesson in knowing when to end a book. It's like a party. End it so the guests still want  more. Then everyone goes home saying "Great party, I wish it wouldn't have ended." If you let it drag on, people get bored, the party gets lame, and guests end up reflecting on it saying, "It was fun the first hour, then it got stupid."

Let's not let our stories get stupid. End them. Just like Semisonic said, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Short Story: Where Happy Begins

Hi. So, I didn't post every other day like I promised. Should've known better. Haha. Anyway, here is my next short story. It was my first ever, done for a blog series for my friend Josh Hewitt. The idea was simple. We fast forward to a time in the future. We have found out a giant asteroid, called Ragnarok, is hurling through space and will decimate our planet in two years. With death imminent, what would we do with our time left?

This was the story I came up with.

Where Happy Begins

“But you don’t understand!” Ben slammed his fist on the counter. “I have to catch a flight to San Francisco! As soon as possible!” His face reddened.

“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to calm down. I’ve checked all the outgoing flights to San Francisco and Oakland, and there is nothing available. Now you can sit down in the guest area and wait to see if there’s a standby cancellation, but other than that, I can’t do anything for you.” The petite blonde stiffened up and held her ground.

Ben took a step back and ran his hand through his thick hair. “Okay, look. I need to get to San Francisco. This is life and death here. Can I buy someone out? Isn’t there first class available? There’s always first class available. Whatever it costs, I’ll pay it.” 

He couldn’t believe this. Why was this happening? Now? He’d been busy living his life, doing his accounting thing, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he met her. Well, not met. They’d never actually met. But he wanted to. He needed to. Especially now. In 2031. The clock was ticking.

“Sir,” the blonde, her nametag read Megan, let out a sigh, and said, “Like I’ve already told you, there’s nothing available. And when I say nothing, I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Flights have been booked years in advance. And with everything so…finite, there’s no wiggle room. So please, sit down in the guest area and wait. If something becomes available, I’ll be the first to let you know. Now, if you don’t turn and walk away now, I’ll be forced to call security.” She cast a glare at Ben.

“Thanks a lot.” Ben leaned over, grabbing the handle of his suitcase. He glanced at the waiting area. 

A sea of faces met his look. All folks waiting for the same thing. An open seat. Presumably there to get a chance at seeing their loved ones before…

It was only two years away now. Ben felt that pressure. Eighteen years ago, he’d only been a kid. Playing soccer and tossing footballs with friends in a park. That was when the world changed.

There are moments in every generation. Moments that define an era. JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, Elvis, Vietnam, Watergate, 911. Well, that day had been one of those moments.

Cars pulled over on the side of the road. Cell phone towers were backlogged and overloaded as people raced to call their loved ones. It wasn’t the day the earth stood still. More like the day the earth jumped into hyper speed. Everything was suddenly on a time limit.

Twenty years.

In twenty years, the earth would be gone.

A massive collision with another planet.

Live well became the mantra.

But Ben had been only twelve then. What had he known of time? For him, one week of school was like a year in solitary confinement. But now, it was different.

Because at thirty, the things he wanted from life were so much more than a kiss in a closet, or to make it on the JV football team, or even to get away with trying a cigarette or sneak into mom’s cabinet to sneak some bourbon. No. These things meant nothing. Not anymore.

Now he wanted a wife. A family. A future. But these things were not really things he ever thought he’d have. They were an implausibility. Future? The future consisted of dust.

Until he met her.

They’d met online. An online community. Social networking at its finest. At first it was just flirting. Ben flirted with everyone. But at some point, it became more than that. He looked forward to their private messages back and forth. Messages evolved into texts which evolved into phone calls which evolved into this ‘thing’. He was in love with her. And he had to get to her. Because there were only two years left. And there was no time to waste. Every moment needed to be spent by her side. Holding her hand. Falling in love all over again in person.

Sitting in this airport, Ben imagined the stories all these other people had. Maybe some of them were similar. But it didn’t matter. She was all that mattered. She had no idea he was at the airport. Trying to get to her.

He looked at his watch. 3:00 p.m.  The next flight would board in twenty minutes. His foot nervously tapped the carpet, which apparently annoyed the guy sitting next to him. The guy glared and made a slight coughing sound.

Ben smiled. “I’m waiting for a seat.”

The guy glared and turned away as he muttered, “Yeah, aren’t we all buddy.”

Ben rolled his eyes. People were so rude these days. But he understood. Time was precious. So any second spent wasted waiting for something, especially with no guarantee that the waiting would be rewarded with any fruits, made people a bit more caustic.

Still, he had something few had these days. Faith. Hope. This would work out. It had to. He wrapped his hands in one another and kneaded them nervously. His head hung down, a soft brown strand of hair fell in front of his face. His weight shifted as he sighed. He looked at his watch. 3:03 p.m.

The intercom crackled. “Jean Meyer. Standby call for Jean Meyer for flight 815 to San Francisco.”

Ben’s head snapped up. Who was this Jean Meyer? Maybe he wouldn’t show. Or she. Jean was a fairly ambiguous name. He searched the large room for someone headed to the front desk. There. From the right. A young woman. Red curls cascaded over her shoulders. She was pretty. Gorgeous actually. He would have been attracted to her if he wasn’t so consumed with thoughts of her. His blue eyes watched her as she made her way toward the ticket kiosk.

He stood up and waited for her to go up to the counter. He had to make sure that was her. While following her to the front of the line, he made sure he remained ever so slightly behind her. He didn’t need her to think he was some kind of stalker or creeper. She talked to the clerk, taking out her identification.

“Excuse me, miss?” He tapped her shoulder lightly and gave her his best smile. “I was wondering if I may be able to buy your ticket off of you?”

She looked at him, her brows furrowed. “What?”

“I really need to get to San Francisco. I need to get on this flight. Can I buy your ticket?”

“I bought a ticket four years ago! Do you know how much I paid? And how long I’ve been waiting for an opening?”

“I can only imagine. But look—” Pulling out a black worn leather wallet, he plucked out a wad of hundred-dollar bills and fanned them out in front of her. “Take however many you want. I have to be on this flight.” He locked eyes with hers. They were pretty. Green. Fantastic green eyes. What a knockout. His face flushed a bit. He flashed his trademark half grin. The one that always made girls swoon.

Her stone face melted a bit. Softened. “Why do you need to get there so badly?”

His smiled and looked somewhere off into the distance. To that place he always was when he thought about her. Caroline. The name rolled off his tongue like raindrops off a leaf.

“I need to meet somebody. My future wife. I need to surprise her. And I need to ask her to marry me, today. Because any more time away from her is too much. Because I need to be happy. And happy begins when she’s in my arms.”

With a quick nod of his head, he managed to break from his daydream. His attention turned to Jean. He noticed she was tearing up, as well as Megan, the blonde clerk at the counter. Jean’s lips were pursed as she cleared her throat.

She nodded. “You can take my seat.” She clasped her hand on his. “Take it.”

Ben’s blue eyes went from her hand to her kind face. A beautiful face. With those lips. Lips that in any other situation he would have given anything to kiss. But not now.

Caroline. He’d be with her in a few short hours. Thanks to Jean.

“How much do you want?” he asked.

“Just what I paid,” Jean said. “Fifteen hundred.”

Ben counted out fifteen bills and placed them in her palm, cupping her hand as he did so. “Thank you, Jean. Bless you.”

Looking over at Megan, he noticed her sniffling as she printed out the boarding pass. “Here sir.” She handed the slip of paper to him. “Can I have your name so I can make the change on the flight manifest?”

“Ben. Ben Williams.”

“Thank you, Mr. Williams. Good luck. Here’s to a ‘yes’.” Megan anchored a strand of hair behind her ear, and then held out her hand toward Ben. Enthusiastically, he gave her a quick hand shake.



Ben buckled his seat belt and looked out the window. The window seat. He lucked out. The aisle seat always led to bumps by the drink cart as well as getting jostled by people passing back and forth from the bathrooms to their seats. The middle seat was just awful. No one ever shared elbow space. The window seat was perfect. He could catch a nap which would make time pass a little bit more quickly.

The take-off was pretty easy. Nice and smooth. Planes usually made Ben a little nervous. But the butterflies in his stomach were overriding any nerves he normally had. He was going to see her in…

He looked at his watch. It was 4:30 p.m. Just over four hours. He’d be there. Leaning towards the window, he closed his eyes. He’d try to get some rest. Thinking about her big brown eyes, that adorable smile, the sound of her laugh, Ben drifted to sleep.

“Sir,” the stewardess spoke softly, “Would you like a drink? Beer? Wine? Coffee? Soda? Water?”

Stirred from sleep, Ben replied groggily, “Water would be great.” With his hand, he pinched the bridge of his nose between his eyes to try to fight back the headache from an uncomfortable sleep.
He looked at his watch. 6:30 p.m. Not long now. The plane would be landing in about two hours. Ben tapped his fingers against the pads of the armrest. At the same time, his leg twitched in the same rhythm.

Someone was looking at him. He sensed it. Slowly turning to his neighbor, who he hadn’t really even noticed until this moment, he noticed a small older woman peering at him from behind her tattered Nicholas Sparks book.

Ben smiled. “Sorry. I’m nervous.”

“Oh yeah? Don’t like traveling by plane, huh?” She had a kind face. Full. Slight wrinkles where she laughed. She may have been in her fifties. Ben wasn’t very good placing ages with faces. Especially women. He tended to err on the young side. Not that many women minded it. It was part of his charm.

“No. It’s not that. I don’t mind flying actually. I’m nervous about when I get to San Francisco.”

“Well, we have an hour and a half to kill. If you don’t mind talking, I’d love to hear all about it.” She put her book down in her lap. “I’m Sarah. And you are?” She reached her hand toward him.

“Ben.” Ben shook her hand gently.

“So, Ben, what makes you nervous in San Francisco?”

“It’s not a what. It’s a who. A girl. Someone I’ve been dying to meet. For the first time.”

Her eyebrows raised. “A girl? Do you know this girl?”

“Yeah. You could say that. In fact, I love this girl.” Ben smiled that faraway smile.

“Does this girl have a name or do you just call her ‘girl’?” Sarah laughed quietly.

“Caroline.” Ben blushed at the sound of her name. It always had that effect on him.

“That’s a lovely name. Ben and Caroline. Sounds nice together. But how can you know if you love her if you’ve never met her?”

“Same reason you can know you love anyone. You just know.” Ben repositioned himself in his seat to face Sarah.

“So, how do you know this girl. Caroline?”

“Well, we met online. One of those social sites. We started talking. Just about whatever at first. I talk to lots of people, you know. But she was different. I don’t know. We just clicked.”

“Clicked?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah, we just hit it off. We exchanged numbers, started talking on the phone. And it was great. We would talk for hours. About everything. And nothing.”

“You know what she looks like? What if she’s some scary psychopath? Or a con-artist? I swear I saw an old episode of CSI about that same thing.”

“No, I have pictures. Many of them.” Ben pulled out his phone from his jacket pocket. He scrolled through some images and handed it to her. “See?”

She held the phone and scanned the picture. “She’s pretty.”

“She’s beautiful. I don’t know what she sees in me,” Ben whispered.

“I bet she sees the same thing I can.”

“Oh yeah, and what’s that?” Ben raised his eyebrows.

“A sweet, young man who is kind and smart. And has a good heart. And to my knowledge, those qualities are hard to come by.” She reached over and patted Ben’s hand gently. “So, how long have you two been carrying on this way?”

“About six months.”

Sarah’s eyes widened. “Wow, that’s a long time. Why haven’t you two gotten together yet?”

“I don’t know. Life. Work. Money.” Ben leaned his head back on the vinyl fabric.

“And now? How has that changed? How did you get this seat? Flights aren’t cheap.”

“I just realized,” Ben took a deep breath and continued, “I can’t be without her anymore. And nothing else is that important. I can get a job anywhere. And I sold my car and my television. Even my old school video games which, by the way, are worth a ton, and I’m now on my way to San Francisco. To start a new life. And I have this—” Ben searched his other jacket pocket and produced a black box. He flipped the lid open and handed it to Sarah.

Carefully taking it out, she slipped the ring into her hand, turned on the overhead lamp, examining it. The ring sparkled brilliantly in her hand. White gold. Princess cut. Gorgeous. Sarah glanced at Ben, her mouth gaping.

“It’s stunning, Ben. She’ll love it.”

“I hope so. It cost a pretty penny,” Ben replied.

Sarah put it back into the box carefully. She passed it back with an approving nod. “So, when you gonna ask her? Right away? Or wait?”

“I don’t know,” Ben said, “I guess I’ll just do it when the time is right, you know.”

“Well, I’m sure she’ll say yes. She’d be crazy not to.” Sarah smiled.

Ben talked to Sarah throughout the rest of the flight. Partly to pass the time. Partly because she was easy to talk to and she reminded him of his own mother. He reminisced with her, sharing some of the moments he and Caroline had shared. He relayed all the things he loved about her. The fact that she snorted when she laughed really hard. Her love of chocolate and popcorn. The way she was always there for him, even though she was miles away. The little care packages she sent him so that he knew she was thinking of him. The fact that she remembered every detail of their relationship. And how they were such a great match.


The wheels touched down on the tarmac. Ben looked at his watch. 7:08 p.m. Remembering he needed to adjust his watch to the new time, he twisted the small knob until the time read 4:08 p.m. He’d be at her house in about an hour. His nerves began to surface once more. His mouth was dry. He needed a drink. Maybe a soda.

Grabbing a drink on the way to the taxi pick up, he hurried through the airport. A cool whoosh of air brushed against his face as we walked through the automatic doors. Eyes wincing at the bright sky, he had been inside for so long, he searched for an unoccupied taxicab.

There. If he was quick, he could catch it.

As he grasped the handle of his luggage, and fumbled the soda in the other hand, he rushed to the small, yellow van. He picked up speed as he noticed another couple heading for the same one. But he was faster. And much more motivated.

“Taxi!” he yelled. He was able to slow down as he neared the door and realized it would be his.

He heaved his luggage in and followed. He handed the driver a piece of paper. “Here’s the address.”

The driver shrugged. “Got it.”

The car sped along the highway, crossing bridges and weaving through small suburban neighborhoods. Judging from the small side streets they were now on, Ben figured they were close. So close. His heart skipped a beat. Pulling out his phone, he pulled up a picture and stared at it. A grin washed over his face. Caroline. She’d be so happy. At least he hoped so.

A terrible thought crossed his mind. What if she wasn’t? What is she didn’t want him there? What if she didn’t want him to see her until she was ready to see him?

With a quick shake of his head, he abandoned those thoughts. No. He knew her. He knew her soul and her heart. She wanted him there. She wanted him with her. It was all she’d ever said. In texts. In emails. In conversations. She wanted him.

And he wanted her. So much.

The taxi slowed to a stop. Ben glanced at his watch again. 5:17 p.m. He was here.

After handing the driver a crisp one hundred-dollar bill, Ben stepped out of the car. With his luggage at his side, he stood in front of the small house. A small, white craftsman two-story. Complete with a front porch, swinging bench, and wildflowers in small pots lining the walkway. It looked like something she would have. It was Caroline in house form. Cute. Quaint. Classic.

Ben inhaled deeply. This was it. He was here. She was in there. Only a few hundred feet away. Okay, Ben. You can do this. Be cool. Try not to be a complete idiot.

He walked to the front door, set down his luggage, and knocked. Three knocks. He waited.

The door slowly opened. A young woman stood in front of Ben. Attractive. But definitely not Caroline. She had her eyes. That same warm smile. But it wasn’t her.

“Hi, can I help you?” she asked politely.

“I’m Ben.”

It was all he had to say. Her eyes widened and her hand shot to her mouth. “Ben? Is it really you?” She stood there, still. Shocked.

“Yeah. And you are?” Ben asked.

“I’m Kelly. Caroline’s sister. Come in!” She grabbed Ben’s hand tightly and pulled him inside. Closing the door behind him, she pulled him into a hug. “I feel like I know you. Caroline’s going to be so glad you’re here. So glad.” She stepped away and wiped a tear from her eye.

Ben’s heart began to beat faster. He wanted to be done with all the niceties. He wanted to be with her. Now. He just needed to be pointed in her direction.

“I suppose you want to see her, right now?” Kelly said, as she laughed.

Ben nodded. “Yeah. That’s kind of why I’m here.” He smiled. Usually, Ben was a man who would charm the girls. But the only girl he could even think of was in this house. So, his normal tendencies disappeared.

Kelly led him toward the staircase that led to the second level. “First room on the right is hers. She’s in there right now listening to some music.”

“Thanks.” Ben wiped his hands on his pants. He took a breath. Jaws clenched, he swallowed. Here goes.

One stair. Two. Three. Soon he was at the top. He stood frozen. Each step was like walking with a cement block on each foot. Why was he so nervous? What would be the worst that could happen? Nothing. Because she wanted him. She’d said so every day. And he wanted her. More than a little.

Hand clutching the door knob, Ben stood and listened. A soft bass and treble of music emanated from the door. He set his hand on the wood. Felt the pulse of the beat. She was listening to the playlist he’d made for her. It had all their favorite songs on it. Ben smiled.

With one quick movement, he swung the door open.

His breath hitched.

There she was.

Just as he’d pictured.

Her brown hair, soft against her face. The way the light danced on her skin. Cheeks with a hint of pink. Those lips. The ones he’d thought about kissing all this time. She was as beautiful as he’d known she would be. the bed where she rested. The constant beep of the machines distracted him for a moment. He looked at her arm, the IV hooked up to the drip. The BP monitors closely tracking her pulse and vitals. She was an angel.

The accident had been so sudden. On her way home from work, she had tried to avoid the crash by swerving into another lane. Into oncoming traffic. The collision had been horrific. Caroline had been tossed around in her small car. Her head severely injured by the impact and force of the other vehicle. Ben had worried when he hadn’t heard anything from Caroline for more than a week. Knowing everything about her, Ben had managed to get into contact with Caroline’s best friend. That’s how he found out. That was two weeks ago.

A tear rolled from his eye and he walked to the edge of the bed. Beside her. Gentle and delicate, he leaned down and kissed her softly on the lips.

“Hey baby, I’m finally here.” He moved one hand over her forehead and ran fingers through her hair. It was like silk.

He sat down at the chair next to her, pulled out the black velvet box and placed it on a small table that also held a vase of gerbera daisies. Her favorite.

He picked up her hand and held it. “I’m here baby. And I’m not going anywhere.”

He would spend every free moment for the next two years by Caroline’s side. Whether she’d ever wake up from the coma, would remain to be seen. But either way, Ben was determined to spend every single day of his last two years with Caroline. Because now that she was in his arms, his happy could begin.