Never Say Quit

Did some cool things this past week.

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

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

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 10.46.11 AM

And that got me thinking.

I am really, really bad at giving up…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quitting? Not an option.

24 Hours Post-Op

I made it almost 41 years without ever needing surgery. (Wisdom teeth don’t count in my book.) So imagine my surprise when I needed it in the midst of a viral pandemic. Right after 10 y.o. broke her arm, needed surgery, and recovered, my foot decided to stop responding to the steroid injections I’d been getting. (Did I mention husband has hip replacement surgery coming up, too? Fun for the whole family!)

Anyway, since so many people are asking how my recovery is going, I decided it was best to get it all written here and share as needed.

In short? I’m good. (And also short, but that has nothing to do with surgery.)

Yesterday afternoon, I had a neuroma removed from my foot and a bone spur filed from a toe. They said they put me in a twilight sleep, but I have zero recollection of anything other than a nurse anesthetist putting something in my IV while someone took my glasses and mask off my face.

Fade to black.

I woke up to zero pain in my very large and bandaged foot. My time under anesthesia proved to be the best nap time I’ve ever had in my life. (Maybe that’s because no children woke me up, no dogs whined to go out, and no cats tried to sit on my chest. Then again, maybe just anesthesia. Who’s to say?)

The staff at the surgical center was amazing. From the time I walked in to the time I left, I felt zero nerves. (Ironic, given that I was there for them to remove a portion of a painful nerve.) Since being home, I’ve been taking Advil and icing, and keeping the foot elevated. Toes above the nose, baby.

And my only complaint 24 hours post surgery is…I’m bored.

I’ll call that a win.

(Oh, also, I miss playing with my chickens. I hear I’m missing some amazing weather today…)

IMG_9796
My home care nurse is the best.

 

Family, Life, and Things that Matter

I missed March, April, and most of May on the blog. I bet you can all guess why.

Wow.

What a heck of a year so far. Global pandemic, hundreds of thousands dead, and so many people refusing to do something as simple as wear a face mask to protect themselves and others. It’s mind-boggling.

Not going to lie, friends. I’ve had my ups and downs handling this over the last few months. As all of you have. Working from home, online schooling for 4th and 8th grades, a 10-year-old with a broken arm (because the pandemic wasn’t terrifying enough on its own…let’s head to a hospital for corrective surgery!), being around my family every single day all day long and never getting a break even though I’m an introvert and desperately, desperately need a few days of quiet…or just a silent house for…like…an hour. Yeah. It’s all been a bit of a challenge.

And I’m sure you’re all in the very same situation. We’re all facing difficult times. Stressful times. Unprecedented times. But it won’t last forever. Years, maybe. But not forever.

So take this time to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Do things with them. Appreciate nature. Enjoy your backyard. (Or your balcony. Or your porch.) Here are a few snapshots from my own life in the past two months. Crazy, yes. But not all bad.

Family puzzles.

Family haircuts. (She’s trusting.)

Finished manuscript. (Book II of The Tarrowburn Prophecies. It’s almost ready!)

Broken arm.

Surgery because the fracture was through the growth plate.

Family karaoke night.

Chickens in the house. Hooray! These little ladies will be earning their keep in about four or five more months.

Backyard garden work.

IMG_9045

New project inspiration!

New truck! (Because the old one left husband stranded 40 miles from home not once, but TWICE. And it’s been 21 years, I guess we’re due.)

Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 10.56.21 PM

End of Summer Odds and Ends

Okay, so it’s been almost two months since my last blogpost. Please don’t yell at me! I’ve been busy. I promise. And yes, busy with so much book-stuff I can hardly keep track of it all. Not that I’m complaining…

First up, I got to visit one of my most amazing-est (Yes, that’s a word. I have deemed it so.) online friends IN REAL LIFE. My book-blogging buddy, Shanah McCready (also known as the Bionic Bookworm)! Life is SO good, and the internet really does have a positive side, I swear. We vacationed together this summer with our families and had a blast.

68812120_10157678476624916_6918722513153294336_n
I hate selfies. She hates selfies. But we took this one about 10 minutes after meeting…with both of us nearly sick with the anxiety of meeting an internet friend in real life!

Second, the kids were home all summer, so I didn’t do much in the way of writing. BUT. I did at least start writing Tarrowburn #2, so I’m moving in the right direction. I hope to wrap up the first draft by the end of this year. Ambitious of  me, but we’ll see what kind of things life throws at me in the mean time.

Third, I was invited to a signing event at Barnes & Noble in Lancaster, PA! Yes, really. No, I’m not joking. Who even am I? (If you know the answer, please tell me because I still haven’t figured it out.)

 

Even cooler? One of the authors I sat next to during the signing event was Greg Cox, a talented and established writer of many of the Star Trek novels. (Among many, many, MANY others.) I might be intimidated except that he was so darned nice and handed out good advice like it was candy. (If you’re reading this, “Hi, Greg! And thank you!”)

Lastly, I’ve been busy making arrangements for other appearances in Berks and surrounding counties and will have an updated list soon!

In the mean time, please remember the holidays are coming, books make great gifts, and Amazon reviews are gold.

 

ADDENDUM: Um, hello? This is why I should not write a blog post at 10 p.m. on a Monday. I completely forgot that I was contacted by a new imprint of major publishing house and had the chance to work on a children’s book this month!! (How does one forget this, exactly?) So, more book news! Yay! I’ll let you know when the book releases and when I can say more about it.

Indie Author Storms

Indiana_Jones_in_Raiders_of_the_Lost_Ark
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.

Owning It

A large part of succeeding as a writer boils down to your willingness to put in the time. Can you accept sitting at a desk, dreaming up worlds, typing (or scribbling) the words, and getting it done? The answer to these questions has always been a resounding yes for me, but I tend to fail when it comes to putting in the face time.

I did just that this weekend. I put in the face time and met dozens of wonderful writers and agents and editors at the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC. It was fabulous. I participated in PitchSlam, in which authors are given one hour to pitch as many agents as they can in three-minute segments. (Truly, it’s any introvert’s nightmare.)

But you know what? While I was nervous going into my first pitch, it melted away quickly. Why? Because I discovered something as I delved into conversation with these agents. I found myself admitting something surprising. Out loud.

I love my book. I love the characters. I love the plot. I love the interactions and the quirks and the personalities. It was a fun book to write and I had fun writing it! And when you enjoy your story, I think it shows. You start to enjoy talking about it and telling people why it’s something they’ll want to read…which makes it a lot easier to pitch.

Proof? I pitched 6 agents and all 6 made requests for partial manuscripts (requested lengths varied). This may or may not result in progress moving forward, but that’s not the point. The point? When you love your work, it shows. 

Writers. Friends. I have one piece of advice for you. LOVE YOUR WORK. It’s yours. You wrote it because you loved it. 

Now own it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 11.22.14 AM
So many fabulous writers. Dinner on a Friday night.

The Girl Who Fell

_MG_7483We just returned from our trip to Prince Edward Island and, friends, I have fallen. I have fallen deeply, madly in love.

All vacations are lovely, but none of them have ever left me with a desire to relocate my entire family as soon as humanly possible. I loved the Bahamas and Jamaica. England and Wales were beautiful. France was amazing. I’ve even been to Montreal, so it’s not like this was my first stop in Canada. And I’ve traveled eight-thousand miles across the U.S., stopping in 22 states along the way, so I’ve seen my fair share of our own beautiful country.

But the utterly breathtaking views of Prince Edward Island—the oceans, the dunes, the grasses, the fields—it was the first time in a very long time where I felt I could breathe, truly breathe.

I’ve never considered leaving the country before, not really. Yet I find myself perusing the real estate listings on PEI and researching jobs and weather. Who knows? If I’m lucky and I plan things just right, maybe PEI is in my future. I know it’s already in my heart.


(If I could just convince the world that I’m an author and that my books are worth buying…that would be something. When the day comes where I finally sell my books, the ‘PEI Relocation’ fund will officially be a thing in the Storms household. I vow it.)

_MG_7786

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.

 

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!

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