Tag Archives: random musings

Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Birthday Desktop Background

Today I turned thirty something. And don’t ask me what that something is, because I frankly stopped counting somewhere around my 33rd birthday. I figure that my husband will remind me when I reach the big forty, until then it doesn’t matter.

I chose this day to look back at my previous thirty something birthdays (at least those that I remember), and I was amazed at how much my attitude towards that day changed over time.

When I was little, my birthday couldn’t come any faster. I looked forward to December. I had a calendar and I would mark off days, and the less days remained until the 29th, the more my excitement grew. Because I knew there would be a party, there would be friends, and games, and laughter, and cake, and gifts, and… Well, you see the picture.

Then came the high school days and my birthday guest list also became a political struggle: Maria can’t stand Anna, but I’m friends with both, so I can’t invite one and not the other. Oxana won’t come without her new boyfriend, but he is a total creep, so do I really want him at my special party? And I have an invitation for Nicholas, but will he accept it? Sure, we say hi to each other at school and he seems to like me enough, but I want him to more than just like me, and gods how will I ever be able to invite him if I get tongue tied and blushing like an idiot when I see him? So yeah, birthdays became less about the gifts and more about the people.

Then came my college and post college days when all the drama of high school fell away and I spent my birthdays with a small group of real friends.

Then we all built families and birthdays amongst friends became birthdays between families, and it wasn’t really about the birthday or the gifts anymore, but about an occasion to spend time with people I love.

I used to count my years. I knew exactly how old I was. Yeah, all that stopped when I hit 30. I don’t know what it is about this particular number, but it makes you stop and think, “Holly $%^t! Where did a third of my life go?” It’s a cathartic experience, I tell you. You were a teenager, then a twenty something, but still young and so full of promise, than bham! You’re thirty andyou’re supposed to be all settled down and responsible. And your parents start asking pointed questions like “So, are we going to have grandkids soon?” And you have to laugh nervously and say something like “we’re working on it,” or “maybe in a year or two,” and you feel guilty as heck because you just don’t want kids yet.

So yeah, my thirtieth was a pivotal birthday. After that, I just stopped counting. After all, who cares? I’ll just have fun with my friends and eat some cake. And no, it won’t have any candles on it!

So Happy thirty something Birthday to me!

From Reader to Writer – a change in perspective.

I have always been an avid reader. The very first book I read on my own had been The 15 year old captain by Jules Verne, and I was 7 when I finished it. So I can pretty much says that I’ve been ready pretty much all my life. If I don’t have at least one book started at any given time, something is really wrong.

This would be my living room if we didn't have ebooks.
This would be my living room if we didn’t have ebooks.

I have also been a writer for over a year. I won two NaNoWriMos and finished several short stories and a novella between those as well. And I have been slowly learning more and more about the craft.

So being both a reader and a writer, I have noticed a change in the way I read books.

Before I started writing myself, I would pick up a book and either stick with it to the end, or abandon it somewhere in the middle (or after the first 50 pages, if the book was absolutely dreadful). I would then move on to the next book and forget about it, if I didn’t like it. Or recommend it to my friends and move on to the next book if I loved it. I didn’t waste much time pondering why I like or hated something.

Those days of blissful ignorance are now gone forever. I can’t just close a book and move on. My mind keeps coming back to it and analyzing WHY I liked it or didn’t like it. It’s especially true with books that I don’t like for some reason. As soon as I feel that my attention is slipping; that the book is losing my interest, I feel obliged to discover why. Does the author abuse infodumps? Are the characters flat or not interesting enough? Does the author tell more than she or he shows? Is the plot lacking conflict?

I can’t stop analyzing what I read, especially since I started posting book reviews on my blog. I must admit that it makes for some rather frustrating reads, when my mind starts picking a book apart instead of enjoying it. And I can’t switch it off, even if I try! In fact, if I get so lost in a story that I forget to pick it apart, it’s a sign that it’s a very VERY good book indeed. And those are the books that usually get a glowing 5 stars review on my blog once I resurface and gather my thoughts enough to actually write one.

I have also noticed that I pay particular attention to the ending. To me, it’s the most important part of the whole book. A badly written ending can ruin the whole story, no matter how wonderful and interesting it was.

I’ve heard my other writer friends talk about this shift of perception before, but until recently, I had thought that they were exaggerating.  Now I can confirm that they were right. I guess, the more you practice your craft, the more you think about it, the more you edit your own works, the more accustomed you get to critical reading. And after a certain point, you undergo the shift in perception I described above.

This shift in perspective means that I read slower than I used to, but I’m not too worried about that. Because I think that every book I read and analyze helps me improve my own craft as well. I learn what works and what doesn’t, what to do in a story and what to avoid at all cost.

There is no such thing as too many books.
There is no such thing as too many books.

I think that as writers we are very lucky in this respect. After all, who else can say that they are learning their profession AND having a good time in the process?

Life crazier than fiction or my epic quest to get a Green Card – Part 1

Green Card

I had a bad allergic reaction to a spider bite (my foot swell up to double its normal size), and I’m pumped full of corticosteroids and antihistamine pills which make me so loopy I have the attention span of a gnat. So I have decided that trying to write a serious post about my writing process would be a bad idea in this condition. Instead, I will share a small personal anecdote. Who said that life never got crazier than fiction? Read on. I might just prove you wrong.

I am a US Air Force wife. I met my husband while he was stationed in Camp Darby, Italy, and I lived and worked in Geneva, Switzerland (it’s not that far actually, only a four hour drive). The story of how we met and got married is worth another blog post. I might even get to that someday.

Anyway, we had been married for about 6 months when he got orders to be stationed back State side. We were both excited to finally be closer to his family and be able to see the kids more often. But we were also hit with the realization that I needed to apply for and get a Green Card (or Permanent Resident Card, as they call it now), and we only had about 6 months to get it all done. Little did we know that this process would turn into an epic quest from some video game, complete with several levels and boss battles.

Level 1

Level 1: paperwork

Boss battle: bureaucracy.

I could never have imagined the amount of paperwork I had to submit to even apply for the card.

There is the application itself, which is about 20 pages long; where every “t” has to be crossed and every “i” has to be dotted, and which has to be filled out EXACTLY AS SHOWN, or it will be rejected. Oh, and you have to include a check for about $700 with the application, and that money is non-refundable even if your application is rejected. You will have to pay another $700 if you want to start the process again.

Then there are all the supporting documents. Some of them made sense, like a copy of my birth certificate, proof of my Swiss citizenship, our marriage certificate and the copies of previous divorce decrees for both of us. I could also understand the need for my husband’s birth certificate, military ID and copy of his Orders. We were applying for the accelerated process for military spouses after all.

But why the heck would they need a copy of my high school diploma or my Bachelor’s Degree? And what’s the need for an extensive questionnaire about my parents, including where they were born, where they lived and who their parents were? Thank god, they didn’t ask for supporting documents on those. Both my parents were born right in the middle of WWII in Russia. I’m not even sure they ever had a birth certificate. Plus I didn’t want to make two seventy years-old have to drive all over Moscow and stand 5-7 hours in line in different governmental agencies just to be told to come back another day.

Oh and all those documents had to be translated into English by an accredited translation agency and legalized.

Which brings me to the first Boss fight – Bureaucracy.

It’s bad enough when you have to deal with just one country; imagine when you have to deal with three? I was born in Russia, so my birth certificate is in Russian, but I became a Swiss citizen when I turned 18, so the rest of my paperwork is in French… Yeah, fun times were had by everyone involved in this little merry-go-round.

But I managed to beat that boss by the skin of my teeth and moved to the next level.

Level 2

Level 2: medical and vaccination records.

Boss battle: nurse with a syringe at the base clinic.

Apparently, whether you live in a peaceful European country or in a small village in the African bush, the medical records need to be just as extensive. Not to mention that you have to be vaccinated against about every disease under the sun.

I was able to get ahold of my current medical records from Geneva with little to no problems, but getting my childhood records from Russia, a country I had last visited when I was 16 and couldn’t travel to anymore without a visa, that proved to be just as painful as pulling teeth without anesthesia. And just as fruitless. In the end, I had to give up on that idea, because the Russian embassy simply refused to cooperate with me. This sucked, because that’s where most of my childhood vaccination records were. And, as I said before, they were required.

Boss fight: nurse with a syringe.

In my desperation, I went to the base clinic and shared my plight with the nurse on duty.

“That’s not a problem, hon,” she said with a cheerful smile. “We can just give you all the shots right now.”

When she came back with the syringes and a bunch of vials, I was in for a load of pain… And I was right. Both my arms hurt for a week after that barbaric procedure, and I ran a mild fever for days. But I had won yet another boss fight on the road to my Green Card.

We had finally gathered all the required documents, triple-checked all the forms and sent everything to Immigration. Thus began the long wait. At first, we weren’t too worried, because we had been warned that the process took about 4 months. But after five and a half months of radio silence and our PCS date fast approaching, my stress levels shot through the roof. I really didn’t want to be left behind to try and deal with this on my own.

I became a daily visitor at the immigration office at Camp Darby. And I want to give special thanks to the immigration officer who was there to see my through that ordeal. She had been very supporting and an absolute sweetheart. I would have lost it without her support and all the cups of coffee we drank just chatting about nothing at all, passing time.

Then two weeks before we were scheduled to fly out of Italy, when we were already packed up and staying in TLF on base, the letter with the interview date at the American Embassy in Naples finally arrived. The interview was scheduled for 2 days before we were supposed to leave. That was cutting it awfully close, but we really didn’t have a choice, did we?

To find out what happens at Level 3: the Embassy, come back next Monday! *Evil laughter*. And I totally meant to finish this post in a cliffhanger, it’s not the antihistamine speaking, no sir. Oh, squirrel!

Editing woes – the burnout.

In the past four months, I have been steadily working on rewriting / editing my novel Of Broken Things, and in the past two months I had been doing only that and nothing else. I also signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo with this revision, so the pressure was on.

On hindsight, joining Camp NaNo was a mistake, because I had been struggling with motivation to pick up my work for the last two weeks, and I was feeling increasingly guilty about it… which made me even less happy about diving into the revisions… which made me even guiltier for not doing it. Vicious cycle!

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It took me a while to realize what was happening, but last night it hit me like a ton of bricks – I had burned out on revisions. This realization was rather surprising, because it never happened to me before. Well, to be honest, I have never had to tackle such a big revision either. I had only edited two short stories before and both of them had been knocked out in a couple weeks. So this is the first time in my (short) writing career that I meet face to face with this particular monster.

I have learned two things from this misadventure.

1. Burnout happens even when editing.

I had read plenty of blogs about writers experiencing burn out when they write their first draft, but never about the same happening during the editing stage. Guess now I know that you can get burned out while editing as well. Lesson learned. Moving on.

2. I need variety to thrive.

I guess I have a mind form of ADD, because I can’t concentrate on one project for a significant amount of time. I think two and a half months is about my limit. That’s how long it took me to write the first draft Of Broken Things. Anything longer, and my attention starts wandering.

I had started editing the novel in April, but I took a couple breaks to finish writing a novelette as well. However, since about May, I have been doing nothing but editing. So I definitely need a change if I ever want to get to the end of this process without ending up hating my story with a passion.

Conclusions:

1. I am putting Of Broken Things away for a couple weeks at least and starting on a new short story, which will be a continuation of the short story A Small Detour published here. I already have the outline ready and printed, just need to sit down and put pen to paper. I think the freedom to just write whatever comes to mind and not worry about grammar or punctuation will be exactly the change of pace I need.

2. Sadly, I will have to withdraw from Camp NaNoWriMo this year, but I will definitely be there for NaNoWriMo in November! I even have a bright new shiny idea for the novel I want to write during that month. With characters and even a beginning of the plot as well! Can’t wait to start on that one, actually.

And finally a question for my fellow writers. Have you ever experienced this kind of burnout? What do you do to shake it off and get back on the writing horse again?

Why I love reading fanfiction and why I can’t write it.

I must admit that I absolutely love reading fanfiction. I think it’s because sometimes I like the characters or the world so much, that I feel sad leaving them behind once the book is finished. I think most of us feel the same way, as the sheer amount of fanfiction written everyday can attest.

Fanfiction gives the readers a chance to explore the world the author created a bit further, or to shine the light on secondary characters that had been mostly on the margins of the original story. Sometimes it even lets the readers reimagine the story itself if, for some reason, they didn’t like the ending the author gave them. I know that I love reading fanfics that I will never forgive Rowling for pairing Hermione with Ron, or for killing Severus Snape off (and in such a lame way). So I particularly enjoy reading fanfics that explore other paths Hermione could have taken after Hogwards, or those where Snape survived and finally got a chance a normal life.

keep-calm-and-read-fanfics

I think it’s normal to want to read and write fanfiction, and I know that many writers started their writing careers by writing fanfics for books that really touched them. It’s also an excellent form of exercise, because it lets your imagination run free, but at the same time give you a set of rules consistent with the world of the original (unless you are trying to write something totally AU). It’s also an easily accessible (and free) way of staying a little bit longer with the characters you like.

The downside of this is that there is a lot of drivel out there. Stories that are poorly written, with characters that are so OOC they are unrecognizable, and a plot that is pure wish fulfilment on the part of author. I have noticed a lot of that last one when the authors try to introduce an original character into the story and she / he end up being a better (in their mind) version of the author him / herself (that’s where all the Mary Sue and Gary Stu come from). So, sifting through the muck can be a painful and mind-numbing process, but sometimes you find absolute gems – fanfics so well written, that they keep you hooked just as much (if not more sometimes) than the original book (movie, series, graphic novel) did.

By the way, if you are a fan of Harry Potter fiction, the wonderful Loten has some beautiful (and very well plotted) stories. WARNING – there is explicit content and most of the stories are about Hermione Granger and Severus Snape. I would especially recommend her Post Tenebras Lux.

But I got sidetracked. Moving on. I think I pretty much covered the reason of my love for fanfiction, so now I have a confession to make. I absolutely, totally suck at writing it. I CAN’T write fanfiction to save my life. Every time I get psyched up about a show or a book and want to write a story about it, I end up thinking about it for so long that by the time I sit down to write, I have created my own world and the characters populating it have nothing in common with their prototypes.

For example, my first novel Of Broken Things started out as a fanfiction idea when I watched Star Trek Into Darkness. I had been so impressed by the portrayal of Khan by the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch, that I remember thinking, “What would someone like that do if he fell in love? And then lost the woman he loved? Oh, but it must have been an exceptional woman to catch the eye of someone like that.” And I started thinking about plot and character backgrounds, world building and politics, and ended up with a story that has nothing to do with Star Trek. Yes, one of the protagonists in it is a genetically modified soldier, but that’s the only think GMS798 has in common with Khan. I started with a fanfiction idea and ended up with an original book.

The idea for my next book also came as a result of watching a popular TV series. I was so impressed with one of the characters that I wanted to play with him myself. Only he didn’t want to talk to me. He kept pushing other characters into the light instead, none of which were present in the original show. By the time he finally decided to step into the light and tell his story, the only thing he had left from that character in the show was the face. And I’m thankful, because he brought me a wonderful story that I can’t wait to tell.

I think the reason why I can’t write fanfiction is because I don’t feel comfortable playing in somebody else’s sandbox. I can’t help but start changing the rules, modifying the backstory and starting to build my own castles. So I might was well go to my own sandbox and do it there, at least then I can have some fun without feeling guilty about it, and even discover wonderful stories in the process.

So what do you guys think? Do you read fanfiction? Do you write it? Do you think fanfiction is important? And question for published authors out there, do you read fanfiction about your stories?

Life is just a moment between the past and the future.

Year 2014 took two good friends away from me. In March, my childhood friend’s husband lost his long battle with cancer. And last Saturday I learned that one of our good friends from Camp Darby, Italy, got the news that he would never walk again after a bad car wreck and took his own life. Both deaths affected me deeply. I’m 36, that’s way too young to be burying friends, especially if they are the same age as you.

I think it’s also hard for me to get used to the idea that they are gone because in both cases I was unable to attend the funeral, so I didn’t have closure. In my mind, they are still very much alive. I can remember them talking, laughing, making plans, and I cannot reconcile it with the idea that they are now gone for good.

This also made me think about life in general and what I wanted my own life to be. I had a sort of epiphany. We all live in that beautiful and fleeting moment sandwiched between the past that we can never go back to and the future that we might never reach. That moment is now, and that’s all we have.

So it’s alright to make plans and dream about what we want our life to be, but if we keep postponing those plans until tomorrow, we might never achieve our dreams at all. “Tomorrow is another day,” as the saying goes. But I say no, tomorrow might never come. None of us knows when our time will run out. It could be ten years from now or tomorrow morning, or even in the next hour.

051314_0344_Lifeisjusta2.jpg

Some might find this notion terrifying, but I find it liberating. If this moment is all we truly have, then let’s live each moment to its fullest. That novel that you have been planning to write but kept putting off? Grab a pen and paper and start writing. That trip you wanted to take to Japan, or Belize, or Katmandu, but never got around to planning? Get online and book the plane ticket. Go skydiving, learn to dance the tango, father the courage to ask that cute guy from Accounting on a date. Whatever it was that you were putting off doing because you were too busy or too scared – do it now.

Live each fleeting moment like it’s your last, that way when you arrive at the end of the line and look back, you can smile and say, “I truly lived.”