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.

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!

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.

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.

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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.

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!

Who’s Who? Volume III

It’s time for another Who’s Who! Here’s a list of people I love to follow on Twitter, and if you’re a writer, a reader, or just enjoy ramblings by intelligent, fun people, you should follow them, too!

T.S. Bazelli (@tsbazelli) – She’s super fun, great at tweeting and quote-tweeting, and posts the best literary advice! I often find myself clicking that little heart below her posts. Plus…her food photos make me drool a little. I long for a personal chef to prepare meals for me (as I hate cooking) and when I see her images…well it makes me just a little sadder that I don’t have a chef in my house. And yet, I can’t look away.


Mads Bertasio (@MadsBertasio) – Mads prefers they/them pronouns and they are an inspiration. I was thrilled to get to spend time with Mads in NYC this past summer, and they’ve taught me so much about what it means to be true to yourself. They’re a whole lot wiser than I was at 26 for sure. Mads is incredibly open about their experience as a queer #ownvoices writer. Their honesty and willingness to share stories about their journey makes me smile every time. Plus, Mads is 99% of the reason that hedgehogs show up regularly in my TL. And who doesn’t need that?


Ralph Walker (@RW_Igloo) – Ralph is a SUPER-writer. Yes, that’s like Superman, but with words. He can do it all. Short stories, full-length novels, screenplays—you name it, he’s done it. Even better? He’s a SUPER-motivator. With his #5amwritersclub tweets, he’s up and tackling words before the sun rises every day. (Which is completely and totally, 100% opposite of my late night writing strategy, but somehow we see eye-to-eye when it comes to putting in the work!)


Angela Caldwell (@AngelaMCaldwell) – I’m not really sure there’s anything Angela can’t do. She’s a teacher, a photographer, an author, a mother, a caretaker, and I’m sure there’s about eight other titles I must be missing… She’s been a wealth of knowledge when it comes to self-publishing and she’s eager to help! And…she’s another super-optimistic writing friend who’s really good at cheerleading!


Yas (@TheWritinStylz) – I love Yas’s Twitter. She’s so much fun to follow, has an amazing personality, and I enjoyed celebrating with her online when she just attained agent representation as a writer! (Say it with me – WOOOHOOOOOO!) Yas is a tremendous and much needed voice when it comes to writing and to life and I only realized as I’m typing this that she just celebrated her 1-year anniversary last month! Congrats on the celebration of a lovely union, Yas!


Mariely Lares (@laresmar) – Aside from the fact that Mariely has a great sense of humor and frequently makes me laugh with some of her tweets, she’s also an amazing writer! Mariely is an incredibly talented Latinx writer who left me hanging (and crying) as a beta reader…because her work is SO intense and I only got to read the first 30 pages. Yes, she’s really THAT talented. I’m not exaggerating. I read the start of her story over a year ago and I’m still thinking about it. The intensity of those first few pages rivaled published authors I’ve read, and I look forward to the day that Mariely’s work is on the shelves of the bookstores. You can bet I’ll be first in line to buy one!


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!

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.

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So many fabulous writers. Dinner on a Friday night.