Bronx Book Fair 2018

It’s amazing how easy it is to live within a bubble. I live in Bronx, NY, and I have my entire life. I work in Manhattan, known to New Yorkers as “the city”. But while I’ve been a part of the online writing and bookish communities for years now, and I’ve made appearances at events in the city on and off over that time, I somehow never managed to stumble upon some of the events going on in The Bronx for artists within my very own borough. What an oversight! And the truth of it is, there aren’t enough of them. The Bronx has been continually disenfranchised, the media doing its level best to portray us as a neighborhood without thinking minds, a place where only the strong survive. It’s a myth perpetuated by those who proliferate it, a story created to make the old white men who so often make the big decisions feel better about continually pulling funding on education and literacy programs for the area.

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Lorraine Currelly, Executive Director, Bronx Book Fair

But strides are being taken in the right direction, often by stubborn members of the community itself, who have had enough of this wrong-minded take on our rich community. Created in 2013, the Bronx Book Fair takes place yearly at Bronx Library Center and, I’m ashamed to say, this was my first year in attendance. With the Bronx being a focal point of diversity, the organizing members look to reflect the community, with a diverse group of speakers and vendors. And this year just happened to be the first year in which the Executive Director was a woman–Lorraine Currelly, who was just a delight, her kindness and care for the community shining through every word she spoke as she made her presence known. It also happened to be the first year with a female keynote speaker, the lovely badass book lover and owner of the only bookstore in the borough, Noelle Santos.

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Noelle Santos, Owner, The Lit. Bar

Owner of The Lit. Bar, Noelle is really the person who pulled me into the Bronx literary community. I stumbled upon news of The Lit. Bar by accident, while looking into Bronx venues in which to do future book signings. I discovered The Lit. Bar’s website and emailed her for details. Noelle explained to be that she was still in the process of creating the bookstore, and that she’d definitely be happy to have me once they were up and running. After talking Bronx literacy with her, I have watched as Noelle gained media attention with her winning smile, her intelligence, and her real talk. “I’m not polished,” she said, but the truth is, she’s just not doing business-as-usual, and it’s about time for that. She doesn’t need to be polished. She needs to be authentic. In following her, and helping when I could (some of you have probably seen my social media blasts attempting to raise crowdfunding bucks, for instance), I tripped my way into the Bronx literary world.

As the Keynote Speaker of this event, Noelle shined as she related her story of discovering that the only Barnes & Noble, the only BOOKSTORE, in the Bronx was set to close, and how this inspired her to make a change. “I’m not signing any more petitions,” she said. She decided she was going to change the way the gatekeepers viewed readers through her own actions. She was going to show people that a real reader comes in many varieties, and she was going to do it by proving the need for a Bronx bookstore. And she has! Not only has she garnered a ton of press for herself and her cause, but she will be opening her bookstore this summer. And in many ways, she sounded the trumpets for others, looking to find a way to prove our borough is worth more than the gatekeepers of the education and literary industries believe. Hell, I heard the call! By the time I left her speech, I was itching to do something productive for the community. If her closing poem doesn’t rile you up, I don’t know what will.

If I dive into everything I did at the fair (I bought books! For me! For Logan!), this will become a very long blog post, so I’ll give you the condensed version, to the best of my ability. I unfortunately didn’t get to attend everything, due to a combination of the split between programs held in the auditorium, programs held in the conference room, and the vendor floor. Also, I ended up having to leave an hour earlier than originally intended thanks to a migraine (chronic illness and large crowds don’t mix all that well for prolonged periods). But here’s some of the compelling finds I made.

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Bronx Library Center Librarians from left to right: Elisa Garcia – Teen Librarian, Philip Radtake – Children’s Librarian, Elvira Ramos Paralles – Adult Librarian

Bronx Library Center is a beautiful and rather large library, and its librarians are kind, caring people who truly believe in spreading a joy of reading. One of the panels I attended included a discussion of book recommendations from librarians that work in all age groups, and suggestions on how to break a book slump and to encourage reluctant readers. One thing I learned? Don’t discourage children from reading outside of their age ranges. Reading over their age range can help challenge them. Reading below their age range can remind them of all they’ve accomplished, thus boosting their self-esteem.

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Tiffany Papageorge discusses her children’s book, My Yellow Balloon

I watched a presentation about a wonderful children’s story about dealing with grief, My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge. Following that, there was a reading of the book in Spanish, as that book had just been released, translated into Mi Globo Amarillo by Fernando Aquino and Melissa Coss Aquino. Melissa also taught a writer’s workshop that focused on narrowing yourself to one writing project and how to remain focused on it until its completion. Specificity was stressed, and the need to cut out a time to work on several small goals to contribute to your larger goals was a very helpful discussion for a writer like myself, who always has a billion balls in the air.

Another highlight was a panel titled “How to Get Your Work Published.” While I’ve been around that block a time or two, this was a great panel for people who are just starting out and are looking at the different methods of getting your work out into the world. The panel featured Carolyn Butts, Editor/Publisher of African Voices Magazine, Steve Bloom, writer, and Jennifer Baker, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, and contributing editor of Electric Literature. The moderator was Marc W. Polite, Founder and Editor in Chief of Polite on Society. The sentiments here varied, with some discussing the advantages of self-publishing, while others discussed methods of snagging agent representation. Editing your work was stressed, as well as a need to get out into the world and make human connections. There was a general agreement that opinions are arbitrary and taste-based, and the reminder that rejection doesn’t mean the work is bad, it’s just not right for the person reading it. Writing Workshops were also discussed, reminding young writers that a writing workshop should feel helpful, not soul-sucking. Jennifer in particular discussed the helpfulness of borough-based grants in NYC.

Women in Leadership: Arts, Activism & Social Responsibility featured Yolanda Rodriguez, Co-founder and Executive Director of BxArts Factory, and Poet and Author Mercy Tullis-Bukhari as they discussed the various demands and misconceptions that circle women in the arts. A particularly interesting point was when a question was posed: Is it an artist’s responsibility to also be an activist? Both women stressed that activism should find its way into art when it comes from a genuine place. Tullis-Bukhari specifically discussed how her identity and the identity of her family are among the groups that are under attack in this country, so she often has no choice but to lean towards activism–it’s a part of her life. However, Rodriguez pointed out that if a person chooses to create work that does not serve as activism, or if a person cannot march among activist, it does not mean that they are not assisting in any way. There is more than one way to protest.

From the vendor floor, I got to meet so many amazing people, and wish I’d been able to make a stop at all of them. I discovered the National Writers Union (and joined them), an organization that offers tremendous resources to writers such as contract advice and seminars about important writing issues. To learn more, check them out here. Riverdale Avenue Books had a table, and I had a great time chatting with Publisher Lori Perkins. I picked up an intriguing book about the #MeToo movement that I intend to gobble up.  

Another great vendor represented at the fair was Boogie Down Books. Specialized in readers from 0-18, Boogie Down is a bookstore without walls, with pop-up shops and special book-related events hosted in local stores around the borough. Another great place for children who love reading to try, Writeopia Lab offers writing classes for kids in grades K-12, both individually, and through their school, or camp. It truly sounds like a great way to turn reluctant writers into pros.

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Me, raring to go, and then totally wiped out. 😉

All in all, while chronic illness left me super tired and kinda hurting through this, the people I met and the discussions I viewed were both inspiring and invigorating. It’s been a few days and I’m still riding high off the feeling of community and the sense that I want to do more. The Inkwell Council was my first attempt to try to do more for the writing community, and it has been a success. But my brain is starting to work towards what I can do for the literacy community in The Bronx itself. Stay tuned, folks–I’m spinning around a few ideas…I’ll keep you posted.

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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.

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. ❤

Those That Shout Loudest, Need A Lozenge

In my earliest memory, I’m standing in a walker or some other childhood accoutrement, and I am screaming. I remember little else about this. The lights seem bright, and I am unsure of whether or not I am in the living room or dining room of my childhood home. I get the feeling that work is being done around me, the kind of heavy lifting that always led to tension between my parents. Maybe a new rug was being put in, or new furniture. I can’t remember. But what I do know is that I’m not getting a lot of attention and that bothers me. So I scream. I scream a lot. And I keep doing it, because it turns out I enjoy hearing the sound of my own voice.

Apparently, this was a thing I did. There are pictures of me sitting on the stairs on the way out the door with my mother, screaming while I played with her keys. There are pictures of me all over the house screaming. It was like I believed I was born to be heard.

Maybe I was.

We all have that. I watch my son and his friends do the same thing. When we’re kids, we look at people, and we think they should want to hear what we have to say. After all, the world is so interesting, and we’re making discoveries about it, and we don’t know if you know that really cool thing yet, so we’re going to tell you all about it. Then, you’ll love it too, you’ll share that love, and we’ll have common ground.

Children don’t ask for permission to speak. They demand it, because it never occurred to them that they should shy away from the world that’s unfolding before their eyes.

At some point, we lose that. We start to wonder what people will think about what we have to say. We start to shy away from trusting ourselves, from wanting to send our own voice out into the world, from believing that we should be heard. We should be heard.

But the public doesn’t always feel that way. If you wish to be heard, if you believe what you have to say is important, you’re going to have to ignore a lot of nay-sayers, a lot of people who would like you to get back into your box, a lot of people who believe you should shut up.

You should never shut up.

People behave as though your voice should be kept quiet. Like we should only take the time to use it to entertain our small circle, like we should never pipe up, never shout louder, never draw too much attention to ourselves.

Draw attention to yourself. If people don’t find you interesting, they don’t need to listen. The message wasn’t for them. But so many people may need that message, may need you to be the one to deliver it.

Someone once told me that those who shout loudest, often lose their voice. My response? Tell them to pop a lozenge and move forward.

Don’t let yourself be silenced by fear. Don’t let your dream be squelched because someone doesn’t think you’re cut out for it. Don’t change who you are to fit into a bubble some gatekeeper said was yours.

Be you. Unabashedly. Scream like baby Justine. Be heard. Because you deserve it.

 

Thankful

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I know I’m a bit late, but I hope all of my American friends had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

I figured I’d write a little something about the things I’m thankful for this year. It’s been such a strange year. Sad in some places, but incredibly happy in others.

We lost my Grandmother this year, in April. But I’m thankful because I spent 32 years of my life with her in it. She was an incredibly strong woman, and she was very funny, and she is the matriarch of the Minners (my maiden name) family. She had three sons, two daughters, and a collection of zany grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in-laws from all over that map that she was very, very proud of.

I am thankful for the way our family bands together in times of sadness and I am thankful for a re-established relationship with some of my cousins, who I’d spoken to on Facebook, but I hadn’t spoken to in real life in years. I’m thankful for the way two cousins who live across the country from each other can discover all kinds of similarities and form a unique and close bond. I am thankful for positive family connections of all kinds.

I am thankful for new traditions and extra time spent with my parents and my in-laws. I’ve loved getting to know each of you better and better.

I am thankful for blood siblings, siblings through marriage, adopted siblings, all of whom are my best friends. I couldn’t get by without them. Melissa, Jon, Megan, Dorothy, Kristy, Julian, Joy, Allegra, Fruhmann, Frank, Jennine, Anthony, and Marissa.

I am thankful for nieces and nephews, both real and adopted – Genaro, Kaitlyn, and Angelica – every accomplishment is a joy to watch, even when it must sometimes be from afar.

I am thankful for the ability to move away from toxicity in my life, and for the opportunity to find myself and pull myself free from many of the doubts and fears holding me back in life.

I am thankful for the career success that Ismael, Megan, and I have all enjoyed in 2015.

I am thankful for the Fantasy Works Publishing team, who are working so hard to give birth to my first novel, Ismael’s first novel, and a host of others. I am so grateful to be a part of this team and to count them as my friends. I am thankful for the FWP writers as well. I can’t wait to help them all share their stories with the world.

To my day job and all of my bosses and friends there, who make my day-to-day bearable.

I’m thankful for an amazing set of really great friends. I have been very lucky.

I am thankful for good food, a roof over my head, for good jobs, for a good life.

And, most of all, obviously, I am thankful for my guys, Ismael and Logan, who deal with my general insanity on a regular basis and love me despite it. They keep me in check and remind me regularly why I do all of this, and what kind of person I want to be. Seriously, the best husband and child I could ever ask for – perfect for me in every way.

And I am thankful daily for all of you. Everyone who reads my blog, all of the writing contacts I have made, and for the great online friends I have made in this way. Thank you all for being incredible.

I hope you had a wonderful day, and I hope you have a great holiday season.

Love to you all,
Justine

 

Rock Star

unnamedEveryone should have a self-motivation story – one moment in their life where they did the thing nobody thought they could do, where they figured something out that nobody else could, where they triumphed in a bad situation. If you haven’t, then your moment will come. Be patient.  Or, make one for yourself. Because it means something.

That moment can be a powerful reminder of what you are capable of.  Here’s my moment and everything that lead me there. 

I graduated high school at 17 years old and went straight to Lehman College to start my theater degree, because those were the days when I wanted to be an actor. I worked my butt off for one year, going to school full time in the morning and working part time at a video rental store in the evening.  And then I made a very silly mistake.  I got married.

It wasn’t a mistake to get married.  My husband and I just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary.  The mistake was that I didn’t realize what getting married would do to my need-based scholarship.  Ah, the ignorance of youth. With my mother’s income, my father’s income and my husband’s income now factoring in as well as mine (despite the fact that my parents were unable to contribute much further to my schooling) the financial aid program I was in tossed me right out on my behind. In the middle of August, I was left to discover that I no longer had any way of paying for college.

So I dropped out. I figured I would try getting acting roles for a little while, and I would save up money to go back. That didn’t really happen, and soon I was working a full time job at a law firm as a receptionist and trying my best to get some money into a savings account.

And that was when I learned about the rumors.

There were a ton of people in my life, friends and family, that truly believed I was never going back to college.  These were not the kind of people who stand close by and wish for bad things to happen to you.  These were people that wanted the best for me. But they figured that I had made some bad choices, that I would never get back to a place where school was a priority for me, that I had made it so that I was stuck in place, that maybe, I’d never had any intention of going back.  When I’d told these people I was leaving college, I had immediately followed it by saying that I would be returning, but those people didn’t believe in me.  Or rather, they didn’t believe in me enough to know that my word was good.

They were wrong.

If I had made the choice not to go back, that would be my choice. But that wasn’t what I had said, and these people didn’t have the faith in me I would have hoped.

It took a long time.  Lots of really hard work.  But in May 2009, almost ten years after my first day at Lehman College, I walked into Radio City Music Hall with the rest of the graduating class of Hunter College, and I walked out a graduate, Summa Cum Laude, with a double major in Creative Writing and Media Studies.  It was a long day to end a long journey, the culmination of five straight years attending school through the Fall and Spring Semesters, as well as both Summer sessions, full-time at night while I also worked full-time as a legal assistant during the day.  And I made it through that day, despite being six months pregnant with my son, at the time.  

So, what is this?  A big braggy post?  An ‘oh goody, I’m a smart person who works hard” humblebrag?  Yes.  But aren’t you…not supposed to do that on the internet?

You’re not.  

But this is more than that.  This is me remembering one of the most difficult periods of my life.  And when I think of it, I remember how long it felt.  How I felt like I would never make it out of the other end.  Like I would be going to school for the rest of my life.  And then I remember that despite being that tired, I made it through with flying colors.  I didn’t give in to discouraging things people were saying about me, or give up when things got a little too sticky.  I stuck it out and it paid off.

I need a reminder of this.  Because this is how I remind myself what I’m capable of when something gets me down.  And I think everyone needs something like this, something that makes you feel stronger.  So what’s your story?  Go ahead and share all about that moment where you took on the world and won.  I want to hear it!