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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!

Fledgling

Every writer knows one of the very best feelings in the world is the moment a shiny, new idea takes shape in your head, and you can’t shake it. And when that shiny, new idea involves collaborating with your 14-year-old kiddo, it’s even better.

A few months ago, my very artistic and talented daughter had to conceptualize a children’s book as a project for her Family Consumer Science class. (For us old folk, that’s 2020 speak for Home-Ec.) They were covering an early childhood development module, and she decided to create a book to help teach children their colors. Since birds come in all colors of the rainbow, she pitched a book about a bird who wanted to see a rainbow of feathers in the Amazon rainforest. She diligently crafted the proposal and even included a sketch or two. Project complete. (She received a A+, btw.)

This shiny, new idea isn’t that book.

BUT.

It *is* a picture book about a bird and a bird family. And working on it with my daughter is one of the most rewarding experiences any mother could hope to have. A combination of written word and visual art, this project is pure excitement for both of us.

In a time when teens are distant and hanging with the family is a serious faux-pas, I have the opportunity to relish my daughter’s enthusiasm for this project, and her willingness to foray (with me!) into something uncertain, into a project that may or may not come to fruition. I’m soaking in our time together and our collaborative effort to dive whole-heartedly into a creative realm we both adore. Storytelling.

Whether by word or by illustration, books make our lives more colorful, more vibrant, more worth living. They entertain and encourage. They create empathy and interest in the world around us. They enable us to learn from the time we’re in the womb straight through our very oldest years. Storytelling is a craft as old as human existence, a tradition passed down from generation to generation.

Taking part in that tradition by creating stories with my daughter and friend is a privilege I will always treasure. My young fledgling isn’t quite ready to leave the nest just yet, but I hope when she someday does she’ll think on our time together and will be reminded to always reach for those shiny, new ideas.

Stretch those wings, little bird.

Concept art for our upcoming picture book. Want to see more of younger Storms’s art? Follow her on Instagram at @dragonartist06.

2020 Surprises

2020 has had its share of surprises, most of them quite nasty.

So imagine my surprise when I realized The Heart of Death released early. I think my heart skipped a few beats, but you know what? I can’t even complain. Compared with the rest of 2020, this kind of shock is mild. So I’m running with it.

Turns out the second book in The Tarrowburn Prophecies is available for purchase today. That means you get to read it a full month before its original release date of November 24th.

(And I missed my release day cupcakes! Oh no! Guess I’ll have to pick some up tomorrow…)

So, seriously, go order it right now! Need a signed copy for yourself or as a gift? Contact me and I’ll send one as soon as I get my order in.

Happy (Surprise) Release Day to me!

ORDER NOW

The Heart of Death

Friends.

The Heart of Death officially has a cover. A beautiful, phenomenal, amazing cover.

If you aren’t already following her, please check out my amazing cover artist, Jess Bieber on Twitter or browse her website at www.entertheglow.com.

I am beyond grateful to Jess for bringing one of my stories to life in another breath-taking image.

Pre-order The Heart of Death (The Tarrowburn Prophecies #2) on October 20th, 2020.

You go, girl.

Gonna talk about something I’ve noticed frequently among my friends. A serious lack of self-confidence. This doesn’t apply to all of my friends, of course. (In fact, some of them could probably use at least a thimbleful or two of humility.) But when it comes to my girlfriends in particular, I see a pattern of self-doubt that borders on self-sabotage and depression. And it breaks my heart. So I’m calling it out when I see it. If you see yourself in these stories, maybe it’s time to reassess your outlook, too!

A few examples. Names have been changed.

Let’s talk about my friend Elaina. Elaina is an incredible artist. One of the best I’ve ever seen, and anyone who has seen her work cannot stop raving about it. Her talent and skill is phenomenal on a scale that I can’t even begin to comprehend, but when I try to mention this, she’s quick to respond with comments about her art not holding a candle to “professional” artists out there. She constantly insists her work is unimpressive and says that “anyone can do it.” (No. No, they cannot. Trust me.) I’ve spoken to numerous other folks who’ve seen her work. No one — NO ONE — can understand why she would say such a thing. She has an incredible eye and the skill to bring amazing creations to life. I’m not sure why Elaina would think, even for a moment, that she doesn’t have the same level of talent as other top-level artists.

Next, the story of Jillian, an established writer across multiple genres, she thinks slow sales or a 4-star review instead of 5 means that she’s not good at what she does. She expresses out loud her feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth and threatens to give up on writing, even though she eats, sleeps, and breathes storytelling. She lets other people’s comments on her books determine her entire outlook for a day, a week, or more. Why? (By the way, I’d love for a 4-star to be my lowest review…ha!) She loves her books until she reads critical reviews, and then she can see nothing but the negative in them. But she’s a talented writer who lives for creating characters and stories that enchant.

And then there’s Theresa. Theresa has been stuck in the same position in a workplace she hates for a decade. Why? Because she doesn’t have enough self-confidence to believe that she could work somewhere else, because the workplace has beat her down to a point where she believes she really has no choice but to stay. She’s in a toxic environment, but is afraid no one else will want her, so she stays in a stagnant position and never tries to move forward. What could she achieve if only she tried?

Friends. What are we doing to ourselves? What. Are. We. Doing.

Why are we self-sabotaging ourselves and our careers?

Girl silhouette with stars and moon

Girls–women–it’s time to bolster our self-worth. The world is a mean enough place on its own. It’s sad and awful and there’s so much that needs to change. (Please, please, please change soon!) But beating up on ourselves? That’s something that should never happen to begin with. To my women friends, know that every time you put yourself down, you’re showing a young girl that she shouldn’t believe in herself. Every time you refuse to acknowledge your self-worth, girls around you pick up on the signals you’re sending. Every time you say you’re not good enough, not smart enough, not skilled enough, not talented enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not tall enough, you’re setting the stage for the next generation of self-sabotage.

I have two daughters. I want them to believe in the power they have over their own lives. We are not here by chance. Our lives are what we make of them.

(A brief aside here — I must recognize that we are also victims of our circumstances, and not all of us start at the same place in life. Some of us face advantages while others must deal with significant disadvantages. While I can acknowledge this is the case, that’s a blog post for another day.)

Women. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to?

So, girl? Go. Go make it happen. Whatever it is you dream. Whatever you hope. You go, girl. Because you? You are amazing. If only you would believe it.

Never Say Quit

Did some cool things this past week.

Set-up The Heart of Death (The Tarrowburn Prophecies, Book 2) for publication, put it on Goodreads, queried a handful of literary agents with a different manuscript, and shared my query spreadsheet with a fellow writer so he can begin his foray into querying a YA fantasy.

Yes, I shared that file even with all its red rejection lines. Make no mistake, friends, there are a lot of red lines. So much red. My spreadsheet virtually bleeds.

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 10.46.11 AM

And that got me thinking.

I am really, really bad at giving up…

…which is particularly ironic given all the activities I quit in my childhood. Little League, gymnastics, dance, violin (twice), cross-country, and horseback riding lessons (too many times to count). You name it, I probably quit it.

But 6 books in, and I haven’t quit on writing. I can’t quit writing. For people like me, the need to write is like the need to breathe. It’s part of my DNA.

People say I shouldn’t share this spreadsheet publicly because it shows agents I’m currently querying how many times a project has already been rejected by others, and they’ll be reluctant to represent the project as a result. And I say…phooey.

I want to be transparent. I want emerging writers to expect to occupy the querying trenches for more than a few months. (Make no mistake. I’ve been in the querying trenches for over five years now.) As writers, we hear story after story about others being offered representation on their very first project. We’re shown blinding success stories from contests like PitchWars, which makes it more and more difficult to see success for what it is – hard work, not just blind luck. (Yes, PitchWars peeps do a lot of work, but that’s not often visible to the general public, so it looks like a quick and easy path to publishing, too.)

To the writers who’ve written one book and are distraught because it’s not garnering attention from the agents you’re querying, my advice is write another book. And another one after that.

This is life. This is reality. Writing is hard work. Editing is hard work. Querying is hard work. I imagine going on sub is…hard work.

Quitting? Not an option.

Why is My Hair Curly?

Today I have the opportunity to welcome a wonderful friend and fellow author, Lakshmi Iyer, to the blog! I first met Lakshmi at the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop in April of headshot2017. She’s been a confidant for my self-doubt and a cheerleader of my work, and I’m beyond excited to get to cheer her on in return as her book, Why is My Hair Curly?, debuts this week. I couldn’t be more thrilled! Please join me in welcoming Lakshmi to the blog.

LRS: Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. I can’t wait to learn more about your story.

LI: Good afternoon! I can’t wait to get started.

LRS: What prompted you to write Why is My Hair Curly?

LI: Last May, I woke to a message from an editor from Westland Publisher asking if I was willing to talk with her. I was skeptical, so I did some googling and decided to talk to her. She said she reads my blog occasionally and was curious to know if I was willing to write children’s fiction. I blanked out. I have up until then written largely personal essays. The one fictional work I attempted languished in some hard drive somewhere. I said I could try. After a lot of discussion, I wrote up a proposal for a series. Then we whittled it down to one book. The story took shape as I wrote the proposal.

Until that point, I had not actively considered writing fiction. Now that there was an opportunity to address the most impressionable of ages, I had a choice. I wanted to take on difficult topics. Our changing bodies, sexuality, bigotry etc. The publisher was keen however not to take on heavy subjects. Her mantra was ‘keep it light.’

Adoption is something I think about a lot. I write about our lives. I write about openness. I talk to so many couples hoping to adopt. This publisher is based out of India. Openness is not common. Talking to children about birth history and birth families is not easy when you have very little chance of finding the birth families even if you wanted to keep the adoption open. I grappled with the fact that if I did write it from the point of view of a child, I really would be speaking for an adoptee despite not having the lived experience of being an adoptee.

This was an idea that would not let go. Each morning as I walked or showered or cooked, Avantika haunted my thoughts. I have no idea where that name came from. She just was in my thoughts and wouldn’t let go. It took about two months for me to have an outline that worked. I wrote down the first draft in ten days. The revision happened over the course of the next few months. A year after the publisher reached out to me, the book will be out into the world.

LRS: I love this. A character who won’t let go! So, who is your target audience for the book?

LI: Children between the ages of 8-12. The story is simple, the language simple. The topic is universal.

LRS: What do you love most about your main character?

LI: I love that she thinks a lot. When Avantika wrestles with huge feelings, she writes in her diary. She explores her thoughts to make sense of it. She does not suppress them. She works on them and does not hesitate to go down the hard parts.

LRS: That’s a great message for children. Are any of the characters in the book built on people you know or experiences you’ve had in your own life?

LI: Almost all of them. It comes from being a creative non fiction writer. My life is my muse. Avantika’s preoccupation with books and her need to write was me as a child. Avantika’s mom as she runs around frazzled and rarely smiling is all of my mom friends. Avantika’s dad is a combination of my dad as he was and as I wanted him to be. Saraswathy paati is the wise person I want to be when I grow up

LRS: What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

LI: I have an old manuscript that is dear to me. It explores the Indian immigrant experience. It traces two couples as they grapple with infertility, memories of #Metoo and trying to find closure. The entire plot is set in the past which wise literary people tell me won’t work. Someday, I hope to find an agent or a publisher willing to take my raw, honest work and shape it into something that sells. I also have my memoir outlined and partially written. I even have a proposal to go with it. I have been putting off querying and trying to find a home for it. Perhaps, a part of me is hoping the universe will conspire and send a publisher my way. 🙂

LRS: If the awful virus hadn’t waged war on the world, where would you be traveling to promote the launch of your book?

LI: India of course. I would have been in Chennai, Coimbatore (both places featured in the book), Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. In fact, I would have been happy to travel anywhere so long as it was paid for.

LRS: Lastly, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?

LI: The ability to forgive myself when I say or do something I know is wrong. I am exceptionally harsh on myself even though it does nothing to prevent me from making the same mistake again.

LRS: Forgiveness is so important. Hugs to you, my friend!

Ready to buy the book for a child you know? (Or for, you know…YOU?) Order your Kindle version here!  Paperback coming July 20th. Happy Book Birthday, Lakshmi! What a beautiful gift you’ve given the world!

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