I recently gave an interview to Andrea Hessmo on writing a novel in English as a second language, on being an immigrant in the US, what I miss about Russia and what I don’t miss about it at all.

Now I think Russian only adds a specific color to my writing that I otherwise would not have had. It’s an asset rather than a disadvantage…

…My identity has gone through quite a transformation. First I came to the US as a wide-eyed young woman, eager to fit into the new culture and eager to build my life here. I did not know much about the American way of life but I dove right in. …

…The recent events in Russia upset me: blocking American adoptions, anti-gay laws, human rights abuses when people go to jail without fair trial, and many other things I am following online. I am sad that it is now becoming ever so fashionable to bash Russia, to identify it with Mr. Putin…

Read the full interview here.

November is over, and so is National Novel Writing Month. I had set out to try myself in this project and, well.. I tried. I thought I would be ashamed to admit publicly that I had stepped out of the running in the middle of November. But I am not.

When I was working in the corporate world I once watched a retiring Chairman of the Board give a speech. He talked how he had achieved such great success in his career. And the message that I took away was to “quit early”, before you invest too many resources into a project that is not going to succeed. Because then you can invest those resources into another project that may have better chances.

It did not come to me easily to apply this corporate wisdom to my NaNo. Every night I went to bed planning out my next day – what chores needed to be done, when and where I would write. And every day the same story repeated itself – I did my chores, then stared at the screen for a while, did more chores, stared at the screen, moped around the house, stared at the screen, wrote a paragraph and got stuck. I felt guilty, depressed, and just miserable.

After two weeks of misery I broke down and cried on my husband’s shoulder about my “epic failure”. To which he calmly suggested I give it a rest. “You have tried,” he said. “Just focus on your music”.


My piano – covered in stickers for the little students – brings me so much joy.

And at that very moment, I felt a wave of relief. Yes, I tried. It did not work. Better quit early.
Not sure why exactly NaNo did not work for me – too much pressure or not enough planning, or something else altogether. But it just wasn’t meant to be, at least not this year.

Within the next few days serendipity brought me new piano students and a new performance gig. My piano teacher came back from Europe, and we re-focused on my studying for a certification. Life just became beautiful again. I don’t need to preplan my day to include practicing piano. It just happens, naturally. I find myself at the instrument in the morning and when I get up I am starving because I had played through lunch. I am investing my resources elsewhere.

If that novel is meant to be it will happen anyway, in its own timeline.

Thank you all for the follows since my last blog post! I did not expect it and it was such a pleasant surprise.

Winging it is not the greatest idea for writing a novel. Also partying on the first day of NaNo is not conducive to high word counts.


And I am still a rock star procrastinator.

I knew I would not get much writing done on the first day but I was hopeful. I did bring the iPad to the hair appointment a

nd stared at it dutifully while my highlights were setting in. I did not write anything.

My volunteer gig at school ended up being very short, so I could have a whole hour to write. However, I was starving and obviously writing could not be done on an empty stomach.  Lunch somehow took longer than expected and it was time for my next appointment.

My third opportunity was when I brought my youngest, Sasha  to gymnastics. I could have solid 45 minutes at Starbucks to write. I felt badly about crashing at Starbucks without buying something.  So I stood in line and spent 7 dollars on a decaf latte and  a spinach square.

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Tomorrow is Day 1 of the new novel. I am supposed to write 1,667 words, so I have 50,000 by the end of November.  Despite my best intentions I have done no plotting or planning. I have some ideas that I scribbled down back in July and I have a vague image of the opening scene. I do have a working title and a short synopsis that I am going to share once they stop sounding stupid to me.

I had been trying to get all sorts of chores out of the way before the start of November, so I could focus on the novel. But that’s always futile when you have a bunch of kids and pets. Dirty laundry piles up about as fast as you can wash and sort the previous pile.

For my first day of official novel writing I have  also scheduled a haircut appointment, a doctor’s appointment, I am going to volunteer at school for an hour, then will pick up the kids and take Sasha to gymnastics. Oh, and I also need to clean the house and get ready to host some girlfriends tomorrow night for fondue and a movie.

Photo: CJ Photography

I am obviously a pro at creating obstacles to starting the novel. Although, I swear that all my engagements had been scheduled before I even thought of signing up for NaNo. But then I did not make the slightest effort to cancel anything.  I am considering bringing the iPad to the hair salon and typing 1,667 words while my color sets in. That of course could be a fabulous idea if I had any clue of what I was going to write.

Using the official NaNoWriMo terminology, I am going to “pants it”, i.e. write it by the seat of my pants. At least my hair will look fabulous while I am doing it.

I am going to write a novel next month. Yes, just like that. A sci-fi novel that I have been procrastinating about for a while. I am going to let Siberian Daughter get some rest and work on something completely different.

First I thought maybe I should say “I am going to TRY to write a novel” or “I am going to START writing a novel”. Then I thought what the heck. If I start my public announcement so timidly it will take away from my own motivation.

There is this worldwide initiative called National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. It provides crazy people like me with an online platform and a social network of encouragement to bang out  50,000 words in the month of November. They even have local meetings!

50,000 words is the length of an average novel. I have an idea, loads of motivation, and the month of November. Every day I keep wavering between keeping this experiment quiet or letting the world know. If I keep it quiet to myself, and I fail, no harm no foul, right? But then I miss out on a potential support from all my friends, and the benefit of not having to explain my temporary insanity come November.

But then if I fail I will have to admit it publicly.

So what’s considered a failure  when you set out to write a novel in a month? A failure is that you DO NOT write a novel. Well, I am not that gullible to believe that banging out 50K words would constitute a novel. It would be a pretty decent size first draft though.  And according to my favorite quote of Ernest Hemingway “The first draft of anything is shit”. I am not under pressure to deliver a masterpiece.

So is a failure then not writing 50K words? Even if I write half of that I would be pretty happy with myself. I will have overcome procrastination, will have learned something about my writing process, and will still have a draft to work with.

So what if I discover that I hate the idea of being a writer? The solitude of it, the constant internal monologue, the boring research.  Will that be a failure? No! That will just mean that I can stop moaning and groaning about wanting to be a writer, and channel my energy elsewhere with clear conscious. I tried.

So there is really no way to fail. Either way you look at it. I have been writing 750 words every day for a month, as part of a writing exercise. I will just need to double that.

So here it is then. I am going to write a novel in November.

Crazy Cat Lady

How many cats do I need to have in order to qualify as a crazy cat lady? I have seven. Up until a month ago I only had one.

In fact since I was six years old I only had one cat at a time. Except for those summers that our cat, my sister, and I were shipped out to our great-grandmother’s rural house 100 kilometers North-East of Moscow. The cat would go insane with freedom and love for all the neighborhood tom cats, and would deliver  a litter of kittens in the middle of each summer. So that’s what kittens always made me think of – childhood, sunshine,  bare feet on a dirt path, eating raspberries off a branch, warm milk that still smelled like grass.

Foster Cats

I blame all these nostalgic feelings on deciding to become a foster kitten mom. I hoped kittens would become my own kids’ nostalgic memories when they got older.

My 10-year old son would probably take all the credit, thinking he had to work hard to convince Mom it was a good idea. I did put up a bit of a theatrical argument against extra cats in the house. I did not want him to think that next I would agree to get a number of other pets.

So now we have five itty bitty feral kittens in a spare room, all hissing and spitting at first, but now making progress towards being tamed and cuddly.

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Getting Personal

Back in the fall I invested quite an effort into my new website and blog. I read books on building social platforms and blogging, spent more time than was reasonable selecting color schemes and fonts. I wrote several decent blog entries and then I disappeared, losing the delicate momentum.

I did have a pretty decent excuse not to write. And I feel compelled to explain that in my first comeback post. But my excuse is personal. After weeks of pondering, I still don’t know where to draw the line on personal in blogging.

Someone wisely told me to just find a balance by trial and error. And that’s what I am going to do. As my former coworkers know, I always advocate doing rather than pondering. And if you read my stories, please do let me know if they get too freakishly intimate or too dry.


My excuse was my own health crisis. Back in December I was hospitalized for a week, after months of a slowly deteriorating condition that suddenly reached its scary culmination. I was allowed to go home on Christmas Eve, just in time to watch the kids unwrap presents, most of which I had not bought or wrapped. I really have to thank my wonderful family, both my side and my husband’s. They all mobilized very quickly, on the day I had to be driven to ER and the kids needed someone to stay with them overnight. My future brother-in-law came on a moment’s notice, even though we live way out “in the sticks”. People drove hours to come stay at our house, cooked meals, sent flowers, bought and wrapped Christmas presents for my children, called, emailed, and texted while I was in the hospital.

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