Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pitch Wars 2017 Mentor Wishlist for Team Pusheen

Welcome to the Team Pusheen Wish List for Pitch Wars 2017! My co-mentor Joan He and I had a blast working together last year, whipping our mentee’s book into tip-top shape (and what do you know, you can now look forward to buying this book in 2019!). We’re back again to boost you to PW success and shower you with all things Pusheen. If you’ve got a YA manuscript of the speculative fiction vein, we want you to be a part of our fam!

Who are we?

I'm Mara, a 2014 mentee and ‘15 and ‘16 mentor. Along with my diplomat husband and two sons, I have lived in Yekaterinburg, Russia and Lima, Peru. We will be moving to Belgrade, Serbia, next August. In addition to writing and reading, I love exploring new places and cultures, doing pretty much anything with my identical twin sister, and chatting with my Pitch Wars writer friends, who are my support system no matter where in the world I am. They are without a doubt the BEST part of Pitch Wars. I am represented by Uwe Stender of Triada Literary.

And from Joan: Hi guys! I’m Joan, a psychology major at UPenn, a major lover of wombats, anime, and art (writing included, obviously), and represented by John Cusick of Folio Literary. Mara and I were mentor and mentee in 2015 (respectively), and I’m eternally grateful for all the guidance and support she provided me. Giving it back in 2016 as a co-mentor was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to do it again!

What we're looking for in a manuscript: So, the heart of our wishlist hasn’t really changed from last year’s (which you can find below--definitely do take a look for juicy details). We still want all the YA speculative fiction (scifi, fantasy, a mix of the two, or something with a fantastical/scifi TWIST). Here’s an updated list of the particular things that are likely to put hearts in our eyes.

  • New worlds. “New” can take many forms. Got something culturally new (own voices is a huge plus if you’re modeling your fantasy culture off an existing one)? Or a cool, never-seen-before magic system? Or a mythology that’s weird but so rich it’s almost real (think STRANGE THE DREAMER)? WE WANT. Bonus points if this “new” element seeps through all levels of the book. Let it add texture to your writing and influence the way your characters look at things.
  • Adventure AND/OR political intrigue. We’re seriously down for both as long as it meshes well with your premise and the character arcs you’re trying to get across (e.g. FLAME IN THE MIST and AND I DARKEN)
  • Beautiful writing (duh). Nothing purple, please, but writing that is succinct and makes each word (not just the adjective, but the verbs) count. (e.g. THE WINNER’S CURSE)
  • Emotionssss (e.g. STRANGE THE DREAMER). PAIN. TRAGEDY. ANGST. Give us gritty characters who’ve been through a lot and struggle to see the good in the world. OR give us characters who are about to see that their world is a LIE (seriously, MY WORLD IS A LIE is a great mid-point/turning point).
  • If there’s romance (n.b. Joan doesn’t need romance; Mara loves it), a LI who is there for the PLOT and the MC’s journey, not just for the swoon-factor/sassy banter scenes.
  • DARKNESS. The darker the better (think Leigh Bardugo).
  • We don’t need a ton of magic, but if there is magic, huge bonus points if it leaps off the page and every time the characters use it, it's framed around emotions (e.g UPROOTED).

  • Anything mentioned in the fantasy section that can apply here!
  • Especially for scifi, we want stories that are framed around the characters and not necessarily the tech. This doesn’t mean the tech can’t be advanced, but that the ultimate conflict should primarily raise themes that make us look closer at humanity. (e.g. the twist and climax of ENDER’S GAME is super character focused) (e.g. the philosophical questions raised by WESTWORLD) (e.g. the whole conflict of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON) (e.g. the character stakes of INTERSTELLAR).
  • Well-drawn worlds (THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR). In scifi especially it’s easy to fall back on tropes, so the right details in the right places really does a lot.
  • Psychological elements (WESTWORLD, INCEPTION).

  • This is a repeat from last year, but SERIOUSLY GIVE ME ALL YOUR GAMES. Mind games, board games, military games, cat and mouse games, etc. (THE WINNER’S TRILOGY, ENDER’S GAME, HUNGER GAMES). The key, though, is that the heart of the conflict should always go back to the characters
  • Characters who break away from the “tropes.” I’m VERY partial to characters whose voices aren’t primarily based on wit and snark. Wit and snark are great, but something I often find is that they’re covering up lack of substance. Your character’s “voice” is the way they express their worldview, which means you need to know their worldview and how it came to be (so bonus points to a solid backstory that actually makes sense). “Voice” should also affect the ways in which they handle all their relationships.
  • Introverted characters, characters who aren’t what they seem, characters who sacrifice for others and aren’t always diving head-first into things to make the biggest splash themselves, characters who are older than their years, who seem “grounded” but harbor secret demons OR are trying really hard to keep on their masks (think Sarai from STRANGE THE DREAMER or Kestrel from THE WINNER’S CURSE).
  • Smart premises (WESTWORLD, WOLF BY WOLF, Attack on Titan).
  • TWISTS. I AM YOURS IF YOU CAN CATCH ME OFF-GUARD. I’m always down for a fun read, but I LOVE reads that make me think and linger long after I’m done.
  • GENIUSES. Give me your Kaz Brekker’s, your L’s (Deathnote), your Lelouch’s (Code Geass), your Kestrel’s (THE WINNER’S CURSE). Morally shady geniuses are even better.
  • Unique structure (ALL OUR YESTERDAYS--please read this book and be wowed. It actually has a ton of the other elements I love e.g. geniuses and scifi that comes back to the characters).

As you can see, Joan is the brains of this operation lol. My tastes aren't as specific, but some of my eternal favorites are DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, THE SCORPIO RACES, SHADOW AND BONE, STRANGE THE DREAMER, etc. Strong female characters and amazing world building are basically no-brainers for me, although I like an MC who has soft spots and weaknesses to overcome. I like darker characters and themes (SIX OF CROWS) but I also love humor (MY LADY JANE). I still love retellings as long as they're unique. And I love a good romance.

Why Joan and Mara?

Joan: I’ve been told that I’m strong on big picture edits. I’m a super critical thinker (probably why I’m always guessing the twists :’D) and know the ins and outs of plotting + weaving plot points and character agency together. Do you struggle with your middles? Your endings? I’m your girl. We’ll achieve that tight, game-changing middle together, and keep the speed up all the way to the end. I’m also really good with world things (again, big picture) and will help you develop the best atmosphere to suit your plot. It should be noted that I will always respect your vision. I’ll first and foremost consider what you already have, and try to work with it before doing anything drastic.

While I’ll tell you straight up where your book needs work, I’m a huge gusher--and it’s all genuine, because we won’t pick your book unless we love it. So you’ll definitely have me in your corner as your personal cheerleader through this journey and beyond (because let’s be real, we’re all in this for the long run). I’m here for you!

Mara: I won't pick a book unless I love the premise, but in terms of big picture stuff, I'm told I'm good with pacing, world building, characterization, and dialogue. That said, I'm great at catching the small stuff - I was a copyeditor in a former life and I'm repeatedly told I draft very clean. Last year, Joan did a big-picture read-through first and I did a closer read after. We found this system worked well for us and we'll likely do something similar this year. I'm also awesome at pitches and queries (and titles, just ask Astrid!). You're basically getting two mentors for the price of one, which means double the help and cheerleading!

I like to think I'm equal parts reassuring and empathetic, because I've been at this for a long time. I'm a quick reader, and because I'm super deadline oriented, I won't keep you waiting for notes or feedback. Pitch Wars has been instrumental in both of our careers, and that's why we love paying it forward!

And if that's not enough, our 2016 mentee, Astrid Scholte, got a ton of requests for her novel FOUR DEAD QUEENS, resulting in multiple agent offers and a very quick sale to PRH. We can't wait to see her book on shelves in 2019!

What we're looking for in a mentee:

Simple: someone who’s genuinely nice and willing to grow. If it’s not necessary, we're not going to have you rewrite your book, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to work. If you can approach this experience with an open mindset, then we'll be a great match! Also, a love of Pusheen doesn't hurt.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pitch Wars Mentor Wish List for Team Pusheen!

T is for...Team Pusheen!

Welcome to the Team Pusheen Wish List for Pitch Wars 2016! My co-mentee Joan He and I are soooo excited to be working together this year. It took us a while to discover our shared love of all things Pusheen, but once we did, our team name was a no-brainer. In addition to our Pusheen addiction, we both love speculative fiction, and we can't wait to find another awesome writer to add to the fun!

Who are we?

I'm Mara, a 2014 mentee and 2015 mentor who currently lives in Lima, Peru. My husband is a U.S. diplomat, meaning every few years we move to a new country. Our first post was Yekaterinburg, Russia, which inspired the novel I entered into Pitch Wars '14 (I signed with an agent just a few weeks later). We have two sons, Jack (6) and Will (2), and in addition to writing and reading, I love exploring new places and cultures, doing pretty much anything with my identical twin sister, and chatting with my Pitch Wars writer friends, who are my support system no matter where in the world I am. They are without a doubt the BEST part of Pitch Wars. 

And from Joan: Hi guys! I’m Joan, a psychology major at UPenn, a major lover of wombats, anime, and art (writing included, obviously), and represented by John Cusick of Folio Literary. Last year, Mara and I were mentor and mentee, and I’m eternally grateful for all the guidance and support she provided me. Hoping to give it back this year to all you hopefuls! I’m going to try to keep a lot of stuff short so that I can reduce your stress-level by being more detailed in the What I’m Looking For section.

What we're looking for in a manuscript: I'll let Joan take it away for this section, because her tastes are a little more specific (my thoughts in red):

Mara and I are looking for all the YA speculative fiction (bonus points if you take us to new worlds. HUGE BONUS POINTS!). So, YES’s to fantasy, scifi, and things in-between. But since that’s still really broad, I’ll give you as many details as I can about some particular things I look in books, with some real book examples:

- Games—all kinds of games. Mind games, board games, military games, cat and mouse games, etc. (THE WINNER’S TRILOGY, ENDER’S GAME, HUNGER GAMES)
- Art. If you have any kind of art (visual, literary, auditory, etc) featured in your book (in your premise, or as part of a character’s hobby), I want.
- Between the two common subgenres of fantasy—adventure-based and political intrigue—I’d probably enjoy the political intrigue more (THE WINNER’S TRILOGY). That being said, I also enjoy a healthy mix of both (THE GRISHA books, CROWN OF MIDNIGHT). I’m pickier when it comes to more straight-up adventure books—I always need something more than just sword-fights—but compelling characters can do the trick for me (it helps when they are whip-smart like Kaz Brekker from SIX OF CROWS). I probably prefer adventures, but as Joan says, a healthy mix of both is always good.
- Life and death stakes that are actually built into the premise. This isn’t a book, but ideas like the anime Sword Art Online, where characters are trapped in a video game (here we go with the games again) and will die in real life if they die in-game, really hook me. Also, anything with spying in it (AM EMBER IN THE ASHES).
- Smart, thought-provoking premises (UNWIND, WOLF BY WOLF)
- In my fantasy, I don’t need magic, but I need the epic (this doesn’t mean loud—a quiet fantasy can still be epically meaningfully)
- In my sci-fi, I don’t need hardcore science, but I need a human element to drive the story forward (something important at stake, and strong motivations from the character) (FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON—not YA, but a must-read).
- Though I appreciate a good one, I do not NEED romance in my books. I’m quite picky about the romance, and only when I'm onboard a ship 110% percent will I like seeing a large chunk of the plot devoted to it. I actually really, really love a good romance. It doesn't have to be a huge part of the plot, like Joan said, but I like the kissing if I'm being honest.
- I prefer tragedy to comedy. A good cry does a lot more for me than a good laugh (typing that out just felt really depressing, but I can’t be the only one who searches for emotional, this-will-make-you-cry music on youtube…right?)
- If you surprise me with a twist, GIVE ME (ENDER’S GAME, WOLF BY WOLF). If you leave me mind-blown, I will love you forever.
- Structurally unique, but not confusing (ALL OUR YESTERDAYS)
- Really atmospheric tones (think anything by Brenna Yovanoff, especially THE SPACE BETWEEN)
- Lush, haunting writing (anything by Lauren DeStefano)
(I'll add a few of my favorite books here: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, A COURT OF MIST AND FURY, THE SCORPIO RACES, SHADOW AND BONE, etc. - Strong female characters and amazing world building are basically no-brainers for me. Originality is key, too, because it's super competitive out there!)

Why Joan?

On the editing front, I’m good at figuring plots, twists, character motivations and psychology, and line-level writing issues such as when to add/cut description and exposition, etc.

On the personal front, I’m not on top of my gif game like some other mentors, and I’m pretty out of the loop in terms anything pop-culture. In other words, I’m really uncool. That being said, I, just like Mara, have gone through the experience of PW myself. I’ll be there for you when you get heartburn right before the entries go live because I was in your shoes a year ago.

Why Mara?

I won't pick a book unless I love the premise, but in terms of big picture stuff, I'm told I'm good with pacing, world building, and dialogue. That said, I'm great at catching the small stuff - I have copyediting experience and I'm repeatedly told I draft very clean.

Personally, I like to think I'm a great cheerleader, equal parts reassuring and empathetic, because I've been at this for a long time. I'm a quick reader, and because I'm super deadline oriented, I won't keep you waiting for notes or feedback. Joan and I are both busy, but we went back and forth four or five times during the revision window last year. Pitch Wars has been instrumental in both of our careers, and that's why we love paying it forward! 

What we're looking for in a mentee:

Simple: someone who’s genuinely nice and willing to grow. If it’s not necessary, we're not going to have you rewrite your book, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to work. If you can approach this experience with an open mindset, then we'll be a great match! Also, a love of Pusheen doesn't hurt.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

When Another Parent Decides They Know Better Than You

This week, I had my first experience with another mother trying to hurt me via my kid. I have struggled to process it since it happened on Monday, because it's just such a foreign concept to me. I mean, there are plenty of people I don't like. You know what I do? I avoid them. But this mom went out of her way to hurt me, and the fact that she did it through Jack made it a million times worse. Here's the story:

This mom (we'll call her Mary) was nice to me when I first got here. We hung out a few times, our kids were both entering Kindergarten at the same school, and I liked her just fine. I thought she liked me too. My first tip-off should have been a few months after I got here, when I met someone new who said, "Oh, I've heard about you from Mary." Huh, I thought. That was weird. But nothing had ever happened between Mary and me, so I didn't make much of it. In fact, she'd had us over multiple times for playdates or parties during our time here. Our husbands and kids got along. There was no reason to think anything was wrong between us.

Then one day, Mary messaged me on a Friday to ask if I'd received the invitation for her son's party that weekend. I immediately wrote back and said no, I hadn't. On Saturday I texted again to ask if the party had already happened. Mary never wrote back again. I let it go, even when a mutual friend posted pictures from the party on Facebook on Sunday, and I recognized many of the moms and kids in the photo. I didn't tell Jack about it because I didn't want his feelings to be hurt. But then Mary's son and another kid in the class told Jack he hadn't been invited, and I messaged Mary just to ask what had happened to the invite. She never wrote back.

A couple of weeks later I ran into Mary, and she somewhat aggressively told me the invite had gone to my husband's office. That was odd, since I'd been in John's office multiple times to collect mail (he was out of the country that month) and never saw it, but all I said was, "Okay, but I wrote you back saying we hadn't gotten it and you never responded." She walked away from me. The invitation never materialized.

I ran into her a couple of other times and she was always perfectly nice. And then on Sunday evening she emailed to ask if Jack could go to a playdate at her house, because they're moving soon and her son wanted to have a last playdate together. Sure, I said. I was happy Jack wasn't being excluded, and she just lives down the street. I told her John would pick Jack up around 5. When he got there, Mary said to him: "I hope Mara's not mad, but Jack had two hotdogs."

If you know me as more than a casual acquaintance, you know that I'm a vegetarian. I have been for a long time - nearly twenty years. I started eating fish when we lived in Russia because I was starving, but I try to limit my intake and I am careful to choose sustainable fish when I can (we order our tuna online specifically for this reason). John and I decided before our kids were born that they would be pescatarians. I became a vegetarian in the first place because I didn't believe animals needed to die just so I could eat them, and that reason still holds for me. But it has become about so much more than that in the years since. I'm not going to lecture anyone on vegetarianism here. It's a personal decision that I don't impose on anyone, other than my own kids, who can choose to eat meat when I believe they are capable of making informed decisions that don't require me scaring them with facts I don't think they're ready for. My kids are happy and healthy. That's really all anyone needs to know.

Mary knows we are vegetarians. She knows this because we have been to her house for multiple parties and pizza nights, when she has always been gracious enough to offer us a veggie alternative. I appreciate when people do this, but I never expect it. I am happy to bring something if the host doesn't know how to cook vegetarian (but let's be honest, this isn't Texas in 2003, when I had a hell of a time being vegetarian; most people can come up with a veggie alternative these days, especially since we eat fish too). So I was shocked to hear this from my husband. "I hope Mara's not mad..." This didn't imply that she'd forgotten Jack didn't eat meat. This didn't imply that she'd tried to call or text me (I was at home, and she hadn't). This didn't really imply that Jack had snuck the hotdogs when she wasn't looking, because there was no apology. And let me tell you, Mara was mad.

I stewed on it for twenty-four hours. Half the people I talked to said I should let it go because Mary was leaving and there would be no future playdates. The other half said I should say something, because what she'd done was wrong and she should know it. After all, Mary doesn't know why I'm a vegetarian. She didn't know if it would make Jack sick (two hotdogs could make any kid sick, let alone a kid who's never eaten meat). Jack didn't even understand what hotdogs were. I was surprised he'd eaten them, honestly, because he's usually very opposed to the idea of trying meat, but I think he saw his friends eating them, and they looked tasty (he's eaten vegetarian corndogs and loves them) and he's getting to an age where he's very curious. I'm not surprised Jack liked the taste of hotdogs. They are designed to be delicious. They are also probably the last meat I'd ever give to my kid (some free-range chicken might have been a different story). But none of that really matters. What matters is that a parent took my child into her care knowing his dietary restrictions, and then decided that she knew better, that her feelings were more important than mine.

I tried to let it go, but I couldn't. I felt like my trust had been violated, and because of the other weirdness between us, it didn't feel benign. It felt targeted. So I sent a Facebook message saying I'd appreciated her having Jack over, but in the future she may want to ask a parent before giving their child a food she knows they're not supposed to have. I said that perhaps she'd forgotten in the chaos of her move, which was understandable (I didn't believe for a second she'd forgotten, but I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt), but that this was very important to me and I would have appreciated a call or text.

This was her response:
"Mara, I did not forgot [sic]. I purchased an alternative especially for him, but he declined, and asked for seconds."

That was the entire response. No apology. In fact, she tried to rub it in my face that my kid had liked the hotdog. As if the reason we don't eat meat is because it doesn't taste good. As if she was justified, because my child enjoyed it. As if offering him an alternative that he declined (I don't know what this "alternative" was; Jack mentioned that he was offered an apple and chips, but he's six, and I don't take everything he says at face value because HE'S SIX) let her off the hook for asking me if I was okay with it, or simply telling Jack he'd have to take it up with me. As if she was right, and I was wrong. 

When I shared that with my friends, the opinions of what I should do were a lot more forceful: "Brass knuckle throat punch"; "Flame that bitch"; "GRILL HER"; "Time for throwing stars and full metal war."

Fortunately, I was with my yogi friend when the message came, and she wisely advised that I let it go. I cried through our yoga session and came home and blocked Mary on Facebook, and then I decided to write about it, because that's how I process things. As Anne Lamott said in her wonderful book Bird by Bird, "You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."

I don't think I need to remind other moms that having a kid over for a playdate doesn't mean we can override his or her parents' rules, whether or not we agree with them. But maybe I needed to be reminded that sometimes we have to trust our own judgment about people, even if we don't know why they dislike us, even if it means our kids might feel left out from time to time. When it comes to "friends," there are some we're all better off without.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Beautiful Disaster (aka John's Ironman New Zealand Race Report)

I can't believe how terribly long it's been since I posted here! And now I'm posting on behalf of John, since he doesn't have a blog. But I figure it's relevant, since John's training is a big part of all our lives, and I've blogged about his running in the past. So, without further ado, here is John's Ironman New Zealand race report:

This was my third IM after Zurich and Cozumel. Course, atmosphere, and organization were on par or superior to Zurich, and all of the above thoroughly outclassed Cozumel. This was a competitive and honest race from start to finish. The mass-start swim is the real deal. Confidence in the water is a must. The bike course is challenging to the extent that it breaks up the packs and the officials were omnipresent and strict, and the run is a roller lined with cheering fans from start to finish.

Pre-race: clockwork. Very well organized and enhanced by the co-location of start/finish and transitions. This made logistics much simpler than in Cozumel.

Swim: mass start MMA style death match. Get your war face on. Per the race program, this is one of the last IM mass start swims in the world. From a safety perspective, that's understandable. If I'd been thrown into this environment two years ago I'd have been near panic. A wide catch and a comfort with contact are prerequisite to a solid showing. There's no doubt that this type of start is slower than starting in clean water. On the one hand you're in a massive current but on the other it's hugely inefficient. The course is and out-back and my only critique is that the buoys are marked 1-24 or some such, perhaps .1 mile segments, but with zero relation to 3800m. This wasn't made clear in race program.

T1: a healthy 1K run out of the lake and up a hill to standard IM changing tents and an orderly and compact series of bike racks. Volunteers were abundant and helpful with wetsuit stripping and bags. The mounting line was close to the bikes.

Bike: honest parcours. 2x out-and-backs with a short extra loop for distance-making in between. The one or two stiff grades coming out of the town center were small-chainring for sure. This was unexpected but not severe. The chip seal out on course was a factor but not something that would necessitate a swap from say 23c to 25c or more. 90 PSI was fine. The course marshals were thankfully out in force and it seems to me that at the pointy end of the age groupers drafting was much less a factor than in the other races I've competed in. Every penalty box I passed had 2-3+ riders biding their time. Refreshing. Winds were negligible, and the format made the K's click by. The countryside was beautiful. Quintessential NZ farmland. Mountains, sheep, cows, and green pasture in the mist.

T2: same spot as T1 and just as efficient. Volunteers were on top of things and my bag was handed to me as I stepped over the mat.

Run: 3x rolling laps along the lake. Aid stations seemed to be every K or two, and there wasn't a single stretch of lonely. The fans here were world-class! Interestingly there were a few sections off-piste and along jogging tracks so perhaps not the fastest possible, but very pleasing to have such varied terrain and scenery. Beautiful and right up next to the lake.

Finish: IM standard. That is, food options weren't so good, and once again no contrôlée dopage. Coming from an ultra background, I continue to feel that WTC can and should amp up the post-race chow a bit. Tomato soup, bananas, and cold pizza? Come on, guys. The entry fee demands better options. Vendors were selling some tasty looking food-truck fare but due to personal complications (below) I didn't have the chance to partake. The entry fee also demands at least a credible threat of drug testing. This is a non sequitur but I'd also love to see a T1 bike sweep with whatever "mechanical doping" detector UCI is using these days. The medal is Kiwi black and white cool, as is the finisher shirt.

John's IMNZ:

Build: A mitigated disaster. Yes it could always be worse, but really at every stage, more or less going back to early-January and the decision to leverage the Cozumel form and register for NZ, The Universe made this one nearly insurmountable. After a few unforced errors at IMCz and once again just missing Kona – this time due to my own error – I was inspired to give the distance another shot in short order.  I was very keen to get back on the program sooner rather than later so as to spare my family a full 12-16 week build of weekend bricks and a generally energy-robbed husband/father.

I'll spare you the bio details, but this otherwise textbook build - that I was fully committed to - with a personally epic amount of swim volume - was plagued by three plagues: shigella (bacterial infection), cyclospora (parasite), and last but not least e-coli (bacterial infection). My watts/kg saw a fairly sharp improvement over a 2-3 week period, but trust that it was NOT worth it. I had multiple sick-days off of work but stubbornly stuck to planned volume, if not intensity. Despite adversity (there will always be some) persistence and consistency can be trained into an athlete, and can become learned behaviors that shape our decisions come race day. The call of the bed is strong at 5am, but the fat black and the early am chlorine have their own allure. "Marching to the sound of the guns" I've found is critical to success in life and sport, and practiced enough, takes the guess work out of forks in the road. Despite not having a single training day in the last six weeks in complete health, I still very much enjoyed the process and took pride in both my consistency and positive approach towards this race.

After a few weeks of antibiotics I'd kick one bug only to host another, and really never got back to baseline. I am still sick. The training stress did not help, but ultimately this remains a vicious case of slow gringo adaptation to a developing country's biome probably made worse by chronically high cortisol levels. All told though by 8-10 days out, I somehow marked PB efforts in the pool for all distances 100m-400m, and on the bike bumped out the all-time power curve from 1 second to 1 hour. I was ready. Kristian Manietta was as intuitive as ever and wisely backed me off and pushed me as necessary. It occurred to me these last two months that coaching is an investment with compounding interest. KM is coach and therapist, and with each passing session, week, and phase he knows me and my whole-person response to training better and better. Proud to call you a friend, coach.

Regarding training, one thing that I need to improve (there are others): evening routine discipline. I find that in the only time I have to decompress after a day of work and training and getting the boys ready for bed, I am pretty much out of gas for foam rolling in favor of the couch or peeling myself away from a good book in favor of more sleep.  This is self-sabotage. It makes the morning sessions that much more difficult to initiate and likely lower quality overall. I was better in the last three weeks about body maintenance and getting in the rack before 10pm, and this helped me show up on race day uninjured, but there’s no telling what I left on the table.  For some reasons the morning routine – coffee – resets – meditation – all right there and easy to make habits out of.

Travel: Disaster. The airline lost my bike (brand new Scott Plasma 5, Di2, fully loaded) and suitcase. The details are boring and it's a common enough occurrence, but a cautionary tale. No matter how precisely you glue your tubulars or top of your electronic shifting battery or zero your power meter, a third party can wreak havoc and give exactly zero F's in the process. I arrived in NZ with no bike, wetsuit, helmet, bike shoes, running shoes, sunglasses, body lube, nutrition, electrolytes, socks, or goggles. I chose hope as my only option and pressed ahead. I was met at the airport by the kindest soul anyone could ever hope to meet. My second mom for the weekend. Christina gave so much of herself to this complete stranger; I am so humbled by your generosity. In retrospect no matter what result I came away with, I knew that the lasting value of this long weekend far from home was in the new friends made. My lasting memories of this place are of these truly special people who took me into their home. Thank you.

Pre-race: I arrived in Taupo at 9am on Thursday morning before a Saturday race day.  Christina took me directly to registration where I picked up a few necessary items to get through swim and run sessions the next 36 hours.  We enjoyed the wonderful café scene and hit the lake that afternoon.  I loosened the arms and hips up in fairly cool Great Lake Taupo for maybe 1500m, then ran back to Christina’s the 10k or so in my new shoes.  The evening and most of Friday were decidedly vacation like as I’d made a point of not stressing over what I couldn’t control, and enjoying the most of NZ.  We had some great wine and not a few laughs together.  Friday evening Christina’s daughter Seon and her boyfriend arrived to round out my support crew, and we had an easy evening.  Having a kitchen to prepare standard pre-race fare was a big win: salmon and simple fried rice in fresh local butter and eggs did the trick and also doubled as my race day breakfast.
By race morning I'd bummed a wetsuit off of X-Terra Australia, a bike off a local who wasn't racing, and purchased untold $100's worth of new tri-shite. Ugh. In any case I made it to the start line. The one remaining question mark was nutrition and electrolytes. I normally rely on a ketone salt mix for the bulk of my calories and all of my salts, but it was all still with my lost bags and not available in NZ. I decided to roll intuitively and stick to simple sugar and run a sort of Tim Noakes inspired zero-electrolyte supplementation experiment. That all went fine. I really could have gotten away with eating nothing but all told had two bags of Sport Beans on the bike, a few potato chips on the run (yes the salt craving started to dig), and maybe 12 oz of Coke also on the run plus ample water all along the way. And of course Vespa scored off a few very generous fellows (Pete and Brett I owe you both).

Swim: After a generous early morning ride to the start from Seon and thorough warm up, the swim went well. 1:01. I know I have sub-1 in me, especially in a rolling start, but the brawl that was the first K was a massive energy suck and I like many others was trapped by slower swimmers ahead and not a few faster swimmers behind. I felt incredible once I found open water: long, powerful, smooth, and in control of the water and my body. I finally love swimming. My biggest lesson here is that I probably could have pressed harder to get to the outside in the first 1K, and could have found faster feet to follow in the last 2K. I found myself in a pack that was too quick to break away from, but just a bit too comfortable to hang onto. Maybe that's the best to be hoped for.  I hit the beach fresh, so perhaps that’s another take-away.

Bike: so, so awful. I was remarkably fresh and happy and having a good time for the first 30 miles considering I was on an old borrowed Shiv with crap training wheels, someone else's saddle, position, and downright pedestrian aerobar configuration. Happy with my Z2 heart rate and moderate perceived exertion, I was hanging with the Cervelo P6 crowd until pop went one spoke, and then another 40 miles later, both on the front wheel. Pulling over to the side of the road I managed to remove both spokes but could not open the brake caliper enough to get the now severely out-of-true wheel to stop rubbing the pads. At this point I knew that any hope of Kona was out the window, but despite everything, I still thought just maybe... What to do with my effort level given the state of the bike was a question mark for about five minutes after getting back in the saddle when an aid station volunteer solved it all for me. A kid of about 11 or 12 got way out in front of me in his eager attempt to pass me a bottle, but somehow his shirt connected with the edge of my handlebar closest to him and I was instantly over the top and cheese grating my shoulder, back and forearm down the chipseal. And done… Or not.  I sat bleeding in the aid station for 30 minutes waiting for clearance from the paramedics to press ahead. The decision was easy. If I could press ahead without doing long-term damage to my body, I would. Yes it hurt, but why else had I come to NZ if not to race? There was no other near-term race to save my legs for, and I’d been hurt much worse in a race before and managed to press on for much longer than I had left in this IM (at Western States in 2013 I fell at mile 17, fracturing my left patella, but ran on until mile 78 where my leg simply stopped responding to inputs).  In some strange way getting back on the bike felt the same as getting out of bed at 5am for a long swim set: it was uncomfortable but really there was no actual decision point; it just was.  The road rash was quite severe, but I could tell that I wasn’t dealing with any major joint issues.  I cruised the last 30 miles not really eating much and trying to remain positive. Truth be told though I spent much of that time contemplating the sale of my still-un-raced Scott Plasma, power meter, Mavics, etc… I think I’m over that, but suffice to say I wasn’t in such a good spot mentally.  As one friend put it after the fact, my splits made it clear that I’d more or less thrown in the towel.

T2: more of the same.  Seeing my back and leg, a doc in T2 was very reluctant to let me out of the tent until I convinced him I’d do myself no permanent harm.  Another 10 minutes wasted and I was on my way.

The only photos we got, courtesy of Seon Venville.

Run: it stung, but it was the easiest marathon I’ve ever run.  I was on form for this race, and just cruised effortless 4:50km’s at 190 steps-per-minute sipping a bit of coke here and there.  In a sense I missed that late IM opportunity to celebrate months’ of preparation with a good trip to the well, but reasoned with myself that there was no sense prolonging recovery. With about 7k to go however I started skipping aid and pushing just a bit harder to ensure a 10:XX on the clock.  It was meaningless at this point but I needed a goal.  In the end, coming down the finish chute never gets old.

Post-race: prolonging the suffering.  The catchers took me immediately to medical where I spent about 4 hours between debriding, x-rays, and a few stitches.  One upside here is that the Kiwi Army medics had a catered steak and salad buffet that blew the WTC fare away.  This was small consolation for the day and the fact that I wanted nothing more than to be back at Christina’s, showered, and enjoying an IPA or two.  My gracious hosts Seon Venville came back to the finish to collect me and very graciously took me directly to an even better IPA option.  Not the best idea when I’d hardly rehydrated and was hopped up on Kiwi army narcotics, but I wasn’t complaining…

This was a beautiful disaster.  It’s cliché to say that it’s the tough ones that teach you, but it’s true.  If nothing else, I’ve gained perspective and hopefully burned through most of the bad racing luck the universe has in store for me.  I’m not sure what’s next.  I am hungry to race and far from burned out, but at the same time also feeling a bit burned by the experience. I’ll be back at an IM soon, but how soon is TBD.  There’s always the argument to leverage the existing base fitness to turn it around and hit another soon, but I also want to recapitalize some relationships both personal and professional that have unfortunately suffered some neglect due to IM prep and illness.  This race did not turn out anywhere close to how I imagined it, but it has helped me to recapture a healthier perspective on the place of triathlon and sport in the life of John.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mommy Mondays: My Third Wedding

A couple of months ago, when my sister was visiting, Jack insisted on a second wedding (you may recall our first wedding, in Sarah's apartment. We drank lemonade and danced to Rihanna). I'm 99% sure this was just a ploy for cake, but Jack would not stop talking about it, and he insisted we do it while Aunt Shasha was visiting so it would feel more like a real party. I just got the photos from Sarah so I thought I'd share them here.

The bride wore H&M and was escorted by her husband. Hmmm....

Shasha was kind enough to officiate.

Exchanging vows. Jack decorated his shirt with Daddy's pilot patches.

Jack: "I love you more than ever." Cue tears.

Sealed with a kiss. Who needs marriage licenses anyway?

Always a bride, never a bridesmaid. Isn't that how the saying goes? Hopefully the third time really is a charm and this one sticks. I should be in the clear, unless Will catches on to the whole cake thing...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Coloring Books from HarperCollins

Recently, HarperCollins asked me to review two of their new coloring books for grown-ups, Color Your Own Van Gogh and Color Manga. I happily agreed and ordered a new box of Prismacolors so I could attempt to do the books justice. They arrived a couple of weeks ago, which worked out perfectly since I just met a big deadline and finally have a little free time.

As you can see, both books are gorgeous. The Van Gogh in particular looks like it could sit out as a coffee table book. I sat down the other day to color and chose my first illustration from the Manga book. This particular image happens to look almost exactly the way I envision Akira from WINTERSOUL, so I was really excited to color it.

I am clearly no expert colorer, but this was fun. At first the paper seemed like it might be too thin, but the Prismacolors worked really well for this book. If I have one complaint about both books, it's that tearing out the pages isn't easy. Perforations would be a huge help. I accidentally ripped this one, in fact. But I could easily trim the page if I wanted to. Jack was so inspired by my coloring that he decided to make his own "Culrin Book" with a manga-inspired drawing:

Before I attempt to color any more of the manga illustrations, I really want to learn some proper coloring and shading techniques. I've got a coloring date with the teenage daughter of a friend who happens to be an artist and also has the really expensive art markers I couldn't justify buying. 

The Van Gogh was a little trickier for me. The drawings are almost set up like paint-by-numbers, without the benefit of numbers. This book is perfect for someone with a lot of patience, and possibly fine-tip or gel markers, because the colored pencils didn't work quite as well for all those teeny tiny details. I'm partially finished with "Sunflowers," but this is the kind of coloring I'll come back to in small bursts, most likely, when I'm watching TV or the baby is napping.

I haven't done any coloring since I was pregnant with Will, when I worked on the Enchanted Garden coloring book, but seeing the detail in the Van Gogh paintings was really inspiring. There's a house down the street with a little sign offering painting classes, and despite the language barrier, I think I'm going to sign up for some. It would be nice to have a creative outlet outside of writing.

In the meantime, I've got these coloring books to keep me busy!

(HarperCollins provided these books for review purposes; all opinions are my own!)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pitch Wars Interview with My Mentee, Joan He

I have been TERRIBLE about blogging lately, but I'm writing plenty, believe me! Here's a link to my Pitch Wars Mentor/Mentee Interview on Brenda Drake's blog. I'm so excited to work with Joan on her beautiful Asian-inspired fantasy novel, HESPERIA. You are all going to love it when it gets published, which I have no doubt will be soon. Joan is brilliant and very hard working. I'm so lucky to have her as my mentee!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Dear Pitch Wars 2015 Mentees

Okay guys, I'm late to the party on this post so I'm going to keep it short and sweet. Basically, this is a letter to the mentees who will soon be announced for Pitch Wars 2015, the contest I entered last year that helped me sign with an agent. My fellow mentors have said pretty much everything worth saying (seriously, they're a ridiculously smart, kind, generous, and savvy group of writers), but I have a little story I want to share.

I used to be a silently competitive writer. I didn't believe in supportive writing groups; I thought all that happy lovey-dovey critique partner stuff on Twitter was fake. Any time a blogger I knew got an agent, I felt like it was one less chance for me to sign with an agent. I truly believed there was only so much luck to go around, and that other people's successes were my loss. This, as you can imagine, was not a very happy way to be.

When I got into Pitch Wars I was ecstatic. Maybe my luck was finally changing. I worked hard on my revisions for my mentor, but just a few days before the contest, she asked me to change my first chapter. Only it was too late. I'd already turned in my entry. And I PANICKED. Like, I literally had a panic attack. I was sure I wasn't going to get any requests during the agent round. When other people started getting requests, I was so full of envy that I wasn't even happy when I got a couple of requests of my own. A certain person had a fantasy novel with a similar title to mine, and she was getting requests right and left. Why would anyone want my book when she had an amazing first page and a similar theme? I was sure I wouldn't get more than a couple requests.

But then I started to get more and more. I ended up with 12. This certain person, who ended up being the winner of last year's Pitch Wars, had 13. Within a few days of the contest she had an offer from one of my dream agents. Again, I was sure that her success meant I was destined to fail.

A couple of days later, I had my first agent offer. I was shocked and elated in equal measure. And then I got two more offers. And suddenly I found myself on utterly foreign ground. I had no idea what I was doing. But two other writers in the Pitch Wars Facebook group were going through the same thing, including that writer who had won Pitch Wars. So, on a whim, I reached out to them.

It's been nearly a year since then, and those two writers - the hilarious and stupidly talented Nikki Roberti, who started our Facebook group and is now Brenda's assistant, and Elly Blake, who won Pitch Wars because she is a freaking rockstar but also turned out to be one of the sweetest, most generous people I've ever met - are two of my best friends. And the other eighty-something people in our Facebook group have become those happy lovey-dovey writing friends I didn't believe existed. Through them, I've learned that there is not only plenty of luck to go around, but plenty of friendship, plenty of shared joy and sorrow, plenty of humor and humility and love.

For several years I dreamed that Pitch Wars would help me land an agent. I had no idea it would introduce me to some of the best people I've had the privilege of knowing. So that, dear Pitch Wars 2015 mentee, is what I hope you take away from this contest. Your fellow mentees' successes are your successes, just as their losses will be yours. Learn from each other. Lean on each other. Make the most of this amazing opportunity.

And whatever you do, DON'T PANIC. You've got this.

And don't forget to visit Tracie Martin's blog for the rest of the mentor's links!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pitch Wars 2015!

Hi all! I just wanted to say it here - I'm co-mentoring in Pitch Wars 2015 (the contest that helped me land an agent last year) with my mentor, Jessie Humphries. I'm so excited to be a part of this contest from the other side, and to pay this opportunity forward to another deserving writer. You can read more about Jessie and me and what we're looking for over at Jessie's blog.

In a nutshell - I want all the YA Speculative Fiction, particularly Fantasy! We will of course consider YA of all stripes, but YA Fantasy is what I write and love. If you can create worlds like Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, Leigh Bardugo, and Victoria Schwab, send me your stuff. I also like a little darkness thrown in, a la Neil Gaiman and even Stephen King.

Jessie helped point out some major plot holes in my novel, WINTERSOUL, and as an editor I can really whip your manuscript into shape. We are both easy to communicate with and, while we take the contest seriously, we aren't serious people. Meaning there are no stupid questions - we want to help YOU learn and grow through Pitch Wars. The most amazing part of the contest is all the wonderful people you will meet through the process. A shiny, submission-ready manuscript and maybe even some requests aren't bad either. ;)

Can't wait to see what you've got!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mommy Mondays: Bonding Over Books

When I found out my first baby was going to be a boy, I was scared. What was I going to do with a BOY? I had boxes of porcelain dolls and Breyer horses packed away since high school for my future daughter. My poor American Girl Doll, Molly, had been waiting patiently for her chance to don her yellow rain slicker once more (it has since melted). I didn't know the first thing about Thomas the Train, and I was rather blissful in my ignorance.

Then, for my baby shower, my sister made me a little card:
"Remember: Shakespeare, Kipling, Tolkien, Twain; all boys."

I still have that card. It was the perfect reminder that my true love - books, both reading and writing them - could just as easily be shared with a son as a daughter. Since then, reading to Jack has become one of my favorite parts of being a parent. We read something almost every night without fail. I am counting down the days until he's old enough for Harry Potter.

Of course, at the time I had no idea that Jack would take to writing the way he has. After he penned his first masterpiece, "Marshmallow Joins," last year, he has gone on to write and illustrate seven more books. He's even got his own folder on my desktop. A few of weeks ago I took Jack with me to Starbucks to work, and after we discussed narrative arcs and inciting incidents, he came up with a story called "Meteors" about a little boy who saves the world from a meteor that falls into an underwater volcano. It's actually pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Our hero, Zyrus, with his mommy and pet labradoodle.

Late last year I started buying Jack "chapter books." We've read several from the Roald Dahl collection I picked up at Costco (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda) as well as The Wizard of Oz and Stuart Little. His observations are surprisingly astute ("This book has no plot," he declared midway through Stuart Little, and he's spot on with that one). To give E.B. White a chance to redeem himself, we picked up Charlotte's Web.

When I started writing, it was always in the back of my head that I wanted an accomplishment of my own, something my children could be proud of someday. I wanted Jack to be able to point to a book shelf and say, "My mom did that." But I never imagined my love of books would be the thing I shared with my sons.

There are many days when I worry I've spent too much time buried in my laptop instead of paying attention to my kids, when I'm preoccupied with an idea instead of focusing on a game of catch, when I let the baby stay in his crib a few extra minutes (or, you know, thirty) so I can finish a scene. Most days I feel guilty that I'd rather be writing than entertaining Will, that I'm simply not as passionate about mothering as I am about creating new worlds. I love my boys more than anything, but being a mom doesn't fulfill me in every possible way, and it shouldn't have to. I'm happy to have something outside of them, and I hope one day they'll appreciate it too.

Yesterday, we came to the point in Charlotte's Web where Fern describes the fair as the best thing she's ever done in her whole life. So I asked Jack, what was his favorite thing he's ever done? His answer caught me completely off guard.

"Going to Starbucks and writing down books with you," he said.
"Really?" I asked through my tears. "Not going to Disney World or something?"
"No. Because writing books is my favorite thing in the whole world."

There are many days where I feel like I've failed as a mother, but yesterday was not one of them.

(Note: I wrote this post on Saturday. Yesterday I TOTALLY failed as a mother. But that's another story for another time...)