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Try

Have you ever wanted something in your life so badly you can’t imagine living without it? Have you ever felt that if someone just gave you a chance, you know you could succeed?

This?

Is every writer I know. Every dreamer.

We write, we create. We make real our fantasy worlds, give breath to characters who live only in our minds until our words bring them to life. We pursue our love of storytelling, of words, of poetry, of sound – all without ever knowing what success, if any, our words will bring.

I watch writers around me succeed. (And I cheer, my friends. I cheer!)

But more often, I watch them fail. Then I watch them fail again. And again. Some shove the words away into a deep, dark drawer, never to be seen again, thoroughly convinced they aren’t “the chosen” writer or they haven’t produced “the chosen” work the world wants to see.

More often than not, they are wrong. More often than not, there are simply too many ways to stumble when it comes to publishing, and it has nothing to do with the writer at all. How many Harry Potters never made publication? No, I don’t mean how many times was Harry Potter rejected. I mean how many other stories are just as marvelous, just as fantastical, just as ready for the eager eyes of excited readers? Dozens. Hundreds, maybe. Perhaps even thousands.

Thousands of manuscripts with talented, good-hearted authors behind their fiery pages, and marvelous minds behind the creation of their worlds. But these stories may never be seen, may never be known. Because in the end, publishing is a business and business is about money.

Oh, how much art has been lost to money!

My heart weeps for the number of manuscripts I’ve known (both my own and those written by friends) that may never make an editor’s desk, and, therefore, may never see the inside of even the smallest bookstore or library.

But, writers.

Do not walk away. Failure is only failure if you stop trying. So, friends?

Try.

The world needs your words.

Fakers, Bakers, and Music Makers – Bonding via Unforgettable Characters

How do you sum up a weekend adventure that had approximately 865,342 high points?

I’m not sure I can, but I’ll at least attempt to highlight a few moments that made my time at the #UCIJretreat2021 amazing and memorable and oh-so-worth-it. (That’s Unforgettable Characters & Incredible Journeys, in case you were wondering.)

A few months ago, author Ralph Walker put out a call for writers. The response was overwhelming, and RW successfully arranged a virtual retreat via Zoom for 20 lucky writers to learn plotting techniques and how to dive deep when it comes to creating memorable characters. In the retreat’s inaugural weekend, writers from all walks of life and all stages of writerhood (Is that a word? It is now.) gathered in their Brady Bunchesque Zoom boxes to talk craft, brainstorm, laugh, and have a good time.

I’m happy to report I was one of those lucky writers. One might wonder: How much can a writer learn from…other writers? The answer is a lot. The thing about writing is that there’s never a time you’re done learning. There’s never a point where a writer can say they’ve mastered the craft so expertly that there’s nothing more to be learned from others. (I guarantee you this is still the case even for Stephen King and Nora Roberts. I promise they, too, can still learn. Knowledge is like Thanksgiving dinner. You may think you’re full, but there’s always room for dessert.)

Plus, friends. Who doesn’t want new friends!? So many writers I’d known via Twitter, but had never gotten to actually know on a more intimate level, and now I had the opportunity! And they write everything. I followed along with characters from everywhere and anywhere (hence the title of this post) and what a ride it was. I fell into so many amazing worlds and so many raw emotions.

To read the words of a fellow writer is a special gift. It’s an invitation into a person’s soul, into their world, into a special place in their heart, and no one who reads a writer’s words should take that honor lightly. I am so very grateful to have been trusted with the words of so many kindred spirits.

As you might have guessed by the name of the retreat, the weekend encompassed creating unforgettable characters and incredible journeys. We discussed what makes a character unforgettable and how to take a reader on a journey with all its rollercoaster twists and turns while still providing an explosive ending that delivers.

And the swag! Did I mention the swag? A box full of goodies and treats, writer fuel (coffee and tea), a #5amwritersclub mug, stickers, and an organized binder chock full of information. It’s clear RW put a lot of work into this retreat, and how grateful I was to have been on the receiving end of it!

Plus, secret envelopes. Did I mention the secret envelopes? RW is a master at the secret envelopes and they were filled with…

Wait.

…if I tell you, they won’t be secret anymore. I guess you’ll just have to apply for the Fall 2021 UCIJ Retreat to find out.*

Bonded by a shared retreat. Love these faces!

*Seriously, do it.

Belonging

We almost bought a brand new house today. Drove an hour and a half northeast and spent all day touring a beautiful, half-built, small mansion in a spacious 1-acre wooded lot in the Poconos. Then we deliberated long hours on whether it was right, where we’d put the garden, the pool, the chicken coop, and how we’d arrange each room, whether to finish part of the basement as a play room for the billiard table, the foosball table, and the poker table.

We drove the neighborhood (not that there was much to drive, it’s not even done being built yet) and checked out the other houses in the area. We drove past the schools the kids would go to, and looked up their ratings on Niche. I even moved the money for the down payment into our checking account so we could write a check and get started. It’s fun to dream. It’s exhilarating to imagine new things and new places and new adventures. What could the future hold? Yes, we said! Let’s do this.

And then, five minutes before we were to sign the papers and hand over the money, pure terror gripped my heart.

Reality came crashing in. This isn’t my house. This isn’t my neighborhood. This isn’t where I belong! Help! Someone take me home!

*Cue the waterworks.*

We stayed in the area, had lunch, discussed our options extensively. I proceeded to spend the next two hours alternately in tears, convincing myself we shouldn’t do it, then recovering and convincing myself we should, then crying again at the thought of leaving our close-knit community where we’ve lived for almost 18 years. When we bought our house in 2003, we planned to stay for maybe 5 – 10 years. Introduce children to the mix, and it never quite seems the right time to move.

Eventually, we stayed here so long that everything is just…comfortable. I like our little house. (I wish we had more space.) I like our little yard. (I wish we had more land.) We have some of the best neighbors, one family we even fondly call our neighbros. (I wish the noisy ones behind us would move out…or at least learn to be more considerate.)

But our tiny school district has some of the most caring, wonderful teachers I’ve ever known – people I’m glad teach my children every day, but also people I’ve come to think of as friends myself. They live and work here, in this small community. And three blocks away? We have a lovely little park that’s home to the local community partnership’s Christmas tree lighting, fundraiser dinners, and monthly farmers’ markets. Our community library (and my part-time job there) would be a thing of the past. The coworkers I’ve come to know and love, I’d never see again.

We often catch some of our favorite neighbors walking past our house on their daily route – walking, walking, always walking. And these neighbors are special. Because they’ve shared in our pain (and our joy) with regards to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. And that’s a special kind of bond, too. Not many people know what it’s like to travel that path.

Here, we have the kind of neighbors who will pick up your kids from school at the drop of a hat if needed, those who will watch your kids if you need to make an emergency trip to the vet (and our geriatric doggo is already older than most dogs his breed live to see), who will mow your lawn because you’ve been taking care of a sick spouse or child, who will stop by with fresh bread for no reason at all, who will bring you homemade soup when you’re sick (or homemade chili when your kitchen is out of commission because the entire thing is gutted and being renovated).

Here, our children have friends and familiar bike routes and sledding hills. They have parks and schools within walking distance. And even though they haven’t been able to see their friends in person in over a year (minus a few masked visits on the back patio), this is where I want to emerge from our quarantine. This is where I want to celebrate the miracle of science and medicine with our friends and neighbors. This is where I want to have patio parties and barbecues.

It’s hard to give all that up for the bells and whistles of a beautiful new house with its shiny floors and inviting white farm sink. (It was a beautiful sink.) How could we trade the comfort of a community we love so dearly for a brand new place that feels sterile by comparison? In a time when Covid has most of us needing comfort more than ever, I feel like a move to someplace new (though deeply desired on some level) would make me feel somehow more lost.

And so we drove home in silence, my husband disappointed and frustrated, me sniffling from the passenger’s seat. I ran out of tissues. There was a lot of crying. I couldn’t even feel relief once we’d made the decision not to buy because I knew I was disappointing the husband, and that’s a whole other level of internal grief.

All this to say – here? Here, I feel a sense of belonging I haven’t felt many places in my life. And maybe it won’t always be that way. Maybe someday the time will be right to move. Maybe now I can stop feeling this incessant urge to pick up and go. Maybe.

But for now? For now, this is where I belong.

Eleven Minutes

Publishing is brutal. It’s the first thing you learn as a new writer, and it’s a lesson reiterated at every step along the way. From drafting to critiquing to querying to subbing. Brutal. All of it.

Previously, my record on receiving a rejection for a query was thirty minutes from the time sent. Thirty minutes. I know what you’re thinking. How can anyone make up their mind so fast?

(The simple answer, of course, is that these kinds of responses from literary agents are part and parcel of the job. It’s their career. They can’t spend all day on one query. It’s business.)

And I totally get that. Time is money. And just like I can tell whether or not I’m going to enjoy a book by the back cover copy or by perusing a random page in the middle, agents know what they’re looking for, and when they find it, there’s no question. So thirty minutes? That’s fast, but I get it.

This week?

This week, I received a rejection eleven minutes after sending a query. I’m not sure I even had time to get my hopes up in thinking this agent might have been the one for me.

Eleven minutes.

Eleven.

No, really, I don’t think you understand how fast that is. You can’t even watch half an episode of My Little Pony in that time. (I’m a parent. MLP is how we measure time around here. What of it?)

Anyway.

All of this to say, hang in there, querying writers. I know exactly where you’re coming from. And as many times as we lament about long wait times* for query responses, I’m not sure the alternative is really any better.

A reminder…

Eleven. Minutes.

*Long wait times being six weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks, a year, or more…

Slogging

We don’t talk enough about how difficult writing really is. I mean, as writers, we talk a lot about how much we love writing. Characters – yay! Plot – so good! Setting – build those worlds, Queen! Tropes – all the tropes!

“I can’t wait until you can all see what I see in my head! Ahhhh!”

Hey. <snaps fingers>

Over here.

Yeah. I have some tough news to deliver. You* actually need to sit down and put those pieces together into a coherent story word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. Before others can share in the excitement, you* have to create the thing you* say you’re* so excited about creating.

Well, damn.

I guess that means writing words. And that probably means blogging about how writing is difficult doesn’t contribute to the story I’m currently slogging through.

(And reading about someone else’s difficulty writing doesn’t contribute to the story you’re supposed to be writing either. So why are you still here? Go write.)


*By “you,” I clearly mean me.

The Cold Hard Truth

In a recent post, I wrote about critiquing others’ works and getting feedback on my own work. In the last few days, I’ve been talking online with fellow querying writers, writers whose works I critiqued years ago, writers in my critique group, and writers whose work I continue to critique.

And all of this has really brought one cold hard truth to light.

I…am not a sugar-coater.

Like, for real.

I am not an easy-to-please reader. It’s not that I don’t want to love the things I’m reading. Truly, I want to.

But I also want to help make those things better, whether they’re novels, novellas, single chapters, poetry, or short stories. And if something I can say, a random thought in my head, can influence how a writer views their story’s structure, a character’s motivation, or the relatability of character arcs, then wouldn’t I be remiss not to share that thought?

And so, I have made many a writer friend cry.

But it’s not all bad.

I’m also the first to cheer on my friends and tell them when they’re on the right track. And I’m quick to remind them that my opinions aren’t “industry standard” and ultimately…THEY MEAN NOTHING!

Yes, that’s right. I just said it. My thoughts mean nothing. (Don’t tell my husband.)

Just yesterday, I had to say these very words to one of my newer critique partners who was exposed to my straight-shooting critique methods for the first time and left our session discouraged. Which means…I’ve failed as a critique partner. My goal is always to lift others up, not to cut them down.

Sometimes, just sometimes, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. I’d do well to remember it.

I promise I try to be sweet while dosing my brand of medicine. It just doesn’t always work out the way I plan and not everyone gets my kind of humor. Future critique partners beware.

On a side note, a fellow writer I beta-read for four years ago is an agented author and the manuscript I critiqued is headed to print shortly, available later this year. He reached out today to ask how I wanted my name printed in the acknowledgments section. And if that’s not the highest praise ever, I don’t know what is.

Privilege

Not going to lie. The banning of a certain someone from social media this week has me letting out a breath I didn’t know was holding. (I’m a YA author. You knew I had to use that phrase eventually, right?) There is still so much work to be done to right our listless ship of a country, but I’m an optimist at heart, and I’d like to think we can do it together.

In expressing my relief at today’s turn of events after my anger and horror at the events of two days ago on Facebook, I was accused of being an angry person. It was suggested that I’d be much happier if I turned off the news entirely and spent more time with my family.

The person who made this suggestion is a friend. A friend who means well. But ultimately a friend who has more privilege in the tip of his pinky finger than many people will ever have in their entire lives. He’s white. He’s male. He’s heterosexual. He’s Christian. He’s financially secure.

By suggesting I turn off the news to experience happiness, he’s saying that it’s okay to turn our backs on the millions of people in need across the country and around the world. He’s implying four-thousand American lives lost to Covid-19 a day isn’t worth being informed about.

He’s insinuating that we don’t need to know about families separated at the border, about women in those same camps being sterilized against their will, about Congress trying to remove healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic.

He’s saying we don’t need to hear about about the government’s refusal to care for its people, about its refusal to grant extended unemployment, to ensure its people have food and a place to live, to ensure access to clean water (Flint, MI still doesn’t have it). Never mind that the government is removing LGBTQ+ protections, packing the courts, or that dozens of counties across the U.S. are gerrymandered to ensure the minority party continues to rule as long as possible. He’s implying that a government not actually working for the people isn’t a problem for him. And it’s not. For the reasons I stated earlier.

He’s implying that those of us who do care enough to follow along in the news, those of us who call ourself activists because we attend peaceful protests* and write letters to our elected officials, don’t spend time with our families. We can’t, right? You can’t possibly spend time with your family and do all those pesky other things to fight for democracy and human lives.

Thing is? I wasn’t angry when I posted about smiling when I read that someone was banned from social media. But I became angry with my friend’s words. Turning my back so I can “be happy” in ignorance isn’t better than facing head on the ugliness this country has wrought in the last few years.

I want to see my children grow up in a world that is fair and free. In a country that embraces different cultures and traditions, where people in need are welcomed with open arms and given the opportunity to rest, recover, and thrive. I want my family to know that I’ve done everything I can do to make that future for them. And that they must do the same for others.

Because, and here’s the whole point:

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE THIS PRIVILEGE.

Full Stop.

We must be informed, seek truth, and fight for the things that are right. Always. Because without knowledge, without truth, ugly, ignorant opinions weigh just as important. And they’re not. Not by a long shot.

If you have privilege, use it. Use it to right the wrongs, to bring light to darkness, to fight the injustices in the world. It’s your duty.

It’s your privilege.

And mine.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

* NOT what took place at the Capitol on Wednesday; that was a mob of homegrown terrorists, not a protest.

The Benefits of Friendship

I head one of the local SCBWI critique groups in my county for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors and, friends, I must confess I feel a little guilty. Sometimes, this group seems like the L. Ryan Storms writing self-improvement hour. I get SO. MUCH. from my dear friends and our talks about what elements make a piece work or why a certain chapter maybe doesn’t work.

Is it difficult? It can be. It was definitely more difficult in the beginning when I realized I’d never shared my work in person before. (Also, I’m an introvert. Did I ever mention that? Once or twice maybe?) But as time went on, my nervousness disappeared and I began to look forward to the feedback offered to me by these kindred spirits who shared my love of stories and all things story-related.

Our group is fairly easygoing when it comes to the rules, but the general idea is:

Share your work if you have something to share. Give useful, critical feedback on others’ work (no breaking spirits allowed). And brainstorm together when it comes to what we like about a piece, who the audience is, where we think the storyline should go, or how the author can make it better.

I have been so very lucky to know such talented, thoughtful individuals who are willing to read a chapter of my work each month and tell me all the things I need to hear. The good things. The not-so-good things. Because without them, I’d be lost when it comes to catching my crutch words and phrases, my overused actions, my annoying, sarcastic main character (who is a bit of a bitch, tbh), her tendency to overreact from time to time, and the annoying boy love interest who, honestly, isn’t mad enough at the world around him when he should be.

I digress. Without my dear SCBWI group, I’d be lost. I interact with at least a few “lost” writers on Twitter every week, those who aren’t sure if their material works, who feel like they’re embarking on this crazy journey alone, who cry and threaten to never write again, who fear they’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as successful as… (insert famous author name here).

My biggest advice to them is:

Find your people.

There’s so much more to explore in the craft when you do it together. There’s so much more to learn, to unravel, to dissect and put back together when you have a posse. Find your posse. Find your people. When you do, the possibilities open wide.

But Storms, how do I find my people?

Good question. For me, the answer was partially on Twitter, where I interacted with strangers who became friends over the course of both time and multiple in-person meetups and conferences. And the answer was also to join a professional organization like SCBWI to interact with others who were writing in the same age categories. I attended a meet-up or two, met a few members, volunteered to start my own critique group because none of the times/days of the other groups worked for me, and met even more amazing writers at all stages of the game.

Some were traditionally published, some independently published, some agented, some querying, some just beginning to test the waters by admitting publicly (gasp!) that they write. And therein lies the beauty of the writing community. I’ve never met a community so open – so willing – to help others along the way.

The answer is not necessarily to join SCBWI. (Though I would argue that this move is infinitely beneficial in ways too numerous to count. If you write for children or young adults, join SCBWI. Do it.) There are dozens of other professional writing organizations out there. The key is to find what works for you and jump in, whether you think you’re ready or not.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to writers you know and writers you don’t. Read works by published authors. Beta-read manuscripts for unpublished authors. Offer valuable feedback, and get feedback on your work. Writing is a lonely craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life. Friends are everywhere. Just hit that ‘Follow’ button.*

Look at all those amazing writers (and readers)!

*Okay, for real, only follow writers you want to interact with. Don’t follow creepers. Don’t follow horrible people. Don’t follow people who look like they will DM you ‘hi pretty lady.’ Don’t follow bots. Don’t follow everyone for the sake of numbers. Find your people. Now go!

2020 Wrap Up

I shoot some stats just about every year, mostly to prove to myself that, yes, I *am* actually moving forward in this thing called a writing career.

Given the craziness of 2020 all around, *I* wouldn’t even blame me if I’d chosen to fall off the face of the earth, or hide under a blanket and never come out. But we’re stronger than that here in the Storms household. Which means, nevertheless, we persist.

And persist we did.

2020 Writing

Books published: 1
eBooks published: 1
Signing events attended: 0 – Thank you very much, COVID. (Also, get your vaccine so you can come to 2021 signings. Because they will be happening as soon as I get my vaccine and the world is in a better place all around.)
Independent Book Award Entries: 4
Manuscript words written: >90,000
YA manuscripts finished: 1
PB manuscripts finished: 1
YA manuscripts started: 1
Adult manuscripts started: 1
Manscripts queried: 3
Queries sent: 96
Query rejections: 55
Query no response: 33
Queries still open: 19
Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2020): 7
Online pitch contests entered: 2
Blog posts written: 11
Number of new SCBWI critique group members discovered: 1 (We’re up to 5 in our cozy little group!)
Writing friends made: Never enough! Writers, find me on Twitter.

Happy Holidays, friends! I hope you’re all safe and healthy and happy and that 2021 brings new and great things. (Preferably all good things, no more disasters and viruses, please. 2020 brought plenty of that, thanks.)

Much love to you all, from my house to yours! xo

Santa came to our house. If you celebrate, hopefully he visited you, too!