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.

Leave a Reply

Laurie A. Dennison

I write books for young adults. I love books with complicated relationships, traveling, and alternative and indie music.

Learn More