Friday, March 29, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: What a Difference an Embassy Makes

It feels good to be back on a regular blogging schedule! Today I'm over at Most Eligible Family talking about our time at the embassy in Moscow. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Writing Wednesdays: The Typewriter Girl

Today's post isn't so much about writing as reading, but really, don't we learn so much about writing from what we read? I say yes, so I'm going to share with you a wonderful book I just finished that I stumbled upon by accident.

I won a copy of The Typewriter Girl over on Chick Lit Is Not Dead (which if you aren't reading, you should be; I've entered two of their book giveaways, which happen every week, and I've won a book both times). Frankly, I was drawn to the book because of the cover. Plus it sounded different from all the YA I've been reading lately, and I needed a change.

Gorgeous, no?

Here's the blurb from Goodreads:
"In Victorian London, there’s only so far an unmarried woman can go, and Betsey Dobson has relied on her wits and cunning to take herself as far as she can—to a position as a typewriter girl. But still, Betsey yearns for something more…so when she’s offered a position as the excursions manager at a seaside resort, she knows this is her chance for security, for independence, for an identity forged by her own work and not a man’s opinion. Underqualified for the job and on the wrong side of the aristocratic resort owner, Betsey struggles to prove herself and looks to the one person who can support her new venture: Mr. Jones, the ambitious Welshman building the resort’s pleasure fair. As she and Mr. Jones grow ever closer, Betsey begins to dream that she might finally have found her place in the world—but when her past returns to haunt her, she must fight for what she’s worked so hard…or risk losing everything.

This eloquent debut novel displays firm propriety barely restraining seething passion—a sizzling combination reminiscent of Downton Abbey."

That last sentence pretty much says it all. This book is pretty steamy, I'm not gonna lie. But it's also beautifully written (seriously, Atlee can WRITE), with an utterly unique protagonist and a rather yummy leading man. A highly recommended read. (And thanks to Lisa and Liz for the book! Those ladies are awesome!)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mommy Mondays: It's Tuttles!

It's hard to say when, but at some point in the past few months, Jack made up a word:


Since that day, "tuttles" comes up a lot. The trouble is, no one (aside from Jack I suppose) knows just what the hell tuttles means. John was convinced it was a butchery of "turtles" for a while, but Jack uses tuttles in so many different ways and places that it simply isn't possible. Besides, he can say turtles perfectly well.

Perhaps you'd like an example of just how Jack uses the word tuttles. The snarky part of me might say, "How DOESN'T Jack use tuttles?" but I'll indulge you. Here's an example of a conversation:

Me: Jack, it's bath time.
Jack: It's not bath time. It's TUTTLES time!


Me: Jack, do you need to go potty?
Jack: I am not need to go potty. I'm TUTTLES!


Me: Jack, what in the name of all that is holy is tuttles?
Jack: It's TUTTLES!

You get the idea. Eventually, I gave up trying to figure out what tuttles was. Maybe it was his imaginary friend. Maybe it was a unique combo of noun/verb/adjective the likes of which my feeble adult brain simply couldn't fathom. Maybe Jack is actually an alien from an undiscovered planet sent to drive me insane. It could be any of these things, really. So I decided to leave well enough tuttles.

The self-satisfied grin of a man with a secret. And ice cream.

Then Sarah and Kim showed up, and they too were driven to hysterics by the mystery that is tuttles. I would overhear Sarah and Kim with Jack in the living room, gently prodding as I myself had so recently done. "Jackie, tell me what tuttles is and I'll give you chocolate." "Jack, can you draw tuttles for me here on the iPad?" "Jack, tell me what tuttles is or I'll never speak to you again!" Etc.

Of course, Jack didn't take the bait with them either. I wonder if he himself even knows. I have a feeling the original meaning of tuttles has been lost in the annals of time and now has come to represent everything Jack can't put into words, or is simply too lazy to bother with. Frankly, I can see how that would come in handy.

John: Mara, can you do the dishes?
Me: I can't do the dishes. I'm tuttles!

Jack: Mommy, can you get me some juice?
Me: There isn't any juice. There's tuttles!

See how that works? You can't really argue with something you don't understand. So the next time you find yourself stumped by a question on Jeopardy ("What is tuttles?"), or you're desperate for something to talk about with strangers at a work event ("What are your thoughts on tuttles?"), or an angry Russian is demanding something of you that you simply can't understand ("Tuttles?"), consider using the new old-standby.

I'll tell Jack you said tuttles.

Monday, March 18, 2013


This post doesn't have one of my usual peppy alliterative titles because frankly, I don't even know what day it is anymore. I feel like I haven't been in one place for more than a week or two ever since 2013 started, probably because I haven't. I feel like all the spunk has been beaten out of me. In other words, I feel like the wolf. The bear is my life.

Life: Take THAT! Me: Okay
Actually, we're in Moscow. This statue is somewhere near Red Square and depicts some fairy tale or other. I don't even know. We arrived Sunday afternoon with Kim and Sarah in tow, and while the two of them still seem enamored with Russia in winter ("I could live here," Sarah says cheerfully. "Me too!" Kim agrees chipperly), I've had enough. ENOUGH I say. Yesterday we wanted to take Jack to the zoo in the afternoon. A simple thing, really. So we slogged through the snow to what any normal human would think was the zoo entrance (big wide gates, animal statuary, etc.) only to discover a sign saying "vhod niet"- no entry. And just to rub salt in my wounds, the difference between the words exit and entrance is a teeny tiny sound that doesn't exist in English: выход (exit) vs вход (entrance).

So we decided to go around to the other gate. Just a block or two, we thought. But Moscow, being a mega-city, doesn't have normal blocks. It has mega-blocks, if you will. Every now and then you'll encounter an alley that seems to take you on a shortcut to where you want to go. But no, it's a dead end, which means you have now added even more time to your walk. Finally, an hour and a half later, we found the other entrance. (In between we found a random open gate and went through it, only to have the guard yelling at us in Russian and crossing his arms like an X, the universal sign for "get the f*ck out.") When we got to the main entrance of the zoo, it also appeared closed. But then we saw a woman, a child, and a dog walk in, so we decided to follow suit. A moment later, another guard appeared, and Kim was rather rudely removed from the zoo premises, along with the dog. We all stood looking mournfully at the zoo for a moment before going our separate ways.

After carrying a 35-pound sack of whiny potatoes (did I mention we didn't have a stroller?) for nearly two hours, we collapsed in a heap inside our apartment on the Embassy compound. I managed to find enough strength in my wobbly arms to flip through our little Moscow handbook. And there it was. "Zoo: closed on Mondays."

I feel like Russia has been telling me "niet" for about seven months now. I try to speak in Russian and I get blank stares. I go into a department store and I get followed like I'm a common criminal. I try to win people over with my charming American smile, but I get nothing in return. It's utterly exhausting. Which is why we've been traveling so much, but that takes its toll too. Life, they say, is a bitch. And this one wears a babushka and has an affinity for pickled fish.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Things I Love Thursdays: Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

When I found out I was going to Istanbul for work training, and that I'd have a good five or six hours of airplane time in each direction (without Jack!), I was super excited. I'd bring my laptop on the plane with me, and I'd WRITE! Uninterrupted, for hours on end! It was going to be glorious.

Then the time came, and guess what? I didn't open my laptop once. It wasn't that I didn't want to write. It was that by the time I was actually allowed to turn on an electronic device, drinks were being served. Then the horrendous meal had to be served, and trays cleared. That left about forty minutes of free time before it was time to turn the laptop off again. And if you're a writer, you know that it can sometimes take forty minutes just to get into it. This wasn't revising or delving into a section of a book that was already well planned in my head. This was trying to draft a brand new project. And with someone sitting uncomfortably close to me and usually hogging the armrest, and the person in front of my reclining right into my air space, writing was just not feasible. So I read. A lot.

In five days I read two and a half books, something that usually takes at least a month these days. It helped that the books were all good, of course, but my favorite by far was Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. I selected it on my Kindle on a whim, but I love Neil Gaiman, and the price was right, so I figured I'd give it a shot. And I loved it. Maybe it's because it was the perfect book for me as a writer right now - a parallel world fantasy novel with a healthy dollop of sarcasm, wit, and adventure - or maybe it's just because it was wonderfully creative and, well, Gaiman-y. But I can't recommend it enough.

Neverwhere was created as a companion to the television miniseries of the same name (both came out in 1996). There also happens to be an audio miniseries coming out in two days from BBC Radio 4 starring James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes please!

The BBC Radio 4 cast of Neverwhere.

And if you'd like to know what the book is actually about, here's the description from Gaiman's website:

Richard Mayhew is an unassuming young businessman living in London, with a dull job and a pretty but demanding fiancee. Then one night he stumbles across a girl bleeding on the sidewalk. He stops to help her--and the life he knows vanishes like smoke.
Several hours later, the girl is gone too. And by the following morning Richard Mayhew has been erased from his world. His bank cards no longer work, taxi drivers won't stop for him, his landlord rents his apartment out to strangers. He has become invisible, and inexplicably consigned to a London of shadows and darkness a city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.
For this is the home of Door, the mysterious girl whom Richard rescued in the London Above. A personage of great power and nobility in this murky, candlelit realm, she is on a mission to discover the cause of her family's slaughter, and in doing so preserve this strange underworld kingdom from the malevolence that means to destroy it. And with nowhere else to turn, Richard Mayhew must now join the Lady Door's entourage in their determined--and possibly fatal--quest.
For the dread journey ever-downward--through bizarre anachronisms and dangerous incongruities, and into dusty corners of stalled time--is Richard's final hope, his last road back to a "real" world that is growing disturbingly less real by the minute.
If Tim Burton reimagined The Phantom of the Opera, if Jack Finney let his dark side take over, if you rolled the best work of Clive Barker, Peter Straub and Caleb Carr into one, you still would have something that fell far short of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. It is a masterful debut novel of darkly hypnotic power, and one of the most absorbing reads to come along in years.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mommy Mondays: I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Today's post will be brief because, hallelujah, I have visitors! Not just this week but last week too. I can't even tell you how much more fun it is to be here with people I love around (Jack and John are pretty awesome, but variety is, as they say, the spice of life).

Last week, my good friend Erin came as a guest of the Consulate to speak about law with Russian law school students. She was super busy with presentations, but we had enough time to grab a few meals, catch up over coffee, shop (of course), and visit some of the sights. The highlight was the brief and freezing stop at the Europe/Asia border. Particularly when the exhausted, slightly bedraggled Erin asked, "So what European country are we in?"

It's Russia, Erin. It's aaaalllll Russia.
And then, glory of glories, my sister Sarah and best friend Kim arrived on Saturday night. We spent yesterday prepping for Sarah's presentations today and tomorrow (Sarah is also a guest of the Consulate, speaking about her work at National Geographic - yes, I'm friends with and related to some very cool people). Today Sarah presented her little ass off, rather successfully I might add, and Kim and I came along for moral support. It's more of the same tomorrow and Wednesday, and then we have a few free days in Yekat before we head to Moscow, where I'll have a week with Sarah and Kim before they go back to the States.

When in Russia...wear skinny jeans, a beanie, a scarf, and a coat with a fur-trimmed hood.

Did I mention how happy I am to see these beautiful, smiling faces for the next two weeks? So very, very happy.

Jack's pretty happy about Sha Sha and Auntie Kimmy, too.

I realize Yekaterinburg, Russia, may not be high on your must-see places list, but in addition to seeing where the Romanovs were murdered, just think about how happy YOU can make me by visiting here! (Seriously, think about it. We have a guest room and everything.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Foreign Service Fridays: Life in the Foreign Service

It's been a roller coaster around here lately, which explains my blogging absence. I hope you'll check out my latest post at Most Eligible Family. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

STRENGTH Release Party!!

I'm slightly late to the game, but I wanted to congratulate Carrie Butler on the release of her novel, Strength, which I had the pleasure of reading before its release. I've never taken part in a book launch before, but it's been a lot of fun getting to be a part of this, and it's amazing to see how many writers are willing to help out a fellow writer in what I hope is the best day of their life (births and weddings not withstanding). Here are the details of Strength, followed by my interview with Carrie (SPOILER ALERT! Don't worry, the interview won't give away the ending or anything crazy, but it does reveal a couple of things about the plot.)

Series: Mark of Nexus - Book 1
Publisher: Sapphire Star Publishing
Category: New Adult (NA)
Genre: Paranormal Romance (PNR)
Release Date: March 07, 2013
Formats: E-Book & Paperback
Paperback ISBN: 9781938404351
E-book ISBN: 9781938404368

When college student Rena Collins finds herself nose-to-chest with the campus outcast, her rumor-laced notions are shattered. Handsome, considerate, and seemingly sane, Wallace Blake doesn’t look like he spends his nights alone, screaming and banging on the walls of his dorm room. Hell, he doesn’t look like he spends his nights alone, period.

Too curious for her own good, Rena vows to uncover the truth behind Wallace’s madman reputation—and how two seconds of contact had left her with bruises. Of course, there are a few setbacks along the way: guilt, admiration, feelings of the warm and fuzzy variety…

Not to mention the unwanted attention of Wallace's powerful, supernaturally-gifted family.

They’re a bloodline divided by opposing ideals, two soon-to-be warring factions that live in secret among us. When Rena ends up caught in their crossfire, Wallace has no choice but to save her by using his powers. Now they’re really in trouble. With war on the horizon and Rena’s life in the balance, he needs to put some distance between them. But Rena won’t let go. If fighting is what it takes to prove her own strength and keep Wallace in her life, then that’s what she’ll do—even if it means risking a whole lot more than her heart.




"Carrie Butler is now on my must read list.” ~Lynn Rush, author of Violet Midnight

"I carried Strength with me everywhere. Grocery shopping, the dinner table, you name it. The storyline was addictive, and the characters were hilarious. I couldn't put it down." ~Jessica Therrien, author of Oppression

"...Carrie Butler’s debut novel is brilliant, riveting, imaginative and seamlessly written." ~Lisa Regan, author of Finding Claire Fletcher

“This is definitely one to buy for the bookshelf.” - All's Fair with Pen and Paper

“I love that Carrie took so much time in building the relationship between them. Yay for no instalove!” - Read It, Reviewed It

“I freaking loved every last word on every page.” - Scelest's Journal

“I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who's interested in reading a bloody good book. :)” - The Life of a Total Book Nerd

“I devoured this book in two days - staying up until the early hours because I didn't want to stop reading!” - Kyra Lennon, author of Game On
My Interview with Carrie:
I first read about Strength during our 2011 National Novel Revising Month query pass-around, and I loved the idea right away. What inspired you to write Strength?

Thank you, Mara! :) I had quite a few influences:
  • First and foremost, I wanted to write about a unique, supernatural race.
  • Second, I fell in love with the Five for Fighting cover of "All I Know". If you listen to the lyrics, they really relate to Strength's romance element.
  • Third, Rena. She was one of those characters who demanded a story. Her voice was too distinct too ignore.
New Adult (NA) fiction is still a hotly debated genre. What made you decide to make your main character, Rena, college-aged?
Before I knew about the industry stigma, I imagined Rena on the precipice of adulthood—independent, but still struggling to find something she's passionate about. She needed room to grow and the freedom to make her own mistakes. What better environment than a college campus?
I loved how Strength was both funny and sexy at the same time. Was there any debate over including a (rather steamy) love scene? Did that influence your decision to make this a New Adult book rather than YA?
Thank you! Actually, there wasn't much debate over the love scene. By that point, I had already queried and landed a contract based on the fact that Strength was NA. My publisher and I agreed on the steam level, and we left plenty of room for the next two books. ;)
Having come up with my own paranormal mythology, I know how challenging it can be to not only create something truly original, but also to make sure you understand it thoroughly before you start writing. Where did your inspiration for the Dynari come from, and how long did you spend dreaming them up? I
The Dynari (and their counterparts) were years in the making. I often found myself daydreaming about various supernatural abilities and how they could balance each other out. Of course, now that I've started the series, I need to keep track of all the nitty-gritty details. I have power spreadsheets, family trees, lists of what would happen in various scenarios, etc. It's been quite the undertaking!
Wallace is a devout church-goer, and he takes Rena along with him at one point in the novel. I don’t recall ever reading about a paranormal creature who also happens to be Christian. Why did you decide to include those scenes in Strength?
Wallace is one of the most complex characters I've ever written. I never planned for him to be religious, and I certainly don't write preachy novels, but he needed a way to atone for his past. Campus Fellowship became a safe place for him—a place where he could take refuge in something greater than himself. When he shared that with Rena, he opened himself up to her for the first time.
(That, and I love to mess with people's preconceived notions. *grins*)
Strength is the first in a series. Did you set out to write it that way, or did the story build after you started?
I had a feeling the overall plot would take more than one book, but I never imagined how many side stories it would spawn!
Wallace has a twin brother, Cole, who is supernaturally fast. At first he’s kind of a jerk, but he’s also hot and funny. Is there a love triangle in the works here? A love triangle with Cole? Nah. I do have someone in mind for him, though... ;)
And now, for fun, tell us your most embarrassing college memory.
Aww, Mara. You went there? Okay, it's a little crazy, so I'll give you the short version...
Once upon a time, there was a naive, small-town girl who went away to college. A guy asked her out in an elevator, and they had dinner. The rest of the "date" consisted of him sneaking her into a theater after hours, showing her the steam tunnels, giving her a view of the city's lights, playing the piano, and then singing Phantom of the Opera. I kid you not. Anyway, he kissed her, and she was all like, "Whoa, buddy. We just met."
So, he sort of stomped off toward the exit. (He worked there and knew his way around in the dark; our heroine, sadly, did not.) In her haste to quickly put an end to the date, she fell down a flight of steps and sprained her ankle. More awkward.
He offered to carry her, but she declined—opting, instead, to limp back to the dorms. Of course, her embarrassment couldn't end there. As it turned out, they lived in the same building. She ran into him many times, after that. Many, many times...

Thanks for the opportunity, Carrie. Congrats on your release day, and may you have much success in the future!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mommy Mondays: This is How We Grow

"The joy of life consists in the exercise of one's energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal."
-Aleister Crowley

It's late on Monday evening, the hubby is traveling for work, and the child is sleeping soundly. I have so many thoughts to organize from my week away, but the one thing I keep coming back to is growth: growth in my career, growth in my little boy (who miraculously learned how to have a phone conversation in my absence), and my own personal growth. 

This past year has held a lot of challenges, but I realized last week just how far I've come. I tend to view birthdays negatively - they usually only serve to remind me of how much I haven't accomplished, because like many people, I become fixated on my long-term goals. Of course, when you live like that, it's easy to miss the things you've gained along the way.

This week, however, my gains are clear: twenty-odd friends, a whole new respect for Foreign Service families, insight into my own accomplishments, a sincere appreciation of Turkish cuisine and people, and last (but certainly not least), the Harlem Shake. I'd say it's shaping up to be a rather excellent year.