Category Archives: Life crazier then fiction

I’m still breathing…

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Now that we’re one day past mid-May and almost halfway through 2016 (good God, how did the time manage to fly by so quickly?), some of you might be wondering where I’ve been and why I practically went MIA for a few months, apart from an occasional book review here and there. Well, I can certainly say that 2016 has been one heck of a year for me so far.

My father passed away on January 24th after losing his battle with cancer. Even though we all knew this day was coming, it was still a shock, especially to my mother. They had been together for 53 years, after all. At least, he died in his sleep and he had one of those rare good days before passing when nothing hurt, his mind was clear, and his mood cheerful.

And then, when I had barely gotten over that emotional punch, life threw me another curve ball. My husband informed me that he didn’t want to be married anymore. He did that 5 days before our 8 year anniversary too, no less. Needless to say, that rocked my world, especially since it came out of the blue, at least for me.

So eight years after leaving everything behind in Geneva and moving to the United States to follow him, I was once again scrambling to rebuild something out of the shambles that my life had become.

But I have survived. To paraphrase Sia, “I’m still breathing.” In fact, here’s her song for you. I find it very a propos.

I have learned a couple things in this ordeal though.

First one is that you never know how strong you are until you have no choice but to be strong. I had to find a place to live, make sure that I made enough per month to keep a roof over my head and food in my fridge. I had to figure out how to get all my bills paid each month. I had to start paying off my part of the debts incurred during 8 years of marriage. But most importantly, I had to figure out how to keep moving forward when all I wanted was curl up in a ball and cry.

Needless to say that writing and blogging had not been a priority. In, fact, I hadn’t written more than 100 – 200 words a day on good days since then. It’s hard to focus on the problems fictional characters are facing when you are worried what you are going to eat for the 5 days remaining until the next paycheck once you pay all your bills. It’s hard to summon up the courage to write a romantic scene between your characters when your own romantic life is in shambles.

Not to mention that I was so emotionally and physically drained from all this that I didn’t have much strength left but to eat dinner and go to bed after I came home. Oh, and I joined a gym a month before the breakup because I was fed up with feeling fat and slow and hurting. With my evenings free of any obligations, I went there 5 days a week. That probably also contributed to the exhaustion a bit.

I think I have my budget pretty much sorted out. It’s gonna be though for a few more months, but once I get some of the debts paid off, I will be able to breathe again and even treat myself to new clothes now and then.

 

The second thing I learned is that you never know who your friends are until you end up in an extreme situation like that. All I can say is thank God for my co-workers and friends you were more than supportive and helped me every step of the way. I would not have found a place to stay and that I could afford if it wasn’t for them.  I would also feel extremely lonely and isolated if it wasn’t for a few friends who took it upon themselves to call me and invite me out every weekend since I moved on my own.

So the result of this upheaval is that I am now in a completely different phase in life than when 2016 began. For one, I don’t have to stay in the little military town I am in right now if I don’t want to. Nothing ties me down here anymore. I can go wherever I want. I think that I might start looking for a job in a bigger city (or even a big city like New York or Washington DC) once I have all my debts paid off and some emergency savings in the bank to tie me over. I can speak three languages. Surely some company out there could use my skills?

Also my continued visits to the gym paid off  – I lost 15 pounds and replaced a lot of fat with muscle. I dropped two sizes. I feel stronger, leaner and more energized. Not to mention that I like what I see in the mirror a lot better now.

I am also determined to get back in the habit of writing every day. I need to finally finish the first draft of Shadow Hunters that had been crying in a corner since end of March. It’s 80% done. All it needs is a big push across the finish line.

I also still want to publish Mists of the Crosswords this year, but with everything happening in my life, the publication date will have to be pushed to this Fall / Winter.

And finally, I will try to get back to blogging regularly with new content about my writing and the books I’m reading.

Life isn’t over, even if it felt that way a month and a half ago. Move on, rebuild and thrive. That’s my goal for the foreseeable future.

 

In Memoriam – Alan Rickman.

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman would have turned 70 yesterday. Unfortunately, Fate decided differently, and he passed away on January 14, 2016, after loosing a battle against cancer.

But I couldn’t let this date pass without honoring one of my favorite actors at least in some way, so today I decided to talk about some of Alan Rickman roles that I loved the most. He has been in so many movies, theatrical plays, and radio shows, and even lent his beautiful voice to audio books, that it’s impossible for me to list them all. And I probably haven’t seen all of them either. So I will concentrate on those that I particularly loved.

  1. Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

I think this was one of the first Alan Rickman’s movies I’ve seen and I was 11 years old then. It just goes to show how impressed (and terrified) I was of Hans Gruber that I remember him even after all those years. Hans was magnificent in his ruthlessness and baddassery with a slight touch of crazy. One of the best villains ever.

Die Hard

2. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

It just goes to show how good Alan Rickman was at playing villains that he managed to transform this rather one dimensional character into somebody I in turn hated, despised, and pitied. He gave the Sheriff of Nottingham a touch of humanity and more than a few doses of insanity. Compared to how dull Robin Hood himself was in this movie, the Sheriff was a joy to watch.

Robn Hood prince of thieves

3. Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility.

As good as Alan Rickman was at playing a villain, he was absolutely swoon worthy as a romantic character. Colonel Brandon was a man of few words, but his eyes spoke volumes. He could melt your heart into a puddle with just one long soulful look. I kept yelling at Marianne to open her eyes and grab on to the treasure that this man was instead of chasing after Willoughby.

Sense and Sensibility

4. Metatron in Dogma

And if you thought he was excellent at playing villains or romantic heroes, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen him in Dogma. He was awesome as Archangel Metatron, The Voice of God. He was so full of sass and sarcasm and quick wit that I’m not gonna include a picture here, but a whole video clip instead. You’re welcome.

5. Professor Snape in Harry Potter.

This is probably the most iconic role Alan Rickman ever played. I’m safe to say that for my generation,  and for younger generations, the name of Professor Snape will always be associated with Alan Rickman. He embodied that character so perfectly, that I can’t imagine anyone else as Severus Snape.

Severus Snape

 

And there you have it, my five favorite roles Alan Rickman played. What are yours? He was a wonderful actor and human being who touch countless hearts. Our world grew a little duller now that he is gone.

Happy Birthday, Maestro! I miss you.

Can I just hibernate till spring?

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

You might have wondered where I had disappeared to lately since I haven’t been very active on my blog: a couple of measly posts here and there, no book reviews to speak off… I’m very sorry about that! It’s just that I found it very hard to scrap up any motivation to do pretty much anything lately.

Call it winter blues, call it post-NaNo burnout, or even blame it on an insanely busy work schedule, but either way all I want to do is go into hibernation and wake up when it’s spring and everything is flowering again. And the sun doesn’t set at 5pm right when I get off work, when it even deigns to grace us with its presence at all. It’s only mid-December, and I’m already tired of the gray and the early dark. I want my sunshine back!

I think I wouldn’t mind winter as much if nature made up its mind and it was, you know, actually winter. Give me the cold weather and the snow and all the other good wintery stuff. But even that’s not the case this year! It’s 35 degrees one day and 70 the next, then back into the 40s, then oh, never mind, it’s 75 again.

Winter is coming or not

My poor rose bushes have no idea what to do about this weather, and the azaleas are trying to flower. I mean it’s 75 degrees outside today… on December freaking 15th! We had a bona fide summer thunderstorm yesterday. No wonder half the people at work are sick.

So since the beginning of December, I had been pretty much coasting on autopilot. I have a first draft to finish. I have several other books to edit, one of which I want to publish in March. I have books to read and review. I have good TV shows to watch. I have cross stitching projects that have been neglected for too long… Yet all I do when I get off work is sit and watch the grass try to grow in the middle of December while I listen to K-pop, and wonder if I should break out the riding mower or let the (hopefully) coming frost kill it. And then go to bed early because even that is exhausting.

But hey, the situation isn’t as dire as I made it sound! I’m still working on the first draft of Shadow Hunters, even though I went from writing 2k words a day to about 400-600 words. But speed is not as important as consistency, right? And the will to stick with it to the bitter end. I’ll get it done, winter slump be damned.

I have read two very good books this month as well, but I can’t post my reviews yet because they won’t be officially released until February 2016. I was lucky enough to get the ARCs (advance reader copies) of them through NetGalley. So look forward to those reviews (and books) closer to February.

I have also watched some excellent TV series, though I tend to favor Asian dramas lately. One of them, called White Christmas, stood out so much that I even posted a review of it a while back. And I’m planning on doing a marathon rewatch of it for Christmas, which only shows how much I liked the show.

So to paraphrase Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s excellent Discworld series, “I aten’t dead.” Now can we just skip this whole winter deal and get on with spring?

i-atent-dead

Happy Two Year Anniversary!

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I can’t believe I almost missed the two year anniversary of my blog! I was so busy getting ready for NaNoWriMo and dealing with the looney bin my workplace had transformed into because we are having a switch of command. Good thing I logged on the site and noticed a nice little reminder WordPress sent me today…

Two years… Wow. When I started this blog back in 2013, right before I was gathering the courage for my first ever NaNoWriMo, I would never have imagined that I would still be here two years later. I had imagined that I would either get bored with the blog or run out of ideas to write about. Or simply get tired of it.

But I’m still here two years later. Still writing and still blogging and (hopefully) not repeating myself too much. Though I must admit that this is a bigger commitment than I first imagined. When I created the Tower of Winds, I had promised myself that I would update it regularly, at least twice, but no less than once a week. Well, trying to balance that, full time work and my writing as well had been challenging at times.

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And my regular readers might have noticed that I have slipped a bit in the past few months, especially in the book review department. I am sorry about that. Life got in the way and my reading speed slowed down to a crawl. I promise to resume my regular schedule of Friday reviews soon!

When I first started this blog, I also had only a very vague notion of how much time and effort writing a post required. It’s hard to write a good post that is both funny and informative. You don’t want to bore your readers, but you want to leave them with the feeling that they learned something useful as well. And you need to try and cram all your thoughts into a thousand words or less as well, because you risk to lose your reader if your post drags on and on and on.

It’s also hard to come up with a good topic for a post sometimes. There are weeks when I know exactly what I want to discuss and my fingers fly over the keyboard because I can’t wait to share my thoughts with my readers. But there are also weeks when I stare at the blank screen for hours thinking, “Now what? Is this it? Did I really run out of ideas?” Good news is, an idea always pops into my head eventually, at least so far…

And while blogging is hard work sometimes, I also love it. It gives me a different medium to express my thoughts; to share my fears and doubts by also my joys and achievements with like-minded people.

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So Happy Two Year Anniversary to the Tower of Winds! I hope that you will stick with me and my ramblings for the next two years as well. Now I’m going to pour a glass of wine and celebrate this properly.

Memorial Day – Honoring our Heroes.

Memorial-Day-Clipart-2

Today is Memorial Day in the United States of America – a day to honor those who gave it all for this country, who died for our freedom. I think that this is a very important holiday and that other countries could benefit from having one of those as well, especially the country I was born in – Russia. Too often, the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers goes forgotten and our veterans die homeless and alone… So today I wanted to talk about the heroes in my family – my grandfather and my grandmother.

 

I was born in Russia and both of my parents are Russian. It so happens that all Russian families have had relatives who fought in World War II. Some came back, some didn’t, but all fought against the Nazis to protect their country and their family. Because all knew what fate would befall their loved ones if Hitler had won. Russians were on the same list as Jews as far as he was concerned after all – due for extermination.

 

My grandfather got conscripted into the Red Army paratroopers at the very beginning of the war, in 1940. He was in the radio and communications squadron. They were responsible for making sure all the other squadrons had radio contact between each other. Which often meant that they had to drive out into combat zones towards a squadron or platoon who had been in that location based on 2-3 days old intel to try and establish radio contact with them. Sometimes they were lucky and found the platoon still there and holding position. Sometimes they would arrive to late and have to chase the platoon down because they had advanced to their next location. And sometimes the platoon would have been forced to retreat and my grandfather’s squadron would ride into an ambush…

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My grandfather never talked about the war. If asked, he would try to change the subject and close off entirely if pressed. When I was little, I didn’t understand why. Everybody told me that my granddad was a hero, so why wouldn’t he talk about it? Now, I know. The things he saw and went through during the 5 years USSR was at war, they haunted him until the day he died at the old age of 89. He still relieved them in his nightmares. I used to spend most of my summers at my grandparents summer house outside Moscow when I was little, and may nights I would wake up, scared to death, to my grandfather shouting.

 

“Retreat! Retreat!”

 

“Where is the damn fire support?!”

 

Or he would talk to someone called Alexander. He talked to him a lot in his sleep. My grandmother told me later that Alexander had been his best friend and his combat brother through most of the 5 hellish years of the war. He was killed in combat right outside of Berlin. My grandfather got to come back home to my grandmother and my mother, but Alexander never did.

 

On days when he would have those nightmares, my grandfather would wake up before the first light and go work in the garden. He wouldn’t stop until he wore himself out enough to pass out from exhaustion and sleep without dreaming.

 

My grandmother didn’t fight during the war, but she did her best to help the war effort as well. She had been evacuated into Siberia at the beginning of WWII when German forces had made their first push into Russian territory and it had seemed that the Red Army wouldn’t be able to stop them. My grandmother and my uncle, then barely 7 years old, ended up in Magnitogorsk, where most of the steal foundries and military factories had been relocated. She had been 3 months pregnant with my mother then, but she still went to work on the assembly line that produced parts for the famous Katyusha Rocket Launchers, the famous anti-tank launchers that turned the tide of the war on Russian soil.

 

Those were tough times, with food often in short supply, especially food needed for a baby, like milk or formula. My grandmother said that often all they had were old freezer-burned potatoes and they ground the skins and scraps into fine powder and brewed it with hot water to feed my mother, because there simply wasn’t anything else to eat.

 

For three long years, my grandmother didn’t even know if my grandfather was still alive, and my grandfather had no idea where his family had been relocated to. He just knew that the town they had lived in had been invaded and destroyed. They had finally reunited in 1944, when my mother was 3 years old. Granddad used to joke that my mother had been absolutely terrified of him the first time she saw him and refused to call him “dad”.

 

Miraculously, they both survived the war and lived a long and happy life together after that and I’m thankful for their sacrifices, because without men and women like my grandparents, I wouldn’t be here, and the map of Europe would have been completely different.

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This is the story of my heroes. What about yours? Do you have a family member or a friend who fought in a war? Who gave their lives so that we can live free and happy? Tell your stories. Let’s honor them today.

 

Take me to the Air Show!

Wings over Wayne

I have never been to an Air Show. Considering that I have lived next to an Air Force base for the past seven years, this is inexcusable. Though I might add that we didn’t even have an air show in our little town in the past 5 years, thanks to the budget cuts our current administration inflicted on our military.

 

So when I learned that Wings over Wayne would finally take place this May, I decided that I had to go. After all, that’s something new and exciting, and it could be considered as research, right? What if I decide to write about pilots or something? So with that excuse in mind, I spent my whole Sunday on the flat line, watching planes take off and do amazing things. Oh, and I saw the Thunderbirds! Up close too! And it was AWSOME!!!

 

Ahem. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

 

We wanted to go to the Air Show on Saturday, but when we saw the line of stopped cars 3 miles away from the gates, we turned around, went to Lowe’s instead and spent the whole day creating a vegetable garden in the backyard. Turned out to be a rather productive day, actually, and I might even have some cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and squash this summer, unless I manage to kill them. Which is a lot more probable. Green thumb I do not have.

 

Anyway, it’s a good thing that we didn’t try to get to the Air show that day, because the whole town was gridlocked most of the morning and then again in the evening with people trying to get to the base and to leave it after the show. I heard that the Highway was at a standstill up to ten miles outside of town!

 

So we were wise enough to wait until the next day and go there early. We were also lucky that the company I work for had a VIP boot right at the flight line, so I volunteered to man it on Sunday. This let us park on the Vendor parking and get there before the crowds.

 

And as that was my first air show, I thought that everything on the program was amazing.

The paratroopers did some acrobatics in mid-air that shouldn’t be possible on a planet with gravity. First they stacked their parachutes into a 4-man-tall formation, then they turned the bottom one upside down to drag like a tail behind the formation. Then they separated and landed within a few feet from each other and the big X painted on the ground. And all of them have hundreds of jumps under their belt. I mean how? You would have to push me out kicking and screaming even for my first one, and it would probably be my last one, because there is no way I get into a plane with you ever again.

 

I loved the TORA! TORA! TORA! reenactment of the Japanese attack on pearl harbor. It had a lot of WWII planes and explosion and an excellent soundtrack. I don’t envy the fire brigades who had to make sure that the jet fuel they burned to simulate the explosions didn’t get out of hand and burn half the base, especially since it was a very warm day.

They also did a joint forces combat simulation with F-15s, Warhogs, Bombers and paratroopers and simulated aerial combat. That was impressive in itself, but the thing that completely floored me was at the very end of that simulation.

 

All of the planes except for the two F-15s had already landed, when the presenter said, “Now we will show you the fastest way a fighter plane can get to the right altitude for landing. This particular maneuver is designed to reduce the time they spend on low altitude and in range of ground to air weapons to a minimum.”

 

And those planes are rather high up right now, so I think, no way they can descend fast enough to land in one pass.

 

Then the two F-15s flip upside down, point the nose straight towards the ground and dive from 4000 feet to about 700 feet. Then they turn back to horizontal and are ready for landing. And I pick my jaw off the floor.

 

But the Thunderbirds put everything else that came before them to shame. Their performance was… out of this world, that’s all I can say. I didn’t know it was possible to make a plane, even a fighter plane, do what they did. Not at those speeds and that altitude. And they also made it look so easy…

Flying in perfect diamond formation and then the four planes do a perfect synchronized Aileron Roll without breaking formation. Who do they do that? Or when two planes fly on above the other, one of them flips upside down and they almost touch cabins…

I would have taken more videos, but my phone died halfway through their presentation AND I was too busy gawking with my head turned to the sky to even remember to start the recording. Plus they are so darn fast!

Anyway, consider me amazed, awed and happy to have spent a day at the Air Show! Even if that’s research I might never use for my writing.

Another milestone – this is my 100th post.

keep-calm-this-is-my-100th-post

 

I have reached yet another milestone it seems. This is my 100th post on this blog, and I wouldn’t even have noticed if WordPress hadn’t reminded me.

Wow… Who would have thought that I would have enough things to say for even 50 posts, yet alone 100? When I started this blog back in October 2013, I hadn’t even imagined that I would reach this number only a little over a year later.

I have a confession to make. I have never been very good at creating this kind (or any kind) of content with any kind of consistency. I never even managed to keep a diary for longer than a month or two. I would try it from time to time, and the first few weeks I would write every day, then once every few days, then once a  week maybe, until the diary got put in a drawer to be forgotten. Then I would unearth it two or three years later, dist it off and try keeping it again. And the whole circle would repeat itself.

So I am the most surprised that one year later I am still here and I am still blogging, and that I manage to write two post a week as well. And not only that, but that I actually LIKE doing this! I discovered that I really enjoy blogging. I enjoy sharing my ideas, my opinions and my stories with my readers.

Nobody likes to created in a vacuum. It’s like talking to yourself in an empty room. It might echo, but all you hear back is your own voice. When I started posting on this blog, a lot of times it felt exactly like that. I think the very first comment on one of my posts was from a spam bot and I had wanted to hug it then because hey, somebody had noticed me!

But then something wonderful had happened – I got a follower, then another one, then two more. And suddenly I wasn’t talking to myself anymore. People were actually listening and responding to me. I started having a steady influx of traffic on my blog, and not only on days when I published something new…

Of course, my blog is a small fish in the ocean. I only have 150 followers right now and my site gets only  a few dozens views per day, so for many of you it would be considered small potatoes. But for me, it’s everything. A writer craves feedback, whether on the novel she is working on, or the blog post she just published. Being able to get that feedback is what motivates us to soldier on even on the days when the ideas refuse to come and the words bleed into the page.

So this post is mostly to say a big THANK YOU to all my readers. I probably wouldn’t still be here it wasn’t for you.

thank-you

Thank you for visiting my blog every week and taking precious time out of your day to read my ramblings about my writing ups and downs, as well as my book reviews. Thank you for liking my posts and commenting on them. Thank you for sharing them on social media. I truly feel blessed to have you!

And now, onward towards the next milestone!