CHRONIC ILLNESS ANTHOLOGY TITLE REVEAL!

Last week, I told you guys that my first literary non-fiction piece had been accepted for publication. The piece was about suffering with migraine, and would be appearing in an anthology about living with chronic illnesses.

Today, we’re revealing the title of our anthology. Ready?

Set…

Go!

Letters to Me Title Reveal Art

That’s right! The title of the first book is…
Letters to Me & Other Chronic Illness Warriors: Volume 1

Mark your calendars if you’re excited to check out our cover reveal on October 7, 2017! I know I can’t wait to see it!

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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. ❤

Surviving Social Media Part 3: Oversharing and Spiritual Blackmail

IMG_5301 2Welcome to Part 3 of my Surviving Social Media Series. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Today, for breakfast, I ate apples and peanut butter. For lunch, I had a salad. For dinner, I had chicken and mashed potatoes. Scintillating information, isn’t it? As a matter of fact, I would bet that you don’t care even one tiny little bit. And yet so many people share things like this on social media.

I tend to live by the rules of ‘my page, my posts’. This is also known as ‘I don’t care what you think’, but things have changed a bit. I’ve got a publishing deal now, and with that comes the need for a little discretion on my posts so as not to alienate half of my potential fan base (that’s a little explanation for those of you who may have noticed I never talk politics anymore). I hate every minute of it, if I’m honest. I like speaking my mind, but I am careful about what I say.

Now, it’s true that it doesn’t matter what you post on your page, because it’s your page. But that doesn’t mean that people have to hang around and read it. So, much like freedom of speech, you have it, but nobody has to listen to you talking.

Personally, I don’t care what you say as long as it’s something I want to know. Things I don’t want to know?

  • Every single thing you eat: There are exceptions to this rule. If you go to an amazing restaurant? Sure. If it’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten? If you’re a terrible cook, but finally managed to accomplish something? SURE (I put that one in just for me). But that sandwich you made? Really? A sandwich? I’m good.
  • Your bodily functions. I don’t want to know about them. I don’t want to read a celebration post about the fact that your child is no longer constipated. That’s great news that I’d rather not know. Congrats though…
  • Your sex life. Unlike other people, I have no problem seeing pictures of happy couples being lovey dovey with each other. It’s sweet! I’m a hopeless romantic and I love it. However, I don’t want to know anything at all about how you get down. NOTHING AT ALL. Please don’t share. I don’t have nearly enough brain bleach to correct that.
  • Things that you don’t want to tell people. I used to be occasionally guilty of this. If you’re going to talk about a thing, talk about it. If you have no intention of talking about it, don’t post about it. But definitely don’t vaguebook. It’s annoying. If you don’t intend to tell the story, don’t bother posting. It’s just annoying to try to guess.


So, that’s one problem–oversharing YOUR life. But there’s another kind of post that grinds my gears when it appears on social media. And that is a little thing I like to call Spiritual Blackmail Posts. It goes a little something like this:

The poster finds something they feel passionate about. That’s cool. You should be passionate about things and when you are passionate about things, you should post about them. But the problem lies in the moment the poster comes across a post like this (Disclaimer: I am not making fun of animal abuse. I am making a point. Please don’t think I support anything like that, because in truth, if I saw you kick your dog or something, I’d probably punch you in the face without thinking): “Like/Share if you hate animal abuse! Scroll if you don’t care!” with a picture of a sad dog face looking up at you.

You know what? F**k that! I don’t jump through hoops. I don’t participate in spiritual blackmail. You don’t post things to make me feel guilty if I don’t share them. Never mind the fact that posts like those are probably like-farms designed to gain information about you. This is just like the posts that say “like and copy this into your status if you love me”. While I’m sure some of the people on social media are, in fact, twelve, we aren’t all twelve. Why does me liking and copying your status prove that I love you? Wouldn’t you already know that without this? If not, your relationships are a little sad.

It all plays in with posting abuse pictures on your wall. It’s all the same thing. Every step from part 1, 2, and 3 are part of the same clusterf**k that we can’t avoid when it comes to social media.

LOOK AT ME. And in some cases, it’s wonderful. It’s self-esteem building and business building. And in some ways, it’s just a sad attempt at gaining attention. Talking to people, sharing things you find interesting, telling stories about your life, even the much maligned selfie, are all acceptable ways to say “look at me” in a public sphere. It’s like saying hello in a room full of friends and telling them a story. The other stuff? It’s like jumping up and down in a room full of strangers, screaming “HELLO! MY NAME IS JUSTINE MANZANO AND TODAY I ATE HAM.”

Nobody wants to pay attention to that person.

 

5 Tips for Making a Fantasy World Feel Real


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On planet Justine, where I write a story that involves world building, work in acquisitions where I read a ton of fantasy stories that either have or sorely need world building, edit fantasy books to make sure their world building is consistent, and read a ton of fantasy books just for fun, world building is very important to me.

What do I mean by world building? Well, when you’re creating a story, some story worlds come with a built-in structure. Those stories usually exist in our world, in current times. For stories like that in the fantasy genre, the world building usually involves what makes the story world unique from the regular world. So, the world created needs to exist in conjunction with the natural world. In my novel, The Order of the Key, my world building largely involves a questionable organization that exists off the grid, an epidemic of monsters that live in the shadows, and superhuman abilities that some human beings are able to harness. My main character joins the organization, and in doing so, becomes privy to a long history of things the rest of the world is ignorant of, as well as a hierarchy and set of expectations that do not exist outside of the select group of people she has found herself wrapped up in.

Other fantasy worlds involve the creation of something entirely from imagination, with no connection to our real world, or with connection to a past version of the real world. Some behave like Medieval England, for example. Those require a different sort of creation. The story must reveal and explain detailed landscapes of history in this completely new, unfamiliar space.

So, how do you make even the strangest, most bizarre worlds feel real?

  1. The world needs a history. This world has existed before the main character walked into it, or before this story started being told, so what have we missed? Don’t dump it all on us at once, but you should know it, and you should show us some glimpses of it when it makes sense in the story.
  2. If the world has magic or advanced science, that system and all of the ins and outs thereof must be established early enough that things don’t feel completely made up when they occur. It takes us out of the story.
  3. The reality is in the details. It takes little things to make an unreal place feel real. Like the scent of the room when someone has baked. The places where kids stash their goodies. The alley with that one leaky pipe overhead that always drips just as you’re walking under it. The mud on the hill you walk over on the way to work that always swallows the heel of your boot. These are the things that make a world tangible. You need these little things to believe.
  4. Give it an infrastructure – real worlds have economic levels. They have social levels. They have educational levels. These things feed into how your characters will interact with each other, and they often give us a point of reflection on which to understand a world.
  5. It has to feel like it could happen to the reader. This is, perhaps, the one that gets most overlooked. Whatever you put down on paper, no matter how strange or unlikely, the way your characters operate in the world needs to ring true. This means, within your world, you must follow your own rules. You can say the sky is green all you would like, but if it turns blue in the next minute for no explainable reason, you have violated your own rules – you lose credibility in that moment, and the very thing we need in our created worlds, authenticity.

What makes the imaginary worlds you encounter feel real? Let me know in the comments below.

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!

Genre Choice

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Being asked by a friend who only reads true literary fiction what I am writing used to feel like a pop quiz I was sure to fail. “Hi, my name is Justine and my current works in progress contain a computer virus alien race, a divorcee with an imaginary friend, and superheroes who fight monsters that come through inter-dimensional rifts. Please do not throw tomatoes or insults at me.” I would say it with shyness, with shame, as though what I was writing was any less valid than your normal everyday literary work. There’s literary fiction and there’s commercial fiction, and my muse just happens to like superheroes who fight monsters that come through inter-dimensional rifts.  So sue me.

But the truth is, this is where the muse takes me. It takes me to weird stuff, and, in this case it takes me to fantasy. When I came up with the idea for The Order of the Key, it only made sense that the main character, Jacklyn, would be young. She couldn’t be too young, for reasons I can’t really express without spoiling the plot for Book 1, but she had to be in that stage where she was figuring out who she was as a person. Initially, because some of the themes could run a little dark, I attempted to write Jacklyn as an adult, but it didn’t track well. The voice Jacklyn had placed in my head was plucky, young, and irreverent.

There was also a very specific theme that I wanted to explore, and that was this idea of dreams vs. reality. Jacklyn has this love for comic books, superheroes, and all things geeky. So, at first, when she is pulled into this world where she is the superhero, it seems like a dream come true, even if the circumstances surrounding it aren’t the best. But, as she struggles with the responsibilities of actually living that dream (risking those around her, putting herself on the line, being forced to do things she wouldn’t otherwise enjoy doing), she grows to understand that there is a big difference between imagining a situation and enduring it. And I think this is a hard won lesson for many—this idea that we’re going to grow up to be something amazing, just to have that amazing thing turn out to be…not so amazing. And it was important to tell that story in a YA framework, because I feel like that is a lesson worth teaching to kids who are about to head into college and out into the real world—to feel free to dream, but to inject a little practicality into it. Dream big, but dream smart.

In the end, I didn’t so much choose my genre as my genre chose me. What genres do you guys write? Read? Tell me a little about why in the comments!

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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