The Day Rick Riordan Retweeted Me

My love for Percy Jackson and the Olympians has never been a secret.

I mention it frequently in blog posts, I’m so obsessed that I’m writing my undergraduate honors thesis over how the series makes mythology accessible for reluctant readers, and, although I love Harry Potter, I’ve always considered PJO one of the most formative book series in my life for a few reasons:

  1. It was one of the first book series my brother and I both enjoyed. Jacob has never been a particularly avid reader (with a few exceptions), but he got me to read the first book and I spent the night cackling over Percy’s narration.
  2. Annabeth Chase is, to this day, all that I aspire to be. I live for intelligent female characters who tell the boys exactly what to do, and, for some reason, Annabeth always stuck with me more than Hermione ever did. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both blonde.
  3. Most of my lasting friendships began over a shared love of PJO, and it was these friendships that helped me get through my first few days of college.

So when I had the chance to see Rick Riordan in person, you better believe I jumped on it, especially when I saw that a few of his Hammer of Thor tour stops were going to be over my fall break.

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Uncle Rick in the flesh! I was too afraid to buy tickets in the very first row, so I bought them for the second row after refreshing the tickets page at the exact minute that were available.

After over nine hours in the car (although blessedly broken up) from Indianapolis to St. Paul, we arrived, and I fidgeted with anxious excitement as I saw staff unpacking all of the signed books that we were to receive after the event.

And there, right by the tables with all of the books, was the standup sign for the event with Hammer of Thor cover art, a little picture of Mr. Riordan, and the event information. Being the obsessed honors-thesis-writing person that I am, I have Rick Riordan on tweet notifications, I’d seen him retweeting people taking pictures in front of that sign over the past few days, and had my dad take a picture of Jacob and me in front of it too, thinking it would be a cute little picture to post on Instagram/Facebook. Then I thought, Hey, why not post this on Twitter, too? That’s an act of literary citizenship, right?, decided that that was a great idea despite the fact that my CHB shirt is so obviously homemade, and tagged him in the tweet without a second thought.

Just a few minutes later was when my world exploded. After posting it, I went to show Jacob something on my phone (I can’t even remember what), and then that little Twitter notification popped up and, with shaking hands, I checked to see if it was the kind of notification I thought it was. I about screamed, “RICK RIORDAN RETWEETED MY PICTURE!” to my dad and Jacob as I practically curled into a fetal position while standing, trying not to cry. My phone was blowing up with notifications, and I realized that this was actually happening, I was actually one of the people that Rick Riordan retweeted.

I spent the rest of the time before they opened the doors nervously laughing to myself as my phone kept buzzing, telling me that someone had liked my tweet. I saw a few of my friends from Ball State liking it (y’all are the real MVPs), but for the most part, it was people I didn’t know, and it was incredibly surreal.

The rest of the event was such a delight, as Mr. Riordan talked about what he had been working on and what we could look forward to, told jokes, and otherwise lived up to his reputation as Uncle Rick – there were so many more kids than I would have expected, but as someone who’s going to spend her life as an English teacher, I was thrilled to see so many young people enthusiastic about reading. I didn’t get the chance to ask my question during the Q&A (about what his research process is like and how his background as a teacher influences how he adapts these ancient figures; I was simultaneously simply curious and trying to do thesis research, what can I say), and neither did Jacob (about how he goes about writing the diverse characters that are now at the forefront of his books, more so than they ever were in PJO, e.g., a deaf elf, the most badass Muslim valkyrie you’ve ever seen, and others, both in Magnus Chase and in Heroes of Olympus), but I got great sound bites recorded on my phone of Mr. Riordan talking about how he was a reluctant reader until he was in eighth grade when his teacher changed his life, about a deleted scene from The Last Olympian, and about the homeless kids he had in his classroom that inspired Magnus.

Mr. Riordan, if you read this, thank you for your books. They’ve changed my life and countless others’, and if you’re within driving distance for your next book tour, I’ll be there.

Reacting to Reacting Out Loud

Last fall, I took a class called “Teaching Writing in Secondary Schools.” While that may not sound exciting to some, it’s obviously quite crucial for someone who’s going to be an English teacher.

This semester, I’m the TA for that very same class, and in both of those semesters, one of the first activities is to make a list of our writing territories.

Translation? We compiled our own lists of topics we’d like to write about, genres we’d like to try, and audiences we’d like to write for. As I was looking through my old notes from the first time I was a part of the class, I saw that for genres I’d like to try, I wrote “poetry.”

This semester, I also wrote “poetry” on that genre list.

On Sunday, not only did I have a completed poem waiting on my Evernote, but I read that poem out loud and tried to control my shaking hands. I did what I set out to do, and, goodness, it was simultaneously the most thrilling and nerve-wracking thing I’ve ever done.

“But Rachel,” you’ve started asking, “You’re going to be a teacher — you must be a good writer. How could you be scared of sharing your writing like that? And you know you’re going to have to share your other writing with your students, right?”

Whether or not I’m a good writer is a question I find myself frequently agonizing over, but it wasn’t a matter of whether or not I thought the poem was good (side note — poetry is hard; I struggle more with poetry than any other kind of writing) — it was a matter of the content and the delivery.

My poem (which might make its way to Reacting Out Loud’s YouTube channel if the audio came through; open mic night without a mic was certainly an exercise in projecting, but it made the night infinitely more intimate, I think, as I found myself really listening to the many talented poets that read and shared their work) was about fatness. And mermaids and the goddess Aphrodite, but primarily about fatness.

This was what made the night so nerve-wracking.

I rarely call myself fat because the term scares me. I have heard the word thrown around like a curse, like something to be whispered because obviously this person isn’t aware that they’re bigger than you, and like something to be screamed as an insult. I had never heard the word used positively and without judgment until this year.

The content, here, the very word “fat,” is something I agonized over. I have always used the word “overweight” to describe myself, and I found myself using the word “plump” in my poem, but the word that was repeated most in the poem was “fat.” I called myself fat and described what it feels like to be fat, but not that fat and not that skinny, while standing on a stage, on a little platform where people could see exactly how big I was.

There, the delivery becomes terrifying. I could not hide behind my words because I was my words. This was me on the page (um, app, really, since I didn’t print out my poem) and I was asking people to accept that.

And they did.

One of the key components of Reacting Out Loud is, simply, reacting out loud. Vocalizing when you hear lines you like, snapping and showing the poet that you appreciate their craft and appreciate what they’re doing.

I was petrified that Two Cats Cafe would be deadly silent as I read, but instead, I was so supported that even as my hands were shaking so violently that I was afraid I’d drop my phone, I knew that I had to keep going because people were listening to me and cared about what I was saying. They were snapping and hollering and I had to continue onwards.

When I stepped off stage, the applause was thunderous, and I almost collapsed in on myself in relief. I had made my way back to my table and yet still people were clapping. People came up to me afterwards and said that they loved my poem; I received hugs and handshakes, and I was still shaking, but I was the good kind of shaky.

I had entered a world that I had previously only admired from afar, and I felt welcomed. I felt as if I was one step closer to becoming a goddess.

#MWW16: Diversity, Paper Hats, and Wonderful People, Oh My!

In my last blog post, I described how terrifying the cursor over a blank page is, and now I’m facing that same dilemma. That same dilemma even though I have so much to say about MWW and so much love in my heart for the entire conference (from the insightful panels to photo booth fun with the loves of my life, AKA my fellow agent assistants).

Where to start?

At the conference, I worked as the agent assistant for the incomparable Molly Jaffa, and let me just tell you all how much I admire her — I wish I could say I asked super insightful questions during downtime between her pitches, but I felt so tongue-tied (awkward and anxious person that I am) because she’s so good at what she does and that was simultaneously inspiring and intimidating.

Even though I didn’t ask as many questions as I so desperately wanted to but failed to think of, I learned so much just from sitting at her table, and here are just a few of these things that I learned both from Molly and the conference as a whole:

— Middle grade novels focus more on literal monsters, whereas YA tends to be more like “I am the monster because of my feelings” and about the emotional arc of the characters. Sitting in on pitches was so enlightening, especially as someone who’s always been on the verge of starting a YA novel, because everyone wants to write YA. It’s popular now, and that’s great, but don’t write it just because it sells. Middle grade is just as important and might actually be a better fit for the plot and characters you have.

— The majority of YA is in first person because YA is about immediacy, about as few differences as possible between the reader and the character. Don’t be afraid of third person YA, just know that this is why you see so much first person YA. (Also — maybe try your hand at second person in your writing as a disguised form of first person. I learned so much on this subject from Tom Williams‘ panel on second person POV; if you want my notes, I’m more than happy to give them to you!)

— If you weren’t already aware, I’m going to shout this from the rooftops — we need diverse representation in our literature. Molly is a huge proponent of this — one of the first things she said at the agent panel on the Friday I met her was a description of a book she’d signed about a girl who’s out as a lesbian but not out as a witch in Salem. How cool is that? And how important will that be for teenagers who haven’t come out of the closet? Be a proponent of diversity and equality in what you read, write, and share with the world. This is what Natalie C. Parker (whose books I can’t wait to start reading!) said was a reason she was so drawn to Molly as an agent above others, and it bears repeating.

— On that same note — sensitivity readers. Find them. If you’re going to write diversely, don’t do it because it’s a trend, because it’s not (at his buttonhole table, Jim McCarthy explained this is one of the things he’s tired of seeing in his inbox). Try to attain authenticity instead of appropriation.

— Literature, YA especially, works as windows and mirrors. Windows to see others, mirrors to see ourselves. I can’t tell you how much I’d loved hearing Molly ask a writer for a full manuscript about a girl with Down Syndrome, and I can’t tell you how difficult it was not to cry during Julie Murphy’s Keynote when she talked about seeing the movie Spy starring Melissa McCarthy. “Sometimes you don’t realize how hungry you are for your own reflection until you finally see it,” Julie said — and if you’re thinking that all I learned about was diversity at this conference, it wasn’t, but I think using this space to talk so much about diversity is crucial. I could talk about how much fun I had goofing around with the other agent assistants, because I had the best time in the world, but the pictures speak for that; to achieve diversity, we have to actively speak about it and champion it.

— On a final note — paper hats are great at putting people at ease, and Molly makes great ones.UIWww76-2

Get your paper hats ready for next year, everyone — I’m sure it’s going to be equally (if not more) amazing, and I can’t wait to see familiar faces and new faces alike there!