Friday, September 28, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: In the Land of Silk and Bunnies

Hey, it's still Friday somewhere, right?? Slipping this post in just under the wire. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Getting Inspired

Hi all! Today's post is gonna be quick since I'm about to head off on my first official business trip (since 2008 anyway - in another life I set up Costco author signings around the country...)!

For the past week and a half or so, I've been promising myself I would start working on the new WIP. It's been over a year since I wrote Friday, and although I've started a couple of projects since then (even got about 70 pages into one of them), I haven't really written very much throughout the querying slog. And I miss it! The trouble is, now that I'm back at work and I have a nanny and technically have the time to write, I've been having a hard time getting my butt into the chair to start working. Part of the problem is my desktop computer isn't set up, and once it is I'll be forced to sit at the desk where I have fewer distractions. I am a creature of habit - I like my routines. I just need to find my new Russia routine and I'll be set.

Still, even with a routine in place, it can be hard to get inspired enough to fully commit to a WIP. Thank goodness I started Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone a few days ago.

Serious cover envy going on right here.

I've only read about 25 pages or so, but I'm so excited to sit on an airplane with my Kindle (without Jack) and really dig in. She's created an amazing Russia-based fantasy world that I'm frankly jealous I didn't create myself. And since my WIP is set in Russia, I'm finding the whole thing to be just the inspiration I need to get my butt back into that chair and WRITE.

What about you? What inspires you to really commit to a new project?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mommy Mondays: On Our Own

For those who might not have seen, I blogged on Friday about my return to the work force. Today began week two of my new job as the Community Liaison Office coordinator at the consulate here in Yekat. I'm happy to report, so far, so good.

Well, sort of.

It's funny how I seem to project all of my insecurities onto Jack. Okay, okay, not so much funny as pathetic. But I have an awful lot of insecurities. They have to go somewhere, right? Just as I was terrified Jack wouldn't like Russian preschool because he doesn't speak the language, I was scared that my return to work would be traumatic in some way. And to be fair, the first few days were rough on both counts. But here we are, six days in, and Jack is doing swimmingly. I was gone all day today, from 8 am to 4 pm, and Jack was in good spirits when I walked in the door. He showed me his drawing from school, the nanny reported that Jack had been quite the gentleman (he never opens the door for me, thank you very much!), and he even said "до свидания" to her when she left, which is a vast improvement over the "NO!" she received every day last week.

Meanwhile, John was gone all day today for a business trip, so I walked to work, made my way into the consulate (I made a wrong turn the last time I did it without John, so yes, this is actually a big deal for me), ate lunch, walked to the mall, got groceries, got coffee with an American expat I found online, and took the tramvai home. ALL BY MYSELF. Personally, I think Jack and I both deserve a big pat on the back, don't you?

Here Jack goes again on his own...
But if I'm being honest, being away from Jack has been kind of hard on me, too. The truth is, Jack is my buddy. He's been my constant companion for nearly three years. I've gotten used to having my sidekick with me whenever I leave the house. (Hell, I've even had a built-in excuse for talking to myself all these years.) As much as I enjoy being around grown-ups and having a purpose outside of raising a little person, it's also kind of sad to know someone else is getting him dressed in the morning, feeding him his meals, and putting him down for his naps. I'm grateful we've had so much time together, and I feel very blessed to have found someone I can trust and who Jack enjoys spending time with.

But all the same, I'm gonna miss it. After all, what's not to love?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Back on the Job

That's right, folks, someone's actually paying me to wear cute clothes again and spend time with grown-ups. Hooray! Here's the post. Hope you all have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: My Thoughts on Contests

Oh Contests. We have a history, you and I. Our relationship this past year has been tumultuous, to say the least. We've seen our share of ups, and more than our share of downs. You manage to fill me with so much hope while simultaneously causing ulcers. You entice me with your possible rewards, and then crush me like a bug under your heel at the end of the day. I hate you, and yet I keep coming back for more.

See, I'm in two contests this week: Deana Barnhart's GUTGAA and Cupid's CAGI. I made it into the agent round of CAGI, and I'm still waiting to see on GUTGAA. But here's the thing: I've made it into most of the contests I've entered (at least the ones where I got through the entry round, which are generally so stressful they almost keep me from entering. Almost). I've won (or been one of several winners) in several. I know how frustrating it is to try to get into a contest and not even get your foot in the door, and I also know how devastating it is to make it through to the agent round (Xmas in July), and to not get one single request. I'm not sure which is worse. They both suck, frankly.

But how many success stories do we read from these contests? I feel like it's one a week these days. So clearly, the contests work. They bring great writers and amazing agents together, and I can't help but hope that one day, it could happen to me too. That's why I keep putting myself out there, even though I feel like everyone in the YA blogosphere has probably read my query and first page by now and is probably thinking, "Wow, her book must go downhill after the first page if she doesn't have an agent yet." I've seen the same titles in many of these contests, and I think those writers must be feeling the same frustrations I am. Clearly our ideas stand out, or we wouldn't continue to impress the judges enough to make it in. Our queries have been polished to within an inch of our lives. Like me, I'm guessing many of those writers have queried and received a good number of requests. But for whatever reason, it just hasn't happened yet.

I don't like to voice my writing insecurities online too much anymore. That's what critique partners and beta readers are for, I know.  But I just wanted to say, to all those other writers out there who continue to put themselves out there for public scrutiny, I admire your bravery and tenacity. And I feel your pain. It's a tough road we've chosen, but at the end of the day, at least we can say we tried.

And to the writers who hosts these contests (many anonymously), who selflessly go out of their way to help other writers and spend countless hours creating opportunities for the rest of us, I want to say THANK YOU. You are all amazing, and I hope I can pay it forward myself some day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Health (s)Care

Okay okay, don't freak out. No one's dying over here. But this week, we had our first official medical issue in Russia. And I gotta say, it was a little disconcerting. Yes, we're all healthy and medically cleared for world-wide deployment, but that doesn't mean accidents can't happen or things can't change. Not to mention conditions in most posts simply aren't up to American standards. So here's what happened...

About a week ago, I noticed what I thought was a spider bite on Jack's back. I'm still not sure what it was, but as the week went on, a few more bumps started to crop up in his diaper area. I thought it was just his sensitive skin reacting to something, but they continued to appear. And when they started to show up on his back and under his arms, I knew something wasn't right. My first thought was, he has impetigo again (the staph infection he got on his face a couple of months ago). And of course, I packed his antibiotic ointment in our HHE, which still hasn't arrived. So we called the management officer, who told us to call the on-staff Russian doctor. He came by yesterday afternoon to look at Jack, but being a surgeon, he wasn't really sure what it was. Then he mentioned a Russian disease that can be "quite serious," and I really started to freak out. Seriously, I was on the verge of tears, berating myself for bringing Jack to a foreign country with poor medical care, when John looked it up on Google translate.


Well, I was pretty darn sure it wasn't chickenpox, but I had to admit that I had perhaps overreacted a little.

Today John took Jack to the private clinic here in town, where they have a pediatrician on staff (who I'd already heard was good from another parent here). It turns out Jack DOES have a staph infection, possibly caused by the water here. That's the disconcerting part. We already knew we couldn't drink the water here. We have a permanent distiller for that. But for showering, bathing, laundry, etc., we use the local water. And last week John informed me that the distiller isn't just for any bacteria or minerals or other yuckiness that might be present. It's also for radioactive particles.

So, um, yeah.

The bottom line is, things could be a lot worse. As far as health concerns go, Yekaterinburg isn't as bad as I'm sure many places are. But it's different, and it can be a challenge. I'm willing to take risks with my own health, but I'll never forgive myself if something happens to Jack. For now, we got him antibiotic ointment for his rash and I'm going to order a filter for the shower. If there's an emergency, we get shipped off to Moscow or London for treatment. But as far as calling the advice nurse at the pediatrician's office or even taking a trip to the emergency room? Not so much. That's one of the sacrifices you make in the FS, I guess. And hopefully one I won't come to regret.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Playing the Tourist

This week I got to explore Yekaterinburg like a tourist. Please stop by and check out some of our adventures. There's a giant mushroom and everything. Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: A Call for (Query) Help

Hi all. As many of you know, I'm taking part in the CAGI contest over at Cupid's Literary Connection, as well as Deana Barnhart's GUTGAA blogfest. That means I've gotten some great feedback on my query. And by great I mean things I need to change. Overall, I think my query is pretty good. I've gotten about a dozen requests from agents, so I feel like I'm doing something right. BUT, I know there's always room for improvement. Several people have said I need to put the paranormal stuff up front, and that I need to show the stakes at the end. Of course, I'm limited by word count - I'm trying to keep it around 250 words (without my bio paragraph). So here's my original query, as well as my new query with a few changes. If any of you can take a look and let me know if it's any better, I'd really appreciate it.

Friday Anderson’s life is over. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Ever since she survived the accident that killed her mother, seventeen-year-old Friday has felt stuck. She’s lost her only parent, she’s living in a town where dreams go to die, and even her hair and nails have stopped growing. Her only hope for getting out is earning enough money for college tuition, so when a mysterious ad appears in the local paper for a job assisting a rock band, Friday jumps at the opportunity.

Spending time with the gorgeous guitarist, Craig, certainly beats baling hay, but there’s something odd about the four young musicians, who spend most of their time bickering while their instruments gather dust. When Friday overhears a hushed conversation behind closed doors, she finally learns the truth: the band members are Athanatos, immortals trapped somewhere between life and death. Not only is Friday one of them, she’s the only immortal capable of killing another, and it’s up to the others to keep Friday from becoming a deadly weapon in the world’s oldest blood feud. Between magic rings, ancient curses, and the fact that Friday’s going to have to live with the same haircut for the rest of her life, it’s definitely going to take some time getting used to this whole “undead” thing.

Forever should just about do it.

AFTER: -->
Friday Anderson’s life is over. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Seventeen-year-old Friday wakes up from a car accident to find her cancer mysteriously cured. Everyone calls it a miracle, but now that her mother is gone and she’s being forced to move to a tiny Montana town, it feels way more like a curse. Her only hope of moving on is earning enough money for college, so when an ad appears in the paper for a job assisting a rock band, Friday jumps at the opportunity.

Hanging out with the gorgeous guitarist certainly beats baling hay, but there’s something odd about the four young musicians, who spend more time bickering than practicing. When Friday overhears them discussing a plan to move to New York -- and take Friday with them -- she finally confronts the band members and learns the truth: they are Athanatos, immortals trapped somewhere between life and death. Not only is Friday one of them, she’s the only immortal who can kill another, making her the one weapon capable of ending the world’s oldest blood feud.

Now Friday has a choice: confront the people hunting her down and risk the lives of the mortals she loves, or run and leave anything resembling a normal life behind. Between magic rings, ancient curses, and the fact that Friday’s going to have to live with the same haircut for the rest of her life, it’s definitely going to take some time getting used to this whole “undead” thing.

Forever should just about do it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mommy Mondays: When in Russia

I've been in Russia for a couple of weeks now, and I've already noticed a few ways in which Russian mommies differ from their American counterparts. For one thing, they're freaking hot. I saw a gorgeous brunette in the department store yesterday, wearing an impeccable black skirt suit and black stilettos, her hair pulled back into an impossibly neat French twist, pushing her infant in a shopping cart. For a minute I thought to myself, "Wow, this lady must have come straight from work. At a modeling agency." Until I remembered it was Sunday. Glancing down at my jeans and hoodie, I was suddenly grateful I didn't have Jack with me, and found myself hoping for the first time ever that people did think I was a teenager. A few minutes later I saw a rail-thin blonde wearing skinny jeans, white stilettos (yes, Russian women really do go to the grocery store in stilettos), and a short pink leather jacket, with her equally fashionable baby chilling in the shopping cart. Note to self: being a mom is not an excuse to be frumpy - or fat - in Russia.

The moms here also eschew strollers for prams. You know, old-fashioned four-wheeled baby carriages (most of them are fancy modern jobbers, but I can't say I've seen a single umbrella stroller in this joint, and I'm pretty sure I have the only BOB in all of Yekaterinburg). I'm curious to see how these strollers handle the sidewalks in winter. (I'm also curious to see how the stilettos handle the sidewalks in winter...)

But mostly, the one thing that's really stood out to me so far is the fact that Russian children are bundled up like tiny Michelin men in snow suits, hats, mittens, and snow boots, in September. And no, it's not already snowing here. It's in the fifties and sixties. At home, I'd have Jack in a sweater and a light jacket, maybe a newsy cap if I was feeling particularly jaunty that day. Snow suits, in my humble opinion, are only to be broken out in the SNOW. But on Jack's first outing with our nanny, K, it became abundantly clear that sending my child out bare-headed simply wasn't going to cut it. Of course, I had no winter apparel in our unaccompanied baggage, so the only hat I had available was John's beanie. I held it up questioningly to K, who seemed to think it would suffice if I had nothing better, and off we went to the park. The first child we encountered was wearing a puffy jacket and a hat with a massive pom pom on top. So was the second child. And the third. I believe the fourth was outfitted in full-up Arctic expedition gear. I knew then and there I needed to buy Jack a hat, stat.

Jackie sports his new hat (and a black eye, bc I had to give the locals something to stare at).

The next day, I went to the mall and purchased a warm hat with the biggest pom pom I could find. I knew I was golden when K approved. Jack christened it on our trip to the Europe/Asia border (for the record, we live on the Asia side, so I really don't think this should count as an Eastern European post), when the weather totally didn't warrant it but I felt like I was that much closer to fitting in with the natives regardless.

I just pray the weather doesn't take a turn for the worse in the next two weeks before the rest of our crap gets here, because I don't think I'll ever live it down if it gets into the forties and I don't have gloves on this kid. In the meantime, Jack better get used to wearing that hat, because it's not coming off until the local kids' do.

Which should be some time in May, by the look of things.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: Embracing the Awkward

In this week's edition of Foreign Service Fridays, things get a little bit awkward. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: "Come And Get It" Contest

By some miracle, I made it into the awesome "Come And Get It" (CAGI) contest, hosted by the fabulous Cupid over at Cupid's Literary Connection! I tried to get into one of her contests a long time ago and didn't make it, so I'm very excited to be in this time. For those of you who don't know, there are two submission windows so you still have a chance to get in. And of the 100 people who do, 40 will be selected by a group of judges to make it to the agent round. I really hope I make it that far, but it will be great to get more feedback regardless.

For this contest, ANYONE can comment, so if you have a moment please stop by my entry (#17) and leave me some feedback if you get a chance. I know most of you have seen my query and first 250 by this point, but a little cheerleading never hurts *wink wink*

There's also going to be an auction as part of this contest, which means even if you're not entering you could still win some cool writerly prizes. And Cupid asked all the entrants to donate $4 to a children's hospital, so the whole thing is for a great cause. Good luck to all the other contestants!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Have Toddler, Will Travel

(Scroll down to the next post for my GUTGAA Meet and Greet!)

Hello all! It's good to be back to blogging regularly! We have now been in Yekaterinburg for one full week, and I'm proud to say I haven't cried once. Yeah, I know that's not a big deal for most people, but it's a HUGE deal for me. (Confession that will come as a shock to absolutely no one: I'm *kinda* emotional.) Despite the fact that I feel like I'm doing a cracker jack job of adjusting to my new world, I am utterly exhausted. Like, newborn-up-every-few-hours-of-the-night exhausted, only I can't blame it on Jack. He's slept through the night for the past two nights, but I keep waking up in the middle of the night and finding myself unable to go back to sleep. My brain races with snippets of Russian, book ideas, worrying about how things are going to work out with the nanny, and mostly, the obsessive thought that I MUST GET BACK TO SLEEP! Last night I went to bed at 11, woke up at 2, fell back asleep at 6, and woke up at 7:30. So, yeah...I'm wiped. But I'm hanging in there, especially because my parents arrived at 4 a.m. today! I'm sooo happy to have them here, and extremely proud that they traveled for like 48 hours to get to Russia. And we have two full weeks together, so I imagine we'll know Yekat inside and out by the time they leave (and by Yekat I mean the mall).

But I digress. Today is Mommy Monday, so I thought it would be good to describe a little of what it's been like to live in a foreign country with a small child for one whole week (I'm tooootally an expert, right?). Honestly, it hasn't been too bad so far. The jet lag was rough the first few nights, but after one teeny tiny dose of Benadryl, Jack has been on a good schedule, even napping regularly and sleeping in until eight or later. And I gotta say, the kid is a trooper. Aside from his terrible airplane performance (next time we will definitely be breaking out the Benadryl; don't judge until you've been on a ten hour flight with a toddler who won't sleep!), he's proven himself to be remarkably resilient. He's been sleeping in a pack n' play for weeks without complaint, he's been making do with the same eight toys since the move, and he's even been well behaved at late dinners out. I would be extremely lonely without him to keep me company throughout the day, and his smiling face and infectious giggles are just the distraction I need when I start to feel a little overwhelmed by this whole situation.


(There's always a but, isn't there...)

There have been a few moments when I've thought to myself, "Man, this would be a lot easier without a kid." The travel part is obvious. But we are also the only Americans at post with a child. That means that when everyone decides to get together for dinner, we either bring Jack or stay home (at least until we find a babysitter). And frankly, I understand that not everyone wants a toddler interjecting at mealtime with an exclamation of, "CLOCK! Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-a-ling-a-ling!" (Thank you to Abby's Flying Fairy School for that little gem.) But I also don't want to segregate ourselves in the early stages when it's important to get to know everyone, and I've been eager to get out of the house in the evenings, since I'm still kind of terrified of venturing out alone (having Mom and Dad here helps, fortunately).

All the single people here travel a ton, some nearly every weekend. I envy them that freedom. They can go out a lot, make new friends, spend all their disposable income on food and clothing and vacation. They can meet family and friends in Europe without multiplying their airfare by three. On top of all that, I suspect that living in a big city is a lot more appealing when you don't have to worry about the safety of your small child. I'm willing to close my eyes and cross my fingers when it comes to Yekat's tap water (we drink only distilled water, but apparently some people don't even consider that safe), but I nearly have a heart attack every time Jack eyes the bathwater like it's a tasty beverage. Yes, many of these things are true in the "real world," but it all seems exaggerated at post.

And yet.

(You knew I wasn't going to end with that, right?)

I wouldn't trade my family for all the leather goods in Europe. At the end of the day, I have a husband who loves me and an amazing little boy who brings me more joy and laughter than I could hope for. Sure, we may not get to travel as much or go out three nights a week, but the memories we make are all the more special because we have each other to share them with.

Now all we need are some frequent flyer miles, a good babysitter, and the occasional dose of Benadryl.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

GUTGAA: Meet and Greet!

For those of you who are non-writing friends, this post won't mean much. For the rest of you, I KNOW you know what GUTGAA stands for: Gearing Up To Get An Agent! I'm super excited to take part in it this year. Hopefully the time difference doesn't get me too screwed up...

Today's blog post is the Meet and Greet. First a short bio, and then my answers to Deana's questions!

A former journalist, I started writing fiction about eight years ago and haven't looked back. My most recent novel is Young Adult Urban Fantasy, and I think I've found my writing niche. I'm a triplet born on Leap Day, a former Marine wife and current Foreign Service spouse, and the mother of a two-year-old named Jack. Last week we moved to Yekaterinburg, Russia, for our first post in the FS. So far so good!

-Where do you write?
Either on my laptop on the couch or, up until last week, at my desk in our basement. Since we moved, however, that has yet to be seen.

-Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see?
I guess I'll go with my prior writing space! If I looked to the left down in my basement, I'd see the world map I stuck to a cork board. It's covered in multi-colored pins, signifying all the different options on our Foreign Service bid list.

-Favorite time to write?
During nap time, simply by default.

-Drink of choice while writing?
Nothing or water. Although maybe I should try wine. Or vodka.

-When writing, do you listen to music or do you need complete silence?
I don't usually listen to music, but I don't necessarily need silence. Generally the white noise of the baby monitor is my soundtrack.

-What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it?
My inspiration came from the term "Girl Friday," which I've always kind of loved. Somehow my twisted mind turned it into "Ghoul Friday," and I thought about what it would be like for an undead girl named Friday.

-What's your most valuable writing tip?
As an unagented writer, it's hard to believe anyone would find my advice valuable. However, I've been at this a while now, and all I can say is, don't give up! You'll never get published if you don't put yourself out there. I believe successful writers have some combination of talent, passion, persistence, and luck. Now I'm just waiting for my luck to change.

Can't wait to visit the other participating blogs! Thanks to Deana Barnhart for hosting this amazing event!