My roommate told me to stop using drugs
1st place $50
Illustration by Courtney Loi, 15, Sierra Vista HS (Baldwin Park)
Author’s name withheld
Three years ago I went through the roughest stage of my life. I was out of control, nobody could tell me anything, and I was even disrespecting my mom and stealing from her. One day I went to the Del Amo mall and stole two iPhones. That stupid stunt put me in jail, and while I was in there my mom told my probation officer all the things she knew I was doing.
That’s when all my problems came. I went in and out of juvenile halls, camps and placements for two years. In the process of all that I started getting really depressed and built up a huge animosity toward my mom for how everything went, like when I went to jail and broke my arm and she just went home.
When I went to placement I got this roommate, he was a cool guy. We would stay up all night just talking about our problems and maybe smoke bowls. But I was always seeing him get quiet and sniff crystal meth. I always wondered why he did that type of drug since he told me he has a little girl at home and needs a job.
But one night I asked him, “Hey, why do you do it if you know how that drug gets you?” and he said it makes him forget about all his problems and worries about being locked up in placement. I tried it because I was going through too much.
And he was right, I never thought about nothing that was going on in my life. So I kept doing it, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Some of my friends would tell me I was getting really skinny but I paid no attention to them at all.
I kept using for a couple more months but I started noticing what my friends were trying to tell me. I went from always smiling and wanting to talk or chill out, to never wanting to be close to people or talk or touch anyone. It got so bad and I got so stressed out I wouldn’t even come out of my room or talk to anyone.
I got to go home one weekend and I did coke, ecstasy and crystal, stole a car and joy rode it for three days and I let my own mother see me strung out on drugs. I told her things that no son should ever tell their mom.
When I got back to my placement all I could do was think. My roommate saw, sat me down and told me to let these drugs go. They’re not worth losing everything you have, including family. He even told me he had been on the street for three years and has to cope with being an addict on crystal meth, with a baby and no education at all.
That made me see I was really in the wrong. So I stopped. I worked some of the problems out with my mom and went home from placement. I’m on my way to graduating next year and I have been clean and am almost off probation.
I’m on the right path thanks to my roommate from placement. I wish I could tell him thanks a lot for what he said to me that night. It changed my life forever and I don’t know where I would be today if he hadn’t warned me about the future I was choosing to have. You saved my life.
My father saıd I had to be an adult
2nd place $30
Author’s name withheld
Throughout my life I’ve gotten advice from so many people for different situations. After time, more serious issues started coming along, issues that could ruin my life. The biggest problem that I couldn’t handle was getting my girlfriend pregnant.
I have hope of becoming a father one day with a lovely wife, but when I thought about being a father at 13, it made me sick to my stomach. It all happened one month after having unprotected sex with my girlfriend. Everything was fine that day until she called me at night. We talked like any other day and then she broke down crying. I thought I had done something wrong during the day. Then things got quiet. I asked, “What’s wrong?” She told me she was pregnant. I had no idea what to say so I hung up for the night. I didn’t sleep until six in the morning.
For the next three weeks I didn’t talk to anyone. My dad noticed my change and he confronted me one day after school. He asked me what was wrong and I stayed quiet because I was embarrassed to tell him. I knew I could tell my dad anything but this was just too much for me. I started to break down crying on his shoulder telling him I had ruined my life. My father stayed calm and looked me in my eyes. I told him my girl was pregnant and I could see the surprise in his eyes. He went to his room.
I stayed in my room looking out the window thinking about what I was going to do. My dad came in and sat next to me. I could tell he had been crying by the tone of his voice. My dad told me that he loved me no matter what but that this was my problem and I had to take full responsibility for it. My dad telling me this was shocking because for once he treated me like an adult. My dad told me that he would still respect me and love me if I keep the child or not, but that I would have to become more of a man. Those few words made me see that I wasn’t a kid anymore. I had grown up and didn’t even know it.
I decided to stay with my girlfriend and keep the baby. I knew it was my responsibility. I knew no matter how much it would affect me, it was my choice. Sadly the baby died and my girl and I broke up. To this day I still think about the choices I made and now I try to make smarter decisions. I now see because of my dad’s few words that no matter what, I have to think like an adult and make my own life, not blame my actions on others and fail to take responsibility. A few words my dad told me changed me completely. I respect myself more now and I’m enjoying my life more and more because of the good outcome of my decisions.
A stranger’s words stuck with me
3rd place $20
By Arianna Valdez, Paramount HS
Our teenage years are the toughest. We start dating, dealing with heartbreak and spending more time with our friends. Many of us say we plan on going to a community college, others a university. I plan on going to medical school to become a pediatric surgeon. Most of my friends and family have given me great advice about my future. But the best advice I’ve gotten was from a stranger.
Growing up, I loved playing doctor with my mom. I always had toy medical kits all over the house. When I was about 5 years old, I was asked, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” My answer—a surgeon. Throughout my life, I’ve been in and out of the hospital. I’ve had everything from asthma to cancer. So I grew to love needles and became fascinated with medical procedures.
Today, I’m a healthy 16-year-old looking at colleges. My family encourages me because they think about how much money I’d make. My doctors are blown away at the thought of me pursuing the hard work and schooling it will take, but nevertheless, encourage me. Anyone who hears my story tells me I have beautiful ambitions, never a negative word, until I met a certain stranger.
Recently, my mom asked me to go to the store with her. While waiting at the checkout, the man behind me asked my age and what I wanted to do after I graduate high school, so I told him I wanted to become a surgeon. He looked at me as if I were stupid. He said, “Well yeah, doctors make money, but I don’t think that’s what you want to do. You’re going to have 10-plus years of school, when you have these lawyers making thousands an hour for only a few years in school.” He went on talking about how difficult life is, especially with today’s economy. He said it was best if I just went to law school—I’d be rich in no time.
That man, although attempting to persuade me otherwise, gave me something to think about. I’ve always hated politics, government and anything to do with law, and going through school for anything takes extreme dedication. But how can you dedicate yourself to something you don’t love?
Everyone assumes I want to become a surgeon for the money. In a way, they aren’t wrong. I don’t want to be rich, though. I just want a comfortable lifestyle. With everyone talking about me making bank, I started to forget the real reason I chose that path. That reason is to help people. I want to save a child’s life one day, and know I did everything in my power to help them and their family—everything to make them healthy again.
Ultimately, the best advice was from a stranger. Although I had to work a bit to decode the message, his advice was: it doesn’t matter what you choose to do in life, what matters is that you do it for the right reasons. I realized I shouldn’t go for something because it involves high pay. I should do something that I’m going to enjoy doing every day because to get there, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication.
A friend told me to do what makes me happy
Author’s name withheld
In eighth grade my parents were getting divorced but unlike most teenagers, this didn’t bother me at all. It actually seemed like a good thing because my parents fought all the time about the dumbest things. My dad decided to move out and visit us from time to time. That’s how things worked for a while, but then my dad said he wanted one of his daughters to live with him. It was only my little sister and me at the time and we felt bad for Dad because he was all alone. My mom said it was up to us to decide who we wanted to live with because she wasn’t going to force us to do anything. I knew my little sister wanted to stay with my mom because my mom was always overprotective of her. I had always been a “daddy’s girl” but I didn’t want to move schools or neighborhoods. I knew that this was going to be a hard decision for me.
I decided to tell my best friend because it was the only thing on my mind for days. She listened while I babbled on and waited for me to finish. She told me, “I know you don’t like being told what to do, but I think that you should do what makes you happy. Make a decision that you know you won’t regret. If you’re doing it to make others happy you’re going to be upset your whole life and you’ll be thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do this instead?’ Think it through and do this for yourself; only for yourself.”
I let her words sink in and for the first time ever I took that advice. I went home and thought about everything. I loved my father and I spent more time with him than my mom so I knew I would get my way if I lived with him. But I also knew that my dad was a strict parent who wanted perfect grades and a well-mannered daughter. If I were to live with him I knew I had to watch my attitude and my actions in order to go out on weekends. My mom was lenient and understanding. She hardly spent quality time with us because she was always busy and tired, but she never got mad at us either. She let us go out but we had to do most of the chores before we could.
In the end, I decided to live with my mom. It was easier to get along with her, I would have more freedom and I wouldn’t have to move schools. The hardest part would be breaking the news to my dad because he was already planning which room I would get and which school I would attend. When we went out to eat I told him I wanted to live with Mom, but it wasn’t because he was a bad father.
To my surprise he wasn’t mad at me. I could tell he was a little upset but he tried to hide it. I knew that if I hadn’t listened to my friend’s advice I would’ve moved in with my dad to make him happy without caring about my happiness. It was a great decision because now he’s married and I know that I would probably feel uncomfortable living with a stranger and a strict parent. My mom is married too but I don’t feel that tension when I’m with them. My best friend was glad that I did what made me happy. She told me that living with regrets was not good and she was right.
The Best Advice I Ever Got
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the release of my first novel, Kitty and The Midnight Hour. Which also means one of the best pieces of advice I ever got came four years ago. First, some background.
Like Lynn, I have some publicity and self-promotion rants brewing. But whenever I start writing the essay, I end up spewing paragraph after paragraph of irate rambling nonsense. We’ve already seen that Lynn and I pretty much agree on the value of spending oodles of time and money on self-promotion. Which is to say — WRITE THE BOOK. That’s your job. Do it well.
Here’s the biggest question I always think about when I hear about an author spending loads of time and money pursuing endless routes of online marketing, hiring a publicist for thousands of dollars, and so on: Have I actually heard of this author? I mean, apart from the fact that they’ve spent oodles of time and money on self-promotion. Can I name a title that they’ve written? Have I ever heard anyone recommending their books? All too often the answer is, “No.” How useful then is all that time and money spent on self-promotion?
A couple of things I’m grateful for: Starting out poor, and a piece of advice I got early on.
I started out too poor to fall for any publishing scams or publicity machines. When I was trying to get published, vanity presses or pay-to-play agents were out of the question because I didn’t have any money to pay to get published. I didn’t even have the $300 to go to the local writer’s conference. I’m really glad about that. I never felt pressure to do an in-person editor or agent pitch. Spending money to get a leg up was never an option. This saved me a lot of stress and agony in the long run. And when you have no money for movies or outings, you stay home and write. Awesome.
My goal was always to make a living at writing. Not just writing, but writing fiction, as much as I was told that was a near-impossible task. But what do you know, I’ve done it. I even have health insurance. (It’s a high-deductible catastrophic HSA plan. But I have it.) Because I’ve always used my writing income to pay my bills — my mortgage, my utilities, my food — I never considered using any of it for high-priced publicity plans. I sure as hell wasn’t going to blow a significant percentage of my first advance — $7500 — on something like a book video or hiring a publicist. I had student loans to pay off! (I used part of my most recent advance to pay off said student loan. Huzzah!)
So there you have it: I’m a New York Times bestselling author who has never hired my own publicist or paid more than a few hundred dollars a year on publicity. I even maintain my own website. (With a friend’s help. I take him and his girlfriend out for steaks after a big website overhaul.)
My conclusions: You don’t have to spend a lot of time and money on promotion. Even more important to keep in mind: Spending a lot of time and money on promotion is absolutely no guarantee of success.
And now for the piece of advice. My original agent, Dan Hooker, passed away about a month after my first book came out. It was devastating, because he’d done such a good job for me and I’d been looking forward to a long working relationship. In one of the last conversations we had, I asked him, “What should I be doing? What can I do to promote the book?” I asked because I was overwhelmed, because I saw all the possibilities and was daunted at all the work I thought I was going to have to do. I’m shy — I didn’t want to go into bookstores to sign stock. I didn’t want to call people. I didn’t want to set up book signings. I still had a day job eating up half my time.
Here’s what Dan said: “Write the next book. Make it the best you can.”
This was brilliant because that’s what I wanted to do — that’s all I wanted to do: write. It’s worked so far. And I’m still grateful to Dan for saving my sanity at a critical moment.