28 October 2015

23 October 2015

Book Reviews: Fifteen Postcards and The Marshall Plan

These are my reviews as they appeared on Goodreads.

Fifteen PostcardsFifteen Postcards by Kirsten McKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book very much. I was riveted to the story, although as it went on I became confused by how all the characters were going to tie together. I kept reading though, anxious to find out.

The attention to detail with the antiques and their historical settings was wonderful. I could smell the mustiness of the antique shop and incense of India. I lost track of the family tree, however, and there was a lot of time spent in the past with characters that ended up not having much to do with the final story. I also felt there were some loose ends, so I hope that means there’s a sequel in the works. I’m curious to see where Sarah’s adventures continue!

The Marshall PlanThe Marshall Plan by Olivia Folmar Ard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is a great examination of that difficult time many of us face when we’re finished with school but not quite working in the careers we just spent so many years studying to work in. Are you an adult yet? Or are you a big kid still?

I wanted to give this one five stars but I couldn’t quite get there. Technically the writing is excellent but I found the characters very frustrating. I couldn’t figure out exactly why Molly kept putting off marrying Gavin when 1) she kept saying she loved him so much and 2) it would have solved a number of practical issues such as roommates and living expenses. But I also didn’t get exactly why she loved him so much. You don’t have to love everything about your partner but she seemed downright mean about his choices of hobbies.

All that aside, I still found The Marshall Plan a compelling read. I wanted to see what would happen with Molly, if she would solve her problems or create new ones.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

19 October 2015

"Sweaty, Gross, and Super Hungry"

That's what I said to Mike one morning when he leaned in for a hug and a kiss before he left for work. I was in the midst of my run streak and had just returned from the great outdoors. It was the peak of Malian summer, sometime in April or May. Every morning I was sweaty, gross, and super hungry. Mike laughed that morning and suggested it as the title of my memoir when I eventually wrote about the run streak.

I started on Thanksgiving last year and ran at least one mile every day for 199 days, ending in mid-June. I ran in Mali -- in Bamako and Segou. I ran in Paris. I ran in Salzburg. I ran on the pedestrian path between the hotels and the airport in Munich. (Or was it Frankfurt? I don't remember now where our twenty-four hour layover was.) I ran in West Palm Beach and South Beach. I ran along Ocean Road in Narragansett. I ran by myself most days but with sometimes with Mike or other friends.

I ran on treadmills sometimes. I'd brought one with us to Mali to get me through running during the worst weather here -- the dust storms of winter followed shortly by the intense heat of summer. The treadmill shorted out the electricity in the entire downstairs of the house every time I plugged it in, and by the time someone was able to fix that problem, I'd already run through the worst weather outdoors. The dust storm days when my lungs hurt after ten minutes outside. Long runs in the May heat that I broke up by running two miles to the gym, running on the treadmill under a full-blast air conditioner, and running two miles home.

I learned that I can run one mile under almost any conditions. Bad weather, minor injuries, mild fevers, after too much cider and chèvre-stuffed galette for lunch at a Breton café in Paris. I learned that eventually one mile wasn't enough unless I was extremely tired or pressed for time and most days I was going out for at least two.

I was always hungry. Even the low-mileage days left me ravenous and I ate like crazy. Yet, I started to fit into clothes that hadn't fit me in a few months (a few years, even, after my winter hibernation in Rhode Island).

Until one injury stopped me. We were back in the U.S. I was eating like crazy because so many foods were available that we don't have in Mali. I was running every day but pain was causing me to slow down and limit myself to less than two miles. I could have run slowly through the injury, limiting myself to one ten-minute mile each day. But I'd planned to run a half marathon with some friends, friends who I hadn't seen since we'd run a half marathon together the previous year. I ended the streak so I could get some real rest. A week later I ran with my friends and came within ten minutes of my half marathon PR, which I was thrilled with considering the horrible two-hour nonstop downpour we ran through combined with still nursing the injury.

I belonged to a handful of run streak groups online. Some people congratulated me on knowing when to end the streak and concentrate on having fun with my friends instead. Others sniffed at my decision, saying they would have chosen to keep the streak alive and forego the half marathon. Whatever. I made the right choice for me at the time. (And the people who supported my decision are people I'm still in touch with regularly even though I'm not streaking any more.)

Even though I kept running regularly, I did not go back to streaking. Yet I was still in the U.S. eating as if I were still streaking and training for a half marathon. By the end of our vacation, some of those favorite clothes no longer fit.

Several months later, some of those clothes still don't fit and I know that all I have to do is commit to running one mile every day again if I want them to. Without even really thinking about it I recently found myself running every day for several days in a row -- a week, maybe 8 or 9 days, I didn't really pay attention. I felt healthy and strong again. I also felt like there's not enough food in Mali to keep me fed through another streak and we don't have plans to get to Europe or the U.S. any time soon.

But aside from the health, strength, and fitting into of favorite clothes, I also found I was extremely productive when I started every morning with a run, regardless of it being ten minutes or ten miles. I wrote my novel during those run streak days along with a number of other projects. (I'm thinking I should try to write off Strava Premium on my taxes because of my productivity during the streak.)

I'm going to take it one day at a time. I ran yesterday. I ran today. I'll probably run tomorrow but I'll make that decision in the morning.

18 October 2015

Seven Sentences

A few weeks ago I was tagged for the 7-7-7 challenge by @LMBryski on Twitter. I posted my response on Goodreads because I was still going back and forth on if I was going to breathe life back into this blog or start a new one.

You go to the seventh page of your work in progress, count the top seven sentences, and then publish the next seven. I decided to go through a new manuscript I'm currently writing rather Mountains Never Meet so as not to repeat lines I've already shared.

This is completely first-draft unedited writing. It's not likely to stay on the seventh page and it might not even stay in the finished manuscript. At least not all seven sentences.
Sara rummaged through the kitchen for things to roast with the chicken. She’d been too hot and tired to haggle at the vegetable market earlier in the week so hadn’t bought much and their stores of fresh fruits and vegetables were getting low. Carrots that were a bit too soft to be in a salad or cut into sticks were still good enough for roasting. And some oranges that were a bit too dry, so no one was eating them, would be good roasted with a chicken, too. An apple that was a little soft. There were two small onions left. She grabbed all the random fruits and vegetables that were not good enough to eat as they were.
Working titles I've been toying with include The Trailing Spouse and Honeypot. I'd like to leave out all other background information and references to the rest of the story for now but if you want to know more, please feel free to ask.

17 October 2015

"It has to be a good story."

"Sometimes I interview as many as three or four people a night if I'm lucky. But it has to be a good story. That's only fair, isn't it?" -- The Boy, Interview with a Vampire
I was tagged by the lovely and talented Mollie Smith to do a little Q&A. I can't promise vampires, though, not this time.

When did you first start writing?
I've always written. Professionally I'm more of an editor, but I've written children's books, essays, catalog copy, website copy, all sorts of different things.

Was being a writer something you always aspired to be? 
Not really. I always pursued whatever my interests were at the time and I seem to have landed on editing and writing.

What genre do you write?
Right now I'm concentrating on novels but I've written mostly nonfiction. I'm calling Mountains Never Meet and some of the others I'm working on travel-expat-romance.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress?
It's my first novel. I started writing a memoir about living in Burundi but somewhere along the line I decided it would be a little more interesting if things happened differently. It morphed into a work of fiction that has nothing to do with Burundi now. (I'm sure Burundi will pop up in future stories, though. I still have a lot of adventures to share from there.)

When did you start working on this project?
At the beginning of this year.

What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about? 
In third or fourth grade, I think, I wrote a piece of My Little Pony fan fiction (before it was even known as fan fiction.)

What’s the best part about writing? 
All of it!

What’s the worst part about writing?
All of it!

What’s the name of your favourite character and why?
Right now I'm in love with my male main character in Mountains Never Meet. Opening up my manuscript every day is like opening an email from someone I have a crush on.

How much time a day/week do you get to write?
I consider writing this novel my job this year so I spend several hours a day working on it. I'm more in the editing and format phase right now but I still make time almost every day for a writing prompt.

When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
I'm a morning person, but I often have ideas just before I fall asleep at night so I jot them down and turn them into real sentences the next morning.

Did you go to college for writing?
I was an English major. I concentrated on literature but the program included some writing courses. I minored in film studies so my courses included script writing, too.

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
As an editor, all of them. As a reader, all of them. As a writer, I don't pay attention to them at all until I'm editing later in the process.

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
Write drunk, edit sober.

What advice would you give to another writer?
Don't be afraid of your first draft. Just write the damn thing. No one's going to see it so it doesn't matter if it's terrible. You go back and fix that later, but if you don't write it in the first place you'll have nothing to work with.

What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
I like the Badass Writing series and Terrible Minds. I love #1lineWed on Twitter and I belong to a couple writing groups on Facebook. For the most part, though, I read a lot of novels and learn from them. I'd rather spend more time writing than reading about writing.

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I'm a runner. I sew. I bake gluten-free treats.

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
We happen to be back in the U.S. when Jaws was shown in theaters for its 40th anniversary. I'd only ever seen it on television before. It was an entirely different movie on the big screen!

Who is your favourite author?
J.D. Salinger

Where else can we find you online?
Twitter: @StephanieSD
Instagram: @stephanierunnerwriter
Goodreads: Stephanie (and where you can see from my reviews who my current favorite authors are)
Facebook: Stephanie Smith Diamond

02 October 2015

Book Review: Am I Going to Starve to Death?

This is my review as it appeared on Goodreads.

Am I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service SpouseAm I Going to Starve to Death?: A Survival Guide for the Foreign Service Spouse by Donna Scaramastra Gorman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone interested in living overseas at all, this book is valuable even if some of the agency specifics don’t apply. There are questions you have to ask yourself and discuss with your partner and family before making the decision to live and work overseas. Although I don’t agree with every single piece of advice, Ms. Gorman is honest and it’s important to hear what worked and what didn’t work for others if nothing else than to know you’re not alone.

We are ten-year veterans with the Foreign Service, so this book was less how-to for me and more nodding my head with recognition. Mix up with my birth control prescription causing me to go without for several months? Resulted in a wonderful daughter a few years before we’d planned to have kids, plus the fun of being pregnant in Burundi.

My wedding ring accidentally packed into the shipment for the slow boat? When my husband went to training and I decided to spend the summer at the beach with our daughter instead of hot and humid D.C., single dads practically fell out of the sky every time I appeared in public.

Losing a pet overseas? That happened to us, too.

Watching my husband pack a bag before leaving for work in case he had to sleep at the consulate because local authorities wanted to arrest him for doing his job? Living in fear that we’d be PNG’d any day because he continued to do his job, even after they decided not to arrest him?

Worrying about terrorist attacks, malaria, ebola, food riots, etc., have all become so much a part of my daily life that I’m almost completely desensitized to them. When they happen (when, not if, in the countries we live in) we’ll deal with it. Oh, and have you heard of acid bugs?

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? Seeing the Taj Mahal? Taking a three-year-old hiking through Bhutan? Having a five-year-old whose French is better than mine? Eating great new foods? Making friends all over the world? Yup, all that great stuff happens, too. (We’ve also wrangled three assignments in a row on or near the equator, so the endless summer is pretty nice, too.)

These are the experiences that happen to all of us and you can either learn to roll with them or not. You’ll be happier if you relax and roll. I eventually learned that I’m going to make a fool of myself somehow every time I go out so I may as well be resigned to it.

View all my reviews on Goodreads