Fakers, Bakers, and Music Makers – Bonding via Unforgettable Characters

How do you sum up a weekend adventure that had approximately 865,342 high points?

I’m not sure I can, but I’ll at least attempt to highlight a few moments that made my time at the #UCIJretreat2021 amazing and memorable and oh-so-worth-it. (That’s Unforgettable Characters & Incredible Journeys, in case you were wondering.)

A few months ago, author Ralph Walker put out a call for writers. The response was overwhelming, and RW successfully arranged a virtual retreat via Zoom for 20 lucky writers to learn plotting techniques and how to dive deep when it comes to creating memorable characters. In the retreat’s inaugural weekend, writers from all walks of life and all stages of writerhood (Is that a word? It is now.) gathered in their Brady Bunchesque Zoom boxes to talk craft, brainstorm, laugh, and have a good time.

I’m happy to report I was one of those lucky writers. One might wonder: How much can a writer learn from…other writers? The answer is a lot. The thing about writing is that there’s never a time you’re done learning. There’s never a point where a writer can say they’ve mastered the craft so expertly that there’s nothing more to be learned from others. (I guarantee you this is still the case even for Stephen King and Nora Roberts. I promise they, too, can still learn. Knowledge is like Thanksgiving dinner. You may think you’re full, but there’s always room for dessert.)

Plus, friends. Who doesn’t want new friends!? So many writers I’d known via Twitter, but had never gotten to actually know on a more intimate level, and now I had the opportunity! And they write everything. I followed along with characters from everywhere and anywhere (hence the title of this post) and what a ride it was. I fell into so many amazing worlds and so many raw emotions.

To read the words of a fellow writer is a special gift. It’s an invitation into a person’s soul, into their world, into a special place in their heart, and no one who reads a writer’s words should take that honor lightly. I am so very grateful to have been trusted with the words of so many kindred spirits.

As you might have guessed by the name of the retreat, the weekend encompassed creating unforgettable characters and incredible journeys. We discussed what makes a character unforgettable and how to take a reader on a journey with all its rollercoaster twists and turns while still providing an explosive ending that delivers.

And the swag! Did I mention the swag? A box full of goodies and treats, writer fuel (coffee and tea), a #5amwritersclub mug, stickers, and an organized binder chock full of information. It’s clear RW put a lot of work into this retreat, and how grateful I was to have been on the receiving end of it!

Plus, secret envelopes. Did I mention the secret envelopes? RW is a master at the secret envelopes and they were filled with…

Wait.

…if I tell you, they won’t be secret anymore. I guess you’ll just have to apply for the Fall 2021 UCIJ Retreat to find out.*

Bonded by a shared retreat. Love these faces!

*Seriously, do it.

Privilege

Not going to lie. The banning of a certain someone from social media this week has me letting out a breath I didn’t know was holding. (I’m a YA author. You knew I had to use that phrase eventually, right?) There is still so much work to be done to right our listless ship of a country, but I’m an optimist at heart, and I’d like to think we can do it together.

In expressing my relief at today’s turn of events after my anger and horror at the events of two days ago on Facebook, I was accused of being an angry person. It was suggested that I’d be much happier if I turned off the news entirely and spent more time with my family.

The person who made this suggestion is a friend. A friend who means well. But ultimately a friend who has more privilege in the tip of his pinky finger than many people will ever have in their entire lives. He’s white. He’s male. He’s heterosexual. He’s Christian. He’s financially secure.

By suggesting I turn off the news to experience happiness, he’s saying that it’s okay to turn our backs on the millions of people in need across the country and around the world. He’s implying four-thousand American lives lost to Covid-19 a day isn’t worth being informed about.

He’s insinuating that we don’t need to know about families separated at the border, about women in those same camps being sterilized against their will, about Congress trying to remove healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic.

He’s saying we don’t need to hear about about the government’s refusal to care for its people, about its refusal to grant extended unemployment, to ensure its people have food and a place to live, to ensure access to clean water (Flint, MI still doesn’t have it). Never mind that the government is removing LGBTQ+ protections, packing the courts, or that dozens of counties across the U.S. are gerrymandered to ensure the minority party continues to rule as long as possible. He’s implying that a government not actually working for the people isn’t a problem for him. And it’s not. For the reasons I stated earlier.

He’s implying that those of us who do care enough to follow along in the news, those of us who call ourself activists because we attend peaceful protests* and write letters to our elected officials, don’t spend time with our families. We can’t, right? You can’t possibly spend time with your family and do all those pesky other things to fight for democracy and human lives.

Thing is? I wasn’t angry when I posted about smiling when I read that someone was banned from social media. But I became angry with my friend’s words. Turning my back so I can “be happy” in ignorance isn’t better than facing head on the ugliness this country has wrought in the last few years.

I want to see my children grow up in a world that is fair and free. In a country that embraces different cultures and traditions, where people in need are welcomed with open arms and given the opportunity to rest, recover, and thrive. I want my family to know that I’ve done everything I can do to make that future for them. And that they must do the same for others.

Because, and here’s the whole point:

THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE THIS PRIVILEGE.

Full Stop.

We must be informed, seek truth, and fight for the things that are right. Always. Because without knowledge, without truth, ugly, ignorant opinions weigh just as important. And they’re not. Not by a long shot.

If you have privilege, use it. Use it to right the wrongs, to bring light to darkness, to fight the injustices in the world. It’s your duty.

It’s your privilege.

And mine.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

* NOT what took place at the Capitol on Wednesday; that was a mob of homegrown terrorists, not a protest.

The Benefits of Friendship

I head one of the local SCBWI critique groups in my county for Young Adult and Middle Grade authors and, friends, I must confess I feel a little guilty. Sometimes, this group seems like the L. Ryan Storms writing self-improvement hour. I get SO. MUCH. from my dear friends and our talks about what elements make a piece work or why a certain chapter maybe doesn’t work.

Is it difficult? It can be. It was definitely more difficult in the beginning when I realized I’d never shared my work in person before. (Also, I’m an introvert. Did I ever mention that? Once or twice maybe?) But as time went on, my nervousness disappeared and I began to look forward to the feedback offered to me by these kindred spirits who shared my love of stories and all things story-related.

Our group is fairly easygoing when it comes to the rules, but the general idea is:

Share your work if you have something to share. Give useful, critical feedback on others’ work (no breaking spirits allowed). And brainstorm together when it comes to what we like about a piece, who the audience is, where we think the storyline should go, or how the author can make it better.

I have been so very lucky to know such talented, thoughtful individuals who are willing to read a chapter of my work each month and tell me all the things I need to hear. The good things. The not-so-good things. Because without them, I’d be lost when it comes to catching my crutch words and phrases, my overused actions, my annoying, sarcastic main character (who is a bit of a bitch, tbh), her tendency to overreact from time to time, and the annoying boy love interest who, honestly, isn’t mad enough at the world around him when he should be.

I digress. Without my dear SCBWI group, I’d be lost. I interact with at least a few “lost” writers on Twitter every week, those who aren’t sure if their material works, who feel like they’re embarking on this crazy journey alone, who cry and threaten to never write again, who fear they’ll never be as good as, as talented as, as successful as… (insert famous author name here).

My biggest advice to them is:

Find your people.

There’s so much more to explore in the craft when you do it together. There’s so much more to learn, to unravel, to dissect and put back together when you have a posse. Find your posse. Find your people. When you do, the possibilities open wide.

But Storms, how do I find my people?

Good question. For me, the answer was partially on Twitter, where I interacted with strangers who became friends over the course of both time and multiple in-person meetups and conferences. And the answer was also to join a professional organization like SCBWI to interact with others who were writing in the same age categories. I attended a meet-up or two, met a few members, volunteered to start my own critique group because none of the times/days of the other groups worked for me, and met even more amazing writers at all stages of the game.

Some were traditionally published, some independently published, some agented, some querying, some just beginning to test the waters by admitting publicly (gasp!) that they write. And therein lies the beauty of the writing community. I’ve never met a community so open – so willing – to help others along the way.

The answer is not necessarily to join SCBWI. (Though I would argue that this move is infinitely beneficial in ways too numerous to count. If you write for children or young adults, join SCBWI. Do it.) There are dozens of other professional writing organizations out there. The key is to find what works for you and jump in, whether you think you’re ready or not.

Keep learning, keep growing, keep reaching out to writers you know and writers you don’t. Read works by published authors. Beta-read manuscripts for unpublished authors. Offer valuable feedback, and get feedback on your work. Writing is a lonely craft, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely life. Friends are everywhere. Just hit that ‘Follow’ button.*

Look at all those amazing writers (and readers)!

*Okay, for real, only follow writers you want to interact with. Don’t follow creepers. Don’t follow horrible people. Don’t follow people who look like they will DM you ‘hi pretty lady.’ Don’t follow bots. Don’t follow everyone for the sake of numbers. Find your people. Now go!

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!

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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12 Books—Month 9

It’s time for another Twitter friend book review and this time it’s Roselle Lim’s Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune.

I didn’t think twice about picking up this book. It has everything I love – a romance, a little bit of magic, a girl finding her place in the world. I wouldn’t think of missing it!

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck & Fortune

What I found when I opened the pages and dove in did not disappoint. In fact, it’s such a unique story that I almost don’t want to delve into the details and give anything away…

Suffice it to say the story follows a young woman who returns home to San Francisco’s Chinatown after many years away (and a not-so-happy parting with her agoraphobic mother). She returns because her mother has passed away, and she’s plagued with sorrow and guilt at having left her mother on bad terms. She finds her community in disrepair and longs to help in a way she couldn’t have before she’d left. According to a mystic, the neighborhood will prosper if she makes three recipes to help three neighbors.

Because Natalie Tan’s recipes come from her grandmother’s magic recipe book–a book that features recipes for the tastebuds, but ingredients for the heart, her cooking contains just as much magic, repairing damaged relationships and helping love to flourish. It’s the story of a woman who finds her place in this world.

But it’s also a story of suspending disbelief, of allowing magical realism to take over. Lim’s descriptions are poetic, her writing lyrical. The book was a delightful read full of mouth-watering recipes that made me wish I had my own personal chef.

In the end, I have only one question. Who cleans Natalie’s kitchen after all that meal preparation?

12 Books—Month 8

Hooray, we’ve reached one of my favorites in my Twitter friend book reviews. This month, I read Jean Grant’s Will Rise From Ashes. If her name looks familiar, it’s because I’ve mentioned Jean before on my blog. Several times, actually, as Jean is a critique partner and beta-reader extraordinaire. In fact, I mentioned Will Rise From Ashes when I featured an interview with her several months ago.

Now I get to tell you all about how much I loved it! Will Rise From Ashes is a women’s fiction, near apocalyptic, mother’s journey and romance that will take you on a ride. (And not just because A.J., the main character, is traveling thousands of miles to find her missing son.) I’m talking emotional rollercoaster.

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Before I had kids, stories like this would have been entertaining. Now? Now they’re terrifying. As a mother, there is nothing more horrifying than the feeling of helplessness where your kids are concerned, and Grant captures it perfectly.

Our main character A.J. has already faced emotional loss with the accidental death of her husband a year prior. Now, with help from her brother, she vows to take her two children to Yellowstone National Park–a vacation they were supposed to take as a family before her husband died. There’s a catch, though. It’s not an easy trip. A.J.’s older son Will is on the autism spectrum, which makes hectic airport environments challenging. When Will has a meltdown in the airport due to a delay caused by an overbooked flight, A.J.’s brother insists that she and Will take the last two seats, that he and her younger son Finn will catch the next flight.

The only problem? The super volcano beneath Yellowstone erupts, causing devastation and havoc while A.J. and Will are safely on their way home. When A.J. learns what happened, she’s determined to get to Finn at any cost, even though all flights are grounded. She loads Will into the car and the two begin a cross-country journey from Maine to Colorado (where her brother and Finn were supposed to catch a connecting flight). If they are still alive, that’s where they’ll be.

As if the tension weren’t enough, Grant throws in a hero by the name of Reid, and a sizzling sweet romance to last the ages. It’s a fantastic read that has everything one could want in a book. I keep hoping the right person will read this and make it into a movie… (Hollywood, you hear me? I’m talking to you!)

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.

12 Books—Month 5

This month, in my Twitter-Friend Book Review, I chose Katrina Ariel’s Wild Horse Heart. I first glimpsed this book when Katrina and I became friends on Twitter and I was lucky enough to read some of her other work as a critique partner long ago. Since I already knew I enjoyed her writing, I bought a copy of Wild Horse Heart and jumped in.

Given my love of horses, this book was an obvious choice. A light contemporary romance, Wild Horse Heart is a story about taking big chances, starting over, and learning to love yourself. It was an easy read and I finished it in about two days. Plus, let’s take a moment to talk about this gorgeous cover art, shall we? Love.

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Ariel obviously enjoys the outdoors and her love of nature shines through in her work. The descriptions of landscape in particular had me itching to get in the car and start driving westward once more, longing for fresh air and wide open spaces.

If you like romance, enjoy a little Hollywood escapism, and love the idea of stepping out of your own life and into a new one, this is the perfect read.

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My horse is a Standardbred, a retired racehorse. My sister has a mustang, just like those in Katrina Ariel’s book!

Who’s Who? Volume IV

Twitter is a blessing and a curse in one, but following the right people makes all the difference. Here’s a list of some of my favorites to follow. Get them on your list, too!

Maria Stout (@MariaStout) – I’m a writer, so I really enjoy following other writers, especially upbeat ones who give their all, cheer on others, and never let life get them down. Maria checks all three of those boxes. When I met Maria at the Philadelphia Writer’s Workshop two years ago, we blathered on about how excited we were to be there (‘blather’ is accurate for both of us, right Maria?), and we’ve stayed connected ever since. Also, I like to keep up on the buzz. No, not the gossip. The buzz. On top of being a teacher, a writer, a mom, and a wife, she’s also a beekeeper.

 

Piper Drake (@PiperJDrake) – I started following Piper because of her role on Writing Excuses, a writing-related podcast I enjoy immensely. Piper was a guest host for a year and I really related to some of the insight she shared on the show. Plus, her romance books are full of heroes with dogs, and everyone knows the way to my heart is with dog hair and drool. Piper doles out tons of great advice when it comes to balancing a day job with writing, the roles of agents and editors, really beautiful and mouth-watering food, and of course – all things Corbin J. Drake. And who wouldn’t love to follow that?

 

Geraldine DeRuiter (@everywhereist) – Because every good Twitter account needs a healthy dose of feminism, Geraldine should top your list. She’s smart, quick, and covers a range of topics from travel and politics to television and current events. Journalism, feminism, and opinionism at its finest! (I desperately wanted to share one of her wittiest moments, but I think this one already says it all.)

 

Jennifer Lane (@Metal_and_Earth) –  Jennifer is a fellow eastern Pennsylvanian and Indie Author who recently released her second novel, Stick Figures from Rockport. (Yes, I wrote about that one just recently.) She’s fun to follow and when she posts things like this, she makes me feel so much more normal inside…

 

E.K. Thiede (@ethiedee) – A writer after my own heart, Emily is a blast to follow on Twitter. Much like the other ladies on my Very Female list today, Emily’s Twitter will give you a hearty does of feminism. (Insert cheer! We all need more of this.) There’s rarely a tweet of hers that I don’t instantly ‘heart’ and if I manage to refrain, it’s only because I don’t want her thinking I’m a creepy stalker.

 


Don’t see yourself listed here? Don’t despair. There are so many amazing people to follow on Twitter. Hang around! You might be in my next issue of Who’s Who!

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