How to Make Lemonade

The day after husband’s oncologist used the ‘C’ word at his 4-year followup visit, he got up early to go fishing. (A common occurrence in our household, as our friends and acquaintances know well.) When he returned, he was mumbling to himself as he walked in the front door, but I caught only the tail end of the conversation as he headed through the house and to the shower.

“Just need to figure out how to make lemonade. That’s all.”

But making lemonade isn’t something you do with rotten lemons, and I’ve been pondering his words ever since. So I did something new today. I wrote an essay and submitted it for publication.

An essay.

Me.

I wrote an essay. Something that didn’t involve fictional characters, magic, and dragons.

I haven’t done that since my college days. But today, as my fifteen-year-old slogged through a 500-word essay on The Scarlet Letter (which, for the record, she hated, and let’s be real, who doesn’t?), I, too, tapped away at the computer keys, crafting a story of all we’ve been through in the past four years since Nate’s initial cancer diagnosis. Before I knew it, I had almost 1600 words of love, fear, support, uncertainty – pretty much everything that sums up life with a secondary cancer diagnosis in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.

Maybe it will go nowhere. Maybe it doesn’t need to go anywhere. Maybe I just needed to write it.

But I hope it’s accepted somewhere that will reach thousands of people, not because I want recognition, but because if my words can somehow help others who are also struggling through dark times, then I’ve succeeded in making lemonade out of some pretty nasty lemons. And that’s something.

Try

Have you ever wanted something in your life so badly you can’t imagine living without it? Have you ever felt that if someone just gave you a chance, you know you could succeed?

This?

Is every writer I know. Every dreamer.

We write, we create. We make real our fantasy worlds, give breath to characters who live only in our minds until our words bring them to life. We pursue our love of storytelling, of words, of poetry, of sound – all without ever knowing what success, if any, our words will bring.

I watch writers around me succeed. (And I cheer, my friends. I cheer!)

But more often, I watch them fail. Then I watch them fail again. And again. Some shove the words away into a deep, dark drawer, never to be seen again, thoroughly convinced they aren’t “the chosen” writer or they haven’t produced “the chosen” work the world wants to see.

More often than not, they are wrong. More often than not, there are simply too many ways to stumble when it comes to publishing, and it has nothing to do with the writer at all. How many Harry Potters never made publication? No, I don’t mean how many times was Harry Potter rejected. I mean how many other stories are just as marvelous, just as fantastical, just as ready for the eager eyes of excited readers? Dozens. Hundreds, maybe. Perhaps even thousands.

Thousands of manuscripts with talented, good-hearted authors behind their fiery pages, and marvelous minds behind the creation of their worlds. But these stories may never be seen, may never be known. Because in the end, publishing is a business and business is about money.

Oh, how much art has been lost to money!

My heart weeps for the number of manuscripts I’ve known (both my own and those written by friends) that may never make an editor’s desk, and, therefore, may never see the inside of even the smallest bookstore or library.

But, writers.

Do not walk away. Failure is only failure if you stop trying. So, friends?

Try.

The world needs your words.

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.

Slogging

We don’t talk enough about how difficult writing really is. I mean, as writers, we talk a lot about how much we love writing. Characters – yay! Plot – so good! Setting – build those worlds, Queen! Tropes – all the tropes!

“I can’t wait until you can all see what I see in my head! Ahhhh!”

Hey. <snaps fingers>

Over here.

Yeah. I have some tough news to deliver. You* actually need to sit down and put those pieces together into a coherent story word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. Before others can share in the excitement, you* have to create the thing you* say you’re* so excited about creating.

Well, damn.

I guess that means writing words. And that probably means blogging about how writing is difficult doesn’t contribute to the story I’m currently slogging through.

(And reading about someone else’s difficulty writing doesn’t contribute to the story you’re supposed to be writing either. So why are you still here? Go write.)


*By “you,” I clearly mean me.

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!

Fledgling

Every writer knows one of the very best feelings in the world is the moment a shiny, new idea takes shape in your head, and you can’t shake it. And when that shiny, new idea involves collaborating with your 14-year-old kiddo, it’s even better.

A few months ago, my very artistic and talented daughter had to conceptualize a children’s book as a project for her Family Consumer Science class. (For us old folk, that’s 2020 speak for Home-Ec.) They were covering an early childhood development module, and she decided to create a book to help teach children their colors. Since birds come in all colors of the rainbow, she pitched a book about a bird who wanted to see a rainbow of feathers in the Amazon rainforest. She diligently crafted the proposal and even included a sketch or two. Project complete. (She received a A+, btw.)

This shiny, new idea isn’t that book.

BUT.

It *is* a picture book about a bird and a bird family. And working on it with my daughter is one of the most rewarding experiences any mother could hope to have. A combination of written word and visual art, this project is pure excitement for both of us.

In a time when teens are distant and hanging with the family is a serious faux-pas, I have the opportunity to relish my daughter’s enthusiasm for this project, and her willingness to foray (with me!) into something uncertain, into a project that may or may not come to fruition. I’m soaking in our time together and our collaborative effort to dive whole-heartedly into a creative realm we both adore. Storytelling.

Whether by word or by illustration, books make our lives more colorful, more vibrant, more worth living. They entertain and encourage. They create empathy and interest in the world around us. They enable us to learn from the time we’re in the womb straight through our very oldest years. Storytelling is a craft as old as human existence, a tradition passed down from generation to generation.

Taking part in that tradition by creating stories with my daughter and friend is a privilege I will always treasure. My young fledgling isn’t quite ready to leave the nest just yet, but I hope when she someday does she’ll think on our time together and will be reminded to always reach for those shiny, new ideas.

Stretch those wings, little bird.

Concept art for our upcoming picture book. Want to see more of younger Storms’s art? Follow her on Instagram at @dragonartist06.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.)

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The World’s Greatest Invention

With all the technology that exists today, why, oh why, hasn’t a 16-year-old tech whiz come up with a way to record our thoughts as we fall asleep each night? I would hand my money over in a heartbeat. I’d pay yesterday. I’d take a second mortgage on my house to cover payments.

And so would every writer I know.

Lying in bed seems to be when my thoughts run free. It’s like someone has turned on a faucet and decided to let the ideas flow. Words that eluded me all day as I sat in front of an open laptop suddenly gush forward, ready to be released. And I struggle to remember them come the morning.

Oh, I know what you’re going to say.  “Keep a notepad by your bed and write these things down, silly.”

Okay, Karen. Let me just get a few things straight.

  1. When I go to bed, it takes me forever to fall asleep to begin with. WHY WOULD I DISTURB THAT TO WAKE MYSELF UP AND WRITE SOMETHING DOWN?
  2. Writing something requires light. I am not about to turn on the light when I am finally adjusted to the dark.
  3. If I wake myself up to write something, I must now reinitiate the process of trying to sleep all over again. It will be 2 a.m. before I get any semblance of sleep. If I’m lucky.
  4. My handwriting sucks even with light. Supposing I tried to forgo the light, I can’t imagine trying to read that chicken-scratch in the morning if I wrote it in the dark.
  5. Also, I sleep in the same room & the same bed as another person. Can you imagine how thrilled he’d be if I sat up to write down every random musing?

So yes, I would pay money hand over fist to the first person to invent a machine that somehow translates my nighttime musings into actual words on a screen. Come on, already, geniuses! Someone give me a hand and figure this out.

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