Full Circle

I’ve been very secretive about some things going on in my life, but they have had a profound effect on me, so it felt like time to share. Yep, this is one of those personal, life story blog posts, although it is somewhat writing related. You’ll see why. Sorry if you’re only here for the writing stuff. You’ll have to get to know me a little this time around.

At the end of March, I had a hysterectomy. Now, for some, this would be a traumatic experience, but it truly wasn’t. You see, my reproductive system and I have never been friends. We had a brief truce for a short period of time that brought me a gorgeous child. But other than that, we were bitter enemies. I wasn’t sad to see the main troublemaker go. I was actually looking forward to it. 

It’s an odd thing. My womb was gone, and in that same week, I nearly lost the woman who carried me in her womb. It’s a long story, and not one I think my mother is particularly keen to share, but I thought my husband was communicating with my mother during my recovery. He thought I was. By the time we realized, neither of us had talked to her in a week. We all tried to call her to no avail and my husband rushed to check on her. As I recovered from my surgery, my mother collapsed in her home, was unable to get up for a while, and very nearly died. My husband found her unconscious. 

She has thankfully pulled through, but the outcome completely changed our lives. 

Mentally, my mother is as okay as she ever was. She’s always struggled with some mental issues, but she’s feisty and funny and, after a slight struggle, is 100% back to who she had been. Physically, though, she’s weaker than she was, and since April, she’s been in a physical rehabilitation center until she can get back on her feet. 

My mother had lived in the same apartment for 42 years, so the place had managed to accumulate a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. All of which she kept. But after being stuck in that place as she was, unable to move, my mother didn’t want to go back. 

I set about cleaning out her apartment, scoring her a new one, and preparing it for her return home. And in the midst of all that, after visiting my mother regularly, something in our relationship shifted. We’d had this terribly complex relationship, both with our fair share of mental illness that would grind together whenever we butted heads. She has been mellowing out quite a bit as she’s grown older, and in this time, we have repaired a lot of it. Is it still fragile? It may always be. 

And then I received the proof for an upcoming anthology I will be published in. My essay in that anthology is about generational mental illness and how my mother’s sometimes abusive behavior impacted my life and informed the way I raised my son. There isn’t a single word I wrote that was untrue, but I find myself feeling horrendously guilty. 

In her famous writing book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott wrote, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” And perhaps that’s true. But it’s a complicated feeling. 

My relationship with my mother is healing. I’ve cast a discussion out into the world about that relationship at its worst. 

The point was important, and I believe that what I wrote will have a chance to help another. In the end, as a writer, I know I must be true to myself and what I’m trying to say, despite the difficulties it may cause. 

Still, I cringe whenever I read it. Have any of you ever put something in writing and had regrets afterwards? Share in the comments and make me feel better. :/

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!

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

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.

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. ❤