Dear Jamie,

​Today is your birthday, and you’re not home.

​I hate thinking that you’re thousands of miles away in some remote area of Afghanistan on your birthday. I hate thinking that Mom won’t be making you a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. I hate that I had to sing happy birthday to a blurry figure on a screen that looks like you, but at the same time, with his buzz cut and camouflage… Doesn’t. FaceTime is great, but it’s not the same as having you here. Home.

​Mom and Dad say that they’re proud of you for enlisting and selflessly serving our country as a soldier in the U.S. Army. I am too—I have the cheesy t-shirt you picked up for me from Ft. Jackson to prove it. But pride won’t erase the fact that you’re not home, big brother.

​I wish you were home with all of us. But instead, I’m sitting on the tree swing you and Dad put up a couple years ago. And I’m alone. The stars are out tonight—the ever-present Washington clouds seem to have disappeared because they know what day today is. I’ve tried counting the stars, but I’ve only gotten to one hundred sixteen. So far. It’s comforting, in a strange way, knowing that you look at the same sky I look at. Same moon. Same sun.

​Happy birthday, Jamie.

Micaiah Saldaña

Micaiah Saldaña is, first and foremost, a passionate follower of Jesus. When she isn’t lost in the stories she writes or daydreaming about typewriters, you can find her reading just about anything YA fiction, spending time with her friends and family, and drinking lots of salted caramel hot chocolate. You might be able to catch her rambling on her blog, Notebooks and Novels, at www.notebooksandnovels.com—that is, if she hasn’t made her way to Narnia. Yet.

Patrick Ryan on “Dear Jamie, Love Rory”

“Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is a story about siblings. But more specifically, it’s a story about love. Jamie is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Rory and Nikki are his sisters. They don’t always get along; in fact, one of the few things they have in common is their love for their brother and the fact that they miss him so much. And they’re about to embark on a road trip together.

One Teen Story is excited to be presenting this impressive piece of fiction by Micaiah Saldaña, one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. Written as a series of letters Rory writes to Jamie, it is both funny and touching, and it is a testament to patience and personal growth. One of the things I like about “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is that it’s two stories in one: we get the road trip (and who doesn’t like a good road trip?), and we get an intimate portrait of two sisters on a path toward mending their strained relationship.

As long as the Airstream trailer doesn’t make you claustrophobic and Mittens (a slobbering Mastiff) doesn’t drool on you, you should enjoy this one-sided epistolary.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
MS: The idea for this story came mostly from my life. My family took a road trip through northern California last year (with our Airstream, of course!). I went on nearly the exact same trip as Nikki and Rory! It was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. California is absolutely gorgeous, and I hope to visit again soon. Another way my life gave me the idea for “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is the fact that, like Jamie, my dad is in the Army. Sadly, I haven’t read any fiction representing teens with loved ones in the military. The military experience isn’t easy for anyone. It’s full of many changes, uncertainties, and having to say lots of goodbyes. In “Dear Jamie, Love Rory,” I wanted to try to portray some of the pain and hardships that we military kids feel.
PR: Was it always going to be an epistolary? Or did you consider writing it as a more traditional narrative?
MS: I actually started writing this in a traditional first-person narrative. But as I continued my scribbles, I realized that I wanted Jamie to be a bigger part of the story (he was too amazing to leave in the background). I’ve always loved the idea of an epistolary, so after a little more brainstorming, I started writing letters from Rory to Jamie. I wanted Jamie to be there in some way, even though he wasn’t there on Nikki and Rory’s trip.
PR: Were you tempted to include any of Jamie’s responses? Making it more of a back-and-forth between brother and sister?
MS: I was tempted to add Jamie’s responses, but I felt that I couldn’t truly respond as Jamie. Jamie has been through many things that I haven’t been through. I don’t know what it feels like to be in a war zone. I don’t know how it feels to be away from everything you know and love. I don’t know what it’s like to be brave enough to serve your country as a soldier. I can’t even comprehend a soldier’s experience and therefore felt that I was inadequate to write from a soldier’s perspective.
PR: This may be a tough question. Feel free to answer in as roundabout a fashion as you like. Whose story is it?
MS: While at first glance this may seem like Rory’s story, it’s not just her story. Yes, she’s the only one writing letters. Yes, we can only be in her head and only see her point of view. But this is just as much Nikki and Jamie’s story as it is Rory’s. Rory is simply the storyteller. Through what she writes in her letters, we see events that affect Nikki, Jamie, and Rory, of course. We see glimpses of all of them through Rory’s letters. This story doesn’t belong to one of them. They share it. It’s theirs.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
MS: Love. Love is messy and it’s hard. Love causes lots of heartache and pain. But love is also like glue. No matter what, it binds families together through thick and thin, just like what we see in “Dear Jamie, Love Rory.”
PR: What are you working on now?
MS: I’m working on quite a bit right now. I’m currently juggling a handful of short stories and working on outlining/brainstorming a novel. I hope to seek a traditional publication route for my novel when the time is right, which I’m hoping will be soon! I’m also enjoying posting weekly on my blog, Notebooks and Novels, about writing, books, my faith, and my life.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
MS: There’s so much writing advice that I’ve received, especially from my mentor and friend, YA author Tessa Emily Hall, that it’s hard to pick one bit to call the best. But if I could pick one bit, it would be this: Write the story of your heart. It’s so easy to get caught up in writing what other people want. I tried writing a fast-paced mystery once, because fast-paced action novels seemed like what everyone loved. They sell. They’re popular. But despite what I told others, my heart wasn’t truly in it. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of writing fast-paced, action-packed mysteries. When I write, I want to write stories that tug on people’s heartstrings and point them to Jesus. I like writing whimsical fantasies, historical, and contemporaries. I’m more into the softer side of fiction, if that makes any sense. Once I discovered that, once I started writing the stories I wanted to see on bookshelves—the stories of my heart—then I truly began to grow and flourish as a writer, not to mention fall even more in love with writing.