7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Author Justina Chen's Heart Rings on Machu Picchu

Justina Chen, whose award-winning YA novels always dare into the deep reaches of the heart, rings us into the Fall season from high on an ancient mountain . . . .

Machu Picchu. More than a bucket list item, Machu Picchu called to my soul. For years, I had intended to visit the mystical site, perched high on a mountain. But then my life was overturned and my savings evaporated along with my ex-husband. The idea of bringing my kids to the place of my dreams felt daunting. For one, money was tight. And for another more embarrassing reason, this particular adventure required navigational skills. Serious navigational skills that geographically dyslexic me had always relied on my ex to handle.

Yet there we finally stood overlooking Machu Picchu, my kids and I, years after I had planned our visit. To this day, no one knows the why or how of Machu Picchu. What was its purpose—summer resort for emperors or grand temple for priests? I stared stared stared at the sunlit ruins of what once, irritated by that mystery. Surely some archaeologist or anthropologist had solved it by now.

Suddenly, a wind ripped the veil of clouds overhead. For one perfect moment, the sun beamed down on me along with an idea for a new novel. A girl who wants to be a photographer, but can’t see her own life clearly. A girl with a serious blind spot for boys.

The why and how of inspiration is a mystery no different from the why or how of ruins—those found on mountains and those in our lives. All I knew, standing before Machu Picchu, was that I had to accept the inexplicable.

The bells rang so loudly inside me, I was afraid that my heart would crack right open. But I did not step back. I did not close my eyes. And I did not plug my ears.

Ring away, I dared instead, as I stood before the treasure of ruins that is Machu Picchu.

Ring away, I thought, flanked by my children, the treasure of my life.

Ring away, I told myself, lifting my eyes from the rubble to the clouds. And so the bells rang. And as I listened, I knew what I was hearing: the sound of my heart being knocked open to love again.

Justina’s fifth novel, A BLIND SPOT FOR BOYS, was inspired by her trip to Machu Picchu and was named as a Top Romance for Youth by Booklist. Her novel, NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, was a Kirkus and Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year. She is the co-founder of readergirlz as well as a story strategist to executives. Please visit her at and follow her on Twitter @JustinaYChen.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on October 14 for a guest post with 
explorer/author Marc Calhoun