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Pitch Wars, Hurricanes, and Other Things That Are Out of Our Control

When I was in the chorus of the musical Pippin, I had this line, spoken to Pippin himself in a moment of dejection:

Nothing ever turns out the way you think it’s going to.

That line stuck with me in real life. It echoes in the back of my mind like a mantra, sometimes comforting, sometimes haunting. But it applies to the past four months as relevantly as ever.

I had plans in October of 2018—go to see The Hate U Give on opening night, dive into Pitch Wars full-steam ahead, turn my revised manuscript into my agent, get started with a new client website that excited me. (If you aren’t familiar with Pitch Wars, it’s a mentoring program for writers. Click here to learn more.) I’ve lived in Florida off and on for over half my life, so I’ve experienced plenty of hurricanes. When Hurricane Michael rolled into the Gulf of Mexico as a Cat 1, I wasn’t worried. We live over 60 miles from the coast at the nearest point, and we’ve housed hurricane evacuees on multiple occasions. We keep hurricane supplies on stand-by—food, water, flashlights—and we filled our tubs, just in case, as you do here. Then, overnight, the storm escalated to a Cat 4 and landed a direct hit on my county and ten others in the Florida panhandle.

A photo of the treeline at dusk.
The day before the storm.

October 10, 2018. The sounds made it real for me, huddled in the center of our home, with 145 mph winds rattling our roof and windows and the thunderous booming of trees and debris falling all around us. We woke up the next morning to the most beautiful, cloudless sunrise I’ve ever seen, amidst the most terrible destruction. Our family was incredibly fortunate—our house was still standing, and our roof was still mostly intact. So many others weren’t as lucky.

I did not go to the movies on October 11th. With my spotty cell service, I told my Pitch Wars co-mentor, Samantha Joyce, I would be unreachable indefinitely, with Pitch Wars mentee announcements on October 12th. I asked my business partners to cover for me through the next week. I sent my manuscript on to my agent.

Nothing ever turns out the way you think it’s going to.

Reality truly set in over the next few days. We were without power and water for over three weeks, and we were among the first residents to be restored in our town. We were occasionally able to make calls and text, but we had no cellular data. Every person and business in our area was in the same situation, including gas stations and grocery stores. If a store was able to reopen, they only accepted cash. Again, we were incredibly fortunate to have family bring help and supplies from out of state. Once the trees blocking our main entryway were removed and the worst damage was tarped, we were in better shape than most. But my husband and I both work from home, meaning we are completely dependent on internet service for our jobs. While our mobile service improved by the first of November, we were without internet and television for three months, through the end of December.

My business partners, my agent, and my Pitch Wars co-mentor and our mentee, Elizabeth Schwab, were incredibly understanding. (If you’re reading this, thank you!) I had intended to write a blog post about trends in our PW inbox (like lots of Shakespeare retellings and theater stories), and I wanted to offer feedback to the Pitch Wars applicants whose manuscripts we’d requested. I quickly realized that wasn’t possible. (Just know if you are one of those people, I truly enjoyed each and every one of your stories.) I also desperately wanted to help my community, but my health constraints didn’t really allow for cutting down trees or tarping roofs. Then a friend contacted me about using our combined experience and contacts for a different kind of relief effort, and Books for the Panhandle* was born. (Learn more about our book drive for children affected by Hurricane Michael here.)

I contracted a work space 50 miles away and commuted to work a few days each week, coordinating the book drive with Rebeccah Lutz, and dealing with insurance and clean-up in between. I was absolutely blown away by the response from the kidlit community across the state and the country. I know my SCBWI friends and the Pitch Wars community both helped to make our dream a reality. Book people are good people, and what started out as an attempt to collect 1,500 books for children grew into the collection and distribution of over 12,000 children’s books in Gulf and Jackson Counties. (Nothing ever turns out the way you think it’s going to…)

People in a warehouse with books
Books displayed in a school library
Books on a table

My relationship toward social media shifted when it became a part of my job description several years ago, and it shifted again with this prolonged period without regular access to the internet. I’m slowly wading back into the book community again, and I am so grateful for the support when I was away.

Though things may seem like they’re getting back to normal here, they are not, not really, and they won’t be for a long time. I hesitate to share pictures, but it’s also worth noting that the pictures below were taken this week, between my house and my son’s school. Almost four months after Hurricane Michael hit.

Debris on the side of a road
Tree on a mobile home
If you look closely, you can see a pine tree propped under a downed power line to keep it out of the road. Children walk to school on that sidewalk.

The trouble is, a single picture can’t illustrate the devastation. A video can’t, either. What’s so chilling about physically being here is the debris and destroyed houses stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions, for well over a sixty mile radius across the entire panhandle of Florida.

The relief effort overall has been slow and long, and while many individuals and small organizations have helped and continue to help these communities, we are not getting support from major donors.

The Salvation Army has received $2.8 million for its Hurricane Michael response. It received a combined $125 million after Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017.

United Way Worldwide received just under $750,000 for Hurricane Michael recovery. That’s more than $10 million less than it received for its combined fund for Hurricanes Irma and Maria. That’s about $100,000 less than it received for the 2017 Mexican earthquake.

From the Miami Herald. Read the full article here.

Large national organizations typically also make sizable donations in the millions to relief efforts, but those organizations haven’t stepped up this time. An official statement from the NFL explained that they made the decision not to donate to Hurricane Michael relief after examining, “the type, scope, location and timing of the disaster.” (Source.) This hurricane killed at least 54 people and caused what state officials estimate at nearly $5 billion in property damage. Think about that when you’re watching the Super Bowl. As if I needed another reason boycott the NFL. I won’t be watching this Super Bowl or any future NFL games, ever. 

The hurricane and Pitch Wars may seem like a strange pairing for a blog post. But the two will forever be inextricably linked now for me personally, and I also feel like there is a greater metaphor, too.

For writers who entered the program and weren’t selected by a mentor, it might have felt like they’d lost something—a chance they’d been hoping for or a plan to move ahead on their publishing journey. I hope these past few months have softened that blow. That they’ve found how amazing the writing community can be or taken a different step forward on that journey.

For the 2018 Pitch Wars mentees, the ones who were chosen for a mentorship, they’ve focused and worked and planned, and the agent showcase sits just ahead on the horizon. It holds the potential to propel their writing journeys forward. But. Nothing ever turns out the way you think it’s going to. Whatever expectations the 2018 mentees have, I hope they’ll remember that whatever happens, there will be another bright sunrise, and they will work through whatever obstacles come next, and they’ll do it with the help of a supportive community.

And even for those who haven’t found the support they were looking for yet, even that can be a silver lining. It allows you to step away from things that aren’t aligned with your goals and refocus on things that are. 

To all the Pitch Wars and writing friends out there, congratulations on all that you’ve accomplished so far. I hope we can all move forward into 2019 with a sense celebrating the good things, lifting each other up in the bad times, and finding joy in the journey either way.

Music for the day: Now or Never Now by Metric

*Books for the Panhandle is no longer taking donations. If you’d like to donate to help the schools and children in Gulf or Jackson Counties, click on the links to donate directly to counties.

**If you’d like to donate to Hurricane Michael assistance, you could donate through one of the larger organizations like United Way, Red Cross, or Salvation Army. Instead, I am including a link here to Innovative Charities here, a local nonprofit organization that continues to provide food and supplies to those in need in Jackson County.

How I Got My Agent

It feels like I’ve been waiting forever to write this post.

I could tell the version where I write a manuscript, polish it up, and send 30 query letters. The one where 15 full requests flood my inbox. In that version, I sign with an agent in less than six weeks. That story is true, and it’s not.

I think I wrote my first novel to prove to myself that I could do it. I had no idea how long the journey would be or where it would take me. I sent that manuscript to friends to read, because I didn’t know any writers. I revised. I went to a conference. I learned about the industry and sent a few queries. One agent requested, but it was a quick pass.

Fast-forward a few years, through an unfinished second manuscript. By the time I wrote my third, a YA fantasy, I had a better handle on things. I researched. I went to another conference and met my first real critique partners. I joined the SCBWI and found my tribe. I started querying and had a respectable number of requests, but no offers.

Then I found the contest circuit. I was so fortunate to be chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee, not because of the exposure to agents, but because of the community. I really connected with other writers and got meaningful critiques. I ended up with R&Rs from two small press editors, but I wanted an agent. So I started a local critique group through SCBWI and moved on to a new story.

When this manuscript was ready, I started with contests. This story was a finalist in The Writer’s Voice, PitchMas, An Agent’s Inbox, Pitch Plus Five, and possibly some I don’t remember. I sent queries, too. I was sure this was the one. I had an even more respectable number of requests, tons of positive feedback, and one R&R that led to scrapping more than half of the book. I was willing to put in the work. Six months later, the agent still passed.

How much longer would I keep pouring my time and energy into this writing thing? My freelance work had led to a job offer that meant going back into an office, doing the perfect combination of media, branding, editing, design, and web coordination. But I couldn’t stop writing. On my lunch breaks. At night after my kids were in bed. I decided that even if I never landed an agent or a book deal, I loved writing, I loved books, and I loved the amazing community that had become so important to me.

I could not give up.

I moved across the state, readjusted to working from home again, and kept writing. When my fifth manuscript was finished and in the hands of my amazing CPs, I entered a contest. To my surprise, it won the 2017 SCBWI Rising Kite Award for the state of Florida. After a few more months of polish and revision, I dove back into the query trenches.

Which finally brings me back to thirty queries. Fifteen requests. More than one offer. A difficult decision. And finally a signed contract.

I am absolutely thrilled to say that I am now repped by Danielle Burby of Nelson Literary Agency.



“It’s okay to take a break.”

My husband said this to me yesterday. It’s one of those things I know to be true, but it helps to hear someone else reaffirm it. In the ever-shifting balance of life, family time and writing time keep up their antagonistic struggle. The blog usually gets the shortest stick in that draw, but I wanted to stop in with a run-down on my time away.

In Reading:

Used book store finds have been filling my reading list, so instead of long reviews, I thought I’d give a shout-out to two oldies that really stuck with me.

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves blew my mind. Imagine a world of infinite dimensions, with an incarnation of the boy who can save the universe in each one. Now imagine they all get together, form an army, and fight the magic and science extremists who want to take over.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson made me think of what would happen if Chuck Palahniuk wrote for teen girls.  Anderson’s chilling voice explores anorexia with depth, intrigue, and complex characters.


In Writing:

Revisions on my WIP are trudging along. I’m over half way through, but the further I get down the line, the more early changes start affecting later events. Also, shiny new ideas keep popping up and begging to be explored. I’ve been debating taking them on in short story form, even though I don’t have enough time in the day for all my other obligations.

In Music:

The Muse concert in Ft. Lauderdale was phenomenal, as expected. On the horizon, we’re taking Son 1 and Son 2 to their first rock concert to see Imagine Dragons in May.  Happy Mother’s Day to me!

And happy reading and writing to all of you! Until next time…

Today begins the meet-and-greet for Gearing Up to Get an Agent (GUTGAA), a blogfest hosted by Deana Barnhart. Thanks for organizing all of this, Deana!
If this is your first visit, welcome to Unavoidable Awkwardness! I fell hard for middle grades and young adult lit when my sixth-grade students started recommending books to me over ten years ago. I blog about books and writing.  Here are the answers to Deana’s meet-and-greet questions:
-Where do you write?
I have a writing desk in my bedroom, but sometimes I take field trips to Panera or Starbucks.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
I have a printed copy of chapters on top of a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil and covered in clear tape. (A trial run for my son’s school book covers.)

-Favorite time to write?
When the creative juices hit me. Usually I write in the morning, though.

-Drink of choice while writing?

Coffee. Or Tea. Or anything with caffeine.

-When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?

I need music! Sometimes I’ll be writing, and I’ll just stop without realizing why. It will take me a few minutes to realize that Pandora wants to know if I’m still listening. I’m an alt rock fan, and my Muse, Death Cab, and White Stripes stations are all sound the same these days.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?

It always starts with the characters for me. But this concept came from me thinking about alternative histories, and how people are basically the same, despite how different their cultural influences are.

-What’s your most valuable writing tip?
Don’t give up! Keep Writing!

Thank you so much for stopping by! I can’t wait to meet you.

Music for today: I Can Tell That We Are Going to be Friends by The White Stripes

Becky at Once Upon a Time was sweet enough to award Unavoidable Awkwardness a Sunshine Award and a Kreativ Blogger Award! Thanks so much, Becky! For the Sunshine Award, you link back to the gracious giver, answer a few questions about yourself, and pass the award on to other bloggers.

I was also tagged by Cynthia at Read is the New Black. Since I’ve already answered a few 11 question tags, I thought I’d pick a few questions Cynthia and a few from Becky.

1. If you could talk to a dead person about writing, who would it be?

I would probably pick Emily Bronte. Every few years I read Wuthering Heights again, and I am always in awe. I have so many questions I’d love to ask. How did it feel to be a female writer at that time and to publish under a man’s name? Did you constantly compare yourself to your sisters? What were you working on after Wuthering Heights? Plotter or pantser?

2. If you were the main character in a book, what genre would it be?

I’d pick historical fiction.

3. How do you get names for your characters?

For my main characters, I don’t feel like I really know them until I know their names. Once I know a name, I can find out more about them. Those have to just come to me in time. For supporting characters, I sometimes use baby name books.

4. Favorite color – Blue

5. Favorite number – 3

6. Favorite non-alcoholic drink – Coffee

7. Facebook or Twitter – One of the best quotes I’ve heard lately: Facebook is where you lie to your friends, and Twitter is where you’re honest with strangers. I think that’s almost too true!

I’m going to pass the Sunshine Award on to a few bloggers who make me smile. Grab the button for your blogs!

Jennifer Fischetto

Eve at Functioning Insanity

Gina at This is Not Your Blog

Kip at Meditate on This I Will

C.M. Brown

Here is Becky’s full list of questions that you can answer on your blogs!

Favorite color

Favorite animal

Favorite number

Favorite non-alcoholic drink

Facebook or Twitter

My passion

Getting or giving presents?

Favorite pattern

Favorite day of the week

Favorite flower

11 More Questions…

Jenna Cooper at Finding the Write Way and Amber Clites at amberafterglow also tagged me in 11 questions. Thanks, girls! It’s been so much fun getting to know everyone! Here are the answers to some of their questions.

1. Pantser or Planner?
Pantser. I tried planning my current WIP, and it just doesn’t work for me.
2. Would you rather have free Starbucks for five years or free iTunes for life?
iTunes for life.
3. The question for the ages, Edward or Jacob?
4. Would you rather be able to talk to animals or to be able to speak and understand any language?
I would love to speak other languages.
5. Would you rather be kidnapped by terrorists or abducted by aliens?
Aliens, for sure.
6. What is the genre(s) that you write for?
My current MS is YA fantasy.
7. Did you cry in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part two? Was one of the times when Dumbledore asked Severus, “After all this time?” and Severus responded, “Always.” And if not, are you sure you have a soul?
I refused to watch part 1 until part 2 was showing, and not only did I sit sobbing on my couch at the end of part 1, I also cried several times during part 2.
8. With your iPod/MP3 on shuffle, what’s the first song that comes up?
Hysteria by Muse.
9. You’re the producer for turning any one book into a movie, which do you choose to do?
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
10. What’s your least favorite book you ever had to read for school?
Gargantua and Pantagruel
11. What’s one thing you believe in with all your heart?
It doesn’t matter what you feel, it matters what you do.

Music for today: Friend Crush by Friends

11 Questions

Thanks to Daisy Carter at Fresh as a Daisy for tagging me in 11 Questions! I have to answer Daisy’s 11 questions, come up with my own list, and then tag 11 more bloggers.

First, my answers:

1. Favorite villain and why?

The Lannisters from Game of Thrones. Tyrion is really my favorite, but I’m not sure if he counts as a villain. The whole family is twisted and nasty and complex, not unlike an episode of Hoarders. You just can’t fight the fascination.

2. What’s the last book you read?

I just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Greene yesterday. *still wiping tears away*

3. If you could tra

vel back in time, where would you go and why?

I’m cheating on this one. For sheer fantasy fulfillment, I would go to England in the early 1900s. For personal, selfish reasons, I would go back and have a chat with my middle school self, though I doubt tween me would listen. (Be bold! Be brave! Buy stock in Apple!)

4. Would you rather have an unlimited gift card to your favorite bookstore OR a publishing contract but never be allowed to read any other books?

No question, I would take the unlimited gift card. I would go crazy if I couldn’t read another book.

5. If you were an animal, what would you be?

I would be a cat.

6. What’s your very first memory?

My parents had one of those toddler seats on the back of a bike. It was bright yellow. I remember riding down a hill on the back of that bike on a trip to the store; I was around two years old.

7. Suzanne Collins, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Neil Gaiman, Judy Blume and John Green call. They all want you to come to their house for dinner, but all on the same night. Whose dinner invitation do you accept?

Tough one! I’d love to meet all of them, but I’d have to pick JK Rowling. The ‘at her house’ part seals that deal.

8. You discover a planet. What do you name it?

Oren. I have no idea where that came from.

9. What world/nation/city/place from a book would you most like to visit?

I would have to go to Hogwarts. There are tons of amazing fictional worlds, but most of them are too dangerous for my blood.

10. Here’s a million dollars. How would you spend it? *note, I said spend. It’s a fantasy! No saving!*

After paying off my house and splurging on an Aston Martin, I would travel around the world. The itinerary would bounce all over Europe, Africa, Australia, China, and Japan.

11. On which reality TV contest or gameshow would you be a contestant?

I may be dating myself with this one, but I would be on The Mole. This was a reality show hosted by the silver fox Anderson Cooper, in which the contestants traveled around the world and completed tasks to add money to the collective pot. One of the players was really a ‘mole,’ who was trying to sabotage the missions. To win the game, you had to figure out who the saboteur was. It was the only purely awesome reality show, and I have no idea why it was canceled.

Now it’s my turn! Here are my questions.

1. What kind of music (if any) do you listen to while writing?

2. Do you rush right out to see the movies adapted from books you love, or do you avoid them?

3. Pick five fictional characters you’d love to have over to your house for dinner.

4. Do you have any pets?

5. What foods would you pick for your last meal?

6. Name the number one person who would make you faint if he/she commented on your blog or tweeted you on Twitter. (Can be a celebrity, author, or anyone else, but it has to be a real, living person.)

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

8. If you could pick one book that all teenagers would have to read in high school, what would it be?

9. Which fictional character is most like ‘real-life’ you?

10. Do you believe in love at first sight?

11. You can only pick one book to read over and over for the rest of your life. What would it be?

I tag:

The Golden Eagle at The Eagle’s Aerial Perspective

The Literary Mom at http://theliterarymom.wordpress.com/

Traci Kenworth at http://tracikenworth.wordpress.com/

Carolin Seidenkranz at http://carolinseidenkranz.blogspot.com/

Erin at Seventh Story Studio

Journey in Writing

Elizabeth at Elizabeth Creith’s Scriptorium

Rhiannon Morgan at http://rhiannonmorganya.blogspot.com/

Anstice Potts at Creative Therapy

Regina at Unsettled

Callie Kingston at http://calliekingston.blogspot.com/

If you decide to participate, please leave a comment so I can check out your answers! And don’t forget to pass on your own questions to fellow bloggers!

Music for today: Where is My Mind by the Pixies

Ah, serendipity.

In all the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve never posted a bio page. I wanted to welcome my new followers (Hello!) and help you to know me better, so this morning I wrote a little about myself. While writing, I received a message from the thoughtful and talented Colin Smith, awarding me the Kreativ Blogger Award. Thank you so much, Colin!

As a Kreativ Blogger, I need to link back to the award giver, share ten random facts about me, then pass on the award to six people.

Colin is truly a Kreativ Blogger. His posts are filled with insight and humor, and he has excellent taste in books. You can find Colin’s blog at: http://www.colindsmith.com/blog/

And now for a few things about me.

I’m a Florida girl.

You will find me somewhere by the sea, either cozy at home, or in a French café or coffee shop, or cheering for the Gators, or at the midnight showing of a YA book-turned-movie, a habit begun before Twi-moms were a thing.

I’ll likely be wearing these, my favorite pair of sparkly shoes.

Wherever you find me, I will be reading, or writing, or looking after my husband, or shouting after Son 1 and Son 2. Alternative music will be playing in the background. I will not be talking on the phone, exercising, or eating any meat of the red variety.

I’m passing this award on to some bloggers I’ve followed for a while, and some who I’ve just recently met through the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. All are delightful and well worth following.

Kate Coursey at http://katecoursey.blogspot.com/

Juliana Haygert at http://www.julianahaygert.com/blognews/

Kate Scott at http://www.katescottwrites.com/

Jillian at Writing on a Limb http://writingonalimb.blogspot.com/

Anna Weggener at http://www.annawaggener.com/

Jenna Cooper at http://findingthewriteway.blogspot.com/

Music for today: Trojans by Atlas Genius