The Write Track Podcast: Episode #7 (And Some Advice About Podcasts)

Hello everybody! First, I want to make an exciting announcement. Today, episode #7 of the Write Track Podcast released today on which I am a guest panelist. In this episode, two other fantastic authors and I discuss YA as a genre along with the host, Valencia Stokes, along with its strengths and biggest criticisms. This was such a fantastic experience; I had a great time recording this with these ladies. Listening back to it, I sound pretty professional. Blows my mind. I’d appreciate it if everyone would give it a listen. Click this link to take you to the website! This podcast is also available on Spotify and iTunes.

This brings up a great topic that I’d like to briefly touch on today, which is how to conduct yourself during a podcast. Doing a podcast was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Surprisingly, it was really easy to get into it and communicate effectively. Here are my top three best tips that I can provide for doing a speaking engagement like this.

  1. Prepare. – Now in this instance, I was lucky enough to receive a list of questions that would be asked beforehand. That gave me the opportunity to make some notes about how I wanted to answer each of the questions that I could have with me during recording. If that is the case for your podcast, I would highly recommend making some notes. It’s a great guide even though you will absolutely go off on a tangent. Don’t be afraid of it. If you don’t get a list of questions, make some notes about the topic in general so you will feel less blindsided.
  2. Make sure your audio is set up. – No matter what recording platform you are using, all of them will use some kind of audio settings. If you’re recording over your laptop or phone, take some time beforehand to make sure your microphone and speakers are in good working order. Be prepared to fiddle with it if something goes wrong during recording. My speakers suddenly cut out, and the audio I was listening to dropped to a whisper. I had to hold my phone up to hear for a couple questions before I spoke. Luckily, I got it fixed, and everything went smoothly from there. Which brings me to my next point…
  3. Don’t be afraid to adapt. – The conversation is going to flow in a lot of unexpected directions even if there is a loose outline in place. That’s the beauty of a podcast. Expect to come up with things on the fly. But if you’re invited to a podcast, you know your stuff. You know your topic. You just have to talk. Let it flow. Play off of what someone else has said. Take an opposing point. Make yourself be heard.

Thank you for reading today. Check out the podcast, and happy writing!

My First Publication

I am so pleased to announce that I am officially published in the historical field. The World War I Centennial website is currently being archived by the US Government for future research and therefore counts as a professional publication. I am absolutely ecstatic. To be published in my field at my age is a huge deal, and I’m incredibly proud of this piece. Please enjoy!

https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/communicate/press-media/wwi-centennial-news/6411-cornell-university-tompkins-county-ny-had-outsize-wwi-role.html

Author Update!

Hey everybody! For today’s post, I want to take some time to go over what’s happening in my life right now, both the writing news and the life news.

Chasing Fae is Complete!

Monday night, I finished my novel, Chasing Fae! It’s finished! I’ve done four different revisions on this book from first draft to the final draft (draft five!). It’s been a real learning curve, learning how to edit properly. I’ll definitely be pulling information on revising and editing your novel for a blog series for you guys because I had enough difficulty trying to figure it out on my own research. I did my final readthrough and grammar check over two days to make sure I caught any remaining mistakes.

I’m incredibly proud of this novel; it has been a long time coming to get from idea to where I am right now. I want to thank everyone in my life who has supported me throughout this journey: from my parents, to my little sister, to my amazing boyfriend, and all my friends over in the Writing Community. I wish I had the time to thank absolutely everyone who was involved, but you’d be here all day!

Next Stop: The Querying Stage

Starting Saturday, I’ll be sending out my first batch of queries. Six, to be exact. I’ve read that it’s good to send out between six and eight at once. I’ve already picked my first six literary agents to query to, and honestly, I’d be pleased to work with any of them. I’m feeling confident about my query letter itself; the professional editor thought it was very strong. Now, it’s all up to fate! Wish me luck!

My First Writing Conference

On Saturday, I will be attending the Chesapeake Writing Workshop right here in DC! I’m so humbled to have the opportunity to attend this writers’ conference. I’m going to be sitting in on various lectures from professionals on a variety of subjects on writing and publishing. I also have the opportunity to pitch my book to a literary agent for the first time and get feedback on the first ten pages of my novel, which is usually part of your standard query package. I can’t wait!

Professional Publication

I’m super excited to announce that this week, one of my articles I wrote at my internship is going to be published on their website this week! Because the website is being archived by the government, it qualifies as a professional publication. I’m so incredibly proud. To be professionally published in my chosen field of history at nineteen is crazy. I can’t wait to see it. Let me know if you want me to link it on the site!

Getting Geared Up For Fall Classes

I know it’s almost two months out, but I’m already getting ready for fall classes. This fall semester is going to be a big one for me. I’m declaring both of my majors, history and anthropology, which means I need to start thinking about who I want to be my advisors! That’s gonna be a difficult find. I’ve also got a really great line up of classes. I found a way to take three history classes because one of them is under the classics department. Sneaky, huh? (They don’t typically recommend doing that, but I know what I want!) I’m taking a Greek Civilization class, a class on the Crusades, and a class on historical method. I’m also continuing on with French while simultaneously starting German. Yes. I know I’m crazy. But hey, if I’m looking at grad school, I want a good head start.

Thanks for reading! See you on Saturday where I’ll be catching you up on what happens at the writing conference!

Writing Your First Query Letter: The Basics

Hello everyone! Happy 4th of July weekend! DC essentially shuts down for the Fourth, so I’ve got a super long weekend to look forward to. Only one more week until my writers’ conference! I can’t wait to go. I’m still working on my pitch; I’ll let you all know how that goes!

Today, I want to talk to you about the basics of writing a query letter, especially for you young first-timers. I just wrote my query letter for the first time, and I’ve love to share some of my insights.

Basic Parts of A Query Letter

When I geared up to write my query letter, I did a lot of research. I scoured the internet far and wide looking for sample query letters, guides to writing query letters, and my favorite, lists of dos and don’ts. I made sure to focus my search on what specifically works best for a fantasy query letter. Here’s what I was able to scrounge up:

1. The Basics: When beginning your query letter, I believe that the best way to start is to come straight in with the facts. It’s a simple equation: I am seeking representation for [Title of Novel], a [State your genre and audience.], complete at [Word Count]. I’ve found that this gets the point of your letter across right away. Getting to the point is important in such a quick letter.

2. Referral: Where did you hear about this agent from? Did you meet at a conference? Did you speak with the agent in any capacity? If not, you should list what the specific reason is that you contacted this agent. Go back to that agent’s wish list and make sure your book matches.

3. Summary: I will be the first to admit that I am horrible at summarizing. I can never get my thoughts condensed down to a handful of words. But it is essential for writing the best query possible. Now, I’m not equipped to give tips on how to do this. What I did was essentially sit down for a while and think hard about my story. Then I just wrote it, a summary of a little less than two hundred words. I actually really like the way it turned out.

4. Credentials: After your summary, you should talk about any and all writing credentials you have that may relate to the genre you’re writing. Make sure to mention any published works that you’ve written or any life experience that may relate directly to your genre. I talked about my website and its followers as well as my growing following on Twitter.

5. Closing: Make sure to close your query politely. Thank the agent for their time and consideration, but don’t sound overly thankful or apologetic about your own work. You’ve got this!

Thanks for reading! Comment below if this has been helpful to you.

Check This Out!

I woke up this morning to find this! I can’t even believe it. The blog has only been live for about six months, and I found myself on a list with some pretty impressive people. I am so, so honored to have been selected. Thank you so much, readers for your love and support. I’m super excited to move forward into the querying phase within the next couple weeks. Stay tuned!

An Interview With Grace

A Rendering of Grace Richardson, the main character of Chasing Fae. Complements of Skye Kelrose, a fantastic artist!

 What is your full name? – Grace Andrea Richardson.

How old are you? – I’m 19.

When were you born? – I was born in Lisden in the Middle Realm.

What is your current state of mind? – Current state of mind? Pretty chaotic. Lots of thoughts scrambling around. I’ve kind of blocked out most of my emotions. I guess that’s autopilot, huh?

What do you consider to be your lifelong dream or aspiration? – Lifelong dream? I don’t know… to get revenge on my brother’s killer? To avenge his death? I don’t know if I have many aspirations. I suppose I’d like to take care of my mother, make sure she’s okay. Oh! For myself? I suppose… I suppose I’d like to have some place where I feel like I truly belong.

How close are you to your family? – That’s such a loaded question. It’s entirely different for my various family members. Like, my brother and I? Inseparable. My mother and I are somewhere in the middle. We used to be close, but we’ve kind of grown apart since Leo’s death. And my dad? He was never around. I’ve never even met him. So our relationship is nonexistent.

What is your earliest memory of? – Violin music. I heard the violin for the first time when I was about three years old. I don’t remember much about where we were, but I could make out the melody of a pretty song. I begged my mom to let me try the pretty music. She and my brother had to physically drag me away from the performer.

What is your favorite memory from your teen years? – My first violin gig. One of Mom’s regular art clients was hosting a party. She caught me practicing one time when she stopped by to pick up a painting, and she demanded that I perform at her party. She offered me a decent amount of money, so I took the job. My mother and brother both came. I was super nervous, but when I finished that last note, I remember how brilliantly my brother smiled. I’ll never forget it.

Who is the person you despise the most, and why? – The Fae. Just… just all of them. I hate them. They took my brother away from me. They’re self-centered and all they do is take. They take from the people, they take from our Realm, and they take from our families.

Describe a normal day for you. – I wake up early to go for a run. Like, really early. About dawn. After my morning run, I can usually sneak in an hour at the gym before I head back to my own house before my mom wakes up. I eat breakfast with my mom. On non-gig days, I practice my violin for a couple of hours and then either do some studying/planning or paint with my mother. On gig days, I don’t really practice. Gives me more time to study or work out or rest for the evening. My mom and I always have dinner together. We talk the most then. In the evenings, I’ll either be at a gig or reading and relaxing some more. Sometimes I go out and back to the gym.

What about you is heroic? – That’s a weird question. I don’t really know how to answer it. I suppose my mission and my passion for it makes me heroic. My willingness to do whatever it takes maybe. A willingness to die for my family and friends? I don’t know.

What is your occupation? – I’m a freelance violinist. I used to do some art on the side as well, but now, it’s primarily playing violin. I play gigs and then also, I sometimes play street corners or train stations.

Do you like your job? – I love it. I love playing. Sometimes it can get monotonous cause a lot of clients want the same boring songs. But…even just playing makes me happy.

Describe your perfect romantic partner. – I want someone who will listen to me and let me have my space when I need it. I need someone stubborn and intense to match me. I need someone to take care of me when I need it and let me take care of them when I don’t. I want someone who’s not afraid of chaos cause my life is a lot of chaos. He should be able to keep up.

Do you think the future is hopeful? Why or why not? – I…. no. I really don’t see hope for our future. The Middle Realm is subjugated by the Upper Realm, I’m headed headfirst into a snake pit, and my brother is dead. What kind of a future could I hope for? Even if I do come out of this alive.

Calling All Readers!

Hey everybody! I hope you all have been having a fantastic week. I know I have. I’m getting prepared to attend my first writers’ conference, and I’m working on crafting Aphrodite for my other writing project, All in the Pantheon. I’m doing the best I can to build up my image as a writer as I move into the querying stage for Chasing Fae! It’s all so new and exciting, and I can’t wait to go on this journey together with you. I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read posts as they come down the pipeline. I’ve been hearing good feedback so far, and I want to continue down that path. All of your support means so much to me.

That being said, I need your help! Readers and writers, both old hat and new to Fluff About Fantasy, I need input. What do you want to read more of? I’ve covered a lot of different topics from a young writer’s perspective as well as spent some time promoting my own novel. What do you want to hear from me in the coming weeks?

To name a few options for you:

  • Building An Author Platform series: I have two article ideas lined up to address tips for building a Facebook page as well as a Pinterest account.
  • Worldbuilding: The SFWA questionnaire series has just wrapped up, so there’s definitely a lot of content on this site. But I’m always happy to talk about worldbuilding. Comment below with specifics!
  • The Querying Process: Learn with me as I go along!
  • More information on Chasing Fae: If you’re interested, I’d love to share more information about my novel.
  • Anything! Anything is up for grabs, as long as it’s related to books or to writing.

I’d love to generate some ideas in order to keep turning out fresh content twice a week. I want to build up this website to be something that I and the writing community can be proud of. Whether you’re a seasoned writer with several published books or if you’re a young writer like me just starting out with a new idea, I want to hear your voice. Please, please, please, if you enjoy the content that you read on this website, please comment below.

Much love. <3

Happy writing!

Third Draft Complete!

I am incredibly excited to announce that the third draft of Chasing Fae is finally finished!

I’ve had a decent amount of time on my hands after working at my internship during the daytime. I’ve had many an afternoon and evening to concentrate on making this book the best that it possibly can be. Major structural changes have been made that I believe really transform the reader’s experience in the world of the Three Realms. From character arc clarification, to new plot points, and a renewed sense of urgency in the storyline, the changes I have made make me very proud to be a writer.

I tried a new technique this time of working with two drafts side by side. I started an entirely new document for draft three and wrote alongside draft two, making large changes or copying and pasting between drafts. I felt like this really allowed me to watch the writing expand and shift directions. I could really see the movement of the story much better than any other revision technique I’ve used thus far. With a very clear to-do list in hand, I wrote and rewrote and wrote anew. The novel length increased by over eight thousand words. This puts it in a fantastic range for YA fantasy without going too far.

There’s nothing more invigorating than seeing your hard work finally come together on the page.

So what happens now?

I’ve sent off my book to three new beta readers who I’ve met through various #WritingCommunity projects. I’m going to give two of them a quick shoutout here since I know them well enough to do so: my wonderful friend, Hill T. Manner over at steamblogger.com (who I’m now collaborating with in admin on his site!) and the fantastic CJ Landry who I collaborate with over at All in the Pantheon. (She’s also just released a new poetry book, which I’m going to link here.) I’m super grateful to all of them for taking this on for me. I’m really excited to hear their feedback.

While I’m waiting to hear from them, I have a variety of tasks on my author to-do list! I’m going to spend some time working on the website to build up more of a following. (So if you’ve got some friends who you know would love this site, please send them a link!) I’m going to focus on Aphrodite’s storyline over at All in the Pantheon and make some decisions about who I want her to be. Finally, I’m going to work heavily on my query letter and my synopsis to make sure that those will be ready for querying this fall.

The writing never stops! But that’s what we love about it, isn’t it? We never have to stop.

Thank you for your constant support, everyone. Much love. <3

Write Until You Can’t Write Another Word

When I was ten years old, I read Andrew Clements’ novel, School Story, for the first time. For anyone not familiar with his work, School Story is about two twelve-year-old girls who work together to get a book published. Natalie has written a full novel, and when her friend, Zoe, reads it, she is convinced that it’s good enough to be published. Natalie eventually agrees, but she wants the book sent to the publishing company where her mother works. She wants her mom to be the editor, but in order to get the book through to the top of the pile, Natalie and Zoe have to undertake the process through a series of pen names, false names, and a agency started with Zoe’s savings account.

This story struck me very deeply in several ways. First, I was fascinated by the process of getting a book from written stage to published stage. Clements did a fairly good job of running through the various steps and how a book moves through a publishing company. Second, I loved the fact that the girls were young. They were my age. What if I could do that? Get a book written and published at a young age? Could I? Did I have the potential to do that?

I decided I did.

I wrote my first book only a little while later when I turned eleven. It was a silly little children’s story, a story based around my own family set in a fantastical world of princes and battles and magic. It wasn’t very good, trust me; it won’t ever see the light of day. At least not without essentially an entire overhaul. But I loved writing it. See, as a kid, I thought this was fantastic. People my age I had shown it to thought it was good. I felt like I was on cloud nine. Not only had I managed to finish an entire book, I saw series potential. Somewhere I have a couple notebooks with ideas for the next six books. (The best series I had read at the time was Harry Potter, of course, so seven seemed like a logical number to me.) Now the only things I remember are small remnants.

Now almost immediately after editing this book, (yes, even I knew then books needed editing first!) I started to seek out literary agents. I knew it was very important to get one. My mom bought me a book home one day that had a list of literary agents and book publishers for children’s books for that particular year. I spent hours pouring over it. I had someone picked out, and I actually wrote my first query letter. I believe there’s still a copy of it in my email drafts.

But alas, eventually, the book faded from view for me. Don’t ask me why because I really don’t remember. However, my thoughts of publishing never faded. I wanted people to hear my voice. I had a wild imagination, one that many could never understand. Writing would help me change that. I was sure of it.

Fast forward a bit. Over the rest of my middle school and high school years, I attempted many books. Most of them were contemporary romance stories. Some had a couple fantastical elements thrown in. I believe I attempted one contemporary fantasy novel. The thing is, I would get really excited about an idea. I would think, “That’s it. This is the one!” And so I would write for a few months: plan out characters, plan out plots, start stories. But every single time, none of them made it halfway through a draft. I lost interest. I sprang on to the next idea as soon as it came up. I must have eight to ten unfinished stories. Now normally, that would drive me crazy. But these stories didn’t hold up to me. They were easily forgotten.

That’s not what you want when you’re writing something you want to be significant. None of them were “the one”.

Until about halfway through my senior years.

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous personal post, there was an incident the January of my senior year that led to the loss of a very close friend and a brother. I snapped. I was tired of being left behind. I loved him and the good times we had had together, but I was honestly done. This little part of me didn’t want to forget all of the good times though. I wanted to remember the best parts of the sibling relationship while blocking out enough of the bad to make it seem worthwhile enough.

That’s how Chasing Fae was born.

This idea stuck. It was different. It was exciting. It was born out of something real and more passionate than I could have imagined. I spent over ten months planning before I got the courage to write. I wrote character profiles and worldbuilt like a madwoman. I toyed with the details, twisting each one to my heart’s desire. I laid out the plot in front of me, not just the first plot but the subsequent sequels that were born out of how much inspiration I had in my body. In November, I took that leap with NaNoWriMo and wrote my first draft.

It felt so incredibly freeing. I feel like a real writer.

The going is slow. I’ve been working on revisions for almost three months now and am nowhere near done at this point. Some days I feel like it will never get done. That I’ll never get to publication stage. But I think about that little girl, that kid so dedicated to her writing and so inspired that she would stop at nothing to make her voice be heard. I am that girl. She’s still here inside me. I’m still telling our story through whatever means I can. I won’t let either of us down. I will write until I cannot write another word or until the whole story is told with no gaps, no holes, and absolutely no lies.

Sibling Bonds

One of the strongest underlying themes in Chasing Fae is the nature of the bond between siblings.

Grace spent her childhood being taught and guided by her older brother, Leo, who she has looked up to forever. He supported her through her pursuit of music and her studies, and he was always there to give her a sense of wonder in life even when their family’s financial situation wasn’t the best. When Leo became a mercenary and began to travel more often, he made sure to write to her every week and when he returned, to bring back something for his little sister. They were inseparable and each other’s best friends all the way up to the end.

I drew a lot of inspiration for this story from the relationship I have with both my little sister and a old friend of mine. My sister and I have been inseparable since she was born. She’s such a little light (or a sprite!). Energetic, passionate, and highly imaginative, my sister inspired the connection that Grace and Leo feel between each other. Whenever I come home, she and I spend as much time together as we can. I like to think that she looks up to me somewhat, but I know for certain that I look to her creative ideas to help fill in the gaps in my own ideas, particularly worldbuilding (She builds many, many worlds of her own for her stories, plays, and just for herself).

Now, I mention this old friend of mine. What he contributes to the course of this novel has been a little more interesting in terms of direct influence. This friend of mine has acted as an older brother to me, for the most part, over an extended period of turmoil in both of our lives. I always felt like he was looking out for me and trying to support me the best he could. He’s not perfect although I know he would have me try to believe so. We’ve had a lot of breaks and re-grouping periods over the course of the last few years. But at the end of the day, the benefit that I have received from our sibling-esque relationship over time outweighs the faults.

It was during one of our break periods that I started formulating the idea of this novel. I was convinced that I was never going to see this man again; things had been going downhill for a while. As angry and hurt as I was, I wanted to remember the good things, the good times that we had shared. So I created this character, Leo, who had all of these good qualities that my friend shared, like protectiveness and drive. From my sister, I borrowed a heavy dose of silly energy and playfulness, and the story was born.

This book started as a way for me to heal, and as things evolved, the story became something even more, something I’m proud to put out into the world.

Today, I’d like to share a short story also relating to sibling relationships that received an honorable mention in Scholastic Writing Awards two years ago. I hope you all enjoy.

Still Healing

“I would run if I were you,” a hoarse, rough voice hisses in my ear. Fangs scrape the side of my cheek as I thrash to get free from the ropes tethering me between two trees. “Now.” With the slice of sharp claws, I fall, and with a harsh kick to my side, I was running deeper into the forest, the darkness pressing in around me. I only vaguely perceive the chaos.

Everything is burning.

Behind me, a swarm of wolves flies over the hill and sprints towards me. I scream and hurriedly change directions in a last-ditch attempt to avoid them. Suddenly, I find myself in an even more horrific section of the woods, the bodies of my past dangling from tree branches. Ellie swaying slowly in a hangman’s noose as her body swung ten years ago from her favorite backyard tree. My parents lying prone on the forest floor from two gunshot wounds to the chest. My heart breaks and I stop in horror as I see my older brother right in the center, a jagged dark red line sliced across his neck. His dead eyes open and stare at me in what I could only describe as a haunting disappointment.

Their voices whisper. “Your fault, all your fault, run Emily, run, run, run”.

Then I am at the edge of a steep cliff with nowhere to turn. The pack of wolves catch up to me, snarling and snapping at my heels. I whimper. Then I am underneath them, being trampled and sliced open and bitten. I feel every claw sink into my skin, every fang take a piece of me with it, and every individual body crush each individual bone. I shriek, though I don’t know where I found the strength. Then, immobile and blind, my body is shoved off of the cliff. When I slam into the hard rock, the sharp points move through my skull and through my chest, and there is pure agony…

“Lil sis.” A voice breaks through my consciousness. “Lil sis, wake up. Wake up Em, it’s me.” Two strong hands pull me off of my pillow and into a hard chest. Even more frightened at the foreign presence in my apartment, I thrash incessantly and scream. “Emily!” the voice cried again. “It’s Liam, angel, wake up.” My eyes fly open.

“NO! No my brother is dead! Liam is dead, and it’s my fault!” I sob and struggle against the body restraining me. A hand forcibly presses my head into a solid shoulder. I buck backwards, attempting to reach the switchblade on my bedside table. The stranger’s hand caught me yet again, this time gripping my wrist with just enough force to keep me from my only defense.

“Angel, it’s me, please, come back to me.”

I collapse in sobs into the figure’s chest. “He’s dead… I didn’t get to say goodbye.” I choke. “Half a world away.. He’s dead..”

The body surrounding me shifts to swallow mine in its embrace. It begins to rock me gently back and forth. “Shhh, shh shh shh, Em. Em breathe.”

My hazy mind recognizes the words. Liam used to whisper them in the early days after our parents’ death, when I would cry and cry until I couldn’t breathe anymore. The voice of my brother… How could I have not seen it?

“Li?” I whimper quietly.

“There you are,” My brother hugs me closer and continue to rock slowly. “Shh, just breathe, sis. ” I cry quietly into his shoulder.

“You’re home!” I whisper in awe.

“I’m here,” he mumbles back.

After a few more shaky sobbing breaths, I manage to look up at my brother’s face. His dark eyes shine with concern. “I’m sorry,” I choke out quietly. “I didn’t mean to fight…”

Liam cuts me off with a finger to my lips. “Shh. Don’t you dare apologize,” he says sternly as he hugs me a little tighter. “You did everything I taught you. I’m sorry I startled you. I just got in; I would have let you sleep, but you were screaming.”

I flush slightly. He chuckles and pulls back to look at me, a thumb running over my cheek. “Tell your brother what’s going on, sis.”

I untangle myself from his arms and lean back against my pillow. He studies me carefully and doesn’t move, waiting on me. That’s the curse that comes with stubborn brothers like Liam; they’re going to sit and wait with you until you’re willing to talk. Especially when you don’t want to. I shift uneasily at his stare and finally draw my knees up to my chest. “It was just a nightmare.” My eyes drift to the floor, the closet, anything but Liam.

I hear another soft chuckle. “I gathered that much, sis. What happened?”

“Wolves,” I reply.

I sense him nodding in recognition. “What else?”

“That’s all.”

“There was definitely more, Em. Tell me.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

I try to harden myself against his probing, but I am still too frightened to keep my walls up. “… You were dead,” I whisper.

Silence.

“There’s more, isn’t there?” Liam prodded.

I chuckle bitterly and blink back tears, tipping my head back to stare at the low ceiling. “Your throat was cut open…” I choke again and curse inwardly for being so weak. “Still.. Still bleeding out. You.. You were hanging from an elm tree in.. In the woods.. You… God, you were so limp Li.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of fighting the oncoming panic attack, I let it wash over me like a wave. Unconsciously, I felt my breath quicken and my hands shake, but I had retreated so far into my own mind that there wasn’t any way I could stop it. “Mama… And Dad.. The gunshot wounds… Ellie..” I could barely speak. The memories were too strong, the pain too great. A blanket of heat pressed down on me, pushing me farther into the abyss, but I welcomed its familiarity with trembling arms. My chest tightened.

Two warm hands closed around mine quickly and squeezed firmly. “Emily, I’m right here. I’m alive. Come on, breathe sis. It’s alright.” Through my haze, I detected a hint of something in his voice, something foreign. Not quite exasperation; he could never be that irritated with me. But… Disappointment?

“I’m sorry,” I apologized yet again in a soft whisper. “I’m so sorry…”

“No sis,” Liam pulled me out of my cramped position back into a hug. “Don’t talk like that. I’m not mad; I’m worried about you. Just relax, it’s okay…” He begins humming a vaguely familiar tune quietly, tucking my head under his chin. I silently praise the genes that made me small enough to fit underneath my brother. I feel like a little child again curled up against his chest and while a voice in the back of my head tells me to sit up and stop crying, stop acting like this, the rest of me is too content where I am to move.

When he stops and runs his hand over my hair, I pull back slowly and grant him a tiny smile. “Was that… Mom’s old lullaby? The Sweetheart Tree?”

He sheepishly rubs a hand over his neck. “Yeah, I thought it might help.”

I chuckle and smile softly at his shyness. “Thank you.” I hug him tightly. “Really, thank you.”

“Anytime, sis.” He looks over me carefully. “Em…” He pauses, staring at the patchwork quilt over the bed.

“Yeah?”

“I think it’s time for you to go back to therapy.”

I am immediately on my feet, pacing the floor. “No. I told you, I’m fine, I don’t need to go.”

“Em, you’ve been having these nightmares ever since I left for Iraq two years ago. And don’t try lying, I know you have. Just cause I haven’t been here doesn’t mean I don’t have eyes on you.” His jaw tightens, a sure sign that there will be no argument. “I’m setting up an appointment with your old therapist for next week.”

“No! I’m not going back Liam!” I shout. “It is impossible to talk to her about anything! She doesn’t understand anything. She just wants to evaluate me and fit me into some neat little psychological box.”

He bursts out laughing. “A psychological box?” I glare at him.

“I’m not messed up, Liam,” I scowl. I turn my back to the window, looking down at the city streets below.

“Going to therapy doesn’t mean you’re messed up, Emily,” he replied. “You just need a little help. Don’t you want to be able to sleep at night again?”

I sigh in frustration. He’s right. “Fine… One appointment.”

“Per week.”

“……”

“Every two weeks,” I counter.

“Deal.”

“I’m surprised you agree.”

“Whatever it takes to get you back in there.”

“I should have asked for more.”

He chuckles. “Nice try. That was as far as I was going.”

“Fine.” I teasingly draw out the word and sit back down on my bed. Hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion, my eyes slide halfway close as I crash back down to the mattress. I reach down to tug the blanket back over me, but I’m beat to it by my brother. He pulls it over me with surprising care and tucks it around my shoulders. I flush in embarrassment. He just smiles and taps my nose with a finger. “Shove over, Em.”

I move over a foot or so, and Liam lays down beside me. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“Protecting you.” His hand slides over mine again and squeezes. I smile and close my eyes.

“Love you.”

“Love you too, sis.”