Twilight, Fruits Basket, and Reverse Harems

| Friday, March 30, 2012
Today's Tune: All The Rowboats

I bet that title caught your attention, eh? Eh?!

First, I'll get the obvious out of the way: Twilight has been discussed and dissected absolutely to death. I know. Even so, there's no denying its impact on young adult fiction, and that's the angle I wanted to explore with this post.

Love triangles are nothing new in the area of Romance. They've existed essentially since the genre's inception. This is how stories work: they need stakes and opposition. You can't let your protagonist achieve their goal in the first few chapters. There's no story if you do that. Therefore, obstacles must be placed in the way of the goal. The goal of a Romance is for the couple to get together and have their Happily Ever After. So, how do you keep the couple from achieving that for several books? LOVE TRIANGLE, OBVIOUSLY.

There are many other methods of creating obstacles and tension in a Romance, but the triangle is a tried-and-true favorite. Anyway, my point here is that I'm aware Twilight did not invent the Love Triangle. Everyone knows Dawson's Creek invented the LT. I KID. However, I do think Twilight and the subsequent Paranormal Romances did contribute to a recent trend. I often hear people complain about LTs (myself included; I hate them), but that doesn't mean I don't think it's an important trope to explore.

In Western culture, we still maintain some pretty rigid ideas about how girls/women are "allowed" to express romantic interest and sexuality. We're supposed to be the monogamist, the loyal other, the nurturer, the sexual gatekeeper. It's our job to keep the wandering eyes and penises of males in check. We're supposed to live to simultaneously please our partner and remain chaste for him, denying his amorous advances (because men are all horndogs) until he's made significant commitment to us. Until we've "tamed" him. (For the record: I do not believe men fall in line with any of these social stigmas, either. Men are not dumb animals, and that implication is old.).

If a girl strays off this well-worn path, if she dares to date more than one person at the same time, or she takes ownership of her sexuality and is unashamed of desiring sex, or she acts like anyone other than the wide-eyed virgin waiting to tame her prince? She's vilified. She's a slut, a bitch, a tease, a corrupted vessel. These archaic ideas are veeeeeery sloooooowly altering, but they still have an intense grip on us.

My point here is that Twilight, for all its potentially questionable themes, made strides toward breaking that pattern. Yes, really. Bella desired sex and Edward had to be the gatekeeper. She was given two equally attractive suitors and wasn't vilified for wanting to be with both of them. Not only that... she had several additional tertiary romantic potentials. She never gave the others the time of day, but they were there.

All of this ties into a deep, old fantasy for women: sometimes we desire the affection or sex of more than one partner, too. This seems like a revolutionary concept to many people. OMG! Some women don't actually want to fall in love with just one guy? They actually enjoy being desired by someone other than their "intended?" They actually want sex? Sometimes KINKY sex?! But these are all MAN things! Actually, no. They're human things. Some people want monogamy. Some want to date around. Some want to wrap themselves up in the fantasy of a hot vampire and an equally hot werewolf and maybe some other hot human randoms finding them a desirable partner. Of having all the boys in the yard.

Japanese pop culture is a little more up on the desires of its ladies. Granted biases still exist, but the prominence of Shoujo Manga (manga "for girls") evidences the fact that they're not afraid to cater to what girls actually want -- anything from yaoi (male-male romance/erotica) to reverse harem.

This is where Fruits Basket comes in. For the unfamiliar, this is a story about an average, plain, not-super-bright-but-very-kind girl named Tohru Honda and her adventures with... a whole bunch of supernatural boys. Who turn into animals when they're hugged by a girl. Obviously, a lot of hijinks involving romantic tension and hugging lots of cute boys ensues. Throughout the series, a significant Love Triangle is formed. I will not spoil you by telling you how it plays out, but suffice to say that I, LT hater extraordinaire, didn't totally hate it. In addition to the two main romantic interests, several other male characters express interest in Tohru or repeatedly flirt with her. She has her very own reverse harem of hot dudes to enjoy... though she tends to be flustered and bashful more often than not.

These things exist in Western culture, too -- just read any fan fiction site ever and you will find plenty of slash and reverse harem style stories. However, that material isn't coming from official channels. We're not publishing (very many) stories like these. No, these stories come from the source. These stories are coming from the girls and women who want to read them.

While recently re-reading a few of my Fruits Basket volumes, I made the connection that these stories sell so well and become so popular with young women because they explore something deep inside us that perhaps isn't fully realized. We're conditioned from a very young age to believe there's ONE perfect man out there for us, and we need to "wait" for him, both in the literal sense and in the sense of our sexuality. However, these stories are poking under the surface of that conditioning. What if we don't want to sit around waiting for one special man? What if we enjoy being desired by multiple partners? What if we want a choice?

Twilight and Fruits Basket don't completely break the bonds of the stigma -- both Tohru and Bella end up with their one "true love" and fall in line with the typical ending of happiness in monogamy. And I'm not saying that ending isn't realistic. I myself tend toward monogamy. Many people do. But this trend toward girls who are desired by two, three, four-or-more other characters may be tapping in to the idea that men and women really aren't so different. Some of us want marriage and the white picket fence. Some of us want the chance to date every pretty potential mate we come across. Some of us want both, or something in between. There's nothing wrong with any of those paths.

No, harem-style fiction isn't realistic. Ordinary, uninteresting girls don't go to school one day to find every eligible member of the opposite sex drooling at their feet. But that's part of the fantasy, and it's a fantasy girls and women are saying they want. The problematic elements are there, of course, but maybe it's time to look deeper into the subtext of femininity, desire, and sexuality that's being scratched here.

My opinion? I think this, like anything else, is girls and women saying they want choice. They want options. I think the trend toward multiple romantic interests for female characters may be an exploration of that in a "safe" sort of way.

What say you, readers? 

The Books That Change Your Life

| Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Today's Tune: Kingdom Come

When I was about nine or ten years old, I read a book that curled up inside me and refused to die. It wasn't my first speculative book, or my first book with dark themes, but it was a book that shook the ground beneath my feet and unmoored me from storytelling as I'd known it before. It was beautiful, and sad, and suspenseful, and shocking.

That book was The Giver.

Sometimes books come into your life that you don't just enjoy. They don't flit before you and then disappear again. The Giver is a book that changed what I wanted from fiction. It changed my outlook on life. It changed me. It seeded a love of dystopia and imperfection and melancholy in my heart. It stole my breath when I realized that the characters of this book had been robbed of color. Their lives had been sterilized. Passion had died. And Jonah fought to win it back.

Books like this are why I write. They're why I demand so much of the books I love. This is everything I want to create someday. I'm not there yet, but... maybe one day.

Maybe I could be a genius, too, right?

Is there a book (or books) that you feel changed your life, either as a writer or a reader? What was it?

Do You Have to Go to Writing Conferences?

| Monday, March 26, 2012
Today's Tune: Rill Rill

A very common question in the writing world: do you have to attend writing conferences/conventions/seminars in order to get an "in" to the publishing business? To meet/acquire an agent or editor?

Here's the short answer: no, you don't.

Here's the much longer answer.

Writing programs of any sort are a great place to absorb a lot of knowledge about writing and the publishing industry. I've learned a great deal from attending them. They're also a top-notch place to meet other writers at various stages in their careers, which I feel is important for aspiring writers. Not only do we get to bond with people on our same level, we can glean knowledge from people who've walked the path before us. Nobody really "gets" writing like other writers do.

The actual craft of writing can be learned just about anywhere. We can teach ourselves, we can take courses, we can practice practice practice. But insider industry knowledge is a little harder to come by. Not MUCH harder these days, since so many agents and editors and other publishing pros make themselves available on blogs and social media. Still, there are things you can pick up at conferences that can be very insightful and handy. It's a little more close-knit, and there are some topics people discuss there that aren't always made available to the wider public. So, that's a bonus.

And, of course, conferences are excellent places to get actual face time with industry insiders. You can have meetings with editors and agents, go to their sessions, or even catch them while they're having a drink at the bar. Careful with that last one. You want to be friendly and make a connection. You don't want to annoy the crap out of them. Impressions stick, good or bad.

All that said, as for whether you MUST attend these conferences to get your foot in the door? The answer's still no.

I've attended several writing programs and conferences since I decided to pursue writing professionally, and I really enjoyed them and thought they were helpful and fun. That said, when I decided to start querying, it didn't really matter. I mean, I applied everything I'd learned to my querying process, but as for having an "in?" Nah.

Out of the agents I queried, there were only two that I was already vaguely "in" with. One had read my published short story and asked me to query her with my MS when it was ready, and one had critiqued the first three chapters of my MS when it was a wee baby draft. Of those two agents, one offered, one didn't. I had three other offers, all from agents who I'd never actually met or spoken with in my life before their offer. I ended up going with Michelle, who I had never had any interaction with before I queried her.

What I'm saying is this: the conferences I attended may have given me a little extra publishing business knowledge, but they aren't what got me an agent in the end. There are many, many different paths people can take on the road to publication. Writing programs can certainly help you on that path, but they're not the only way.

Do you have any writing conference experiences to share? Did you make any professional contacts or meet your agent/editor at one?

How to Cook a Novel

| Friday, March 23, 2012
Helloooooo my darlings! I have a simply delightful blog post for you this morning. Today, my dears, we are going to cook a novel. Come! Let us cook together!

Be sure to read the ingredients and instructions carefully. Though some are optional or open to interpretation, it is still beneficial to know how to build the base before going too wild in the kitchen writing space, yes? Yes!


1 good idea, carefully cultivated
1 well-seasoned understanding of grammar
Reference books of choice (dictionary, thesaurus, Strunk and White, etc.)
8 packed spoonfuls of discipline and drive
1 pen, keyboard/keypad, or typewriter
Several reams of paper, plus extra for drafts and mistakes
Some writing education, be it formal or self-taught
Several recently published books from your genre
A quality character voice from the inside of your head
1-5 critique partners or beta readers, to taste
A smattering of blood, sweat, and tears
Extra tears for good measure


1) Put that writing education and understanding of grammar to good use. Learn all you can. Remember, rules aren't there to limit you. They're there to set a basis for communication. Once we understand how to communicate, we can understand how to "break the rules" and create the effects we aim for. In addition, read those books you selected from your genre. They will give you a sense of how novels like yours should be structured, what works, and what's currently being picked up by publishers. Reading is not only entertaining, it also teaches us new things! Oho!

2) Take your carefully-cultivated idea and decide your own best method of transferring it to the page, whether that's "pantsing" your way through a first draft, or "planning" your way through an outline.

3) Add those spoonfuls of discipline and stir. Craft a schedule that works for you and stick to it. Twenty minutes a day, two hours three times a week, eight hours on weekends, whatever works. The important thing is to get the words down. A lax writing schedule means an uncooked novel!

4) Use reference books liberally, but not carelessly. Too many fancy thesaurus words spoil the broth!

5) When you've completed a draft, have yourself a delicious drink! Now, back to work. Roll up those sleeves and dive back in. Locate the problem areas of your novel with the help of reference books, writing groups, critique partners, and beta readers. If you have the means to attend a conference or online course and receive professional critique, do so. Avoid melting into a puddle of despair when the criticism comes in. It makes a wretched mess.

6) Cry and rage if you need to. Emotion is not your enemy. Just don't do it in public or, worse, the Internet. Press on!

7) Continue to cook your novel anywhere from three months to several years' time, depending on your pace and content. As long as it takes. It's entirely possible that you will never truly feel finished, but there is a point where you must let go and allow others to taste your creation. If you've been mindful of all of the elements -- structure, plot, voice, character, dialogue, theme, etc. -- your novel's sure to be delectable.

8) Do not fret if your novel doesn't come out perfectly the first time you try this recipe. Repeated attempts will result in a better, more practiced dish. Above all, my turtledoves, remember to enjoy yourselves. Bon Appetite!

Interesting YA & Kidlit Links for Wednesday

| Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Uuuuuuuuuummmm I did not plan a post for today. Whoops.

So here are some links! Go read!

Thank YA is all sparkles and paranormal hunks? Read about these YA books covered in several top-shelf publications. Also be sure to check out this very thoughtful article on whether speculative YA is formulaic or inventive.

My agent-sister Kate Hart has done it again with her popular YA deals posts. Here are Part I and Part II, complete with charts illustrating the breakdown of YA deals from the past year.

And here's a post about gender roles in children's literature!

Enjoy. Have an awesome Wednesday, dudes :)

Sweating the small query questions

| Monday, March 19, 2012
Today's Tune: Trying My Best To Love You

I've been involved with the fabulous online writing community for a few years now, and in that time, I've begun to see a lot of the same questions pop up over and over regarding querying. The more I watch, the more it feels like we're focusing on the little things rather than the big questions.

It almost feels like writers are trying to fill the tiniest cracks because we believe that the smallest, most insignificant mistake will take us out of the running when we're playing the Query Game. As though forgetting to word a salutation or order query elements in the exact right way will cause every agent out there to delete a query immediately. The anxiety over "screwing up" is so high that people will fly to a writer's forum in a panic to ask whether they should fix and resend, let it go, send an apology, send a clarification, OMG WHAT DO I DO WHAT IF I'VE RUINED MY CHANCE AT GETTING THROUGH TO THIS AGENT?!

There are probably a number of factors involved in this querying nervousness. First and foremost, I think a lot of people really hate the feeling of being out of control when they hit the "send" button, so they want to do everything exactly right because it will "increase their chances." Because form letters or non-responses are so common, people are probably looking for any reason at all that they might have been shut out. And let's face it... it's a lot easier on our confidence and ego to believe we got a form letter because the agent didn't like the way we wrote our bio paragraph rather than thinking that they might not have connected with the story.

The accessibility of agents on social media probably has something to do with this attitude, as well. We have access to every rule and pet peeve known to publishing. We see the pros making comments about how they "can't stand" to see another letter saying this, or formatted this way, or comparing to this book. The somewhat-logical connection to make is that even if your query/project is SUPER AMAZING, if you made that goof, then the agent is going to write you off, no questions asked, even if they think the project is interesting.

Here's the reality: subjectivity kind of sucks. Sometimes you can write the most stellar query on the planet and have a project that editors will fight over, and some people still aren't going to click with it. Writers love to read those stories about such-and-such famous author getting rejected because it's the truth -- we all get rejected at some point. Usually repeatedly. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make our project universally appealing. If you want to do this, you will get rejected. Sometimes for a good reason, sometimes for a bad reason, sometimes (much more rarely) because the agent/editor was having a bad day. The sooner we can accept that we can't avoid rejection, the sooner we can stop fussing over the little things.

Now, I'm not a literary agent and I do not have any kind of ~*super secret access*~ to industry secrets, but based on personal experience, talking with several agents, and following tons of industry blogs, I know that no one will reject you because of one tiny mistake. Hell, a lot of agents won't even reject you if you include one of their big pet peeves... as long as they like the sound of your project. It always, always, always comes back to the project and the meat of the query. If they think it sounds good, they DO. NOT. CARE. that you used a rhetorical question, or skimped on the bio paragraph, or made/didn't make comparisons.

Which doesn't mean your query should be sloppy, because obviously the point here is to make your project shine. The one thing I *do* hear everyone say is that they like each query addressed individually to THEM, rather than a CC of every agent in North America. Other than that, though, you're probably focusing on the little things too much.

It's not bad to want your query to be as polished as you can make it. You should want that. It's good business. Put your best foot forward and such. Just don't get so caught up in hoping the little things push you through that you forget what actually gets you the request for more: your story.

If you've queried before, did you suffer this kind of query anxiety? If you haven't queried yet, are you feeling the pressure to make your query *perfect*?

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

| Friday, March 16, 2012
Today's Tune: Graveyard Girl

You guys have maybe heard of my agent-sister Kirsten Hubbard, yes? She wrote Like Mandarin, which is a painful and beautiful story about friendship and growing up. It takes place in a small Wyoming town and features the Badlands. Kirsten is skilled at a lot of things, but she's extra-skilled at making the settings of her stories characters of their own.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I'm leading into the recent release of Wanderlove, her latest contemporary YA novel. Once again, the author uses the backdrop of beautiful, strange, or interesting locales to breathe life into her story.

But that's not all! In my last post, I talked about experimentation in juvenile literature, and Wanderlove certainly qualifies. The text is interspersed with artwork drawn by Ms. Hubbard herself. The story follows a young artist who's been neglecting her art, and throughout the story, we begin to see it bloom once again. These are the sorts of books I love -- blended media and coloring outside the lines. Innovation! Yay!

If you're interested in taking an adventure in more ways than one, try Wanderlove. Also, check out the beautiful photography on the Wanderlove Tumblr!

Experimentation in Juvenile Literature

| Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Today's Tune: Right On

In 2010, I had the amazing experience of attending the SCBWI Summer Conference. Three activity-filled days during which I got up very early in the morning (despite not being a morning person) and hung out with a lot of new people (despite being pretty shy. I KNOW RIGHT.). Food, and parties, and keynotes, and lots of authors and illustrators I admire very much.

One of my favorite breakout sessions from that conference was M.T. Anderson's workshop on experimentation in children's literature. First, M.T. Anderson is a brilliant and hilarious man, and second, so many of his points have stuck with me.

As adults, we've fallen into set patterns. We believe the world works a certain way, we've cemented most of our ideological views, and we know what we like. We know what literature is "supposed" to look like, either because we've studied it in school for a very long time, or because we've read enough to believe we know how words are supposed to form a story.

Literature for children and teens is a whole different playing field. Young people are still relatively new to the world. They haven't had certain lessons hammered into them over and over quite yet, and they haven't become set. They're still learning, still malleable. This is where experimentation comes in. All of those weird writing quirks that adults scoff at as pretentious or weird are fuel for young minds. They don't have to read a story linearly. They don't balk at the author speaking to them directly. They're okay with a story told in alternating text and images. Strange words, whimsy, playing with font and text decoration, lyrical style, verse, rich metaphor... all of these things are fair game.

I mean, think about this for a second. The blank page of a kidlit or YA book is a canvas that you can paint any way you want, and that's okay! You can go nuts and experiment with all those wacky ideas living inside your brain. Naturally not everything that comes out is going to be good, but that's part of the fun. It's worth the misfires to land on that golden experiment that takes your writing to a new level.

Note that when I say "weird writing quirks," I don't mean slapping whatever down on the page and calling it good. I'm talking about taking risks and thinking outside the box. "Experimental" literature is not like those "experimental" films you see that are just shots of someone humping a dead bear in a Captain Kirk mask. The goal isn't to throw something together and call it art. The goal is to skillfully and intentionally try new things to convey your story in an interesting way. The goal is to play. That's one of the joys of creating literature for young people... it allows us the freedom to play.

So let your imagination go. Think of all the different ways you can convey emotion, imagery, and dialogue. Browse Tumblr for a while. Tumblr's a great place to see the way people incorporate various media into comprehensive stories. Images, video, sound, text. With the rise of ebooks, these elements may even find a place in professional storytelling.

This is the perfect place to start letting your readers know that their entertainment doesn't have to fit in a neat little box.


| Monday, March 12, 2012
Today's Tune: Stay

Can we talk about fandoms? Fandoms are endlessly fascinating to me, and not only because I belong to several.

I think many writers harbor the secret hope that whatever they're creating will one day spawn the sort of rabid loyalty and passion that many before it have achieved. Also the chibi fan art. So much chibi fan art.

What is it that inspires the cult following of a book series or television show? Is there a formula that can be followed, or is it all up to random timing and chance? Does the moon  have to align a certain way? Is it the rarity of the storyline, the relatability of the characters, or the camaraderie of the fans?

I'm not sure. I don't think there's a particular code to crack, and I do think marketing and a bit of luck play a part in which creations spawn a massive following and which slip quietly into the ether. However, I think it's pretty rare for something genuinely awesome to fly completely under the radar. The fan base may start small, but it starts somewhere.

Most often, when browsing Tumblr or Twitter or any of the other eight billion social media and websites dedicated to various fandoms, the standout focus seems to be on the characters. So, that's somewhere to start. Fans develop a bond with a particular character, or the relationships between characters. It doesn't hurt for the plots to be well-written and the twists to be mind-blowing and the world to be achingly wonderful, but I think for a fandom to truly spawn, it comes back to character.

The love of characters can come in many forms. Sometimes it's a character that fills a wish or need in the fan's life -- wish-fulfillment, if you will. Sometimes it's someone they admire or aspire to be like. Sometimes the humor and chemistry between two characters inspires a fierce loyalty. Whatever the reason, it's clear that the audience needs to connect to somebody. When they form a bond to a character or characters, everything else seems to fall into place.

I don't know that there's a way for anyone to force this sort of bond. I think we can learn a lot from studying the material that has already created such loyal fandoms, but short of outright mimicry, I don't think we can recreate the phenomenon intentionally. The best we can hope for is writing a world readers want to get lost in and characters they can fall in love with. Characters that live and breathe and crawl into people's chests to live. Not literally.

What do you think about fandoms, readers? Do you belong to any? Which is your favorite, and why?

Sensory Writing

| Friday, March 9, 2012
Today's Tune: To Be Alone With You

I try to be a sensory writer. I don't always succeed, but I try. It's important to me not to forget the senses beyond sight and sound. Smell, taste, and touch are so often overlooked. There are many other senses to think about, as well, but these are the biggies.

We don't learn things about the world through one or two of our sensory organs. We're constantly taking in data from an infinite number of sources. We can tell it's going to rain when the air feels humid and smells like a storm. We can tell a room needs to be cleaned by the discomforting scent of mold. When sand or smoke gets in our mouth, we know the taste of it.

When we limit our character's observations of the world around them, we're shrinking the window through which a reader can see into the story we've created. The smallest details can add a new layer of understanding to characters or scenes. Is your protagonist's mother's meatloaf savory and delicious, or dry and bland? The former shows she cares about the food she puts in front of her family, the latter can indicate that she's overworked or careless. When a character walks into her crush's bedroom, does it smell clean or dirty? Do clothes feel soft, silky, scratchy, coarse? All of these things can show readers little things about your world so you don't have to tell them.

You should be careful not to overdo it, but you can get very clever with what you reveal through sensory writing. Maybe your villain wears a telltale perfume or cologne that shows up periodically throughout the story. Use food as a metaphor for family life -- cold, lifeless food for the family that doesn't cook and can't stand each other; warm, comforting meals for the messy but love-filled life of a happy family. Indicate social status through textiles worn. There are so many options.

Are you a sensory writer? What's your favorite sense to write? I love writing taste.

Literary vs Commercial Fiction

| Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Today's Tune: Set Yourself On Fire

I JUST LIKE THE SONG, GUYS. I'm not telling you to set yourself on fire! Unless you want to, I guess!

Weird sugueeeee.

I find it pretty common for people to get confused around the difference between commercial and literary fiction, so I thought I'd distill it down. This is a super simplified and bare-bones distinction. In reality, there are a lot of variations to be had and the lines blur all the time. But let's just go with it for now.

Here is the difference: Literary fiction is character-driven. Commercial fiction is plot-driven.

What does that mean, exactly? It means that the primary focus, the pull of the story, is built around an arc. If that arc takes the form of a character -- if the story is ultimately about their personal growth or destruction -- we're looking at literary. If the arc is the rising and falling action of an active plot, we're looking at commercial.

Generally speaking, literary novels are paced more slowly and like to revel in language and human experience. They like to explore the mind and soul. Because of this, they're described as "plotless" by some, which really isn't correct or fair.

Commercial novels generally focus on a big hook and propelling the plot forward to maintain audience attention. Characters may be interesting, but their personal inner workings aren't what keep a commercial book moving. These are the books that leap off the shelves because people devour them so quickly. They're the can't-put-downables. Some consider them fodder for the unintellectual mind, which again is neither correct nor fair.

Now that the distinction is pretty clear, we can explore those blurred lines. There are many books that straddle the literary and the commercial. They're the books with clever hooks and entertaining plots that also happen to contain deeper character exploration and well-placed language. "Literary" writing is often mistaken for flowery, purple prose, which isn't accurate. Literary novels can be very sparse and tightly written. The key is in the intentionality and artistry of language, not vocabulary used.

Some stories are pretty clearly commercial, but still contain great character development. However, developed characters don't make a story character-driven. Likewise, a functional plot does not necessarily make a story plot-driven. It's all about the point of the story. Is the point to tell a tale, or learn something about a character or the human condition? Neither is superior to the other and both have their place in literature.

As I mentioned, there are a LOT of other nuances to this question that I didn't explore in this post, but this is the most condensed I know how to make the distinction.

How do you write, writer pals? Are you more literary, or more commercial? Or do you like to blend the two? I'm definitely a blender.

From the streets of Roma.

| Monday, March 5, 2012
Today's Tune: Mentre tutto scorre

Hey, I'm back! Yay! So, I was in Rome last week. Italy, that is. Not like, Rome, Illinois. It was kind of a Surprise!Trip for Fiance's work. It was the kind of Surprise!Trip I could get behind, to be honest.

I've been out of the country before, but primarily to tropical destinations. I did a European cruise once, and while it was super fun and the boat was amazing, I really didn't get to see as much of actual European soil as I would have liked. Therefore, this trip was incredible for me.

Thing #1 I learned: Italian (and perhaps all European) women clearly have this inbred skill for walking on cobblestone streets in high-heeled shoes. Like, stiletto heels. It was unfathomable to me. I tried to walk to dinner one night in heeled boots and I swear I hit every crack between the stones. Also, they do this thing where they smoke out of the side of their mouth so they don't muss their lipstick. Also-also, they were all extremely fashionable.

Beautiful Roman days.
 Thing #2 I learned: I could not possibly make enough money in my entire lifetime to be able to afford all of the stunning clothes and shoes I spotted.

Look at these things. HOW ARE THEY EVEN REAL.

Thing #3 I learned: Walking in a place where people have walked for thousands of years and still being able to see evidence of their existence in the form of the buildings they frequented is pretty incredible. It makes you feel miniscule and like a giant at the same time. I never got to see this. I survived to see this.

When they invent Time Travel Vacations, I'm going.
Thing #4 I learned: Italians know how to use sugar to make things that make you want to die and then come back so you can eat more and die again. Honey gelato and choco-cream gnocchi, is all I'm saying.

Hanging out in Piazza Navona eating breakfast, no big deal.

Thing #5 I learned: There's nothing quite like wandering lots of little side streets and back alleys and then just stumbling upon an 1800-year-old building.

I love the kid in the foreground looking at me like "Srsly lady."
Thing #6 I learned: The works of art that come from human hands will never stop stirring my heart with pride and awe.

From the Bridge of Angels.
I hope you all had a wonderful week while I was away. Any exciting news?


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