Thursday, January 15, 2015

To Fall in Love With Your Husband, Do This?

The other day, one of my writing friends shared a New York Times article called "To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This," about an experiment done twenty years ago that helped two couples fall in love, and later, the author of the article. Basically, two strangers were asked to spend 90 minutes answering a series of increasingly personal questions, and then stare into each other's eyes for 4 minutes. My friend thought the questions could help with character development, but as soon as I read the article, I started to wonder: could these questions help my marriage?

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with my marriage! But I think all couples, especially those with young children, can use an opportunity to reconnect every now and then. Many of the questions are irrelevant to people in a relationship (we've been together for fourteen years and have fortunately figured out a thing or two during that time). But some of the questions are very thought-provoking, the kinds of questions I hadn't ever really asked myself, let alone John. (I know you're curious, so I've included the questions at the end of this post.) I decided to conduct our own experiment, to see if we could learn something new about each other, and maybe even strengthen our connection during the process. It couldn't hurt to try, right?

Almost immediately, I felt like we'd accomplished something. We turned off the television and spent an hour talking instead of zoning out or checking Facebook. While some of John's answers were predictable, others took me completely by surprise. Some of the questions were easy to answer, while others required a lot of thought. John spoke in depth about some of his experiences in the Marine Corps, which to me often feels like another lifetime but is clearly still very much on John's mind. I can see how discussing things like your most treasured memory or whose death in your family would be the most disturbing would tell you rather quickly how you feel about a person, certainly more than talking about work or hobbies. Cutting to the chase on a first date may be uncomfortable, but it could definitely have its merits.

After we finished the questions and got ready for bed, John and I tried to spend 4 minutes gazing into each other's eyes. I think the idea was to do it silently, but we talked the entire time. Whoops. Either way, I definitely felt closer to John afterward. I won't say it led to any major revelations, but it was a good reminder of why I fell in love with John in the first place. And frankly, between kids, jobs, busted cars, bike accidents, and impending moves, who couldn't use a little reminder every now and then?


Set I

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Set III

25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling ..."

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ... “

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Yesterday I received the Very Inspiring Blogger Award from the lovely ladies of Sub It Club, an online support group for writers and illustrators who are sending their work out into the world (yes, it's so scary we need our own support group). I'm honored to be listed among some of the bloggers who inspire ME, particularly Dee Romito at I Write for Apples, who was so sweet and helpful when I got my offer of representation.



Here are the rules for the award:
*Display the award on your blog
*Link back to the person who nominated you
*State 7 things about yourself
*Nominate 15 bloggers, link to them, and notify them about their nominations

I'm not going to choose 15 bloggers because everyone is super busy, but I will nominate one: my talented, intelligent, inspiring sister Elizabeth, who blogs at Clash of Cultures about popular culture and lives in Paris. She is also the one who introduced me to Sub It Club so I'm extra grateful!

And now, seven things about myself (with a writing focus, since this is a writing award):
1) In my very first query letter for my very first book, I compared it to Harry Potter. I KNOW. (This is like one of the seven deadly sins of querying, so I totally deserved the "Not for us" scribbled at the top of the letter and mailed back to me. Ouch.)
2) I wrote my second novel about a Marine pilot who is killed in action and what happens to his family in the aftermath. I still think the idea has merit, but I was nowhere near skilled enough to write the story at the time. I never queried it.
3) The only writing class I've ever taken was focused on travel writing. I took it at the UCSD extension and my teacher encouraged me to pursue publication. His kind words were some of the first I filed away to bring out whenever I was feeling down about my writing.
4) WINTERSOUL, the novel that finally found an agent, is my eighth completed manuscript, but I've got another half-dozen incomplete novels floating around.
5) I wrote my first novel after I was fired from my crappy job at a newspaper and had nothing else to do. I also took up baking, knitting, and painting that year. Writing is the only hobby that stuck!
6) Some day, after we've done several posts in the Foreign Service, I want to write a book about parenting overseas. My working title is "Abroad with Boys."
7) Trust is a recurring theme in most of my novels. I'm pretty sure this says something about me, but I haven't delved too deeply yet...

Thanks again Sub It Club!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Foreign Service Fridays: When the Living Ain't Easy

Sometimes my super-glamorous globe-trotting life*, well, isn't. I talk about it a little over on Most Eligible Family. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend! Didn't this week seem LONG to you? Or maybe that was just me...

* That was sarcasm, in case you couldn't tell ;)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You Are Here

Every year for the past forever, I've had a list of New Year's resolutions. It generally centered around self-improvement (be a better mom and wife, work out more, be more positive, etc.), but the main focus was always this: GET AN AGENT. Every time I failed to meet my goal, I repeated this mantra: "onward and upward." I developed a thing for arrows, because they symbolized forward momentum. I never let myself dwell too much on the here and now, because I believed something better was just around the corner.

So it's a little weird to be heading into 2015 with a nice big check mark next to my number one goal.

Of course, now I have a new goal: to sell my novel. But considering I haven't even started my revisions, it's a little premature to worry about that. And sure, I have something kind of big on the horizon (moving to Peru), but this year, I really, really want to focus on what I already have instead of worrying about what I don't. I would like to spend more time being grateful and less time trying to change things. I do not want to waste energy comparing myself to others. I want to keep this in mind:




I hope you guys will remind me of this every now and then (like when I go on submission to publishers in the next few months, or when I have to leave my very comfortable home and move with two kids to another continent). Thanks for being there for me this year and following along on this journey. I hope you all find yourselves exactly where you need to be in 2015. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: On Dream Agents

Since the craziness of Pitch Wars has died down, I've been thinking a lot about what I've learned that's worth sharing. I wanted to do a post about what to consider when you get an offer, but my Pitch Wars friend Rosalyn shared this amazing post which covers it better than I can.

One thing I've noticed that gets mentioned a lot in the Facebook Pitch Wars mentees group I'm a part of are "dream agents." If you're a writer, you've probably heard the term before. You probably even have one (or several). I know I did. There have been a few over the years: agents that I had decided would be the perfect person to not only represent my novel but also be a wonderful mentor, advocate, and (if I'm being honest) friend. Each of these dream agents was a female roughly my age who lived in or near New York, had a strong web-presence, and just seemed like someone I'd get along with in real life. I envisioned going up to NY for lunch together after she sold my novel. I was convinced (usually by something they said in an email to me - all of these dream agents had requested novels of mine over the years) that this person was the right fit for me. She just needed to come to her senses and realize it, already.

Then, one fateful day, one of these dream agents opened up her inbox for queries wherein a quick (and personalized) response was guaranteed. Several agents do this from time to time, even if they are usually a no-response-means-no kind of agent, or if they normally use a form rejection. This particular agent had requested two of my previous novels and both times invited me to send her my next project. So I did! I couldn't wait for that personalized request to come rolling my way.

Only it wasn't a request. It was a rejection. A pretty brutal one. A single line saying she despised one of the comps I'd used. No reference to my other novels. I'm pretty sure she stopped reading at that line (which was unfortunate because it was one of the first lines of my query). I'd gotten pretty used to rejection by that point, but this one stung. How could my dream agent fail to see that we were perfect for each other?

And that's when I realized, she wasn't my dream agent. Clearly we were not meant to be. I'd heard other wiser, more experienced writers say that there was no such thing as a dream agent. I'd heard many agents say that writers need to get over the idea. The best agent, these writers and agents said, was the agent who loved your book and wanted to work with you. And you wouldn't know who that agent was until they came along and offered to represent your novel.

And until that moment, I had believed all these wiser and more experienced people were wrong. It was actually kind of freeing to learn the truth. From then on, my search parameters changed to reputable agents who were looking for the kind of book I was writing. Period. I no longer had a specific agent in mind. That was the beauty of Pitch Wars - a bunch of agents I probably wouldn't have even considered (not because they weren't good agents - they were all fabulous! - but because they didn't necessarily fit my "dream agent" vision) saw my pitch and requested. This included male agents, agents who weren't in New York, agents who were older or younger, agents I didn't even know about, and big-shot agents I never thought would be interested in little old me. My very first offer came from an agent who didn't fit ANY of my previous dream agent criteria. Another offer came from someone who met ALL the criteria. Both agents were amazing. But the third agent ended up being the best fit.

So here's where I'd like to offer up some advice of my own: your dream agent isn't just the agent who loves your novel and wants to work with you (as anyone who has had multiple offers can tell you). The right agent is the one who loves your novel, wants to work with you, and is someone YOU click with. One person's dream agent (heck, even your own) might just not be right, for many different reasons. And that's okay.

Query widely, query smartly, be open-minded, and follow your heart. And you just might find an agent who is even better than you dreamed they'd be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mommy Mondays: What We Know

I've barely had time to blog lately, but I thought I'd share a little something from Jack. Apparently his class is learning about dinosaurs, and his teachers like to post a little "What We Know Already" sign when they start on a new subject. Jack's are usually weird. Real weird.



Just in case it's too small to read (and also because the typo in there is killing me): "A long time ago, a bunny was burned by a dragon. And then a dinosaur said, "Don't do that," so the dragon set all the dinosaurs on fire, and that's why they're extinct."

So, what do we know this week? That mommy has done a cracker-jack job of teaching Jack about the world of dinosaurs! This is why I will not be home schooling my children. (Although apparently I've done a great job on the dragon front. Go me!)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Schooled

Jack got accepted into Kindergarten in Lima! You can read about it here. I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Made It (To Base Camp)!

I have thought about writing this blog post for the past...well, however long I've had this blog. Let's just call it "a long time." I have read countless other "I got an agent!" posts over the years, and they always left me with mixed emotions: happiness for my friends' success, hope that maybe one day I'd have a similar announcement, and - I'll be honest - envy. As encouraging as it was to know that this dream could some day be a reality, I couldn't help wondering when it was going to be my turn. How many years would I have to wait? How many books would I have to write? How many rejections would I have to get?

As it turns out:
10 years
8 novels
Countless rejections (countless because I refuse to go back and add them up - that's an exercise for another time. Or never.)

I can't tell you how many tears have been shed, how many times I told myself I couldn't go on. I started to wonder if it was EVER going to happen. (Although I guess deep down I always believed it would. Otherwise I wouldn't have continued to torture myself.)

So, how did I FINALLY get an agent?

Most of you know I participated in Pitch Wars this year, a writing contest hosted by the fabulous Brenda Drake. As luck would have it, my entry was chosen by the Queen B herself,  Jessie Humphries, and by some miracle I still don't understand, twelve agents ended up requesting pages. Two additional agents asked for the manuscript behind the scenes. And less than a week after the contest, I got THE CALL.

This is what I was doing earlier in the day. It was probably the best day ever.
Photo by Sanderson Images

Yes, I got a call out of the blue. No email to warn me or anything. And it was the best phone call of my life. The agent who offered representation was so over-the-top enthusiastic and amazing, I couldn't believe he was talking about MY book! I may have cried. I may have screamed as soon as I got off the phone. I may have leapt into John's arms in a very dramatic fashion. I kind of always wondered if, after all the rejections that led me here, I'd still be excited if I ever did get the call.

Suffice it to say, I was.

After the first agent offered, I sent emails to all the other agents with my manuscript to let them know (I promise this is protocol - my mom and John were terrified the agent was going to rescind his offer if I kept him waiting). Over the course of the week, I ended up with a lot of kind rejections, and those still stung. But I also got another offer from another fabulous agent. Meanwhile, because she's awesome, Jessie referred me to an agent at her agency, Greenhouse Literary. John Cusick is one of those agents I never thought I'd even have a shot with. But as it turns out, John was a Russian lit major and he'd been looking for a Russia novel. To my surprise, he read mine in one day. I was so excited I may have forgotten to eat on several occasions (don't worry, I made up for lost calories in champagne and cake). When he offered, I knew I had a really difficult decision on my hand, but I also knew I couldn't really go wrong - all three agents were fantastic.

In the end, it came down to a few things. First, John is one of the top agents in my genre. He's also exceptionally nice and down to earth, and he has a stellar reputation. Everyone I spoke to about him loves him. He understood my novel and my characters, and he's fully supportive of the vision I have for my career. Greenhouse Literary is a leading children's agency, and both Jessie and a mentor from a past contest, Dannie Morin, are clients. I took that as a very, very good sign. Emailing the other two agents to let them know of my decision was awful. But I have no regrets whatsoever. I'm over-the-moon excited to start working with John.

So, why the title of this post? A few weeks ago, when I was whining to John (my husband, John, just to clarify) AGAIN about how all I wanted in life was to get an agent, he told me to remember that the main focus was to get my novel published. Well, yes, dear husband, that is true. But as he surely knows by now - and some of you may know to a lesser extent - it's virtually impossible to get published by a major publisher without a literary agent. And my goal has always been to go the traditional publishing route. I explained to John that he had basically just told me I should be focusing on Everest when all I wanted was to make it to freaking Base Camp.

Therefore (if you'll bare with this metaphor a little longer), if getting published is my Everest, then I have officially made it to Base Camp! There is no guarantee that my book will get published. Sadly, a lot of writers get literary agents and their novels never sell. But just as you are never going to climb Everest without first making it to Base Camp, I was never going to get my novel published without an agent. Yes, I still have a lot of work ahead of me. But I can also look back and see how far I've come. I get to rest here at camp for a little while (and by "rest" I mean revise) and then we'll make the push for the summit.

Okay, metaphor concluded.

I have a few more things I'd like to say, but this post is getting long and I may have lost you all at "Everest." So I'll save my tips and lessons learned for a future post, and simply finish by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has listened to me whine, read my novels, critiqued my writing, followed this blog, and generally supported me throughout this journey. I hope to make you all proud by selling this novel some day soon! In the meantime, feel free to eat a slice of cake in my honor. You've earned it.




Monday, November 17, 2014

Liebster Award: 10 Questions Blog Hop

One of my Pitch Wars peeps nominated me for this blog hop, and it's a perfect distraction to get my mind off of some things right now! Thanks, Rosalyn!




1. What most inspired your current WIP?
Moving to Russia was the inspiration for my novel. I find Russian folklore fascinating!

2. How do you best get "in the zone" for writing?

I mostly need to have my children elsewhere to write. Other than that, I've gotten pretty good at getting into the zone when I have the opportunity.

3. Do you have a certain time of day/place where you find you're most productive?

I prefer a busy but not-too-noisy cafe and something yummy to eat and drink. It doesn't matter the time of day, as long as there are no children present!

4. If you could sit down and pick the brain of one author, living or dead, who would it be? What would you ask them?

This is a tough one... Probably Stephen King, because he seems like such a nice guy and I'm in awe of his ability to write amazing book after amazing book. 

5. Your WIP has just become sentient. On a scale of 1-10, how much trouble are you in?

10, probably. The bad guy likes to tear people's souls out of their bodies, and that's definitely not a good thing.

6. If money was no issue, where would your ideal writing vacation take place?

I had so much fun writing in Bath, England last year. I think I'd get lazy in a tropical place and distracted in a large city I've never been to before. Bath had the cutest little cafes and gardens and there's not THAT much to do. Plus, Jane Austen. 

7. How did you come up with the title for your current WIP?

My book was originally called something different, but my mentor from Pitch Wars insisted I come up with something better, and I'm so glad she did. I stewed on it for weeks, but when I finally put a couple of the words on my list together - WINTER (the novel takes place during the Russian winter and has a lot of references to the cold and ice) and SOUL (see #5) - and ran it by some of my reader and writer friends, everyone loved it and I knew I'd finally hit the nail on the head. Phew!

8. Who would you want to direct the movie adaptation of your WIP?

Ha! Anyone? Since this is my fantasy, let's go with Peter Jackson.

9. What advice would you give to another writer?

Never give up! It's all about persistence (and obviously a certain amount of talent, and luck!). 

10. Hypothetical: You have a time machine and a nefarious mind. You can travel back in time with one book and take credit for writing it. Which book would it be?

I would NEVER do something like that. But since you asked... Laini Tayor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone is so brilliant, I would kill to have her talent.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Eight-Legged Freaks

When Jack was little(r), I sometimes wondered if he'd ever have an imaginary friend. In these ponderings, I pictured a friendly monster, maybe, or a puppy. I never in a million years would have guessed that a family of tarantulas would be living in our house. And yet...


Meet the Tarantula family. From left to right, the daddy, Pinecone, baby Popcorn, and the grande dame herself, Butternut. This lovely trio has been an integral part of our life for months now. In fact, they're so important Jack decided to include them in his school portrait of our family. I'm particularly fond of the quote his teachers inserted in the caption: "I don't look like my parents. I look like my tarantulas."

Sigh.

It should be noted that I hate spiders. I hate all insects, but the more legs, the more I detest them (Google "house centipede" if you like a good scare). Jack seems to take particular joy in putting to paper the most hideous creations he can pluck from his overactive imagination.

The hair is a new touch. But the teeth are what really does it for me.

Naturally, the tarantulas live in a subterranean cavern below our house. Along with dragon-sized spiders, there are skeletons, bats, and worms. It's like someone came along, asked me what I would least like my child to talk about, and then planted a slimy little seed into his head. Where are the unicorns and kittens, I ask you? Why spiders?! My only hope is that when we relocate to Lima in six months, the Tarantulas choose to stay put. Especially because, according to Jack, Popcorn is about to get a little brother...