I’m Ann Benjamin and this is How I Work.

Borrowed from a great series on Lifehacker.comI’ve been meaning to do this for ages.

Location: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Current Gig: Daytime in higher education.  Weekends as a writer.  I also run a fairly popular Tumblr account (well, at least for the subject).
One word that best describes how you work: Constantly.
Current mobile device: iPhone 4!  Bought in November 2011 (!), it still works.
Current computer: Dell during the day, and a Macbook at home.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without? Why?

I like collecting things in specific places.  Pinterest is a must – I have boards for all of my manuscripts, as well as other topics – travel, my dream home, etc..  I also tag a lot of things to Pocket (formerly Read it Later) – not that I’m all that great about following up and reading later.  For books, it’s Goodreads.  For stuff I want to buy it’s Amazon’s Wish List.  For sleeping, I like Sleep Cycle and Rain, Rain.  Basically, I would have no idea how to function without an internet connection.

What’s your workspace setup like?

Err… I have a desk, I just don’t use it.  At the moment, I have a dining room table and a laptop – which I love for it’s natural light.  I’ve got a few ideas for my dream office (which would DEFINITELY involve two screens, or a big ole Mac), but for now, it gets the job done.  Should I make the decision to quit my job and do the writing thing full time, I would invest in the second screen (which I’ve had since 2013 at work and have never looked back).

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

Never put anything off.  Just do it.  Seriously, what are you waiting for?  Why are you waiting?

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Old school.  Write it down.  I have a number of notebooks.  For long term, for short term and nearly everything in between.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

Kindle (i.e. my iPad mini).  As an expat who hasn’t had access to a library since 2007, I would be absolutely lost without the Kindle app.  As an avid reader, I can’t imagine living without books.

Additionally, given I pretty much hate all sounds, when I work in shared office, I cannot live without my Beats headphones.  They are one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

What tools do you use to write?

Microsoft Word, yo.  I’ve recently adapted a bit to Scrivener, but I have always defaulted to MS Word.  I’m trying to use the Hemingway App and thus far it’s a nice additional check to my writing.  Thus far, I’ve only had Room 702 professionally edited, and will be definitely doing so for Life After Joe.

Do you find yourself always working on something? Or when you finish a project, do you take time to let your mind wander without concern for what’s next?

Always working.  In fact, I know what will immediately follow the current project I’m working on.  At the moment, I’ve mentally booked the writing and editing of my next 3 manuscripts (which should take me through 2016 at least).  Throw in a monthly short story or work of fanfiction and that’s a usual commitment to around 100K per year.  Additionally, given how much I’ve been ‘away’ from my current projects this semester, I’ve felt inherently guilty for not working on things at the levels I have previously.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

I am literally the most organized person I know.  It blows my mind how others can’t seem to get their shit together.  Provided there are no small children involved, it’s just not difficult to get yourself ready  and to work on time.  Keep your stuff in the same place.  Add a few extra minutes into your routine if you know it takes you longer or you want to buy a coffee.  While at work, I am also thrown by those who don’t understand or refuse to put energy into prioritizing and being prepared.

The same attitude can be applied to writing.  If it’s important for you to write a book, you will make sacrifices.  I can’t remember the last Friday morning where I just woke up and did nothing.  It is a sacred time for writing.

Of course, with unlimited preparation and proactivity comes the lack of being spontaneous in my free time (especially on vacation, which is something I can definitely work on).

What do you listen to while you work?

Can’t and won’t work in silence.  I go between Grooveshark (random playlists, mostly because Spotify is blocked in the UAE) and TuneIn Radio (which allows me to dial up any radio station in the world).  Given my relatively horrible misophonia (which is currently acting up), I literally have to have some other sound.

What are you currently reading?

The first draft of my nephew’s Faustian manuscript.  Some regency romances.  With Hubs traveling the next two weeks, I’m looking at a few books to purchase (some for research, others for fun).

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

A bit of both, actually.  A perfect day might be a morning to myself to write and recharge, while I’d love to be out with friends in the evening.  Honestly, I could go for a whole work day (9-5) and be content to not speak or interact with another person.

How do you recharge?

Does alcohol count?

Honestly, I’m still working on the answer to that question.  My weekends are vital to my well being – to the point that I really enjoy having no commitments on Fridays (i.e. avoiding the car altogether).  Give me some good television and a chance to zone out and I’ll feel better.  A long walk and an interesting podcast can sometimes help.

What’s your sleep routine like?

Straight up terrible.  I’ve suffered from insomnia for at least 10 years.  It takes me usually over an hour to fall asleep.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

Gail Carriger.  Elena Sandovici.  My friend James.  :)

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I don’t think I’ve received anything particularly life changing at this point.  However, I think the best thing I ever did was move abroad.  I honestly can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if I stayed stateside.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?

Er, creativity and inspiration come from the most random sources – just be on the lookout!  Don’t close yourself off to anything.

This just in – I (really) like adverbs.

Today I start the final draft of Life After Joe.  This will involve reviewing notes from various beta readers, additional thoughts and scenes I want to add or take out and, for the first time, using editing software to get a better idea of what a computer thinks of my manuscript.  While a program certainly isn’t going to build a better character or create improved dialogue (that’s on me), it can highlight grammatical errors and other editing type issues.  While the final product is going to be mine, it is nice to take suggestions from wherever I can find them.

I should also mention that this is all in preparation of a draft that will be sent to a professional editor for a final review.


Of the initial 39 adverbs I had originally included, Hemingway suggests I cut down to 21.

What about you, dear reader?  Is there a program or system you prefer to use?

And now, away from my procrastination, and to edit!

The Goodreads Giveaway!

No stone unturned for this author.  In my ever evolving list of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what works (and on the suggestion of fellow author Elena), I’m currently in the middle of a Goodreads giveaway (ending April 11th – enter now!) for one of my YA titles.  I chose Confessions of a Teenage Band Geek as it’s one of my favorites, but also one that I think will be the best reviewed.  To date, there are 76 people signed up to win one of 3 copies.  Naturally, I would love if that number was tripled or quadrupled by the time the contest ended, but I’m also curious to see what the results will be.  Will it give a bump to my sales?  Will people add other titles by me?


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 Finishing 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!


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.


Any excuse for a Newsies gif.


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