Meet My BFF

When I was fourteen years old, I met someone who completely changed my life. Now, at thirty-five years old, we remain each other’s best friends. She planted the seed of a non-fiction book I’m planning to pursue, and inspired one of the main characters of Never Say Never—Nina, the main character’s charismatic and gorgeous best friend. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet my best friend, Joy. I’d like for you to get to know the both of us through the things we have in common—and the things we don’t.

Joy and I at age 14. The first picture we ever took together. 

Three Things Joy and I Do Not Have In Common

  1. She dresses like a fashion model…and she likes it! This is one of the major ways Joy and I mirror Nina and Never Say Never’s main character, Brynn. Joy always looks like a million bucks. One time, our friends banned together to throw her a surprise party, but she was sad because we’d all ignored her birthday (for the purposes of the surprise). Her boyfriend at the time convinced her to roll out of bed, get dolled up, and go out with him for her birthday. He said he just barely managed to convince her. When she got to the birthday party, after the initial excitement and surprise, I couldn’t help teasing her—she rolled out of bed into a glitzy and gorgeous dress, a tidy bun in her hair and perfect makeup. Because that’s how she is! I would have showed up in a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I show up to most places that way, unless I literally HAVE to dress nicer. I’m all about comfort. Joy insists she is, too. We have different ideas of what’s comfortable, though. There are no circumstances for me where four inch heels are comfortable.

2. She is super active! A yoga instructor and an avid traveler, Joy has pictures of her in yoga poses in places from Cuba to Bali. My physical restrictions due to fibromyalgia have as yet required me to take it easy on the physical exercise, but Joy is determined to get me traveling with her. One day soon, I hope.

Teaching my son yoga.

3. She is grace under pressure. When Joy and I were roommates, Joy was always the house mama, cleaning wounds and corralling myself and my husband (we were all roomies together), through the various emergency situations that popped up in our lives. She was even a pro at working us through her own asthma attacks. She has since turned that natural ability of calm under pressure into a career as a Lieutenant Paramedic for the New York City Fire Department.

No, this is not Joy doing actual paramedic work–but it is an FDNY promotional poster she was chosen for!

Three Things Joy and I Have In Common

  1. My friend at work calls me a ray of sunshine. Joy’s favorite thing to wish people is “love and light.”  At the same time, we are quick with a snappy comeback and our snark game is strong. We love strongly, and we are often kind to a fault, but we do not let people walk all over us. And we’re even rougher if you start with those we love. We’re fiercely loyal and protective of each other and our built family.  

The Original Three Musketeers–Me, Joy, and my husband, Ismael…accompanied by our new addition, my son, Logan. 

2. I met Joy during rehearsal for a school musical and we instantly bonded over our love for musicals. We participated in the school choir together. We share an eclectic love of all kinds of music from opera to hip-hop. We enjoy performing and watching others perform–my favorite birthday gift to her was when I took her to see the Broadway version of one of her favorite novels. A novel that she recommended to me, and that I also loved. We both write, although she writes poetry and I write prose. We’re both creatives, and supportive of each other’s interests and it makes for a comfortable environment for experimenting artistically. One leaps, the other catches. It’s just how we work.

At the Broadway production of The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime

3. The friendship between me and Joy was forged in the trenches. We were both enduring difficulties in our lives between our health, school life, work life, and our personal lives. Our friendship was built on support and switching off on who was rescuing who from what. We were always each other’s heroes, the people who knew our deepest truths and saw through each other’s lies. We learned each other and became experts at reading each other. I trust her the way a soldier trusts his fellow soldier–I swear, I am not being hyperbolic. We’ve endured some insane, life-threatening things together. I trust her with my life and she trusts me with hers.  We are more than just friends. We’re platonic soulmates.

Struggling through homework together as roommates in college. 

So, is this my love letter to my bestie? Absolutely yes, yes it is. Is there a specific reason I’m writing this now, after twenty-one years of friendship? Not really, except that this year has been one of the harder ones to pull through for both of us and we’ve been there for pep talks. We will still drop everything when our best friend needs us, we can still tell how the other is feeling from a simple hello, we can still understand each other’s vague mumblings over where to find the thing on the thing with the thing and bring the right…thing.

Messing with Snapchat filters this summer.

Last week, she called me crying. Last week, I called her feigning positivity. All it took was a phone call to make each other laugh, to make each other see things from a brighter perspective, to center each other’s thoughts. This is my thank you to her–a love letter, yes. But also, I just want you, the readers I love, to know such an incredible person the way I know her. She deserves it. ❤

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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?

Busy Weekend of Writing Events

Hey all!

This weekend has been and will continue to be a super exciting weekend. On top of a birthday gathering with my two beautiful two year old nieces (honestly, the highlight of my weekend), this has been a great writing weekend.

Yesterday, I appeared on a live panel discussion on Youtube, which I managed to advertise on most of my social media platforms, but didn’t manage to post about here! That’s because my computer had decided to die the night before. Thankfully, I knew this was coming, and was ready with a new laptop and my backup files on my hard drive. Unfortunately, this left me scrambling to get the new guy updated in time to film the livestream, with a slight disregard to promoting it.

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The good news is, even if you didn’t spot my social media posts, you can still view the archived version of the livestream here. Just like the previous one, this will be run by Craft Quest, and will feature myself, and fellow authors Megan Manzano, Maria Turead, Ari Augustine, and Vivien Reis. This time we’re talking all about cliches, tropes, and stereotypes.

In addition to that, today, Sunday at 2PM EST, I’ll be chiming in on a twitter group chat to help authors prepare for Camp NaNoWriMo, which is quickly approaching. Join us today at #WhereWritingHappens, to participate, and you could win a Printable Packet for writers, created by Ann at There is Magic!

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If you’re interested in joining Camp Nano, I am hosting a cabin where we can all talk over our writing, and hopefully provide helpful encouragement! Comment below with your username if you want to join!

Lastly, stay tuned. Later this week, I will give you a heads up on a special guest post I will be making on All the Way YA, a great source for the real deal behind being a YA writer in this industry.

Hope to see you today!

On Friendship

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Friendship is about giggling together about stupid stuff. It’s calling someone and saying, “This person treated me mean,” and having your friend answer with a whole-hearted “we hate him now.” It’s being able to joke through the hard times, even the hardest time, with the understanding that you’re in it together. It’s supporting each other when the rest of the world may not, and sometimes it’s supporting each other when even you don’t get it, but you want your friends to be happy.

Friendship is saying the punchline of an old joke and watching someone else laugh. It’s laughing and crying in tandem with someone. It’s stressing when nothing is technically wrong in your life, but your friend’s worries worry you. It’s being the only one allowed to get away with stealing food off a plate, and it’s occasionally getting cake smashed in your face because it’s birthday tradition.

Friendship is texting that hilarious meme to the person it defines 1000%, and it’s answering the phone to sounds of another person sobbing, feeling your heart twist in your chest, and plowing on with a pep talk. It’s knowing something is wrong based on the way a person says hello. It’s asking who you need to go beat up, and being nice to someone because your friend asks.

Friendship is trolling your fancy work party for free drinks together in cocktail dresses, and it’s going to the pizza place around the corner in your pajamas. It’s seeing each other at your worst and never holding it against them. It’s understanding each other’s moods, even when you’re not willing to put up with them. It’s giving a kick in the pants when it’s needed. It’s the fire that is lit under your ass when you’re being lazy or indecisive. It’s telling the truth, even when it hurts, but trying to mitigate that hurt so the person isn’t trampled to death by your truth.

Friendship is reminding a person how incredibly awesome they are, whether they can see it, or not. It’s allowing a person to be free to be exactly who they are, no matter what. It’s allowing someone to order off a menu for you because “they’ll know what I like”, and it’s knowing someone’s standard order at all of your favorite area restaurants. It’s ordering a bunch of meals knowing you’ll just split everything up amongst you anyway.

Friendship is being able to let loose to a person, it’s base jokes and fake flirts. It’s pretending to be your bestie’s girlfriend when people won’t leave her alone. It’s feeling free to snort over a funny joke, and it’s mocking your friend’s snort.

Friendship is playfully ribbing one another, and it’s not taking that ribbing personally. It’s answering the phone at inconvenient times and bringing each other chicken soup when you’re sick. It’s using your car as a moving van and taking charge during hospital visits. It’s openly stating your flaws like they’re facts, and being met with “it’s true” style nods. It’s being ready with that well-timed joke, that cup of coffee, that phone call, that eye roll, that tackle hug, whenever it’s needed.

Friendship, both giving and receiving, saved my life so many times. When I’ve struggled with rejections or with depressions, friendships have carried me through. So to my wonderful circle of friends, thank you for being you.

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This post was inspired by a recent Friendship day post by another blogger. Her name is Jazz Lily, and you should totally check out her blog–she’s an artist and poet, and her work is beautiful. Jazz Lily wrote a post requesting her readers to post a short explanation of what friendship is. I responded with, “Friendship is always trying to understand and support.” While I think that’s a fitting explanation of what friendship is, it didn’t feel like enough to truly express what has become an uplifting force in my life. Thus, this post was born.

On Staying in the Moment

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Captured a great candid moment between my husband and son. 

When you live a life that exists at least partially online, you find you run into a great deal of social media complaining. You say too much about your personal life, or you don’t say enough (more on that at another time, as I have plenty to say there). You take too many selfies or we never see your face! Are you always walking around with your phone in-hand, waiting to snap a picture? How do you ever enjoy your life? What is the proper balance of living in the moment and sharing the moment with others?

And more importantly, what business is it of anybody else’s? (Spoiler alert: It isn’t.)

So, because I’ve been working on sharing my random thoughts more on this blog, let’s have a little chatty chat about your life vs. your life online.

For some people, pictures are important. I’m one of those people. I try to document as much as I can. I want to remember things vividly. I don’t want to look back and see those memories fade. Pictures, to me, help keep memories sharper for longer. And so, I do try to take pictures whenever I can, if there is an event to remember, and sometimes just because I admire an aesthetic. I long to capture a moment in time, and some of those moments in time may seem silly, but I enjoy it.

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Thanksgiving Day – Wine time!

Candid moments are best, but I also love to take group pictures, selfies, and whatever pops in my head. Still, there’s one thing, however, that no event needs. Intrusiveness.

If you’re running around with a camera when they are prohibited, put the camera down. If your picture taking is disruptive or making others feel uncomfortable, put it down. If the event or your behavior therein is something you are going to cringe at later, when you look through the pictures, maybe don’t document it. Otherwise…snap away!

People will try to tell you it’s cheesy to take pictures of food, or to take selfies, or that you take too many pictures of your baby. Whatever. What they don’t want to see is not your problem. What you want to take pictures of is your business. If you want to post those pictures online, sure, they become other people’s business, but it’s still your choice what you post. If people don’t want to look at it, they can see themselves off of your social media pages.

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Group shot of me, my sister-in-law Megan(it was her birthday), her boyfriend Julian, and my husband

In the end, the most important thing is to find a balance–to document life happening without intruding on your ability to live it. So go out, take some pictures, show people something different on social media, and most importantly live your life. Memories can’t get fuzzy if you never really make them to begin with.

 

40 Reasons Why I Write

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Relatively recently, Bryan Hutchinson issued a challenge on his blog, Positive Writer – list 40 reasons why you write. You can see his answers here. When it came about, I was in the throws of Camp NaNoWriMo. As that is now complete, and I’m taking a small break from the novel so I can attack it again in July’s edition of Nano, I needed this challenge. It’s been difficult to stay motivated, because the hits just keep coming in both my personal and professional life. So, I’m going to take some time to remind myself why I write. I hope you find my answers either interesting or inspirational. Also, I am so incredibly late to this challenge.

  1. Writing keeps my brain busy. With my ADHD, my brain is always spinning anyway, so this gives it something to work on in the background.
  2. Stories haunt me, and I have to get them out.
  3. I have had a lot of trauma and strange events in my life, and I need an outlet.
  4. Sometimes, I like to live vicariously through my characters.
  5. Sometimes, I like to bury myself in my characters so I can forget life.
  6. My son looks up to me for creating whole stories all by myself, and there’s no beating that.
  7. Writing is a strong bond I share with my husband, as he is also an author.
  8. Writing is a strong bond I share with my sister-in-law. She is also an author.
  9. Writing has helped me make amazing friendships, some that are sure to be lifelong.
  10. I like how writing makes me feel, like I am weaving worlds from my imagination.
  11. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I finally get something right is amazing.
  12. Rewriting has taught me all about perseverance. Frustration, but perseverance.
  13. I like to read things I love over and over again, so this was probably a fitting career choice.
  14. I love to paint with words.
  15. I love to listen to music, and music always inspires me to paint with my words.
  16. Clever dialogue is all around me. What would I do if I didn’t jot some of it down and use it for my own benefit?
  17. My best friend has yoga. I have writing.
  18. The creative people on my journey with me are the best people.
  19. My characters tend to be stronger than I am. Or at least, than I was. These days, I seem to be taking a page from my own book. Writing has encouraged me to be stronger.
  20. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I won’t get anywhere in this business, or something is wrong with the core of a particular story, etc. I intend to prove them very wrong.
  21. When my anxiety disorder, my depression, my PTSD rears up, writing helps me cope.
  22. Because, as a woman, and as a woman with physical and mental health issues, my voice and my individual experiences deserve to be heard.
  23. I love reading so much, and I know how it feels to really connect with a character. I would love to be able to provide that for someone else.
  24. I’ve always loved playing with voice and word choice, seeing how different an outcome I can create just by finding a more exact bit of syntax.
  25. Writing often helps me to put feelings I’m dealing with into words, to tell truths through my characters that I can’t articulate properly in reality.
  26. I honestly don’t know what I would do with all the spare time I’d get if I didn’t write or plan to write.
  27. When I’m writing I can temporarily put off other, more important chores. But not the most important ones, of course. 😉
  28. I still believe in magic, and sometimes, writing feels like magic. Like when something inexplicably comes together, and it feels like destiny, that feels like magic. That is the rare moment where I become a believer.
  29. How else can I justify talking to the people who live in my brain?
  30. I’m stubborn and I’ve said I’m going to do it, so damn it, I’m going to do it.
  31. Some of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met write, so I hope some of that rubs off on me.
  32. Sometimes, I’m not all that adventurous, so I need an excuse to try new and interesting things. Research gives me that excuse.
  33. I was already a fact hoarder. This gives me a reason to hoard facts.
  34. I hate waste, and I feel like I have a lot of knowledge and random experiences that just kind of sit around in my brain and go to waste. I want to give them some use. Like my two years working at an ice cream shop. I’m using that in my latest book.
  35. There are tons of stories that I want to read, that I don’t find out there. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak. They say, if you want something done, do it yourself, right?
  36. I’m getting to a point where rejections mean almost nothing to me. I’m numb to rejection.
  37. Unless, they come with constructive criticism, at which point I am disappointed, but I have learned to love constructive criticism and view it as encouragement and help, rather than an insult. I think writing has helped to improve my personality in that way.
  38. I have also become able to tell the difference between constructive knowledgeable criticism and insults, being led astray, and jealous attacks designed to keep a person below them. That lesson has helped me in all areas of my life.
  39. I have a side gig as an editor, and I’ve always believed that, if you are going to manage people, you should be willing to get your hands dirty. If I won’t get my hands dirty with words, why should I tell other people to do so?
  40. I love to geek out. It’s my life’s mission to make other people geek out as much as I do.

So, there are my 40 reasons! Do you need to remind yourself why you love something? Share your reasons in the comments, and thank you for being one of the people I’ve encountered on this journey, the people I write for. Thank you for being one of my reasons. ❤

Camp NanoWriMo 2017!

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For anybody who doesn’t know, I’ve spent the last month doing Camp NanoWriMo. Now, most people know about NaNoWriMo. It takes place in the month of November and writers, or people who want to try something new sign, up to write 50,000 words of one novel in a month.

Camp Nano is a bit different. The writers who join up can set their own word count, hours worked, or even pages edited. It doesn’t have to be spent working on one thing either. And it takes place in April and July.

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I decided to work on my new YA Fantasy novel, Never Say Never. For a look at what the project is about, you can check out its project page on the Camp NaNo site.  Things came up, and I ended up devoting about 35,000 words of my word count to the new novel, about 10,000 to a new first chapter for The Order of the Key, and about 5,000 to a new project called Not Just A Headache–a letter to my teenage self about how to cope with migraines that I wrote for an anthology I’m hoping to be accepted into.

I’m gonna go ahead and toot my own horn here. This month of writing came with a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away for two weeks, a surprise trip to the emergency room (I’m okay, I promise), and both medical and emotional ups and downs for other people I hold dear. To say I’m tired would be putting it lightly.

But I’m not going to stop working, because I’m crazy. And also, a life without writing for me, is no life, so I’ll persist. 😉 For the next couple of months, I will continue working on this book, continue querying the one before, and clean up my outline for the new book, which my writing this month made irrelevant in some places. In the meantime, I’ll find space for some blog posts and social media, because I always do.

Then…I’ll be back to Camp Nano in July.

Thanks, as always, for sticking with me on this incredible journey.

~Justine