A parent’s job is never done. There’s always appointments and therapy and lessons and endless testing and school projects to keep track of. By the end of May, most parents (and teachers, really) are ready to collapse in a heap of exhaustion.
Amidst the current Covid spike, there are also a handful of other viruses floating around right now, including the flu, and the cold I got from my kid three days ago. At the time, we had her PCR tested for Covid, even after her rapid antigen tests came up negative 4 times. (With her father having cancer, we can’t ever be *too* cautious.) She came up Covid negative with the PCR test, too, so you can bet there was much lamenting about missing the AJR concert she was supposed to attend on Sunday.
Anyway, she was kind enough to give the non-Covid virus to me despite our masking and isolation, and, suffice it to say, I’m not functioning on all cylinders, which feels very wrong at this time of year.
I forgot to RSVP to the school awards ceremony she was attending this morning, so we missed it, though I have high hopes she receives something other than ‘Most Dedicated for Gym’ today. (Seriously, she just texted me. That was the award she received. She’s mortified.)
Younger kiddo has a school dance tonight, so I had to take her shopping *yesterday* for something to wear because it slipped my mind all week long.
I missed pilling the cat twice this past week, too. She’s on regular meds – one for her thyroid and one to keep swelling off her brain from the terminal cancer that’s taken residence there. Thankfully, she didn’t seem much affected, nor was she angry with me. Frankly, I don’t think she noticed. I still feel guilty.
My point? Sometimes, the balls drop. Right to the floor. I’m tired. You’re tired. We’re all so, so tired. Are my kids fed? Do they have a safe place to exist? Do I encourage them? Have I given them what they need to succeed?
If the answer is yes, then nothing else matters. So yeah, I’m going to lie down on the floor now. I need a rest.
Any artist will tell you the key to progressing in an artistic endeavor is consistency. This applies to painting, drawing, digital art, music composition, and yes, writing. Maybe especially writing.
It should come as a surprise to exactly no one that, six months ago, I was deep in a writer’s block. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write–I really, REALLY did. Putting aside the very unexpected whirlwind that stemmed from my husband’s second cancer diagnosis in four years, I didn’t know where the story was going, I didn’t have a reliable outline, and I had zero motivation to sit down and get the words down. I was so paralyzed by my fear of taking the story in the wrong direction and disappointing readers that I basically took it in no direction.
Fast forward to November, a month when writers simultaneously delight and despair in NaNoWriMo, an attempt to get 50k words written in a single month, and I forced myself to get words written. I still didn’t know where the story was going, but I knew I could definitely bullshit my way through at least 10-20k words with random scenes that would probably find their way into the novel somewhere. So that’s what I did.
Hooray, block over!
I added 10k words to the already existing 30k I had for a grand total of–drumroll, please–40k. Or less than half the word count needed for this novel.
It wasn’t until January that I really found my motivation again. In chatting with author Margot Ryan on Twitter, who also seemed to be lacking proper motivation, we decided to sprint.
What’s that? Oh, no no! Not sprint-sprint. (I think we’ve covered this in earlier blogs. Lorraine doesn’t run. Lorraine’s joints will not allow such a thing to happen.) Anyway, I’m talking about a writing sprint. Set the timer, write as many words as you can get down in 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, then do it all over again for another 25 minutes. Report back on Twitter each time with word count, and boom–sprint is over.
In January, I added 20k words to my novel. Yes, my 40k was now 60k. We’re a week into February, and guess what? My 60k is now 70k. I don’t know what it is about this sprint that forces my brain to work, but suddenly, plot lines are falling into place, characters are setting up perfectly for their next scenes, and everything about this book is cruising.
So apparently, my brain just needs the threat of being judged by my friends and peers. I didn’t want to report back that I’d stared at a blank screen the entire time, right??? I couldn’t possibly let everyone down by getting in only half a dozen words! That would be mortifying! I had to succeed. I had to shine. I had to win. Is this my leftover AP Honors student mentality from high school? Who knows? But it worked.
Accountability apparently really is key to my productivity. And consistency has played a big part because ever since that day, Margot Ryan and I have been running the #8pmwritingsprint every night, where writers at any stage of the game (outlining, writing, editing – whatever!) have joined us to focus on their WIPs in two 25 minute sessions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The writing community on Twitter is beyond anything I could have imagined when I first joined. I’ve met so many amazing people I’m proud to call my friends.
So if you’re in the mood to write, but you don’t know what, come sprint with us. I promise the looming threat of your peers judging you will kick your brain right into a productive session. If nothing else, we’ll be there to cheer you on! (Because no one in the #8pmwritingsprint actually judges anyone. It’s not a competition. It’s a mini-intensive. Every night.)
Community is where it’s at. And the #8pmwritingsprint has it in spades. Come join us!
Every year I do a quick summary of what I’ve accomplished in my writing career and sometimes what I’ve accomplished in life. It’s a great way to look back and realize I actually *have* been pretty busy, no, I *wasn’t* slacking as much as I thought, and hey, this year wasn’t so bad. (Covid and cancer aside.)
Books published: 0 eBooks published: 0 Signing events attended: 2 Independent Book Award Entries: 6 Book Awards Won for A Thousand Years to Wait: 1 first place (Young Adult Fiction), 1 second place (Cover Design) , 1 honorable mention (New Author Award), (plus 3 outstanding until 2022) Online Writing Retreats Attended: 3 Failed In-Person Writing Retreat Attempted: 2 Online Writing Webinars Taught: 1 Personal Essays Written: 1 Manuscript words written: >125,000 YA manuscripts finished: 1 PB manuscripts finished: 5 YA manuscript WIP: 1 Adult manuscript WIP: 1 Manscripts queried: 3 Queries sent: 104 Query rejections: 57 Query no response: 23 Queries still open: 20 Partial Manuscript Requests: 3 (1 from a 2020 query) Full Manuscript Requests: 2 Total accumulative completed manuscripts (2011-2021): 13 Online pitch contests entered: 1 Blog posts written: 16 Books read: 50 Friends’ Manuscripts read: 3 Blurbs appearing on published books: 1 Writing friends made: Never enough! Writers, find me on Twitter.
Returning cancer diagnosis: 1 (husband😭) Days spent helping to kick cancer’s ass: 126 Bland Embolization procedures & hospitalizations for husband: 2 Family Covid tests taken: 8 (all negative) Medical Bills: Infinite Days spent as 6th grade homeschool/virtual school teacher: 119 Stray animals found: 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 chicken Stray animals rescued: 2 dogs, 1 cat, don’t ask about the chicken (I tried!)
How do you begin a blog post you never wanted to write? How do you type the very words you never wanted to see again? How do you convince yourself that there’s anything good or fair or right in the world when you get the news that your loved one has cancer?
I don’t have the words. My heart has broken into a thousand million billion pieces and I…don’t have the words.
Nate went for his yearly oncology visit last Friday- 4 years cancer-free (or so we thought). Instead, we were met with a giant, nasty surprise – spots on his liver. Spots that weren’t there six months ago. Spots that have no business being there now.
There’s no way to describe the cold dread that washed over me at hearing the news – the literal icy sensation that swept from my head to my toes when the doctor said the word ‘cancer’ aloud.
“No, no, no,” I wanted to scream. “We did this already. We beat this. He’s healthy. We did this yearsbefore the pandemic. We shouldn’t have to do it now, again, in the middle of a global pandemic!”
But cancer doesn’t care what we think, how we feel, or what our plans are. So once again, our schedules have been cleared, and we’re in yet another holding pattern, burning fuel, awaiting test result after test result, waiting for some direction on where to land and what kind of crash to prepare for.
Hold your loved ones close, my friends. It only takes a moment for everything to change.
We almost bought a brand new house today. Drove an hour and a half northeast and spent all day touring a beautiful, half-built, small mansion in a spacious 1-acre wooded lot in the Poconos. Then we deliberated long hours on whether it was right, where we’d put the garden, the pool, the chicken coop, and how we’d arrange each room, whether to finish part of the basement as a play room for the billiard table, the foosball table, and the poker table.
We drove the neighborhood (not that there was much to drive, it’s not even done being built yet) and checked out the other houses in the area. We drove past the schools the kids would go to, and looked up their ratings on Niche. I even moved the money for the down payment into our checking account so we could write a check and get started. It’s fun to dream. It’s exhilarating to imagine new things and new places and new adventures. What could the future hold? Yes, we said! Let’s do this.
And then, five minutes before we were to sign the papers and hand over the money, pure terror gripped my heart.
Reality came crashing in. This isn’t my house. This isn’t my neighborhood. This isn’t where I belong! Help! Someone take me home!
*Cue the waterworks.*
We stayed in the area, had lunch, discussed our options extensively. I proceeded to spend the next two hours alternately in tears, convincing myself we shouldn’t do it, then recovering and convincing myself we should, then crying again at the thought of leaving our close-knit community where we’ve lived for almost 18 years. When we bought our house in 2003, we planned to stay for maybe 5 – 10 years. Introduce children to the mix, and it never quite seems the right time to move.
Eventually, we stayed here so long that everything is just…comfortable. I like our little house. (I wish we had more space.) I like our little yard. (I wish we had more land.) We have some of the best neighbors, one family we even fondly call our neighbros. (I wish the noisy ones behind us would move out…or at least learn to be more considerate.)
But our tiny school district has some of the most caring, wonderful teachers I’ve ever known – people I’m glad teach my children every day, but also people I’ve come to think of as friends myself. They live and work here, in this small community. And three blocks away? We have a lovely little park that’s home to the local community partnership’s Christmas tree lighting, fundraiser dinners, and monthly farmers’ markets. Our community library (and my part-time job there) would be a thing of the past. The coworkers I’ve come to know and love, I’d never see again.
We often catch some of our favorite neighbors walking past our house on their daily route – walking, walking, always walking. And these neighbors are special. Because they’ve shared in our pain (and our joy) with regards to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. And that’s a special kind of bond, too. Not many people know what it’s like to travel that path.
Here, we have the kind of neighbors who will pick up your kids from school at the drop of a hat if needed, those who will watch your kids if you need to make an emergency trip to the vet (and our geriatric doggo is already older than most dogs his breed live to see), who will mow your lawn because you’ve been taking care of a sick spouse or child, who will stop by with fresh bread for no reason at all, who will bring you homemade soup when you’re sick (or homemade chili when your kitchen is out of commission because the entire thing is gutted and being renovated).
Here, our children have friends and familiar bike routes and sledding hills. They have parks and schools within walking distance. And even though they haven’t been able to see their friends in person in over a year (minus a few masked visits on the back patio), this is where I want to emerge from our quarantine. This is where I want to celebrate the miracle of science and medicine with our friends and neighbors. This is where I want to have patio parties and barbecues.
It’s hard to give all that up for the bells and whistles of a beautiful new house with its shiny floors and inviting white farm sink. (It was a beautiful sink.) How could we trade the comfort of a community we love so dearly for a brand new place that feels sterile by comparison? In a time when Covid has most of us needing comfort more than ever, I feel like a move to someplace new (though deeply desired on some level) would make me feel somehow more lost.
And so we drove home in silence, my husband disappointed and frustrated, me sniffling from the passenger’s seat. I ran out of tissues. There was a lot of crying. I couldn’t even feel relief once we’d made the decision not to buy because I knew I was disappointing the husband, and that’s a whole other level of internal grief.
All this to say – here? Here, I feel a sense of belonging I haven’t felt many places in my life. And maybe it won’t always be that way. Maybe someday the time will be right to move. Maybe now I can stop feeling this incessant urge to pick up and go. Maybe.
Not going to lie. The banning of a certain someone from social media this week has me letting out a breath I didn’t know was holding. (I’m a YA author. You knew I had to use that phrase eventually, right?) There is still so much work to be done to right our listless ship of a country, but I’m an optimist at heart, and I’d like to think we can do it together.
In expressing my relief at today’s turn of events after my anger and horror at the events of two days ago on Facebook, I was accused of being an angry person. It was suggested that I’d be much happier if I turned off the news entirely and spent more time with my family.
The person who made this suggestion is a friend. A friend who means well. But ultimately a friend who has more privilege in the tip of his pinky finger than many people will ever have in their entire lives. He’s white. He’s male. He’s heterosexual. He’s Christian. He’s financially secure.
By suggesting I turn off the news to experience happiness, he’s saying that it’s okay to turn our backs on the millions of people in need across the country and around the world. He’s implying four-thousand American lives lost to Covid-19 a day isn’t worth being informed about.
He’s insinuating that we don’t need to know about families separated at the border, about women in those same camps being sterilized against their will, about Congress trying to remove healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic.
He’s saying we don’t need to hear about about the government’s refusal to care for its people, about its refusal to grant extended unemployment, to ensure its people have food and a place to live, to ensure access to clean water (Flint, MI still doesn’t have it). Never mind that the government is removing LGBTQ+ protections, packing the courts, or that dozens of counties across the U.S. are gerrymandered to ensure the minority party continues to rule as long as possible. He’s implying that a government not actually working for the people isn’t a problem for him. And it’s not. For the reasons I stated earlier.
He’s implying that those of us who do care enough to follow along in the news, those of us who call ourself activists because we attend peaceful protests* and write letters to our elected officials, don’t spend time with our families. We can’t, right? You can’t possibly spend time with your family and do all those pesky other things to fight for democracy and human lives.
Thing is? I wasn’t angry when I posted about smiling when I read that someone was banned from social media. But I became angry with my friend’s words. Turning my back so I can “be happy” in ignorance isn’t better than facing head on the ugliness this country has wrought in the last few years.
I want to see my children grow up in a world that is fair and free. In a country that embraces different cultures and traditions, where people in need are welcomed with open arms and given the opportunity to rest, recover, and thrive. I want my family to know that I’ve done everything I can do to make that future for them. And that they must do the same for others.
Because, and here’s the whole point:
THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE THIS PRIVILEGE.
We must be informed, seek truth, and fight for the things that are right. Always. Because without knowledge, without truth, ugly, ignorant opinions weigh just as important. And they’re not. Not by a long shot.
If you have privilege, use it. Use it to right the wrongs, to bring light to darkness, to fight the injustices in the world. It’s your duty.
It’s your privilege.
* NOT what took place at the Capitol on Wednesday; that was a mob of homegrown terrorists, not a protest.
Every writer knows one of the very best feelings in the world is the moment a shiny, new idea takes shape in your head, and you can’t shake it. And when that shiny, new idea involves collaborating with your 14-year-old kiddo, it’s even better.
A few months ago, my very artistic and talented daughter had to conceptualize a children’s book as a project for her Family Consumer Science class. (For us old folk, that’s 2020 speak for Home-Ec.) They were covering an early childhood development module, and she decided to create a book to help teach children their colors. Since birds come in all colors of the rainbow, she pitched a book about a bird who wanted to see a rainbow of feathers in the Amazon rainforest. She diligently crafted the proposal and even included a sketch or two. Project complete. (She received a A+, btw.)
This shiny, new idea isn’t that book.
It *is* a picture book about a bird and a bird family. And working on it with my daughter is one of the most rewarding experiences any mother could hope to have. A combination of written word and visual art, this project is pure excitement for both of us.
In a time when teens are distant and hanging with the family is a serious faux-pas, I have the opportunity to relish my daughter’s enthusiasm for this project, and her willingness to foray (with me!) into something uncertain, into a project that may or may not come to fruition. I’m soaking in our time together and our collaborative effort to dive whole-heartedly into a creative realm we both adore. Storytelling.
Whether by word or by illustration, books make our lives more colorful, more vibrant, more worth living. They entertain and encourage. They create empathy and interest in the world around us. They enable us to learn from the time we’re in the womb straight through our very oldest years. Storytelling is a craft as old as human existence, a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
Taking part in that tradition by creating stories with my daughter and friend is a privilege I will always treasure. My young fledgling isn’t quite ready to leave the nest just yet, but I hope when she someday does she’ll think on our time together and will be reminded to always reach for those shiny, new ideas.
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.