The Power of Story

EDIT (2/13/22): This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for reading!

*GIVEAWAY: Be sure to read all the way through for your chance to win a copy of The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes!*

It’s one of those things we writers tell each other a lot.

Your words matter. Your story matters.

Writing for publication is tough gig. We face a lot of setbacks, and we need that kind of internal motivation. Did you know, though, that there’s actual science behind the human need for story? In her book Story Genius, author Lisa Cron talks about how our brains are “hardwired” for story and how we, as readers, feel compelled to follow a character’s struggles to see whether they will overcome what they’re facing. We need to know what will happen. Will they triumph and come out stronger? Will they succumb to their internal conflicts and give up?

Whether consciously or not, when we read, we’re looking for something. Some moral lesson we can take away to enrich our own life experience. Or reassurance that we, too, can face the hard things in life and walk away stronger. On some deep level, we want to know that everything will be okay.

That doesn’t always translate to a happy ending, though, does it? In fact, sometimes the stories with the hardest endings are the ones that stick with you the longest. Those bittersweet moments that linger almost like your own personal memory, in which the thing you didn’t want to happen does, and you grieve alongside the characters like it happened to you.

Maybe those endings hit the hardest because they’re often the truest to real life. I’ve been watching a story unfold since last summer, and it came to an end last week without the HEA I was hoping and praying for. Stick with me while I tell you about it, because even though the ending is sad, it’s still beautiful.

Bittersweet Endings

Last summer at Realm Makers 2021, I met a young adult fantasy author named Lani Forbes. I use the word “met” loosely—I didn’t actually speak to her, but we smiled across a book table and I watched her sweep every Realm Award category her debut novel, The Seventh Sun, had finaled in. It wasn’t until I got home and started following her on Instagram that I learned her quirky purple hair was actually a wig, and she was in a battle for her life against rare Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer. Her cancer had been discovered only weeks earlier when she had unusual symptoms and pain after giving birth to her third child.

As the months went by, she’d post updates on Instragram about her chemotherapy, surgeries, and other treatments. These were always scattered between beautiful posts about her books, writing updates, and lovely encouraging messages meant to help other writers. Giving. That’s the word I’m looking for. She was always giving something in every post, whether it was writing advice, or something beautiful to look at, or a simple update about her health. Yes, on her video updates you could see she had no hair, or you’d notice the tubing for the chemo port. But she’d be smiling, or sharing about the joy her three littles brought her, or talking about the excitement of her upcoming book release.

In November, she wrote a piece for Publisher’s Weekly about how she found the strength to keep writing despite her battle with cancer. Lani writes,

“I knew cancer was going to steal a lot from me. My time… My energy… Even my reflection in the mirror… It could even possibly steal my very life… but I wasn’t going to let it steal my joy. I wasn’t going to let it steal my creativity or my chance to touch and connect with others through my words…

The reality is, we cannot control what happens to us in life. Sometimes things happen that seem incredibly unfair. But no matter what happens to us, no matter what is taken from us or forced upon us, the one thing we always have power over is how we choose to respond. We get to choose how we will handle those crises. We can choose cowardice, we can choose to give up, stop trying, to give into despair. Or, we can choose joy, perseverance, and yes, even happiness despite our circumstances.”

~ Lani Forbes in “Creating Through Cancer: Finding the Strength to Keep Writing”

What I love about her words is that they’re infused with hope. Both the hope that her treatment would work, and also the determination to make each day count. To choose joy. That each day could bring its own share of blessings if she only reached out to take them.

I’m reminded of the Psalm written by Moses. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Lani had that heart of wisdom, even though her days were far shorter than everyone hoped.

Her story didn’t end the way I wanted. She posted about a family trip to Disneyworld over Christmas. She visited the Caribbean for the first time in January and celebrated the beauty of each day, even when her body didn’t have the energy to do everything she wanted. She came home ready to tackle new treatments, only to learn the cancer had spread to her brain. A week later, twelve days before the release of her third book, she went home to be with her Lord and Savior in heaven. Her husband writes on their GoFundMe page that the end came swiftly. She was able to spend time with each of her children, holding on just long enough for their daughter to finish praying over her.

I hate sad endings.

I wanted to see Lani triumph, to see her body respond to the treatments and fight off the cancer. I wanted to root her on as she kept writing more books and watched her kids grow up. But as I reflect on the battle she went through, and the strength, courage, and hope with which she faced each day, it’s clear to me she did triumph. She seized each day she had left, valiantly fighting the illness and fear and pain, choosing hope and joy, striving for the good she wanted. Not leaving any moments wasted. What could be a more triumphant way to end one’s story?

Lani touched countless lives through her courageous battle, and she leaves a legacy of beautiful words for her children in the form of her books. She’s fought the good fight, finished the race, and now waits to be reunited with them one day.

We’re the ones left with the empty hole where she used to be. The space on the bookshelves where more stories could have fit. The questions we leave unanswered because there is no explanation that will ever make sense. All we can do is embrace the beauty of her story, and hope that when it’s our turn we’ll face the end with the same courage and strength.

Writer, your words do matter. Your story matters. If words are burning in your heart, keep choosing to write them down, one after another, no matter how difficult it is. You never know who you’ll impact.

Lani’s Books

If you’d like to help Lani’s family as they move forward without her, you can donate directly through their GoFundMe page. Or, if you’re a fan of young adult fantasy, check out her books: The Seventh Sun (2020), The Jade Bones (2021), and The Obsidian Butterfly (releasing Feb. 15, 2022). Her publisher, Blackstone Publishing, has announced that a fourth book acquired before Lani’s death will be published posthumously.

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of The Obsidian Butterfly next week, I would LOVE to introduce one of my lucky readers to Lani’s Age of the Seventh Sun series by giving away a paperback copy of The Seventh Sun. Here’s the book’s blurb from her website:

Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading—and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those who are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

Rich in imagination and romance, and based on the legends and history of the Aztec and Maya people, The Seventh Sun brings to vivid life a world on the edge of apocalyptic disaster.

If YOU would like to be entered in the giveaway, just drop a comment below! The giveaway closes on Sunday, February 13 at 8 PM EST, and I’ll choose a random winner from everyone who enters by then.

About Lani Forbes

If Lani is a new author to you, here’s the bio from her website:

Lani Forbes is the award-winning YA author of The Seventh Sun and the 2021 release, The Jade Bones. As the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer (which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books), Lani is a one-time teacher turned psychology student. Her passion is showing readers the transformative and encouraging power of story on the human experience. She helps others process anxiety, depression, and complex PTSD, both in her stories and in real life.

A California native whose parents live in Mexico, Lani now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three young children. She is a proud nerd, stage IV cancer warrior, and member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Image credits: Header, pexels.com. Lani Forbes’ head shot from http://www.laniforbes.com/about.

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