Spelling bees and I go way back. Even in kindergarten, I represented my grade in the school spelling bee (Though we do not speak of this, because even though I memorized the entire list, I was so excited to have gotten an easy word, that I rushed and proudly said, "Jazz, J-A-Z, jazz... Wait!"). Luckily, I had another 365 days to think about it, and plenty of 5-year-old rage to fuel my next spelling endeavor. And thus began my spelling bee career. Fast-forward to middle school, I was the last fifth grader standing, placed third the next year, and won the bee in seventh grade, getting the chance to compete in the central Texas regional bee!
I'd never been to the regional competition before, and I was over the moon at the possibility to advance to the next level of speller-ly glory and other"word"ly wisdom. And I did go strong for a large chunk of it. But after a solid 3 hours of spelling, my brain was fried. I was out for saying "G" when I meant "J" in Meiji. Frustratingly, I had the correct spelling in my head. There were only four other spellers left at that point. After that, I was determined to get another shot at regionals after getting so close.
This year was my last Scripps spelling bee. Even though I spent the majority of the night before playing Jimi Hendrix on my electric guitar, I was serious about doing well. I'd studied the list all through break (and reviewed a few of the words I already knew, so as not to repeat kindergarten history). I felt the standard jitters spelling in front of the whole school, and had a few close-calls with words I'd been mispronouncing in my studies, but the first leg of the spelling bee went pretty smoothly.
When it was down to myself and two others, the announcer went off the word list. After a few rounds, the sixth-grader was eliminated, and I got nailed with an unfamiliar word (tamara, only I thought the announcer was saying "tomorrow" in a Brooklyn accent). My classmate won, and I placed second. My initial frustration for adding another "r" was pretty much squeezed out of me by a series of bear hugs from my parents who'd come to support me, and from a throng of my buddies who were waiting to congratulate me as soon as I left the stage. Honestly, I was happy to come home to a celebratory tres leches cake. Thank you, Scripps spelling bee, for fun times-- and for giving me the opportunity to learn more words than I could possibly use in my novel.
*Title is a nod to the amazing CEO of Me and The Bees Lemonade, Mikaila U, my boss/bestie.
Ren Koppel Torres has adored fantasy books since the dawn of time and started The Shadow in Her Pocket at nine years old. Ren was born in New York City in a Jewish-Mexican-American family and now lives in Austin, Texas. Ren is passionate about advocating for child literacy and is donating a portion of the proceeds from book sales to Bookspring, a nonprofit in Central Texas. Ren is also a freelance writer, a visual artist, a guitarist in a rock band, a succulent aficionado, and a high school student.