Category Archives: General thoughts

The best way to predict your future

The best way to predict your future is to create it.

Abraham Lincoln said that. Dude was a genius and a visionary. Today I was reminded just how important it is to follow this motto.

It’s been two years since I’ve started this blog. On a whim, I’ve decided to have a look at my very first post. I had to read it twice, and I was completely overcome by the complex emotions that could only be expressed by “OMG!” and “no way!”

My dream two years ago was for someone to read my not-yet-written book, close it, and want to read more. This is exactly what has happened: I’ve finished a novel, I’ve published it, and, according to Amazon reviews and comments on this blog, people want to read the next installment. Exactly as I have wished for/predicted in that very first post.

Be still, my heart, I have another wish to make:

By 16 October 2017, I want to quit my corporate job and become a full-time writer.

There. The power of intent, and all that. Thank you all for helping make my first dream come true – I gotta go start working on this next one.

Big, big hugs.

 

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A little perspective

No matter how hard I try, I don’t get what I want.

This thought has taken over my already exhausted brain on some kind of evil repeating loop. I have been trying for about a year to get published (over 70 applications and counting) or at least get a new job (lost count of applications). I am pretty thick-skinned, but the sheer amount of rejections, or worst yet, the continuous silence, is depressing.

I was walking home this afternoon, pissed off that the grocery stores dared to close on Good Friday, when I noticed my engagement ring sparkling in the sunshine. It occurred to me that the ring is a symbol of many things – not just our undying love and commitment and such, but also that one should never stop trying. After all, if I stopped a year or a decade ago, this wouldn’t have happened:
Me and Josh

I guess one should also not forget to stop and smell the roses, or spend time with their significant other without being distracted by constant checking of SEEK.com or email. After all, if I had to choose between getting published or getting married to Josh, I would choose latter.

I just hope I don’t have to choose. I’m willing to work twice as hard to get both.

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Look what the cat dragged in

Ok, look what I found lurking in the dark corner of my harddrive – a first chapter of a dating chicklit book I never finished. Ok, never wrote – all I have is a couple of chapters. Who wants to read another dating book, anyway?

This is not a true story. Ok, it is loosely based on some of the terrible experiences I’ve had dating a few years back. Thankfully it’s all behind me now, so I can just laugh at it…hope you do too.

Prince Charming

“How could she do this…this…to me?” Matt slurred. The late hour and an unknown number of long island ice teas were taking their toll. “She was everything to me!”

“I am sure it was for the best,” I said once again.

Matt looked at me for a moment. I thought he was about to disagree, but instead he just hiccupped.

“Eek!”

Great. As if the night could not get any worse.

“Well,” I said, “I really, really do need to go now. It was very nice…”

“All I ever wanted was to love her…eek…to come home to her…eek..to…to…aaahh!”

With that, Matt dissolved into a stream of hiccups and sobs. It was hard to imagine that this caricature was a well groomed businessman just a few hours ago. He slumped over the table, knocking over an empty glass and the check tray that has been quite suggestively brought by the waiter about half an hour ago. It was time to go.

“C’mon Matt, let’s get you a taxi, you’ve got to get some sleep,” I tried to pull him up by the elbow, but succeeded only in dragging him down to the floor.

He kneeled in a heap next to his chair, still sobbing. I bent down to try one more time to pick him up, when he suddenly threw up all over my shoes. Brand new, soft as butter, suede boots that I wore for the first time. I felt fury and nausea all at the same time. It was late on a school night, my date and my shoes were ruined, and I obviously had to pay the tab for both of us. I was done playing either the nice girl or the psychologist.

I marched over to the bar, where an icy cold waiter was cleaning up for the night.

“Excuse me” I said with forced calm, “could you please call two taxis, for me and my friend here?”

Ice Man gave me his most demeaning, sub-zero look as if to say “I am not here to clean up your mess, hun”. Then he looked over at where Matt was still worshipping his chair and must have realized that getting us both out of the joint was in his best interest.

“With pleasure” he said through clenched teeth, picked up the phone and punched in a number with a little too much force. I smiled my fakest smile and walked back to the table. Behind me, I could hear Ice Man trying to convince someone on the other end to deliver two cars to “Laika” as a special favour to him.

Matt was doing a little better. While I was gone, he managed to get himself back to the seat and was wiping his face and hands with the edge of the tablecloth. Oh well, at least the night was about to be over. My whole body ached from the sheer effort of the last hour. I could not wait to go home, take a long hot shower, climb into bed, and forget, forget this night all together.

“How are you feeling?” I asked, wondering why I still bothered.

“Much better, thanks” he sounded a little sobered up, and quite a bit ashamed. “Thank you for listening to me…you are very sweet”. He was looking down at the ruined tablecloth.

“Glad to help.” Instead of telling him that I was actually boiling with rage, I picked up the check from the floor, pulled a couple of bills from my purse, and put them under an empty glass.

“You really are…I mean it…” he looked up at me with his wet puppy eyes. Thankfully, Ice Man was suddenly beside us. Apparently, someone did owe him a favor, because two taxis were already outside, in less time that it would have taken the cops to respond. Very impressive.

“Thank you,” I said, realizing that it was the first truthful statement of the night.

“My pleasure,” Ice Man said, while grimacing to indicate otherwise.

Matt managed to get up on his own and put his arm around my shoulders. The torture was not yet over – apparently he expected me to drag him out into the street. It did not bother me as much as it should have, probably because our every step brought me closer to the shower. Outside, I gratefully sucked in a full breath of fresh air. After five hours in a smoky bar with an emotionally unstable drunk man, the sudden surge of oxygen made me lightheaded.

It must have had a similar effect on Matt. He slowly turned and brought his face close to mine, as if he suddenly saw me for the first time.

“You are a sweet girl,” he slurred again. The stench of vomit made me gag.

“Yeah, that’s just great…” Thankfully, the driver of the first cab came around and opened the door for us. I staggered two more steps, pushing Matt closer to the cab.

“Sweet…so sweet,” he kept muttering.

“Well, good night then,” I said.

Mentally I was already home, so it took me by surprise that instead of peacefully sinking into the back seat, Matt lunged at me. He grasped my head with both hands and attempted to swallow half of my face in presumably a goodnight kiss. I tried to scream in horror and protest, but he mistook my muffled squeals for groans of passion and thrust his tongue so far into my mouth, that for a moment I thought I was going to choke. Finally, I was able to shove him away and he hit the side of a cab.

“I love you, Nasty,” he seemed unfazed. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me”. He tried to reach for me, but lost his balance and fell back against the cab.

“It’s Nastia! Anastasia, you drunken idiot!” I screamed, finally losing it and shaking all over with anger and humiliation. “You are the worst date I’ve ever had!” I shoved him, hard, turned around and stormed to my cab.

“Carlisle and Burke, please” I said to my driver.

“Don’t you want me to follow your boyfriend?” the driver said, laughing. He must have witnessed the whole catastrophe.

“He is not my boyfriend!” I screamed. “Just drive, or I swear to God, I will lose it up in here so bad, they will never find your body!”

“Whatever, I am just trying to help,” the cabby looked offended, but drove off. Good. I was done being nice for the night.

I fell back against the filthy cushions and closed my eyes. My head was pounding and the only thought still running through it was, “How did I get myself into this mess?”

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One door closes

Well, what can you do – the agent’s assistant (the one that thought my novel is funny) emailed to let me know that the actual agent passed on the manuscript. He was nice enough to copy the response, which was: “It’s definitely funny, but I don’t really know the market for spoof-y novels like this, so I don’t think it’s for me. However, feel free to evaluate with our other agents in mind if you’re really keen on it.”

Thankfully he appears to be really keen on it, as he has already forwarded it to another agent in the same company. I guess that means another few weeks of waiting, which is getting easier to bear, maybe because I’m getting mentally ready to self-publish. In my case, the ignorance of not knowing the market truly is bliss. I just can’t help but think “If it’s funny, they will come”.

Time will tell.

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It can happen to you

It has not happened to me…yet. But something wonderful happened to my fiancé today. He had not one, but two dreams come true, in the space of about an hour. And that’s in addition to being engaged to me.

His first dream was about five years in the making. For some inexplicable reason, Josh has been trying to trade his safe corporate job for a career as a firefighter in the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. It’s dangerous, stressful and physically demanding, but at least it pays little.

I can sort of understand – in Australia firefighters are true heroes, what with the constantly raging bush fires. Then there’s a big red truck, sirens, suspenders and the sex symbol status. No wonder thousands of men compete for just a handful of jobs each year. The wannabies have to pass a barrage of physical, mental and psychological tests, one of which is endless waiting.

Josh has been waiting, patiently and not so patiently, since 2009. That’s like, a really long time. You can imagine his shock of getting a phone call just a few days ago, requiring him to take one last beep test. They must do this on purpose, to check just how badly one wants to be a firefighter. Who else would be willing to stay in peak physical fitness at all times and be available on moments’ notice?

Josh did, for five years. No wonder he passed the test, a gruelling 9.6, this morning.

Now imagine his shock at getting a missed phonecall while running the above mentioned beep test. Not that a missed call is all that surprising, but this one turned out to be from a recruiter, with an offer for an amazing new job, a big step up in his “regular” IT career. He’s been working on this goal for over a year. Fate must be a sadist with a sense of humour.

I’m not sure if he will choose the quiet joy of the desk job or the heroics of firefighting and getting adrenaline highs. But I am sure that he will never forget today, and neither will I.

Fairytales can come true – it can happen to you.

If you try really hard.

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Got a nibble!

It finally happened! After four months and about 60 applications, one agent has requested a full manuscript!

A few days ago, I woke up in the morning and, as usual, reached for my phone. Before the shower or the coffee, or even being able to fully open my eyes, I had to check the email. I’ve been doing this for months. That’s the trouble with the time difference between Australia and the US – the American agents work while I sleep. It is also a blessing, as I would otherwise check the email every few minutes, and not every half-hour, like normal people.

Amongst the junk mail enticing me to attend one-day-only secret sales for super special customers, there was one from an actual person. I did not recognize the name, but the word “QUERY” in the subject line told me it was another rejection letter. I opened it, expecting a standard form.

It started as they all do. “Dear…we have received…read with interest…” Then, in the second paragraph, my groggy brain registered a few words I have not seen before, at least not in this context.

“I laughed out loud.”

Jolted into an upright position by a shot of adrenaline, I read the email over and over. Granted, it was from an agent’s assistant, but he thought the small sample I sent was funny and he wanted to read the first three chapters. I sent the chapters.

He replied the next day with more “laughed out loud” and even “told my colleague”. He asked to see the full manuscript.

This is where preparation meets opportunity. Except in my case, because despite hoping for it, I was utterly unprepared for the request. The manuscript was finished a year ago, but every attempt at editing it started from Chapter 1. The polish sort of wore off the closer one got to the ending.

I did what I had to do – called in sick and edited nearly 80 thousand words in one day. By the end of the day I truly was sick and looked a bit like the walking dead. Any sane person would probably take a few days to get ready, but that’s not how I roll.

I sent it in and, after biting my nails for two days, followed up with only a slightly desperate “hope the attachment made it through the anti-spam!” message. The assistant replied instantly, informing me that while he thought the humor dropped off a bit in Chapter 4, he still liked the manuscript well enough to forward it to the “proper” agent.

So now it’s just fingers crossed…more applications…and maybe working on that whole “preparation” thing.

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Bridezilla in the making

I am a reasonable person. A rational one, perfectly capable of living within my means, making wise spending decisions and investing for the future. While growing up in the Soviet Union now seems like an old black-and-white movie, it has instilled in me the basics of saving for the rainy day, being (reasonably) frugal, and not coveting my neighbor’s anything. With the exception of a penchant for collecting dresses, I am far from a big spender – I don’t even have a car! I scoff at Christmas frenzy and even my first wedding was an elopement at the mayor’s office, followed by a small party put together entirely by the well-meaning family members.

So when my now-fiance surprised me with a proposal and a silver gemstone ring, I assumed that the ring was “it”. Josh was quick to explain that the ring was a “placeholder” for the one I would pick myself.

“That makes no sense,” I said. “How can I pick a ring if you are paying for it? That makes me feel bad…unless I pick whatever I want and also pay?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said simply. “You are not paying for your own ring!”

I agreed, but the uncomfortable feeling did not go away. Josh has a mortgage of his own, major repairs, plus in addition to all of the upcoming engagement and wedding costs, he is about to join the fire brigade – a dream that would see him risk his life for a drastically smaller salary. He can hardly wait, which is a fascinating paradox for another post.

After much back and forth and musing over the whole “two months’ salary” myth, I convinced him that at least the ring does not have to be a diamond.

“I want an aquamarine,” I said, “like your beautiful blue eyes.”

He agreed. I am really good at constructing convincing arguments, which are even more powerful when delivered in bed, preferably in the nude.

“You have to love it,” he warned me. “You’re going to look at it for a very long time. I’m not cheaping out on this.”

So it was with this profound feeling of being a reasonable person, unaffected by De Beers advertising campaigns and well-meaning old ladies, that I decided to pop into a jewellery store on my way to the gym.

“Do you have any aquamarine engagement rings?” I asked the attendant.

Not the kind of question a “diamond specialist” wants to hear, but I was wearing one of my overpriced business dresses, so she was more than willing to bring few rings over.

“I’m looking for a simple little number,” I said, waving away Princess Diana-like clusters of huge stones surrounded by halos of diamonds.

She showed me one, an aquamarine oval with two small diamonds on each side. I snickered at the diamonds and their potentially bloody past and slipped the ring on.

The next few seconds I remember as if in a slow motion. The diamonds caught rays of sunshine streaming through the windows and bounced them onto the blue stone, lighting it up as if from within. I stared at my hand for what must have been ages, until the sales woman’s voice snapped me from my reverie.

“Beautiful, isn’t it,” she smiled, sensing a sale.

“How much?” I asked breathlessly.

“Just $2,200”, she said.

I hate when sales people of any kind put “just” in front of the price. I don’t care if it’s a cup of coffee or a car, that’s my money and the separation from it hurts. In this case, it was Josh’s money and it hurt even worse.

I thanked her and left, certain that the temporary insanity I felt while looking at sparkling stones of questionable value was indeed temporary. I went to the gym and almost forgot about the ring, until it beckoned me from the window on the way back. I snapped a photo and sent it to my sister.

“It’s not you,” was her instant reply. “You are more square.”

She was right, of course, everything in my apartment is square, from the layout to dinner plates. She suggested more shopping and I agreed. What a great excuse for some sisterly bonding. Nothing at all to do with putting more sparklies on my fingers.

At least for now, I will spare you the weeks of insanity that followed. Each of the jewellery store visits was worthy of a short story by itself. True to form, I had to start a spreadsheet just to keep up with the number of jewelers and wholesalers, the specs, the designs, and of course – the costs. I am baffled as to how it happened, but somehow the aquamarine got upgraded to a sapphire, and the two side diamonds into a whole halo of them. I managed to resist the urge to stick more diamonds on the band. Such restraint…

I’m afraid of this inner Bridezilla…I have not even taken her shopping for a wedding dress yet. Something tells me it will not be a “simple little number”.

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Dundee International Book Prize wants your first novel!

Something to brighten your day, fellow aspiring writers! How would you like to join the ranks of nine writers, who’s careers took off after winning the prize, or the 10,000 pounds, easily exchanged into your native currency?

If you said yes to one or the other, then have a look at the press release and make sure to submit your debut novel by 4 March! Good luck!

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On breaking news and breaking rules

First, the news. After an agonising period of uncertainty and feverish online rumours, Amazon finally announced its 2014 Breakthrough Novel Award.

So, if you have a 50 – 125K original novel draft or you think you can get one together by the 2 March 2014 deadline, enter it for a chance to win the Grand Prize of $50,000! Only the first 10,000 submissions will be considered, so hurry!

Now, on breaking rules. The contest has many, such as rights to publication of the winner’s novel, judging and application procedures, etc. The one that automatically disqualifies my novel is the requirement to obtain concent of every person mentioned in the script by real name. My novel has endless references to the current pop culture and it’s stars, including quite a few jokes at the celebrities’ expense. This is generally accepted in the media, although I’m not sure as to which law governs it (but have a look at the film Dictator or one of the South Park episodes if you don’t believe me. I’m nowhere near that risqué).

Why, Amazon, why? I thought we were friends? I have bought so many books from you, but you don’t want my one and only?

Anyway, I can’t enter, so I hope you can. May the odds be ever in your favour!

By Ana Spoke

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First steps

I didn’t know how hard it would be to sit down in front of a blank page, to start writing, not knowing if anyone would ever read a single word…or worse, thinking that if someone actually did find and read my stories, they would say things like “Wow. What a load of crap!”

Of course, there are much harder and scarier things out there. Like parachuting (which is not worth the risk, I mean, really not worth it). And actually, I have written fiction before (if  first chapters of a half-dozen unfinished novels count).  But I have never published or even posted anything in the cyberspace, for everyone to see and comment. Those first chapters of unfinished bestsellers are my personal treasures and secrets, my own fool’s gold.

But, you have to start sometime, somewhere, and for me it is today. Because I want to finish a novel, and because I want for others to read it. Because I want to get better at writing. Because I hope that in a multi-billion world there will be a few (a million?) that would one day close my book (or put down a Kindle) and say “Wow. What else did she write?” Now, that’s a dream worth the risk.

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