I missed March, April, and most of May on the blog. I bet you can all guess why.
What a heck of a year so far. Global pandemic, hundreds of thousands dead, and so many people refusing to do something as simple as wear a face mask to protect themselves and others. It’s mind-boggling.
Not going to lie, friends. I’ve had my ups and downs handling this over the last few months. As all of you have. Working from home, online schooling for 4th and 8th grades, a 10-year-old with a broken arm (because the pandemic wasn’t terrifying enough on its own…let’s head to a hospital for corrective surgery!), being around my family every single day all day long and never getting a break even though I’m an introvert and desperately, desperately need a few days of quiet…or just a silent house for…like…an hour. Yeah. It’s all been a bit of a challenge.
And I’m sure you’re all in the very same situation. We’re all facing difficult times. Stressful times. Unprecedented times. But it won’t last forever. Years, maybe. But not forever.
So take this time to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Do things with them. Appreciate nature. Enjoy your backyard. (Or your balcony. Or your porch.) Here are a few snapshots from my own life in the past two months. Crazy, yes. But not all bad.
Family haircuts. (She’s trusting.)
Finished manuscript. (Book II of The Tarrowburn Prophecies. It’s almost ready!)
Surgery because the fracture was through the growth plate.
Breaking quarantine today to take kiddo for an appointment with the pediatric orthopedic specialists in Hershey this afternoon. (Yes, we have masks.) I will take all the good vibes and prayers offered, please, Twitter. Hoping for news that surgery will NOT be needed. 🙏🏽
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!
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?
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.
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!
Actually I did two things. I got to see my name in the byline on a front page article in the local newspaper for the first time. If I thought I was excited about that, imagine how I felt when I saw how many of my friends and family were just as elated as I was. All the feels, friends. All the feels.
It’s hard to verbalize the gratitude I have for every person who ‘likes’ my posts and tweets about seeing my article in print. How can I possibly put into words how each and every one of those thumbs up and digital red hearts makes my own heart swell with appreciation?
Hmm. I guess I just did. At least a little.
There are so many times as a writer when I’m keenly aware of the weight of defeat that results from receiving constant rejection from agent after agent and publisher after publisher. For years. Literally, years. In those moments, it’s so easy to give in to the belief that perhaps I’m not good enough and maybe I should just give up. After all, in a world already supersaturated with books and news and blogs, who’s even paying attention to my words, to my progress as a writer?
And that’s why those digital hearts matter. It’s proof that I’m not alone on my journey, evidence that I have a cheering section I don’t always remember. By and far, it’s the weirdest and best cheering section anyone could possibly ask for, composed of old friends, family, new acquaintances, writer-friends, people I met once in my life but feel like I know just as well as myself, and random high school classmates I talk to now more than I ever did in high school. They live all around the nation and all around the globe, and they celebrate every step forward with me. It’s the craziest, ragtag, motley crew of a cheer squad I’ve ever known and it’s mine. So thank you, friends. Thank you for reminding me I’m not alone. (Cue The Beatles.)
So at the beginning of this blog post, I said I did two things yesterday. I bet you’re waiting for me to elaborate on item number two. But that’s a post for another day. It’s a good thing, I promise. And like so much in the publishing world, it must remain a secret for now, but I’ll release the news as soon as I can and then we can all celebrate together. I’ll bring the cake and confetti if you bring the chips and dip.
We 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.)
If you want to know the value of a year, ask anyone who has faced this kind of diagnosis or worse. We were lucky. His was only a stage 1B. Prognosis is good. Our future is optimistic.
But that doesn’t stop me from asking ‘What if?’ a hundred-thousand times a day. What if things had been different?
So if you want to know what a year is truly worth, spend an afternoon with a cancer survivor and ask them to share their experience. And never take for granted another year, another day, another minute, again.
June 5, 2017 changed our lives forever. I have felt a level of gratitude every day of this past year greater than I could ever have imagined. If you want to know the value of one year, simply ask yourself, “What if?”
There’s a job opening in a microbiology laboratory where I used to work. I’ve said often to friends and family how much I missed working in the micro lab, how much fun the testing could be, how interesting the job. And yet…
I have no less than four headhunters who have emailed me about this position in the past 48 hours. It’s a contract position with the potential for permanent work. But do I want permanent work? Do I want to commit my hours to working for dollars instead of writing for none? Am I ready to give up on a dream of writing novels full-time to have the security and extra money a job outside the home would bring?
Before you comment, let me stop you. 1. I’ve heard all these arguments before, and 2. I’ve been having the same conversation with myself for days now. It’s not giving up on a dream to accept the reality of supporting your family and easing the financial burden by helping to bear the load. But there’s a lot to consider because taking a full time job outside of the house is more than just 40 hours a week. It’s also 7-10 hours of commute time.
Beyond that, it’s giving up all the luxuries I currently have. No, not the financial luxuries. I’m talking about the school field trips I chaperone, the classrooms I assist in for fun activities, the holiday parties I can help plan for my kids. These are the things I can never get back, the things time won’t wait on. By going back to work full time, I’d be putting my kids and family second again – at least as far as time constraints go. (Certainly not in regards to feelings!)
So, while there’s a part of me that longs for the financial freedom a second household income would bring, and the knowledge that I’m helping my husband to bear the financial load a bit more, I think I’ll pass on the microbiology lab for now. The lab will be there in five years and in ten. My 8 and 12-year-olds will not. Time has a habit of stealing our youth and I intend to build as many memories with my kids as I can while they’re still young.
And writing? I will always have writing. Being home just allows me to pursue it more passionately.
So if you’ll excuse me, I have some faces to paint at the 6th grade school carnival in a half hour and rocks to paint in a 2nd grade classroom later today. Pharmaceutical microbiology and financial freedom can wait.
I loved working as a microbiologist and all, but this is just…um…no. I can remember the odor of actual plates all too well, thanks.https://t.co/X53aCD7HiC
If you’ve been following me for a while, odds are good that you know the health crisis we’ve been through over the last year as my husband faced a scary pancreatic cancer diagnosis last spring. The kind of diagnosis you’re not supposed to get at 43.
It was awful. It was traumatic. And until this week, I’d kind of sort of managed to tuck it away in the deep recesses of my mind. Because let’s face it—you can’t think about this kind of thing every day or you’ll actually drive yourself out of your head with worry, the kind of worry that comes with anxious, nervous energy that keeps you up into the wee hours of the morning every night with no one but your miserable self to keep you company.
And then this week someone I know on Twitter (I can’t even call her a ‘friend’—we’ve never had a single personal conversation!), a Pitchwars mentor & writer whose debut book just came out this month, a woman who is living her dream—the same dream I have—just got word that her husband had been hit by a car and was in the ICU at the hospital. I don’t know the details. I know only what she has shared on Twitter.
But her story has hit me so hard this week. So hard. Because it seems like even when things are really good, they can still be really bad. Clarissa recently tweeted about how wonderful the doctors and nurses are, about how they’re making sure that she’s taking care of herself, too. And it brought the memories flooding back.
The day I couldn’t eat because I woke up with such severe anxiety three days after my husband’s surgery that my stomach had cramped into one big knot. The nurse on shift that day didn’t say anything right away, but by 3 p.m., she gave me a knowing expression with worried eyes that I swear could see right into my soul and she asked me, “Have you eaten anything today?” I hadn’t. I couldn’t. So when I finally managed to eat a banana at 7 p.m., I made sure to let her know. Nurses are amazing. They are incredible human beings who give so much more than I ever knew was humanly possible to give to perfect strangers.
And in one tweet, Clarissa sent me right back to those horrible moments after the big surgery, the ones I pushed aside for the last nine months. My heart goes out to Clarissa and her family. I know what she’s going through. I know the fear and the worry and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same—that your entire future is nothing more than one big question mark.
I hope that you’ll join me in supporting Clarissa Goenawan and her husband in the weeks and months of trials they’ll have ahead of them. The medical bills can add up so quickly that it takes your breath away when you stop to think about it. We spent over $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses last year. Without insurance, it would have been well over $300,000. Life can turn on a dime and moments like these are sharp reminders to hold our loved ones tight and appreciate all we have been given.
Our #PitchWars mentor Clarissa Goenawan has cancelled all her promo to be with her husband who was in a car crash and is fighting for his life.
Please consider promoting her book or donating if you can.
Authors for Clarissa and Choo https://t.co/pmsxzhTe28
What is it about humans that makes us so quick to compare every aspect of our lives to others? We obsess over the numbers—sometimes becoming unwitting slaves to what those numbers represent. From the size of our paychecks to the size of our televisions (and other things…), we’re experts at using numbers in virtually every aspect of our lives. We measure the hours, the minutes, the seconds of our day. All day. Every day. We quantify our lives based on the money we make, how many chores we’ve completed, how many miles we can run, the number of sit-ups we can do, and—as a writer—the quantity of the words we’ve written each and every day.
So, let’s take a little look at my average numbers. Writing numbers, that is. I’m not going to tell you how many carpets I may (or may not have) vacuumed, how many loads of laundry I did (or didn’t do) last month, and I’m certainly not going to tell you how many miles I can(’t) run—mostly because I don’t want to.
Plus, let’s face it. No one really cares.
In the past, my writing was mostly done in the spare minutes after I’d gotten home from work, when the evening had come to an end, and the kids were finally in bed. Writing was something I did for fun and, sure, I hoped it would lead somewhere someday, but it wasn’t really a task I took seriously.
I managed to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo in 2013 when I added 50,000 words in one month to a novel I already had a 50,000 word head-start on and that was exhilarating, but that’s the most I’ve ever written in a single month and even now, when I’m writing on a much more full-time basis, I don’t write 50,000 words in a month. If my memory serves me well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do anything else that month that wasn’t related to writing, including cooking, cleaning, laundry, or putting children to bed. My husband stepped up and did it all that month. If I want to stay married, though, that’s probably not a good longterm strategy for writing.
My writing habits have definitely changed since I began to take writing seriously. Whereas I used to rejoice in putting any number of words on the paper on any given day, I’ve got a schedule that I (generally) stick to pretty religiously these days and it usually results in 5,000 words or more added every week. The key for me is sitting down and making the words happen no matter what. Some days, the words flow like fine wine and other days, I’m lucky if I manage to make the pages sound like they were written by my second-grader… But that’s what it takes to get a first draft done. Fine-tuning can come later.
And some days? Some days life just gets in the way. Case-in-point—I planned to spend a large portion of this weekend writing. Instead, the husband ended up with a migraine in the early hours of Saturday morning, which meant I needed to take him, kids in tow, to Urgent Care for a shot of the good stuff that magically makes migraines disappear—all before breakfast. Then, kids and I got to wait for an hour and a half (because Urgent Care was a madhouse), tired, hungry, and cranky. Half of the day was gone by the time we got home and, to be honest, I was so fatigued just from the running around (introvert much?) that I didn’t have it in me to write. I think I managed maybe 250 words that evening, but really? I didn’t even care about words at that point. So, it’s okay to throw in the towel some days, and admit that it’s just…Not. Going. To. Happen.
The key is making sure that’s not a regular occurrence in your life, and that can be tricky. The novel I’m currently working on is one I started in November of last year. Originally, I wanted to be finished with the first draft by the end of February, but sick kids, sick husband, and life in general got in the way a lot those first few months and it kept me from making the kind of progress I had hoped to make.
I picked up the pace by January, and I am on track to be finished with the first draft of this story by the end of the month. This makes me a happy writer for sure. My numbers show an average of 15,000 – 20,000 words over the last two months because I’ve been living by my own rules and getting the words written, even if some days it’s like pulling teeth to do so.
Most of the time, I don’t encourage assigning a value to the things we do. After all, it’s not what we do, but why we do it that really matters. And you don’t matter less as a writer if you write 500 words a week. (Just the same, you aren’t valued more if you’re a writer who gets 10,000 words written in a week…even if I do gaze longingly at your ability to get so many words down in such a limited time.)
Do what you do because you love to do it and it makes you happy. If the numbers make you happy, keep track of them and rejoice when you hit your milestones! (I do!) But if they don’t, turn off the wordcount feature in your file and plug away without looking. There’s no need to be a slave to living life by the numbers—now or ever!
As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!
It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)
And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!
The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.
About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.
Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:
How do you argue with that?
If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.
You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.
And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.
So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.
Or at least base camp.
Yeah, I could be content with base camp.
* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!
HappyHolidays, friendsandfamily! Thisistheofficial2017StormsChristmasletter! (Look – I even went red and green! Festive!)
Before you start in on me about how lame I am for sending you to my blog for warm wishes of holiday cheer, remember it’s been a fairly tough year. Go easy on me. I opted to forgo sending cards this year for several reasons. First and foremost—time. As most of you know, there’s a lot going on and I’ve been juggling kids’ school schedules, projects, dance classes, various doctors appointments, dentist appointments, and writing in attempts to get it all done. I’m tired! Secondly, suffice it to say that I’m not feeling all that jolly this year, so the thought of addressing and stamping seventy cards just isn’t…well, in the cards. And lastly, I don’t wanna.
So, there you have it.
Now, onto the more cheery parts of this ‘letter.’
We are still here. 2017 hasn’t managed to knock us out just yet. (Give it time. I guess there are two more weeks left in the year, but we’re hoping for the best.) Nate still has a drain tube in his abdomen. It’ll be 23 weeks this Friday. Our next appointment with the good docs at Interventional Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is this Thursday, but neither of us holds high hopes for the drain tube being removed. And that means we’re probably going into the new year with a drain. I cannot even begin to count the ways that this sucks.
My kids are amazing. No, seriously. They are. They have handled things this year that no adult should be asked to handle. They have done so with courage and grace and I want to award them gold medals. Why is there no ‘Best Kids on the Planet’ award?
Nate has gone back to work on a strictly work-from-home basis as of December 4th. This is great news as it no longer means we are ready to pawn off heirlooms in order to buy groceries… Hooray for food without debt! (And for companies and bosses who are amazing and accommodating!)
I am still writing, tweeting about writing, and—apparently—blogging about writing. I finished up my third manuscript this year while continuing to pitch manuscript number two to literary agents. So far, no major progress. I had several requests for a full read (which is a huge step in the right direction) and some really great feedback on said manuscript. But ultimately, no cigar. Hoping to start pitching book number three by early next year. In the mean time, I’m 20k words into my fourth manuscript and moving right along. What’s a writer if she’s not writing anyway? (Oh, that’s right. A stressed mom who is barely holding it all together. Yes, okay, I suppose I’m that, too, these days.)
Now onto the more serious parts of Christmas, or at least the more sentimental parts. Despite our rollercoaster of a year…
Wait. That implies that there were upswings… Let me rephrase.
Despite our alpine slide of a year, we are incredibly thankful for so many things. Amazing friends and family who have been there for us in every possible way. They’ve provided emotional support, emergency babysitting and pet care, gifted us with gift cards to movies and ice cream shops to help keep our lives as normal as possible, helped with homework and school drop offs and pick ups. They’ve cut our grass and shoveled snow from our walkways (not in the same day, of course) and they’ve paid anonymously for our kids’ dance classes. They’ve listened when I’ve felt alone, offered a shoulder when I needed to cry, and handed me a pillow when I needed to scream. They’ve offered financial help and assistance navigating health care and disability insurance. They’ve helped us keep records for our taxes and offered to lend us money (because let’s face it—we’re not rich enough to actually own heirlooms to sell off).
And this is what I am most thankful for this Christmas. I am thankful that we have a network of friends and family that’s bigger than the heart of the grinch (after it grew three sizes) and people who care so very much. We are so grateful.
I hope 2018 is a better year. For you, for me, for all of us. Love to all, family and friends. Thank you for giving us something to be thankful about this 2017. I wish you a happy and blessed holiday season!