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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.

Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

Buy it through Barnes and Noble or Amazon

The summary (adapted from Goodreads):

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.

The review:

The Thing About Jellyfish is exceptionally well-written. Informative without being preachy and realistic but also timeless, Jellyfish covers quite a bit of ground in what it means to journey from childhood to adolescence. That aching realism, and the interesting facts, were my favorite parts of the novel. It’s the kind of book with a cross-over appeal that adults will love. The question I kept asking, though, was how will the target audience feel? Even with the first person narration, I felt a distance from Suzy, as if the reader is seeing an adult tell the story instead of a twelve-year-old. Even with that distance, I still appreciate the layered nuance of Benjamin’s writing.

4 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Take It All Back by Judah & the Lion

Release Day: The Island Deception

The Island Deception is finally here! Ever since I finished The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt, I’ve eagerly anticipated the next installment in the Gateways to Alissia series. Today is the day!

The Summary:

For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.

He misses it.

Luckily–or not–CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task: Help take Richard Hold down.

It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds–a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia–if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

He also might learn how to use real magic himself.

I can’t wait dive in! Click here for more info or to buy your copy today!

About the author:

Dan Koboldt is a genetics researcher and fantasy/science fiction author. He has co-authored more than 70 publications in Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and other scientific journals. Dan is also an avid deer hunter and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife and children in Ohio, where the deer take their revenge by eating the flowers in his backyard.

Dan’s WebsiteTwitter, and Facebook

Cover Reveal: The Rogue Retrieval

I am so excited to share the gorgeous cover for Dan Kobolt’s The Rogue Retrieval today! While this isn’t the YA or MG fare I usually review, I am so excited to read this one. Dan is an awesome member of the online writing community. He has a gift for all things sci-fi and fantasy, and his blog is filled with useful information for writers of all genres and age groups; you can check it out here.

Without further ado…

Pre-order it here!

The summary, courtesy of Goodreads:

Sleight of hand…in another land.

Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.

That’s how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it’s only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.

Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into his debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.

Doesn’t it sound amazing? The Rogue Retrieval releases January 19, 2016. You can pre-order it here at Barnes and Noble.

Heart Problems

I had a post on books all ready to go last week. But the far too common tragedies, national and local, washed over my news feeds, and a familiar sadness and frustration came with them. Suddenly my book love felt small and unimportant in the face of more and more brutality.
 
We all like to think these things won’t keep happening, maybe because we all like to think that other people are basically good. But that’s the problem. People aren’t good. I’m not suggesting we don’t have a gun problem, and a racism problem, and a sexism problem. But truly, deep down, we have heart problems.
 
We all feel sadness, anger, hurt, or entitlement. It’s how we react to those feelings that not only define us, but also tear down or build up the people around us. I read the sentiment on social media this week that we need more regulations and enforcement, not more prayers. The comment broke my heart a little more, because it’s not a one or the other proposition for me.
 
I am a Christian, so I see the world in the light of those beliefs. I believe the world is broken. That people are broken. I believe we need God, and that Christians and non-believes alike make messes of our own lives and God’s intentions for us.
 
Even if you don’t believe the Gospel, try to imagine loving someone enough to sacrifice the life of your child to save him. A person who hates and curses you. Who may be a liar, thief, or murderer. Or maybe just someone who tries to be good, but makes mistakes. I know I wouldn’t be able to do it. But God did. And we are commanded to love each other as He did. Sometimes it’s hard to love the people close to me, much less strangers or even people who would do me harm.
 
I think we could see amazing change if only we could genuinely love like that, and see that love multiplied out in the world. And as Christians, that kind of love can impact lives for Jesus. So I pray that I can love more like that, and that others will, too.

 
Next week, I’ll be back to the book scene. But today, I just needed to share a little of the faith that keeps me going, even when things in this world look bleak.

Writer Recharge 2015

Okay, so I’m super late to the party. But Writer Recharge is just what I need to kick myself into gear. Maybe just getting some goals down and out in public will help me to power through! Hosted by Sara BirenKaty UppermanAlison MillerLiz Parker, and Elodie Nowodazkij, Writer Recharge is a four-week jump start in the middle of a cold, dreary winter. Set goals for yourself, check in once a week, and connect with other recharging writers. Check out Sara’s website to join in!



WRITE/REVISE:

I’ve spent the last week plotting and outlining for an R&R. In the next two weeks, I plan to revise the first six chapters of my manuscript and write at least 10,000 new words on the full revision.



READ:

I’ve just started All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, which I expect to finish in a few days. As usual, I’m much more drawn to the male MC, Finch, in the dual narrative.  I usually buy books in bulk, and my stack has dwindled to nothing. So of course I am open to suggestions for what to read next!   



STRETCH:

I want to strike up more conversations with strangers. I am so hopelessly introverted when it comes to those types of interactions. I want to ask at least one person per week what she is reading, how her day is going, or something like that. 



SELF:

I need to get all the sugar out of my house. Between Christmas, kids’ birthdays, and Valentine’s Day, the candy and cookies just keep sneaking in to my kitchen. I know we’ll all feel so much better if we can get back to healthier eating habits.



CONNECT:

My local critique group has been in an awesome groove; we ended January with a workshop that helped us grow personally and as a group. We keep growing in numbers, too, and I need to get all my critiques done this week before our February meeting! I also have this weird tendency to never share a first draft of anything. With the revision I have in the works, though, I want to get over myself and get the feedback I need as soon as possible.



FUN:

The hubs and I haven’t been out on a date in a while. I’m hoping I can get one set up before March gets here!



Thanks for hosting this, ladies! I can’t wait to catch up with all of you!





Crow’s Rest

I have followed the publication journey of the YA urban fantasy Crow’s Rest for a while now. I am so excited to share the book trailer today!

The summary:

Avery Flynn arrives for a visit at her Uncle Tam’s, eager to rekindle her summertime romance with her crush-next-door, Daniel.

But Daniel’s not the sweet, neurotic guy she remembers–and she wonders if this is her Daniel at all. Or if someone–or something–has taken his place.


Her quest to find the real Daniel–and get him back–plunges Avery into a world of Fae and changelings, where creatures swap bodies like humans change their socks, and magic lives much closer to home than she ever imagined.



Written by the fabulous Angelica R. Jackson, Crow’s Rest will be available in May of 2015. Angelica made the trailer herself on a tight budget. You can learn more about the author on her website here. And for more information on how she put this awesome trailer together, click here.

Crow’s Rest is up on Goodreads and available for pre-order here and here.

Book Review: Chronicles from Chateau Moines

Today I’m reviewing Chronicles from Chateau Moines by Evelyne Holingue. It is available here on Amazon and here at Barnes and Noble. 

 

Summary:
Twelve-year-old Scott is still reeling from his mother’s death. Why is his father dragging the family from their home in California to the small French town of Chateau Moines? With his dad keeping secrets and his sister fitting in right away, Scott struggles to adjust to his new life. Enter Sylvie, a music-loving classmate who won’t admit how fascinated she is by this American boy. If she can overcome her resistance, and her best friend’s crush, Sylvie may be the perfect friend to help Scott find his place in France. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War protest era, Chronicles from Chateau Moines is about loss and friendship, music and peace, and overcoming family secrets.

 

Review:
As a girl, I dreamed of visiting France one day. As an adult, my visit there holds special memories. Not only did I spend an anniversary with my husband in Paris, but I also started writing seriously when I came home. I may be a little biased, but I absolutely loved the setting of Chateau Moines. From the opening chapters, the author whisked me away to this small town in France. Set in 1970, the characters’ varying stances on the Vietnam War also give a unique international view of the time period.

 

Sylvie and Scott’s distinct voices were also a high point. I related quickly to Scott as a main character—I sympathized with his grief over his mother’s death, and I rooted for him as he stood firm in his beliefs while leading a war protest. Although the characters are younger, I think both the theme and the voice would appeal to upper middle grades readers who enjoy character-driven historical fiction and anyone who loves all things French.

 

5 out of 5 stars.

2015!

2015! I am so ready for the flying cars, house cleaning robots, and the slimming, monochromatic body suits we were promised. As we all sky rocket into the future, I have a few bookish goals for the year ahead.

 
1. Review more books.

I really skimped on my book reviewing last year. I hate writing bad reviews. I know they’re helpful to other readers, but as a writer, I really struggle with tearing down someone else’s work. I enjoy critiquing and beta reading, but at that point the work is still in flux. If the writer shares it with me, she is still willing to make changes. That knowledge gives me the freedom to share what doesn’t work for me. But a published work is complete. Just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean someone else will. And unfortunately, I only read a few books that I really loved last year. Here’s hoping goal #2 changes that in 2015.

2.   Read more debuts.
 
Last year I mostly read big name, highly publicized books, partially because I’m entrenched in so many series. I enjoyed the fresh voices in the debuts I did read, and I plan to push myself in that direction this year.

3. Really enjoy the fun parts of writing.

Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. It’s messy and free and private. Things may really take shape in the revising stage, but that part is as much work as it is fun. This year I just want to soak in the joy of creative process, instead of always focusing on the success or failure of the end product.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are off to a great new year!

Music for today: There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths

Connections

I’ve been fairly quiet on social media lately, other than tweeting about the occasional silly, unimportant thing. It’s not because I don’t care about what’s really going on in the world, but because I do. I care. My heart breaks for the people who are hurting. For the brokenness in the media and in our country and in the world as a whole. But I haven’t wanted to add my voice to the fray when I didn’t have anything new to say.
 
Maybe I still don’t. But in this season of thanksgiving, reflecting, and rejoicing, as I read about protests and conflicts alongside the updates I follow in the world of children’s publishing, two ideas keep swirling in my head.

 
1.      We really need diverse books.
We need them to be published. We need to buy them. And we need to read them. The surest way to understand someone else’s point of view is to become his friend. Maybe I can’t befriend everyone I meet in real life, but I can connect with characters in books. In a book, I can see the world through different eyes. And maybe that little bit of understanding can grow into a real-life change in perspective. And what better place for that to start than in books for our children. I’ve tried to write characters with backgrounds outside of my own experience, and I’m sure I’ve made missteps. But I won’t stop trying. For more information about the We Need Diverse Books campaign, click here.

 
2.     The golden rule is a good first step.
I’m pretty sure I’ve said this sentence every day since my children were old enough to understand: Treat other people the way that you want to be treated. It’s such a simple thing, but oh what a difference it would make if we all really put it into practice. We all want to be loved, appreciated, and respected. And if we could just start to show those attitudes toward the people around us, I bet we’d see some big changes.
 
At Thanksgiving, my son found a W.W.J.D. plaque at my in-laws’ house and asked what it meant. Those letters, representing, “What would Jesus do?” were printed and worn on bracelets when I was a teenager. I hadn’t seen one in over fifteen years. I explained to my son that it was a reminder of how followers of Jesus should act toward ourselves and others. A week later, while going through my desk at home, I found a purple W.W.J.D. bracelet. I don’t know how old it is, or where it came from, but it was just another string tying my thoughts and emotions together. This year as I celebrate the birth of Jesus, I plan to try to honor him by treating others not only the way that I want to be treated, but the way that Jesus did. With grace, understanding, and love. And for more about what that means, click here.

 
Thank you to all of you out there, in the writing community and beyond, for being a part of my 2014. Merry Christmas.