Alumni Spotlight: Samantha Seestrom
Samantha Seestrom, a 2012 Monticello High School graduate, has had an interest and a passion for the creative outlet of writing for as long as she can remember.
For a long time, however, Seestrom kept her jottings to herself. Early in her high school career she found herself dabbling with little notes and anecdotes in her notebook, with an occasional story idea mixed in. She loved it, but admits now that the idea of moving beyond that stage, and opening her writing up for the approval (and therefore the potential criticism) of others was an intimidating next step.
Just six years down the road, Seestrom may still deal with that anxiety occasionally, but the general public wouldn’t know it.
The Monticello graduate turned school district employee now has two novels to her name (“Surrender Your Soul” and “Ashes of the Sea”) and is scheduled to publish “Blood in the Sand,” which will complete her debut three-part series, by January of 2020. The series is about a water-breather (mermaid) named Marina who ventures into the human world under the orders of her adopted mother Cordelia to carry out a dark task but ends up countering a number of complications along the way. Through two books, the series has received a groundswell of fan support and acclaim on websites like Amazon.
“For so long I didn’t let people read my writing, not even my parents,” said Seestrom. “To finally have something published, and people can buy it, and they’re spending their money on it? It is just insane for me.”
It certainly wasn’t an easy path for Seestrom to get here, but it was a path fortified by her own self-motivation, as well as the support of family, friends, educators, and colleagues.
Seestrom, who now works as an Early Childhood Family Education and Preschool Paraprofessional at Eastview Education Center, found her original inspiration from teachers at MHS.
During her junior year, she took a science fiction and fantasy class with Mr. Russell.
“That was a big door opening experience for me,” she said.
With some experience writing for others under her belt, Seestrom signed up for a dystopian short story competition her senior year.
That opened up the opportunity for her to work more with Mr. Russell, who edited Seestrom’s story.
“He was awesome,” said Seestrom. “He was the first person to tell me that I should continue to do this.”
That seed of confidence that Russell planted grew slowly, and started to come to fruition the year after Seestrom graduated from Monticello High School.
In 2013, the 19-year-old read a book called “90 Days to your Novel.” Soon after, in the month of October, she sat down and wrote 50,000 words in 30 days.
“I was spending a good five to six hours a day writing,” said Seestrom, who was holding two other jobs at the time as well. “I did not have a social life, at all. I would literally lock myself away in the bedroom and just write for hours. I just cranked that book out.”
However, it would be another four years until Seestrom put the finishing touches on her first novel. She went through the regular process of quarrying agents, only to receive rejection after rejection. Still, at first, Seestrom took heart. Almost without fail, the agents told her they enjoyed her writing, they just weren’t looking for a mermaid story at the time. However, as the rejections piled up, so did the anguish.
Seestrom acknowledges that as time went by, she started to become discouraged. She knew self-publishing was an option, but she’d always viewed it as a last resort. With some hesitation, she decided to look further into it. Her research, and conversations with those in the industry, started to change her perspective.
“I kind of realized if you can self publish, and get the reviews and the feedback, and in the future you have this writing history ... then maybe people will look at it and say ‘OK, we can take a chance on you,’” said Seestrom.
Enough people directed Seestrom to go that route that she eventually pulled the trigger. Her first reaction? That was easy. Her second? Anxiety over the pending feedback.
But, that wouldn’t last long. The reviews, online and in person, started pouring in and they were overwhelmingly positive.
To date, the first book has 26 Amazon reviews. Seestrom’s debut effort has registered a remarkable 25 five-star ratings and one four-star rating. Her second book, Ashes of the Sea, was published earlier this fall and the first review for that novel is five stars as well.
“The feedback has been amazing and the supporters have been amazing,” said Seestrom. “I’m so so shocked and thrilled that people have enjoyed what I wrote, and that they want more. It’s just a really, really cool feeling.”
When Seestrom sat down to write her first novel, she envisioned it as a single book. However, once she started to quarry publishing agents, she learned that producing a series gave her a greater likelihood of attracting both publishers and readers. At that point, she decided to turn “Surrender Your Soul” into a three-part series titled Breathers.
She admits that she didn’t have the whole series planned out when she worked on book one, but she’s developed a clear vision as she’s worked through the series, and she knows what readers should expect in the final chapter, even if she won’t share.
“I have the whole thing in my head [now],” she said. “I know exactly how it’s going to end, I know who’s going to die, and who’s going to be happy … I just need to sit down and write it.”
Avid readers will be excited to learn that characters have been aged by five years for the third book, growing along with both the author and readers.
“They’re more adults now, and the book is going to take on a few more adult problems compared to the young adult problems they’ve had as teenagers,” said Seestrom.
The young author acknowledges that there are definitely certain aspects of the book that she’s taken from her own life. More surprisingly, however, is that aspects of the book have later shown up in her own life.
Seestrom relayed one such story, about a scene from the first book that involves the two main characters riding in the car and hearing the song Apologize by One Republic while on their first date. That portion of the book was written in 2013.
In 2015, Seestrom went on her first date with her now long-term boyfriend, and the scene essentially played itself out in his car, with the same song coming on the radio, and him asking the same question about it that’s asked in her book. It was all a surreal experience for Seestrom.
But in many ways, this whole experience has been surreal. From a high school student with a talent for writing but being unwilling to sign up for creative writing because she was hesitant to let others read it to a young adult with two published books available for sale on Amazon, book signings under her belt, and a third book on the way. It’s been quite a six year stretch since high school graduation for the Monticello product.
One thing she says she knows for sure is that she would have never reached this point if not for the help, support, and encouragement from so many people in her life.
The support of her family has been one of the most important factors in turning her into the writer she is, and giving her the strength to become a published author. There have been many others too, including her editor, friends and boyfriend. Then there’s been the support from her past educators, something that has completely blown Seestrom away.
Mr. Russell was the first one to really help push her down this path, and for that Seestrom dedicated the first book to him. Kari Green, Monticello Middle School Library Media Specialist, edited Seestrom’s first draft of her first book.
“She gave me so much good feedback, and she really encouraged my dream,” said Seestrom.
And Deb Rathbone, former English teacher at Monticello High School, has been one of Seestrom’s biggest cheerleaders.
“The way that the people who taught me back in high school or middle school have continued to support me since graduating is crazy,” said Seestrom. “It’s just so awesome that we have teachers that continue to teach beyond the time their students are in the classroom. And it makes me feel like I can continue to do this.”
Seestrom expects her third book to be out in January of 2020. Both Surrender Your Soul and Ashes of the Sea are available online at Amazon. Seestrom is also on Twitter at @SamWritesBooks and can be followed on both Facebook and Instagram at @samanthawritesbook. Information about future books, as well as book signing opportunities, can be found on her social media pages.