My First Business Trip

Okay, the title of this post is a little bit misleading. This wasn’t my first business trip—the trip to New York in 2015 that I forgot to blog about was my first business trip—but this was my first trip with my current company.

The city by night after we arrived

Two of my coworkers and I went to a major city in the southeastern US. We ate some fabulous food, which was great. My prior company had a limit of what you could spend per day on meals. I think it was $25 or $35, which isn’t very much for a major city. My current company doesn’t have that. We are asked to “use judgment” when choosing where to eat, which I interpreted to mean that the five star restaurant I really wanted to go to was off-limits. Within reason, though, we could eat anything we wanted. Swiping the corporate card was very satisfying. 😉

However, the highlight of this trip was the hotel. We stayed in a Four Seasons, which was a first for me. I’ve wanted to stay in one for a while. Allow me to explain.

Several years ago, I started writing a crime thriller. In one of the scenes at the beginning, my intrepid protagonist gets to stay in a Four Seasons with her wealthy cousin (the cousin’s wealth greatly ties into the crime aspect of the book). I stopped working on the book for a while, then came back to it in 2015 and finished it. In preliminary edits, I ended up cutting the Four Seasons scenes—too much backstory—but those scenes still had been fun to write and I harbored a secret desire to stay in a Four Seasons. (Also, that book is one of my favorites that I’ve written so far, so I really need to go back and give it a proper editing and try to sell it to a publisher.)

Anyway, who would have guessed that years later, I would be able to stay in a Four Seasons? It was a very neat experience and I do have photographic evidence to share with you.

Here’s the hotel room: the first photo is at night after we arrived and the second is during the day.

The bathroom was quite luxurious, so I had to photograph that as well.

That’s a five-star toilet right there.

And that, my friends, was my experience at the Four Seasons. I ate the restaurant one morning for breakfast, which was decidedly lackluster, so I went to a local bakery the other mornings. Of course, the whole time I was there working and eating with my coworkers, I kept thinking of the book I wrote and how my trip wasn’t just an ordinary business trip. It doubled as book research, a fact I’m sure all my fellow fiction writers will appreciate.

‘Look At Me When I’m Speaking’: A Fabulous Row In The UN

Meet Vladimir Karpovich Safronkov.

To become a Russian diplomat, you have to be physically imposing. That’s my theory, anyway. Source

Until recently, Safronkov was a little-known deputy at Russia’s UN delegation. A career diplomat who was born on March 29, 1964, he attended the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), which seems to be a de facto prerequisite to have a career in Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Even after Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, passed away in January of this year, Safronkov didn’t exactly step right into the spotlight. I’d never heard of the guy until recently, and I don’t think I’m alone.

However, Safronkov made headlines last week when he angrily (and in my opinion, awesomely) told off the UK’s permanent representative to the UN. The British representative made some very pointed remarks about Russia’s stance on Syria—and Safronkov wasn’t having any of it. As my mom said about the photo below, if looks could kill…

Apparently you have to raise your hand to talk at the UN? Or maybe he’s just voting on some resolution.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in this case, we need to extend the metaphor and say that a video is worth a thousand pictures. (It sounded cleverer in my head before I typed it…) There are multiple videos of Safronkov telling off the British. I think this one from the Guardian is the best because it preserves the original languages of both parties. I’ve also embedded the video below—I’ve never embedded from the Guardian before, so I hope it works. The link above will also take you to the video.

[Edit, April 23: Sorry about the video embed, guys. I hear it doesn’t work. From what I can tell, my WordPress forbids this sort of code. I’ve embedded a video from YouTube below, which is a bit more extensive than the one from the Guardian. You can see the video from the Guardian on their website by clicking here.]

That video is just a small excerpt of what happened. If someone can find the entire thing with subtitles, I’d be happy to post it, especially since the video I have above leaves out the best part. Apparently Safronkov also said, “Don’t you dare insult Russia again!”

The video has raised quite a reaction in the media. Russians are talking about it. The British are talking about it. Even people over here in the US are talking about it. As you can imagine, there’s a split amongst people who have an opinion about it. Some think it’s amazing and others think Safronkov acted like a thug. My position is probably clear from this post, but in case it isn’t, I do think that British guy was a bit of an arse…

Also, the United States permanent representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, wisely stayed out of the kerfuffle.

Inspiring Writing Links

I have a folder in my bookmarks called “Later” where I save things that I want to share with you on this blog. I’ve had these two links saved there for ages, so I am finally going to post them.

The first is called “Beginning to self-edit.” Writer Sherwood Smith talks about visiting a writing workshop run by a friend. The writers had all finished NaNoWriMo and were beginning to edit their novels. The advice in the whole post is interesting, but I saved the link to share this one bit:

The next couple of people’s suggestions were a bit more idiosyncratic: “Throw out the first three chapters of any first draft,” —great advice sometimes, but by no means universal, especially for writers who actually begin the story too late, and end up shoe-horning a ton of flashback into the front in order to orient the bewildered reader—and, “Make sure your ending closes the story suggested by the beginning.”

A lot of advice I’ve seen talks about starting the novel too early in the story, so it was gratifying to see Smith mention that it is also possible to start too late. I had that very problem—beginning my story too late—with the book I’m currently working on. In my case, I think I started it about twenty-five percent too late. The draft I’m currently working on starts a bit earlier. And while I do know the story still will need editing, I do think it’s stronger right now than it used to be.

The next link is the about page of fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. I’ve never read any of his work, but I have heard of him. What I didn’t know until recently was how much he wrote before he found a publisher. His website says he wrote seven novels as an undergraduate. I read somewhere else that he had thirteen complete by the time he sold his first book (which was the sixth or seventh book he wrote, if I remember correctly). I think the moral of the story here is that we writers just need to keep writing. I mean, thirteen novels is some real commitment. I’m impressed.

Happy Easter!

Traditional Russian/Ukrainian dyed eggs called pysanki [писанки]

Happy Easter, dear readers! This year is the last until 2025 that western Easter and Orthodox Easter are on the same day. I hope everyone had a good holiday.

Wednesday Music: Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ From ‘The Four Seasons’

Dear readers, I can’t believe I haven’t posted about this piece before. It’s appropriate for this time of year. Today’s piece is Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, La primavera. That’s Italian for “spring.” Here’s a bit about it.

  • This piece is the first in Vivaldi’s cycle known as The Four Seasons. Each season is a concerto separated into three movements.
  • There are poems to accompany each season and the music is supposed to evoke imagery from the poems. For example, in Spring, there is a barking dog marked in the viola section. I’m not sure if the music actually sounds like a barking dog, though…
  • Other imagery supposedly in this piece are birds singing and thunderstorms. Again, I’m not sure I hear this when I listen to it—but based on the accompanying poems, it’s what Vivaldi wanted us to hear.

Enjoy!

Or click here to see on YouTube.

About That Ante Gotovina Film

I read this interesting story on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) about a week ago: In Casting Quandary, Croatian Filmmaker Lacks For ‘Enemies’.

Croatian director Antun Vrdoljak finds himself in a bind.

His current project, called The General, deals with Croatia’s recent past; it is meant to be a blockbuster about the exploits of Croatian wartime commander Ante Gotovina. Vrdoljak and his crew are currently shooting the film in the vicinity of the Croatian coastal city Split, recreating the final battle of the Croatian war of independence in 1995.

But he is having trouble finding actors willing to play “the enemy.”

Vrdoljak’s dilemma is that even in the filmmaker’s world of make-believe, Croatian actors refuse to put on the uniform of “Chetniks” — as rebel Serb fighters were dubbed to evoke the nationalist Serbian units that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II — while Serbs refuse to take part in a Croatian movie about General Gotovina.

The story—which is unfortunately written with a rather anti-Serbian bias—goes on to say that though this director is paying top dollar for actors to be in his movie, he’s still having trouble finding them. Croats don’t want to play Serb nationalists on film, while Serbs don’t want to take part in anything that glorifies Ante Gotovina. Gotovina was a Croatian general during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. He started his military career in the French Foreign Legion and then returned to his native Croatia. He helped mastermind Operation Storm in 1995, which greatly weakened the Serb side militarily, as well as driving out tons of Serbs from their homes in Croatia.

Ante Gotovina returning to Croatia in 2012.

Gotovina was indicted for war crimes and arrested. However, he was inexplicably acquitted on appeal after being sentenced to twenty-four years in prison. He returned home to Croatia a hero—and according to the article I linked to, much less of a Serb hater.

I’ve never been a great admirer of Gotovina since I’m more pro-Serb than pro-Croat (in the context of the Yugoslav breakup, that is). However, he’s definitely had a fascinating life and I really would like to see the movie when (if?) it comes out. In fact, I will see it no matter how anti-Serb and pro-Gotovina it is, due to one important fact: one of my favorite actors, Goran Visnjic, is playing the role of Gotovina. In case you don’t know what he looks like, I’ve included a helpful picture below.

Have I convinced you to see it, too? 😉

Seriously, though, as amusing as the director’s quandary is, I think a lot of people are missing the point. When you’re acting, the whole point is you aren’t yourself. I mean, I could play a character who really wants a tattoo or a nose piercing—those are two things I’m resolutely against. Just because I played a character who wanted them wouldn’t mean that I did. I could play a character who had political views that were completely opposed to my own—and that wouldn’t mean I espoused those views. It’s just like playing a Serbian soldier doesn’t mean that you’re pro-Serbian. Believe me, I know the whole history of the Balkans is very fraught with tensions and fighting and wars. But I think refusing to play a character who is supposed to be on “the other side” is taking things just a little bit too far.

Or maybe I’m too blinded by my obsession with Goran Visnjic and just really want this movie to be made so I can see it. 🙂

March 2017 Writing Report

The March writing report is rather dismal. Honestly, I kind of just want to skip it and forget that it happened. But in the interest of transparency, here it is.

I wrote a total of 12,642 words in March, which is an average of 408 per day. That’s dreadful because my goal for this year is 700 per day. I skipped writing on 18 days, which I think is a record for me this year! On the days I did write, I actually did quite well, so I think the problem was not enough writing. I can’t remember what I was doing instead of writing. It certainly wasn’t crocheting because I’m still working on my pink afghan, even though I wanted to be finished months ago!

So here’s to a better writing month in April. I’ve missed some days already, but that’s okay because we all need a break. I’m almost finished with my outline, which is great. I can’t wait to start writing my next book!