It’s all about the wine and compliments.

Once a month or so I attend a prompt workshop at the local writer’s center. I love those evenings.

I don’t know if it’s being around other writers and listening to writerly talk about agents, publishers and story arcs, or just dedicating two whole hours to being a writer, but it makes me happy.

Of course, the praise doesn’t hurt.

And there’s lots of praise. Not just for me, of course, but for everyone.

These are prompt workshops, not a real writing circle, so we tend to focus on positive reinforcement rather than ripping things to shreds.

I take the compliments with a grain or two of salt since no one ever says anything negative, or if they do they couch it so it sounds like praise. (“Your dialogue is so powerful and strong that you don’t need to use all those adverbs.) But even so it’s nice to hear nice things.

The biggest compliment I got tonight was from an older man who often writes about his time working as a bartender in New York in the late sixties. If half his stories are true, he’s had quite a life.

He told me that he could tell I’d been researching poker. Since he’s pointed out flaws in my poker scenes before, I was thrilled.

And I have been researching poker. I’ve been recording and watching the World Series of Poker in ESPN.

It’s oddly entertaining, once you get to know the players a little bit. It’s like any sport in that regard, I guess.

I’ve learned a lot. Like how many players are at each table. And how the dealer slides out the flop instead of turning them over as he deals them out.

And that a slow roll is when you reveal your cards dramatically in order to build the suspense and, even though they do it all the time in the movies, it’s actually not cool in real poker.

I also learned that in the World Series, the tournament director can penalize a player who breaks the rules or is rude in some way by making them sit out a round.

That’s a problem if you’re the short stack because even if you’re not at the table, you’re responsible for the blinds when it’s your turn.

Impressive, huh?

Now I’m thinking about taking my research on the road.

My mother found an ad in the local paper advertising bus trips to a casino in Connecticut. It’s not Vegas, but how can you write about a casino if you’ve never been in one? Connecticut is better than nothing.

I probably won’t gamble, but I can soak up the atmosphere. And take notes. Maybe they’ll think I’m trying to cheat the house (that sounds like I know what I’m talking about too, doesn’t it?) and kick me out.

My other favorite compliment from tonight was that I successfully straddle the line between comedy and tragedy with my characters and even if something bad happens, she knows they are going to be ok.

I love it when people talk about my characters like they are real people.

Someone else said that my characters remind them of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy O’Toole. Or at least my treatment of my characters reminds them of the book.

I gather that is quite a compliment too, but I’ve not read it so I don’t know.

I hesitate to read the book now in case it influences my writing in some unintentionally illegal way.

So, that’s how I spent my Friday night. Sipping wine, writing and giving/getting compliments.

See why I look forward to these writing workshops so much?

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