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!

Life by the Numbers

What is it about humans that makes us so quick to compare every aspect of our lives to others? We obsess over the numbers—sometimes becoming unwitting slaves to what those numbers represent. From the size of our paychecks to the size of our televisions (and other things…), we’re experts at using numbers in virtually every aspect of our lives. We measure the hours, the minutes, the seconds of our day. All day. Every day. We quantify our lives based on the money we make, how many chores we’ve completed, how many miles we can run, the number of sit-ups we can do, and—as a writer—the quantity of the words we’ve written each and every day.

So, let’s take a little look at my average numbers. Writing numbers, that is. I’m not going to tell you how many carpets I may (or may not have) vacuumed, how many loads of laundry I did (or didn’t do) last month, and I’m certainly not going to tell you how many miles I can(’t) run—mostly because I don’t want to.

Plus, let’s face it. No one really cares.

In the past, my writing was mostly done in the spare minutes after I’d gotten home from work, when the evening had come to an end, and the kids were finally in bed. Writing was something I did for fun and, sure, I hoped it would lead somewhere someday, but it wasn’t really a task I took seriously.

I managed to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo in 2013 when I added 50,000 words in one month to a novel I already had a 50,000 word head-start on and that was exhilarating, but that’s the most I’ve ever written in a single month and even now, when I’m writing on a much more full-time basis, I don’t write 50,000 words in a month. If my memory serves me well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything else that month that wasn’t related to writing, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, or putting children to bed. My husband stepped up and did it all that month. If I want to stay married, though, that’s probably not a good longterm strategy for writing.

My writing habits have definitely changed since I began to take writing seriously. Whereas I used to rejoice in putting any number of words on the paper on any given day, I’ve got a schedule that I (generally) stick to pretty religiously these days and it usually results in 5,000 words or more added every week. The key for me is sitting down and making the words happen no matter what. Some days, the words flow like fine wine and other days, I’m lucky if I manage to make the pages sound like they were written by my second-grader… But that’s what it takes to get a first draft done. Fine-tuning can come later.

And some days? Some days life just gets in the way. Case-in-point—I planned to spend a large portion of this weekend writing. Instead, the husband ended up with a migraine in the early hours of Saturday morning, which meant I needed to take him, kids in tow, to Urgent Care for a shot of the good stuff that magically makes migraines disappear—all before breakfast. Then, kids and I got to wait for an hour and a half (because Urgent Care was a madhouse), tired, hungry, and cranky. Half of the day was gone by the time we got home and, to be honest, I was so fatigued just from the running around (introvert much?) that I didn’t have it in me to write. I think I managed maybe 250 words that evening, but really? I didn’t even care about words at that point. So, it’s okay to throw in the towel some days, and admit that it’s just…Not. Going. To. Happen.

The key is making sure that’s not a regular occurrence in your life, and that can be tricky. The novel I’m currently working on is one I started in November of last year. Originally, I wanted to be finished with the first draft by the end of February, but sick kids, sick husband, and life in general got in the way a lot those first few months and it kept me from making the kind of progress I had hoped to make.

I picked up the pace by January, and I am on track to be finished with the first draft of this story by the end of the month. This makes me a happy writer for sure. My numbers show an average of 15,000 – 20,000 words over the last two months because I’ve been living by my own rules and getting the words written, even if some days it’s like pulling teeth to do so.

Most of the time, I don’t encourage assigning a value to the things we do. After all, it’s not what we do, but why we do it that really matters. And you don’t matter less as a writer if you write 500 words a week. (Just the same, you aren’t valued more if you’re a writer who gets 10,000 words written in a week…even if I do gaze longingly at your ability to get so many words down in such a limited time.)

Do what you do because you love to do it and it makes you happy. If the numbers make you happy, keep track of them and rejoice when you hit your milestones! (I do!) But if they don’t, turn off the wordcount feature in your file and plug away without looking. There’s no need to be a slave to living life by the numbers—now or ever!

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My current WIP progress from start to today, 3/11/18.

The Spirit of the Season

Happy Holidays, friends and family! This is the official 2017 Storms Christmas letter! (Look – I even went red and green! Festive!)IMG_2520.jpg

Before you start in on me about how lame I am for sending you to my blog for warm wishes of holiday cheer, remember it’s been a fairly tough year. Go easy on me. I opted to forgo sending cards this year for several reasons. First and foremost—time. As most of you know, there’s a lot going on and I’ve been juggling kids’ school schedules, projects, dance classes, various doctors appointments, dentist appointments, and writing in attempts to get it all done. I’m tired! Secondly, suffice it to say that I’m not feeling all that jolly this year, so the thought of addressing and stamping seventy cards just isn’t…well, in the cards. And lastly, I don’t wanna.

So, there you have it.

Now, onto the more cheery parts of this ‘letter.’

We are still here. 2017 hasn’t managed to knock us out just yet. (Give it time. I guess there are two more weeks left in the year, but we’re hoping for the best.) Nate still has a drain tube in his abdomen. It’ll be 23 weeks this Friday. Our next appointment with the good docs at Interventional Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is this Thursday, but neither of us holds high hopes for the drain tube being removed. And that means we’re probably going into the new year with a drain. I cannot even begin to count the ways that this sucks.

My kids are amazing. No, seriously. They are. They have handled things this year that no adult should be asked to handle. They have done so with courage and grace and I want to award them gold medals. Why is there no ‘Best Kids on the Planet’ award?

Nate has gone back to work on a strictly work-from-home basis as of December 4th. This is great news as it no longer means we are ready to pawn off heirlooms in order to buy groceries… Hooray for food without debt! (And for companies and bosses who are amazing and accommodating!)

I am still writing, tweeting about writing, and—apparently—blogging about writing. I finished up my third manuscript this year while continuing to pitch manuscript number two to literary agents. So far, no major progress. I had several requests for a full read (which is a huge step in the right direction) and some really great feedback on said manuscript. But ultimately, no cigar. Hoping to start pitching book number three by early next year. In the mean time, I’m 20k words into my fourth manuscript and moving right along. What’s a writer if she’s not writing anyway? (Oh, that’s right. A stressed mom who is barely holding it all together. Yes, okay, I suppose I’m that, too, these days.)

Now onto the more serious parts of Christmas, or at least the more sentimental parts. Despite our rollercoaster of a year…

Wait. That implies that there were upswings…  Let me rephrase.

Ahem.

Despite our alpine slide of a year, we are incredibly thankful for so many things. Amazing friends and family who have been there for us in every possible way. They’ve provided emotional support, emergency babysitting and pet care, gifted us with gift cards to movies and ice cream shops to help keep our lives as normal as possible, helped with homework and school drop offs and pick ups. They’ve cut our grass and shoveled snow from our walkways (not in the same day, of course) and they’ve paid anonymously for our kids’ dance classes.  They’ve listened when I’ve felt alone, offered a shoulder when I needed to cry, and handed me a pillow when I needed to scream. They’ve offered financial help and assistance navigating health care and disability insurance. They’ve helped us keep records for our taxes and offered to lend us  money (because let’s face it—we’re not rich enough to actually own heirlooms to sell off).

And this is what I am most thankful for this Christmas. I am thankful that we have a network of friends and family that’s bigger than the heart of the grinch (after it grew three sizes) and people who care so very much. We are so grateful.

I hope 2018 is a better year. For you, for me, for all of us. Love to all, family and friends. Thank you for giving us something to be thankful about this 2017. I wish you a happy and blessed holiday season!

The Storms Family

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2017 in a nutshell.

12 Reasons Why I Haven’t Written Today

When you’re a writer who is also parent to rambunctious school-age children, planning your writing time on a weekend is everything. You see, I fully planned to devote today to writing. I even made all of the appropriate preparations for it yesterday. Without a hint of parental guilt, I signed both of my children up for a 1-month membership to National Geographic’s Animal Jam app so they could blow their minds out on electronics today. (Mom of the Year here!)

But all the planning in the world is a poor dam against the flood of reality. Like the hardworking North American beaver, I keep trying to halt the current that’s intent on taking me along for a ride. (But beavers are better at stopping the current than I am, certainly.)

beaver dam
No leaks here.  Photo credit: http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/beaver.htm

“I’m going to wake up early,” I said as I went to bed at midnight last night, “I’ll be refreshed and ready to go!”

Yet when the dogs whine at 7 a.m., I move from my bed like a zombie to feed and let them out. A crick in my neck and back had me sleeping so poorly all night long that I decide sleep is more important than getting up early to write.

I finally get out of bed at 11 a.m., with more sleep maybe, but the same pain radiating down my neck and right side of my back. I eat breakfast and pull out the laptop after a chorus of “Thank you, Mommy!” has been sung at least a dozen times. My kids have discovered their new memberships and predictably, they’ve zoned out on their tablets. (And this is why we don’t do memberships to apps very often.) I look at my WIP and decide that perhaps a hot shower will ease the pain in my neck, so I put the computer back down and head for the bath.

It’s noon. I kick the kids upstairs to get dressed and ready for the day like normal people do. Okay, time to write. But first, I’d better check the status on that disgusting Senate “tax” bill that also included yanking 13 million off healthcare, approving arctic drilling, and cutting the corporate tax rate while bleeding the middle and working classes dry. Scrolling through my newsfeed, now I’ve stirred my anger. Who can write while angry?

So I text a friend and blow off some steam. Keep in mind that I’ve got my current WIP open on the computer and I’ve reread the last few paragraphs at least half a dozen times. I may have even added a sentence.

At 12:15, older child begs for a friend to come over. Can she come over at 12:30? I agree to 2 p.m. which leads to chronic nagging over the next fifteen minutes. Finally, I relent—1:30.

Between 12:30 and 1:30, I write approximately 300 words while scanning social media for urgent news I might miss and texting same friend about current WIP.

“I feel good about this one,” I tell her. “It’s darker than most of my stuff. I think this one will make the cut.” She agrees with me cheerily while we both ignore the fact that I haven’t yet written more than 6 chapters so far and I haven’t written more than a page today. We both know I’m stalling, but she’s a good friend and she doesn’t call me out.

At 1:30, I’m up for my own lunch, sitting back down to work at 2. At 2:15, husband asks for help tying his shoes. That really sounds bad until you know the context. This guy still can’t bend over without a lot of pain and discomfort.

At 2:30, the dogs jump off their positions on the couches and whine and bark because they know it’s now close to their afternoon meal. Husband happens to be downstairs where their bowls are, so I manage to sneak out of the responsibility by asking him to feed them. But then they want to go out. I get up again.

At 2:45, younger child is upset because older child and friend aren’t including her in their games. A quick lecture about inclusivity steals five minutes from my productivity. And hey, that’s a precious five minutes. Clearly, I’ve been really productive today.

At 3, younger child bounds down the stairs again requesting lunch that I (in my Mom of the Year status) didn’t realize she never had. Up again, I make lunch and get it to her, sitting down in front of my computer again at 3:10.

It’s now 3:45 and instead of writing WIP, I have written a blog post about all the reasons why I haven’t been very productive today.

But, hey, I’ve now written over 1,000 words between WIP and this blog post, so—whew, what a day. I think it’s time to call it quits, no?

I Write.

I am a writer.

Say it again.

I am a writer.

That’s more or less my daily mantra these days. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I was 8 or 9 when I made my first real attempt at writing a book. It was called The Magic Rollerskates and it was about a girl who bought a pair of skates in a secondhand store. After she cleaned them, she put them on, laced them up, began to skate…and promptly left the Earth as she flew. I think I made it about 50 grueling, hand-written pages into that book (complete with illustrations) before it got lost in a desk drawer in favor of whatever it is 10-year-old girls end up doing on their own time. (Angsty diary entries, maybe?)

A few years later, I ventured into a joint writing effort with my cousin. We were older, wiser, and knew that a lot of the great authors liked to team up from time to time, so we were going to do the same. This time the subject matter was one of my absolute favorites – time travel. But, newsflash! Working with a partner is harder than going it alone. I’m pretty sure we never even made it a full chapter in. It seemed as though I was in love with the idea of writing more than I was with the actual writing itself.

And therein lies the crux of every writer’s dilemma.

We don’t write because it’s easy, because words, stories, and characters flow through our fingertips into the keyboard keys and onto the screen. We write because we have to. It’s in our blood, in the very essence of our being, whether we want to admit it or not. And being a writer who doesn’t write is like being a duck without water. Miserable.

I grew up, of course, and focused on other things – school, college, a career, but I never lost that passion for writing, that dream of completing a book and going on to write another. In college, I began my third quasi-serious attempt at a novel. Romance this time, but with an adventurous kick in the deep jungle of the Congo rainforest. Elements of magic had not been ruled out and remained a distinct possibility. I made it three and a half chapters, about 75 pages, before my interest waned. I had stacks of research, drawings, notes – an entire folder filled with the information I needed to carry on with the story, but the story had stopped speaking to me.

In retrospect, I realize that this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t that the story had stopped speaking to me, but that I had given up when it got difficult. Writing is hard. Let me reiterate that. I’ll even give it its own paragraph.

Writing is hard. (I can still hear my high school calculus teacher’s voice, “Rocks are hard. Writing is difficult.” Whatever. You know what I mean.)

As a kid, I thought that writers knew everything about their stories, and I felt that I could just never quite figure it out. I knew the beginning, certainly, and I knew where I wanted to end up, but how to get there…  Well, there weren’t even chirping crickets in my head for that one. Complete and utter silence. Simply put, “the middle” of the book scared the bejeezus out of me. In fear of writing the wrong thing, my terrified imagination ceased to work when it came to filling in the blanks. So instead of the wrong thing, I ended up with nothing.

Guess what?  Editing nothing is a whole lot harder than editing the wrong thing. I have only recently figured this out. (“Recent” being the last ten years or so.)

It’s taken me a long time to finally say both to others and to myself, “I am a writer.”  My novels haven’t been picked up by an agent or publisher (yet) and the only published writing of mine exists in the form of blogs I’ve ghost-written for others or in my own travel blog from a 2015 cross country trip. Nevertheless, I AM a writer.

And if you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you probably are, too. So let me give you some words of encouragement. Don’t give up. Don’t let that unknown monster of “the middle” scare you. Repeat after me.

“I am a writer.”