Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

A little reminder that you don't have to wait for January 1st to make a resolution...

Sort of perfect for a writer, don't you think? Happy New Year everyone.  See you in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Vacation: Part One

It's hard to believe our time here in the US is already half over. I'm still reeling from our harrowing trek across the globe, wherein Jack slept a total of 1.5 hours during the course of our 10 hour flight from Frankfurt to Denver. (There was also a brief 30 minute nap during our first layover. Yippee!)

Since arriving in Billings, we've been a busy group, sleeping far less than I would have liked, thanks in part to Jack's terrible cough that kept us up the first few nights of the trip. It's gotten better, fortunately, and sleeping in the same room with him hasn't been as terrible as I thought it would be. For the record, his little blow-up mattress from The Shrunks has worked out great, especially considering this was our first stint with a big boy bed. I highly recommend it to other traveling families out there.

Reunited with my twinny!

Because we're us, a family gathering is never without its moments of humiliation, stress, and utter terror. The highlight for me was on Christmas Eve when Jack tripped on a carpet and sliced his eyelid open on a metal bar stool. John and his mom had just arrived from the airport when all of this transpired, so I can only imagine what Patti thought when she opened the door to find Jack shrieking in pain, me nearly passed out in an armchair (the moment I saw the blood seeping out of his wound I naturally concluded that Jack was permanently blind in his left eye. At least he would have had his grandpa to show him the ropes of one-eyed living), and everyone else arguing about whether or not it was worth the struggle to get ice on Jack's eyeball.

We conned Jack into this photo by telling him Santa was outside. Photo by Sarah Joseph, the Liar.

Fortunately, Jack's eye is fine, I recovered from my swoon with a glass of orange juice, and there were plenty more mini-crises to replace the memory of that one. Christmas day was awesome, however. Jack is obsessed with his train set. Too bad I can't get it back to Russia, because I'm an idiot and didn't check the oversize baggage cost to a foreign country (we could buy two more train sets for the price of getting this one home; sadly, we still wouldn't be able to get them to Russia). John's current solution involves sawing this one in half and "taping it back together" when we get home. For some reason, I'm a little skeptical about all of this... We also had an epic sledding adventure that nearly culminated in the decapitation of my mother-in-law. I'm happy to say everyone managed to retain their heads.

Grampoopa sporting his new Russian headgear.

We've also taken two awesome mini-trips since we got here. Sarah and I drove two hours to Bozeman on Thursday with several goals: to sit in on a National Geographic writer reading and recording his article for the iPhone app (just one of the many cool parts of Sarah's job), to visit with our college friend Jaime, and to see The Hobbit, the one film I resolved to see on the big screen (without Russian dubbing, thanks). Sadly, the movie was sold out, but in the end we got to spend the entire afternoon with Jaime, catching up and reminiscing about old times (Jaime was with me the second time I hung out with John, at a Halloween party in Davis where Sarah, Jaime, and I went as Charlie's Angels). The whole day was perfect, even if I spent the entire two hours driving home terrified I was going to be attacked by another suicidal deer.

Sarah, Jaime, Mara, aka Charlie's Angels. You can totally see it, right?

Yesterday we took a day trip out to Cody, Wyoming, where my dad is going to be working in a few months. Sarah and I got to explore the town a bit and meet just a few of the many characters I suspect are living in Cody. My parents should fit in perfectly there! Then we all screamed at my dad on the drive home, because his driving is terrifying and it's way easier to complain than drive ourselves.

Which brings us to today. John and my dad are going skiing, my mom is clearing out the pantry since they leave tomorrow to drive back to Washington, Sarah and I are currently arguing about who gets to use the Internet (It's just like old times! Hey, at least it's not dial-up anymore), and Jack is, well, being Jack.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

But there is good news that comes out of all this, at least if you live in Washington D.C. and actually kind of like me. John and I have decided to change our itinerary, so now instead of spending three more days in Montana and another two in Frankfurt, we're going to be in D.C. from Wednesday night to Sunday night! (Lauren, I envision you screaming with joy right now - I expect you to tell me that's what happened regardless.) I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday!

Happy New Year from the nuthouse!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Going Home

Okay, I admit I've been a total slacker at blogging this week. Yesterday was our big holiday party at work, which I coordinated, so I was busy with that, and tomorrow we leave for the states! I can't believe I get to spend two whole weeks in the USA. It's going to be awesome (although I'm already dreading coming back). I can't wait to see my family, eat my favorite foods, and thaw. Slightly. Sort of wishing my parents' house wasn't in Montana right about now.

For the next couple weeks, I'm going to be working on revising my novel for the Pitch Wars alternates showcase. We get our first page and a 35-word pitch posted for the agents to see, the same as the winners, but there's no guarantee the agents will look at ours; plus we don't get mentors, which is a major advantage for obvious reasons. Aside from that, I'll be attempting to relax (not my strong suit) and catching up with Sarah, even though we talk every day anyway. Seriously, I can't wait to see my sister. It's worth the heinous flying schedule. I think.

This year, Jackie didn't get to meet "Santa," but he did get to meet Ded Moroz, aka Father Frost, aka Russian Santa. Actually, it was our IT guy, Carlos, dressed up as Russian Santa, which was pretty awesome.

Jack asked for a "hairplane" repeatedly because the kid in front of him got an airplane. Never mind that someone had just given him that little military truck on the floor for his birthday and he got a giant box of chocolate from Ded Moroz. In his defense, he was the only American kid there and Snegurochka, aka the Snow Maiden, aka Ded Moroz's granddaughter, performed for an hour and Jack (and I) had no idea what was going on. Still, we need to work on this kid's manners. Good thing Auntie Jennifer will be around to school him next week.

I'm not sure what my blogging schedule will be, but just in case, MERRY CHRISTMAS! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Lucky Ones

For weeks now, I've been planning on writing a blog post about Jack's third birthday, which is tomorrow, December 18th. As far as mommy posts go, this one was going to be a no-brainer. I was going to reminisce about the past year and how much our boy has grown and learned, and tell him all the things I hope for during his next year of life and beyond (starting with potty training and ending with things like a family of his own). But how can I write a post like that without thinking about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday? At the same time, how can I even attempt to write about it, when I can't possibly fathom what all of those families are going through right now?

Part of me wants to avoid it - it almost seems wrong to read the constant stream of articles and blog posts. But today when I went online, there they all were, front and center, heartbreaking and unavoidable. A list of the victims' names, twenty of them with a "6" or "7" next to them. I knew the children were all between the ages of 5 and 10, but there was something about seeing those single digit numbers next to each name. I was grateful that the pictures didn't load. I didn't want to see their faces.

Like all parents, I've been holding my child a little tighter these past few days, getting in extra snuggles despite Jack's protests, thanking the universe that my family is safe. Tomorrow, Jack will open his birthday presents and eat his homemade birthday cake. This weekend, he'll be adored by his grandparents and aunts and uncle, showered with praise and Christmas gifts, hugged and kissed by humans and dogs alike. He won't know how lucky he is; he'll take these things for granted, because he's three and the world revolves around him. Just as it should.

Earlier today, John and I were discussing how we could help the families of the victims. John felt like money wasn't enough, and of course it isn't. How could it possibly be? But there will be funerals to pay for, children of the adult victims who will need money for college, long-term therapy for the children who witnessed the attack. The fact that I don't have to worry about those things is easy to take for granted, especially during the holidays when my mind is focused on trivial things like flight connections and buying the right gifts. Now, it's hard not to think about all the gifts that will remain unopened this year in Newtown.

"We're so lucky," John said to me this morning. Just now, when I told him I was struggling with this blog post, he told me I didn't have to write anything. And I know that there are far more eloquent posts about this out there. But one day, when Jack is grown and has a family of his own, I hope he'll look back at this entry and know how loved he was, and understand a little of what the word "lucky" means to a parent.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Slighty Belated (Good-ish) News

I missed Writing Wednesday because we had company last night, and Thursday is quickly getting away from me! But I'm very happy to say that I was chosen by two mentors as alternates in Pitch Wars, which isn't exactly winning, but is still pretty cool. I didn't even realize one of the mentors had chosen me as an alternate because I didn't pitch to her (we could pick three of the 31 mentors to send our query and first 5 pages to), but then I realized my name was listed twice!

It's a little disappointing to know I got soooo close to being chosen, but I'm so grateful to have made it this far. And the lovely Brenda Drake, who organized the contest, is even setting up a little side contest for the alternates, so the agents will get to look at our stuff too if they want. Considering I haven't tested out the query for this book on too many people yet, I'm amazed it stood out from over 2,000 entries. Now I'm excited to polish my manuscript over the next month before the agent round. Here's the query for REINVENTING DOROTHY WEIL in case you're curious:

16-year-old Dorothy Weil knows there’s something worse than being seen as a loser: not being seen at all. Her social anxiety makes it nearly impossible to make friends, and even her parents barely seem to register her existence. Everyone’s so focused on her father’s career as a renowned anthropology professor they don’t even bother to ask her opinion when he decides to take a six-month sabbatical in London. But when Dorothy’s therapist suggests that she use the opportunity to reinvent herself, something inside of Dorothy clicks.
In London, Dorothy introduces herself as Kenzie, the name of the most popular girl in school back home. And somehow, pretending to be Kenzie allows Dorothy to become the person she’s always wanted to be: popular, funny, outgoing. Then Dorothy’s father decides to tutor a freshman at the university, Jonathon North, and it’s as if he can see right through Kenzie’s shiny exterior to the dull girl underneath. Even worse, Dorothy finds herself caring what Jonathon thinks of her. When Dorothy’s father discovers his daughter is caught in the middle of a violent protest, he sends Jonathon to rescue her. But when the tables turn and Dorothy ends up saving Jonathon, she unintentionally exposes her true self in the process.
As Dorothy’s feelings for Jonathon grow, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up her charade as Kenzie. Now she must choose between the good opinion of everyone she’s worked so hard to fool and the one opinion that really matters: her own.

Thanks so much to Monica and Cupid for picking me to be on your team! I can't wait to read all the awesome entries in the agent round!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Impossible Shot

Just now, as I was pondering what to blog about this Mommy Monday, Jack crawled into my lap and said, "I love you Mommy." (He's been saying this a lot lately, to my utter delight. Hey, he just said it again! This never gets old.) I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice to post some adorable photos of my beautiful little boy and me? Yes, yes it WOULD be nice, I thought back to myself. So I went in search of said adorable photos.

I realized very quickly that photos of Jack and me are not easy to come by, and you know why? Because I take all the pictures in this family! And on the rare occasion I prod John into taking one, or he randomly decides to take one on his own, it comes out looking like this:

Or this:

Not ready
 Or this:

Blurry and unflattering

 Or this:

Just kidding :)

This shouldn't be difficult. We're not talking about a great white mid-kill. Or a snow leopard in its natural habitat. Or the freaking Loch Ness monster. It's a mom with her kid, for goodness' sake. We're both relatively photogenic-ish (despite what these photos have led you to believe). But somehow, this shot is as elusive to John as Moby was to Ahab. Perhaps it's just because he's not trying that hard. Maybe this post will reveal in terrible, glaring detail how bad the situation really is...

But I'm not holding my breath. For now you'll just have to take my word for it that Jack and I not only exist in the same eight square feet every now and then - he actually kind of loves me, too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Don't Drink the Water

John is home and it's Friday night, and I'm happy as a clam. Oh, and here's my latest Most Eligible Family post.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Things I Love Thursday: Society6 and Vintage Tea Party

I can't take credit for one of this week's Things I Love. If you're not already following Laini Taylor's blog (or reading her AMAZING books), high thee hence. She's the one who pointed me in the direction of Society6, which is basically a way to get tees and sweatshirts and pillowcases (!) screenprinted with all kinds of awesome images. I think this one is my fave, but then, I only looked through about twenty of the hundreds of pictures.

I also randomly stumbled upon the adorable Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree. I don't need to see anything beyond the cover to know it's fabulous:

But you can go to the equally squee-worthy Foxtail and Fern to see some images from the inside if you need more convincing. If you're planning a tea party, or even if you just love 1950s retro chic, check it out. Angel's company, Vintage Patisserie, is also totally adorbs. Angel is just the inspiration I need for one of my novels, which I have just decided to make YA instead of Women's Fiction (yes, yes, Sarah, I know you suggested this months ago). Think a vintage mint-green trailer, an old diner, and "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Knowing Your Audience

I sometimes wonder if I have what it takes to write for teenagers. Not because I don't remember what it was like to be one, or because I don't like teenagers, but because I'm not sure how well I really know my audience.

I like to think of myself as being relatively "with it" (although I have a sinking suspicion that using terms like "with it" doesn't exactly up my cool factor. "Cool factor" probably doesn't help either.). I listen to popular music, dress decently, and am very in touch with who I was as a teenager (I remember some things from high school better than I remember what I ate for lunch yesterday). But over the past couple of weeks, when I had the opportunity to work with teenagers on two separate occasions, I felt like I was back in high school myself, and it was not a pleasant feeling.

Last week I led a book club discussion of The Outsiders. I went into things fairly hopeful. I write for teens, I told myself. Half the novels I read are written for teenagers. I got this. Falling on my ass on the way there didn't help my confidence, but I managed to pull myself together. I was there fifteen minutes early; plenty of time to catch my breath, take off my eighteen layers of clothing, and steel myself for the next hour. But when I walked in and headed for the table where I would set my purse, I had the odd sensation I was being watched. I looked up to find seven pairs of unblinking teenage eyes trained on me.

A second later, I dropped my gloves on the ground. Two minutes later, there went my hat. I was sweating profusely. I was a walking disaster.

But I plowed steadily onward, because if there's one thing I do know, it's that teens, like hyenas, can smell fear.

Maybe it was because these teens were Russian and didn't understand me. Maybe I'm just not nearly as interesting as I'd like to believe I am. Or maybe these kids were all just sullen and self-absorbed (I know I was guilty of being both of those things as a teenager. I can see you nodding, Mom). Whatever the explanation, I spent the next hour prying words out of these kids like a dentist pulling teeth without anesthesia. You would have thought the girls in the back row were being tortured by the looks on their faces. I tried to be funny and relatable. I showed clips of the 80s-fabulous movie version of the book. I told witty anecdotes. I gesticulated, because gesticulation always helps!

Then a button went flying off the sleeve of my Target dress, and I'm pretty sure that's when I lost any scrap of credibility I had left.

I finished the discussion and walked home defeated. Who was I kidding? I didn't "get" teenagers when I was one myself. I assigned them their essays, which I promised to read and critique, because at this point I just wanted these darn kids to learn something. A week later, a whopping six essays came in out of the dozen or so kids in the class. I read. I hacked and slashed with the little red "track changes" line. I told them what they'd done well and what they needed to work on. I edited my butt off, because that's what I do.

Yesterday, I received a single reply. "Thak you for all!" it said. Today, I'm clinging to that sentence - misspellings, bad grammar, and all - like a hard-won compliment from a high school crush. Maybe this student was just trying to kiss my ass, but the email reminded me of something.

I'm not trying to reach every teenager out there with my writing. I'm trying to reach anyone I can. And if I manage to succeed in that, maybe I do know my audience after all. Thak you, indeed.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: After Shock

I forgot to post this on Friday, but here's my most recent Most Eligible Family post (in which the bloom is off the rose). Hope everyone had/is having a great weekend.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Cute Christmas Gifts

Whilst searching for inspiration for this year's batch of felt ornaments, I stumbled across these adorable items on Etsy. They were too cute not to share.

Ursus the Astrologer Polar Bear from sweetbestiary

Rubber Ice Cream Stamps from MemiTheRainbow

Winter Terrarium Ring from HoKiou

Secret Hollow Locket from StrangelyYours
And my friend Courtney told me about these adorable animal prints from The Animal Print Shop by Sharon Montrose. If you're decorating a nursery, how cute would these be?

Baby Deer by Sharon Montrose at The Animal Print Shop

Kitten with Feather by Sharon Montrose at The Animal Print Shop


Monday, November 26, 2012

Mommy Mondays: A Rant, if I May

Last night just got added to my list of top ten worst parenting moments ever. A good half of them revolve around air travel, and this was no exception. See, we went to Paris for Thanksgiving, and the only flight back to Yekaterinburg from Frankfurt takes off at 8:30 pm. It's a 4.5 hour flight. I'll do the math for you - we arrived at 1:00 am Paris/Frankfurt time, which is 6 am Yekat time. It's bad, people. Just bad. Jack fell asleep (as usual) about an hour before landing, after crying and whining and being a general pain in the ass for the three hours prior. Then he woke up while we were landing and shrieked like a banshee - a combo of ear pain from a cold and just being plain old tired and pissed off. I didn't blame him, but I'm pretty sure the other 100 or so passengers did.

In the face of doing this all again in three weeks, only to a far worse extent (5 hour flight, followed by 2.5 hour layover, followed by 10 hour flight, followed by 2 hour layover, followed by 2 hour flight), I've come to realize that what is truly so horrible about air travel with a small child is not the child itself; it's the constant fear that I'm pissing off the people around me. But here's the thing: no amount of cajoling, yelling, bargaining, pleading, bribing or sobbing helplessly seems to make a difference when it comes to Jack. Yes, I was once one of those judgmental people who watched dazed parents sit idly by while their child had a tantrum mid-flight. "Why don't they DO something?" I would hiss to John, who would nod in agreement that when we were parents, we'd at least smack our kids around a little if they insisted on behaving like monsters. (I kid, I kid. Mostly). Hindsight, my friends. Hindsight.

The worst part is that there are other PARENTS out there who are just as awful and judgmental as the non-parents. Google "ways to help toddler sleep on airplane" (not that I've done this or anything) and you'll find all kinds of parenting message boards where one poor dope asks the question, clearly hoping for some magical solution like Benadryl, and is then bombarded with stories from mothers who have traveled around the world non-stop for eight days, who when not nursing their twin three-year-olds - who of course sleep for 24 hours straight - are entertaining their precious children with handmade puppets and educational flashcards or feeding them snacks of raw granola and fresh squeezed carrot juice. How dare you even think of drugging your child! The horror!

Let me tell you something - the only reason NOT to drug your child on a plane is that it may have the cruelly ironic side effect of making your child hyperactive. Trust me, I've tried it. And Jack is either one of those kids that responds poorly to Benadryl, or he's just freaking hyperactive when it comes to airplanes. (Considering I give him allergy meds on a semi-regular basis for actual allergies, and he usually sleeps like a log, I'm leaning toward the latter).

So what is a Foreign Service parent (or any parent who has to travel with their child every now and then on a flight longer than two hours) supposed to do? I'll tell you what THIS Foreign Service parent is going to do: make like all those glassy-eyed, frazzle-haired parents I used to judge and not do a damn thing. The other passengers may hate me for it, but I'm pretty sure my blood pressure - and John - will thank me in the end.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Just so you all don't think I've fallen off the planet entirely (at least those of you who are not friends with me on Facebook), I wanted to post a quick update before I head off to Paris for Thanksgiving. I know, I know - it's a tough life I lead. Seriously though, I'm beyond ready for a break from Russia. No snow for a few day will be a nice change, especially since I'll be in Montana for Christmas. Plus I get to see some of my family members who I don't get to see nearly often enough. And it's freaking Paris! How could I not be excited?

Writing has been awesome this month. I finished the rough draft of my new YA Contemporary on Sunday and I'm really excited to dig into revisions next week. Then it's off to a few betas (a nice mix of tough love and cheerleading, both of which I need in equal measure). I wasn't sure I'd be able to get this sucker written in three weeks, but despite work, working out, having a toddler - to include multiple major potty training fails - I made it work. My expectations are low, but it's nice to be reminded why I put myself through the tortuous submission process: because I LOVE to write. I'm grateful for so many things this year, everything from water filters to my job to the fact that I found my passion in life (it's writing, in case I didn't make that clear). Life is good. Cold, oftentimes awkward, and generally inconvenient, but good.

I also made a fake cover for the heck of it (since the NaNo website has a spot for one and it was killing me to see a blank box just sitting there). I took this photo from Office clipart, played around with it on PicMonkey, and voila!

It's not perfect, but I was limited in dimensions by NaNo and I wanted to fit in the title and as much of the girl's face as possible. Considering she's some random model, the photo was kind of perfect for a book about a girl who pretends to be someone else. She even looks the way I envisioned my MC, so yay! Making fake book covers is such a fun way to procrastinate...

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Halfway There

I interrupt this month off of blogging to give you a little update. November is half over as of today, and guess what? I already met my NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words! Woohoo! The novel itself will probably be close to 60k total, and I have until I leave for Paris next Wednesday to finish writing and do a quick round of revisions. So, since I actually started writing this novel on October 28th, and I got to 50,000 yesterday, I have been writing an average of 3,000 words a day. I write approximately 1,000 words an hour, which means I've somehow managed to find three hours a day to write.

How, you ask? Well, I've been getting up early every day and staying up late, for one thing. Some mornings I write from 6-7:30, others I get my run in early and then try to stay at work late to make up for it. Some evenings I write from 8:00 (after Jack goes to bed) until 10:00, when John forces me to stop. On the weekends I've managed to write during Jack's naps, and thankfully John has given me a few hours here and there too. All in all, it's been a busy couple of weeks, but I'm really enjoying writing again. And it also makes me realize how much time I saved by cutting out the blogging.

I know some of you are missing the Jack updates, but fortunately I don't have anything too funny to share with you (potty training stories aside - you know how John feels about those). I did, however, take a few minutes to make this little collage, featuring Jack and a slice of chocolate cake. I think he devoured it in about two minutes. Maybe less.

May you all have a week filled with this much joy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Inspiration Tuesday: Do it for Bob

Okay, so "Inspiration Tuesday" doesn't really work with my alliteration theme. But I came across this inspirational letter in my NaNoWriMo inbox (yes, it's worth checking!) and I wanted to share it in case you haven't seen it or you're not doing NaNo. Hopefully I don't get in trouble for stealing it!

This letter comes from Kate DiCamillo, the author of The Tale of Despereaux (Newbery Medal), Because of Winn-Dixie (Newbery Honor), and The Tiger Rising (National Book Award finalist).

Dear Writer,
When I was 30 years old, I moved to Minneapolis and got a job in a book warehouse. My official job title was "Picker." This meant that I went around the third floor of the warehouse holding a computerized print order in one hand and pulling books off the shelf with the other hand. I put all the books into a grocery cart and I took the grocery cart and wheeled it into an ancient, crabby freight elevator and went downstairs to deliver the order to the shipping department. Then I took the stairs back up to the third floor and started over again.
It wasn't a challenging job. It didn't pay much. I was on my feet all day long. My back hurt. My hands hurt. But I was happy. I was surrounded by books and by people who loved to read them. Also, for the first time in my life, I was writing.
I got up every morning before work (the alarm was set for 4:30) and wrote two pages before I went into the warehouse. And then, when I arrived at work at 7:00 to punch the time clock, I received my daily so-you-want-to-be-a-writer pep talk from a coworker.
Let's call him Bob. (Even though his real name is Gary).
Bob wanted to be a writer, too. But he wasn't writing. Every morning we had the same exchange.
Bob: "How did the writing go?"
Me: "Fine."
Bob: "How many pages did you write?"
Me: "Two."
Bob: "Do you think Dickens wrote two pages a day?"
Me: "I don't know how many pages Dickens wrote a day."
Bob: "Yeah, well let me tell you something, you're no Dickens. So what's Plan B, babe? What's Plan B for when the writing doesn't work out?"
For this question, I had no answer.
I turned my back on Bob, pulse pounding, fists clenched, and climbed the stairs to the third floor and started picking books.
When the alarm went off at 4:30 the next morning, I thought about Bob and that is part of the reason I got out of bed.
It is a truly excellent to have someone to believe in you and your ability to write.
But I think it is just as helpful to have people who don't believe in you, people who mock you, people who doubt you, people who enrage you. Fortunately, there is never a shortage of this type of person in the world.
So as you enter this month of writing, write for yourself. Write for the story. And write, also, for all of the people who doubt you. Write for all of those people who are not brave enough to try to do this grand and wondrous thing themselves. Let them motivate you.
In other words, do it for Bob!
Your friend in writing,
Kate DiCamillo

Thursday, November 1, 2012

So I Lied. Just a Little.

I wasn't supposed to blog in the month of November. And now look at me! I didn't even make it past November 1st. This does not bode well.

But see, I realized after I posted on Monday that I'd agreed to do a workshop over at Ink in the Book, which runs all the way to February. And then, my awesome revising peeps from NaNoRevMo last year decided to do it again this year, and even though I'm not really revising, I couldn't bear the idea of being left out. Most of the action will take place on our Facebook page, but I had to at least post my goals for the month. This way you can all hold me accountable. Yay!

My original goal was to finish my YA Urban Fantasy set in Russia by December. And I was doing good up until Saturday, when a shiny new idea showed up out of the blue and said, "HEY! You, with the eye bags, you don't have enough going on in your life. WRITE ME, B*TCH!" (What can I say, she's a bossy little idea.) So I started writing on Sunday, and today, 5 days later, I have 15,000 words. Now I have an official novel to enter into NaNoWriMo, and Russia Book is on the back burner for now. But at this rate, I plan to finish at least one of these novels by Thanksgiving, because I'm going to Paris for Turkey Day and I don't want to be stressing.

And just because I like the bossy little idea, I'll tell you a little bit about it. It's a YA Contemporary, something I swore I'd never write because I'm in love with all things fantasy at the moment. But you know what? It's refreshing to write a story I feel like I know, because I don't have to create an entire fantasy rule book in the process. My main character, Dorothy, is very familiar, and the plot has sort of written itself. The working title is "Reinventing Dorothy Weil," and it's about a girl who decides to deal with her severe social anxiety by pretending to be someone else.

I hope to be revising in December (assuming I stay on track and I can get my core betas to read quickly for me). In the meantime, I'll probably ask my NaNoRevMo friends to help out with my query and anything else revision-ready before the month is over.

So I'm sorry I lied to all of you. I'll try to be good and resist the blogging. But what can I say? It's kind of a habit.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Taking a Break

Like many, many writers in the month of November, I've decided to take the next month off of blogging. I've never done this before. I think the longest I've gone is a week when I was in the middle of moving. But considering I spend at least four hours blogging every week, and I'm now in the process of writing TWO novels (yeah, I added another one in there this weekend just for the hell of it), I decided I needed to set the blogging aside for the good of my writing.

I'm also going to be taking a little social media holiday while I'm at it (aside from Facebook - gotta stay in touch with people somehow!). But no reading other people's blogs, and no Twitter. For every hour I spend blogging, I probably spend at least another hour reading the blogs of all my writing buddies. If I'm going to write at least 50,000 words in November, I'm going to need all the writing time I can get! Yes, like every other writer out there, I've decided to do NaNo this year (for the first time ever). Fortunately, I know many of you are doing the same thing so you'll understand if you don't see my around the blogosphere!

(By the way, I reserve the right to check blogs occasionally if I'm meeting my goals, AND to write a blog post myself if there's something worth sharing!)

(Also, John is laughing at me for writing a blog post about how I'm not going to be writing any more blog posts. Sheesh.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: How to Make Time Fly

It's been a crazy week. Please stop by Most Eligible Family and read about it, if you're not too busy yourself! Happy Friday everyone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: On Letting Go

This post isn't part of the "Letting Go Blog Hop," but it is well timed I suppose. To keep it simple, I'm shelving my last manuscript (for now, anyway) to focus on the new project. This is always a really hard time for me - that point where you've received responses on all your requests (14 for this novel) and you have to accept the fact that something just isn't working. Maybe it isn't the right time for Friday, maybe the ms needs serious revisions, or maybe it simply isn't good enough - I'm not sure, to be honest. And I know some people would continue to query. My husband asked me yesterday if I would, because he's always believed in this project (god bless him) and I think it's hard for him to see me "give up." But personally, I'd much rather move on and enjoy writing again than feel stuck in this pattern of waiting, hoping, and ultimately being rejected. After I finish the new novel, I may go back and take another look at Friday, but I don't have the steam it would require to do a complete overhaul right now. I haven't given up on her, though. She's my favorite character I've ever written, and I do believe in her. Besides, I still want to find out what's going to happen in the sequel!

Maybe it's foolish to keep pursuing this writing thing. Maybe a smarter person would say it's time to let go of the big picture, not just this one novel. But as hard as it is to let go of a manuscript I've poured my heart, soul, and time into, it would be utterly impossible to let go of my dream. So, that being said, here I go again. Onward and upward!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Case of the Missing Coaster

Today I'm going to tell you a little story, part mystery, part psychological thriller, all highly disturbing. It involves a woman, her child, and a set of felt coasters. Consider yourself warned and proceed...if you dare.

When my mom and dad came to visit about a month and a half ago, they kindly purchased a set of lovely felt coasters from Zara Home for my house, since our HHE hadn't arrived yet and I was woefully coasterless. I loved those coasters. They were simple, to be sure, but they came in a lovely array of jewel tones, and there was a certain je ne sais quoi about them. They made a nice addition to my new home, and for a brief period of time, we lived together in coasterly harmony.

Then one day, a certain child who shall remain nameless decided to pluck one of these coasters from their resting place on the table beside the couch. I wasn't there to witness the abduction, but my mother later reported that the child had gone running out of the room waving the coaster in the air. It was a blue coaster, she claimed, my personal favorite. When the coaster hadn't materialized by the end of the day, I started to worry. I searched every conceivable spot, but it was to no avail. The coaster was lost.

For the next two or three days, we interrogated the child regarding the coaster's whereabouts. "Where's the blue coaster?" we would ask, holding another coaster aloft, hoping desperately that the child's memory would be triggered or that, like a bloodhound, he would pick up the scent and lead us to our quarry. But the child, feigning ignorance, was deaf to our pleas. Worse still, several days after we'd given up hope and reconciled ourselves to a life bereft of blue coasters, the child took to smiling sweetly at his mother and asking innocently, "Mommy, where's the blue coaster?"

A day or two before my parents were scheduled to return home, I was in my closet getting dressed when I noticed something round peeking out from underneath the shoe rack. It was a coaster, a lovely magenta, that I hadn't even realized was missing. Suddenly, I'm ashamed to admit, I started to doubt not only myself but my mother's story. Perhaps it wasn't the blue coaster that had gone missing. Perhaps, I said to my mother, she had been wrong all along. And now the doubt that had infected my own addled mind began to creep into hers. Maybe it hadn't been a blue coaster, she said doubtfully. It could have been magenta. It had all happened so fast, and she'd been distracted! What was happening? Where were we? Had we finally lost our minds!?

No, no, we told ourselves. We're fine. We're perfectly rational human beings who refuse to be bested by something so insignificant as a coaster. So we had five coasters now. Maybe that was all we were ever meant to have. Maybe the marketing geniuses at Zara Home had deliberately sold us a set of five coasters in order to entice us to purchase another set so that we'd have ten coasters and finally an even number! But life moves on. My parents left. I forced the issue from my mind, even though it pained me every time I opened the drawer and saw my set of FIVE coasters. How could something that had once brought me so much joy now be the cause of so much obsessive compulsive agony? The world may never know.

And then, just yesterday, I was once again in my closet when something small and round and burgundy lurking near the safe caught my eye. It was, as I'm sure you know, a coaster. I returned it gently to its home, meanwhile plotting just what I'd do to that child once I got my hands on him, and discovered that there were only three coasters left in the drawer. The heather gray coaster was also missing! In a state of panic, I returned to the closet and searched frantically near the safe, but there were no coasters to be found. I was losing hope (and my mind) when I saw a bit of gray from behind the full-length mirror. There was my gray coaster, waiting to be rescued.

What happened next was strange. It was as if I was being beckoned by some sort of felted tell-tale heart. I had looked behind the mirror before, of course, near the ground, but I had never thought to look UP behind the mirror. How silly of me! How utterly stupid! I looked up slowly, hopefully, and beheld a sight so glorious I nearly wept with joy. The blue coaster hung suspended in air as if by some dark magic. It had been there all along. I wasn't crazy! I WASN'T CRAZY!!!

 The End

Whew, that was harrowing just to write. I can't imagine what you must have been feeling as you read it. I realize it might be slightly traumatic for you, knowing that this ACTUALLY HAPPENED, but you should take comfort in the knowledge that the coasters are now far from pudgy, prying hands. Still, I should go check on my coasters, just in case. My preciouses... Yesssssss....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: My Commute

Today over on Most Eligible Family, I share a little bit of what my everyday life here in Russia is like. Please stop by if you have a moment. Happy Friday

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Dorothy Perkins

I JUST discovered the Dorothy Perkins website (thanks to Design*Sponge, which I also love), and I'm thrilled to have found what could very well be my new ModCloth. It has a ton of clothing and accessories, all at great prices. And since I'm in the process of expanding my work wardrobe (not only has it been nearly three years since I've bought work-appropriate clothing, but I also have to rethink everything in Russia; I'm wearing far more skirts and tights than I ever imagined I would, because tall boots are the only way to go with muddy streets), I think this could be just the ticket. Here are a few things I've got my eye on.

Such great details, and it's only $44!

Yes, those are tiny greyhounds!
How flattering does this look?
I never knew I needed a badger sweater, but apparently I do.
And Sarah needs a poodle sweater, clearly.

I did, however, know I needed a fox beanie.

Seriously though, I NEED these mittens.
Head on over and check it out! And if you already knew about Dorothy Perkins, shame on you for not telling me!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Next Big Thing

This bloghop has been making the rounds for a while now, and since I'm in the process of moving on from Friday but still only about 50 pages into the new book, I wasn't really sure what to do it for. BUT, Krista Van Dolzer over at Mother.Write.(Repeat) did it today (yesterday? I'm so confused by this time change) and it inspired me. So thanks Krista, and here we go!

What is your working title of your book?
Needle's Eye (I'm toying with a couple others, but that's it for now).

Where did the idea come from for the book?
When I found out we were moving to Russia back in February, I did some research on Russian folklore. The story of Koschei the Deathless caught my eye, and I already had this idea for a really creepy bad guy, so I incorporated the two. Not sure where my half-Japanese, half-Russian MC came from...

What genre does your book fall under?
YA Urban Fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For Akira, the MC, I have a couple different actresses in mind. One is Emily from Pretty Little Liars (Shay Mitchell, who is half-Filipino and half-Irish/Scottish apparently). There are also a couple of Japanese actresses who would fit the bill, including Meisa Kuroki, who is cute and kind of bad-ass at the same time (which I love).

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
I don't have a one sentence synopsis yet. You're getting the long version.

17-year-old Akira Tanaka has never belonged - not with her distant Japanese-American father, and certainly not with her Russian classmates. When the mysterious Dmitri appears, Akira finds herself wondering if she hasn't finally found someone who understands her. But just as she begins to open up, a series of violent murders rocks the city, and they bare an eery resemblance to a story her grandfather told her before he died, a story Akira always assumed was just a fairy tale. Now Akira isn't sure who to trust, and if she doesn't discover the killer soon, there's no telling who might be next.

Or something. I frigging hate synopses.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hopefully, by some miracle, an agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
It's not done. Here's the first paragraph (or two):

When Akira was very small, her grandfather told her stories of Koschei the Deathless.

She knew even then that the stories were meant to frighten her. They were the kinds of tales villagers told their children so they wouldn’t go wandering off into the woods, where wolves waited with steaming breath and yellow eyes, the Russian equivalent of “Little Red Riding Hood.” But just as there was nothing frightening about a wolf wearing a bonnet and bifocals, there was nothing frightening about Akira’s grandfather, and so Akira paid little attention to his stories.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
In my dreams, something along the lines of Daughter of Smoke and Bone crossed with Sucker Punch, with a little Shadow and Bone thrown in for good measure.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
See above.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?My MC practices kenjutsu, so I'm watching samurai videos for research. Did I mention I love research? And of course, since the book is set in Russia and I LIVE in Russia, I've got some cool Russian folklore, vocabulary, and anecdotes in there.
That's it! Pretty much everyone has already been tagged for this, so I'm just going to leave it open for anyone who wants to participate. All the rules and questions are up on Krista's blog. :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mommy Mondays: A Day at the Park

On Saturday, John, Jack, and I decided to venture forth to a large park we'd heard about from several different sources. We only had a few hours to spare, but the park is just a 30-minute walk from our apartment, and we wanted to take advantage of the decent weather while we could.

Mayakovskova Park on a chilly Saturday morning
You'd hardly think when you approach Mayakovskova Park that it's actually a fairly large amusement park. But beyond it's massive yellow entry gates and pathways flanked by bizarre statuary lies a strangely deserted Soviet-era version of Disneyland.

From the park's website:

Of course, the entry looks nothing like that drawing, but the park is pretty in its own weird way. John and I made our way toward the carousel, which on the park map actually looked like a real carousel (this would later turn out to be false advertising). As we walked, we encountered your typical teenage girls with neon-adorned ponies, waiting to give rides to children.

When not in use, small ponies make for lovely props.
And of course your standard horse-drawn carriage.

Sadly, the carousel itself was just a bunch of tiny creatures that didn't move up and down, but Jack seemed pleased enough with the whole operation. I should also note that every individual attraction at the park had to be paid for separately. And we had to pay for John to ride with Jack. Fortunately, it was about two dollars for both of them to go on each ride.

Jack later traded in his pony for a camel.
The highlight of the trip was the train, which clattered cheerfully around a circular track about four times. I couldn't figure out why all the children had their hands pressed over their ears until John reported that it was insanely loud, with the train shifting back and forth on the ancient rails. And to give the kids something to look at while riding this thrilling attraction, there were some lovely animal figures scattered around the lawn, everything from a bear to a hedgehog. Hell, there was even a giant parrot.

As we wandered through the park, taking in the broken-down tea cups and rusted roller coasters, John mentioned that it seemed like something out of a Stephen King novel. Kind of like a post-apocalyptic Disneyland, I added. There really was something very sad and abandoned feeling about it all, even though it grew increasingly crowded as the day wore on.

Back at the front of the park, we saw children riding around on motorized toys (this is apparently a thing here - you can also do it at the zoo). One lovely child was carrying a toy machine gun while he zipped around on his motorcycle, his paunchy middle-aged father and gorgeous stiletto-wearing mother strolling beside him.

Your stereotypical Russian family
We finally managed to coax Jack into the backpack with the promise of a balloon before heading home for lunch. All in all, it was a successful venture, and one that will likely be repeated in the coming months. It may not be the happiest place on earth, but hey, it's home.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: TGIF

In which I explain where the heck I was last Friday, and where I went to lunch today. Happy Friday all!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: One Kings Lane

In my never-ending quest for a cute but not ridiculously over-priced table cloth, I stumbled upon One Kings Lane earlier this week. Not only does it feature amazing deals on housewares, but it also has a page of vintage finds that are totally drool-worthy. Here are a few of the items that caught my eye today, and the people I think they'd be perfect for.

Pink Chinoiseries Slipper Chairs for Sarah

Beswick Sheepdog for Erin

Vintage animal plates for The Other Sarah

Turquoise lamps for Kimmy

Vintage poster for John

And of course, an amazing set of vintage children's books for me!

If you see something you like, don't delay! This stuff moves fast. The good news is, there's always something fabulous to take its place.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Incorporating a Foreign Language

The good news is I'm finally getting into my "Russia Book," as I've been calling it. The bad news is I have to choose between spending my few free writing hours blogging or writing fiction. Today, I'm choosing fiction.

BUT I had a link I wanted to share, because I found this article regarding incorporating a foreign language into a novel really helpful. See, the Russia Book is multi-cultural. My MC is a half-Japanese-American, half-Russian teenager who was raised by her Russian grandparents and her Japanese-American father. And because the novel is set in Russia, and because my MC practices kenjutsu (Japanese sword fighting, to generalize), I'm incorporating some Russian and some Japanese words.

Unfortunately, it's sometimes easier said than done. On the one hand, you don't want to put in a bunch of text without translating it, because that's just damned annoying. On the other hand, repeating everything in English is a pain in the butt. Fortunately, there are ways around these two crap options. But it takes skill to do it gracefully (just like everything else in this crazy writing world). If anyone has any thoughts on the subject, please share in the comments. In the meantime, happy writing!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Let the Potty Training Commence!

First off, can you believe this is my 300th post? I can't. But there it is. What HAVE I been rambling on about for so long? If you're still reading, thank you. If you're relatively new here, I appreciate the follow (and hopefully I've followed you too! Let me know if not). I recently went over 40,000 page views too, which is small potatoes in the blogging world, but I still never thought I'd hit that number, what with my humble beginnings of 12 page views a day. Anyway, here's to the next 300 posts!

As for the title of this post, I should probably explain that I'm not actually going to be doing the dirty work myself. Remember my plan to put off potty training in hopes that the nanny would do it for me? Well, my devious plot has worked! *rubs hands together and giggles maniacally* The other day, K announced that she thinks Jack needs to ditch the diapers. Frankly, I don't think Jack is there yet, but I also didn't think he could give up the pacifier until it happened. So if someone wants to take charge - especially someone who has successfully potty trained several children - who am I to argue?

Of course, I'm not entirely convinced this whole "let Jack run around without a diaper" thing is a great idea. See, today John and I came home from the gym to find Jack flopping around happily, as per usual. But as he breezed past on his way to who-knows-where, I caught a whiff of something foul. I didn't realize K had planned on started the potty training TODAY, so I patted his pajama-clad butt, expecting to find a load-bearing diaper. Instead, what I felt was Jack's bare bottom. I took a quick glance inside his drawers to assess the situation, and there it was. The shart*.

I'll leave it at that, folks, since John hates it when I blog about anything crass. (Of course, I dare anyone to blog about parenthood WITHOUT being crass.) Suffice it to say, I'm not entirely excited about this potty training thing.

But I suppose it has to happen eventually.

* According to Urban Dictionary, what happens when you trust a fart.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Happy People

Look! "Things I Love Thursdays" are back! Thursday posts are some of my favorites to write, but lately I just haven't had time - or been inspired enough - to share anything with you guys. Fortunately, there are TWO things I'm loving this week.

Sometimes, you just want to watch a happy movie. One that has a predictable ending, and it's okay because you WANT everything to work out for the characters. Ensemble cast films, when done properly, are great ("Crash," "Love Actually"). When done badly ("Valentine's Day," "New Year's Eve" - ugh), they're atrocious. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is, fortunately, one of the former. It's sort of a "Love Actually" for the Baby Boomer generation. Just a sweet, feel-good movie which, although occasionally slow, leaves you feeling satisfied and strangely optimistic about old age by the end.

Look, it has famous people and everything!

A brief summary: "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows a group of British retirees who decide to "outsource" their retirement to less expensive and seemingly exotic India. Enticed by advertisements for the newly restored Marigold Hotel and bolstered with visions of a life of leisure, they arrive to find the palace a shell of its former self. Though the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, they are forever transformed by their shared experiences, discovering that life and love can begin again when you let go of the past." -- (C) Fox Searchlight

The cast, stranded at the airport on their way to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

My second "thing" is sort of embarrassing. Okay, completely embarrassing. See, Jack has become enamored with a Belgian (produced in English) film called "A Turtle's Tale: Sammy's Adventures." It's actually kind of cute, one you get past the fact that the turtles are eerily human-looking.

Anyway, the film isn't the thing I love. I wouldn't admit to that in public, believe me. But the movie actually has a decent soundtrack, and one of the songs just gets stuck in my head every time Jack watches it. To the point where I had to find out what the hell this song was, since I'd never heard it before. It's called "Happy People," by Dry Spells, and the only place I can find it is (here's where I lose all credibility) MySpace. I know, I know. But it's a cute, fun, catchy song. And I like it, okay. Sue me.

Here's the link.

Now I'm going to go die of shame. Enjoy!