I hail from a small town in North Carolina, just over the Catawba River from Charlotte. Most people have never heard of this little town, so I usually just settle for telling people I’m from the “Charlotte area.”
I was born and raised here. In fact, I still live in the house that I grew up in. North Carolina is my home, but I consider myself kind of a blend – of cultures, ethnicities, and stories. A mixture of East and West.
My roots run deep not just through this North Carolina soil where my maternal side of the family have farmed since before the Revolutionary War, but also through the dusty, desert lands of California and New Mexico where my paternal side of the family settled after coming to the country from Mexico in the early 20th century.
I’m proud of the diversity in my heritage, I believe that it is an interesting foundation to my story.
Words have long since been my preferred method of communicating. As a child, this was expressed mostly through my obsession and fierce love of books. A love that continues today. Once I got a little older, this transitioned into an interest in journalism that never really panned out in terms of college plans.
For most of my teenage years, anytime that I thought about what I wanted to do with my life I usually went back and forth between journalism or teaching. I’m not entirely sure where the journalism came from, but my Aunt Kay was an elementary school teacher and I spent a lot of time with her growing up and I always liked kids. My senior year of high school, though, I was selected for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, a scholarship program that provided roughly half of your college tuition in exchange for teaching in North Carolina for four years post-graduation. I kind of applied for it on a whim, but found myself being selected for a regional interview shortly after completing the initial round of interviews at my high school (only 500 students get picked for this program each year from across the whole state). Believe it or not, I applied for the scholarship with the intent of majoring in Spanish education but that only lasted until my second day of college (seriously) and I realized I was much better suited for the early childhood world.
Once I headed off to Appalachian State, I placed the desire to write and pursue journalism on the back burner. I never actually thought that I’d have an opportunity to do anything with it until the Fall of my sophomore year of college.
In the Fall of 2010, I first discovered the world of blogging. Twitter had only been a thing for about four years at this point, but in my circle of friends it hadn’t quite hit it big yet. I had created my account sometime in 2009, but since I didn’t know anyone with a Twitter account other than my best friend at the time, it was basically just another vehicle for the two of us to communicate for awhile. Though it causes me some embarrassment to admit this now, it was during this time of my life that I was a complete fanatic about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I absolutely loved the books, the movies, and my pop culture-obsessed self was all about keeping up with the cast of the series.
I remember seeing a tweet from Team Twilight, one of the leading fansites at the time, that was welcoming a new writer to their site. When I saw this, I paused – struck by the realization that regular people could actually write for sites like this. This was nearly seven years ago now, but I still remember the giddy excitement that I felt. Maybe my dreams of writing could be more than a dream, I wondered.
I inquired about writing for the website with Lindsay, who ran the site (and still one of my good friends to this day!), and shortly after I officially became a blogger.
Seven months later, towards the end of May 2011, I read Divergent by Veronica Roth and my life began to change. The book had only been released about two weeks prior but had already been optioned for film by Summit Entertainment and many people on Twitter and other young adult fiction fans were raving about the book.
For the next week or so after I finished the book, I was in a state that many book lovers know as the “book coma”, also known as the period of time following the completion of a really good book in which you feel lost and basically don’t know what to do with yourself anymore. During this book coma, I kept mulling over the idea of creating my own fansite that was centered around this new series. After some research, I realized that there were only a handful of other Divergent sites out there at the time and if I were going to start one, now would be the time. So in June 2011, I took what I knew about blogging and fansites and Divergent Nation was born.
For the first few months of Divergent Nation’s tenure, the only posts that I was able to generate were various book reviews, fan art, and various updates regarding the publication of Insurgent, which was due out the following year. Slowly but surely, with more and more readers discovering this series, my site began to grow.
In April of 2012, about a month before the sequel Insurgent’s publication, I was contacted by the team at Harper Collins, the series’ publisher, about collaborating on a fun internet campaign to promote the book. I, along with 50 other blogs, were selected to participate in the campaign that involved being divided into five factions and creating various fan challenges and activities to receive the most traffic. These blogs were a mix of Divergent fansites as well as generic book review blogs and the faction that earned the most traffic would receive a personal thank you from Veronica Roth. Divergent Nation was assigned to the Dauntless faction and I was sent an early copy of Insurgent as part of being a participant.
Although Dauntless was not the winner of this competition, it was still an incredible thing to be a part of. Because of our involvement with the campaign, the names of every administrator of these blogs were listed in a special acknowledgement page in the back of the hardcover edition of Allegiant, the final novel in the series. Being involved in blogging and fansites in general would prove to be a totally surreal experience, but having your name printed in the pages of a New York Times Bestselling Novel was so crazy to me and I ate it up.
I was beginning to get glimpses of that glamorous life that I dreamed of in high school, and I just knew that I wanted more of it.
By the time Divergent was set to begin production in Spring 2013, I was in my final months of college about to graduate. Four days before my college graduation, and three days before my birthday, I received a phone call that would change so much of my life. Meg, one of the other administrators for Divergent Lexicon (a site that I had merged Divergent Nation with a few months prior), sent me a text and asked if she could call me. I hadn’t talked to her on the phone at this point so I was thrown off at first but said yes.
Meg had called to tell me that she was contacted by our contact with Summit Entertainment about traveling to Chicago to visit the set of Divergent and interview the cast. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in going. There was zero hesitation in my voice when I told her that I absolutely was interested. In hindsight, that was probably one of my first real-life adult decisions as an (almost) college graduate. I had just agreed to fly, by myself, to a city that I had never been to meet up people I didn’t know. All without asking my parents first, you guys!
Within a day or two, Summit Entertainment had my flight arranged from Charlotte to O’Hare for just three days after my college graduation. My flight, hotel, and even transportation to and from the airport was covered by Summit Entertainment. We even had a $100 per diem to spend each day at the hotel – meaning we could get wi-fi, room service, or anything else we wanted in the hotel and it would be covered. You better believe I ordered room service for breakfast both mornings that I was in Chicago.
The hotel was directly across the street from Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain, with Lake Michigan on the horizon. My first morning, I inexplicably woke up with the sunrise – probably out of sheer excitement – was treated to one of the most beautiful sunrises and I knew that Chicago would forever have my heart.
During the next two days in Chicago, I explored downtown with blogging friends who became real-life friends and toured film sets. I met actors, directors, and continually found myself in awe of where I had found myself. It’s hard to explain, but it felt as though that trip was the first time that I was truly an adult. It forever changed me.
When I returned home from that whirlwind trip, I was invigorated by the experience but I was faced with an interesting conundrum. I still had my scholarship to honor, so I needed to start looking for a teaching job, but I yearned for more trips like the one I just had. I did eventually secure a job teaching Pre-K near my home, but I kept blogging close by.
In March 2014, ten months after my set visit in Chicago, I was on the press line at the Divergent premiere in Los Angeles at Westwood Village. Just a few months later, I had the opportunity to travel to Beverly Hills and interview the cast of The Giver, one of my favorite childhood books. You better believe I could have gotten used to a life that was full of paid trips to film sets, movie premieres, and press junkets. Who wouldn’t want something like that? I began to consider what opportunities like this could mean for my life down the road and decided to start pursuing a master’s degree in mass communication just as I was embarking on my second year of teaching in 2014.
You might have noticed that no where in this first part of my journey have I mentioned my relationship with God. Quite frankly, that’s because I really didn’t have one at the time.
Sure, I was attending church regularly on Sundays with my family, but that’s really all it was. God and I were two ships passing in the night and I may have said I believed in Him, but honestly, there wasn’t much evidence in my daily life to actual back up that statement. My love affair with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood was blinding and I became a workaholic. I was working full-time during the week as a teacher (but let’s face it, no teacher leaves their work in the classroom at the end of the day), part-time in retail on the weekends, and running my fansites at the same time.
Yes, I do think we are called to do good work for God’s kingdom, but only when we are working from a place of rest and rootedness (pretty sure I just made that word up) in God. That’s not where I was at the time. I was working seven days a week, missing church each Sunday in order to be at my part-time job, pursuing a completely selfish career in communications.
I was a pro at doing things on my own and pretending as though I was pursuing my dream. It wasn’t long before God stepped in and began to show me all of the ways that I had been building my life on shaky ground.
Read Part Two!