National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

Yesterday I went to the annual National Book Festival in Washington D.C., organized by the Library of Congress. What an exciting experience! Huge white tents representing each genre, hovered like parachutes over the Mall, serving as pavilions for hundreds of book lovers listening to their favorite authors talking about their work;  dozens of volunteers in orange T-shirts handing out to attendees bookbags and bookmarks, programs of the events, brochures  with information on the U.S. copyright, e-books, various reading programs, and whatnot. There were activities galore for all ages of readers.

Joyce Carol Oates

I had the pleasure of listening to Joyce Carol Oates (connect with her on Twitter here), an award winning author of 70 works, 40 of which are novels. She is just as brilliant a speaker as she is a writer.

She talked about her latest book, The Accursed, a historical novel with elements of the supernatural, set in Princeton, early 19th century. She brought into it some famous people, like Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Oscar Wilde, presenting them as they were, instead of idealizing them, she said. I felt intrigued. I’ll certainly read it.

Her answers to the questions from the audience were fascinating. Here are some of them (I paraphrase):

“We writers are so narcissistic and self-absorbed! When we have a problem with a novel in progress, we think, Oh, I have to finish it at all cost because if I don’t, what will happen to it if I die? But when we finally do finish it, we become melancholy, missing that angst…”

“There are times when we feel like we’re in a state of paralysis: we can’t find the right voice for our character. But when we find it, it feels sudden, like striking a match.”

“I like to write about something in American history that has never been solved.”

Her advice to aspiring writers: “Take time between writing the drafts of your novel and editing it. Take days or weeks. When you get back to it, you’ll look at it with fresh eyes.”


I was happy to “discover” Roxana Robinson, the author of several novels and collections of short stories. She is also a wonderful speaker and a very good writer, judging by aDSCN4258 big crowd of listeners she had gathered and the praise of her work she’d garnered.

Robinson introduced her latest novel Sparta, which is about the estrangement from society and normal life that modern soldiers experience upon their return from the war. I put it on my reading list.

The author talked extensively about her research for the book—reading documents, meeting with war veterans and their families, as well as the enormous challenge that she, a Quaker with a conscientious objection of any war, had faced while writing the novel.

Here are some of her quotes that I especially liked:

“As a novelist, my job is not to judge, but to understand what it’s like to be a marine and to fight in war.”

“As a novelist, I’m compelled by complex themes and experiences. When you write a novel, you go places where you’ve never been to, in order to depict people and their experiences (being a heroin addict or a policeman).”

To a question if it’s easy for her to write, Robinson said: “No, it’s not easy. You’re trying to do two things: First, you’re trying to put something beautiful on the page and do it the way you’ve never done before. Secondly, you’re trying to convey exactly what’s in your head and heart, and it’s hard.” I totally agree.

It was my fist time to attend a book fest on such a grand scale, and it certainly wasn’t my last. I’m hooked! 🙂


Greta turns 4 months old!

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Unbridled energy, sassiness, cockiness, and bossiness—these are the words that describe our golden retriever, Greta. And she’s only 4 months old! (What will she be like as an adult?) Yes, at this tender age, she already bosses our two-year-old Gunner around, who not only outweighs her by 45 pounds, but who is stubborn and strong-willed himself, being a German shepherd. But he lets her do whatever she wants. Probably because she’s too cute. Her extremely affectionate personality plays a big part too, I guess. When Gunner sleeps, Greta either licks the inside of his ear or just watches him affectionately. Just like in this picture.

Our doggies! Man, they make our life so much richer and happier!

“Taken hostage”

I’ve been taken hostage by our three-month-old golden retriever, Greta. She’s been with us for only two weeks, but she’s taken over my life. She doesn’t let me work out, jumping at me, biting my feet, trying to trip me. She robs me of the time that I used to spend on writing fiction. When I sit down at the computer, she gets busy chewing on the cords or the books on the shelves or on the chair legs. My previously immaculate house is a mess now, the floors littered with tennis balls, stuffed animals, rawhide bones, slippers that she keeps pulling off my feet, pillows that she snatches from the couch, torn newspapers, and whatever else she grabs from any place possible. Oh, yeah, she also pulls out the fibers from the carpeting, meticulously destroying it. She puts her front paws on the table, desk, counters, trying to filch whatever is within her reach. When I put her in the crate, she cries so much and so pitifully that I drop everything and let her out.

An unstoppable bundle of energy, Princess Greta (as our daughter calls her) simply ignores the word “no,” even though she’s too smart not to know it. So I already have a clear idea about what kind of a dog she will become: assertive, bossy, sassy. She’s lording over Gunner, our two-year-old German shepherd, and over us as well. But she is so affectionate, kissing me in the mornings, and sucking up to everyone she meets during her walks, wagging her tail, wiggling her entire body, asking for a pat, a rub, a hug, that I can’t help but love her to death.

And that’s what I’ve become—a full-time mom of a demanding puppy. Thank God, after 5 p.m., I relinquish my parenting duties to my husband so I can finally work out and write. Woo-hoo!

Brazil Butt Lift (BBL)

I’m in my second half of a 60-day workout program BBL (Brazil Butt Lift) and still loving it. Yay! Or rather, loving it more, since I’ve now gotten the hang of it. It wasn’t easy in the beginning because of the intensity. Unlike Tony Horton, the author and trainer of P90X, this instructor, Leandro Carvalho, doesn’t give you any breaks between various exercises—to take a sip of water or wipe the sweat off your forehead—and neither does he explain the moves, expecting you to just imitate the girls on his team, as if you’re a natural. So I struggled to keep up with their fast tempo, falling out of step, losing balance, falling onto my knees, feeling clumsy and downright ridiculous. But I laughed it off and kept shaking and wiggling my butt and lifting and swinging my legs and arms, and my efforts have paid off: I’ve finally memorized, if not fully mastered, all the moves and am doing much better. Yes! My perseverance is not the only thing that has helped me stay the course. Teaming up with my Beachbody coach, Galina Morrissett, who did BBL before and has picked it up again, has been invaluable. We discuss our progress on the phone and on the Internet, and keep each other accountable and motivated. It’s fun!

Our New Puppy


All the dogs that we had previously adopted were already fully grown, or almost. I loved the looks and personalities of our beloved late Rudi, Gretchen, and Lucky. To me, they were the most gorgeous and best doggies in the world. The same stands for Gunner, our two-year-old German shepherd. But I’d always wished I’d seen each of them in their puppyhood. Alas, I couldn’t, so the word “regret” doesn’t apply to this situation. Well, I’m happy to say that I finally have this wonderful opportunity with our new pet, a three-month-old golden retriever that we adopted yesterday. Oh, what a fuzzy little miracle! A dynamo! A beauty! And smart to boot. It took her less than an hour to learn her new name, Greta. Her previous owners expressed their concern about Greta’s fear of big dogs. Nah-uh! Not this puppy. Not only is she not intimidated by her new 70-pound big brother, Gunner, but she’s the one to provoke a playful “fight”–she slaps him on the nose, bites him on his ears, pulls at the tags hanging from his collar, and she even tries to climb onto his back when he rests on the floor. It’s fun to watch them chasing one another.

Rudi & Gretchen

MOM_withpupsIt’s hard to let go of beloved pets who become family from the day you bring them home from the pound. At least that’s how it is in our family. Our dogs brought such joy to our lives that it broke our hearts when they passed away. Memories of happy days with our beloved Rudi and Gretchen were not enough, so when writing, it felt right to give them a “second life” on the pages of my novels. It felt good to spend time with them again, healthy, happy and alive. In Without Thinking Twice you’ll briefly meet Gretchen, the sassy, fox-like beauty. And in A Measure of Guilt, both Gretchen and Rudi (the smart, regal-looking, black-haired pal) get to romp around a San Diego beach, where my husband and I spent two weeks with them in real life.

The picture on the left was taken in Arhus, on a family vacation in Denmark in 2007.

Gunner is back!

Last night, James Oliver, the dog trainer, brought our German shepherd, Gunner, back from a week-long boot camp. I was so thrilled to finally see my baby that I was on him like a starved stray dog on a bone. I hugged him and kissed him, I petted his head, I scratched between his ears, I told him all the sweet things about how I loved him and how I missed him. What was Gunner’s reaction, though? Not the one that I’d expected. He licked my nose once and that was it. Huh? I was hurt. Hadn’t he missed me? Or had he felt abandoned (and hurt!) when I’d surrended him to James, a week earlier, and now couldn’t forgive my “betrayal”? Or had he become such a well-trained dog that he had learned a “proper” behavior and the skill of concealing his emotions, that is, his joy and exultation at seeing his parents again? Perhaps all that.

James talked to us for a good two hours about Gunner’s behavior at the obedience school and about the results of the training. The results were obviously impressive. Whereas a week ago Gunner wouldn’t come to me when I called him, unless I bribed him with a piece of meat, now, James had to only whisper his name or make a clucking sound, and Gunner was at his feet in a sec, practically begging for a praise, his nose up, his tail wagging. And the adoring look he gave to James? It made me jealous! Well…as James explained to us, it wasn’t love that Gunner felt for his teacher, it was RESPECT!

So. It’s all about respect as far as a man-dog relationship goes. If a dog doesn’t respect his parents (well, owners, in some people’s opinion), s/he won’t obey them. And that’s what we have to work on now–teach our spoiled dog respect. No more scraps from the table, no more lying on the couch, or in our bed, no more affection for Gunner at his request, but only when we want to show it, and so on and so forth. If we stick to his weekly assignments as to how to treat and train Gunner, James guarantees that we’ll have a perfect “gentleman-dog” at the end of one or two months. Oh, we do hope so!