On Sunday afternoon, Sarah and I went to see YA author Carrie Ryan speak at our local Joseph-Beth bookstore. She was cute, eloquent, and engaging. No “um”s (maybe because she used to be a lawyer?), just lots of honesty and wit. She didn’t try to spin her story as a fairytale, full of suffering and magic. She said, “This might sound kind of obvious, because it is, but I realized that the one thing I had to do in order to become a writer was… sit down and write.”

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(You get 2 pics because the one of us is blurry, so it has to stay small.)

After we got our books signed, Sarah and I headed over to Joseph-Beth’s café, Brontë, to chit and chat. At some point Sarah said, “You know, Kristan, sometimes I get really frustrated with you. I want to read more of your story — now! But I know I can’t say anything because you’re so self-motivated. My whining and threatening won’t make a difference.”

My first reaction was, PSCHAW. Me? Self-motivated? What was she smoking?

But after I thought about it, I realized she was right. I had been focusing on the “motivated” part, because although I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 9 years old, I’m really good at wasting time, and thus I don’t feel qualified to be called motivated. But Sarah was talking about the “self-” part. She was saying that no one can make me work, no one can push or pull or pressure me into being productive. I either will or I won’t.

(Sarah calls it self-motivated. My mother calls it stubborn.)

I’ve heard variations of those two things before, but that night they finally clicked. Carrie Ryan’s “sit down and write” and Sarah’s “self-motivated.” They bounced around in my brain as I walked my dog, as I showered, as I slept. They looked me in the eye and they said, It’s all up to you. They wouldn’t let me hide anymore.

So. On Monday I said to myself, “From 10 to 11, you will write.” And I did. I wrote 600 words that morning, and another 1700 words that afternoon. 2300 words in one day! The last time I did that, I was sitting at Panera nursing a Five Hour Energy and a pins-and-needles exhaustion, with the name St. Martin’s Press flashing red behind my eyes.

Today I have written over 1000 words again. Tomorrow, who knows. Every time I think I’ve found The Method for me, it breaks. So I’m not holding my breath. I’m just going to ride this spree as long as I can, and be grateful for it. And if/when it ends, I’m going to remind myself that it’s okay. That I will find some other method. That I am self-motivated. That I just have to sit down and write.

La gente (Galapagos part 3)


For eight days we live in a strange mix of primitive and privilege. We are stripped down to the minimum — of clothes, comfort, language. They plunk us into puffy orange vests, and we bounce on the water like babies in a pool. There is in fact an innocence to us now, a childlike grasping to our communication. Everything is curiosity and discovery. When we don’t know the words, we try a simpler language. We speak with our eyes and our hands and our laughter.

For eight days we share our lives with strangers. And then of course they are not so strange anymore. For all of us, this is a once in a lifetime experience. What does it mean to inhabit a single moment together? We cross into one another. We are living each other’s time.

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The locals say they still feel awe, but I’m not sure I believe them. They are in constant motion, just like the boat on which they live. Cook, sail, clean, repeat. Our vacation is their responsibility, their exhaustion. Our paradise is their status quo.

I’m glad I speak their language, even if I do it poorly. Otherwise how would we have gotten to know that Mario is from the mainland, that Elio has a cold, that Edgar’s son is named Jessie, that Angel once worked for a Japanese man who liked shark fin soup? With my broken Spanish, I hope to become more than just another passenger to ferry, another guest to please, another bed to make. Because to me they are more than just the crew.

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When we are back on land, Andy asks, “What will you take away from all this?” At first I don’t know how to answer. The question is too big.

“Adventure,” I say at last. It is trite but true. “Opportunities. They’re all around us, if we have the guts to pursue them.”

He imagines, perhaps, that I am referring to swimming with sharks. Or chasing penguins with my camera. Or speaking Spanish with anyone and everyone because I have to.

But I am not referring to any of those things. Or perhaps I am referring to all of them, plus one more.

I am remembering our night in Puerto Ayora, when Ruben took us to the Calle de Kioscos, to eat his favorite dish, to meet his wife and son. I am remembering the bar we went to afterward, with the Australians and the Italians. I am remembering the empty dance floor.

Loud music, dark lighting, and a room full of people I would probably never see again after the week was out. No risk, and yet still I hesitated. Ruben and his wife led the way, twisting and shaking and spinning, with their spirits full in their eyes. The Italian ladies went out next, shedding inhibition, embracing the moment, as they had done the entire trip. Then there was me, sitting on a bench, sipping jugo de mora.

The girl that sat. That wasn’t how I wanted to be remembered. Or forgotten.

After a few minutes, I got up. I danced. And now I can say it, forever. Even if I never see those people — including myself — again.

I danced in the Galapagos.

That is what I will take away from all this.

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La tierra (Galapagos part 2)


There is no light when you wake. Just the ship’s musty heartbeat, and the sharp ring of a bell calling everyone together. Through the darkness, sixteen pairs of eyes flit to the shoreline, eagerly watching its approach. What strange and lovely creatures await us today? What experience, what adventure.

But there are rules, even out here on these untamed rocks. Don’t get too close. Don’t fall too far behind. Sweat too much, drink even more. Stretch. Ache. Tire. Rest. See. Do. Live.

Never take.

The truth is, you couldn’t possess this land even if you tried.

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The paths are marked in black and white — gentle but obvious reminders when set against such a vibrant world. This is the only way you may go. The rest of the animals pay no attention. Their definition of home will never include lines or locks or laws.

An iguana blinks up at me. His skin is ridged and cracked. He steps forward. He angles his head. His jaws open. He plucks a tiny yellow star from its leafy nest. He chews.

I laugh as he deflowers the entire patch of grass and then moves on to the next.

What a strange and lovely creature.

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Once upon a time, these islands were nothing but fire and ash. Coils of black rippling against each other. Burning waves conquered by the steady blue water.

Then there was a seed, a sprout, an egg, a chick.

Lifetimes layer like sweet, rich cake. Once upon a time, once upon a hundred years ago, once upon a yesterday, once upon a now. Tomorrow is invisible but there, waiting. It’s the salt you taste on every breeze.

My only regret is that I am never alone here. Just for a moment, I would like all the other bodies and voices to disappear, to leave me with my thoughts, allow me to converse with this place that is science and history and art. We have been introduced, the Galapagos and I. But we are not intimate. I would like to really know her.

I spot a sea lion pup sucking on its mother’s teat, and suddenly I have been let in on a secret. Our vulnerability is shared. The islands whisper, You may not know me, but I know you. And it’s true. I cannot hide here, I do not perform. Like the land, my mind and spirit roam wild. This place is not the experience or the adventure. I am.

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El mar (Galapagos part 1)


I grew up on the water, but I didn’t always love it. As a girl I feared the crash of the waves, and the dreadful dip down into the sea. But I became older and braver (and my dad became a better sailor). The boat is now a happy place, an escape, an inner peace manifested. I look forward to being surrounded by blue of all different shades. I look forward to the rhythmic song of the waves, to the openness of the sky, to the cradling. Day or night, I feel a vastness around me. Within it I am not small, but exactly the right size.

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I have never been a great swimmer. Once I nearly drowned at a beach in Valencia. I was with friends, but they had gotten ahead of me. Since then, I’ve been afraid to be in the back. What if the water tries to claim me again? What if no one notices until it’s too late?

But I refuse to live a fearful life, so I swim, and when I fall behind, I move forward as best I can.

There are sharks in the Galapagos. Yes, I refuse to live a fearful life, but still I felt the fear. Of blood and teeth and the Jaws theme song. Of becoming one of those unlikely statistics. Of losing a limb — or worse, a friend. Yes, I felt the fear.

Naturally, during our very first snorkel, we saw a shark nearby.

After a few electric heartbeats, it was fine. He didn’t come after me, he didn’t want my flesh. He didn’t even care that I was there, really. He was nothing to fear.

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It’s easy to understand why we create fairytales about mermaids and lost cities under the sea. There’s so much life below the water, so much color and motion. There are stories to be told, and feelings to be felt. There is life and death and love and wonder and ruthlessness and cunning and loyalty.

When I saw a penguin swimming right beside me, I lost my breath entirely. I became a child. I watched, starry-eyed, and I giggled like I never do. I tried to keep up, tried to catch the little elf, but I have never been a good swimmer. So I let him dance in circles around me. I let myself live a little fairytale.

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Free books and vampires

Hmm, maybe that should be “Free books, and vampires,” since I am not giving away vampires for free. Not for money either. To be clear, there will be no giving away of vampires whatsoever.


Across the Universe (Across the Universe, #1)

Apparently I will be going through these vacation photos FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, so I’ve decided to reverse the order of the posts I had in mind. Instead of Galapagos recaps and then a book giveaway, I’m doing the book giveaway now. As in, right now. First up is ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis. You have 1 week. Ready, set, go!

Also, this morning I learned that the miserable itchy bumps I got in the Galapagos were not in fact heat rash. No, they were a much more ominous sounding ailment: Polymorphous Light Eruption. In plain English that means “unpredictable shapes/lumps/yucky things that explode on your skin thanks to the hot hot sun.” Awesome, no? Another nickname for PMLE is “the vampire disease,” since it technically means you are allergic to the sun. Great. Couldn’t I just sparkle instead?