Takeaways from RWA 2016

Last month I went down to San Diego to attend my first ever RWA National Conference. It was the most inspiring four days of my life. I met a bunch of amazing romance writers, I came home with a pile of books and the best thing is I’ve been diligently working on my latest project ever since.

I spent the majority of my time at the hotel and saw very little of San Diego the entire time. Luckily I had a lovely view of the harbor from my room.

While the entire experience was four days of non-stop learning and inspiration, here are my three biggest takeaways.

Romance Writers are Awesome!

The first workshop I attended was the first timer’s orientation. This workshop helped set the tone for the rest of the week. Their big message was: welcome to the tribe where all writers are equal.

Granted, RWA has different levels of membership depending on where you are in your writing career. However once you are all in the same room the playing field is the same for everyone and the unspoken rule is be kind and provide support. I honestly believe this attitude stems from the fact that (yes I’m going to say it) 99% of the RWA membership is women. Women are completely different animals when men are not around. Men bring out our competitive side. Take them out of the equation and we are left to survive on our own and because we are nurturing by nature we help others do the same.

I also believe that the content romance writers focus on brings out good energy. What else can you expect when you bring together 2,000 women who spend their days thinking about unconditional love and commitment?

Nora Roberts is My New Idol

I was not planning to attend the “Chat with Nora Roberts” on Friday morning. I figured it would be standing room only and besides there was another workshop scheduled at the same time that I also really wanted to attend. I changed my mind at the last minute after chatting with a woman in the elevator who told me that hearing Nora Roberts speak would be invaluable. After a brief moment of
Sophie’s Choice I did an about face and hurried off to the “Chat with Nora Roberts.”

The woman on the elevator was spot on. Nora Roberts is not only a talented and prolific writer. She is warm, funny, authentic and swears like a sailor. When the hour was up I walked out of the room feeling like a better person.

Nora’s advice to writers is to write every day, stay disciplined and finish what you start. More than once she said “finish your first draft.” In fact at one point she said, “Finish that first draft. Puke it out!” The entire room chuckled at the joke but my jaw dropped, I found her statement so profound. Writing a first draft is EXACTLY like puking! It’s miserable, you don’t want to do it and you feel much better when you’re done. Not only that but the end result is NOT something anyone wants to look at. Knowing that even Nora Roberts, who has written and published over 200 novels still finds it hard really inspired me.

Time is Not an Excuse

I attended a workshop on time management, taught by Caridad Pineiro who has written and published over 50 books. She talked about making a plan and scheduling in time to write. She also shared her techniques of “thinking out her story” before she sits down to write for the day. I loved her many suggestions but then Caridad revealed something else that won me over for good: she is an attorney who works full time at a New York City law firm and she writes her books during her commute on the train. Also she has children!

If a New York City lawyer (she’s a partner no less!) with children can find time to write romance novels anyone can. Even me!

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Carson City Dispatch from Mrs. B

It’s me, Mrs. B. My mommy neglects her blog so horribly that even a cat can hack into it.

I’m writing this from the hell that is our Nevada house. My humans clearly bought this place so they’d have a way to torture me. Yesterday they captured me from my favorite hiding spot under Jerry’s desk, shoved me into that horrid carrier with the broken handle and took me on a six hour car trip. That’s right, SIX HOURS! I had to pee like a mo-fo when we got here. And to add insult to injury, they are making me use cheap ass cat litter from the 99 Cents store. It doesn’t clump and it stinks to high heaven. Jerry is responsible for this I’m sure.

Mommy did her best to fix my litter by putting a layer of Tidy Cat on top. She’s scared to death I’ll revenge poop outside the box. I have never in my life left my mommy a revenge poop but I’m considering it in light of this weekend. These people need to realize that I’m getting picky in my old age.

Mommy is also scared to death that I’ll keep her up all night when I’m up her. I’ve done it before but that was when I was still an outdoor cat. Just between you and me, I don’t mind being in the house all the time anymore and I don’t mind letting my humans sleep now and then. But Mommy still doesn’t trust me and tried to get me to take a kitty-xanax last night. She tried to hide it in my food (amateur) but I held strong until she finally broke out the last of the Japanese cat treat rations.

Japanese cat treats laced with kitty-xanax. MMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!

I have no idea what she’s going to do to get me to calm down tonight now that the Japanese cat treats are gone. I’ve been sleeping all day in this heat. As soon as they turn the lights out I’ll be bugging the shit out of those humans.

Meow for now!

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Ending the Silence with Reading, Writing and Most Importantly, Mrs. B

This morning while I was in the shower Mrs. B sat by the door like she usually does. If I stay in too long she starts meowing like she did this morning. I opened the door thinking she would be happy to see me. Instead she just poked her head in the doorway for a brief moment and then turned and walked away to her sleeping spot under Jerry’s desk.

This moment of cat mommyhood inspired me to break my blog silence this Mother’s Day evening. Taking care of Mrs. B, who has been a full time in the house cat for almost a year, has been one of the things keeping me busy these days. Scooping the cat box, sweeping up kitty litter and trying to keep Mrs. B from escaping out the front door seems to take up a lot of my time.

Somewhere along the line I also decided to try and write a romance novel. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Now that I’ve started, I’m wondering if I will spend an even longer time figuring out how to complete a single novel. I’ve been working on my novel for months and seem to have nothing to show for it. It stars with my mind buzzing with characters and plots and conflicts. I write these things out into something that I think resembles a story. I then make the mistake of actually reading it and see that what I have is not really a story at all but just a bunch of really stupid dialogue about super boring plots. So then I stop writing for a while until I feel lazy and depressed and realize that the only thing that will make me feel better is writing out more stupid and boring stuff, kind of like this paragraph.

And because taking care of Mrs. B and writing a stupid sounding, boring romance novel is not enough, I also decided to start volunteering for the Hayward Literacy Plus program. Like writing a romance novel, teaching people to read is something I’ve always wanted to do. I am currently tutoring a woman who is a native Spanish speaker and the experience is teaching me so much! (She is also learning some things too, I hope!) I highly recommend volunteering for a cause you believe in. Going home after a session with my “learner” makes me feel so much more productive than a busy day at work could ever do. It’s also never boring or stupid.

Here’s hoping the blog silence is finally over for the Lady Jessop!

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Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Book number one in my Summer Reading Challenge was Mindfulness in Plain English by Mindfulness in Plain EnglishBhante Henepola Gunaratana, a book recommended by a friend.

Earlier this year I started practicing mindfulness meditation. I was telling my friend Sue about it and was pleasantly surprised to find out that she had started meditating as well. I use an app called Headspace which is a series of guided meditations designed to teach you about the practice. Sue takes a class and also started reading a book which she recommended to me, Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.

It turns out that this book is exactly what I had been looking for. With chapters like “Meditation: Why Bother?” and “Structuring Your Meditation” and “Meditation in Everyday Life” Gunaratana clearly explains the principals of meditation, the benefits and how it is done. It’s a great resource for someone who is just starting out their practice.

I started out reading this in big chunks like I would with any book. While I did enjoy the book, I found that reading too much of it at a time was overwhelming. Therefore I took Sue’s suggestion which was to read just small sections every day. It took a few months to get through this way but it worked out better for me. I was able to get more out of the book and incorporate Gunaratana’s guidance and many suggestions.

Mindfulness meditation is in fact a Buddhist practice. Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a Buddhist monk who was ordained at the age of 12. While he does get somewhat into the spiritual aspects of the practice, I did not find him preachy.

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness meditation or would like to develop and existing practice I highly recommend this book. It is currently back on my shelf but I plan to go back to it again and again. Because of this I give this book a Shrimp Coma Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating shrimp coma

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Castro Valley Dispatch: Home Sweet Home!

This morning was a typical Carson City “half day.”  We got up early (6:00am, thank you  Mrs. B) and Jerry did some small projects around the house while I made eggs and toast and pretended I was helping.  We also had a contractor come by to look at our master bath and the Amerigas guy came by to check the tanks.

We were packed up and headed home by 1:45pm.  The drive over 88 was uneventful.  We did not even encounter any traffic or activity prompted by the Butte fire, contrary to our anticipation.  We listened to Howard Stern’s fantastic interview of Carol Burnett and Donald Trump’s “babble-prompter’’ speech about nothing.

It goes without saying that Mrs. B is extremely happy to be home.  Me too.

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Sleepless in Carson City

I’ve been up all night with an insomniac cat.  I know that Mrs. B has had plans to secretly kill me for some time now.  I realize now that this, THIS is how she will do it.  I will die of sleep deprivation.

This is one of the reasons why I do not like coming up here and when I do, it’s why I stress about bringing the cat with me.  Because the weather was very hot yesterday we had to sleep in our one air conditioned room with the door closed.  This did not sit well with Mrs. B at all.  In addition to being stressed about being far from home (I hear you Mrs. B, believe me!) Mrs. B does not like closed doors and freaked out as soon as we turned the lights out and went to sleep.  She crawled out from her spot from under the bed and began pacing around the room meowing and begging for me to get up.

I tried giving her some kitty xanax but that stuff did nothing.  NOTHING!  I eventually got up and hung out with her for a while, playing with her and brushing her and then just sat while we glared at each other.  Every time I tried to curl up on the couch (a very small couch…the only piece of furniture we have in the living room) Mrs. B would freak out and start meowing.

She eventually let me sleep at 2am but woke me again at 4am.

It’s about 6pm now and I’ve since had a chance to rest up for the big event of the weekend, annual “HOA” meeting up here with the neighbors and what do you think?  Mrs. B is passed out next to me on the couch.  I should totally wake her ass up.  Karma’s a bitch Mrs. B.

Mrs. B sleeps

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Carson City Dispatch

Blogging live from Jessopland 2.0, aka the Carson City house!  Since my cat sitting and holding down the fort skills are more useful in the Bay Area than my Nevada remodel skills I don’t get up here that much.  That said, I thought I’d give a try at doing a little writing up here to let folks know what these little trips are like for me. 

We left home this morning at 7:00am on the dot.  Since we are going to be up here for a few days we opted to bring Mrs. B with us.  Her capture was pretty drama free thanks to Jerry’s help lifting the futon (Mrs. B’s favorite hiding spot) and an early morning dose of kitty xanax. 

The drive through the mountains was very smoky thanks to the San Andreas fire.  We also saw a lot of fire trucks.

fire  fire truck

We got to the house by noon.  So far we’ve been to both Home Depots and the Lowes at least once each.  We also made a trip to Pet Smart where we had a very interesting conversation about the new cat toy I bought for Mrs. B.  Jerry thought a pink firefly was “too gay” so I had to remind him that a) it was for a cat and b) the cat is a girl. 

While Mrs. B and I played with her new “gay” cat toy, Jerry fed his lizard friends. I like to call him the lizard whisperer. 

lizard

Dinner was at our favorite all you can eat sushi bar at the Casino Fandango.  I love the cilantro roll!

cilantro roll

Now I’m hunkered down in the bedroom, enjoying the portable air conditioner Jerry bought and set up a few weeks ago.  The rest of the house is 85 degrees so the bedroom is like the lunar module in Apollo 13 where the astronauts survived the ordeal until they returned safely back to earth.  At the moment Mrs. B is hiding under the bed but as soon as she gets antsy she’s getting another dose of kitty xanax.  In the meantime I’m enjoying my own medicine prescribed by Dr. Husband. 

dr husband

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Good Night Seattle, I Love You!

A week ago today I was on the Sound Transit light rail headed to downtown Seattle. When Jerry had an opportunity to work the Seattle PAX consumer show and said I could tag along I jumped at the chance. I’ve been up to the Seattle Washington area many times for work but I’ve never had a chance to spend time in the city. Last week was finally my chance.

The highlight of the trip was getting to have lunch with a longtime family friend and my hero, Patricia Levin. August has been my month of reunions and reflection and ending it with a get together with Pat was just what I needed.

I spent the rest of the weekend bopping around downtown Seattle.

My favorite place to walk was Pikes Public Market. I went there every morning for a cup of coffee and any other treat I could get my hands on. In the evenings when Jerry got off work we walked down here as well and had some fantastic dinners. Seattle is definitely a food town!

Public Market

I also took the monorail to Seattle Center. I admired the Space Needle but was too chicken to go up. It was pretty windy that day and I did not have the mental energy to get out of my comfort zone.

Space Needle

The labyrinth was more my pace.

Labryinth

When I saw this guy I knew it was time to head on back to the hotel.

Snake guy

Sunday I got tickets to the show thanks to some well connected friends.

Xbox paxcosplay 

I’m looking forward to future trips to Seattle to see more city sites and also touch base with friends. In the meantime, stay cool Seattle!

Stay cool seattle

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The Other Girls

We are perms and curling irons and hot rollers, Finesse and Vidal Sassoon. We are Wet n’ Wild, Lip Smackers and blue eye shadow. We are feathered hair with wide tooth combs in our back pockets and baby blue satin jackets. We are shinny gold headbands and tiny braids. We are the other girls.

We are tanning with baby oil, sunburns and freckles. We are Clearasil, Noxzema and Sun-In. We are the other girls.

We are plastic bead necklaces with matching earrings and belts. We are leather flats with cuffed jeans and socks to match our sweaters. We are leg warmers, torn sweatshirts and spandex. We are knickers, penny loafers and argyle socks. We are the other girls.

We are taffeta and tulle, hand corsages and white nylons. Garters for his visor and slow dance kissing. We are anxious, holding hands, completely clueless. We are the other girls.

We are clove cigarettes and secret Virginia Slims hidden in the glove box. California Coolers, Bartle’s & Jaymes and fake IDs. We are the other girls.

We are busy signals and dial phones with long cords that stretch to the closet. We are binder paper, Pee-Chee folders, Trapper Keepers and brown bag book covers. We are VW bugs, Honda Civics and Pintos. We are the other girls.

We are red-heads, we are brunettes, mousey brown and dishwater blond. Stubborn waves, stick straight, split ends and never right. We are the other girls.

We are laughter, we are tears, we are sadness, we are joy. Seen by some but making up all. We are the other girls. We are all the other girls.

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Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

Reporting in with Book Number 3 on my Summer Reading Challenge, a book I read a long time ago and don’t remember. But first a confession: the reason why I don’t remember this book is because I never finished it in the first place.

I purchased Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell over ten years ago when I noticed the Oprah’sBack Roads Book Club sticker. When I read it last week I realized I never got past page 30 the first time around. I stopped because the storyline was too dark and tragic for me at the time. I’m glad I finally picked it up again because I thought the book was great.

The main character and narrator of Back Roads is Harley Altmyer, a 19 year old man who is left to raise his three younger sisters after their mother is convicted of murdering their abusive father. Cheery right? That is exactly why I put it down the first time.

Harley’s life is not easy. He’s overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising his sisters with no time or money to be a regular teenager. He’s also saddled down with the tragedy of his family’s past and present. His sisters, Amber, Misty and Jody have issues of their own as well. Harley’s only solace is the MILF next door, Callie Mercer who provides him with the comfort and escape he needs.

It’s clear that life handed Harley a bad hand. He deals with it through a snarky and sarcastic attitude. This is one of the strong elements of this book and why I found it so enjoyable. In spite of his darkness, or perhaps because of it, Harley is a likable character. As the first person narrator of the story, we are subjected to all his thoughts including the very dark ones that make us question Harley’s fate. However we also see that he is a sensitive young man who cares about his sisters and others around him. As the story progresses we learn more about the Altmyer family dynamics as well as the murder of Harley’s father and the result is an even deeper dive into Harley’s character.

I enjoyed this book very much. The premise had me hooked from the beginning and about 100 pages in I became extremely close to all the characters with a genuine interest in what became of them.

I also have another confession to make about this book: I skipped ahead. (I know! I’m sorry Tawni O’Dell!) I partly blame the foreshadowing in the first few pages. They haunted me and I just had to know how it all ended. I’ll admit I learned my lesson on this one because knowing the ended ruined the mood O’Dell worked so hard to create. I promise I will never read ahead again!

If you are looking for a good family drama I recommend Back Roads. I will warn you, the book hits on some pretty sensitive subject matters including abuse and incest. There’s also some pretty hot MILF scenes.

I give this book a Relaxed Mrs. B.

Mrs. B rating relaxed

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