Scribbler!

I’ve been itching to try the Scribbler subscription box for writers since it was first released. But alas, there’s the issue of budget that never allowed me to sign up. May I take a moment to say “Yay Christmas Bonuses!” Because I get to share my very first Scribbler box with you!

So I intended to take pictures if each item, and my Logan knew it. Hence, we get pictures like this.

The first thing I spotted when I opened my Scribbler box was a near magnetized dry erase board. I used it immediately to write a love letter.

The author of the month this month was YA fantasy author Evelyn Skye, who had a short story in the Sucker Literary anthology I was promoting around here a few years ago. The book that accompanies this box is Circle of Shadows. It is her third book, an epic fantasy. The book includes a signed bookplate.

Not only is the book included, but there is also a separate pamphlet that offers an inside look at the editing process. She shows us a scene from Circle of Shadows that was cut in edits, and walks us through everything that has changed since, including a whole storyline that was cut.

Evelyn also wrote up a great collection of tips and tricks for writing fantasy—mainly focusing on building magic systems and how it figures into and impacts world building.

This sticker gives me life.

An invitation to an exclusive chat with Kristin Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray, was also included, but, as is always my luck, it lands on the day and (believe it or not) exact time of a seriously important doctor’s appointment, so I won’t be able to attend. 😦

There was a great little notebook with a sturdy cover, built for the kind of writer that writes on the go. You can work on the writing prompt they sent in that adorable little notebook.

And lastly, this warm scribbler beanie, perfect for the snowy weather I’ve been trudging through–as modeled by Logan.

So, what did I think of my first Scribbler box? I loved it! Just having a bunch of cute things that relate to my life as a writer, while also relating to my life loving YA novels is just perfect. I do wish the writing chat was something I could attend—for instance, not in the middle of a normal workday—but other than that, every single piece included is going to get a lot of use from me.

I can’t afford to do this every month, but I think there are more of these in my future.

To sign up for a Scribbler box, go here!

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The Meaning of Success

Recently, I’ve found myself saying things like “when I’m successful,” or “when I get where I need to be,” without thinking about what that actually means to me. The dawn of a new year is always good for making you take a step back from your life and forcing you to question those things that just seem like a given when we don’t evaluate them. One day, I’ll be successful. Except what does that even mean? To be successful? Turning it around in my head led me to understand that there is no real definition.

Success is self-defined. Only we can decide our own version of success and there are often many layers to be found there. So I decided to map out a few versions of what I considered to be my own personal meaning of success.

  1. The Semi-Successful Happy Place–In this version of what I consider to be success, I sell a few books for moderate deals. I continue to work my day job as a legal assistant, but the money from the books sales help me have something extra to spend on fun things to do. My son is happy, my husband is happy. Life is relatively the same, but people enjoy my books and I feel a sense of accomplishment. Logan grows up well and I continue to nurture the wonderful relationships I’ve built. I don’t have everything I want, but that’s okay. More to write about. And life keeps on trucking.
  2. All The Dreams–In this version, I sell a lot of books and I’m a prolific writer. I also get a load of editing business, and between the two incomes, it’s enough for me to leave my day job. I get to work from home with my writing and editing, and it gives me the freedom to be more involved in my son’s school life. I can participate in events at his school and be a more hands-on parent than my current arrangement allows me to be. I still continue to maintain the wonderful relationships I’ve built as well as new professional relationships that feed my soul. I get to travel some more and it feeds my writing material. Life is beautiful, but busy. And the beat goes on.
  3. The Best Case Scenario–Not only do I sell books, but I get super successful. There’s fanfiction about my books and weird merchandise and I’m almost a household name, at least among YA readers. I run a successful editing business because I love to help other writers, and money is no longer even remotely tight. My family lives comfortably, we get to travel, and we buy a house on a lake, with one next door for my best friend to live in. I have enough property for a couple of dogs (can’t do that in my apartment because of my allergies), and everyone I love is well taken care of. I make a good living doing what I absolutely love. Things really couldn’t be better.

I would honestly love every one of these scenarios. Hell, just part of some of these would make me feel successful. It’s not about achieving all of your goals, although that would be wonderful. It’s about hitting a landmark. Feeling like you’ve accomplished something.

Success is different for every person. You define it. As large or as small as you want to go.

So what does success means to you?

Storytime with Boogie Down Books

I recently had the wonderful experience of reading to children during Boogie Down Books’ Storytime, and it was an amazing experience. As soon as I arrived at Mottley Kitchen on Saturday Morning, December 15th, I knew I had to chronicle this experience for my blog and let everyone know about the delightful time I had and all about the wonderful bookstore without walls.

I met Boogie Down Books owner Rebekah Shoaf at The Bronx Book Fair in May and immediately took a liking to her. She was unbelievably friendly and energetic and immediately put me, who attended as both a networking author and a mother looking for new books for her son, at ease. She told me all about her company, and I immediately signed up for the newsletter, grateful to discover such an interesting new Bronx program.

Rebekah called Boogie Down Books a bookstore without walls. Instead of a brick and mortar shop, she organizes pop-up shops at events and schools around the borough. She even organized a pop-up shop in Mottley Kitchen, a cafe in the South Bronx, where she organizes  weekly Storytimes for young children and a monthly book club for teens and adults.

After reading through their newsletter, I decided to volunteer to read a book for children at Storytime, and was selected to read Windows by Julia Denos. I was very excited and didn’t really know what to expect.

Now, hearing about all of this and experiencing it are two very different things. In theory, it seemed like a nice idea. In practice, it was warm, welcoming, and engaging. Rebekah greeted me and my husband and son, Logan, near the pop-up bookshop set-up, every bit as open and cheerful as she had the first time I met her. She chatted with Logan for a while and when he asked if he could help her, she promised they’d discuss it when he was older. Logan felt included and happy, and I was exceedingly grateful.

After showing me around and explaining my role, Rebekah left us to grab some buttery croissants, filling granola bars, and piping hot English Breakfast Tea (for my wonderful sore throat) from the staff at The Mottley Kitchen (we also bought books, of course), and we settled in until people started to arrive.

Once we had a good group gathered together, Rebekah called everyone together. I sat in a chair in the center of the reading nook and the children gathered around me. Rebekah led the group in a breathing exercise and then a welcome song. It was clear that the large majority of the children were regulars, and Rebekah knew them by name. The welcome song referred to each child by name, including Logan, whom she had just met.

Rebekah had asked me to read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats in addition to Windows, as the books held many similarities. I agreed, eager to read even more to these adorable children. So, I read, and asked questions, and interacted, and for a wonderful half hour, I got to hang out with children, which really is the best thing.

Photo by Rebekah Shoaf

Then, it was time for the kids to do their book related craft, and I got to mix and mingle with the lovely parents. By the time it was time to go, I was reluctant to leave. I had felt so welcome, and so comfortable amongst this group–I imagine that’s what the kids who come to attend storytime feel like every weekend.

And just like that, I decided I was definitely going to do this again. Maybe not for a little bit, since my schedule is packed, particularly on Saturday, but I would be back. It was such an uplifting experience. In the Bronx, where it’s been a struggle to get one brick and mortar bookstore open, where the overwhelming need for literacy programs are left to very few people to lead the charge, I decided I needed to be a part of it.

If you’re in the NYC area, you should absolutely support Boogie Down Books. Come out for a Storytime or a Book Club. If you’re not, and you can afford it, buy a book or two from their website. Little pleasures like this one are few and far between. We should try, however we can, to keep them alive.

It Really Does Get Easier

You see that lady? The vacant stare? The irritated-looking but adorable baby? This was just the very beginning of my struggle with post-partum depression, and the beginning of my Logan’s colic. It was a hard first few months, made worse by my already existing anxiety disorder and what we would later discover to be a burgeoning Sensory Processing Disorder for Logan.

Since then, it’s gotten harder in many ways. In other ways, it’s gotten easier. What it has never gotten was boring. As our little family of three struggled with various and multitudinous mental struggles, we coped with love and, in my case, pouring my heart out through my pen.

“Organized Chaos” was a personal essay written in the height of my post-partum depression and maybe even was what led me out of it. Which is why, when I saw a call for submission to an anthology on motherhood and mental illness, I struggled to hit send. This was a deeply personal exploration of the things that made me tick, and why they caused me a struggle to cope.

But I sent it anyway. And now it will be published in the anthology, “It Will Not Be Simple: Motherhood, Mental Illness, and Trauma,” compiled by writers Liz Howard and Christina Xiong. More details are forthcoming, but I hope you will take this journey with me.

More on my other writing projects, as well as my wonderful time at the Author-preneur Workshop, to come soon. And as always, thank you for sticking by me. It’s never the destination, it’s all about the journey.

All my love,

Justine

Learning to Fail and Other Rude Awakenings

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I don’t like to brag, but I’m really good at NaNoWriMo-ing. Like, really good. I have participated in many NaNos since 2012, and I have always completed my goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. I have also participated in the Camp NaNoWriMos, in that time, often pulling out 50,000 words in April or July, in any of the years I chose to participate. And then came this year.

In April, I already knew I was competing with a crazier schedule, and set my goal of Camp Nano (the version of this challenge that has changeable goals) to 30,000 words in the month. I managed to make that goal. In July, I did the same, hoping to finish out a decent chunk of the book I had started in April. By a week into the month, I could already see that I wasn’t going to get to 30,000. I cut my word count to 15,000.

You see, there was this scene. Or worse, there was this book. And it slowed everything to a stop.

When I started work on a new book while waiting for notes back from my edit-partner for my last completed first draft, Never Say Never, I intended to work on a light-hearted superhero tale. Often, to get myself into telling a story, I will first write my first draft of the book blurb, a teaser description to tell myself what’s at stake and who my main character is. I do this prior to outlining, just so I can get into the proper frame of mind. When I set out to do this, my simple superhero book became a dystopian novel about two teens living off the streets of a derelict city until they choose to fight for better. With zero superheroes. And I don’t know how. I often scoff at people who say the characters took control of the story, or who claim they need their muse, but this was definitely some kind of whacked out magic at work. I hadn’t had this idea before I set out. This was not the book I was looking for.

But perhaps it was the book I needed. For one, writing it scared the shit out of me. It required a level of worldbuilding I’d never done before. It required a set of research I’d never considered. Worse, as I started plotting out the outline, I began to discover the story was meant to be in third person, which I almost never write.

I went to a book signing a few weeks before, for one of my favorite authors–Patrick Ness. He said he always likes to scare himself with his book ideas. He said he didn’t want to write anything that didn’t scare him–it was part of the adventure of writing. So when this strange story sprang from my head, I went with it–I did the scary thing. I started outlining this story. I started doing the research. And perhaps, I jumped into writing the thing too quickly.

That was my excuse when I cut the word count in April.

But then, my life was changing. I started work with Craft Quest, continued working with The Inkwell Council, and started taking on occasional freelance editing jobs. I dove into a new fandom (I haven’t been part of a fandom in awhile), which was time-wasting, but also reminded me why it’s so damn fun to be a geek, and saved me from dealing with a lot of this next part–as I mentioned earlier this year, I recently was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. My symptoms had been growing steadily worse for the entire year before I figured out what was wrong, and have now continued cropping up in new and interesting ways. My husband and son got into a car accident, ending up in the middle of a seven-car bumper-to-bumper on the highway–they were fine, but the car was decidedly not. We frantically struggled to replace it. There was an awful slew of bullying at our son’s summer camp that was impacting him directly. And I got stuck, horribly stuck, on one scene in the story that I just couldn’t figure out. I crashed. HARD. I never made it to 15,000 words. That has never happened to me before.

From the end of July to now, I have written four pages. That’s it, folks. Four whole pages. And anybody who follows this blog regularly knows that’s a joke. It wasn’t even like I was editing Never Say Never. I got the edits, got stuck on the first thing that was said, and pushed that aside as well. I just didn’t know how to handle any of it, so I didn’t touch it. I put it all away.

I celebrated my son’s birthday. I handled that damn summer camp. I celebrated my best friend’s pregnancy, my sister-in-law’s new apartment, my other best friend’s journey through Thailand and Japan. I sat beside another dear friend as she struggled to (successfully, thank goodness) battle breast cancer. I got to work on another project close to my heart that I can’t discuss yet, but is arts-based and local, and should it take off, would touch on a long-standing dream of mine. I swam around in my new favorite fandom and made some new friends there. I lived my dang life. I took a break.

And I feel better. I feel clearer. I think this needed to happen to remind me I couldn’t do everything at once. I need to crash to remind myself that despite my protestations to the contrary, this illness has given me new limitations. I needed to crash to remind myself I had other priorities in life. I needed to crash to remind myself to have a little fun. I needed to crash because I don’t need to hit my goals every single time. Sometimes I’m allowed to miss them. I needed to crash to remind myself I didn’t need to get this story right on the first draft. That I could completely screw it up, go back in and rewrite it like I was bound to do anyway a few times, once I figured out what I was trying to say and how it was going to work. I needed to crash to remind myself that the work of sculpting doesn’t get done until the clay is on the damn table.

I needed to crash. I needed to fail. I needed that to learn how to take care of myself so that next time, I may succeed.

Tl;dr: I’m back, folks. How was your summer vacation?

Breaking Stigmas

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“I like this restaurant,” my eight-year-old son politely explained as we ate dinner with friends. “The other one was loud. It didn’t help my anxiety.” He then went on to discuss how much more sense his thoughts make now that he’s on medication. When he left with my husband to use the bathroom, my friend took the opportunity to scoot a little closer to me and ask a question I could see rolling around in her head the minute my son started talking. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to speak so openly about what’s wrong with him?”

This isn’t usually the type of blog I write, but every now and then, I do journey into the personal instead of the professional, and I’ve decided this is a good time to do that.

There’s a lot of mental illness hanging around in my family. I suffer from depression and anxiety and ADHD, and I’m just discovering now, I may have some sensory processing issues. My son inherited pretty much all of this from me and my husband. I also suffer from scoliosis and migraines, and have mild asthma. And just like I wouldn’t hide that from people who know me, I don’t hide the other stuff either.

It’s odd how we seem to have no problem openly discussing physical issues. “I’m sorry, I can’t come out today. I have a migraine,” rolls off the tongue a lot easier than, “Sorry, I can’t come out today. My anxiety is on high and I don’t really think I could handle being around a lot of people.” People don’t accept both in the same way.

But truly, they are the same. There are some things we can’t control. Mental illnesses are caused by chemicals in our brains. So, while they don’t present themselves as physical illnesses, they are actually caused by traceable physical issues.

So, let’s talk about the question my friend asked. I get her asking it. Some people are just uninformed about this sort of thing, and I’m grateful she didn’t ask in front of my son. She seemed to truly understand when I explained it to her (or she humored me REALLY well), so this isn’t some kind of sub-blog hate post or anything. We’re cool.

What it is, however, is me realizing there may be a question worth answering, a question many people may also be asking.

I’m really straightforward with my son about what he’s going through. Not “wrong with” because that’s the wrong word. There’s nothing wrong with my son. But I explain to him the physical reasons he sometimes becomes overwhelmed, or has trouble dealing with his emotions. I’ll try to help give him the words to describe what he’s feeling, or what bothers him. I’ll help him narrow down the things he can tolerate or the things he struggles with.

I want him to accept that this is his reality, rather than trying to hide from it. I want him to learn to live with it, to cope with it. I don’t want him to be in his thirties and wondering why he sees the world differently from others.

It’s the fact that we feel like we can’t talk about these things that feeds the misinformation, the stigma, surrounding mental health. While other people have armchair psychology mental health reform debates from a safe and comfortable distance, my family struggles with such issues from our very living room.

If this country is determined to claim a need for mental health reform, frankly, something needs to be done about it. And that begins with the actual sufferers of mental illness being open about our needs, being open about how our illnesses make us feel and not being scared to discuss exactly who we are. If this is in some way unsafe or uncomfortable for the sufferer, of course they shouldn’t.

For my Logan, he is completely safe to be exactly who he is–that adorable and snarky 3rd grader who struggles with distress from loud noises, trouble focusing, a need to be perfect despite his relatively laidback parents, and a really weird vomit response to pickles. And we will do everything to help his lovable awesome self and keep him happy and safe to be exactly as he is.

Kill the Superstition, Save the Writer

Hello everybody! Today I am guest blogging over on Jacy Sellers’ blog. She’s been hosting a new series called MOTHER WRITERS, where authors discuss their methods of managing their careers as Mamas, while simultaneously trying to further their careers as writers.

Check out my installment to this collection, called “Kill the Superstition, Save the Writer” where I discuss how to survive as a writer even when you can’t find your perfect writing situation. And while you’re there, check out the rest of Jacy’s blog.