Monday, October 29, 2012

Taking a Break

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: How to Make Time Fly

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: On Letting Go

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mommy Mondays: The Case of the Missing Coaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The End

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: My Commute

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

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: Dorothy Perkins

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: The Next Big Thing

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

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

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

What genre does your book fall under?
YA Urban Fantasy

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

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

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

Or something. I frigging hate synopses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mommy Mondays: A Day at the Park

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

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

From the park's website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Foreign Service Fridays: TGIF

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Things I Love Thursdays: One Kings Lane

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

Pink Chinoiseries Slipper Chairs for Sarah

Beswick Sheepdog for Erin

Vintage animal plates for The Other Sarah

Turquoise lamps for Kimmy

Vintage poster for John

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: Incorporating a Foreign Language

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

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Let the Potty Training Commence!

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

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

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

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

But I suppose it has to happen eventually.

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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

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

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

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

Look, it has famous people and everything!

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

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

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

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

Here's the link.

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Writing Wednesdays: What's Your Favorite Thing About Writing?

Last weekend I FINALLY did some actual writing. And boy did it feel good. It took a while to get back into the swing of things (I had to re-read the first three chapters I'd written a couple of months ago, plus update everything that I now realize is completely unrealistic having spent some actual time in Russia), but once I got into the swing of things, I remembered why I put myself through the torture and heartbreak of querying and contests:

Because I love to write. And if there's any way I can possibly make a living out of it, it's worth all the hard work and frustration.

As I was writing, I had one of those "AHA!" moments where a little detail I'd inserted in chapter two tied in perfectly to a scene in chapter four. It wasn't something I'd even considered, but once I got to that important scene in chapter four, and I remembered that detail in chapter two (whichI'd only added because it was something I found amusing), I couldn't help but feel like maybe my subconscious was one step ahead of me. It's moments like those that make me absolutely love writing, and think maybe, just maybe, I'm not so bad at it after all.

So, what is your favorite thing about writing? What keeps you going even when you feel like you're hitting your head against a brick wall?

And just in case you're wondering, that little insignificant detail was a shoe. A white furry boot to be exact.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mommy Mondays: Now and Then

What a difference (almost) three years makes.

Jack was flopping around on his "cozy chair" the other day, so I grabbed the camera to snap a picture of him (or fifty - who's counting). Once I saw it, I was instantly reminded of a photo Auntie Shasha took of Jack when he was just a week old.

Jackie "then"

And "now"

As I was saying to John the other day in Moscow, in some ways it feels like Jack was just born, and in other ways it feels like he's always been a part of our life. When we look back at photos of Jack over the past three years, we marvel at how much he's changed, and then remark on how he's always been Jack. Look closely at that first picture, and you can already see that impish little grin forming on his face. He was probably dreaming up ways to drive us crazy even then...

And now, I can't imagine our lives without him.