Post-Showcase, After Thoughts

Last Saturday, I was fortunate to be a participant in Cleveland’s Indie Author Showcase, as hosted by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. It’s the second showcase I’ve been to and was really a great experience. I took some photos, had plenty of visitors, and handed out lots of info on my latest works. It was a blessing, but also an opportunity to learn some things. For example, I had no idea you could fit so many writers in the same room (45 to be exact). The initial atmosphere felt like swimming in a shark tank. Thankfully, we all came out unscathed. And with some renewed faith in playing nice with one another, I’m sure.

From a business perspective, having something to give out – like a brochure – was key. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you’ve got books on your table, the thought of handing anything else out may feel like overkill. However, I’ve been to several trade shows. And I know that unless someone walks away with something in hand now, they aren’t going to remember you later. Doesn’t matter how intriguing you were, people need something tangible to hold onto. Especially if they’re seeing your product for the first time. I am glad to know I was prepared in that respect. And lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have friends come out and see your table (as evidenced by the candid below). These guys gave me some insights and ideas prior to the event too. That was invaluable – thank you again.

Thanks to my fellow scribes, Paul and Immanuel, for coming out last Saturday.

Thanks to my fellow scribes, Paul and Immanuel, for coming out last Saturday.

How to improve? More presentation and pricing. I had an adequate display, but found myself talking price quite a bit. Thankfully, my ebooks are relatively cheap – under $5 at the moment – but as my wife suggested, a pricing chart would be helpful for next time. And of course, have something in paperback. Currently, my work is all digital. I was the only person at the conference permitted who only had ebooks available (much thanks to the Library staff for letting me twist your arm and have me. I trust your elbows and shoulders are healing nicely). Their compliance was great, but after looking around and seeing the majority of tables packed with paperback and hardcovers, the answer was obvious: I should do the same. More on that as the year rolls forward.

For now, it’s an onward march for name recognition – and reviews. If you happen to read any of my work, then please leave a review when you finish reading. I encourage feedback for a couple reasons. For one,  if you’re willing to pay for it and read it, then I’d hope you’d be willing to leave some closing thoughts. Granted, no news can be good news – as people are more apt to share opinions when they feel jaded – but a good review can go a long way for the author. Thanks to those who have all ready! But, that leads me into my second reason: readership. I get emails, texts, comments from folks who read my stuff on a semi-consistent basis and though I appreciate it greatly, I want to encourage those same people to leave their thoughts on Amazon, my blog, or anywhere they can. Truly, the support goes a long way; reaching further than just a bank account, I assure you.

There are some other thoughts I have on the showcase, but these were my initial decompressions. I’ll save the others for another post. Overall, it’s always encouraging to “get out of the think tank” and share your story with others. That was a major highlight last Saturday. As was having my wife help explain my work to others. Kudos to the Mrs. for being such a big help.

Finally, I’ll leave this post with my favorite question from readers who approached me: “So what’s your dilemma anyway?” (in reference to The Scientist’s Dilemma story). I had fun with that one, but another guy went so far as to ask me if I was formerly an astrophysicist. If only! I regretfully had to say, ‘not yet.’ That seemed like the most appropriate response.

 

Bring Your Kindle or Kindle App!

This Saturday, March 7 from 2-4 pm, I’ll be showcasing my latest ebooks at the Cuyahoga County Library in Parma, OH. I’ll be one of 44 other local Cleveland Indie authors getting to showcase work to an open audience. That’s a cool thing.

And hey, it’s a free event.

There will be a few other self-published writers speaking, but hey, you should totally come and check out my booth regardless. Just sayin’.

And oh, did I mention it’s free?

Here’s a link to register for the event itself if you like. Otherwise, hope to see you at my booth. With a mobile scanner ready.

 

#12Months12Books

I’ve started a personal campaign to write and publish 12 books in 12 months this year. Yikes, right? I would invite anyone else to join me, if they wish. Or take it as a challenge too. Much of this decision had to do with a desire to share my work more. And do so on a consistent basis. The rest came during some reflections over the past year.

In 2014, I did a lot of writing behind closed doors. Rather, I did a lot of experimenting. I started about 20 short stories, finished nearly half of them, and by year’s end, I published one of those of short stories. By the numbers, that’s not incredibly bad. But, if I were to continue this way – following through once every 20 times I began – it wouldn’t bode well for me in the long run. I’ve recognized I need greater discipline, specifically in bringing things to completion. This challenge will help me become better in that arena, I feel.

Or cause me to have a nervous breakdown by August.

No matter – I’ve started off 2015 on the right track. As I’m typing this, my January story is done and released –  The Color of Soul – and February’s title, A Dinner with Titans, is on its way to a final edit. Here’s my hope and prayer to stay the course as I head into March, April, and beyond.

Good to luck to those who are facing their own challenges this year. #12Months12Books, here we go.

So Your Book is Out – Now What?

Yesterday, I finally got to release The Scientist’s Dilemma on Kindle. Might go without saying, but hey – that was very exciting. It’s surreal knowing my thoughts and ideas are now open to praise, criticism, and verbal shellackings. I’m sure I’ll never tire of the high it gives me; be it for good or for bad. But, when the day is over and I’m lying in bed, an annoying question may creep up and invade my thoughts: so what now, Josh?

Obviously, I have some options when that happens – four of which I find to be the most immediate during this process.

My first option might be to keep checking up on my story. The Internet is a double-edged sword in this way. I can track views, likes, clicks, purchases – just about everything other than tracking my readers via satellite are some things I can do. And yet, if I’m not careful, I can find myself staring down the rabbit hole of never-ending browser clicks; hoping and praying that someone may have shared my link, viewed my webpage, or took the ultimate chance and made a purchase in the last five seconds.

Yes, the dark side of tracking one’s book can be dangerous. It’s nice to know how things are going, but if that’s all you’re doing then you’d best get to doing something else.

My second option would be to keep posting information about my book. Of the first two, this is the one that keeps things moving. A good business practice is to operate with forward motion. Lingering over concepts or ideas for too long creates stagnation and if you’re interested in being a professional writer, you have to view yourself in that same way. Your name brings a certain product and people – as nice or as thoughtful as they are – don’t always remember to check out your book. So you must remind them by continually getting yourself out there. This can be a tough one to execute and must be done with the level of charm that doesn’t turn people away.

Again, a double-edged sword, but if worked at, can become a powerful asset in your arsenal of online marketing. Am I pro at this myself? Oh, heavens no, but I’m learning as I go and this has proven to be a major part of what helps to build one’s platform.

My third option would be to look for more opportunities to share my work. I can post and connect links and write as many blog posts as I like, but I may be just working inside of a vacuum. With that in mind, it’s good to take a moment and think, “what am I not doing that I haven’t done before?” For this particular venture – The Scientist’s Dilemma – I decided I should only release it as an ebook. In the past, I would have scoffed at doing such a thing. “That’s too small. Either get recognized by an agent or nothing,” – that was my thinking. And with that stubborn attitude, I probably missed out on some opportunities along the way.

The downside here is looking back in hindsight, but there is a silver lining also: any chance you didn’t take doesn’t really matter anymore. If you’ve arrived at a point where it’s easy to look back and say, “should’ve done that” then you can ultimately use that to your advantage later. Learn what works and what doesn’t, but don’t try to recreate old scenarios for the sake of just trying to prove yourself.

My fourth (and last) option would be to work on the next project. It’s in these times when I can feel the most invigorated or the most demoralized. To know that my next work could be months, maybe even years away, is a daunting feeling. All sorts of doubts and dreadful thoughts can surface – and they can come from inside my own head or even come from the tongues of those around me.

The key in beating this is to be decisive in what project you choose to undertake. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself floundering between ideas, unable to get a solid grasp on what the best use of my time will be. This is normal though and is a natural part of the process, but it’s also not something to dwell upon or beat yourself up over. If anything, it might be healthy to have more than one project going at a time. Journaling is a good deterrent and can be very beneficial in flushing out the gunk that clogs things up. I’ve found journaling to be very helpful.

All that being said, back to it. I got some options to work with.

“The Scientist’s Dilemma”

The Scientist's Dilemma Cover

I’ll be releasing this short story in just a few weeks. It’ll be available for direct to Kindle only – so no paperbacks. It’s not as lengthy as a full scale novel and it’s not the first in a trilogy, but it’s a story that has a significant place in my heart. And that’s as good a reason as any to share it, I figure.

The title alone isn’t meant to be a complicated one. This story is actually about a scientist and it’s actually about a dilemma too; one that just so happens to belong to the scientist (told you it was simple, didn’t I?). That’s the premise of this tale and it’s a premise I believe so many other people – even those without the title of ‘scientist’ – find themselves struggling to answer at one point or another: just what the heck are we all waiting for?

It’s a huge question to tackle; overwhelming to some and perhaps strangely intoxicating to others, yet it’s a question I find simmering under the surface of practically every person I run into. Or have the pleasure to read about. That strange hunger that rises up within and says, “I don’t know if I belong to this world alone. Is there something else?” In my case, it’s a question I’ve pondered on many-a-starry night, which is why I like the cover so much. It represents that curious nature any person possesses and it’s an image that ultimately brought legs to this story. What’s waiting out there to be discovered? Is there anything at all? 

The universe is a big place and has plenty to offer while we’re here, but sometimes looking out is an easy alternative to looking in.

So to quote Shakespeare and wrap this up, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

 

Courage – what it means to a writer?

Nowadays, most people can claim to be writers. Not that most people do; it’s just that most people can. Your coworker, your uncle, your unborn child – all are capable of having webspace. And all are capable of pushing their thoughts out for the masses to read and evaluate. We know that in the past, there was a definitive gatekeeper; someone who kept that barrier from being breached. But, today? Not so much. That’s why when I hear someone say, “I have this story idea. I think I’m going to write about it and get it published,” I can’t help but cringe a little. Not because I feel the sting of competition – I just cringe because this person has unknowingly entered into an agreement that is not what they think. Writing a bunch of thoughts down is easy. Writing a book is hard.

Generally speaking, someone’s perception of something can be lightyears from the truth. Experiencing a vision is much different than merely gazing upon that vision. That’s why when I hear those words, I don’t get angry, frustrated, or anxious – I just wonder what that person perceives as “being a writer.”

For example, I’ll be 30 this month. I’m in pretty good physical health, but if I were to tell someone, “Yeah, I’m thinking of taking up karate. World black belt champion sounds fun so I’m gonna do that” – people would probably think I’m crazy. Sure, I could do karate and work towards becoming a world class black belt, but do I possess the personal conviction to do it? Is it in my heart to work towards that goal? More than likely, there are years of practice, years of dedication, and years of failures ahead if I want that distinction. It simply won’t happen overnight. And yet, I feel like that’s what has happened to “being a writer” – we’ve seen or read stories of people who had popular blogs and we think a stellar book deal is easily achievable. Or rather, we think it’s easy because everyone is writing. Everyone has a voice somewhere. Everyone has a platform.

So, from the outside-looking-in, the logical question becomes: “Why not me? That looks easy enough….”

I don’t fault anyone for thinking that. Who am I to judge if someone has a killer idea for a story? But, in some ways, I feel like the courage associated with following that killer idea – the perception of what it takes to become an established writer – has been forgotten. And the only way someone will be recognized for having “made it” is when hashtags begin trending about their book idea. Obviously, a hashtag is not a sign of “making it”, so what is? Is that something an aspiring writer should be concerned about? Is this the only part of writing that’s “courageous” anymore – to have made it commercially or financially? People can get their 15 minutes of fame for a popular book, but is that all anyone should be after?

Well, that may all depend on what your perception of success is – a concept that’s difficult to pin down if you’re afraid of what success looks like to you. As a person who has been self-published, entered numerous writing competitions, and been freelancing for several years, the decision to be a writer was a hard one. It wasn’t as simple as creating a new Facebook page. What’s behind me, I see as a success. What’s in front of me, I see as more opportunities for success. But, success is relative without courage. And courage is relative without joy upon completion, which is truly what any writer should be after: joy. Consider who has more joy – the person who gets 15 minutes of fame for a popular, yet fleeting idea? Or the one who toils, working hard for years to master a craft that is long-standing and definitive of the voice and resolve he’s carried with him for a job well done?

The answer to that question – the person who can claim to be a writer –  is the one backed by their courage.

Joy: Friends and Writing

Writers tend to lead a solitary existence (insert crying face).

No secret to anyone who claims to be a writer, but to the ever hopeful and aspiring young scribe, this may come as a harsh truth. Yes, you may need to be with people less if you aspire to be a published author. But, if you’re willing to sacrifice a few social hours for writing hours, you’ll embrace a new understanding of what it takes to be a written warrior. As ridiculous or enlightening as that may sound.

But, what about your social life? How do friends – people you’d hopefully define as “joy-bringers” – how do they fit into your life? Us lonely writers need to seek out friends every now and again, but what about anyone else looking for common ground and a good conversation? Well, we live in an age of identifiable “top 5’s” and “10 reasons to know when…,” but truth is, friendship is literally born out of joy; not fleeting happiness. Here’s some reasons why – from a writer’s perspective, of course:

Friends will build your spirits, not your walls

Hanging around your friends should give you energy, not take it away. Introvert, extrovert – neither distinction really matters. Friends have a unique effect on your psyche and your overall health. And the resulting effect should be a renewed spirit, not a desire to lock yourself away.

Shared experience breeds life

Writers need experience if they are to write about experience. And friends can provide you with this crucial element if you let them. Granted, not all experience can be good, but every experience can be beneficial to a person’s growth in the long run. How does someone deal with heartbreak? By leaning on the shoulder of the one they call “friend” – that’s a start. Or how does someone know what it means to win something together? By winning with someone at your side – that’s how. Despite the circumstances, all experiences can eventually lead to a better outcome. And having a friend by your side is a good way to go about it.

Emotional Intelligence – What’s that?

In the same way you get energy or gain experience, you can also become the recipient of an increased emotional intelligence. What does that even mean? Well, consider how your friends intrigue you. They bring old news and new news with them. It’s not that every moment has to be exciting; however, there’s definitely something about them that’s as comfortable as it is challenging. And having a ‘ying’ to your ‘yang’ is a powerful force when walking life’s journey.

Isolation is not life

I’m not someone who does well with solitary confinement – ironic, considering my line of work. If I’m faced with long periods of alone time, I talk out loud. Just to hear a voice, I’ll talk out loud. Not because I want someone to answer back, but just because I like to know I’m not just trapped inside my head. One of the biggest traps we face today is fighting isolation. For as much as social media has connected us, it’s also distanced our perception of what “life” and community really look like. And no, it’s not about having over 1,000 Facebook friends – it’s having at least one or two people you knowingly can call on to give updates on regular life “status.” You know, real life status. And that’s the opposite of isolation.

It’s also something called joy. 

 

Written Rapport and Why I’ll Never Apologize

It’s tough trying to get noticed.

If you’ve ever been a salesperson, you’ll agree. If not, try and level with me a while. Because if you are salesperson, you probably spend a good deal of time trying to attune yourself to the melodies and rhythms of your target market. You learn the ins and the outs of what makes your prime customer operate and in doing this, you’re after something crucial to making the sale: who they are. What are their interests? How is their personal life? What do they do for fun? If they’re into baseball, you may invite them to a baseball game. If they enjoy golfing, then you might go golfing. Or if they love food, you take them out to eat – provided you can. So you do this with the expectation you’ll gain their confidence. Shared experiences – fun ones – establish rapport; a rapport that says, “Hey, I’ve paid attention to what brings you joy.” And sharing joy is what strengthens trust. It keeps a person coming back. Great sales people know this. Whether they’ve stumbled onto this understanding or not – they’ve learned to hone the process as their own.

So, now comes my writer’s tie-in.

Effective writers must – and I mean MUST – establish a rapport with their reader. But the question is – what does that even look like? How does someone create rapport with somebody they’ve never met? An author can’t exactly take a reader out to eat or invite them to a baseball game – unless they know each other personally. Sure, the author can write a decent story about going out to eat or enjoying a ballgame, but that’s an entirely different thing. What’s more, anybody can do that. My niece who is five can write about eating (not downplaying her English skills, just making a point here). So, once again, what are we talking about when we say, “create a rapport” between you and the reader?

Well, it starts with the author. Specifically, an author who is honest. Not only with himself but with the audience he is speaking to. That means, saying what you intend to say and not apologizing for it. For example, how effective would J.K. Rowling had been had she been confused about making Harry Potter a wizard versus a vampire or an elf? Before the Potter series took off, modern culture wasn’t exactly excited about magic. Heck, it wasn’t even excited about reading. But hey, J.K. was. She knew she had a good story to tell, but the only way to make others see that good story was to own it – to not apologize for writing about wizards, witches, and all manner of imaginary creatures. She plead her case and won. She went deep with the mythos she created and her unapologetic attitude paid off. In a big way, too.

New writers – and even the more seasoned ones – tend to forget this. There’s no magical formula and most readers don’t even know what’s happening even when it’s happening! They’ll knowingly enter into a book without any knowledge or expectation of what may happen should they – the reader – be convicted of the author’s own conviction. The reason being? Every reader is subconsciously sizing up what he is reading. He is internalizing the story, feeling out its presentation, and ultimately assessing whatever stake the writer has in the ground. And if it’s a weak stake like a Ramen noodle, then adios – the reader is off to find someone who isn’t afraid of risking vulnerable pieces of himself for the sake of saving face or offending someone. I find this decision tied to a core belief: a writer’s true voice is not about breadth of audience, but about depth of audience – even though this may not appear to be the immediate issue. For example, what good is your voice without a platform and plenty of ears to hear you? Well, people stick around if they are more engaged by what they hear or read. Consider trying to marry someone who says, “I’m only available Sunday through Tuesday and the rest of the week I don’t want to see you.” Of course you’ll think twice about committing yourself to this person. There’s no reward coming for you in that scenario so consider how a reader feels when an author gives only half of what he can offer?

Yeah, not a fun arrangement.

The author must not be apologetic towards his audience. He must be willing to say, “this is it” and not shy away from it. Otherwise he’s just another screaming voice among the masses. A place that’s every writer’s hell – no apologies here either.

 

Sickness and the Writer

Be it physical, emotional, or spiritual, there are many forms of sickness. When one is sick, the body signals its duress like a foghorn in a library. Other people sense it too. “Hey, you look like death” is a good indicator, I’d say. But ultimately, something of the body needs attention; something is amiss. Whatever makes you function – for achieving maximum output – has dropped to a lower level of efficiency. That’s what being ‘sick’ is comprised of. Here’s my most recent example:

I have a cold.

Boo hoo, right? I don’t want to come off as complaining; it’s just a fact. Catching a cold is a part of life. If you don’t experience this delight of nature, then I say ‘bravo’ to you. As for me? I’ve experienced colds in great consistency throughout my entire life. I’ve been tested for allergies – nothing. I’ve taken Vitamin C tablets regularly – no change. I work out on a regular basis – nada. I’ve even drank enough herbal tea to reenact the Boston Tea Party and yet – the cold still comes to pass. It’s inevitable. Happening just when things are progressing forward too. The cold bug strikes and I’m left in disarray, scrambling to recover what energy and fervor I’d lost. But as maddening as it can be, I find solace in one thing: I can still write.

Writing may be one of the few vocations where a flu, a cold, or strep throat do little to halt the creative process. At least from my perspective. I may be hacking up phlegm in a toilet, but at least my mind is still working. And so long as that’s intact; so long as that’s feeling sharp, I can put my thoughts to the keyboard and continue on the adventure. I’ll sneeze. I’ll cough. I’ll blow my nose. But when I’m done, I’ll put my fingers back on the keyboard and start typing again. With minimal resistance other than a severe runny nose. Easily remedied with a few tissues.

So in the midst of feeling miserable, that’s something to rejoice in, is it not? Yes, I would argue so. *cough*

 

The Difference a Year Makes

It’s been a year since I spoke to inner city youth on pursuing dreams; a whole year. I’ve been fortunate to mentor and inspire young adults in one-on-one environments but a whole year since I’ve been granted an audience larger than a mere handful. I’ve grown much in that frame of time – as a person and as a writer – just like any other person can or does. And recently, I was granted the opportunity to repeat what I did a year ago: speak in a classroom about what I do.

This wouldn’t be like what I did before though. This time, it would be pre-teens and new teenagers; a whole other animal to work with in a classroom setting. Last time, it was 9th and 10th graders, but this time, it would be middle school students. To any teacher who knowingly takes on the task of teaching 7th and 6th graders, I applaud you. Better yet, I say ‘you’re amazing’; you deserve a ton of credit. When it comes to these ages, the interactions can be as tender as they are hostile. The differences between a 12-year old and a 13-year old are vast; vast like an ocean, I’d say. Becoming a teenager can be like sailing off to a new continent, not knowing what to expect, but you have to go because you don’t have any other option. And that’s a maddening concept. You’re on a boat and there’s no way you can get off. The land behind you is dead or dying and your only escape is somewhere across the open ocean. But it’s not an escape so much as it’s a predetermined destination. And when you land, you find a place that’s nothing like what you left behind. It’s frightening to many, and for good reason.

I say this because I knew what I was getting into – a land full of angry inhabitants who want to be heard as much as they want to left alone. Quite the hypocrisy, but you tread lightly regardless. It was “Career Day” at one of our local city schools; a day I recall as being one filled with weird guests who had something called “jobs” and one day I would have a to choose a “job” myself. The usual suspects would come year after year to my school – police officers, nurses, firefighters, and sometimes other teachers. But never was there an author, I remember. There was never a professional wordsmith; a person like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or R.L. Stine walking through the archways of my alma mater. Not that I claim to be on their level – I just don’t remember one being at my school’s “Career Day”. So this was exciting. For me, it was, but to the kids? Well, who is to say that they had any interest in listening to me or what I had to give them.

Teenagers are complicated organisms; more so than their earlier forms, the pre-teens. Having this knowledge, I wanted to speak in a way that would be engaging, intriguing, and somehow “fun” for the class. How does a one go into a school full of hormone-raged adolescents and keep them interested though? I understand their need for visual stimulation, but hey, I’m a writer. Putting words up on a board would be business as usual to these kids. How was I going to do this and what was I going to talk about and show? Well, the immediate answer I came to was this: I have no freaking idea. That’s when I decided to rely on some divine intervention from God to help me out because alone, there’s no way I could do it effectively. That’s not to say that I didn’t prepare ahead of time. I gathered a couple visual aids, specifically on stories I’m working on, and brought those along with me. That was for starters, but only after asking what might be a good idea to bring along.

So I went to school and encountered the 7th graders first. And truth be told, it was rough. Students could scarcely pay attention for more than a few minutes. But I trudged through on how and why I tell stories, my educational background, and all other things that may help paint a picture of how I got where I was. But all that broke down when I asked the kids one simple question – “do you any of you know what ‘passion’ means? Or do you have one?” The teens didn’t have much to speak on the word, which was surprising to me. Some said it was “something that’s fun to do”; another said, “singing”; and one kid said, “you mean like lobsters or something?” (this boy loved lobsters). I went on to explain that some of their responses were on the right track – save the lobsters comment – but there was one crucial piece missing. “What’s that?” one of them asked and I replied with, “the willingness to suffer for something better, namely a reward”. That’s when I got a ton of confused faces. And unfortunately, my time was up in the classroom.

I walked out of there feeling defeated; like, I’d done a poor job of explaining my work or what drove me to become a writer. The class was hard enough wrangling up to stay attentive, but the reception I received on that final remark really shook me. Not that every teenager should have a clear understand of passion is, but to think that wanting to suffer so as to gain a reward was a foreign concept was disheartening to me. I knew many of these students, if not all, came from difficult backgrounds so suffering or struggling is not unfamiliar. But that was the issue altogether. The reward, the possible gain; the hope was missing. If any one of those kids had the insight or the ability to do so, they may have jumped up and said something like, “well, we already know suffering, but what’s this reward business you’re talking about?” That’s when I sunk inside myself and immediately became angry. Suffering for the sake of something good did not make sense. What reward? What goal? There was none, it seemed. The blank stares made sense and I felt compelled to go back into the classroom and elaborate on what I meant. But there was no time for that – I had another classroom to share with.

This time, it would be the 6th graders. Not as old as the last group and some of them still teetering between pre-teen and teenager. I focused up and decided to stick with my original game plan but this time, get with the program and explain what ‘passion’ means as a whole. Or at the very least, touch on what that may look like for them. I got through the first part of my talk and then came back to that critical inquiry: “Do you any of you know what passion is? Or what that means?” The same responses came through. So I opened up and said, “It actually means that you’re willing to suffer for something so you can hopefully achieve something later.” Again, the blank stares. So I got with it and shared how I’d once wrote a story for a girl I liked when I was 10. I penned a short horror story for her and gave it over to her. My hope was that she’d love it and I’d win her over with my amazing writing talents. And as I told the tale, several of the girls laughed, wondering why I’d resort to something like that.

“Why do you think?” I asked.
“Because you like to tell stories?”
“Yeah. That’s it. And what do you think she said when she read it?”

The classroom went silent until one girl burst out, “She hated it, didn’t she?” To which I replied, “Yes, she didn’t exactly like it that much, at all.”

Every student in the class had a good laugh at that, but when I went on to say how I still wanted to write stories, despite that crushing blow, something clicked for a few of them.

“So, you kept going?”
“Yes. I did.”

It’s been a year since I got to speak in front of a classroom, talking on my life as an author/writer, but more importantly, it’s been a year since I got to speak in front of a classroom on why there’s hope despite any current circumstances. For me, it’s years of sticking with something, committing myself to a craft and not giving in to the doubts that try and intercede. For the students, it could be graver situations like abusive homes, drugs, alcohol, gangs, etc. and that’s frightening to be within. Passion doesn’t exist; survival is the name of the game. So to these students and so many like them, a “guest speaker” is just another adult with an agenda; one they’re not interested in hearing about. But if anyone can bring a story that speaks of triumph – not mindless struggle or silver-spooned entitlement – ears open and heads perk up. All because there’s a hope that something will change for the better.

The storm of adolescence is hard enough, but if there’s a hope that the storm will subside someday, somehow – then that’s much more significant. And worth speaking about.