April 30, 2012

Lately

Oof, has it been a week since I last posted? Whoops, I didn't mean to do that! So here's what I've been up to lately:

Lately in photography....

About ten minutes from my neighborhood, I often drive by a beautiful farmhouse built on a gorgeous piece of land. Yep, one of their fields is filled with buttercups! I couldn't resist parking my car earlier this week and snapping a few pictures. 

Hmm, I totally need to befriend these people so I can run through their field whilst singing "The hills are alive! With the sound of muuuuusic!" And then I'd pick buttercups for hours and feed carrots to the horse. Best. Day. Ever.

{Why hello, horse!}

Lately in reading and writing....

{Hello, awesome book!}
I simply devoured Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers a few weeks ago, and it has become one of my favorite YA novels. Like, ever. I mean, this book has it all: female assassins, court intrigue, a heart-racing storyline, and a formidable love interest to boot. Plus, the book has garnered not one, not two, but four starred reviews! Much deserved reviews, in my opinion. Go forth and read! 

As for writing, I'm forging ahead with my new WIP (it's set in space!) while I await revision notes for my previous novel from Agent Jim. I have to say, I love being in this Shiny New Idea phase! All of the excitement, all of the giddiness...if only I could bottle up this feeling and inhale it whenever I get a case of the Doubt Monsters. 


Lately in nostalgia....

My brother's new wife asked me if I could scan some family pictures for her since she hasn't seen any. (They live in Taiwan.) The picture below, taken on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial (I think), has to be one of my favorites. Why am I making that face?

{Hello, funny face!}

Lately in travel....

I'm leaving tomorrow for Taiwan! It's a family trip to meet my brother's new wife since the two of them eloped back in February. I'm excited! My parents were raised in Taiwan but I've never been able to visit this lovely island. 

We'll start off the trip in the capital city of Taipei and then meander through various parts of the island. (My dad says that Taiwan is about the size of Maryland so it's not very big.) I'm super looking forward to visiting Hualien, a county located on the northeastern coast. So pretty, right? It must have been hard for my parents to move to the U.S.! 

{Hello, beautiful!}
I probably won't be blogging much until I get back to the States. Still, I'll try to update this ol' blog a few times if I have a good internet connection! 

Talk to you guys soon!

April 23, 2012

Hanging Out with the Obamas'!

Question: Did I use that apostrophe correctly in the title of this post? 

Obamas'? Obama's? Obamas?

Hmm, maybe I should've taken some editing classes in college....

Anyway, I totally hung out with the Obamas' this weekend! No biggie. Michelle and I are like this

Haha, grand delusions aside, I was lucky enough to go on the White House Garden Tour on Saturday. The lovely Lynn Colt was kind enough to give me an extra ticket, and we were able to bypass the mega long lines because her fiance has an Awesome Government Job. 

Go Awesome Government Jobs!

{Hello, future house! Caroline for president!}
{My head is HUGE! Cantaloupes ain't got nothin' on my noggin.}
{Lynn and her fiance Gene. So cute!}
I finally got to meet Lynn's fiance Gene! I've known Lynn for nearly two years now but---through various near-misses---I've never met her fiance. Turns out, he's a fun and funny and laid-back guy (thumbs-up, Lynn!) and I really need to introduce him to Justin since they both work in similar careers, they both love to shoot, and they both have a mutual hatred of the Olive Garden. 

HOW CAN YOU HATE THE OLIVE GARDEN?! 

{A building next to the White House. Another future house?}
I even got to do some writing research on the tour! The White House plays a key role in my YA alternate history novel Anomaly, and so I've been studying maps of its interiors and grounds. Still, nothing can compare to the real thing! After viewing the Rose Garden and the Ellipse, I may have to do some rearranging in the book....

So how was your weekend? What have you been up to? And did you SEE the ending of last night's Game of Thrones episode?! Aieee! I was so confused and kind of grossed out. And yet, I remain so intrigued!

April 20, 2012

Friday Five: Mushy Edition

One
Today is my five-year wedding anniversary! Five years ago today, Justin and I were doing this:

Oh hai, new husband!

Two
Why, yes, we got married on 4/20! Yes, people get a little chuckle out of this. And yes, you may laugh too.

Actually, I wanted to get married on 4/21, but that date was booked so we had to settle for 4/20. Ah well! At least, we can giggle about our wedding date, right?

Three
Five years into this marriage thing, I can safely say that Justin might be the best husband ever. Whenever I feel a little blue, he takes me out for hot chocolate. Whenever I doubt my career, he lets me cry on his shoulder. Whenever I get tired of cooking, he looks at me and says, "Well, that's no good. Wanna go out?" And he's just plain thoughtful. Sometimes, late at night, he sends me an email  just so I have a sweet note to read when I wake up in the morning.

I'm a lucky gal. Very, very lucky. And I need to step up my game!

Four
I can't write about Justin without mentioning how incredibly supportive he has been of my writing endeavors. When we got married, I had to quit my job at the Smithsonian and move down to North Carolina since Justin was stationed there. Honestly, I was ready to leave the museum field---as much as I love museums, I think I prefer to be a visitor rather than an employee---but I wasn't quite sure what to do next.

"Why don't you try writing?" Justin told me. "You keep telling me how you always wanted to be a writer."

So, with Justin's encouragement, I dove into this writing gig and he has always been behind me, even when the times got tough. 'Cause it took me about nine months to get my very first essay accepted for publication, and it took me much longer to write my first book and get it ready for querying. (Oh dear, querying. Poor Justin! I was such a mess.) And I'm still working toward that hard-to-reach book deal.

But he's still my biggest fan.

"You're going to be published one day," he tells me.

And I hope I will, for him.

Five
Happy anniversary, my love! I miss you and can't wait for you to come home. To five years and to many, many more!

Justin hates taking pictures. I still love him.

April 19, 2012

On Confidence...Or the Lack Thereof

Writing is a funny thing.

Sometimes, I feel like Superwoman. On these rare days, I can look at my manuscript and think, Hey, this ain't so bad! It might be sort of good! Maybe!

Other times, I feel like the Worst Writer to walk the Earth. This is when I shut down my laptop and refuse to open Word for days because just looking at my book makes me cringe.

In the past two months, I have been both Superwoman and the Worst Writer Ever. One week, I'd walk everywhere with a little bounce in my step, because I loved my book and I was proud of the work I put into it and---gosh darn it---I was going to send it to my agent right this minute!

But then, in the next week, I'd slump into Slumpy McSlumpsville. I'd stare at my manuscript until my eyes blurred because I had no idea how to fix this mess of words. It got to a point where I had to take a break from it and work on something new because my brain was a confusing place to be.

(Off topic: Would anyone like to swap brains?)

What?! You don't want to swap brains with me?

It's strange going from a place where I had buckets of confidence to a place where I couldn't squeeze a drop from it from my body.

And then came the Email of Hope:

My agent read my book! And he didn't hate it! In fact, he seemed to even like it!

So, for the past few days, I've been walking with that same bounce in my step once again. I can do this! I tell myself. I'm not an awful writer! Let's eat some cake to celebrate!

*Commences eating of cake*

Evil murderess or cake aficionado?

But...this whole experience has got me thinking.
Will I ever reach an equilibrium of confidence? As in, will I ever reach a point where I won't need an Email of Hope to make me feel confident in my writing?  
Or is this roller coaster of emotions simply a part of the writerly journey? 
Right now, I'm leaning toward the latter. As much as I'd like to believe that my confidence levels will go up the more that I write, I can't help but suspect that I'll make many return visits to the Pit of Despair with every novel I pull out of my brain. (Poor Brain.) Part of this is because of me. See, self-confidence doesn't come to me naturally. It's something I have to strive for continually and more often not I lean on my friends for that extra boost.

But I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way.

On blogs, on Twitter, I've been amazed to read about other writers---many of whom have published multiple books---who experience a similar confidence roller coaster. I read their happy posts when they've finished a draft, and I read their frustrated tweets when they just don't think they're any good.

And this surprises me because, when I started to write seriously, I sort of thought that my confidence levels would simply go up and up. I viewed the whole process like a stepping stone: I'd get a little more confident when I got an agent, then more when I got a book deal, then more with every subsequent success. Yet, what I've learned from my published friends is that there's always something new to worry about. Like sales numbers. Marketing. School tours. Writing sequels under tight deadlines. And selling more books in a tough marketplace.

Sometimes you just need a hug.
Go hug a writer already!

This post is getting pretty long, huh? Haha. And I don't even know if it has a point! But I guess what I'm trying to say is this....

In a crazy world like publishing, you have to find some level of confidence within yourself. You can't rely on your friends or your agent or your editor to do that for you. You have to believe in your work and you have to believe in you.

At the same time, confidence will ebb and flow. It's the nature of this competitive business. Sometimes we're going to feel like amazingly awesome writing warriors who can conquer publishing with each competitor we behead. I mean, with each book we write. But, sometimes, we'll feel like Slumpy. And we'll wear pajamas for weeks. And we won't brush our hair. Okay, maybe we'll brush our hair.

It's just all part of the business.

April 13, 2012

Friday Five: Writing Edition

One
I haven't posted about writing for awhile. This is mainly because the mere thought of revising or drafting has caused the following responses to spout from my brain:

Garrrrrrrrr! 

As well as....

Urggghhhhhh!

And the ever brilliant....

Me Caroline. Me can't write. What com-pu-ter? Mash keys! Fun!

Two
I've diagnosed this condition as Cave Man Brain.


Be my friend! You know you want to!

Fortunately, I feel the haze of Cave Man Brain finally clearing from my mind. I just had to give my Delicate Brain some rest, and now it is ready to tackle the task of revising and drafting. 

This could also be a lie....

Three
Speaking of drafting, I've started writing a completely new novel:

A YA science fiction manuscript! 

*Rubs hands with glee* 


I shan't give away its premise because I'm a little superstitious, but I'm super duper excited about this project and I'm equally excited to dig back into my favorite genre to write. 

SPACE BOOKS! 'CAUSE I LOVE SPACE! 

Four
Oh! 

The ever-lovely Sara McClung tagged me earlier this week in the Lucky Seven Challenge. The rules are simple: 
1. Go to page 77 of your current MS.
2. Go to line 7.
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, and post them as they're written. No cheating. 
So here you are, a short snippet from my YA alternate history, Anomaly. As a quick primer, the book is set in the modern day but it takes place in a world where Hitler won WWII and colonized the U.S. And there are super powers too.

       The whipping continued. Each lash tore against Mr. Talley’s shoulders with a horrible thwack, flaying into his skin, ripping open his back. But the old man kept praying. 
       “Holy Mary, M-Mother of God!” 
        Zara stared at her right hand. Perhaps she could…. No, no, that was ridiculous. If she used her powers, she’d be next on that stage. She forced herself to suck down a long breath but the whip tore again and again and again into Mr. Talley’s flesh. For God’s sake, he was a seventy-year-old man but the Nazis were beating him like a piece of leather. 

Well, there you have it! 


Five
Anyway, what are you guys up to this weekend? Whatcha reading? On my end of things, I'm going to a book signing on Saturday and just soaking up the sun and writing on Sunday. It's going to be in the mid-eighties here in DC! 

Which is ironic since I was wearing my winter coat earlier this week....

No complaints though! 

April 10, 2012

Spain! Part two!

{The view from our hotel room after a long storm.}

Onto Madrid! 

Excelente! 

Sadly, we only spent 2.5 days in Madrid but we were able to cram some great sights and food in our little visit. And...I was able to whip out my extremely rusty high school Spanish! Below, you'll find an exchange I had with a museum worker at the Museo de America, which chronicles the history of pre-Columbian America. I had to ask for a couple audio-guides since all of the information was in Spanish. 


Me: Hola! Um...uh...tienes audioguias in Ingles?

Museum Worker: Si. Una? Dos?

My Brain: I totally understood what she said! Go Spanish classes! 

Museum Worker: Senora?

Me: Oh! Um...dos! Gracias!

Thank you, thank you. I know you are awed by my fabulous Espanol. 

*Takes a bow* 

Onto some photos! 

We spent one day strolling around Retiro Park (so beautiful!) and then the Reina Sofia Museum where we saw Picasso's Guernica as well as a Mark Rothko painting that I dragged Justin to see. My poor Justin! He has seen more Mark Rothko paintings than he has ever wanted to see.... The perks of being married to me.

{Retiro Park! Love!}

{Spring flowers in Madrid}
{More views of Retiro Park}
{Reina Sofia}
{Justin reads about an exhibit. I prefer to be a part of it.}
{Stained glass at the San Jeronimo Cathedral}

Since Justin is a big Ernest Hemingway fan, we also spent an evening visiting Hemingway's old haunts. But first! Here is a picture of my new blouse from Zara! Yay! It's actually on sale in the U.S. too but I didn't know that, okay? It shall forever be my Spanish souvenir.

{Justin deemed this my Easter blouse since it is pink and yellow.}
Anyway.

So here we are at La Venencia, a little bar that Hemingway used to frequent during his travels through Spain. We grabbed a table toward the back and I made a new friend: the bar cat! He was super friendly and camped out on my lap while Justin looked on with mild disgust. (Justin hates cats. His one true flaw.) Still, he named the feline "Don Ernesto." Fitting, eh?

{Justin toasts Ernest Hemingway. I hang out with Don Ernesto.}

After we toasted Ernest and his feline counterpart, we headed to a restaurant called Botin, which is known for its suckling pig and for being the oldest continuously running restaurant in the world. Justin, devoted admirer of ham, ordered the suckling pig; and I, rabidly excited amateur photographer, had to take a picture of it. Justin was not very amused, hence the eyebrow quirk.

{"Are you really taking a picture of my food?" WHY YES, I AM.}

Well, I'm afraid I don't have too many more pictures from our Madrid adventures! It rained a lot during our trip---the rain in Spain does NOT fall mostly in the plain!---and some of the sites we visited didn't allow photography. *Cries* But I did take a picture of the DC area right before I landed at Dulles Airport. 

I flew on Aer Lingus, the national carrier of Ireland, which has meh food but fantastic TV/movie choices. I totally watched an episode of "Homeland" because I've been dying to watch it but...um...there were some sexy bits during the show. Now, I don't necessarily have a problem with sex scenes but...um...I get really self-conscious watching such scenes when I'm sitting next to complete strangers. 

Dear Man Sitting Next to Me: This is not porn! I promise! 


Ah, Spain!

I miss it already. And I miss Justin. *Sighs* Can't we go back for just one more week?

April 9, 2012

Spain!

{San Jeronimo Cathedral in Madrid}

I'm back from Spain! 

Yay!

Actually, never mind. Not yay. Boo! Boooo! 

I want to go back RIGHT NOW! 

Well, it was quite the whirlwind trip from Barcelona to Madrid and then back home again. I still can't believe that the trip is over (wahhh!) but I'm already plotting ways to return to Espana to devour more tapas and drink more Fanta and explore old churches that I shall drag Justin to see. 

Speaking of Justin, it was simply wonderful to spend a whole week with him! Originally, we had planned to meet at our hotel since his flight arrived hours before mine. But lo and behold, when I lugged myself toward the baggage claim, I found Justin waiting for me with a big smile on his face. He stayed for me! Instead of going to the hotel to take a nap!

Aw, now that is love. He earns mega spousal points for that, eh? 

Onto the photographs!

So we started our trip in Barcelona where we stayed for four and a half days. Cumulatively, we probably spent one day sightseeing, one day hiking, one day eating patatas bravas (NOM!), and a day and a half taking naps and sleeping. 

Mmm, siestas.... The Spaniards have got that right. 

{Lovely windows next to our hotel}
{Sagrada Familia at left; Correos Post Office Building at right}
{Sagrada Familia AKA Crazy Lookin' Cathedral}
{Ceiling of the Sagrada Familia}

As you can tell, I was quite taken with the Sagrada Familia! I nearly skipped out on going inside since the line was quite long but I'm so glad we shelled out 24 euros to wander around this mind-bending modern-gothic cathedral. I've never seen anything quite like it! 

*Salutes to Gaudi* 

However, my most favoritest (<--- totally a word) part of our trip was taking a day-trip to Rupit, a tiny medieval village in northern Catalunya. The day kicked off with a short tour of Rupit, followed by a three-hour hike up the mountains---I'm so very out of shape, ughhhh---and then finished by a big meal where I ate more pan con tamate* than humanly possible. 

Me like bread! Me eat lots! 

{A Catalan breakfast = breads, cheese, and sausage. I approve.}
{Mountains in Catalunya}
{Overlooking the city of Rupit. Please disregard ugly hair.}
{I climbed to this place! Huffing and puffing!}

{A pretty door in Rupit}

Le sigh. Barcelona!

It might have become my favorite city in Europe, which says a lot since London occupies such a soft spot in my traveling heart. London vs. Barcelona? How could I even choose? It's like trying to pick between cake or pie. Or baby sloths or baby penguins. Or sausage and cheese!

Impossible, I tell you.

Anyway, stay tuned for tomorrow for photographs of Madrid! If you're sick of my photos, too bad! :)

__________

* Pan con tamate is a delightful dish that consists of crusty bread rubbed with garlic and then smothered with fresh tomato juice. In other words, it is the DEVIL'S TEMPTATION.