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.

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.

A Message From The Other Side

A strange group of events happened this weekend—obviously it’s a coincidence that I saw a pattern in since the human brain loves to find patterns, even when they don’t exist—but I still wanted to blog about it.

First, I read some history books about the Nazis and was reminded of my friend Tommy because we used to discuss twentieth-century German history together all the time. I dedicated an edition of Wednesday Music to him one October. Basically, he was my best friend ever but then he died, which was devastating. All during this past weekend, I kept being reminded of him. It was all very random stuff: something my phone did, something else I saw online, etc. The culmination was yesterday, Monday, when I was browsing The Passive Voice blog and saw this graphic (found in this post).

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

That was Tommy’s favorite quote. I was shocked to see it pop up on my computer screen as I clicked through to the next page of posts on that blog. And while obviously it’s just a coincidence that I happened to see this quote yesterday, a part of me felt like it was him sending me a message.

Вечная память.

Words Of Wisdom From The Admiral

No Wednesday Music today, dear readers. I couldn’t find/decide on a piece! But I did write a post, so at least that.

Regular readers may know that I’m a huge admirer of Alexander Kolchak, a Russian admiral who served in the Imperial Russian Navy and later became famous as a noted military and political leader for the White Movement during the Russian Civil War. I’ve been fascinated by him since I saw a Russian film called Admiral back in 2008. (Just so you know, the TV series is way better, but unfortunately not available with English subtitles.)

Anyway, about a week ago, I wasn’t having such a great day at work. Everyone kept giving me stuff to do (and of course wanted it done yesterday, i.e. the day before they gave it to me), I was worried about not being able to finish, and it was very frustrating. I opened up Twitter and, lo and behold, what did I see? A quote from Admiral Kolchak! I follow a pro-White Movement Twitter account (actually, I follow several, because that is the depth of my obsession) and someone tweeted this nice photo. It certainly won’t win any awards for graphic design, I’ll give you that, but it really made my day.

Click to see larger
Нет поражений. Есть временные трудности. -А.В. Колчак

In English, the quote is: “There are no defeats—only temporary obstacles.” Or at least that’s how I’ve translated it. There seem to be a surprising amount of shades of meaning of the word поражение [porazhenie].

Now, I realize there’s a certain bit of irony in quoting a man who was betrayed by troops who were supposed to be on his side, which led to him being handed over to his enemies, interrogated/tried by a kangaroo court, and murdered at the conclusion of this “trial.” (Kolchak’s murder took place ninety-seven years ago as of yesterday, February 7. Maybe that’s why I’ve been reflecting on this recently…) I’m not really sure what to call that other than a defeat. But hey, I think it’s an inspiring quote and I’m rather partial to anything Kolchak-related.

A lot of people at work have quotes on little pieces of paper pinned up at their desks. Most people have random inspirational stuff or favorite Bible verses. I may have to put this one up. Now that will garner some inquiries from my team, I’m sure!

P.S. Here’s how the tweet looked when it showed up in my Twitter stream. It made me so happy that I had to take a screenshot.

Yes, my phone is in Russian!
Yes, my phone is in Russian!

P.P.S. I researched this quote and to be honest, it’s quite hard to find a substantiated source for it. In my research, I found this slightly more wordier version: Не может быть поражений — могут быть лишь временные трудности. It pretty much amounts to the same thing in English, though. Despite the unsubstantiation (is that even a word?), I like it and am going to resolutely believe it is true unless I find out otherwise.

Wanted: Blog Recommendations

Hear ye, hear ye, dear readers. I have a request for all of you. In short, I need recommendations of good blogs to read. My reading list has been a bit sparse recently. The bloggers I read now don’t blog every day, so there are some days when zero posts show up in my reader.

I used to read a lot more blogs, but slowly I pruned my list. It wasn’t because I had too many on the list; it was because I didn’t enjoy reading those blogs anymore. For example, I stopped reading Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn blog. I like Joanna and I think she’s a nice person. I read her blog for years. In fact, I started reading it when I was in college and only stopped reading it early this year or late last year (I can’t remember which). As I said, I don’t bear any ill will towards her. It’s just that as time went on, it changed from being less of a writing advice and writing craft blog to more of a “Look at me and my BRAND and my publishing and marketing strategies and yes, let’s talk about BRAND again.” Thanks, but no thanks.

Anyway, hers isn’t the only blog I’ve stopped reading. I dumped a lot of people from my reader. Therefore, my list is a bit thin. And that’s where you come in! Please, dear readers, give me some blog recommendations. I only read English and Russian, so I’d appreciate it if you limit it to those two languages. If you’re reading my blog, you probably know what my interests are, but just in case, here’s some things I like, in no particular order. (You don’t have to limit your recommendations to these, of course. It’s just a starting point.)

  • Russian history, language, and literature
  • History in general
  • Classical music, especially anything violin-related
  • Crafts, especially knitting and crocheting
  • Writing fiction
  • Reading books

Yep… that’s basically me in a nutshell. Bring on the recommendations! 🙂

I Passed My Exam!

Dear readers, I am back. I hadn’t intended to take a week off from blogging, but something came up. I registered to take part two (out of three) of a professional certification exam back in August. The registration is valid for six months, during which time you have to schedule and take the exam, or else forfeit the exam fee.

I’d been putting off studying, but at the end of last year, I finally started on it since I realized my registration window was running out. After I started getting most of the questions right, I knew I had to register.

So I logged into the testing system to schedule my time and saw there weren’t many good slots left. There were some very late ones this week and some decent ones in mid-February, but I didn’t want to wait until then. On Wednesday night, I registered for the one remaining Thursday slot. I think that’s the most last-minute planning ever. Since our department at work really wants all of us to get this certification, I was allowed to take a day off to study and take the exam on Thursday. And I passed! Seriously, I was a bit surprised. I had studied, but some of the questions were really hard. There were quite a few that I could narrow the answer choices down to two possible answers, but I wasn’t sure which was correct.

Anyway, I didn’t do much writing (either on this blog or my fiction) last week. I was too busy studying and then feeling relieved that I passed. I spent the weekend reading and watching a movie and crocheting. It was quite nice. Especially since we have unseasonably good weather right now. Unfortunately, it’s back to the usual grind tomorrow. At least I squeezed in some decent writing time today!

Annals of Kboards: 100,000 Words a Week

Sometimes, if I’m feeling in a certain frame of mind, I’ll go check out the forum on Kboards.com. Kboards, in case you aren’t familiar, is a forum that sprang up after Amazon invented the Kindle and set up a way for people to directly upload their content to Amazon’s site in order to sell to Kindle users. The forum is for self-publishers/indie publishers/whatever they’re calling themselves nowadays. (Sometimes people who upload their works to Amazon and other self-publishing websites get really annoyed when you call them self-publishers. They want to be called indie publishers instead. And I’m not trying to knock self-publishing, because I think it has its place and I’m considering self-publishing a book so obviously I’m not against it, but let’s not kid ourselves. If you upload your work yourself to Amazon/iBooks/Smashwords/whatever, you’re self-publishing. Let’s not mince words.)

Anyway, Kboards is full of fascinating posts. A lot of them are from people asking advice of how to market their book, or find a cover designer, or how to solve common technical problems while uploading to Amazon. All normal, run-of-the-mill stuff. Occasionally, though, you can find a post that is pure gold. Here’s this one from October (a friend shared it on Twitter back in December and the link has been sitting on my iPhone ever since because I kept forgetting to write about it). It’s called Writing 100,000 Words A Week (+Update: Becoming A No.1 International Bestseller). It is so absurd, I almost think someone made it up just to have a laugh at all of us reading it. Anyway, here are some choice excerpts from this forum thread, with my commentary interspersed.

The original poster, i.e. the person who started the topic (and therefore gave it that ridiculous title) is named Cael. So here’s a summary what she wrote to start off with: she started writing a lot (like thousands of words per day) and realized you have to be consistent. All very true, in my experience. My writing works out a lot better if I do it as often as I can. Obviously you have to be fully focused while writing—no random internet browsing, social media, etc. The poster says this and I agree.

Here’s where we come to the objectionable part: she claims she wrote 100,000 words in a week. A week, people. Now, I know not everyone “speaks” word count the way we writers do. In publishing, they usually say there are 250-300 words per printed page, which means she says she wrote 330-400 pages. In a week. Length-wise, 100,000 words is a full novel. And she claims she did this in a mere seven days.

Leaving aside the fact that you still have to edit all those words once you finish, that words out to 14,285 words per day. I don’t see how a person could physically type that much. I typed 5,000 words in a day once while working on an old project and my hands were killing me afterwards. I then realized I didn’t want to destroy my poor hands and fingers, so ever since then I’ve just aimed for consistent writing every day. I don’t manage to write every single day, but it’s pretty close. 14,000 words in one day would destroy your hands. Doing it for seven days straight would probably do irreparable damage.

“Ah, my dear Natasha,” you’re saying, “what if she isn’t actually typing? What if she’s using that clever dictation software they have nowadays?” I admit, that was one of my thoughts, too. She does mention using dictation in some instances, so it seems like she’s using a combination of both. But still, even a combination of writing and dictation to produce 14,000 words per day just doesn’t sound good or feasible in the long run. I actually have no idea how many words I speak aloud per day (because who goes around counting that sort of thing?), but I’m guessing it’s a lot less than 14,000.

Anyway, let’s take this at face value and assume she truly did write 100,000 words in a week. What did she do next, you ask? Surely she went back, read her story, made some notes of things to edit (because, let’s face it, we all make mistakes in our first drafts and don’t even realize it until later), and then commenced editing. Nope! As logical as that assumption is, it is wrong. She slapped the whole mess up onto Kindle, commissioned a cover (which even I have to admit is nice—it’s probably the only nice part of the book), and voila! She’s a “published author!” And now she’s an “international bestseller” too!

Yep, an international bestseller with a grand total of 17 reviews on Goodreads and 9 reviews on Amazon. I hate to tell you, but a true “bestseller” has a heck of a lot more ratings than that. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the book industry can tell you that. And I’m not saying self-published books can’t be bestsellers—because they can! There’s nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is putting this word vomit up for sale and calling it an international bestseller.

Sigh. I need to stop getting so worked up about this. After all, it looks like the free market has spoken: she put her book up and most people have chosen not to read it (as evidenced by the very low review rate). Now you know why I stopped downloading self-published Kindle books. Ninety-nine percent of them are like this. I have encountered good ones here and there, but they have become more and more difficult to find because rubbish like this clogs up the searches. I’m so thankful for the library system where I live because it allows me to read decent books for free.

And now you know why I do not frequent Kboards very often! Threads like this one are enough to make your head explode!