Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Misc. Happy Halloween Meme!!

Susan McBride, over at the Stiletto Gang Blog started this fun meme. I answered the questions below and would love to read yours. Comment or leave a link to your Blog and I'll check them out! 

(1)  What's your favorite Halloween costume ever?

The Stegosaurus, my favorite dinosaur. When I was...I think seven, my Mom made me this wonderful Stegosaurus costume, head to toe. You know how it is when you're seven and Mom's know everything and can do anything? Well, this costume was so ambitious that she needed help from HER mom. (Grandma being the supermom, of course because when you're seven and your mom goes to her mom it's amazing.)

I won best costume in that dinosaur suit. Favorite. Costume. Ever.

(2)  What's your favorite Halloween candy (or other treat)?

Chocolate. Just plain ol' chocolate.

(3)  Name the scariest book you've ever read?

Oh my gosh. Nothing comes to mind. I read mysteries not horror so I avoid the being scared...

(4)  Who's the best movie vampire ever:

(a)  Bela Lugosi
(b)  George Hamilton
(c)  Tom Cruise
(d)  Robert Pattinson

I must really be out of touch with movies because I didn't know Tom Cruise was a vampire. (Was he, really?)
I'm going to pick option e. and say Geraint Wyn Davies of Forever Knight because he was the first vampire I saw on TV, at least that I can remember. And this was before vampires were cool.

(5)  Who'd win in a fist fight?  Sookie or Bella?

I don't know who these people are.

(6)  Are you superstitious?  How?

Friday the 13th's and black cats crossing my paths have always brought me luck. I also broke a mirror a few weeks ago and my luck has changed to good (fingers crossed for another 7 years of good!) so I guess I'm superstitious enough. I cannot for the life of me look in the mirror at night because of a scary show I watched a few years ago. I don't even remember what happened but to this day, I can't look at night. So, yeah, a little superstitious.

(7)  Frankenberry, Count Chocula, or Boo Berry?

As a kid, Count Chocula. He's chocolate.

(8)  Will you dress up this year?  If so, as what?

Naw, not this year.

Boo!  Now it's YOUR turn!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Baker Street Saturday - Lessons From Sherlock Holmes

There's a great article by Maria Konnikova entitled Lessons From Sherlock Holmes: Don't Tangle Two Lines of Thought. It's wonderful for mystery readers (and authors to understand how readers think) yet so simple and natural. It states we should not include too many facts in our chain of logical thinking because, while related, they don't all lead to the correct conclusion.

The trick, for a mystery reader of course, is to determine which facts are relevant and which ones are red herrings.


Maybe that's why we love Sherlock Holmes as much as we do, for over a hundred years. We try to pick out the useful facts, dismiss the unimportant ones and solve the case before Holmes. (This happened to me only once, I'm proud and annoyed to say.)

Perhaps this is the real reason original Holmes smoked so much; not addiction to tobacco but something to do while he sits for hours and just thinks.

I, for one, prefer tea. Or hot chocolate if the sweet tooth is acting up.



How about you? Do you over-think, over-include and evaluate too many things at once? Or do you put the book down every so often and really think things through?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Case You Missed It - Co-Guest Blogged at Lee Lofland's, The Graveyard Shift

Just in case you missed it - my Mom (Ellie Oberth) and I co-guest blogged at Lee Lofland's Blog, The Graveyard Shift.


We  summed up the Writer's Police Academy - a cool, unique, atypical, not-to-be-missed convention for writer's - as best we could.

From arson to an instructor field-stripping his gun in the hallway, this convention wasn't ABOUT topics. We didn't take notes about how hot a fire gets (well, some of us did) but we FELT how hot it gets.

(No, I didn't get to pour any gasoline but I did get to shoot a Glock.)

Check it out - and come along next year!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Misc - 'Chain of Souls' by Maria Zannini

Maria Zannini's second book, in the Second Chances Series, Chain of Souls is available! ($2.99)

I haven't read this series yet (I'm more of a cozy mystery fan) but I checked out a sample of her writing and was impressed.

If paranormal romances are your thing - check her out! (If you go to Smashwords, you can view 20% for free.)

You can buy Chain of Souls at:

Smashwords (This is a great site because it doesn't matter what eReader you have, you can buy the book and download it. Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader and so on. You don't even need an eReader, you can read it from your computer screen!)
Amazon
Barnes and Noble (There is a review you can check out.)


Maria's description:
"Banished from Heaven for refusing to harvest an unwilling soul, Liam Chase drinks to forget until the night he is visited by the Angel of Death. For the price of a few humans souls, she promises to get him reinstated into Heaven. A monstrous crime. If he refuses, the life he forfeits will belong to the woman he loves."

If you're on Goodreads, you can add this book to your To Read/Read list here.


 Maria's first book (in this series) is The Devil to Pay, also available at Smashwords (there are 2 reviews you can check out), Amazon (there are 7 reviews you can check out) & Barnes and Noble (there is one review you can check out).

Maria's description:
"Careful what you ask for. Shannon McKee is in ruin and she sees no way out of her living hell. Swearing an oath on a bottle of tequila, she offers her soul to whoever can get her out of overwhelming debt. Heaven and Hell have accepted the offer and each has sent a Harvester to collect their fee. Payment is due upon receipt, and no matter who gets her soul, Shannon's not getting out of this alive."

Let me know if you read it.
Let Maria know, too. Her blog is here.
And if you do read it, please take the time to review on Smashwords, Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble and so on.
The archenemy of a writer is obscurity.

Fellow readers/buyers benefit from reviews, too.

Grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate and enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Graveyard Shift - Lee Lofland's Blog



Tomorrow, I'm co-guest blogging on Lee Lofland's Blog, The Graveyard Shift, with my Mom, Ellie Oberth.



We'll be summing up the ultra-cool Writer's Police Academy that took place last month in North Carolina.




Don't miss it!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Books & Things Thursday - Golden Donut Contest Entry

Hi everyone,

Check out my Mom's (Ellie Oberth) entry to the Golden Donut Contest. It won a spot in the top ten finalists and I'm very proud.

It's a 200 word mystery - including the title - based on the picture the Writer's Police Academy provided (see below).



I say it's perfect for this Halloweenish time of year - tell her what you think!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Misc. - Car Trouble in West Virginia

Mom and I left Chicago on our way to North Carolina to attend the Writer's Police Academy (WPA). We had to get there by Thursday, 4:45 PM N.C. time to catch the bus to go to the jail tour we'd won.

Wednesday evening, my car made this knocking, weird, hard-to-describe kind of sound. We stopped at a gas station in Hurricane, West Virginia and I asked the attendant if she knew what it could be. Another attendant followed us outside and they listened and looked under the hood and neither knew what on earth was causing this horrid sound.



The guy suggested we go to the Napa Auto Parts store in the morning because they're pretty knowledgeable about cars. He gave directions and we found a god-awful motel and I somehow got to sleep worrying about cars and germs. (Monk NEVER would have survived this trip.)

I woke up in that dirty motel room (seriously, I'm only doing a Motel 6 or Super 8 from now on) Thursday morning, had a difficult time getting dressed (don't ask) and eating breakfast. I lost my piece of toast. How does one lose a piece of bread? I had it in my hand one minute and couldn't find it the next. I figured if I couldn't keep track of a slice of bread then I don't deserve to eat. Natural selection. Mom had other ideas, as moms do, and she ordered me to find it which I did. I peanut-buttered it up and hung out of the car door while I ate it, careful to keep the sides in between the plastic baggie. I am such a germaphobe.

We drove to Napa Auto Parts and I got the guy to come out and take a listen to my car.

"Sounds like it might be a ball bearing."

He sent us to Cooper's Garage warning us that they're busy and might not be able to fix the car quickly.

Ugh!

We need to get to West Virginia by 4:45. BEFORE 4:45 so we can check into the hotel and dump our bags.

The guy said he'd come out to listen to my car then fiddled with the computer. Then he exited via the garage. Mom was already seated on the couch in the waiting area. She jumped up expectantly. I stared at the man through the window. He was walking away...

Mom and I went to my car and we stared at one another, listening to our hair grow.



One thing about the South - they are slow. They work slow. They talk slow. They truly enjoy each passing moment life has to offer.

I'm not like that. Chicago born and bred - it means get to work and finish the job in record time, every time.

(I do not know how my sister and her husband do it. They moved to Georgia a while back and they had a hard time adjusting to the different pace of life. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying one way is better than the other - I'm just talking about the differences. The funny thing is, it took their co-workers and neighbors an adjustment period to get used to them, too!)

So we stood there, waiting. There was no noise. No traffic. No sirens. No trucks barreling by. No people on cell phones. No honking. No shouting. It was just quiet. The only thing before us were the gorgeous, fog-soaked, multi-colored trees on hills in the distance, framed by the beautiful morning sky.

I looked at my mother.

"Don't forget we're in the South," she said, reading my mind.

Ugh!

"If it takes this long just to look at it, think how long it'll take to fix it."

That's my mother.

I gave her my best glare.

The guy finally limped over. It wasn't just a Southern amble, something was wrong with him. The poor man pulled a groin, his mother is in the hospital and his best mechanic just had a burst appendix.

He listened to my car for 2.7 seconds. "It's your air conditioning unit. Probably a bad bearing."

He said it was too dangerous to drive, it might be a big problem, they probably don't have my parts and they're busy.

Wonderful on all counts. Whenever the car guys say it's too dangerous to drive or they can't let me leave like it is, the more suspicious I get. (I'm telling you, Chicago born and bred.)

"Do you have a timeframe and a price frame? We have to be somewhere five hours away in seven hours."

"Ohhh, you'll probably miss that. You might want to rent a car."

Rent a car? I OWN a car.

He took my car away and I called my sister, told her we were broken down in West Virginia and could she be prepared to send an e-mail to Lee Lofland if we can't make the jail tour so he can pull two other names so they can go. No use in wasting the opportunity for someone else.



She said of course and wanted to know exactly where we were, the name of the car place and what was wrong.

I suddenly felt a little safer, still stuck in the middle of nowhere.

In layman's terms, the mechanic said it was the air conditioner, Mom asked if we could just not use it and he said that wasn't an option because the belt going around it would freeze up.

I asked, "Can we bypass it somehow?"

He stared at me and scratched his head. "I thought about that. You'd need a pulley to replace the air conditioner unit so the belt could go around that. The part you need is in Columbus."

"Ohio!"

I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way of getting out. The whole point of not flying or taking the train was to enjoy the freedom my car provides.

Now we're going to miss the jail tour and possibly the whole convention depending on when he gets the part from Ohio and if they're open on Sunday.

I felt SO bad for Mom. See, my Dad is not the easiest driver on cars and we were always breaking down. My entire childhood consisted of getting into the car and never knowing if it would start when he turned the key. Here I am driving Mom around (talking her out of the plane and train idea) and the first chance I get, we break down.

I felt awful.

My sister kept calling to check up on us (so sweet) and she put her assistant on the phone because she knows cars. She even consulted her husband. She suggested the mechanic get a shorter belt and bypass the air conditioning unit altogether. I mentioned this to the mechanic who said that was exactly what he was trying next - but he didn't have the shorter belt. He ordered it.

While I opened my mouth to ask how long that would take, he looked at a young kid about to open the door. "And there it is," he said to me. "We'll know in thirty minutes."

My sister's assistant called me back and gave me a quote on parts and labor so I wouldn't get cheated.

I hope I'm not being unfair to Cooper's Garage - I'm simply giving my insight at the time this was going on. In no way did they talk down to me, not explain what the problem was or judge this city girl for being on the cell phone the whole time, not looking at the peaceful scenery and enjoying the day.

I'd called my Dad, too. He was in dance class but took a break to calm me down and make me laugh.

The mechanic limped over to us. "It's okay."

"What is?"

"Your car is ready for you."

I think our jaws dropped.

"It's safe to drive?" I asked - as if they'd let me leave if it wasn't.

"Yup. But you have no air conditioning."

"Psssstttt. That's fine by me."

Mom sighed. "She never uses it anyway."

Now came the time to pay. I scanned my notes from my sister's assistant and prepared myself. You see, I've been cheated by car mechanics in the past. Royally robbed. I'm talking, went into debt to pay the bills that turned out to be unnecessary. That guy was later shut down by the State of California and some people got some of their money back but I wasn't one of them. I'd moved back to Illinois and didn't even hear about it until it was too late.

I'd memorized the dollar amounts the job should be. Originally, I thought it would be around $500 but that was replacing everything. Then it was around $200 for the unit to bypass the belt but now, it was just replacing the belt and labor. So it should be between $120-150 and that's a city price. I said it like a mantra over and over in my head.

Between $120-150.

Between $120-150.

"It'll be $65.62."

I was so stunned I lost the credit card fight with my mother who insisted on paying.

No one was ripping me off. No one intended to rip me off.

Cooper's Garage fixed my car and made it safe for my Mom and me to drive. They treated us with respect and compassion - while overworked, understaffed and in emotional and physical pain. I hope they realize how much of a difference they made in our lives. Not just fixing the car AND allowing us to get to our destination on time but their kindness and work ethic won't soon be forgotten. (The old memory of being cheated is fading just a bit.)

Mom kept me calm.

Dad kept me laughing.

My sister kept us feeling safe and protected.

My sister's assistant and her husband kept us knowledgeable.

And the gas station attendants in Hurricane and the Napa Auto Parts guy led us to the right person for the job.

Everyone, stranger and family, helped and supported us in our time of need.



And we made it in time to check into the Embassy Suites Hotel, drop off our bags, check in with the WPA and get in the van for the jail tour (which you can read about here).

We got to see Lee Lofland organizing everything, the great people at the WPA tables and the effervescent and wonderful driver/volunteer, Bunny.

All in all, it was an uplifting experience. A nice reminder that there's more good in the world than bad. Even for this Chicago chick, born and bred.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Books & Things Thursday - NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us once again!



If you're unfamiliar with National Novel Writing Month, I'll tell you in as few words as possible:

You write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days (in November).

Simple.

Simple yet hard work.

And I LOVE it!

I've done NaNoWriMo since 2007 and won every year.

(My 2007 novel is in the hands on my editor as we speak. I expect to be getting it back sometime next week. I'm thinking of a release date in January but if I get it polished sooner, we'll see.)

If you're a writer (professional or by hobby), check out the forums. There's nothing quite like the wonderful writers in the forums.

Need help with a tricky plot problem? Ask away and you will get multiple suggestions on how to fix it.

Want to know how much arsenic to use to not quite kill your character?

Ask away!

Want a writing buddy to keep you going when the going gets tough?

They've got those, too!

Seriously, this is the best support system I've found online for writers.

I'm JennyJenn over there.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - What's That Knocking Noise?

On a trip to North Carolina, we got stopped in West Virginia.

So not fun. So, so, so NOT fun...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Misc. Monday - Repos Have Never Been This Much Fun!

So I'm watching TV on a Saturday morning and I leave the room. (I have the attention span of an olive.) I came back and it's one of those reality shows where this tough, muscled-guy is repo'ing a truck from a farm.

The skinniest woman you've ever seen comes out on her cell phone, demanding to know what's going on and then bellows for her parents.

Two of the skinniest people come out...and the muscled-guy says he's repossessing the car unless they can answer three of five trivia questions correctly, in which case he'll pay the car off then and there.

I was like, 'what?!'

So were they.

It's a car repossessing game show...
Oh. My. Gosh. The concept of this show, Repo Games, is hilarious.

I ended up watching the whole thing and found myself rooting for the three people about to lose their cars.

But what the heck? They didn't pay their bills, why am I rooting for them?

You've just got to see this one to believe it.

(From the Spike TV website: "From the producers of Jersey Shore and Spike TV comes Repo Games, a whole new kind of game show. Repo Games follows a crew of real-life repo men, Josh Lewis and Tom DeTone, as they give debtors one last chance to keep their cars -- but only if they’re willing to play for it. The debtors are asked five questions, and if they get three answers correct, their cars will be paid off on the spot. If the debtors fail, their cars get a new home at the impound lot.")

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Books & Things Thursday - WPA Jail Tour

This is the first in a series of posts about the WPA or, Writer's Police Academy.

It. Was. Awesome.

This was not a typical writer's convention and it was obvious that a lot of hard work went into making it come alive but it all paid off.

A big thanks to Lee Lofland - I'm not sure what his official title was but he was the point person, organizer, see-that-things-run-smoothly guy who kept appearing out of nowhere to set something right or take a picture and wham!, he was on to the next superhero feat.

The instructors were amazing, too. They were actual professionals in the all-emcompassing field of criminology.

And I'd like to give a shoutout to the drivers - especially Bunny who I miss!

Onto the first event (that started before the convention did):

My Mom and I won the lottery and got to go on a jail tour. A tour of a real jail. (You think Castle is cool with the writer-guy getting to be a part of amazing things generally reserved for the police or criminals? This Convention was fantastic.)

Not the real jail we went to

After some major trouble in West Virginia (I will post about that soon), Mom and I made it to North Carolina with like an hour to spare before the bus left for the jailhouse. We checked into the Embassy Suites Hotel, signed in with the WPA and met the bus heading for the Guilford County Jail in High Point, N.C.

(Other lucky winners got to go on ride-alongs. You know, where you ride along in a police car with an officer - Mom and I were so glad we got the jail tour because after two days in a car, the last thing we wanted to do was sit in another car all night!)

We were a rather large group and took up every seat in the jailhouse entry area. The officer started with, "Bear with me, I was unprepared for your arrival as this was dumped on me an hour ago."

Right there I remembered that cops are people with jobs just like the rest of us. Who else hasn't had the huge project dumped on them with no prep time?

Luckily for us, he's given many tours and slipped into the role perfectly. He answered our questions and soon took us through the metal detectors, up some stairs, through hallways and up (or was it down?) an elevator, stopping at every checkpoint and explaining the process from arrest to jail cell.

One of the things that blew my mind (and others as we kept asking the same questions because we couldn't wrap our heads around it) was the fact that one woman guard commanded a block.

(The female officers can watch the male blocks but the male officers cannot watch the female blocks for obvious reasons.)

Another cool feature of this tour was the fact this was the new dormitory style prisons that'll be built around the country. They're finally doing away with the prison bars and prison blocks and mess hall meals and so on and so on.

1.) I can't wait to spot this new design for the first time on a TV show.

2.) How will prisoners in fiction shank one another in those big gatherings in the cell blocks?

Back to the tour...

We stood in a circular room with many doors lining the walls on two levels. Two sets of stairs led up to the second level. Showers broke up cells every so often. The showers were a tight, claustrophobic fit with sheer walls on three sides and a shower head. The door was enough to cover the torso but you could see feet and heads.

The doors to the cells - I should refer to them as rooms - were solid doors with a long, narrow window. No bars - in fact, the only bars I remember seeing in the whole prison were the guardrails on the second level.

The area we stood in held plastic, really uncomfortable-looking chairs and a TV or two. By the main door was the guard station where a female officer sat alone. (We got to see the shift change and the new female officer take over and check every cell through the long, narrow window and do her duty. She was focused and practiced.)

We were surrounded by inmates. I saw lots of orange and hair and faces staring at us through those long, narrow windows. I didn't feel sorry for them - my instinct was to do so because no one likes to be trapped - but they're there for a reason. (Though, this was jail, not prison. These men haven't had their day in court yet.)

The officer-tour-guide described the different size cells and told us to take a look. We sort of stood there looking at one another. Who wants to peer into a jail cell with men inside? A few adventurous participants wandered toward some windows and I followed them.

At first, my mother staunchly refused to invade someone's privacy but I hissed at her that:

1.) the criminals (or suspects) are used to it as the guards do it all the time

2.) they were staring at us

3.) and most importantly - "When are you ever going to get the opportunity to peek into a real jail cell?"

Since Mom has no intention on embarking on a criminal career, she peeked in. I had my ear out for the whispers of the group and only looked into the cells that contained sleeping men.

No fuss, no muss.

That was the jail cells. One contained a bunk bed. They all held a toilet and sink, of course. Earlier in the tour, the officer said the inmates get one roll of toilet paper a week.

Our group consisted mainly of women and we all stared at one another. Some of us burst out laughing.

(As it turns out, the women get one roll of toilet paper at a time. The next day I did the jail searches class and Sgt. Netter explained the 'give-an-empty-roll, get-a-new-roll' deal they've got going on for the women.)

These are things you don't think about. (Not me anyway.)

The tour was supposed to last two hours but we went over time and the officer didn't mind a bit.

Let me OUTTA here!

I admit to feeling a little trapped myself. In my head, this was over at 7PM and the big clock said it was past 7 and we were still there, standing and listening and asking questions and being peered at from behind long, narrow panes of glass. I was on a tour and couldn't leave. For me, it was a psychological entrapment (if I'd had a fit or something, they would have escorted me out) but for these men, the ones before them and the ones who'll (unfortunately) come after - it's physical.

For a few lucid seconds I could feel the prison.

Not to speak for all of humanity but being trapped truly is a universally hated experience. (Hence, prison.)

I soaked up so much/many info., tidbits, visuals, smells, sounds, experiences...it was overwhelming.

What a start to this unique and amazing convention!!!!!!!

EDIT: Check out my Mom's Blog Post about it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Baker Street Saturday - Doyle's Shortest 'Sherlock Holmes'

This is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's shortest Sherlock Holmes story, How Watson Learned the Trick:


     Watson had been watching his companion intently ever since he had sat down to the breakfast table.  Holmes happened to look up and catch his eye.

     "Well, Watson, what are you thinking about?" he asked.

     "About you."

     "Me?"

     "Yes, Holmes.  I was thinking how superficial are these tricks of yours, and how wonderful it is that the public should continue to show interest in them."

     "I quite agree," said Holmes.  "In fact, I have a recollection that I have myself made a similar remark."

     "Your methods," said Watson severely, "are really easily acquired."

     "No doubt," Holmes answered with a smile, "Perhaps you will yourself give an example of this method of reasoning."

     "With pleasure," said Watson, "I am able to say that you were greatly preoccupied when you got up this morning."

     "Excellent!" said Holmes.  "How could you possibly know that?"

     "Because you are usually a very tidy man and yet you have forgotten to shave."

     "Dear me!  How very clever!" said Holmes.  "I had no idea, Watson, that you were so apt a pupil.  Has your eagle eye detected anything more?"

     "Yes, Holmes.  You have a client named Barlow, and you have not been successful with his case."

     "Dear me, how could you know that?"

     "I saw the name outside his envelope.  When you opened it you gave a groan and thrust it into your pocket with a frown on your face."

     "Admirable!  You are indeed observant.  Any other points?"

     "I fear, Holmes, that you have taken to financial speculation."

     "How could you tell that, Watson?"

     "You opened the paper, turned to the financial page, and gave a loud exclamation of interest."

     "Well, that is very clever of you, Watson.  Any more?"

     "Yes, Holmes, you have put on your black coat, instead of your dressing gown, which proves that you are expecting some important visitor at once."

     "Anything more?"

     "I have no doubt that I could find other points, Holmes, but I only give you these few, in order to show you that there are other people in the world who can be as clever as you."

     "And some not so clever," said Holmes.  "I admit that they are few, but I am afraid, my dear Watson, that I must count you among them."

     "What do you mean, Holmes?"

     "Well, my dear fellow, I fear your deductions have not been so happy as I should have wished."

     "You mean that I was mistaken."

     "Just a little that way, I fear.  Let us take the points in their order:  I did not shave because I have sent my razor to be sharpened.  I put on my coat because I have, worse luck, an early meeting with my dentist.  His name is Barlow, and the letter was to confirm the appointment.  The cricket page is beside the financial one, and I turned to it to find if Surry was holding its own against Kent.  But go on, Watson, go on!  It's a very superficial trick, and no doubt you will soon acquire it."