#8pmWritingSprint

Any artist will tell you the key to progressing in an artistic endeavor is consistency. This applies to painting, drawing, digital art, music composition, and yes, writing. Maybe especially writing.

It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that, six months ago, I was deep in a writer’s block. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write–I really, REALLY did. Putting aside the very unexpected whirlwind that stemmed from my husband’s second cancer diagnosis in four years, I didn’t know where the story was going, I didn’t have a reliable outline, and I had zero motivation to sit down and get the words down. I was so paralyzed by my fear of taking the story in the wrong direction and disappointing readers that I basically took it in no direction.

Fast forward to November, a month when writers simultaneously delight and despair in NaNoWriMo, an attempt to get 50k words written in a single month, and I forced myself to get words written. I still didn’t know where the story was going, but I knew I could definitely bullshit my way through at least 10-20k words with random scenes that would probably find their way into the novel somewhere. So that’s what I did.

Hooray, block over!

If only.

I added 10k words to the already existing 30k I had for a grand total of–drumroll, please–40k. Or less than half the word count needed for this novel.

It wasn’t until January that I really found my motivation again. In chatting with author Margot Ryan on Twitter, who also seemed to be lacking proper motivation, we decided to sprint.

What’s that? Oh, no no! Not sprint-sprint. (I think we’ve covered this in earlier blogs. Lorraine doesn’t run. Lorraine’s joints will not allow such a thing to happen.) Anyway, I’m talking about a writing sprint. Set the timer, write as many words as you can get down in 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, then do it all over again for another 25 minutes. Report back on Twitter each time with word count, and boom–sprint is over.

In January, I added 20k words to my novel. Yes, my 40k was now 60k. We’re a week into February, and guess what? My 60k is now 70k. I don’t know what it is about this sprint that forces my brain to work, but suddenly, plot lines are falling into place, characters are setting up perfectly for their next scenes, and everything about this book is cruising.

So apparently, my brain just needs the threat of being judged by my friends and peers. I didn’t want to report back that I’d stared at a blank screen the entire time, right??? I couldn’t possibly let everyone down by getting in only half a dozen words! That would be mortifying! I had to succeed. I had to shine. I had to win. Is this my leftover AP Honors student mentality from high school? Who knows? But it worked.

Accountability apparently really is key to my productivity. And consistency has played a big part because ever since that day, Margot Ryan and I have been running the #8pmwritingsprint every night, where writers at any stage of the game (outlining, writing, editing – whatever!) have joined us to focus on their WIPs in two 25 minute sessions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The writing community on Twitter is beyond anything I could have imagined when I first joined. I’ve met so many amazing people I’m proud to call my friends.

So if you’re in the mood to write, but you don’t know what, come sprint with us. I promise the looming threat of your peers judging you will kick your brain right into a productive session. If nothing else, we’ll be there to cheer you on! (Because no one in the #8pmwritingsprint actually judges anyone. It’s not a competition. It’s a mini-intensive. Every night.)

Community is where it’s at. And the #8pmwritingsprint has it in spades. Come join us!

2021 Wrap Up

Every year I do a quick summary of what I’ve accomplished in my writing career and sometimes what I’ve accomplished in life. It’s a great way to look back and realize I actually *have* been pretty busy, no, I *wasn’t* slacking as much as I thought, and hey, this year wasn’t so bad. (Covid and cancer aside.)

Writing Life

Books published: 0
eBooks published: 0
Signing events attended: 2
Independent Book Award Entries: 6
Book Awards Won for A Thousand Years to Wait: 1 first place (Young Adult Fiction), 1 second place (Cover Design) , 1 honorable mention (New Author Award), (plus 3 outstanding until 2022)
Online Writing Retreats Attended: 3
Failed In-Person Writing Retreat Attempted: 2
Online Writing Webinars Taught: 1
Personal Essays Written: 1
Manuscript words written: >125,000
YA manuscripts finished: 1
PB manuscripts finished: 5
YA manuscript WIP: 1
Adult manuscript WIP: 1
Manscripts queried: 3
Queries sent: 104
Query rejections: 57
Query no response: 23
Queries still open: 20
Partial Manuscript Requests: 3 (1 from a 2020 query)
Full Manuscript Requests: 2
Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2021): 13
Online pitch contests entered: 1
Blog posts written: 16
Books read: 50
Friends’ Manuscripts read: 3
Blurbs appearing on published books: 1
Writing friends made: Never enough! Writers, find me on Twitter.

Personal Life

Returning cancer diagnosis: 1 (husband😭)
Days spent helping to kick cancer’s ass: 126
Bland Embolization procedures & hospitalizations for husband: 2
Family Covid tests taken: 8 (all negative)
Medical Bills: Infinite
Days spent as 6th grade homeschool/virtual school teacher: 119
Stray animals found: 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 chicken
Stray animals rescued: 2 dogs, 1 cat, don’t ask about the chicken (I tried!)

Identity

One of the biggest rules in writing stories of any length is “write what you know.” That’s not to say I know anything about real magic, or talismans, or chaos. I mean, really, who really does? (Well, okay, I know a *little* about chaos these days.)

But the bigger takeaway from this rule is generally that you shouldn’t write from an identity that isn’t yours. White folks shouldn’t try to write from a Black point of view in their novel. Or a Maori warrior. Or an Egyptian prince. Or a Native American. Or…

Okay, you get my point.

Wait! What? But there are so many amazing and diverse stories out there to be told! Why wouldn’t we write them?

Because there are also so many amazing and diverse writers of all different identities who can (and should) tell them, and they won’t get that chance if someone else dominates the narrative.

So what happens when you’re a third/fourth generation American immigrant whose family has been in the country for a hundred years and whose ethnicity looks like this?

Who are you? And what stories do you write?

This is something I’ve been pondering a lot lately as I read books from authors with cultural ties around the world. What I find as I read them, though, is that even though the authors are American, many times they have direct ties to the cultures they write about; they’re typically first or second generation immigrants whose very lives are influenced daily by the part of the world they (or their parents) came from.

Take, for example, Lauren Blackwood’s Within These Wicked Walls, an Ethiopian-inspired fantasy by a Jamaican-American author; Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a Nigerian-inspired fantasy written by a Nigerian-American; An Ember in the Ashes by Pakistani-American author Sabaa Tahir; or Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, an East-Asian-inspired fantasy by Julie C. Dao, a Vietnamese-American.

These books are positively amazing, their storytelling lush, their settings fresh and rich with detail, the history unknown to me, the folklore like nothing I’ve read before. I fall into these stories with reckless abandon, a constant thirst for more, more, more.

But it also leaves me wondering…

What kind of fantasies should I be writing…if, that is, I should be writing fantasies at all?

My ethnicity is over 60% Italian, but my ancestors came to America in the immigration boom of the 1910s and 1920s, so beyond my grandmother’s recipe for pasta sauce (ahem, gravy), I have virtually no claim on my Italian ancestry. I wouldn’t feel remotely qualified to write an Italian-inspired fantasy. In fact, I would think only someone from Italy (or maybe a first generation Italian-American) could do justice to an Italian-inspired fantasy.

And if I can’t write Italian-inspired fantasies, then I’m *certainly* not qualified to write from any other part of my ancestry (even if I’ve often been tempted to lean into my Croatian heritage).

So what does that leave?

American fantasies?

I’m plagued suddenly by images of fantasies featuring the Wild West, a time period which I neither understand nor romanticize about. No, but really? How can there be an American-inspired fantasy? Our country was founded on land stolen from entire murdered civilizations, then established further as a “cultural melting pot” (Isn’t that the term they used in third grade?) with no one, single culture comprising our identity as Americans.

All this to say, as ethnically-mixed Americans who’ve been in this country long enough to no longer have strong cultural ties to our roots, but not nearly long enough to rival true Native Americans, what defines us? What makes us eligible to tell, or not tell, certain stories? And how do we know which ones are ours to tell?

I don’t have the answers.

I’m genuinely asking.

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.

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!

The World’s Greatest Invention

With all the technology that exists today, why, oh why, hasn’t a 16-year-old tech whiz come up with a way to record our thoughts as we fall asleep each night? I would hand my money over in a heartbeat. I’d pay yesterday. I’d take a second mortgage on my house to cover payments.

And so would every writer I know.

Lying in bed seems to be when my thoughts run free. It’s like someone has turned on a faucet and decided to let the ideas flow. Words that eluded me all day as I sat in front of an open laptop suddenly gush forward, ready to be released. And I struggle to remember them come the morning.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say.  “Keep a notepad by your bed and write these things down, silly.”

Okay, Karen. Let me just get a few things straight.

  1. When I go to bed, it takes me forever to fall asleep to begin with. WHY WOULD I DISTURB THAT TO WAKE MYSELF UP AND WRITE SOMETHING DOWN?
  2. Writing something requires light. I am not about to turn on the light when I am finally adjusted to the dark.
  3. If I wake myself up to write something, I must now reinitiate the process of trying to sleep all over again. It will be 2 a.m. before I get any semblance of sleep. If I’m lucky.
  4. My handwriting sucks even with light. Supposing I tried to forgo the light, I can’t imagine trying to read that chicken-scratch in the morning if I wrote it in the dark.
  5. Also, I sleep in the same room & the same bed as another person. Can you imagine how thrilled he’d be if I sat up to write down every random musing?

So yes, I would pay money hand over fist to the first person to invent a machine that somehow translates my nighttime musings into actual words on a screen. Come on, already, geniuses! Someone give me a hand and figure this out.

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Do It Anyway

Dear friends,

As this last day of the year fast draws to an end (and my kiddos would be the first to remind me that it’s ALSO the end of a *decade*), I want to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Which is weird…

…because I can’t think of the words I want to say in this blog post.

It has something to do with fear and chasing your dreams and doing the right thing, but my words are all jumbled and I’m not entirely sure I know what any of these things has to do with the others.

So let’s just start with the fear thing, eh?

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. It occurred to me that when I feel fear, I tend to want to head straight into whatever makes me afraid, and I don’t mean things like rollercoaster drops (no, thank you) or turning and running straight at a grizzly that’s chasing me down (also VERY no, thank you). I mean the kind of persistent fear that creeps into your life and bares its fangs at every turn. The kind of fear that turns into a perpetual state of anxiety that makes you believe you can’t go out (something bad might happen), you can’t eat one more cookie (you’ve had enough, you’ll make yourself sick!), you can’t donate blood (what if you pass out?), you can’t join the gym and workout and do protein shakes like a meathead (your body will rebel – it’s not made for this – you’re a bookworm!).

(Yes, all of those thoughts *really* occurred. Welcome to my brain.)

So yeah, I did the exact opposite of what I wanted to do in each of those scenarios. Instead of running away, I joined the gym and got a trainer & nutritionist and have even been drinking protein shakes for just shy of two months now. They’re gross, by the way, (the shakes, not the trainer & nutritionist – they’re both perfectly delightful), but I’m healthier with the activity and I feel better overall than I have in a very long time.

And I’ve indulged in PLENTY of holiday junk this week. (After many weeks of being REALLY good with diet and exercise, I’m due.) I’ve gone out and done things and seen people and filled my calendar with activities week after week, day after day, even though my introvert self really wanted to hole up in my bed, read a book, and ignore the world some days. Yesterday, I donated blood. Again. For the 3rd time this year. Because it scares the crap out of me and *grits teeth* because. I. can. No fear is going to stop me, especially not my own fear.

On the matter of the chasing your dreams thing, this year has been one heck of a whirlwind. I made the decision in October 2018 to publish A Thousand Years to Wait in 2019, and publish I did. The book launched on April 30th and I could never have imagined the kind of support I would receive from friends, family, and perfect strangers. My love for all of you is so much more than you could ever know. The year was filled with events, signings, and yes – even an audiobook that literally happened in less than a month from conception to finished product. And still, each of you stood by my side and helped make my dreams a reality.

Did I think I might fail? Certainly. Was I terrified of doing so? Hell, yes. Still am.

But what’s that thing I mentioned about fear? Oh, right. Do the thing that scares you most.

Honestly, if it scares the hell out of you, you’re doing something right.

Huh. I guess that’s it. That’s what I’ve been trying to say and that’s the lesson for 2019. Onward and upward. My wish for you in 2020 is that you find what terrifies you, and you tackle it anyway.

Love and hugs, friends. I believe in you.

Dreams (via pixels.com)

2019 Wrap Up

Welcome to December! I should be working on my WIP right now instead of tallying up numbers from this year, but what is a writer if not a procrastinator, right? So I bring you my 2019 writing stats. People often ask me how long it takes to get a book written and what a writer does (besides the actual writing part), so here’s a little peek into what 2019 looked like for me.

2019 Writing

Books published: 1
eBooks published: 1
Audiobooks produced: 1
Signing events attended: 5
Independent Book Award Entries: 4
Independent Book Award Finalist: 1
Independent Book Award Losses: 1
Independent Book Award Unknown Outcome: 2
Manuscript words written: >90,000
Manuscripts finished: 1
Manscripts queried: 3
Query rejections: 40
Requests for partial: 1
Requests for full: 2
Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2019): 5
Online pitch contests entered: 2 (if you count tomorrow’s #PitMad on Twitter)
Blog posts written: 26
Number of new SCBWI critique group members discovered: 3
Writing friends made: too numerous to count

Happy Holidays, friends! I wish you a happy, healthy, and successful 2020!

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If I’m Dreaming, Don’t Wake Me Up

So a little thing happened today.

A Thousand Years to Wait was listed as an Award-Winning Finalist in the Fiction: Fantasy category of the 2019 Best Book Awards sponsored by American Book Fest!

Someone pinch me.

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12 Books—Month 6

Okay, okay, so we’re a little more than 6 months into the year. Perhaps I was being a tad ambitious about reading 12 Twitter friends’ books in a year, especially when my own book launched a few months ago and I’ve had several signings and events and I’m still trying to keep up on recommended reading from friends and coworkers (which will bring me to 12 Books—Month 7 in a few short weeks).

Without further ado, I bring to you Planetside by Michael Mammay. It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a science fiction novel. I veer more toward fantasy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for magic and dragons, and I tend to get a little lost when it comes to hard sci fi.

Planetside

That said, there was no way to get lost in Planetside. (I mean, there is, but that’s getting lost in the very best of ways.) I’m not even sure I would classify it as hard science fiction. Does it take place in space? Yes. Are there space stations, and aliens, and hostile planet takeovers? Yes, yes, and yes. Okay, I guess it really is hard sci-fi. But that’s difficult to remember that when the entire novel is wrapped up in what’s essentially a murder-mystery. (Missing person mystery? Can it be a murder mystery if there’s no body?)

I must say one of the most surprising aspects of this book…was finding out that the protagonist wasn’t a misogynistic jerk.

What’s that, you say? Why should that be surprising? Well, I’ve read a number of mystery-thriller novels with a smart-ass male protagonist who’s on the tail-end of his career, but somehow manages to solve an incredibly difficult case no one else possibly could have cracked while snagging a beautiful woman half his age, while also admiring eight other women’s asses in the entire length of the novel. It gets old. Really old. Is it a male fantasy thing? Probably. But I like a good mystery, too, and I love a smart-ass protagonist! (Still…he doesn’t need to be checking out every woman’s breasts or rear throughout the entirety of the book!)

Guess what? Mammay not only doesn’t have a misogynist as his main character, but he also HAS MANY WOMEN CHARACTERS ALL THROUGHOUT THE BOOK AND YES I AM SHOUTING BECAUSE I AM HAPPY. Do you know how annoying it is to see 90% of the cast as male in just about any random book (especially science fiction)? Not only is the main character in Planetside happily married and looking forward to retirement, but he also happens to interact with dozens of female officers, soldiers, and hospital personnel throughout the book, all of which is done without a bat of the eyelashes. Women. Treated as equals. It’s a novel concept. (See what I did there? Novel concept.)

All in all, this book was stellar. My only hitch is in the ending because now I have to pick up Spaceside… Well-played, Mammay. Well-played.