Of Careers and Life Paths (But What Should I Be?)

When I was in sixth grade, I, like the rest of the students in my class, was sent to the guidance counselor’s office to take a computerized test to help decide what I might want to do with my life—what careers were a match for my personality, my likes and dislikes, my strengths and weaknesses. 

I clearly remember the anticipation of sitting down in front of the computer, of excitedly clicking answers to each question, practically bouncing in my seat as I imagined what magical career choice was my destiny. Then the test was over, and the dot-matrix printer screamed and screeched as it printed my results. Mr. Albright tore the sheets from the printer, looked them over, handed them to me, and sent me back to class. I accepted my results with near-trembling hands and reviewed them as I walked the halls to return to science class. This was it. A list of all the things I could do with my life, a piece of paper that would tell me how I would succeed in the future.

And then I read the words.

Sanitation worker? Sanitation worker? SANITATION WORKER? 

Before I go further, I’ll make a statement for the record. I have utmost respect for the sanitation workers in my life. I am so very grateful that there are people willing to do this job and that they work year-round in all sorts of weather to ensure my trash is removed from my property each week and that we live in clean and sanitary conditions in our little corner of the world. I cannot stress this enough. I am grateful.

But this is not what an eleven-year-old girl with an imagination the size of the Andromeda Galaxy wants to envision for her life. Of all the careers I’d ever imagined, sanitation worker was not one. Teacher? Sure. Every kid probably considers that one at one point or another. Teachers play such an important role in our early years. Doctor, veterinarian, marine biologist, archeologist, author, singer, actor? All of those were futures I dreamed of, careers I longed to follow. But sanitation worker?

I was nearly inconsolable, convinced that perhaps I wasn’t as smart as I previously thought, that my A’s and B’s didn’t really mean anything after all, that my talents were nonexistent, that I wasn’t really going to have a career in science or the arts.

Fast-forward twenty-eight years later and laugh with me. Laugh and laugh and laugh. Because that test was complete and utter bullshit. Rubbish through and through. I’m almost angry that a school administration would dare to crush a child’s dreams in such a manner. Is it worth guiding children toward careers they might enjoy and in which they would likely excel? Of course! But at what cost? A computer is a poor substitute for human interaction, and if I’d sat down and talked with a teacher or guidance counselor at that time instead, I’m willing to bet that sanitation worker would never have been brought up as a possibility. Anyone who knows me knows, while I enjoy routine to an extent, I utterly crave the new, the unfamiliar, maybe even the unattainable. I’m not wired for routine.

Ironic, since I cope with chronic anxiety when faced with change. But life enjoys nothing if not being ironic.

And so far in my life? So far I have been a marine biology graduate, a pharmaceutical microbiologist, a technical writer, an animal welfare administrator, and a marketing director. It seems it took me a while to decide what I should really “be.” (Or maybe I’m just intent on working through ALL of those careers I once hoped for?)

So I’m cautious when my own kids consider their futures. I’m careful to nurture their dreams and encourage them to dive deep into the things they love. No one should settle for doing what someone else says is right for them. I often wonder if I would have made author as a career sooner had I really, truly believed it was a viable option.

Make no mistake. I’m eternally grateful to have had the opportunities I had in my life. How many people can say they’ve worked on a wild Atlantic bottlenose dolphin project in college? How many can say they’ve spent a summer on a boat just feet from entire families of joyful, leaping marine mammals? That they could extend a hand outward and easily touch one? (I didn’t. That’s not legal. But I could have.) I cherish that experience, as I cherish so many others.

I still have that piece of paper—the results from the sixth-grade “aptitude test” to help me determine what I should be. I keep it as a reminder. No one in the world can tell me what I should be, or what I should do with my life, with my time on this earth.

I, alone, have that power.

So what about you? Are you doing what you dreamed you might? Are you helping others to reach the path that will take them where they want to go? Let’s have this conversation because, all too often, I fear we’re pushed into a path we’re never meant to be on—stuck in a circle, forever asking “But what should I be?”

When what we really should be asking is, “What do I want to be?”

So what do you want to be?

Indie Author Storms

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I’m no Indiana Jones.

Maybe it doesn’t quite have the ring of Indiana Jones, but I think Indie Author Storms has a nice sound to it. So why did I decide to go indie and what’s next?

I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for four, and have four completed manuscripts—some of them with quite wonderful feedback from agents and editors. And until the last year, I really wanted to take the traditional route to publishing.

So what changed?

Cancer.

Cancer is one hell of an eye-opener. And when my husband was diagnosed in April of 2017, it didn’t just change the rules; it changed the entire game. He’s doing well now—a year and a half cancer-free. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t celebrate this. (Insert happy dance emoji right here!)

But his diagnosis wasn’t all.

At the beginning of my foray into Writer Twitter, I made friends with a wonderful professor and writer who had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She documented her journey in life, and through diagnosis, and I had the pleasure of beta-reading for her about a year and a half ago. As with most interactions on social media, we dipped in and out of each other’s profiles here and there, commenting and leaving digital hearts in our wake. I learned only recently that she passed away in June.

 

Before she succumbed to the terrible disease, she followed her dream and published Blooming Out of Darkness: A Memoir about Cancer, Spirits, and Joy. The book, which sits on the bookshelf beside my piano, is a stark reminder each and every day—a reminder that we don’t always have the time we think we have. Between Alicia’s story and my husband’s ordeal over the last year, I’ve decided that it’s time to take the next step in the journey to authorhood. 

There’s a beautiful change in perception that occurs when you reach your forties. (Okay, I’m not quite there, but I’ve got less than a year, so…) You begin to care less about what other people think or what other people would do in any given situation, and so much more about what you feel and how you can be good to yourself.

Indie authorhood is me being good to myself. I’m ready to have the fun, to release a book baby into the world, to take the next step and grow as an author. A Thousand Years to Wait is my gift to the world, yes. But it’s also a gift to me. And I hope we can enjoy it together.


A Thousand Years to Wait will be released on April 30th, 2019. You can add A Thousand Years to Wait to your Goodreads list here. Check back for excerpts, teasers, a cover reveal, and more! I’ll be updating regularly over the next six months.

The BIG Announcement

A few months ago, I posted about two very exciting things. The first, I elaborated in my post—I got to see my name in print in the byline of an article on the front page. The second? Well, I kept the second a secret. But it’s been long enough and I’m ready to share. Without further ado, I give you…

…my release date.

Banner for A Thousand Years to Wait

My debut Young Adult Fantasy titled A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT is scheduled for publication in April. That’s right. On April 30th, 2019, you’ll be able to purchase a copy of my book.

And now we squeal. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkkkk!

Stay tuned for additional teasers, including reviews, excerpts, and cover art in the coming months!


Summary for A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT

Prophecies are meant to unfold on their own—they can’t be forced into fruition. Or can they? When a war-torn kingdom is on the cusp of falling to a usurping general, a young healer who doesn’t believe in magic is called upon to help a prophecy transpire. She must embrace the magic…or lose the ones she loves.

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A few years ago, a good friend got me this set of greeting cards. There is no more perfect a gift than this.

Who’s Who? Volume II

It’s time for another Who’s Who? (Also known as Who to Follow on Twitter!) These are just a few of the people I love following for all different reasons. For your best tweeting experience, you should follow them, too!

S.M. Roffey (@songmaiden) – Being a writer can be tough, especially when you face rejection after rejection after rejection, but following S.M. Roffey will take any negative outlook and turn it upside-down. I live for her #teamoptimism posts.


Tamoja (@tammy_oja) – Co-creator of #ontheporch, Tammy has such great insight to the writing process and is a true writing-cheerleader. She’s one of the people who turns up again and again in writing threads and she always has something eye-opening or encouraging to say! She’s worth a follow for sure.


Shanah (@bionicbookworm) – My favorite Canadian also happens to be a book blogger and one of her most-loved genres is YA fantasy. Imagine that! So when Shanah and I talk books, it’s usually a conversation filled with lots of exclamation points. I always turn to Shanah for a new book recommendation if I’m at a loss for what to read. (To be clear, I’m never at a loss for good titles, I just don’t know which books to pick up first. Shanah is my go-to!) You can also find her blog here.


Jess Keating (@Jess_Keating) – There are tons of authors to follow, but not all of them post amazing illustrations just for the heck of it. It would be worth following Jess for her illustrations alone. Add in her wonderful penchant for biology and you’ve got a winning combination. Jess’s posts make me smile!


Jean Grant (@JeanGrant05) – Jean has been my writing buddy since our college days. (That’s longer ago than I care to mention.) Her debut historical romance, A Hundred Kisses came out in May of 2017 and the prequel will be out this coming spring. Even more exciting? She’s got a contemporary Women’s Fiction also coming out this spring. And, she’s got a contemporary novella lined up for 2019! This is an author on fire! (This is also a good time for me to rub in the fact that I get to read all these before you, but maybe that’s not so nice of me, so…) Jean is an avid #5amwritersclub writer and her tweets are a mix of optimism and realism (hello, parenting). Follow her!

 

Also, if you missed my last Who’s Who? and you want to discover more great people to follow, click here!

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!

Pitfalls and Mountain Climbing

As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!

pitfall
A different kind of Pitfall maybe, but the writing journey can feel about this treacherous.

It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)

And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!

level up

The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.

About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.

Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:

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How do you argue with that?

If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.

You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.

And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.

So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.

Or at least base camp.

Yeah, I could be content with base camp.

 

 

* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!