A Winter Storm
Samantha was born in Spokane, Washington in 1989. When her parents separated in 1996, she turned to writing as a means of avoiding the hurt from abuse at home. “It made me feel better to write an outcome I knew would never happen in real life. For a moment, it was real, and that moment got me from day today.” She continued writing this way until her parents divorced in 2000. Meanwhile, the seeds of her faith were being planted through the television show Touched by an Angel, Sunday school lessons that were becoming few and far between and the compassion of teachers who knew what was happening behind the scenes. She wrote her first full-length novel at the age of 13. The consequences of the trauma in her childhood, however, wouldn’t stay hidden behind a veil of creativity or surface-level faith for long. In 2006, moved by what was happening in the Middle East, Samantha joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17. Determined to write about what was happening to the victims of the war on terror, she trained to be a combat correspondent. It wasn’t enough to simply join the Marines— she wanted to be in the thick of the mess in order to protect and defend whomever needed it.
Before going to her first duty station, however, she was raped by a fellow Marine. “I didn’t tell anyone – not for months. By then it was too late.” Unfortunately, it was only the first sexual assault in a line of several more in the next several years. Still, she wrote. Still, she clung to her growing faith. Even that trauma would be used for good in the future. From 2009 to 2011 Samantha was a radio DJ for American Forces Network (AFN) Okinawa and was well known as the radio personality Sam.I.Am. With a flare for positivity and putting her listeners first, Samantha was nominated Best DJ in the Pacific in Stars and Stripes Magazine in 2010 and her radio show received an honorable mention in the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association. It was in 2009, however, when she finally fell apart. “I had no idea how to process the emotions I’d been trying to ignore my whole life, and I was turning into someone I hated. I could literally go from laughing with a caller making a song request one moment, and fall into a puddle of tears as soon as he was off the phone and I was off the air. My despair was destroying me from the inside out.”
The depression of trauma never dealt with in the past and the sexual assaults and harassment in the Marines led to an array of self-destructive behaviors. Hidden behind a facade of an upbeat attitude and statements of faith she wanted to be true more than she believed to be true, she managed to keep her despair hidden for a while. Until her acting commanding officer dropped her off at a mental hospital and told the receptionist, “I’m afraid she’s going to kill herself. She needs to talk to someone.” and left. Unable to verbalize what had been going on for twenty years, Samantha was encouraged by her counselor to write about it. No healing could happen until the wound was exposed. She was reminded of John 8:32, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Finally, the desire for freedom was far greater than the fear of being exposed. Months later she had written a story of utter pain and despair. “I started asking, ‘Where was God in all of this?’ I couldn’t see Him in my life, but I knew He was there. It was then I became determined to turn my story of hopelessness into one of hope.”
She rewrote the manuscript, and A Winter Storm was born. The story speaks of hope, healing and faith in the aftermath of sexual assault and how to forgive what seems to be unforgivable. It is dedicated to the women who spent every week for eighteen months guiding her through the agonizing process of bringing truth into light. Samantha learned to use the courage and compassion of fictional characters to give her what she needed to keep pressing forward in her own life. Her story had yet to be redeemed, but Samantha used the novel to remind herself redemption was coming. In the fall of 2012, while working with troubled youth at a drug rehabilitation facility, she received a call from her younger brother, another aspiring writer, to tell her his sci-fi/fantasy novel had been accepted by a publishing company. After celebrating with him over the phone, she hung up and cried. “Then I prayed. I told God that if He would let me make my living writing, then to help my first novel get published before I was twenty-five years- old. If He did that, I’d do whatever it took to glorify Him with my books.” On March 12, 2013, ten days before her twenty-fourth birthday, A Winter Storm was on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
She recounts her favorite moment of those first few months: “A co-worker bought A Winter Storm for her daughter, who had been sexually abused years earlier. The woman came to my work and just wanted to meet me. When she saw me, she threw her arms around me and just said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for being willing to go there.’ The simple validation of her pain and the hope in the book gave her hope she didn’t know she could have. I realized then that the power I had with my words to give hope was immeasurably greater than I had initially thought. The second best moment was when I was told a reader had finished Fifty Shades of Gray and then read A Winter Storm. She wanted another book by Samantha Means before she wanted to read the next book in the Fifty Shades series. That was pretty great.” Samantha’s Fortune series was born behind the locked doors of that inpatient youth rehabilitation facility. When the teenagers finished A Winter Storm, they asked her to write a story about them. Samantha adopted the stories of their lives on the street, their hopelessness and despair of being without a loved one in the world, and blended it with the personal story of Samantha’s own redeemed relationship with her mother.
Woven throughout the plot of her series is the subtle workings of a loving God taking His beloved on an adventure, wooing each person into a relationship with Him through loss and love over the course of three generations. “I was blessed to be able to exchange letters with my Grandpa while I was in the Marine Corps. It gave me a lot of insight to what his life was like serving in Vietnam, coming home an alcoholic and not being a present father to my mom. My mom and I were estranged for years by that point and it helped me to see her as a woman, not just as my mother. I believe that was a turning point in helping us to reconcile years later.” Each of her books is inspired by a true story, born from personal experience. Each story is written with the desire to bring hope and faith to women and adolescents in the midst of hardship. She has many more stories in the works today and stands on the belief that has helped her keep moving forward in her relationship with Jesus and in the trials of life one day at a time: “If you’re still breathing, God still has a plan. Don’t quit.”