Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: Dual POV and Parallel Worlds

Last week I got a new idea for a novel. Yes, another one. I already have several in the works, but this one kind of grabbed a hold of me and my CP thinks it has merit, so I'm taking a stab at it.

As it stands right now, I'm trying to write it in dual POV. I did this once a long time ago, and it was pretty easy, but this novel is posing a challenge because the characters are in different worlds (at least to start out). That's another thing - parallel worlds, something I NEVER thought I'd write. And because these characters are so different, and their worlds are so different, it's a little jarring to go from one to the other. Eventually they'll meet up, and then things should get easier (I hope), but for now, I'm a little worried. Their voices are very distinct too (southern girl in real world; old-fashioned stonemason in parallel world), so while I know my readers won't have a problem differentiating between the characters, I also don't want the reader to feel like they're trying to read two separate books at the same time.

Here are some main character ideas in case you're curious. (It was rough rummaging through photos of male models to find inspiration, but an artist has to be willing to make sacrifices for her work).

His name is Christian Jorgensen if you're, um, bored.
My inspiration for Jolene, the female MC

Anyone have any advice on this? Have you written a dual POV or parallel world novel, or do you know a good example I should study? I'd love your guys' thoughts!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mommy Mondays: That Special Time of Year

Yes, my friends, it's stomach bug season. Jack was taken by the puke monster on Saturday evening, and John got hit last night. I fear my time is nigh. Since I'm busy taking care of a sick hubby, I'm going to re-post these little gems from March and April (Crikey, I can't believe this was less than a year ago. It feels like a lifetime!).

Parenthood: Not for the Faint of Heart

It is a truth universally acknowledged by parents that the most feared of childhood viruses is the dreaded stomach flu.

For over two years, John and I have managed to escape such horror. No vomiting, no diarrhea, even when we were both wiped out by the stomach bug of Christmas '10. Puking is bad enough when you're an adult, but when you're a child unable to utter such useful phrases as "Grab a bucket, I'm gonna hurl," the stomach flu becomes something akin to a minefield. A minefield containing hidden pockets of puke.

So Saturday evening, John and I came home from coat shopping (the quest for the warmest of all winter jackets seems to be at an end; we're opting for the ridiculously expensive Canada Goose, because it's the best, and when it comes to cold, I ain't messing around). John lifted Jack out of the car and, "Grak," Jack deposited the partially digested contents of his snack - goldfish crackers, to be exact - onto John's shoulder.

"I think I just picked him up wrong," John said doubtfully. I, being the pessimist I am, was already convinced it was something far worse. When Jack refused to eat his dinner, I knew we were in trouble.

Upstairs, as John was getting Jack's bath ready, I started to unclothe the child and heard a most unwelcome sound. Something like a cat getting ready to hack up a hairball. "Incoming!" I shouted, carrying a half-naked Jack into the bathroom, where he proceeded to projectile vomit into the sink. The poor kid was pale and trembling, clearly traumatized by the whole thing, but he seemed to feel much better once he got into the bath and we brushed his teeth.

"Maybe that's the end of it?" John said hopefully.

I shook my head. "Not a chance."

John got Jack ready for bed while I proceeded to vomit-proof the crib. See, I may not have experienced this kind of thing before, but I knew it would happen eventually. A plan for just such a disaster had formed in my mind ages ago, and now it was time to put the plan into action. First up - the accident-proof pads I used to keep under Jack's sheets when he was little. Next, two blankets that I tucked across the top that could be easily removed in case of emergency. All non-washable animals came out of the bed, while a select few blanket-type lovies were allowed to remain. I got the Pedialyte ready, grabbed a large Tupperware, and steeled myself for a long night. Two hours after the initial puke, we heard Jack whimper from his crib.

"GO, GO, GO!" John and I raced upstairs, grabbed Jack from his crib, and got him over the toilet just in time. I tried in vain to get Jack to drink some Pedialyte, but he was already falling back asleep, so we changed his jammies and laid him back down. An hour later, another whimper. This time the Tupperware was on hand and the vomit was contained. We gave Jack a few sips of Pedialyte and went to bed, ready to spend most of the night cleaning up messes and comforting a sick child.

Miraculously, I did not wake up again until 8:30 on Sunday morning. It was Jack's voice that roused me from my sleep.


I bolted upright, prepared to grab the Tupperware from the hallway.


And that, my friends, was that.

I am happy to say that John and I made it through our first stomach virus relatively painlessly. While John may consider the whole thing luck, I'm pretty sure it all came down to my carefully laid plans (and John's willingness to clean a hideously defiled sink). The next time the stomach bug decides to rear it's ugly head, we'll be ready. Because parenthood is war, people, and right now, it's Parents: 1; Vomit: 0.

Game on.

Parents VS Stomach Flu: Round Two

Well, Round Two struck on Thursday, and this time: I was not ready.

It happened like this. I got a call from Jack's school saying that the stomach flu was going around and Jack was looking very pale and like he wanted to throw up. So I rushed to school and picked him up. I had a bucket in the car and his smock-bib on, just in case, but we made it home okay. Jack looked really sleepy though, so I took him up to his room and began to prepare his crib. But I couldn't just let him wander around, and he can't be trusted on his changing table, so where did I put him? In his beautiful blue velvet chair, natch. I turn around for one second and BLARGH - commencing vomit. I caught the next round in my bare hands. That was fun. Then I set about cleaning Jack up, all the while shooting pained glances at my velvet chair, which was absorbing vomit by the second. Don't even get me started on the little crocheted pillow that sits on the chair.

Here's what I realized during Round Two: the stomach flu is totally doable when you have TWO parents on hand. But when it's just you? And you've got to do the prep work AND take care of the pukey kid? It's virtually impossible. I should have done what Sarah suggested (afterward, of course) and stuck Jack in the bathtub. Hell, pretty much anywhere would have been better than the chair. Lesson learned. But even still, it's a two-man job. I had a desperate urge to text John requesting backup, but I was pretty sure he wasn't going to leave Russian school for this. Fortunately, I already had tickets to the Hunger Games that night, so John got to face the next bout by himself (the dog bed took the brunt of that round, I'm sorry to say). And then, as if the universe really wanted to drive home the fact that two parents are better than one, Jack had another round of pukies just as I returned from the movies.

So the score, in the end, was settled on all accounts. Parents vs stomach flu? 1:1. I just hope it's more than a few weeks before Round Three.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: That Time I Smoked a Hookah...

If you'd like to hear about my complete and utter lack of backbone, please head over to Most Eligible Family. Happy Friday to all!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: The Real Fauxtographer

I discovered this Thing I Love via Leigh Bardugo, the amazing author of Shadow and Bone, easily one of my favorite books of 2012. See, the Fauxtographer, Margot Wood (who isn't just ridonkuslously talented but also totally gorgeous), has a series of photographs of scenes from YA novels. Completely brilliant and inspired, and as it happens, she's done photos for some of my favorites books. I'll share a few of them here, but I urge you to go to her website, The Real Fauxtographer, and check out her stuff for yourself. You won't regret it.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (photo by Margot Wood)

Shadow and Bone (photo by Margot Wood)

Under the Never Sky (photo by Margot Wood)

As if it wasn't already my life's goal to be a published author...now I'm adding "get Fauxtographer to do a photo from one of my novels" to the list.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: New Year, New Ways to Torture Myself

I mentioned a month or so ago that I was an alternate for Pitch Wars. Well, Pitch Wars is tomorrow, and I'm kind of freaking out. It's likely nothing will come of it (the Alternates Showcase will feature our 35-word pitch and our first 250 words), but I'm praying I get at least one request. Some of you may recall my contest run last year. I did fairly well for the most part, but there was one contest that I got into (30 out of 300 entrants were chosen) where I didn't get a single request. Not a one. I was so embarrassed and told myself I wasn't going to enter any more contests. But like childbirth, there must be some kind of hormone that causes one to forget the torture of writing contests, because here I am again.

On the bright side, I won a prize in a much smaller contest yesterday (thanks Ink in the Book!). There were only 25 entrants and 5 awesome prizes, so the odds were ever in my favor. I got a three chapter critique from an agent, which is extra cool since I haven't started querying this novel yet and therefore have NO IDEA what agents are going to think of it. Honestly, this is even better than a request for me at this point. Fingers crossed I get some good feedback.

There are a few other big contests going on right now, and there's a part of me that gets super itchy to enter when I see them. However, I have not entirely forgotten the torture of trying to get into a contest lottery, of waiting with fingers poised for an entry window to start, of the endless page refreshes to see if I got any requests. I'm not sure I'm up for that again this year. Plus, I haven't invested nearly as much time in this manuscript, which means I'm less attached to it. I'm also eager to get back to writing again. Contests and requests and revisions are so time consuming I did hardly any writing last year, and I'm planning on writing at least one novel in 2013.

This post is starting to go in circles, isn't it? (I love contests; I hate them; I love them; etc.) Please just wish me luck today (fortunately most of the action will take place while I'm sleeping, so I don't have to spend an entire day in agony) and John, if you're reading this, I apologize in advance for what's about to take place.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: 2013, The Year of Travel

We're traveling a lot in 2013, just as long as Jack steers clear of the stomach flu. Read about it here, and have a fabulous three-day weekend everyone!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Today on his blog, Steven Pressfield talks about raising the stakes in your manuscript in a post called "Have a Body Hit the Floor." In other words, when in doubt, kill someone.

As I read, I kept thinking to myself, Well, great. I'm writing YA Contemporary. I can't kill anyone else off (it would be slightly out of context in this story). Now what?

Then I got to the last paragraph:

"A final note about 'life and death.' The stakes don’t have to be literally mortal. But they must feel like life and death to the specific character...Destruction of the soul. Those are the ultimate stakes."


This got me thinking about the stakes in my current manuscript. What is the worst thing that could happen to Dorothy, my main character? Considering she's a girl with severe social anxiety disorder who impersonates someone else to overcome her fears, the worst that could happen would be getting caught and actually being judged by everyone (which up until this point has been a mostly irrational fear; that's kind of the thing with phobias - they're not grounded in reality. Although if you ask me, it's perfectly legit to be terrified to the point of death by house centipedes. There's no telling what something can do with that many legs...).

Then I thought about what actually happens in my novel. The ending was rushed - I knew that already. But I wasn't sure how to fix it. Right now, Dorothy gets caught, but her fears are only realized to a certain extent. That doesn't really fit into Pressfield's "destruction of the soul" formula. The point of writing a flawed character is for them to grow - to find a way to either overcome their flaw or turn it into a strength. But by some sort of subconscious act of empathy toward Dorothy, I ended up giving her an easy way out.

Now I know what the problem is with my ending: I haven't screwed my character over enough. She's got to hit rock bottom. It's time for some tough lovin'.

On that note, I'm off to destroy my main character's soul. (It's nothing personal, Dorothy. Just be grateful I didn't decide to turn this book into a thriller.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mommy Mondays: It's All Relative

After Friday's visit to the children's shelter, I've been doing a lot of thinking. Mostly about one little girl named Irina, but also about parenting in general. On an almost daily basis, I doubt my parenting capabilities. Jack watches too much TV. He eats too much sugar. He isn't potty trained. He doesn't get outside enough. The list goes on and on. And these pressures I put on myself don't just come from, well, myself. Facebook is a constant reminder of how other parents are doing far better than I am. My mom gave me a guilt trip about going back to work over the holidays. And I really need to unsubscribe from that cursed "Your Baby This Month" email list.

On Friday, I spent the day with two dozen children who were either given up by their parents or taken away from them. These kids live in a group home with children they've never met before. They are well taken care of, but they are without their parents, and sadly, that's probably the best thing for them. This doesn't just happen in Russia, of course. There are children all over the world who are abused, neglected, and unwanted. I'm not saying that should be the standard by which to judge one's own parenting, but it helps put things into perspective.

We decided upon this lifestyle largely because we wanted to bring our child up with an open mind and a better sense of what the world is really like. We wanted him to experience other cultures, learn foreign languages, meet people from all walks of life, and see the world in a way you simply can't by growing up in Alexandria, Virginia. That's part of the reason we took him with us on Friday. He was obviously too young to really understand what was going on, but I don't think it's ever too early to start teaching your child life lessons. It was also a reminder to me that Jack is incredibly blessed and fortunate (as are we).

This morning, Jack started to cry when he saw our nanny. I told him that perhaps if he asked her nicely, she might make his desired breakfast selection. To my horror, Jack held one finger up in the air and said, "Katya, pancakes!" like the poor woman was a short order cook. Fortunately, she insisted he ask her politely, in Russian ("Mozhno blini, pozhaluysta."). Still, I couldn't help thinking that perhaps I should be more concerned about his sense of entitlement than anything he might possibly be lacking in life, not to mention where that sense of entitlement comes from. If I act like my child should get to eat whatever he wants for breakfast, can I really blame him for taking me up on it?

As I tucked Jack into his newly-appointed toddler bed this weekend, in a warm room filled with books, clothing, and toys, I felt both extremely lucky and profoundly sad. I keep thinking about those children in the shelter, not just little Irina but the fifteen-year-old girl I gave a bracelet to, and the thirteen-year-old boy who wanted to know all about California, and how any of them would probably kill to have parents like John and me (or Emily and Ricardo, or Courtney and Peter, or Meredith and Dave, or any of my amazing parent friends). That's why I hope Russia will reverse this adoption ban and allow children to find homes wherever they can. There are many things children can do without - fancy train tables and from-scratch pancakes included - but a loving family should not be one of them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: My Favorite Day

Today we went to a children's shelter in a village outside the city. It was pretty amazing. I hope you'll read about it here. Happy Friday everyone. (And go hug your kid for me, okay?)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: New Year's Resolutions

Here it is folks. The ubiquitous New Year's Resolutions post (sure, I'm a week late, but I still have a week until Russian New Year, so go with it).

As usual, Sarah asked me what my resolutions were for this year, and as usual, I told her that I'm perfect and you simply can't improve on perfection. Then she glared at me and I admitted that perhaps I could use a few tweaks here and there. But this is a writing blog (contrary to the fact that I hardly ever post on actual writing-related topics) so I'll keep things writerly for the most part.

My main resolution this year is to stop worrying about things I can't control. For a million years now, I've made it a yearly goal to get a literary agent. Well, I think I'm living proof that no matter how much blood, sweat, tears, and temper tantrums you put into life, some things are simply out of your hands. I'd like to stop being so negative, not because I believe John's theory that I'll magically jinx my life into sucking (if that were the case, things would be a hell of a lot worse than they actually are), but because at best, it's a waste of energy, and at worst, it causes you to ignore all the good things that you do have. I'm healthy, I have a beautiful family and amazing friends, and I have a job that allows me to keep plugging away at this writing thing until eventually the writing world will be so sick of my complaining some agent will have to take pity on me. I want to stop being such a catastrophizer (or fatalist, or whatever you call someone who habitually makes mountains out of mole hills). A word to the wise: if you decide to marry a man who has actually lived through a life and death situation (a Marine fighter pilot, for example), he will not take pity on you when you decide to throw a fit over something that may or may not take place at some point in the future unless it ACTUALLY involves death.

I'd like to write at least one novel this year, hopefully two (I have three waiting in the wings, plus a brand new idea I'm excited to research). Of course I'd like to get a literary agent, but I'm going to aim for writing the best novels I can instead of spending my time agonizing over querying. This probably won't happen, but it's still early January - a girl can dream, right?

On the work front, I'm going to try to get an international school built in Yekat. Partly because I think it would be an amazing accomplishment which would benefit a lot of families as well as this city, and partly because a bunch of people have already told me it's impossible. I do love a challenge.

I should probably throw "learn Russian" onto the list, since I may need to speak to a stranger at some point this year. Working out seems to have fallen off the map lately, but I'd still like to get back up to 20 miles a week (every time I feel like I can slack off a little, some hefty lady tells me that she used to be my size and I'd better watch myself; perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something...). Add a pinch of the usual "be a better wife and mother" goal, and I think I've got plenty to work on in 2013.

Oh, and one more thing. I seriously need to curb my dependency on parentheticals (I mean seriously, this is getting out of hand). They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, so here goes: I'm Mara, and I'm a parenthetical-aholic. Are you happy now, Sarah?

I hope everyone has a wonderful, successful 2013. As the Russians say, S Novim Godom!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Movie

I don't do a lot of reviews on here, mostly because I'm terrified they'll come back to bite me in the ass one day, but I'm *fairly* sure that Peter Jackson is not going to see this review, so here goes...

As you may recall, I was excited for this movie. It was the ONE film of the holiday season I vowed to see while in the States. I saw all of The Lord of the Rings movies in the theater - it became a holiday tradition that I loved and I was hoping to rekindle the affair. So when we went to Bozeman a couple of weeks ago (Red Lodge has one teeny tiny theater that shows one movie at a time - once a day - and it was not The Hobbit), Sarah and I knew we had to work the film into our tight schedule. But I was an idiot and didn't buy tickets in advance, and the movie was sold out. It worked out in the end - we got to spend the afternoon with our friend and it gave me a chance to reread the book before seeing the movie. This seemed like a particularly brilliant move on my part, at the time. I hadn't read the novel since I was in sixth grade, and I'm pretty sure that most of what I remembered was actually from the Rankin and Bass cartoon version anyway. So I read the book on one flight, fell in love with it all over again, and was super excited to see the movie in DC.

I should probably caveat all of this by saying I had one other motive for seeing The Hobbit. I'm obsessed with Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield in the movie, and somehow remains hot as a dwarf with a prosthetic nose. If you don't believe me, feast your eyes!

At any rate, we ended up seeing the movie in 3D at 10 am on Saturday in Georgetown, and that was the first disappointment. The theater was tiny (apparently 10 am isn't a popular time to see movies; who knew?) and there was an issue with the screen, so the 3D really messed with my eyes. Eventually I got used to it, and that's not really Pete's fault, so we'll press on.

The main issue for me was that the movie didn't follow the book - pretty much at all. I went into the movie wondering how Peter Jackson made one 300-page book into a trilogy, and now I know. He included material that simply wasn't in The Hobbit. Characters I didn't even remember existed appeared out of nowhere (Radagast the Brown is mentioned briefly in The Lord of the Rings and apparently also comes into play in other works - I am by no means a Tolkien expert! - but he's definitely not in The Hobbit. Although I kind of loved the bunny sled team, and Sebastian the hedgehog). For the first half of the movie, I muttered over and over, "This wasn't in the book." About two hours in I gave up, although occasionally Sarah would turn to me and whisper, "Was this in the book?" To which I would respond with a despondent shake of my head.

Thorin, I'm happy to say, did not disappoint (although he's a lot meaner in the movie than he is in the book - fortunately he redeems himself by the end of the first film). The rest of the dwarfs were also great, especially fat Bombur. I loved him. But I can't figure out why they left one single dwarf prosthetic-less. Kili, to be specific. It just looks ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, Aidan Turner is pretty easy on the eyes, but come on.

Let's play spot the intended heart-throb.
Otherwise I thought the casting and makeup was all excellent. Martin Freeman was the perfect Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen is always fantastic as Gandalf. I forgave Galadriel's unauthorized (that word takes on a whole new meaning suddenly) appearance simply because I love Cate Blanchett. Gollum is as maniacally creepy as ever, and the special effects lived up to my high expectations.

Overall, it wasn't bad, per se. Just not what I expected. Of course I'll see the next two films (although I was trying to figure out how things like The Silmarillion factor into the rest of the trilogy and frankly, I still don't understand it), if only because I love Richard Armitage so much. And who knows? Maybe by next year my brain will be so fried (or dried out like a prune from this terrible Russian weather) that I'll forget what happens in the book.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Mommy Mondays: To Russia, With Mixed Emotions

Here we are in the Frankfurt airport, somewhere around halfway through our journey. So far it's been a mixed bag as far as the traveling is concerned, but more on that later. I mentioned last time I blogged that we had switched our travel plans to spend a few days in D.C., and it was soooo worth it. I'm not sure why we didn't think of it before, to be honest. Not only did it break up the journey, but we got to spend time with some of our favorite people.

To our hosts, Mike and Alexis, thank you for everything, from finding us a place to stay to cooking us delicious panettone French toast to being fearless in the face of vomit. You guys are the best. Mark and Lauren, we love you guys so much and hope to see you in Europe some time soon. Otherwise, we're on for Disney World in November, right?? New Jon, you are the best. (Jon is not only an amazing cameraman and all around great guy, but he knits teeny tiny elephants, for Pete's sake!). And Sarah - the only reason I could bear saying goodbye is because I know you're coming to visit me in two short months. I love you so much!

So, what did we do in D.C.? Well, I shopped. A lot. I ate my way through Georgetown. John ran some. We slept wonderfully in a creepy old lady apartment. We saw friends, as I mentioned, I FINALLY saw The Hobbit (review forthcoming), and then I ate some more. And we commented more than a few times on the glory that is 40 degree weather in January (along with good roads, happy human beings, clean tap water, and Target). One thing about living in a foreign country: it sure makes you appreciate home.

And then, because no Rutherford journey would be complete without some hitch in our well-laid plans, Jackie woke up yesterday from his nap looking a bit peaked. My mommy senses knew something wasn't right, but Jack regained color in his face eventually, and what could we do but continue on to our 4:00 frozen custard date with friends? I'm still not sure if the quick stop at CVS was a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, it was awfully handy to have our kid lose his lunch, breakfast, and some of last week's fish and chips by the look of things in the parking lot of a drug store. Still, it would have been nice if he'd actually been standing in the parking lot itself, rather than tethered into his car seat. John was conveniently inside CVS picking up a prescription when all hell broke loose. Fortunately, I had Mike, a former EMT with an apparently very strong stomach, on hand. I managed to contain most of the damage (I'm sad to say Jack's guitar shirt and matching pants did not survive the ordeal, but by some stroke of luck we had put the suitcase containing Jack's clothing into the car just before we left), and we pressed valiantly onward to let our friends know that frozen custard was about the last thing on our minds at that particular moment.

You know what was on my mind (aside from the fact that I may never eat pineapple again)? How the hell we were going to travel with a toddler with the stomach flu just six hours hence. But flights to Yekat are scarce, our free creepy old lady apartment had been taken over by someone who is actually friends with the creepy old lady (in truth, she's a very generous neighbor of Mike and Alexis and probably not creepy at all), and I wanted to get the trip overwith. So, arming myself with Alexis's handy Scooby Doo Halloween bucket, we headed out to the airport. Five minutes later I got nervous and made John pull over, but naturally Jack decided to wait until we were on the airport access road, unable to pull over, to begin round two. All I can say is, Scooby Doo, I love you.

Armed with American Dramamine this time (I'm convinced the Russian stuff was faulty), we boarded the plane and nearly died with happiness when we saw the business class seats. I've flown first class once before, so I knew it was good, but that was pre-child. I didn't fully realize the potential of a seat that turns into a bed, more leg room than I could possibly need, and best of all, a wide selection of movies (including Lilo and Stitch, Jack's current obsession) that start AS SOON AS YOU BOARD THE PLANE. We didn't have to wait thirty minutes to get out the iPad. Jack settled down with his movie, and before you can say "please wait until the fasten seat belt sign has been turned off," Jackie was asleep. And he stayed asleep for the next SIX HOURS!

This is how I looked for pretty much the entire flight:

Finally, right where I belong.
Did you know about the ice cream sundaes???
For some, it's the ice cream. For others, the free port.
But mostly, it was THIS!
Best of all, Scooby Doo remained unsullied for the remainder of the flight. Now, we wait the eight long hours until our next flight, which will no doubt be incredibly painful. Alas, we are stuck in coach once more. But I've made a vow to myself, to never fly coach trans-Atlantic again. I owe it to myself, to my kid, and most of all, to my sanity. Russia, here we come.