A lovely bit of spam…

The thing about having a relatively unique name (allegedly, there are only 22 people with my name in the States), is that sometimes I get mistaken e-mails for people with my name.  I’ve been the recipient of some strange and random requests, but this morning’s message was among the stranger, and I can’t even decide if it’s spam or a real e-mail.   The title of the e-mail was:  The last few days I’ve been thinking of all the great times we have had…..‏ and the body of the communication was simply some Tom Waits lyrics.  I responded to the message and let them know they had the wrong Courtney Brandt, so we’ll see if they say anything back or if I’m totally being catfished.

Well the smart money’s on Harlow
And the moon is in the street
The shadow boys are breaking all the laws
And you’re east of East St. Louis
And the wind is making speeches
And the rain sounds like a round of applause
Napoleon is weeping in the Carnival saloon
His invisible fiance is in the mirror
The band is going home
It’s raining hammers, it’s raining nails
Yes, it’s true, there’s nothin’ left for him down here

And it’s Time Time Time…

Tom Waits, Time

What’s the weirdest non-intended e-mail you’ve ever received?

Book review: Prudence (The Custard Protocol)

There are few books I look forward to as much as a new novel by Gail Carriger.  And let’s get a few something cleared up immediately: I will buy anything Ms. Carriger writes, even if it is a treatise on the mating habits of grasshoppers (as I’m sure it would be nothing short of fascinating).

Being a huge fan of the Soulless series and a new fan of the Finishing School series, I eagerly settled in to read Prudence (The Custard Protocol) (released on my birthday!).

The hallmarks of a Carriger novel are all there – wonderfully diverse cast, laugh out loud lines, intricate details, unique steampunk touches and fabulous female characters.  However, I think there can sometimes be too much of a good thing.  While I did enjoy seeing my favorite characters from the previous series, I perhaps wanted a bit more of a break (which is why, at the moment the gals from the Finished School are more a favorite than Prudence and her crew).  Furthermore, as any editor or reader will tell you – begin where the action starts.  In the case of Prudence, there is A LOT of, in my opinion, unnecessary action before the inciting event takes place.  Once the story does take off, it’s still difficult to know exactly what the plot (if any!) there is.  Without a true antagonist someone correct me if I’m wrong and the protagonist more or less stumbling into resolving the incidents in her life without real measure (except the constant use of her ability to change form), I was left feeling a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing.

While I still love be transported away to worlds unknown, I didn’t fall immediately latch onto Prudence as I did Alexia (Prudence’s mother).  Nor, did I enjoy the (what felt like) extended terminology and discussion on air travel.  As I am currently working on a steampunk novel of my own, I was hoping to be inspired, but honestly, was not.

I would still recommend this book, but it fell a bit flat for me.  I’m hoping the final book of the Finishing School series (already pre-ordered!) later this year will get me back on track!

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Not my particular cup of team (terrible pun), but would still recommend!

 

“When are you coming home?” The expat struggles.

Any time you go ‘home’ (and that in itself is an interesting question for any expat), the inevitable, ‘When are you coming home?’ question gets raised.  It is usually an innocuous and well meaning query.  In fact, the intent behind it is quite lovely.  Essentially, what’s really being asked is, ‘When are you coming back to us?  We miss you and want you back in my life.’  However, depending on my mood, my interpretation can sometimes be, ‘Your life isn’t that great over there; you should probably come home already.’  Even at its most genuine, the implication behind ‘coming home’ does mean that your ex-pat life is somehow a concept that can be easily ended or changed, when in fact, that is probably the furthest thing from the truth.

Look, I’m not yelling at my friends when this question comes up, but it’s because I remind myself that they haven’t moved countries.  They don’t realize the sheer effort it takes to sell off your life and then put the remainder in a box and see it (hopefully) in 3-4 weeks.  They don’t know all the stress that goes into a visa process, setting up a household, moving pets, switching banks and finding new friends – all in a place where you are the minority, where the language might be different, where cultural differences can add to the frustration of it all.  Furthermore, the idea that I could end professional commitments and other responsibilities to pick up and move to a place that doesn’t exist anymore becomes a bit irritating.  The choice to not be ‘home’ is one I live with every day.  Thus far, the pros far outweigh the cons, but I know there will be a day where this is no longer the case (see, Doha).

Yes, I sound like an ungrateful person – I’m aware of this.

And of course, upon further reflection, I think I might have put myself in this position by stating a timeline of ‘1-2 years’ at the beginning of my expat tenure.

I’m in year eight and there is no compelling reason to return.

I think the better question would be, ‘what are your next steps?’ ‘How is your current job going?  Would you move somewhere else for better opportunities?’ ‘What do you like best about where you live?’ ‘What are the challenges about living there?’ and of course, the very best question you can ask an expat, ‘Can I come visit?’  (I really do LOVE sharing my adopted country with friends and family).

While I know Hubs and I have a few more moves left in us (and spoiler alert, the next place will not be the States), I wish there was a better way to bridge this misunderstanding.

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Any excuse for a Newsies gif.

 

What about you, fellow expat?  How do you deal with this question?

The Author’s 24 Hour Product Diary

Because, why not?  I’m loving this series on Millihelen and thought I would share my own.  Riveting blog post, is it not?

First of all, I wear make up because I like to.  Not because society expects me to, or my husband wants me to – but because I feel more complete when I do.  On the weekends, I might skip the process, unless I’m going out or to brunch, but wearing make up is something I genuinely like to do.  You might feel different.  Good for you, whatever your choice is.  I’d classify my routine as fairly low maintenance, in that, I can usually be ready in minimal time.  This is mostly because I do not regularly bother doing anything with my hair more than putting it up or down.

So, if I’m up for work, I hit the shower with my Clarisonic Mia loaded with some Deep Pore Daily Cleanser, because reasons.  I am a fairly recent convert to the electronic facial cleansing thing.  I never had any issue with breakouts before (thank you, Neutrogena), but after using the device after a day and seeing how much makeup it removed, I was on board.  Shower time is nothing special – I use hair products for color treated hair and Schick’s Intuition razor.  For reason’s unknown, Friday (which, in the Middle East where I work and live is technically Saturday for the rest of the world) is my special bathing day – I’ve dubbed it my ‘Friday Shower,’ in which I relax and use whatever various and sundry bath products I have in my home.  Hubs knows he is not allowed in this sacred bathing time.

Out of the shower, it’s time to moisturize my face (I go between Olay because I am getting old and Clinique products because they usually come as a sample) and try to look out for my eyes with some product or another.  If I am going full service, I might use a serum after moisturizing is that the order you’re supposed to?, but that depends on if I have one.  I tend to get dressed and then once clothed, cat fed and lunch packed, get back to make up.  I am a fan of BB or CC creams, Clinique’s hasn’t done be wrong yet and 30SPF is a minimum in the desert even if I never see the sun during the day.  If I do nothing else, at least my skin is more or less evened out and protected.

Since I live where can be up to 1 billion degrees (estimated), there is always cause for deodorant.

After applying the CC cream (and blending with this professional level guy), it’s on to cover up some deep under eye circles and any very small blemishes, via Benefit’s Erase Paste.  True story, this stuff lasts forever.  I bought one last year (earlier?!) and it’s still got plenty left.  I’ll use a brush or blender to make sure everything looks one shade.

If I remember, my next step is luminizer.  This was a gift in a recent PopSugar box I received for the holidays because my sister is amazing.  While I don’t think it’s quite the game changer people are making it out to be, I do have to think that any little thing helps.  I’m not entirely certain I’ll buy a new pot when the one I have is up, but it’s kind of fun to play with new products.

Time to put some color in my cheeks!  I’m not particular to any particular brand.  At the moment, I’m using a Make brand (in Geisha), but there’s nothing particularly spectacular about it.  I also have one of the cream versions, but am more or less whelmed by it.

Onto my eyes!  Full disclosure, I rarely wear mascara and eyeliner.  The combo are something I usually save for special occasions, mostly because I always rub my eyes.  Like, I can’t make it through a single day without doing it, so wearing mascara is a complete lost cause.  Fortunately, there are other products!  I received this Too Faced Natural Eyes set last April and have been infatuated with it ever since.  I use it almost every day.  When I do branch out for a night out, I opt for Stila eyeliner in Intense Black.  No, I have not managed to try or even remotely pull off a cat eye.  No, I have no idea how to up my brow game.  I wish I had both of these skills.  Why did I miss this day of girl school?* Also, given the fact that I wear glasses, I’m not really even sure why I’m bothering with this amount of time on my eyes anyway.

Powder is, and always has been, Clinique’s pressed powder in Stay Neutral.

Lips are last and I’ve been going through a phase where I’ve actually been trying to add color.  Yup, at almost 35 years of age, I’ve decided to up my game past few weeks and actually try a little more on this front.  It doesn’t matter that I literally have 14 lip products near me at all times (this isn’t even an understatement), but I seem to always prefer lip gloss/color that has no real impact.

With my hair still wet and no fucks to be given, for some reason, it’s only after I leave the house that it occurs to me to put on perfume.  I’ve gone through various and sundry fragrances over the years (Clinique Happy to DKNY Be Delicious), and right now am on Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle.  I actually love the twist and spray – it’s perfect for my purse and doesn’t take up a heap of room.

During the day, I will, of course, reapply one of my 14 lip products and apply hand lotion, but honestly, I’m pretty set – my make up stays in place and I don’t get all that shiny.

At night, it’s back to the Clarisonic, sometimes remember to use toner and the same moisturizer again.  I complete the process with Tocca moisturizer for my hands (it’s my favorite scent).

Genetics have helped quite a bit – I’ve been asked if I was a student the past couple of years on whatever campus I happen to be working on and hope it continues.  I think my days of being carded are past, but a girl can dream!

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It’s usually better when someone else does it.

 

*I have a theory that there are days in school that I clearly missed, where all the other young ladies were taken aside and shown how to do hair, cat eyeliner, and pose for pictures.  I missed this day in class.

What say you, dear reader, any products you swear by?  Can you do a cat eye?

Biting the bullet: meeting an agent!

I got over myself and booked a session called Quick Pitch 3 at the Emirates Literature Festival, an annual event that takes place the first week of March in Dubai.  Essentially, this was a 2+ hour round trip in the car for a 5 minute event, but…I don’t take this morning as a complete loss.

First of all, I did the thing.  I did a thing that was not particularly comfortable or easy for me to do.  In making commitments like this, I am inching ever so closer to admitting that I am a writer.  And also, just for kicks, I also entered the Montegrappa First Fiction literature contest, but certainly do not expect my name to be called out tomorrow when I will not be present anyway.

So, my expectations were low.  I mean, honestly, what can you do in 5 minutes?  Sure, maybe if I had a hook like Gone Girl or the Time Traveler’s Wife, I might have had a different outcome, but mostly my intent for the session was, is my writing okay?  Is my book marketable?  Do you think people would be interested in reading it?  With 4 unpublished manuscripts to choose from, I decided to go with my newest endeavor, The Queen of England.  And we had a good chat.  Mr. Bonomi wasn’t there to intimidate and I wasn’t there to make a hard sell (he doesn’t represent my genre anyway).  It was a good conversation, and I wished we had more time.  While I do not think I will be taking the suggestion to make my protagonist a 21st century American time traveler (!), I do take the point that she needs to be more at odds with her situation.  She needs more tension.  I get that.  Also, the ‘show, don’t tell’ is always advice I need to hear.  Also, hey, maybe he said it to everyone who came through, but it’s always nice to hear someone wants to read your finished project.  Especially when that person is a literary professional.  And, like almost anyone who reads my work, there was the advice/compliment that this project would make an excellent film.  Yeah, I write with a cinematic view.

The thing that honestly made the trip worth it was the chat with other Emirates based writers in the cramped hallway as we waited for our five minutes with Mr. Bonomi.  Not having a lot of success with regional writing groups, it was nice to be in the vicinity of like minded types.  Representing various genres, none of us were there to step on each others toes.  And, as the session went further and further off schedule (I saw Mr. Bonomi at close to 11:30, 45 minutes after my scheduled 10:45 session), there was more and more to time to chat.  I’m optimistic I’ll be able to speak with some of these individuals at a later time!

Yup, walk through the crowded restaurant and hang outside the gentleman’s toilet – perfect and professional place to pour out your soul for 5 minutes!

Will I go back next year?  Most likely not, but I’m always open to see what sort of sessions will be offered.

Was it worth the money and the drive?  Yes, I’d like to think so.

Book Review: Karen Memory

So, I downloaded Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear as a book to read on the plane to LA.  As with much that I wanted to accomplish on both flights, I simply didn’t.  Side note: jet lag has been a real bitch to me the past two weeks and I’m really only just recovered.  Getting older sucks.

Anyway, I actually did start the book on the plane and I only just finished reading last night – this is a very long time for me to complete a book.  Once finished, I was curious and started reading up on other people’s reactions.  In reading other reviews it’s fairly clear that there is something wrong with my reading comprehension.  On paper or electronic screen the book is everything I could want: a super-diverse ensemble cast (including a Madame who has a worse mouth than I do), a quirky narrator (who just so happens to be a lesbian), a unique story style, a real BAD baddie, a fun twist at the end, etc.

However, I just COULD NOT get into the story.  I’m not sure if I was being mega-cynical or what, but I didn’t latch onto the tale, thought the action was slow and while Karen’t voice was quaint, the narrative style got a bit irritating after awhile.  I wanted more steampunk elements and less women being prostitutes off screen.  I loved the interaction of the characters, but hated how much the protagonist (and her friends) got beat up.  I don’t know, on a scale of 1 to 10, I think I would only give the book at 5.

HOWEVER, I am more or less infatuated with the cover artworkCynthia Sheppard, I hope I can afford you when it comes time for The Queen cover.  Your work is absolutely stunning.  I love your style and I can honestly say this piece sold me on the book.

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Artwork? Super fab. The book? Not so much.

What about you?  How did you feel about the book?  Where did I go wrong?

Graphic Novel Review: Lady Mechanika (series)

In my quest for all things steampunk as research for my YA Queen series (yes, I have an idea for a sequel), I somehow came across the graphic novel, Lady Mechanika, by Joe Benitez.  Although it took a bit of figuring out how to get my hands on a digital copy, I eventually went to Comixology, opened an account and downloaded a short chapter (Episode #0) for free.  What do you know?  I was hooked!  While I hadn’t ever specifically considered reading graphic novels or comics as part of research, for YA steampunk, the genre seems like a natural place to look.  Three chapters (issues?  I’m not sure what the correct vernacular is here) in, I’m enjoying the story, artwork and am excited to see what direction upcoming issues will take the plot.  Additionally, I’m particularly enjoying how these comics read on my iPad mini – there is a really nice flow through the panels.  Technology is pretty amazing!  Also, the artwork is just fantastic to look at.

While Lady Mechanika and my protagonist do not share a lot in the way of a backstory, I’d like to think that my Queen is going to have the same kind of attitude – polite, intelligent, but also able to take care of herself.  I’m definitely going to keep reading.

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Recommend!

What say you, dear reader, do you read comics/graphic novels?  Do you have any recommendations?