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Owning It

A large part of succeeding as a writer boils down to your willingness to put in the time. Can you accept sitting at a desk, dreaming up worlds, typing (or scribbling) the words, and getting it done? The answer to these questions has always been a resounding yes for me, but I tend to fail when it comes to putting in the face time.

I did just that this weekend. I put in the face time and met dozens of wonderful writers and agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. It was fabulous. I participated in PitchSlam, in which authors are given one hour to pitch as many agents as they can in three-minute segments. (Truly, it’s any introvert’s nightmare.)

But you know what? While I was nervous going into my first pitch, it melted away quickly. Why? Because I discovered something as I delved into conversation with these agents. I found myself admitting something surprising. Out loud.

I love my book. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the interactions and the quirks and the personalities. It was a fun book to write and I had fun writing it! And when you enjoy your story, I think it shows. You start to enjoy talking about it and telling people why it’s something they’ll want to read…which makes it a lot easier to pitch.

Proof? I pitched 6 agents and all 6 made requests for partial manuscripts (requested lengths varied). This may or may not result in progress moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point? When you love your work, it shows. 

Writers. Friends. I have one piece of advice for you. LOVE YOUR WORK. It’s yours. You wrote it because you loved it. 

Now own it.

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So many fabulous writers. Dinner on a Friday night.

The Girl Who Fell

_MG_7483We just returned from our trip to Prince Edward Island and, friends, I have fallen. I have fallen deeply, madly in love.

All vacations are lovely, but none of them have ever left me with a desire to relocate my entire family as soon as humanly possible. I loved the Bahamas and Jamaica. England and Wales were beautiful. France was amazing. I’ve even been to Montreal, so it’s not like this was my first stop in Canada. And I’ve traveled eight-thousand miles across the U.S., stopping in 22 states along the way, so I’ve seen my fair share of our own beautiful country.

But the utterly breathtaking views of Prince Edward Island—the oceans, the dunes, the grasses, the fields—it was the first time in a very long time where I felt I could breathe, truly breathe.

I’ve never considered leaving the country before, not really. Yet I find myself perusing the real estate listings on PEI and researching jobs and weather. Who knows? If I’m lucky and I plan things just right, maybe PEI is in my future. I know it’s already in my heart.


(If I could just convince the world that I’m an author and that my books are worth buying…that would be something. When the day comes where I finally sell my books, the ‘PEI Relocation’ fund will officially be a thing in the Storms household. I vow it.)

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The Value of One Year

Can you measure the worth of a year? How do you set the price? In dollars? In euros? In pesos? Can you put a price on it at all?

When you get a cancer diagnosis, you find out just how much your time with loved ones is really worth, and just how much more of that time you want. One year ago, we found out.

One year ago, my husband was diagnosed with a rare type of pancreatic cancer. One year ago, the doctors saved his life.

And mine.

If you want to know the value of a year, ask anyone who has faced this kind of diagnosis or worse. We were lucky. His was only a stage 1B. Prognosis is good. Our future is optimistic.

But that doesn’t stop me from asking ‘What if?’ a hundred-thousand times a day. What if things had been different?

So if you want to know what a year is truly worth, spend an afternoon with a cancer survivor and ask them to share their experience. And never take for granted another year, another day, another minute, again.

June 5, 2017 changed our lives forever. I have felt a level of gratitude every day of this past year greater than I could ever have imagined. If you want to know the value of one year, simply ask yourself, “What if?”

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The ad we placed in this year’s dance program.

Where Dreams and Reality Collide

There’s a job opening in a microbiology laboratory where I used to work. I’ve said often to friends and family how much I missed working in the micro lab, how much fun the testing could be, how interesting the job. And yet…

I have no less than four headhunters who have emailed me about this position in the past 48 hours. It’s a contract position with the potential for permanent work. But do I want permanent work? Do I want to commit my hours to working for dollars instead of writing for none? Am I ready to give up on a dream of writing novels full-time to have the security and extra money a job outside the home would bring?

Before you comment, let me stop you. 1. I’ve heard all these arguments before, and 2. I’ve been having the same conversation with myself for days now. It’s not giving up on a dream to accept the reality of supporting your family and easing the financial burden by helping to bear the load. But there’s a lot to consider because taking a full time job outside of the house is more than just 40 hours a week. It’s also 7-10 hours of commute time. 

Beyond that, it’s giving up all the luxuries I currently have. No, not the financial luxuries. I’m talking about the school field trips I chaperone, the classrooms I assist in for fun activities, the holiday parties I can help plan for my kids. These are the things I can never get back, the things time won’t wait on. By going back to work full time, I’d be putting my kids and family second again – at least as far as time constraints go. (Certainly not in regards to feelings!)

So, while there’s a part of me that longs for the financial freedom a second household income would bring, and the knowledge that I’m helping my husband to bear the financial load a bit more, I think I’ll pass on the microbiology lab for now. The lab will be there in five years and in ten. My 8 and 12-year-olds will not. Time has a habit of stealing our youth and I intend to build as many memories with my kids as I can while they’re still young.

And writing? I will always have writing. Being home just allows me to pursue it more passionately.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have some faces to paint at the 6th grade school carnival in a half hour and rocks to paint in a 2nd grade classroom later today. Pharmaceutical microbiology and financial freedom can wait.

 

Who Run the World?

One of the things I love most in young adult fantasy is how often I get to read from the point of view of a strong female protagonist. Too often in real life, it’s expected that young women will follow societal expectations and quietly follow their path through school, college, careers, motherhood, and whatever might lie beyond.

Boys, on the other hand, have always been encouraged to take the less traveled path—to go on great adventures before ‘settling down’, to ’sow the wild oats’ as they say. And for a long time, literature has reflected this.

But in recent years, YA Fantasy has taken a turn toward following strong young women on their adventures and…I…am…loving…it! Where were these great books when *I* was growing up?

I just finished reading The Hunger Games series (a day late and a dollar short, I know) and one of the things I most love about how Suzanne Collins portrayed Katniss was her refusal to paint Katniss as anything but who she was. I lost count of the number of times I read about Katniss stuffing her face and it was amazing. She wasn’t ‘dainty’ because she was a young woman. She didn’t delight in attention and, in fact, she wanted nothing to do with it. She was a reluctant heroine who wanted only to save the people she loved.

And that was what I loved most about the series. We followed a young woman with conviction and agency, a woman who didn’t set out to change the world, only to protect her family. But one thing leads to another until the only way to protect her family is to change the world. It was done so organically that the reader hardly even registers the change in Katniss’s directive throughout the series. Brilliant.

If you’re looking for more YA Fantasy featuring strong young women who make their own decisions, saving themselves and those they love, I’ve listed several great novels to check out in my last blog post. As someone who often claims ‘Stubborn’ to be my middle-name, I adore reading about these stubborn, independent young women saving the world. Just don’t ask me how I like raising stubborn, independent young women (mine are 8 and 12 years old)…because that’s a post for a whole other day!

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My own stubborn, independent young women.

Young Adult Fantasy (Yes, it’s for Everyone)

I read. I read a lot. Even when the weather (finally) changes and a warm breeze replaces the arctic winds of winter, I’m no less likely to be found lounging on a couch, a book in hand. The only difference is that I probably have the windows open.

I like to read a little bit of everything, but of all the genres and all the age categories, I find Young Adult Fantasy to be my favorite. Why? (TL:DR? Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Oh, let me count the ways.

YA Fantasy worlds & world-building: I am an enormous geek when it comes to the natural world around us. Biology is magic and the sheer diversity of it is staggering. Someone I follow on Twitter recently tweeted about David Attenborough and it reminded me of how much he once inspired my love of the natural world. (As did many of my college professors, but they don’t narrate specials on Animal Planet or National Geographic, so…) For me, YA Fantasy has taken my love of nature one step further. A good YA Fantasy draws you into a new and unfamiliar alien landscape, yet makes it seem as familiar as our own Earth. 

World-building in any genre is important, but in YA Fantasy, it’s a crucial element in order to create a new land that’s both foreign and familiar at the same time. It’s a skill good fantasy authors master early. I don’t just want to read about the birds singing in the trees. I want to know which birds in which trees. Paint their feathers for me and make the fronds of the trees filter the alien sunlight onto a dirt floor that’s littered with forest debris. Where do the birds nest? What’s their song like? Do the birds eat nuts and berries or do they steal the eggs of others’ young right from their nests? Are there myths surrounding the birds? What kind of stories have people told about them? I want to breathe it all in as though I’m really there, and that’s one of the reasons YA Fantasy is my favorite. The lush world-building just can’t be beat and there is literally no limit to the number of fantastical settings and creatures that can be created.

YA Fantasy protagonists: When I was a teen, I was quiet, soft-spoken in crowds, and always pictured myself as a real-life sidekick, certainly not a kickass dragon-riding protagonist who could master the forces of magic and shape the future of an alien world. As a teen, reading YA Fantasy allowed me to escape into a world where not only was I a main character (or following along in the life of one), but I was a confident one, even when faced with danger. It was exhilarating. It’s a way to open teen minds without feeling the pressure of the very real dangers of today’s world.

Plus, let’s not forget how much fun being a teenager really is. In real life? Pimples, exams, puberty, peer pressure, driver’s license test, college choices (“What do you want to do? What do you want to be? Decide now. Now, now!”)… The list goes on and on, but YA Fantasy pushes all that aside and focuses on giving teens choices that maybe aren’t so mundane. Instead of asking teens to face the world as it stands around them, YA Fantasy asks teens to face a new world where they can safely explore life and death choices and empathize with characters who face decisions that are much more terrifying than their own real-life ones!

YA Fantasy protagonists are a mix of grit and insecurity (much like real-life teens) and what makes them worth following is how they grow as characters. Character arcs in YA Fantasy are beyond fun to watch! Good luck trying to get a 25-year-old protagonist to make the kind of progress you can make with a 16-year-old in half the time.

YA Fantasy Influence: Perhaps the best reason of all to read YA Fantasy? To see how it has shaped teenagers in today’s world. The kids from Parkland, FL took everyone by storm when they refused to let a culture of gun violence remain the norm. But why were they so quick to speak out? What made their experience different from so many other incidents that had come before? These kids were raised on a steady diet of book and movie series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. They’ve seen teens who look and act just like them as protagonists in their own lives. They’ve seen characters make a difference, defeat ‘evil,’ and come out better on the other side. YA Fantasy is so much more than teens saving their worlds. It gives today’s real world teens a voice and the hope that they, too, might change their world for good. I can’t think of a more noble reason to jump into the next YA Fantasy…

 

TL:DR

YA Fantasy is a genre everyone should read and it’s not just for tweens and teens to enjoy. Ready to delve in? Need a place to start? Try these:

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Frostblood by Elly Blake

A Writer in Waiting

My sink is full of dirty dishes, my dishwasher full of clean. The laundry needs to be moved to the dryer and the carpets could certainly use a vacuum. But I am a writer waiting on betas. Which means I must refresh my email exactly 12,483 times a day to see if anyone has left me feedback.

What?

Yes, I know I have a problem. And yes, going on submission is far worse. I understand.

But none of this stops me from wandering the house listlessly, contemplating my own existence.

I’ve taken up learning French. Does it help?

Non.