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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?”

Storms full page program ad for Dance Centers
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.

 

The Never Expected and Always Unthinkable

If you’ve been following me for a while, odds are good that you know the health crisis we’ve been through over the last year as my husband faced a scary pancreatic cancer diagnosis last spring. The kind of diagnosis you’re not supposed to get at 43.

It was awful. It was traumatic. And until this week, I’d kind of sort of managed to tuck it away in the deep recesses of my mind. Because let’s face it—you can’t think about this kind of thing every day or you’ll actually drive yourself out of your head with worry, the kind of worry that comes with anxious, nervous energy that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning every night with no one but your miserable self to keep you company.

And then this week someone I know on Twitter (I can’t even call her a ‘friend’—we’ve never had a single personal conversation!), a Pitchwars mentor & writer whose debut book just came out this month, a woman who is living her dream—the same dream I have—just got word that her husband had been hit by a car and was in the ICU at the hospital. I don’t know the details. I know only what she has shared on Twitter.

But her story has hit me so hard this week. So hard. Because it seems like even when things are really good, they can still be really bad. Clarissa recently tweeted about how wonderful the doctors and nurses are, about how they’re making sure that she’s taking care of herself, too. And it brought the memories flooding back.

The day I couldn’t eat because I woke up with such severe anxiety three days after my husband’s surgery that my stomach had cramped into one big knot. The nurse on shift that day didn’t say anything right away, but by 3 p.m., she gave me a knowing expression with worried eyes that I swear could see right into my soul and she asked me, “Have you eaten anything today?” I hadn’t. I couldn’t. So when I finally managed to eat a banana at 7 p.m., I made sure to let her know. Nurses are amazing. They are incredible human beings who give so much more than I ever knew was humanly possible to give to perfect strangers.

And in one tweet, Clarissa sent me right back to those horrible moments after the big surgery, the ones I pushed aside for the last nine months. My heart goes out to Clarissa and her family. I know what she’s going through. I know the fear and the worry and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same—that your entire future is nothing more than one big question mark.

I hope that you’ll join me in supporting Clarissa Goenawan and her husband in the weeks and months of trials they’ll have ahead of them. The medical bills can add up so quickly that it takes your breath away when you stop to think about it. We spent over $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses last year. Without insurance, it would have been well over $300,000. Life can turn on a dime and moments like these are sharp reminders to hold our loved ones tight and appreciate all we have been given.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 8.19.19 PMMany prayers for Clarissa and Choo and for a quick and complete recovery and a return to normal life.

And if you want to support a debut author in another most appreciated way, pick up a copy of her book, Rainbirds, released March 6th of this year.

 

Meet Author Ralph Walker

Hi guys and gals! One of the most exciting things for a writer is getting published! A close second is celebrating and promoting other writers who are getting published! And that’s what I’m doing today. I ‘met’ author and architect Ralph Walker on Twitter about a year ago when I was getting ready to head to the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And YAY for hashtag connections or I might not have actually gotten a chance to know him at all.

Thanks to the #Phillyww hashtag, even though I didn’t get a chance to meet Ralph in person (there were a lot of people and I was suffering from introvert-paralysis), I’ve been delighted to follow him on Twitter, and cheer him on through his journey to publishing and his goal to hit #100rejections. But more importantly, I’ve been excited to share his publishing successes.

So without further ado, I give you—Ralph Walker!


Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog. For readers who don’t know me, I’m Ralph Walker. I am an architect in New Jersey and I write speculative fiction, particularly near future science fiction.

Tell me a little about what you mean by Speculative Fiction?

Speculative fiction deals with the question of WHAT IF? What if Elephants could fly? (Dumbo). What if we forgot somebody on Mars? (The Martian). What if the world we see in a game was real? (Ready Player One). Speculative Fiction permeates popular culture, but it is really centered on that question of ‘What If?’

For me, I try to focus on ideas and things that are so close you can almost taste them. One of the first stories I published; Gators in Kansas, was about underwater farming, something that is really happening today, but I tried to push the idea further and explore other issues like climate change, immigration and the craft economy.

Gators in Kansas was featured in UnCommon Lands, which is available for purchase here.

And Near Future Science Fiction?

Many science fiction writers focus on space and beyond. I try to write closer to home both in time and place. The changes in our cities and landscapes are changing at a sprint, and I see so many stories in what might happen tomorrow, or the day after that. I like to imagine ideas that my children or grandkids might experience.

Are you an optimistic writer? 

That is a loaded question. I’m an optimist at heart, but in my writing I am looking for ways to break things. I don’t remember who said it, but another writer once said ‘A driverless car isn’t interesting until you know how to crash it.’ Or something like that. I love to take the best ideas I can come up with and turn them on their head. My characters have to have the stamina and wit to move the story forward. I fill my characters with hope and optimism even if the world around them is broken.

What inspires you?

So many things. I have the privilege to work in architecture and design every day. In my work I get to reimagine the built environment, but I also am faced with the realities of a changing climate, speedy technology and human nature. I love seeing how buildings age and where the natural environment evolves around what we build.

Near my office there is a river walk where I often take my lunch break. A long path runs along the river and it is a nice respite on the day. At one point on the path there is a tree that has grown, I kid you not, completely around a traffic barrier. Not a branch or some leaves, but the whole trunk widened out and encased the steel barrier. I don’t think they can ever be separated now without killing the tree and removing the steel. At least once a week I walk past that tree and get lost thinking about how that could have happened. I feel like that is where our world is today.

How does your writing process work?

I am a morning writer. I try to get out of bed and get straight to the work. Slippers, coffee, words in that order. I’ve been doing the #5amwritersclub for years now and it works for me. No I don’t get up at 5am every morning, but 4-5 days a week I am there pounding on the keyboard. Usually I’ll get a few pages done and then get on with the rest of my day.

Outside of my morning writing I try to let myself ruminate on the story I am working on. I keep note cards with me and will scrawl out ideas for a character or a scene while I am at lunch, or on a train. Those bits of ideas wind up on my desk at night and are waiting for me the next morning. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they are just trash. The good ones wind up taped to my wall somewhere.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I have a few stories in various states of unrest. I am really good at starting something and getting through the first act and then stalling out, so I am trying to finish a draft of something short each month. My current story is a horror piece about a divorced couple trapped in an acid rain storm. I’m not sure if it is going to make it into the Rising Waters series or take a different form, but it is a fun piece to write.

Tell me more about the Rising Waters Series.

Rising Waters grew out of my love for short speculative fiction. The past few years I have been writing a half dozen or more stories each year. Looking over these stories a theme emerged around personal technology and climate change. I am really drawn to stories that poke at the ideas of what lies just around the corner or just out of reach. I want to tell those kinds of stories.

Why make it a series? Why not just release an anthology? 

I think that people are oversaturated with media these days and most of us can’t consume a whole book or anthology in one sitting. I wanted to make these stories fit into a small space. Something you might read on your commute, or waiting for a child to finish a swim lesson, and feel satisfied with the experience. Personally I like reading a short story in a single sitting and I hope readers will enjoy that experience with these too.

I heard a rumor that you have a book about a flying iceberg? Tell me more.

(Muffles laughter) I have been working on an Eco-Thriller about a washed out coast guard pilot who gets caught up with a Greenpeace / Whale Wars type group who is trying to stop a corporation from stealing ice from Alaska. I don’t want to give away too much yet, but there might be something to the rumors you’ve heard.

Awesome, let me know when you can share more. 

Will do.

What keeps you going on your writing path?

Besides the characters that wake me up every morning?

As an architect I work in a very collaborative profession. I get to create every day and work with amazing people, but I don’t always have the opportunity to create art for art’s sake. My writing habit was born out of needing to find another outlet to express myself artistically.

I am also lucky to be engaged with an amazing writing community. #5amwritersclub has been a godsend to me. Those folks inspire me every day just by showing up, and I’m really jazzed when I hear about their successes. I’ve seen them all bust their hump to get the words down and it shows in the work.

I hear you bring donuts?

Yeah. That started a couple of years ago (yes, years). I was joking online with another writer friend about needing a reward for showing up all week and we started sending each other virtual donuts on Fridays. Now I bring them for the whole crew. Friday Donut GIFs usually turn into Friday Dance Party GIFs and then it is just a free for all.

 

But you still get your work done?

Somehow. Last Friday I pounded out nine pages between shenanigans. I think we all know we have limited time, so the pressure is on to knock out the pages. I’m a father too, and my little ones don’t let me forget it.

What are you reading? What is your favorite fiction book?

Honestly I jump around in my reading. I read a lot, some in print, some on e-reader, some on audible, but there is always a book in my hand or in my ear.

I try to balance between fiction and non-fiction, but I often go on jags where I read whole series in a short span. Last year I was obsessed with VE Schwab and Pierce Brown. Then I bounced to The Art of Starving by Sam Miller. That book slayed me. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Right now I am on a short story jag. I’ve been rereading Kelly Link’s Get In Trouble and trying to read all of the Hugo Nominated stories. While I love novels, I really think some of the most exciting writing out there comes from short stories.

What can you tell me about your newest story; Stealing Air?

Stealing Air is, as you might imagine, a heist story. It follows a band of thieves as they attempt to covertly steal a very expensive drug that makes it easier to breath. Nora, our heroine, needs the drug not only to make money, but also for her ailing husband. In this adventure she is taken from the woods of Appalachia to a craft air manufacturer in the sky where she discovers a real treasure.

This is a story about unintended consequences of messing with nature. It was inspired by the debate about putting Fluoride in drinking water and more recent events in Flint, Michigan.

I hope you’ll check it out, and if you like it share it with your friends.

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Where can we find you or your work?

You can find my stories at Amazon here.

Or, if you are in New Jersey you can pick up the UnCommon Lands Anthology at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ.

I am very active on Twitter. Come say hi at @RW_Igloo

My website is www.ralphwalkerauthor.com

 

 


 

That’s all from Ralph. But wait, there’s more! You didn’t think I’d let you leave without enticing you into a giveaway, did you? Enter for a chance to win a paperback copy of Uncommon Lands, featuring Ralph’s ‘Gators in Kansas.’

The Rafflecopter giveaway starts March 20th and ends March 31st with several opportunities to win!