Friday, June 29, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Shop "Local" Russia

A fun post involving shopping awaits you at Most Eligible Family! Thanks to Stephanie for the idea!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: OPI Fly, and Cheerleaders

This week has been a little rough, so it's a good thing I have some amazing critique partners and beta readers (i.e. cheerleaders) to boost me up when I'm feeling down. I think this text message from my beta Lauren may have been the highlight:

"I believe in this book, and you. Don't you ever, ever give up. And your hair has been looking awesome."

Note to other betas and cps: throwing in a compliment that has nothing to do with writing can't hurt!

Jack and Lauren = BFFs
CP Cara has also been ridiculously supportive throughout this process, especially considering we've never met in real life. I'm so lucky to have you guys!

My other love this week is currently painted on my toenails: OPI's "Fly" polish. I should note that I didn't KNOW it was a Nicki Minaj color when I picked it, but the aforementioned Lauren insisted I go with it and I'm glad I did. It's the prettiest teal color (and happens to match my iPhone case perfectly). It dries a little darker than it looks in the picture.

So that's what I'm loving this week? How about you?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Inertia

I've heard many people say that the best way to get through the query trenches is to be working on something else. It's true, I know, but it's not easy. After you get through the bliss of writing that first draft, then spend several months editing, then prepare your query letter and your list of agents, it's tempting to just sit back and relax for a little while, letting the queries do their thing and praying that any second you're going to get an offer.

Of course, except for the most fortunate of writers, even if things are going well they tend to move at a glacial pace. I had somehow forgotten this between querying my last novel and my current novel. Not to mention that I have a zillion other things going on right now, including my Russian lessons, getting ready for our move, and taking care of a toddler full time. But one of my CPs, who is not only amazingly talented but also amazingly productive, started sending me pages from her current WIP, and it was sort of the kick in the butt I needed to start working on something new.

The trouble now, unfortunately, is that I'm on a roll. And I don't want to stop. Which is a problem, because now is probably the worst time in my life to decide to write a novel. I should be using any spare time I have to learn more Russian, organize things here, and purchase whatever I need for the move. Then again, I'm a journalist, and I do love a deadline. And I think it's true in life that the more you have to do, the more productive you are. At least, that's the theory I'm working with right now.

So wish me luck as I try to write my newest novel in exactly two months. And bear with me if my posts are short in the coming weeks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Of Parenthood and Ducks

A long time ago, during a brief three-month period wherein I moved to a tiny town outside of Philadelphia to live in solidarity with Sarah while she experienced the internship from hell, Sarah and I came across a little picture frame that said, "Parenthood is like being pecked to death by a duck."

This struck us as extremely amusing, so we purchased it and stuck in a photo of Sarah in a duck pose next to a wooden duck. Then we gave it to our dad for Father's Day. It's in his office somewhere, I believe, amongst all the completely random items we've chosen for him over the years (he is incredibly difficult to buy for, even though he won't admit it).

Over the weekend, I thought a lot about that picture frame. You see, Jack, who has recently been an absolute angel (aside from the occasional smack across the face or tantrum), is now getting his two-year-old molars. That's right, just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, a very plump, very angry duck surfaced, and he is in a pecking mood.

Black Duck: "What happened to my sweet boy?" "He's gone!"
Teething is one of those difficult things that you can't really see or know for sure is happening (there's one molar breaking through, but I fear it's what we can't see that hurts more than anything). Jack has a low-grade fever and a slightly runny nose, but other than that, he looks just fine. If it weren't for the middle of the night tears and unprovoked attacks on both his parents, I wouldn't even know there was anything wrong.

And try as I might to be patient, there's only so much pecking a person can take. He wants the frozen yogurt...he doesn't want the frozen yogurt. He wants to watch the sibling episode of Sesame Street...he wants to watch the binky episode of Sesame Street. Indecisiveness is one thing. Fits of uncontrollable rage are another. "It's his teeth," I tell John when Jack upends his high chair tray and the remains of his dinner along with it. John is not convinced. I believe he used the word "malicious." "Two year olds can't be malicious," I insist.

But sometimes, I wonder...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Travel Orders

It's official! We have orders! Please go to Most Eligible Family for the latest. Happy Friday all!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Wordy Wallet and Once Again PB

This wallet from Modcloth may be the cutest wallet EVER. I don't need a new wallet. I am perfectly content with the one I have. But this one is so freaking fabulous I'm not sure I can resist. A wallet that looks like a book? Are you kidding me?

I also recently stumbled upon this fabulous peanut butter that may have changed my world completely (okay, that may be a *slight* exaggeration...). It's the American Classic peanut butter from Once Again, and it is the first organic peanut butter that doesn't separate. For reals. It's light and fluffy and deeelicious!

Amazing. And who can resist the raccoon??

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Trouble with Time Travel

Today I decided I'd really like to write a nice, simple MG contemporary novel. You know, one that doesn't require hours and hours of world building and only has to be about 50,000 words long. Alas, my interests lie elsewhere. This week, apparently, in sci fi. Only trouble is, I know nothing about quantum mechanics. Hell, I don't even know if time travel has anything to DO with quantum mechanics. That's how screwed I am.

I've actually had the idea for this novel for a while, but then I started thinking about the Russian book and got caught up in that. And then this morning the sci fi book started talking to me, and I just had to write it all down (well, as much as I could in the twenty minutes between breakfast and Jack's doctor's appointment). With my last book, Sarah forced me to do all my world-building ahead of time, so I wouldn't run into hang-ups later on. I'm not sure if I want to do that again, but I know I do need a general framework. I think I can explain most of the science through DNA manipulation, but time travel? That one's a bit tricky.

I figure there are two routes I can go down, since time travel might not ever be possible and therefore no amount of detailed scientific explanation is going to be convincing, unless I ACTUALLY discovered time travel, in which case, I'd have bigger fish to fry, no? So, there's the half-assed, psuedo-scientific approach, where I come up with something about the space-time continuum and worm holes and a bunch of other stuff I know nothing about, and then touch on a few important points just to convince my reader that I've done my homework, while casually glossing over the nitty gritty.

Or I skip over the "how" behind everything altogether and stick to the story.

My (theoretical) readers aren't physicists (theoretically), but they're also not idiots. I know there has to be a middle ground I can work from. So I'm asking all my writing friends out there who've ever written science fiction, dystopian, steam punk, etc, or any reader friends who've spent a lot of time with the genre: what's the best way to describe something that doesn't actually exist, without making myself crazy trying to understand a discipline only about 1% of the population actually understands?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Father's Day Fun

Yesterday was, as you all know, Father's Day. I didn't plan anything for John because we're going away the weekend after next for one child-free night, and that's his main gift (thank you Mark and Lauren!). But we did have a lovely day. After I made pancakes, we headed to Georgetown, which was remarkably uncrowded. The weather was perfect, too, which is a small miracle for June. John bought himself some espresso at Baked and Wired while I ogled the cupcakes, and then we spent some time in the gardens behind the Old Stone House (a hidden gem if you ask me).

John, Jack, and me at the Old Stone House
At noon we headed down to the new fountainy thing by the waterfront. I watched from afar while John and Jack played in the water (I finally understand why my mom never went swimming with us as kids; who wants to get their hair wet??).

Jackie with Mike and John (I'm staying nice and dry behind the lens)
After we dragged a screaming Jack away from the fountain, we had lunch with Mike. More screaming ensued when Jack was not allowed to "spin the fan," but we finally strapped him down and enjoyed a 20-minute lunch while Jack shook his head back and forth and said "Mrrrr!" repeatedly, earning us several stares that I can't say were entirely undeserved. Of course by the time we got Jack home for his nap he was so over-tired that he didn't nap, so John and I had about an hour to study our Russian before the child was fetched from his crib. Then we took a trip to the mall, where I found an awesome pair of pants whose price is worth mentioning - $60 on sale from $150, from Club Monaco - and got the already wired child some frozen yogurt because really, what was there to lose at this point? Then I made the mistake of letting Jack catch a glimpse of the carousel you may remember from last year, and there were two joyous rides before Jack was once again pulled kicking and screaming away from the fun.

There was more studying, more screaming, and finally a quick dinner and more studying on the couch before bed. But all in all, I'd say it was a pretty great day. I think John would agree.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Russian: Not My Forte

It's been a rough week in the land of language learning. Read about it here, if you like. On the bright side, John is home from Russia! Whoo hoo!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Yelena Bryksenkova

I found this amazing artist through a winding road on Pinterest that shan't be described here, but I'm in love. Yelena Bryksenkova is from Russia, so many of her pieces have a folklorey feel to them (like how I'm making up words here?). You can find a few items available for sale on her Etsy page, and she blogs here, and has a website here. I'll let her artwork speak for itself.

"Margarita" by Yelena Bryksenkova
This print, entitled "Margarita," is available on Etsy. Yelena's description: "a magical scene from mikhail bulgakov's novel 'the master and margarita': a naked and liberated margarita soars on a broom through the night sky, above the twinkling lights of 1930s moscow." Isn't it fabulous?

Yelena also contributed to this adorable cookbook, Fairytale Food. I want!

"Snow White" from Fairytale Food
I am especially enamored with these postcards. I love when things are cute AND useful!

Fairytale postcard set - only $10 for 8!
Stuff like this makes me so excited for Russia. Yay!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: About My Book

I'm feeling a little uninspired today, so I thought I'd steal a pseudo blog-hop idea from Leigh Covington called "About My Book." It's ten questions about - you guessed it - my novel! I've felt a little removed from Forever Friday just because I haven't worked on it in a while, so it's fun to remember what it's all about. goes!

1) What is the name of your book?

Forever Friday

2) Where did the idea for your book come from?

I had just decided I wanted to try my hand at YA, and the term "Girl Friday" popped into my head for no apparent reason. I LOVE a good play on words, and I somehow ended up at "Ghoul Friday," and then thinking about an undead girl named Friday.

3) In what genre would you classify your book?

This is kind of tricky, but it's either YA Paranormal or YA Urban Fantasy. Or Rural Fantasy, since it's set in Montana...

4) If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?

Friday: Saoirse Ronan
Craig: Zac Efron (circa "17 Again")
Scott: Paul Wesley
Kyle: Chace Crawford

5)  Give us a one sentence synopsis of your book.

When 17-year-old Friday Anderson discovers she's not only an immortal, but also the only one capable of killing another, she must leave everyone she loves behind or risk becoming a deadly weapon in the world's oldest blood feud.

6) Is your book already published/represented?

No. That's all I have to say about that.

7) How long did it take you to write your book?

Six weeks for the first draft (after a few weeks of outlining); six more months of editing to get it to its current condition.

8) What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

I honestly can't think of a good comparison, which is annoying because I'd love to put that in a query letter. If anyone who's read it has any suggestions, please let me know!

9) Which authors inspired you to write this book? 

Up until the point where I wrote this novel, I had read hardly any YA, aside from the major players like Twilight and The Hunger Games.  The immortals in my novel were in part inspired by the characters in The Likeness, by Tana French, but Friday herself is sort of a teenage version of the current me. Since I wrote Friday, I've been very inspired by Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, particularly how she set her story in a foreign country, something I hope to do with my next novel.

10) Tell us anything that might pique our interest in this book?

When I decided to write paranormal, I knew I couldn't just write about vampires or werewolves or ghosts or fairies. And I didn't really want to. But I'm also not a zombie lover, so I decided to create my own mythology. It took a lot of work and plotting with my sister, Sarah, and friend, Erin, but I think it paid off. The Athanatos - the immortals in my novel - are totally unique. Eclipses also play an important role in my book, and instead of just making up dates and locations of total solar eclipses, every single one in the novel is based on an actual total solar eclipse. The next one is this November, and it will be a big part of Book Two if I ever get to write it!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mommy Mondays: A Helping Hand

Most of the time I don't think about the fact that the majority of my family lives about as far away as possible (without leaving the continental US anyway; and then of course there's the French contingent, and at one point Sarah was in Australia and Aaron was in India and honestly, it's a little crazy around here). But then a relative will come into town (most notably a grandmother) and I realize how nice it would be to have family around for a change. There's the free babysitting, of course, but we're also talking about someone who still thinks it's fun to do bath time or bed time or even poopy diaper time, because they get to do it so infrequently.

Since John abandoned me for two weeks of language immersion, I invited his mom out to visit and spend time with Jack before we move to Russia in 2.5 months. Patti is awesome about doing the things I don't particularly enjoy, like playing outside in the heat for hours on end, or splashing around in the ocean, or chasing him around at the park. Turns out I'm really rather lazy.

I may have discovered the secret to Edward's hair: sea water.
 And then there's Jack singing John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" with Patti:

I'm excited for Russia. I really am. But I'm also really going to miss the occasional, brief relief only a grandmother can provide. And just so my mom doesn't feel left out, here she is with Jackie on our recent trip west:

Thanks to both my mom and Patti for being awesome grandmas (and moms). Love you both!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: The Real Yekaterinburg

Just what is Yekaterinburg, Russia really like? Well, I have no idea, but it's probably not what you think. Check out my most recent post on Most Eligible Family here. Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Masha and Friends

I've loved Suzy Ultman since I discovered her amazing Home Sweet Home Decorative Prints, which I framed and put up in Jack's room and still obsess over two and a half years later. So imagine my sheer delight when I found Ultman's collection of Russia-themed stickers and labels!

Masha and friends. Not entirely sure which one is Masha, come to think of it...

Masha and her friends are matryoshka dolls, of course. This set comes with a ton of stickers (two of each page, too), and they are all adorable, colorful, and cheery. I can't wait to use them on my letters home from Russia.

I may be slightly obsessed with the whales.
And the little onion domes! I die!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Doldrums

Here I am. Once again. In the querying doldrums.

I'm sure some of you know what I'm talking about (right?). Querying is always a waiting game, but every couple of months I feel like I hit a lull even more lullish than the normal lulls. I am in one such lull right now. I have four fulls out (yay!) and a few outstanding queries. I know I should be sending more queries out, but I really want to hear from at least one of those four agents before I move forward.

This is not my first rodeo. I should know better by now. Hearing from agents does not generally make any difference (unless it's an offer of representation, which I have obviously never experienced). Even if the agent is kind enough to provide a few lines of feedback (which in my experience is rare), that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to make big sweeping changes to your novel before you query again. Really, you're just wasting time and steam by not querying further. So why do I allow myself to drift aimlessly in the querying doldrums?

That's a damn good question. I think it's partly to do with the fact that a small, still-hopeful part of me is praying that I don't NEED to send any more queries, that one of the requests is going to be it, and I don't have to put myself through any more rejection than I already have. I think it's partly exhaustion. Querying is hard work, as you all know. And I think it's partly fear that there WILL be more rejection if I send more queries.

I know I need to move past this. And I know that eventually I will. Rejection - painful as it is - is also a really good kick in the pants. Forward momentum is coming, one way or another. I just need to grab my oar and start paddling.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Deer vs Mommy

I'm sure most of you weren't as obsessed with Gilmore Girls as I was back in the day, but perhaps some of you recall the Season 1 episode in which poor Rori, who is late for her new super fancy private school, gets hit by a deer. No one believes her that the deer hit her, including her teacher, when she arrives to school late for an important exam. "I have the antler marks to prove it!" she screams, but alas, she is dubbed a liar.

Well, my deer didn't have antlers, but it most certainly hit my car.

Fortunately, I have a credible witness (Sarah). Jack was sleeping and Minky refuses to give a statement. I wouldn't be surprise if she's wearing a neck brace the next time I see her.

And just in case YOU don't believe me:

My once-perfect 2-month-old car.

Why yes, that IS fur stuck in the bumper.
Of course this would happen when John is in Russia for two weeks. I'm very sorry to say the deer didn't make it (a rather traumatic situation for a vegetarian). After much screaming and shaking and crying, I managed to pull the car over and call USAA (I love them, btw) and eventually a tow truck came to remove our battered 4Runner from the premises. He's only two months old, people. We haven't even agreed on a name for him yet! But I am grateful we were in an SUV, because otherwise we might have ended up with a deer on our windshield, and that would have been bad on so many levels (well, two, mostly: possible injury, and splattered deer).

But did we allow this tragic turn of events to ruin our day? Of course not! We rallied and headed up to Katie's farm, where we had a lovely day despite the fact that the $500 deductible was dancing around maniacally in the back of my head.

Jack got to bottle feed Camel (a lamb that looks like a goat)...

Camel enjoying her special blend of milk and kefir.
... eat watermelon to his heart's content...

Farmer Jack!
 ... and splash around in a bucket with Minky.

l to r: Camel, Katie, Minky, Jack (and doesn't Katie look ridiculously cute considering she lives on a farm?)
Katie generously drove us all the way home (she lives about 70 miles from us) and I'm sure I'll get a call about my car at some point today. Mostly I'm grateful that everyone is okay, that Jack is too young to really understand what happened, and that of all the cartoons he's watched in the past year or so, "Bambi" was not one of them.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: What Tragedy Teaches Us

Today's post is in honor of the victims of the fire in Doha on Monday, and their families.