Graduation Lessons

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This child and his silly faces

“We want to be a part of it! First Grade! First Grade!”

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Slide Show Picture

As I listened to my son and his classmates sing their graduation song, having just finished the adorable slideshow the school had put together to celebrate, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes. I’m not usually the kind of person that cries over happy things. Besides, it’s just a Kindergarten Graduation, right? His diploma has crayons on it!

But it’s about thinking back to where we were when we started Kindergarten.

Our entire lives have changed since September 2014. Seeing those pictures, taken on the first day of school, I could remember who we were when we dropped him off. I can remember still crossing my fingers, waiting to hear back regarding my manuscript. I can remember Ismael struggling to complete his. Our novels hadn’t been picked up for publication, then. We were just people chasing a dream. And Logan was a big part of that dream.

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This little heartbreaker.

Logan, himself, was different. He couldn’t read more than a few words. The other day, he casually picked up a book and read it to himself. It was a breeze. At his birthday party, just before school started, Logan cried about losing a game that cost him a trophy at his own birthday party (I never would have given it to him anyway! That was for the other kids!). CRIED. Hysterically. But I watched him lose a few rounds into the class spelling bee, last week, with little more than a short sniffle. He cried on the third day of school, after seemingly tricking us into believing he was going to be okay with going. By the last day, he was racing in without me, intent on hanging with his friends. He had a hard time leaving his stuffed bear behind on the first day, and though I snuck said bear into the graduation in my purse to make him laugh, it doesn’t take much work at all to convince him to leave the bear home when we’re heading out for the day.

We speak more. I’ve always spoken to Logan, but I can think of dozens of real, somewhat deep conversations we’ve had over the last school year. Perhaps, the most touching of those conversations was the one we had with him the day my Grandmother passed away. But there were others, about friendship, about family. About the bad things we don’t want to think about. About his favorite things and how to handle a bully. About siblings, and planning and all of the things he wants to be. About history, and how to be a good citizen. About keeping the Earth clean, and about guppies and earthworms and snails. About trees and flowers and how they grow. About what it’s like to start to see your dreams come true and how much hard work something like that takes. All on the walk to school.

Getting his crayon diploma.
Getting his crayon diploma.

Watching the slideshow, I stared at the pictures of him from his orientation, and remembered when he was clinging to me, eyeing the application paperwork over my shoulder and asking me what every word meant. But then, I saw my big boy getting his crayon diploma. My first grader, who had come out of his first year older and wiser. And I teared up a bit.

The next day, when Logan asked me how much school he had left, and I told him about college, and an advanced education, he sighed. “I’m going to be in school forever!”

So, I asked, “Logan, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a scientist. And a writer. And a doctor. And an engineer. And a fixer. And a superhero,” he said, with all of the trademark excitement I expect from him.

“And you know, the best way to be any of those things?” I asked, mostly ignoring the superhero part, although there is more than one way to be a superhero. “Learn. Learn everything you can. Never stop learning.”

And as I said it, and he agreed, I realized how much more I have to learn, how much more I have to teach him.

I can’t wait to see where we go.

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Planner

When I was trying to get pregnant, I spent all day on the internet searching out daycares, researching the school district.  As I agonized over childcare for my future daughter (or so I thought), I was tense and frustrated.  One day, my friend asked me, right in the middle of a bout of panic, if I was pregnant yet.  I wasn’t.  “So why are you driving yourself crazy now?!” He asked, in a tone that seriously implied I was taking him with me.

The answer?  Because I always live ten steps ahead of now.  That probably wasn’t a reasonable response, though.

My husband, Ismael, isn’t a planner.  I once asked him where he saw himself in five years and he shrugged.  SHRUGGED!  Who does that?!  That’s ridiculous!  Except, in some ways, I envy him, because it has often made him the smarter of the two of us.

There are some things you just can’t plan.

When my son, Logan, was born, it was after thirty-six hours of labor and an emergency C-section – that I never planned.  I never planned on Logan having colic.  I never planned on not being able to breastfeed.  I never planned on postpartum depression.

I planned on the opposite of all of those things and so, when it came time to face facts, my world was completely shaken up.  If there was anything Logan did when he arrived it was crash through every preconceived notion I had.  Motherhood, for me, came with more pain than my complicated labor. I didn’t take well to it at first and my life constantly felt like a car speeding along on the freeway with faulty brakes.

Ismael, the non-planner, took to fatherhood with grace and dignity.  He was able to handle every curveball with a tired shrug, after which he plowed forward and went about the business of being the best, most active and involved father I’ve ever met.  No surprise was too great and though he was very stressed, he didn’t fall apart the way I did.  Because he didn’t plan.  He knew that having a baby was going to be a crazy time for us.  He knew there was no road map.  So he didn’t try to pave his own path through the wilderness.  He just waited to see what the road would look like and walked it once he’d gotten there.

That isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan at all.  It wasn’t like Ismael would have left the child without a crib or a nursery.  We were ready for Logan’s arrival and not all of that preparation was me. It’s one thing to draw a map in pencil and it’s another to draw it in permanent marker.

Allow me to put my permanent marker into my pocket so we can talk about this some more.  Guess which I do?

This concept applies to anything and I’m still trying to figure out how to apply it to the other aspects of my life.  But I guess when I boil it down to the simplest form it would have to be, don’t expect much.  Make a plan, but don’t expect that plan to be perfect and true at all times.  Expect it to mess up.  Expect to have to make a contingency plan.  You may not get that first book published.  You may not get that job you want.  You may not graduate when you want to.  You may have to change up your road map a bit along the way.

So, try to put away the permanent marker.  Try to learn the lesson that I learned from raising Logan: pencil, even washable marker, but never, NEVER a Sharpie.  You may need to change something and you’ll never get those Sharpie marks out of his clothes.  I promise you that.

Surprise! You’re One and Done!

10599613_10152369288983412_2106773918228127628_nWarning: This is not a writing related post – instead, this post is about some of the other pieces of my puzzle. I hope you enjoy it all the same!

The plan was simple. Wait until Baby #1 got out of daycare and into public school, and then consider it time for Baby #2! Funds would be freed up and we would be at different points in our career. Life would be different.

Well, that was certainly true.

The thing is, the plan is always simple. It was simple when Ismael and I got married and declared our intentions to have a baby in two years. We didn’t end up actually being in a financially and emotionally responsible place to have a baby until eight years after that self-imposed deadline.

About a year ago, as we began to poke around and ask questions about school registration, we had a quick discussion about the prospect for baby #2. Ismael was on the fence. Money was tight. Money was always tight. And that was just with the three of us. Would a fourth be pushing us over into negative income territory? I tried to maintain hope. You see, I had always had it in my head that I would have two to three kids, minimum. And when I have something in my head, I go for it. Relentlessly. So, I was sure we could find a way to make sense of things. I nodded and smiled through Ismael’s worries, sure that I would find the key to make this thing happen. The planner in me had already decided how this would go. I just had to figure out the particulars.

When Logan started school, Ismael and I started to reevaluate our finances. We started to reevaluate our schedules. We started to reevaluate our priorities. And we made a pretty heavy discovery.

There wasn’t anything more to go around. No money, no time, no attention. We had a full plate. Ismael and I both work full-time jobs and are full-time writers. We also have Logan, who is a regular powder keg of energy and our third musketeer. We do not have readily available babysitters in our family members and friends because they all work hard at full-time jobs themselves or live so far away, it isn’t feasible. Siblings live in another borough or another state. Parents have health issues. One of our best friends has three jobs. The other works double-shifts at times. But that isn’t even really an issue. It isn’t that we can’t get people to watch Logan while we take care of our other stuff. It’s that we don’t WANT to.

Logan is fun. Logan is our buddy. Logan is the light that makes our bad busy days happier. So we want to sit down and read with him, or watch a movie, or play a video game, or act out imaginary scenarios in which rolling across the bed is rolling down a hill to get away from the bad guys or Luke Skywalker comes to help Ariel with Ursula (we’ll make a writer out of him, yet – and probably a writer of fanfic).

As we journeyed through the first year of school, we realized that his school is a very good school and it is VERY parent inclusive. They have marches against bullying. They have fundraisers for Breast Cancer Research. They have bake sales and Mommy, Daddy, and Me reading nights, and movie nights, and school trips and art shows and a bunch of things that we wanted to be involved in. But we are already spread so thin. And managing three busy event calendars is a very different thing from managing two. So as we balanced this time off with that time off, as Ismael switched this work day and I took this half day, Ismael and I encountered a blinding moment of clarity.

We could have another child right now in these circumstances. But Logan would suffer for it. We wouldn’t have the money to take him places. We wouldn’t have the money to adhere to our “One Cool Adventure a Month” policy (we’re talking things like bowling or a movie, but we always try to do one cool thing). We wouldn’t have the time to go to his art shows or have dedicated time for silliness. I can barely make it to Logan’s events now, and I usually have to do some pretty efficient time gambling to make it pan out. But to do that for another kid? I’d cut my appearances in half.

Losing one of those things might be okay, but losing all of them? I could either make sure I was the kind of parent I wanted to be for Logan, or I could be a middling parent to two kids. And I’d much rather have the first.

As I said earlier, Ismael had probably already come to this conclusion, but didn’t know how to say it to me in such hard and fast terms. He’s always more of a realist than my dreamer self. So I know he was surprised when I told him I didn’t think we should have a second baby. “But that’s how things are right now,” he said, for me more than himself. “You never know where we’ll be in a few years.”

But the planner in me couldn’t take that. The planner in me would have kept trying to find a ‘how’. “I need to decide no. If a path to a yes shows up along the way, we’ll go ahead. But I need to decide no so I can get over it.” Because it was something I needed to get over. Because the idea of two children was so real in my head that it felt like something was missing and I needed to rethink my view of what my family should look like.

So that’s it. It looks like I’m a “One and Done” kind of parent. Because life happens. Because we are in constant states of flux. Because I once wrote a blog about writing dreams vs. reality and I know that applies to real life as well.

I think I have finally reached a point where I am okay with this decision. I may not be able to have all of the things I want. But sacrificing that to see the absolute perfection of all that I already HAVE may be the most important lesson I’ll ever learn.

I Have A Publishing Contract: Week 1

You may have noticed that last week, I made a little announcement. Okay, not a little announcement. A FREAKIN’ BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. The Order of the Key, my literary BABY, has been contracted for publication. The below is a stream of consciousness whackadoo commentary of my first week post-announcement. Hey, I promised you all I’d chronicle my writing journey. So…here goes.

Note: I’m neurotic.

Day 1: I made my announcement. Everyone was super excited for me, and I am too!  I have grabbed the elusive brass ring. I spent my day on the phone and internet chatting with people who wanted to know all about it and what comes next and I’m super excited to share. If there’s anything I have on this journey, it is a damn good support system. One of the people I talked to is my content editor. She told me that book 1 should be out in August and that she’d be sending me my first round of edits soon. Then she said this: “In the meantime, start Book 2.” And reality struck. I have always written on my own schedule. Now I’ll have to write on someone else’s. WELP.

Day 2: The Distinguished Press family is incredible. They are fun and a little weird and we have all kinds of private conversations at our private clubhouse and there is a lot of fun and silly jokes. I have entered a world where I can share my weird writer thoughts with the entire room and nobody gets twitchy, which is true pretty much only when I have a precious few friends in my presence.

Day 3: Returning to my day job made me realize something. I have a lot to do. The below is an actual transcript excerpt of a Google Hangout with one of my best friends, Allegra.

 

Me: Currently, I am:

1) Writing Book 2 of the Series
2) Writing a romantic comedy
3) Maintaining my blog
4) Contributing to another blog
5) Participating in a reading challenge
6) Beta-reading Ismael’s book
7) Beta-reading Louis’ book
8) Being a mommy
9) Being a wife
10) Being a person

Allegra: Don’t forget your day job.

Me: Ha! I totally did! I am currently laughing at myself, but it’s that hysterical, maniacal laughter that comes right before you have a breakdown.

 

That’s right – I’m writing two books at once because I never finished my NaNoWriMo project and I don’t want to take a break from it, because I feel like somewhere in the process of EDIT-WRITE-EDIT-WRITE for Keys & Guardians, I will lose the romantic comedy and never get it back. So I’m holding onto it until it is done. I have about 5 chapters left. But…yikes.

Day 4: Snowed in for a blizzard that turned out not to be such a big deal after all. Spent all afternoon writing Book 2 and discovered this thing isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. With six months away from Order, I assumed getting back in would be difficult. It is not. Chapter 1 DOWN.

Day 5: I have realized that people are going to read my book. Seems silly, doesn’t it? But it’s weird! Strange, completely random thoughts have started passing through my head. That gruesome death scene…the sex talk…

You probably have to know me personally to get this one, but I’m a very…smiley/sunshiney person. I seem very innocent and sweet when you meet me. I don’t like to disrupt this image because, frankly, it’s a nice way to be viewed, and that is a significant and true part of who I am. But…not always. This part of me, the darker side, the things that come out in these stories – putting them out on the page makes me feel…vulnerable, I guess?

So, there are some people who say, “I can’t wait to read your book!” And I say, “Yes, I really want you to.” And what I’m really saying is, “Yes, I really want you to and please don’t see me differently once you do.”

Because it’s all just fiction. JUST fiction. At least mostly.

Day 6: I have discovered that I am NOT good at explaining my book when people ask me about it. Okay, let’s be real. I already knew that from the Writer’s Conference adventure. I thought I would be better at this once I knew I was getting published, but when asked by my very excited boss-at-my-day-job what my book was about, I clammed up so badly that when I got to my desk, my buddies at work ribbed me for ten minutes. Here’s a hint. Starting your description of your book with, “Hee hee, it’s weird.” is probably not good. Do better next time, Justine. I am going to have to come up with a pre-packaged answer for this.

Day 7: I got to participate in my first writing event with Distinguished Press. It was a day long online party celebrating the January release of Mirror Reformed, the conclusion of K.G. Stutts’ Mirror Series and containing games, music, contests, and author spotlights. I even got to host an hour and discuss Order and the rest of the Keys & Guardians series. It was a great time and definitely got me feeling even more like a welcome part of this family. To check out the release party and learn more about the spotlight authors, click here.

All in all, it has been an amazing first week on this new journey. I can’t say I’m going to have something to write every week of this. Chances are, I’ll just be battening down the hatches and getting work done. But I can say that I intend to share this journey with you all. After all, what good is a writer without her readers?

Happy Writing!

Announcement: The Order of the Key

I have to be honest – I, the writer, cannot actually put my excitement into words. The Order of the Key, my young adult contemporary fantasy novel, has been contracted for publication by Distinguished Press, a relatively new publishing company that specializes in the publication of series. Yes, you read that correctly. Series. Which means, not only has Order been picked up, but the entire Keys and Guardians series.

The contract was finalized yesterday and the Distinguished Press family has already welcomed me with open arms, and by family, I mean the staff and the authors. I can already tell this is going to be a fantastic experience.

For those of you who don’t already know, the story of Jacklyn Madison, my main character, was the first thing I ever wrote in my adult life. The first incarnation of this story was an epic trilogy at 600 pages apiece because I had no idea what I was doing at the time. I wrote this insane unwieldy thing that doesn’t look remotely like the thing you will get to see in your hands when this book is released. It has been a ridiculously long journey with this character and I have reached a new stage, a new adventure.

My novel is getting published. Everything will be different from here on out.

To those of you who have enjoyed listening to me ramble on about my writer’s journey, I hope you will enter a new stage with me because I can’t wait to share it with you.

Thanks again for all of your love and support. I’ll keep you posted on all the release information once I know!

Dreams vs. Reality

I have an active imagination.  This fact is pretty much a no-brainer since I write loads of weird fantastical things on a daily basis. But I don’t just have an active imagination about things I would place into a book.  I have an active imagination about reality too. Sometimes, this means that the creak of a floorboard in the middle of the night has me plotting how I will avoid the crazed killer that has clearly snuck into my house (doesn’t everybody do this?).  But most times, this involves dreaming up where I will go in my career, what I will do with the crazy amounts of money I make, how I will support my family.  There are real versions of my future, and then there’s the ideal version, the person I could be if the absolute best case scenario happens to me.  They do not remotely resemble each other.

In my ideal world, the hubby and I meet unprecedented success as writers.  All three of the novels that are currently still mere works in progress are published by major publishing companies and my urban fantasy is picked up as a series.  All three are optioned as movies.  We make a ridiculous amount of money, as they become immensely popular.  I gain J.K. Rowling style fame. The lead character in the urban fantasy, Jacklyn Madison, becomes a household name.  Other people write fanfiction about my stuff.  I get enough money to become a full-time writer.  I buy a house somewhere with wide open spaces and beautiful views.  I get all kinds of fancy stuff for my family.  My kids go to prestigious schools.  I stay home and write all day and when I’m not writing, I’m doing interviews, working as a consultant on the movie set, or teaching writing.  I eat, sleep and breathe my dream job and my family and there is nothing to get in the way of that.  No distractions from real life that take me away from writing for weeks at a time.  I can travel to new locations to research for future books.  I have room for a writing office in my house, which has state of the art computer software and is covered wall to wall in anything that inspires me.  My husband has one of his own.  We live a busy but happy life that is thoroughly driven by family and writing.

Reality will probably look alot different. It is alarmingly likely that I will never be a traditionally published author.  I may end up publishing independently or not at all.  I may end up publishing my novels in serial format on this very blog.  Who knows?  You guys may be my only readers!  I will likely never be paid all that much for my books. A normal publishing contract doesn’t look anything like J.K. Rowling’s next contract will look.  I will probably never be a household name.  There is a very good chance that I will continue to live in the apartment I live in, with the car I’ve got, and my children will go to the nearest public school.  We’ll do our best to gather a college fund for them.  Anything else, will likely be done in student loans that we will co-sign…assuming our credit gets better.  I will work a 9-5 (or in my case, a 9:30-5:30) for the rest of time, and I will write when I can scramble time together.  My computer will probably always be a four year old or older model.  My writing office will probably always consist of my laptop on my lap, while I sit on my couch.  And we will almost always be fueling our writing with the scraps of money we have left over from our tightly budgeted lives.

The truth of it is, while writing is my dream job, I am realistic about it.  I know where my writing career is, where it has been, and where it is likely to go.  As in every relationship or situation I find myself in, I’ve asked myself a couple of questions – Am I willing to live with this if it never changes?  Is doing this ‘for the sake of doing it’ enough?  And I think it is.  I love to tell stories.  It would be great if there were people out there to hear them.  But barring that, the simple process of putting words to a page, of weaving a tale, is something that brings me great joy.  I’m nothing if not a practical person, so I will probably always have my day job, squeezing out minutes to write whenever I can.

Do I really believe I will be the next J.K. Rowling?  Probably not,. but it sure wouldn’t suck. Can I live without that?  If I knew I would never make a single dime from this thing I would keep doing it, because I love doing it, and that’s more than enough to keep me fueled.