Ingenious Inventions & Fearless Creators

I love art in all its forms. Paintings, sculptures, books, theater, movies? You name it, I can appreciate the work that went into creating it! So naturally I tend to align with other artists in our pursuit of making real the images from our minds. One such artist is one my very best and most talented friends for twenty-plus years. I feel so lucky I’ve gotten to watch her create one of the coolest toys I’ve seen to date. Meet MUB and his super fun Pittsburgh-area creator, Jess Bieber!

MUB is the Monster Under the Bed! No other monsters allowed!

LRS: Hi Jess, thanks so much for agreeing to appear on the blog today. I love the imaginative world, and I really think creating in any of the arts is currently one of the most undervalued talents in our society. I am in such awe of what you’ve done with MUB! I want to hear all about it.

LRS: First, what *is* MUB?

MUB says hello!

JB: MUB is a a spunky, fearless, courage-boosting plush pal for kids. He likes humans and their pets, but he does NOT get along well with other monsters. He is soft and furry so he’s great for cuddling, has a light-up charm on his collar to illuminate dark spaces, and his eyebrows are repositionable so he can be easily put into friendly-mode or defender mode, depending on your mood.

LRS: And what spurred you to create him? How did you realize this is something kids need? And something that might make parents’ lives a little easier? (Because, let’s face it—anything that helps keep the kiddos *stay* in bed at night is the miracle we need.)

JB: Family is at the center of our lives, so we like to create things with heart and feeling. One of the cool things about having kids is that you get to see the world through their eyes. It reminds you of how you used to be. Do you remember how crazy-active our imaginations were when we were young?

No matter how many generations you go back, there has always been a legitimate fear of the dark, unknown spaces at nighttime. Places like a closet or beneath the bed are mysterious, eerie voids in which hungry ghouls hide and wait for the moment when you turn off the lights. I used to take a running leap to my mattress so nothing could reach from under the bed to grab my feet.

What’s worse is that there is no real guarantee that being cocooned in a blanket pulled all the way up to your eyeballs is an effective barrier against any spooky creatures that could be lurking about. That’s when MUB comes to the rescue. He likes to be the only monster in the room so he scares all the others away.

And yeah, it’s so nice when kids can go to bed without a hitch. I’m hoping MUB will help parents out a bit, so maybe they can use that free quiet time to do something fun like catch up on laundry or dishes.

LRS: I don’t think most people realize what it takes for a startup company to create a physical product like MUB. I know *I* didn’t realize it until I’d heard all about your trials and tribulations throughout the last couple of years. Can you share a little about the process?

JB: Haha, books and books could be written about all this stuff.

It’s been an interesting journey, for sure. Conceptualizing an idea over coffee with your business partners is the fun and easy part. Following through and discovering the time and financial barriers to entry are more challenging. But if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. That means vetting many vendors to find the right quality match. Safety testing – CE (international), PA, OH, and US. Copyright, trademark, ISBN and UPC codes, shipping and customs, taxes, packaging and shipping, website design, photography and videography… and not taking a paycheck the whole time.

I think it’s a fun lesson in learning how to be scrappy and prove you’ve got the grit to keep moving forward. Luckily I have the best partners and we won’t stop reaching for the stars because we definitely are driven to get our ideas out there into the world.

Friendly and fierce, MUB is always ready to protect his friends!

LRS: As a parent, I love everything about MUB, and you created him. So tell me a little about you and your history in art, illustration, and design.

JB: Aww, well thanks for loving MUB so much. He really is a fun character and we look forward to building in more helpful monster friends as his club and brand grows over time. He might not like monsters now, but soon he’ll let down his guard a bit to make room for some good, friendly monsters while he still chases off the imaginary, menacing ones.

I’ve loved making art since I could pick up a crayon and draw murals on the walls of the house. Angry as they were about the destruction, my parents were always awesome about nurturing my creativity and I decided to focus on illustration and graphic design in college. I was lucky enough to work for some really cool companies where I could develop my talents further, but, like my business partners, I always had this entrepreneurial itch to see how far we could take our own ideas.

LRS: I remember the murals on the walls of your old bedroom! I loved them! Even then, I was in awe of your artistic talent.

LRS: Can you tell me about MUB’s parent company, Glow Creative Innovations? What makes Glow unique?

JB: Glow has a big idea at its core. We hope to grow in success and join up with other like-minded creative people to help nurture and grow their ideas, too.

Originally, we wanted to be a brick-and-mortar art studio and coffee shop with classes and events that would bridge communities, give back, and bring people together. That’s all still on our bucket list.

No matter what we do, we are much stronger when we’re working with others. We can do so much when we stand with a group, pooling our talents, experiences, and connections so that we can take our ideas and fly together. Wherever we end up, it’s all about the love of the adventure, right? Maybe MUB will get us there. We can only hope that others will see his value and love him as much as we do!

LRS: Lastly, where can we find MUB to get him in time for Christmas?

JB: The pre-sale is now and the first batch of MUBs ever will be ready to ship on or before December 10th. The first 100 plushes sold will each get a free sticker sheet. Also, there’s a children’s book in the making, so follow us on Facebook or go to our site and sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates and MUB Club news. A big thank you to everyone who supports us and we hope to bring you more fun and useful monsters in the future.

You can order MUB now at www.mubclub.com where imagination meets reality and children overcome their fears with a little help from a soft and cuddly monster.

Meet the Creator

More about Glow Creative Innovations and their other products can be found here

Lastly, meet Jess Bieber, creator of the silly and lovable monster with a purpose! She and I don’t get to see each other often, so we tend to text and FaceTime. Here she is with another plush toy that I can’t wait to see from Glow Creative in the future!

The Girl Who Fell

_MG_7483We just returned from our trip to Prince Edward Island and, friends, I have fallen. I have fallen deeply, madly in love.

All vacations are lovely, but none of them have ever left me with a desire to relocate my entire family as soon as humanly possible. I loved the Bahamas and Jamaica. England and Wales were beautiful. France was amazing. I’ve even been to Montreal, so it’s not like this was my first stop in Canada. And I’ve traveled eight-thousand miles across the U.S., stopping in 22 states along the way, so I’ve seen my fair share of our own beautiful country.

But the utterly breathtaking views of Prince Edward Island—the oceans, the dunes, the grasses, the fields—it was the first time in a very long time where I felt I could breathe, truly breathe.

I’ve never considered leaving the country before, not really. Yet I find myself perusing the real estate listings on PEI and researching jobs and weather. Who knows? If I’m lucky and I plan things just right, maybe PEI is in my future. I know it’s already in my heart.


(If I could just convince the world that I’m an author and that my books are worth buying…that would be something. When the day comes where I finally sell my books, the ‘PEI Relocation’ fund will officially be a thing in the Storms household. I vow it.)

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The Labor of Love

I won’t lie. When I first began writing with the intention of finishing and someday publishing a novel (or fifteen), I didn’t have the first clue as to what kinds of water I was dipping my toes into. (Hint: Deep, dark, swift moving, filled with odd creatures who will take a bite out of you, and possibly even waters inhabited at times by the devil himself. I’m not making this up.) And when I speak with my non-writer friends now, it’s clear that they, too, have zero understanding of the publishing process.

It’s kind of funny, really, when non-writers ask me, “Oh, so you wrote a book? When can I read it? When will it be published? I’d love to quit my job and just write a book.” Most of them don’t realize what they’ve just done. They can’t yet grasp that they’ve engaged a madwoman on her most passionate topic. It’s like inviting a Jehovah’s Witness into your house to discuss God. Because I don’t fool around when I start talking about the writing—editing—submission—rejection—revision process.

And so the lesson begins.

Every book starts with an idea. Maybe it’s something that popped up as you’re drifting off to sleep or shampooing your hair in the shower. Or, maybe it was an idea you’ve had since childhood, one you’ve been contemplating writing about for years. Regardless of how an idea reveals itself, for me, it takes time to marinate in my brain before I can begin to write it down.

Award-winning fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson says that there are two kinds of writers—outliners and discovery writers. I most certainly belong to the former camp. Though I’m not the kind of writer who considers an outline the “Holy Grail” of writing, there are some writers who do. Me? I’m more of a write-a-loose-outline-chapter-by-chapter, highlight-the-major-events-that-need-to-take-place, then-bail-on-the-outline-about-a-quarter-of-the-way-through-when-another-great-plot-line-occurs-to-me kind of writer. Either way, the point is, an outline is a tool that helps to keep the story moving forward. Never mind the fact that I’ll write two more outlines before I get anywhere.

After the outline, depending on the topic of the book, there’s a lot of research to be done. Some of that can be beforehand, some of it is done as I go, and the rest of it falls into the category of [BLAH BLAH – FILL IN MORE HERE LATER – DETAILS!].  More professional writers will use [TK], meaning ‘to come,” but I’m just not that distinguished. I prefer sticking with the BLAH BLAH technique.

And don’t forget the mental block, also known as the dreaded writer’s block. That’s fun and always exceptionally unexpected. And once I step away from the keyboard, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be back any time soon… So for me, it’s critical to ignore writer’s block and just keep writing even if I scrap 90% of what I end up adding to the document. The odds are as long as I keep on writing, I’ll eventually write myself out of the block, but if I stop…well, I’m likely to easily lose a few months.

So, supposing all of this produces a finished novel, there’s also the revision process. That means going back, revising, refining, and hacking away until your raw treasure is a highly polished gem that’s acceptable to submit to an agent. But before you even submit to an agent, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got something worth submitting, and that requires beta readers – friends and family, and maybe even an online stranger or two, who will read your work and give you solid, honest feedback (no matter how much it hurts).

And, oh…an agent.

Somewhere around the time of your 5th draft or so (okay, maybe your 3rd if you’re really good), you can begin to query an agent. Since I began following dozens of agents on Twitter, I’ve started to feel really good about my query letter… If you’re unfamiliar with what a query is, there are hundreds of websites that show you how to effectively query an agent.

And there’s great advice from agents on how not to query an agent, too.  Like this beauty:

Or this one.

(Really, following Dr. Stender on Twitter has become kind of a recent hobby for me… But don’t give him all your attention. There are lots of other agents with great advice, too! Eric Smith is another good one.)

The best part (ahem…cough, cough…) about querying is compiling a list of agents who are looking for manuscripts like yours. I make a ridiculously overcomplicated spreadsheet that includes all sorts of info I don’t need, and I color code as I query. Yellow for queries waiting on a reply (including the date and the type of materials submitted), red for queries that have been rejected, and green for queries in which a full or partial manuscript has been requested, and let me just be honest and tell you that there’s a lot of red on my screen. When I open that file these days, it looks as though I’ve just murdered a small mammal. The problem with my green lines, of course, is that so far they haven’t stayed green, which means that I’ve gotten rejections even after a full manuscript read. But I’ve always gotten good feedback and I revise, revise, revise until I’m ready to submit again.

The most difficult part by far is the willingness to put yourself out there, get rejected again and again, and still remain confident in your ability. The key is to remember that agents are highly subjective and just because they turned down your work doesn’t mean they think it sucks. It just means they aren’t looking to represent that particular piece at that point in time. (Maybe they’re already representing a similar work, perhaps the story was too close to something else they know of, or maybe they just signed another author with a story that meets what they were looking for.) I like to give the ‘needle in a haystack’ analogy, only the hay is on fire and you just have to hope you find the needle in time. If you want to know just how tough querying is, check out a great guest blog by Shannon Parker about an insider’s perspective on rejection.

So if you nab an agent, and that’s a big if, it’s time to pop the champagne, right?  Well…

Though it might feel a bit like winning an NFL championship, signing with a literary agent is really only the first step in a marathon run. Okay, maybe it’s the first mile marker in a marathon. (The first step was writing the book.) Your agent is probably going to request a revision or two before going on to submit your work to editors at publishing companies. And guess what?

That means now your agent is querying for you. Oh yeah, querying again. So, get ready to be rejected again. And if you get accepted – yay! That means you’re on your way to an actual published book deal…after more edits…and galleys…and edits…

And what then? Promotion, promotion, promotion!

Then.

Take those years of soul-crushing disappointment that you put into your first book, and use them as fuel to start a second, a third, and a fifteenth book. Oh, and be prepared to put in what amounts to years and years of work without getting paid a single dime because that’s how writers (and agents) roll.

So, tell me again how you’d like to “quit your job and just write a book.” The fact is, writing isn’t for the faint of heart and it isn’t glamorous. It’s work. Real, tangible, difficult and often unpaid work, but if you’re lucky and you’re persistent, you might just be able to succeed at making a career of it.

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P.S. Writing is also *really* hard when you’ve got a 40-lb. lap dog.

Practice Makes Perfect

I play piano.

Sorta.

The truth is that I’ve been taking lessons for 8 1/2 years and I’ll probably never play as well as I’d like to. I might be better by now if, say, I actually practiced every day, but I don’t. Some weeks I don’t even practice at all. An internet blog might not be the best place to announce that, but trust me when I say that my piano teacher already knows all about my (lack of) practice habits. To be fair, sometimes I skip out on practice because my piano looks like this:

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But most times, it’s just because I don’t make the time to do it, and it’s those times when I wonder why I continue with lessons. It’s not like I’m ever going to be the next Beethoven or Mozart. But really, that’s not why I keep on.

I play piano for the same reason I write—for me. Even without practice, weekly lessons still get me closer to my end goal than quitting and walking away ever could. And if someday I manage to create something worthy enough for the rest of the world to experience, great! If not, I’ve still pushed myself further than most people will ever dream.

And maybe when I’m 93, I’ll play as well as this guy.

But probably, I’ll still be taking lessons.

Two Worlds Are Better Than One

I used to think that everyone lay down at night and imagined stories in their mind before drifting to sleep. My routine each and every evening throughout my childhood and, if I’m honest, well into adulthood, was to create an amazing world I could slip into, characters who would be my new friends, and an intrigue that somehow only I, as the courageous heroine, could solve.

I think it was really the sheer and utter exhaustion that came with having a colicky baby in my mid-twenties that finally stopped me from my nightly storytelling ritual. (Parenthood has a way of depleting us of our own dreams as we trade them in for dreams of who our children might someday become.)

Telling stories to myself as I waited for sleep to come was so engrained in me that I never thought to ask anyone else if they did the same. I just assumed they did. It’s only recently that I realized the truth of it.

Most people don’t actually do this.

I haven’t done a formal poll, of course, but I’m willing to bet that internal storytelling is a trait reserved for the creatives—those who write, paint, photograph, and perform. These are the people who dream infinitely about what could be. These are the people who live in two worlds simultaneously.

Creative types have mistakenly been labeled as eccentric (or flat-out crazy) for centuries, but I don’t think most of them are. (There are exceptions, of course. Cutting off your own ear is pretty nutty.) They were simply living in two worlds at once, a feat not many can successfully accomplish or understand.

Creative minds like the great writers and artists throughout the years find a way to reconcile the physical world they live in with the world they’ve created in their minds. They switch back and forth between the two worlds effortlessly and when they’ve finished with a creation, they invite you to experience it, too. Just think of every movie you’ve fallen into, every book you’ve devoured, putting aside your thoughts of the “real” world and forgetting all your responsibilities. It’s the creative genius who’s invited you to his or her world to experience it along with them, to forget about your own life for a moment or two. And yet, your body hasn’t gone anywhere. You’re still curled up on the couch, book in hand, maybe sipping a cup of peach tea while you allow yourself to tag along with a main character through all his trials and tribulations.

I think it took me a shamefully long time to find my place in this world. I didn’t know, or maybe it was just that I didn’t understand, that people just like me really do write for a living. They tell stories. I spent years trying to convince myself to succeed in other careers – first science, then nonprofit work, before I gave in to the call of full-time writerhood.

Now that I’m here, I wonder. Why did I think that I needed to fit in anywhere else? Why did I waste so much of my energy trying? 

(The obvious answer, of course, is that I needed to make a living. I needed an income to keep a roof over my head and food in my fridge. That part hasn’t changed, but with some adjustments to my lifestyle, I’ve managed to make things work…for now.)

Since reconciling the fact that I really am meant to write, that this is, indeed, a big part of who I am, I’ve been infinitely happier with myself, satisfied that I’ve finally found a home. My biggest lesson:

Never accept just one world if you’re meant to live in two!