Friday, February 28, 2014

Win Once, Good for You; Win Twice--Bite Me

Last weekend Clint and I went to Vegas for my mom's birthday. On Saturday night, all of us girls found a somewhat hidden section of the bar with four video poker machines in a row, where we could play a ridiculously silly and slow game of Double Bonus Poker (we added our own element to the game to make it funner and last longer, but it would take too long to explain). Given the fact that it was a crowded Saturday night at the Rio, finding four video poker machines in a row was practically a miracle in itself. But right when I sat down, I noticed my machine had just paid out on four aces. I thought, Dang it, this machine is never going to pay out again tonight. But everyone had already chosen their machines, and I really had no lofty notions of winning anyway. I just wanted to nurse my $20 bucks while enjoying some good drinks and fun conversation.

I played my first hand on maximum bet and lost. I was now down to $18.75. The game I was playing with the girls now required me to wait about ten minutes before I could play my next hand. So I waited, and drank, and waited some more. Finally it was my turn to play. I was dealt a king of spades, a bunch of crap in the middle, and an ace of spades. I held onto the suited royal cards and discarded the rest of the hand. That's when THIS happened:

A Royal Flush--on a maximum bet! I was so shocked, at first I couldn't digest what was happening. I just watched, frozen, as my "credits" race from $18.75 to $1,018.75. I finally broke through my trance and started shaking my mom's arm. I said (or squeaked), "Mom, something just happened." She glanced over at my machine and went ballistic. Shannon and my mom were hugging me all over the place, squealing, and within seconds the whole bar was cheering.

It was a fun, FUN experience. I'm not all into gambling, but wow is it exciting to win. I tipped the bartender a $20 bill for getting my friend Sarah a bottle of water. FUN.

About ten minutes later, the same machine gave me this:

It was only 60-some bucks, but oddly, when I showed this hand to my mom and sister, my mom said "Damn it Jodi" and Shannon strangled me and punched me (she's very violent for a psychologist). I asked "What happened to all the hugging?" and Shan said, "Yeah, f* you."

So just so you know, there's a saturation point to the amount of luck you're allowed to have when you're around people.You win once and everyone is happy for you. You win twice and everyone hates you. But it's all good because you still have a ridiculously obnoxious smile on your face. You know, like this.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Valentine's Day Rogues

Best Valentine's Day EVER. Last night I got back from the So Cal Writers' Conference in San Diego, and wow. What a ride. I drove down there with Clint and the kids on Friday morning. Since Clint wasn't attending the conference himself, he decided to take advantage of my already-paid room at the Crown Royal by having a mini-vacation with the kids. So while I was conferencing, they were visiting the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, the Natural History Museum, and so on.

My first workshop started on Friday at 2:00, so I didn't have much downtime once we arrived in San Diego. I went to two workshops that night, then reunited with Clint and the kids for dinner. We went to Shakespeare's Pub & Grill:

It was actually night time when we went (this picture came from their website), so green rope lights lined the patio, and tall propane heaters kept outdoor patrons warm. There was plenty of seating inside the restaurant, but we chose to sit outside because it was such a gorgeous night, and I personally love the ambience of downtown San Diego. It was an awesome dinner. The food was delicious, the beer tasted great (I had hard cider) and we had a great view. The green you see beneath the patio is MUCH taller in real life--we were at least two stories up from the street, above an entire wall of vines.

Saturday was my busiest day. I woke up early that morning to start my workshops; six hours of classes, with a lunch break from 12:10 to 1:00. I found this awesome spot to sneak off to eat my lunch:

This oasis was situated right between my hotel room and the conference center, so I was "forced" to walk past it every morning. It seemed to be a hidden gem, because no one else was ever there. I ate my lunch at the table shown above, working on my manuscript right next to a stream and a rock fountain. Such a beautiful, serene setting...I need to get one of these babies installed into my house (in dreamy sparkle-lala land, of course).

Quick selfie while there was no witnesses

My workshops ended at 4:20 on Saturday, and I went back to my room and got dressed for the writers' banquet. The banquet was a ton of fun. I sat down at a table with some acquaintances I had made during the workshops, and we never stopped laughing. Best-selling author Laurence O'Bryan, who had flown to the conference all the way from Ireland, asked if he could join us. He was the instructor for one of the workshops I had attended earlier that day, so it was great to hang out in a more upbeat, social setting. It turned out that he was also the special guest speaker for our dinner that night; a fact I didn't realize until they called him up. He gave an endearing speech about his journey to becoming a best-selling author, although I'll admit--even a mediocre speech would have come out great with that awesome Irish accent. 

The banquet ended shortly after 9:00, at which point I headed straight upstairs for my "Rogue Read and Critique" workshop. Rogue workshops are a purely optional choice for the writing die-hards, beginning at 9:00 p.m. and ending whenever the participants can't take anymore. When I entered my particular workshop, I knew I had chosen the perfect group when I saw this message scrawled on the whiteboard: "Anything less than 3 a.m. is weakness." Our workshop that night was run by author Linda Taylor. We selected five pages from our manuscript (most people start with the very beginning of their books, since the beginning is both the most challenging and everything), and Linda read our pages out loud to the entire group. Then she went around the room, allowing everyone a chance to give feedback on what they heard. Finally, she herself gave feedback on the piece. 

If you've never done one of these before, it is terrifying the first time the author takes your work into her hands. Holy cow. Can't even describe. But once you hear the way your words sound rolling off the lips of someone else, and everyone in the room is listening to your story, it is exhilarating.

We took a ten minute break at midnight. Somehow our group ended up doing really bad yoga while discussing theology. I think this was the threshold by which we were starting to get tired. 

By 1:00 a.m. our little conference room was freezing, so we moved downstairs in front of the main conference room and pushed some tables together. At this point there were only seven of us left. That's when a correspondent from NBC News showed up. NBC had heard some "rogues" were still up at the Writer's Conference, and they wanted to air some footage. Wes, the director of SCWC, was with us when NBC showed up, and he was able to do a quick interview to go along with the footage that was taken. Someone must have fetched Michael (the executive director of SCWC, also an author/screenwriter), because he showed up shortly after, as well, and did an interview. The rest of us were filmed doing our "normal thing." That was hilarious. The reporter told us to be natural, and here I'm smack-dab in the middle of a sentence when a camera is shoved right under my nose. It took all of my willpower to keep talking and not laugh (we did end up collapsing into hysteria once the camera moved elsewhere).

Here's Mark, our camera guy:

He was a really good sport.

Five still standing (er--sitting, but it still counts)

At 2:00 a.m. we realized we were STARVED (it had been seven hours since dinner), so we all pulled out every snack we could dig up from our bags and put them in the middle of the table to share. We ended up with a buffet of peanuts, Cheetos, Girl Scout cookies, M&Ms, and rice cakes. The fact that some of these snacks were already opened/half-eaten was irrelevant.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, we all trudged back to our rooms. I remember my mind was still buzzing when I went to bed, and I felt like liquid all over.

I slept for a few hours before it was time to wake up for my morning workshops. I might have let myself skip at least one to sleep in, but the sessions I scheduled for Sunday were the ones I wanted to attend the most. My fellow rogues obviously felt the same way, because they were all there at my first session. I had four total workshops on Sunday (with a lunch in-between), and they were worth being sleep-deprived for. The most valuable sessions I attended were: How to Write a Killer Query (led by author Maralys Wills) and "Your Book is Finished - Now What?" (by author/editor Robert Yehling). I absorbed more information from these two workshops than I have in months of internet research. After Yehling's session, I stayed after for a few minutes and he showed me how to format my pre-chapter quotes in my manuscript, along with the various song lyrics and text messages that appear in my novel.

Once my last workshop ended, we drove home, and the rest is history. Overall this Valentine's Day weekend ROCKED. I will definitely be hiding away nickels and dimes now, hoping to save up for next year's SCWC. Who needs roses and chocolate when you can have Cheetos and rice cakes in the company of delirious writers? Romance shmo-mance.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

WIP Marathon [Pre] Report

My awesome critique partner and friend, @ifeomadennis, runs a great event for writers known as a #WIPMarathon. The way it works is for one full month, participants write as much as they can on their current work in progress. Once a week they post an update on their blog, letting their followers (and other participants) know how many words they were able to write, some of the challenges they faced that week, their goals for the following week, and so on. What I love most about this particular writing marathon is 1. You start with your current WIP (unlike NaNoWriMo, which requires you to start with a brand new project) and 2. You do not have to reach a certain word count (unlike NaNo, which requires 50K). It's all about setting goals for yourself and working at a motivated--yet realistic--pace.  

The bad news (for me) is I already missed the last WIPMarathon, and the next 'official' one won't take place until August. The good news is I can still participate in a WIPMarathon report once a month, starting on March 1st. Here's how it works: A Not-So- WIPMarathon-Goodbye.

So, to get the ball rolling, I'm going to do a quick pre-report. My rationale for this is if I don't record where I'm at right now, I won't be able to see my growth come March. Here we go:

Last report word count + chapter count/scene count: None (since this is my first report)
Current report WC + CC/ SC: 80,283, 394 words into chapter 25.
WIP Issues This Month: I can't seem to budge even an inch passed my last paragraph. I think I'm struggling because I'm not a crime-fiction writer. Seriously, I don't even watch crime shows on TV, like Bones or SUV or SVU or whatever. But now I have to flesh out this scene involving a restaurant-shooting, and of course I want it to be convincing and believable, but I feel like everything I add sounds cliche. To make it worse, I'm squeamish about hurting my characters. I need to get over this, fast. 
Four things I learned this month in writing: FOUR? Okay, I've got this. How about...did you know that playing music can be a cure for writer's block? Other cures include a change of scenery, skipping a section, and my personal favorite, taking a caffeine nap. There. FOUR. 
What distracted me this month while writing: Pinterest. I discovered so many awesome writing tools and articles available on Pinterest and spent hours compiling a board of my favorite stuff (including the writer's block tidbit listed above). I wouldn't say it was a complete exercise in futility, because now I have a one-stop-shop for all of my writing needs, but it did get to the point where...well, here. This says it all:

I like it that he called me sweetie. 
Goal for next month: I'll settle with getting past this restaurant scene.
Last 200 words:
  His body convulsed. Get a grip, he willed himself. He forced his clenched, white knuckles to stop shaking and drew in a deep breath. There was plenty of time to suffocate in his own guilt; plenty of time later to confess. Right now he needed to save Grace. It was the only way he could even come close to atone for what he did. He couldn’t go back to last spring and erase this horrible mistake. He couldn’t keep himself from going to that party; from getting behind that wheel. He couldn’t do it.
   But he could change this. He could save one little girl. He could save them all. 
   With a newfound sense of resolve, Stryder looked Joe straight in the eye. “I’m going to get us out of here.”
   “You two, enough jabbering!” Jason, looming over them, bellowed. He pointed the 38 fixedly at Stryder. “You cause any more trouble, I’ll blow your damn head off.”
   In a different world Stryder might have called the gunman’s bluff. But knowing what he did, he nodded and clamped his mouth shut. 

That's actually my last 183 words. I tried to add the prior sentence but then I was pushing 220.

Anyone want to keep this baby going since I'm stuck here? Anyone, anyone...? No...?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Our New, uh, "Cat"

Last month we went to the pound to look at cats. We used to have two cats, but got rid of them because I had a perpetually stuffy nose. Now it's been a year and a half of having no cats in the house, and I still have a stuffy nose. I mean, it's all good--who needs two fully functioning nostrils to breath through anyway?--but since we figured cats weren't the culprit, we decided to check out kittens at the pound and possibly bring one home. 

Here's Blitzen, our new cat. might have noticed a tiny bit of a technical problem. Like, I don't know, maybe the fact that Blitzen is a wee bit on the "doggish" side. 

I probably should have prefaced this post with the fact that I DON'T DO SMALL DOGS. In general I've always loved animals, but little wussy dogs with their constant yapping...NO THANKS. Chihuahuas are the worst. My parents and my grandparents both have chihuahuas, and those dogs yip every time they hear the smallest sound. You walk in the house, and it's a five-minute orchestra of ear-splitting yapping. Later you move to get out of your chair, and the yapping starts all over again. I think it's great to have a dog with some watch dog ability, but come on. Figure out what you're supposed to bark at and what's just everyday noise. Plus they growl and snap at my kids every time they get near. My kids are very sweet and gentle with animals, so it's annoying. I have no use for that. I get the whole "loyal dog" thing, but a truly loyal dog has enough brain cells to recognize that offspring of the owners are something to be protected, not attacked. 

So why the hell do we have a four-and-a-half pound pomeranian/CHIHUAHUA?

The answer would probably take me another two pages to write, so we'll just say it's your classic family-goes-to-pound-to-get-cat-but-falls-in-love-with-scrawny-pomchi-instead story. I will say that the pound gave us thirty days to try him out, informing us that at any time we could return him, no questions asked. 

It has now been thirty days, and there is no way this dog is going back to the pound. Because, well, he is a pure joy. Blitzen acts like a Labrador trapped in a small dog's body. He is always happy and loves everyone, even my preschool-aged nephew and niece. He's crate trained and sleeps so heavy at night that sometimes you think he's dead. He's quirky and weird, running laps around the house or jumping at shadows on the wall. But the best part? Unlike other small dogs, Blitzen very rarely barks. I thought this was because we had struck gold and found ourselves the least-annoying little dog in the world, but as it turns out, Blitzen is deaf. He doesn't bark because he can't hear anything to bark at.  

Do I still think that most little dogs are useless sissies? Sure. And do I shamefully laugh once in awhile when Clint pretends he's going to throw Blitzen into the wood chipper? Absolutely. But do I have a tiny bit more understanding of the bond between small-dog owners and their scrawny little fur babies? Well, I guess I have to say yes, I *sort of* get it. 

That's the most you're getting from me. Big dogs still rule.