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."


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...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Pitch Wars Blog Hop: Why I Wrote My Pitch Wars Novel

Some of my fellow Pitch Wars mentees are participating in a blog hop about why we wrote our Pitch Wars novels. Here's my story!

As some of you may remember, I got the idea for Needle's Eye, which is now called WINTERSOUL, before we moved to Russia in 2012. I was freaking out about the move, a lot, and I decided that maybe I'd be a little less freaked out if I learned some cool things about Russian culture. Naturally I started looking into Russian folklore and fairytales, and when I came across the story of Kaschey the Deathless, I was fascinated. I'd never heard it before, but I thought Kaschey would make an excellent villain.

The protagonist, Akira, popped into my head out of nowhere. I'm still not sure why I decided she should be half Japanese-American and half Russian, or why she'd be into kenjutsu. Some characters just write themselves I guess. But I put the novel aside for quite a while after we moved to Russia, when I realized I didn't really know it well enough to do the setting justice. I didn't finish Wintersoul until March (Baby Will's impending arrival made for an excellent deadline), and I've been revising on and off since then. I guess the bottom line is, I wrote this novel to make the mental transition to living on the edge of Siberia a little easier. And it actually worked.

My dream now is to write a novel inspired by every country we live in. So I'm super excited to research Peruvian folklore and culture when we get there and come up with a really cool twist. I have learned my lesson, however: I won't be starting the next book until I've lived in Peru for a little while. At least incorporating Spanish into a novel will be a lot easier than Russian!

Head to some of my fellow Pitch Wars mentees' blogs to find out why they wrote their Pitch Wars novels:

Tracie Martin: WILD IS THE WIND

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Release Day for Jessie Humphries' Resisting Ruby Rose!

My awesome Pitch Wars mentor, Jessie Humphries, is releasing her second book in the Ruby Rose Series, Resisting Ruby Rose, today! For anyone interested in checking it out, here's the cover and description. Looks amazing, right? Congratulations, Jessie!

Still reeling from the heartbreaking events that unfolded on Grissom Island, Ruby Rose is trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s gone from a vigilante in killer shoes to a stone-cold killer. Everyone from her therapist to her smoking-hot boyfriend keeps trying to convince her that she hasn’t crossed over to the dark side, but Ruby isn’t so sure. It doesn’t help that her nemesis, Detective “Mastermind” Martinez, is still out there, waiting for another chance to take her down.
When an alleged CIA agent named Skryker shows up and asks for a meeting, Ruby figures it just means more questions about her case. But he has information of an entirely different nature and a job offer: join an elite force of young assassins, including Skryker’s right-hand guy, Quinn Donovan. Quinn is distractingly charming, handsome—and deadly. Ruby resists becoming a killer again, but as she becomes more ensnared in a web of deceit, no one around her is safe.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Chasing Paper

I have long wondered about removable wallpaper. For people who move a lot, a la me, it seems like a great solution to boring walls. But does it work? Does it cost a fortune? And can it possibly be cute?

I've seen some okay-looking stuff in the past, but I stumbled across Chasing Paper the other day and my interest is definitely piqued. One panel costs $30, which isn't cheap, but I figure you could do a focal or partial wall in a kid's room and make a big impact. It's got to be less work than painting and re-painting! And these are by far the cutest patterns I've seen yet.

This paper would be sooo cute in Jack's wilderness-themed room.

And the stars would go with Will's celestial bedding. Love!

And of course the bookshelves are for me.

And finally, I am obsessed with the antlers

There are adorable bikes, some really fun botanicals, and a few geometric prints I could totally see in my sister's apartment. What do you think? Would you give removable wallpaper a shot?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: LEGO On-The-Go

I shared this post on my FS blog because I think the project is great for families who travel, but some of my mom friends might enjoy it too! If you have a little traveler who loves LEGO, please stop by and check it out.

I've declared tonight Pizza and Wizard of Oz night in our house because Jack is obsessed with tornados after the warning on Wednesday (how weird was that?) and also because I don't feel like cooking. I hope everyone has a wonderful fall weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Llamas!

I haven't done one of my "compilation of cute things I want" posts in a while, so I thought it was about time I share my latest obsession. Just as pre-Russia I was all about the onion domes, these days I'm getting in the mood for Peru with items featuring my favorite fluffy South American quadrupeds (okay, okay, alpacas and chinchillas are up there, too).

For some reason, Modcloth has a plethora of llama items, but these two in particular caught my eye:

Who doesn't need a llama scarf, I ask you? Or a llama pendant, like this one from UnforgettableJules?

Nice Things has the CUTEST llama stuff, like these bags:

Plus this llama dress. I'd wear this whole outfit:

Even J. Crew loves llamas (and really, whats not to love?):

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Writing Wednesdays: What I Love (And Hate) About Revising

So Pitch Wars is in three weeks, and I've been revising my butt off ever since I got editorial notes from my fabulous mentor, Jessie Humphries (Jessie's second novel comes out on October 28, so everyone go congratulate her! And if you live near Vegas, she's having an amazing launch party on the 18th - I wish I could go!). Jessie's notes were great - she loved the novel overall but had a few complaints/suggestions that I kind of already knew I needed to work on. This was the kick in the pants that finally convinced me to make those changes.

I'm not gonna lie, it was rough these past couple weeks. Jack is only in school from 9-1, and with all the Jewish holidays in the fall he's been home A LOT. Plus I've got Will 24/7, John working full-time, and there was that trip to Disney World in the middle of it all. Fortunately John gave me at least an hour every evening last week to work, and I devoted all of Monday (like 8 hours) to finishing. And I'm happy to say, it's done! Well, at least for now. Hopefully Jessie likes the changes and I don't have too much more to do before the deadline on November 1.

A few novels back, I hated revising. In fact, the first few novels I wrote were probably shelved prematurely because I didn't really know how to revise. Then I joined Peggy Eddleman's revision group back in 2011 (!) and learned to embrace the process. After that, I've spent at least six months revising every novel I write. Considering it usually takes two or three months to write the first draft, that's a lot of time spent revising. But now I kind of love seeing my novels improve and develop during the process. I rely on notes from my betas and beloved CP, plus taking some time away from the novel and re-reading it usually brings a lot into focus. And now I have my wonderful writer's group, Pronouns Matter, to give me even more insight. I love that we all write different genres - the feedback is so helpful.

What don't I love about revising? Well, it's time consuming, for one thing. You don't get that same first-draft high where you're just getting all your ideas down on paper. I did a round of revisions for an agent this summer that focused on the writing itself, but most of Jessie's changes were plot-related. And changing one plot thread can have repercussions throughout the manuscript you might not even realize at first.

But despite the tedious nature of the whole thing, I'm happy with how this revision turned out, and I know my manuscript is better for it. Here's hoping all the hard work pays off!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Disney Do's and Don'ts

Last weekend we took our first family trip to Disney World! I originally planned the trip around my first post-baby race (I ran the Marine Corps Marathon when Jack was 10 months, but I knew I'd never have enough time to train for a marathon with two kids and no husband for most of the summer). My bestie Lauren is a huge Disney fan and does many of the Disney races, so I asked her which was her favorite. She immediately said the Tower of Terror Ten-Miler was the best, so way back in February when I was still pregnant with Will, I signed up with Lauren and Sarah. 

As the race got closer and we realized John couldn't take time off during training, I started to freak out. How were we going to do Disney World between Friday night and Sunday night? My only point of reference was Disneyland, which I grew up near and visited frequently. But I knew Disney World was a different ballgame. We couldn't just drive an hour and spend the day there. Fortunately I had Lauren as my Disney spirit guide, because it turns out DW is complicated! Magic Bands, Magical Express, Fast Pass... I'd never heard of any of these things. And frankly some of it wasn't all that magical. But for the most part, we had a fabulous weekend, thanks to careful planning, Lauren, and a little luck. Here are my Disney Do's and Don'ts (to be taken with a grain of salt, as always!).

First, the Don'ts:

1) DON'T start your journey in the evening. All that careful planning I did? Down the drain when our flight was delayed nearly four hours. We should have arrived around 8 pm. Instead it was almost midnight. The worst of it was John took a separate flight out of Reagan while Sarah and the kids and I flew out of Dulles. Since John couldn't get off work early, we figured it would be best if we got a head start so the kids wouldn't be exhausted. Guess who got there two hours before we did? Ugh. We drove an hour, paid to park at the airport, and spent FOUR HOURS in the worst terminal (Dunkin and Subway - those were our food options) with a bunch of other families all waiting to get to DW while John literally went from door to gate in 20 minutes, spent an hour at the airport, and only had himself and a single carry-on to worry about. FML.

Hey, at least no one vomited on this trip.

2) DON'T stay off Disney property if you can help it. Don't get me wrong - the Port Orleans Riverside was beautiful and our room was actually quite spacious for $200 a night. There was even a little Murphy bed for Jack to sleep on (which was great except for the fact that he fell out of it. Twice. I learned my lesson and used some rolled up towels as bolsters the second night and things went much better.). But it took at least 45 minutes to get to the park, which was 45 minutes I really didn't want to waste. Lauren's friend Megan put it bluntly (and correctly): nothing is quick at Disney World. Sigh.

Wandering. Slowly.

3) DON'T get a late start. We couldn't really help it our first morning. We were all exhausted and breakfast took a while, plus we had to trade in our military passes for actual tickets. That was a serious process. So, if you can do it, get to the park by 9. Even getting there at 11 we got on a bunch of rides quickly, which was great. But if we'd been on time? It would have been even better.

DON'T expect to eat healthy at DW either. At least John found this paleo-friendly treat.

4) DON'T take a two-year-old to DW. I learned this by watching countless toddler meltdowns over the weekend. Jack was the perfect age for a first trip to DW, but anywhere between a year and four years looks like a recipe for disaster. I guess Jack won't be going again until Will is four!

DO buy matching shirts! It's so fun!
5) DON'T expect to do everything in two days. I think four days would have been perfect. Two days was enough for the Magic Kingdom, fortunately. We didn't get on everything, but we did enough. And frankly I couldn't have handled two more days. See DON'T #6.

Jack on his first roller coaster ever!

6) DON'T try to run ten miles after no sleep and walking around DW all damn day. Okay, so the race was a blast. Lauren is the most fun to run with and her energy carried me through an 11 pm race start, ten miles, a massive post-race ice cream sundae, and a ride on probably my favorite roller coaster ever: the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. But getting to bed at 3 am when you have to get up at 7 with an infant and then spend the entire day at DW again? I'm not sure I'll ever recover.

Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Cheshire Cat. Fabulous tutus by Lauren's mom, Jan.

My tail may have been the best part.

7) DON'T expect too much from your kids. DW is amazing. It really is the most magical place. But I'm not sure I still view it as the happiest. There is so much to see and do, so many expectations, so much walking. At the end of the trip, I tried to get Jack to tell me his favorite things about DW. All he could focus on was getting home to play Legos and how his neck hurt from one of the rides. I know he had a good time. But was it The Best Trip Ever? I guess time will tell on that one.

Jack recovering from whiplash with Donald.

And now for the Do's (Yes, I did do a few things right!):

1) DO go in October. We got soooo lucky with weather! It was a little hot and humid the first day, but not too bad. And Sunday was beautiful. It was actually chilly after the race! I honestly can't imagine going in summer.

Ahhhh, perfect!

2) DO get military passes if at all feasible. We spent $177 on a four-day park-hopper ticket. Sadly we only got to use two days, but they're good for six months (I doubt we'll make it back, but you never know) and they were still cheaper than regular admission for two days. You can buy up to six tickets with a single military ID, so Sarah was able to take advantage of the price too. 

Riding the elephants.

3) DO bring a friend (especially one who knows Disney like the back of her hand), grandparents, something. If John and I had been on our own with Jack and Will, we would have only been able to go on one or two rides together. Will did get to go on the Jungle Cruise and could have gone on a couple other smaller rides, like Small World, but for the most part he stayed in the stroller with an adult. Lauren, her amazing parents, and Sarah all watched Will for us so we were able to go on a few rides together with Jack. Score!

Post-Splash Mountain with Shasha.

My spirit guide and best friend. And my fat, fat baby.

4) DO get the proper stroller. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, we had a Snap n' Go and a jogger. Neither was going to do the job for DW. Jack rarely uses a stroller anymore, but I knew he wouldn't be able to handle walking all over DW for two days. So I found a good-as-new Sit n' Stand on Craigslist for $50. It was worth every penny.

5) DO take advantage of Fast Pass. What a marvel! The longest we waited for a ride was one hour, sans Fast Pass. With Fast Pass we waited twenty minutes tops. We had six hours at the park the first day and rode the Tea Cups, Barnstormer, Dumbo, the Little Mermaid, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the carousel. Day two was also six hours, and John and Jack rode Space Tours twice before we met them at the Magic Kingdom. We got on the Jungle Cruise, Tea Cups and the carousel again, Small World, Thunder Mountain, The Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, and the Mine Train. All in all I'd say we did pretty well considering.

Everyone loves The Little Mermaid. Especially Lauren.

6) DO run a Disney race if you can. The race was so well supported, everyone was in costume, and the medal is fabulous. Just maybe consider taking it easy the day of the race if possible. And probably don't wear flip flops all day beforehand. And watch out for low-lying branches if you're wearing bunny ears.

My awesome medal. The elevator moves!

And it glows in the dark!

She was this peppy the entire 10 miles. That was the extent of my pep right there.
7) DO try to see everything through your child's eyes. I did my best to ignore the ceiling tiles on Small World and the fact that Ariel looked super weird; when I was a kid, Disney was REAL. There were fleeting moments where I had that feeling again, but for Jack's sake, I pretended it was all as real as I hope it was for him. I also tried not to think about money. Fortunately with the Magic Bands, which you can link to a credit card and tap on Mickey's ears, it's easier to pretend you didn't just spend $4 on a churro. 

That look right there? Priceless.
For us, this was possibly our last opportunity to visit a Disney park for quite a while. I wanted Jack to have the time of his life. I wanted John and I to cooperate and for everyone to feel satisfied at the end of the trip. I wanted to enjoy the race and for Sarah and Jack to get some awesome aunt-nephew bonding time. I wanted to avoid meltdowns as much as possible. And considering each kid cried once the entire weekend, I'd say we did pretty darn well. If you're planning your own Disney vacation, I hope these tips help a little! 

I  had to force Jack to get ears, but it was worth it for this picture!