I stumbled upon a video I loved this week and just thought I'd share it again. Just coming off an intense race to the finish line, doing my layers of editing all while traveling out of state and beginning research on my 10th SEAL book, I think the wanderlust hit me. I started thinking about other things I could be doing with my time, like a perfectly normal adult with ADD. I've accepted this will always be a problem for me. But I also think it makes me the type of person who loves adventure and the dreams of running away from it all.
Just to be clear, my life is great, and this is no reflection on that. I'm grateful for everything I've been blessed with. But there comes a time when I do feel like doing something completely different. My friend Jody and I attended the quilting retreat at Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg earlier in March. I went to Tucson and Phoenix, even drove to Scottsdale to attend the Tucson Festival of Books, research at the UofA library, and enjoyed fellowship with other authors, some new friends and some I'd met last year at the event. Today, I attended the Sonoma County Library Local Authors Showcase and Symposium, connecting with poets, thriller writers, historical fiction authors, memoirists and grammar divas. People had such a varied background from former newspaper reporters to teachers, cops, misfits and wine critics. I learned from all of these wonderful experiences and heard voices I loved in genres I don't usually read.
My schedule is very full this year, too. And I'm planning on launching another 4 books as well as attending 6 more conferences before December. So it's not surprising that I dream of just getting off the grid, unplugging everything but my laptop, and just going on a road trip, or maybe a cabin in Antigua looking for that cheeseburger in paradise again. I'm not running away, I'm running to something unexpected, something that makes me laugh and dream and maybe not do too much talking. Maybe lots of reading.
So when I saw the group Sisters On The Fly, I was enchanted. I was ready for a Calgon moment that might last 10 years. “No men, no kids, no pets and be nice.” What a wonderful dream that would be. Would I miss the men in my life? You bet. But there is something so uncomplicated in the company of women, when they want to be, that is, when they just sit and twitter like blackbirds on a telephone wire, shoot the breeze and laugh a lot.
I joined this group. I probably won't have a trailer until next year some time, and between trips, I can use it as a writing cottage. It would have everything I need: bed, internet connection, a decent shower, a microwave and an umbrella or two. I could pull it with my convertible Murano, stop and write when others are fly fishing. I might even learn how to do that myself. Bring my guns and my laptop and I'm all set!
I mean, what better place to cook up stories than taking a long road trip. I might find myself and never come back!
Polishing a book for some is harder than writing it the first time. I write fairly fast, and when I was first starting out, I sent an email to Diana Gabaldon, asking her about her writing process. She was gracious to answer me. Aside from her writing into the wee hours of the morning, beginning after her family had gone to bed (I relate now but at the time it gave me a heart attack), her greatest tip to me was in the polishing.
“That's where the real jewels, richness and texture of the book happens,” she said. Because I don't read very fast, editing can sometimes be a challenge. It's taken me a long time to accept that my reading skill level is a disability. I can write like the wind, but editing? Hard to do. I've struggled with reading my whole life. It affected my career, what courses I could take in college. I understand what others feel who are handicapped in some way, because I am too. I am floored when readers say they read 1000 books a year. I'd be lucky to read 1000 books in my lifetime.
I get easily distracted by anything. My chickens used to distract me. My garden. The dogs. I usually have to write to instrumental music, and only certain kinds of music work. I like candles. I dress in loose clothing and put my hair up. I have my computer glasses that don't give me a headache. I wash my hands a lot and wear scented hand cream. I wear socks. I drink lots of water and coffee. I have to work at my focus as if I was adding a table of 7 figure numbers. That's how hard it is for me sometimes.
Today I was challenged by the guy who came to work on our brick edging on the patio. He had one of those industrial grinders working from about 8:30 on. Around 11:00 I was seeing double. So I packed up my computer and worked down at the office for a few hours.
I rewrote a couple of love scenes and that helped. When I stay connected to the passion of the story, the heart of the love story, which is always about the couple, and usually about the relationship as well as the sex that describes their relationship, I can use that energy to finish and work on the rest of the book. In fact, in some of my books, I write the heaviest love scene first, to see how the couple develops organically on paper. I love to feel them evolve through my writing.
There is no rushing of this process, just like Diana Gabaldon told me years ago. I'm patient. It takes as long as it takes. I never give up or abandon a project. But I like to think that the harder ones to finish are also my better books.
We think the creative process should just “flow” and writers “get their muse” on. Nope. Sorry to say, it's just hard work, with a lot of discipline and focus. I guess I would call it Intentional Creativity.
Part of what we do as writers is to go to places we do not live, to reach readers and get our name out there. We also rub shoulders with our peers and learn tricks and techniques that make us all better.
So I’m sitting on a nice Arizona night, alone on the patio, with a good bottle of Coppola Claret (yes, a whole bottle because I’m writing tonight and not driving), listening to the tinkling chatter of the other diners, the piano player in the background playing Misty. This is one place the spirit of Clint Eastwood hovers over. I can feel it, just like I can feel the spirit of John F. Kennedy, who once stayed here and left his swimming trunks behind. Wonder what he did when he went on his midnight swim. Oh, just thinking about the stories this hotel could tell!
FDR stayed here. Clark Gable, Teddy Roosevelt and a couple of his buddies went deer hunting in the mountains nearby. I’m not a historical writer, but I’m drawn to places where others have played, been discrete, or in some cases, scandalous. The passion of life, right? Just the thought of this drives my muse crazy as if I was waiting for my lover to walk up and join me. I can imagine all sorts of behavior in living color. Do I want reality or fantasy? I guess I live in both worlds.
Tucson Festival of Books usually has over 150,000 people and over 1500 booths. I think this year it was less, just judging from the traffic. However, I enjoyed engaging in small talk, hawking my books and being gracious when people walk by, look at my covers and snicker to themselves or to their friends. Young Arizona male students find my covers the most fascinating. One even asked me if being a cover model might pay for his college education. I said no.
There is a gentle breeze brushing against my cheeks. The patio is surrounded in blooming orange trees, which waft in my direction. My waiter is tall and handsome, which helps. I am getting myself steeped in the research mode. Tomorrow to Phoenix where I have some appointments to meet some people who can help me with the Dine research I’m doing while here. I was told a story yesterday about the school basement with the “screaming voices” from their death march and internment. Symbols of the tribal culture and some of their myths. I’m stopping by the University of Arizona library on the way, though. And then there’s laundry to do. Ah, the sacred and the profane!
The waiter has just served me the roasted Brussels sprouts and panicotta. The tangy vegetables make me feel positively divine. The wine is warming me. The song now is Moon River. I feel Rod McKuen sitting across the table from me. He’s writing, just like I am. And then he looks up, and we smile.
I guess I have the wanderlust gene in me. I don’t mind being alone, because my heroes are all around me, speaking to me, whispering their stories, nudging me in ways I love. I look like one single lonely woman, but I travel with an entourage that would make Madonna blush. How wonderful to be a writer and to be able to have my job follow me wherever I go. I can feel worshiped and revered though there is no one here to say those words.
Tomorrow is another day in my patchwork life. I stitch the chapters together and weave a story of my heart, share it. Most important part is the sharing. That’s where the love is. Always.
I'm here in Tucson as I write this blog this morning. When I checked into the Arizona Inn Friday night, the first thing to greet me by my courtyard entrance was a blooming orange tree. Have you ever walked under a huge orange bush/tree and smelled those blossoms? Like nothing else on this earth. I robbed a small twig, and put it on the bedside table and let it have its way with my muse all night. They had a good time….
There will be more about this in my next newsletter. And we will be giving the quilt I made away to some lucky reader. I hope it's you. I wish I had the fingers and the time to make all of you one, but perhaps in another lifetime. Right now, I'm only given this snippet of time and I'm making the most of it.
Last week I spent from Sunday night to Wednesday at Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg, California. Healdsburg is important to me because several of my stories take place here. The Monteleone vineyard is here where Marcus and Ann make love in the vineyards and the bloom of their love lasts forever. Hugh Jett combs the bars in downtown Healdsburg doing security for the Monteleones (a book to come later this year). Daniel and Claire walk the square in Heavenly Lover at Christmas time, and Claire, the guardian angel who falls in love with her human charge, joins the angel display in one of the store windows and surprises Daniel. Daniel signs children's books in the book store on the square. Tyler visits Kate at the family winery here, and they stay at a bed and breakfast near downtown, in SEAL Of My Heart. The town is one of my favorites to write.
Bishop's Ranch is a place of retreat and reflection, run by caring staff who are all about the experience of spiritual and personal growth. I'm going to make it a must-do each month, for a self-imposed writing cave. I think better there, just as a change of pace.
The quilting retreat is the second year for me. My friend Jody comes with me, and I'm always amazed at the beautiful pieces others have done. We “stitch and bitch” as they say, but mostly we laugh, listen to music, and just marvel at the beautiful surroundings. I walked the labyrinth, walked under blooming trees, and in general just watched the countryside just begin to lush up with green grasses and see the vineyards beginning to bud. Almost like mother nature takes a big gulp of air and sighs before the frenzy of the wine business takes over.
We all come together, women from different parts of the state, and share the love of quilting and fellowship. I always learn so much. I bought a craft iron and a seam stick for ironing absolutely flat seams, watched techniques of paper piecing and measuring, learned the power of advanced preparation and planning, and discussed and indulged in all the beautiful colors of the fabric. We are like a quilt of many colors: some red, flowered, striped, patterns of the sunset. The theme for the retreat was the daybreak quilt I show up top, but I had the mission to finish mine so I could do a giveaway on the Newsletter. (Remember, if you're a subscriber, you'll have a chance to get in on the drawing.)
We are the sum total of all our experiences, and like the scenes from my stories, these have either been lived, or imagined. Parts of them are bright, parts sultry and sexy, parts emotional, and some dangerous or fearsome. Homefully all the stories are fearsome! I put myself into experiences so I can call out my treasure trove of many colors and bring them to my books. I'm drawn to the stories of the Underground Railroad and the secret messages contained in the quilts. Even during the Revolutionary War there were messages relayed by the women through quilting, the hanging of laundry beside the house, to give signals to the young patriot army. It is a rich history of this nation. I spoke at length with a woman yesterday who reads mainly black history books, and we discussed these quilts for a few minutes. We doesn't read me, but we have the love of history and the lives of our forefathers in common.
Living a colorful life filled with life experiences is what keeps me young. I hope that as I piece together the fabric of the rest of my life, that my quilt will be as beautiful and colorful as some of these, with stories so compelling, they are difficult to put down. And I'm glad I have you to come along with me. Thank you for that, by the way. Sometimes I don't say it enough.
To celebrate Red Friday, here's a tease for you guys who follow the blog. This hasn't had the final finishes, but you get the general idea.. Enjoy! Tell all your friends!
(Excerpt SEAL My Home):
As she opened the front door to her little bungalow, feeling the closeness of this man, observing how her body reacted to the smell of him and the heat he emitted, she knew she was crossing a threshold that was ill planned and not carefully thought out. If he said one nice thing to her, one thing that smacked of a line or a practiced salesman’s pitch, she’d ask him to leave. Oddly enough, she didn’t want anything but the sex. The promises and words were what were damaging. The sex, she thought would be good for her.
What’s up with that?
Her nerves were frazzled. She dropped her keys and kept her back to the stranger who was now standing in her darkened living room, who now deftly descended upon her like those dark vamps she liked to read about. She felt the vibration in the room when he breathed. Her ears buzzed. Her chest heaved as he touched her neck with the back of his fingers. She held her breath, waiting.
“You’re nervous,” he whispered.
It made her eyes water. She nodded. It was a little reveal, like peeling back one thin layer of an onion. One step closer to intimacy to let him know how she felt.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said.
Am I? Is this the right time and place?
But was there ever any perfect time or place? She knew she’d have to some day get over the fear her heartache would eclipse her future and make it difficult to feel anything for any man again.
“Come here, Megan,” he said, even though she could feel his hard body pressed against her backside. Again, he waited. Damned he was slow. From what her girlfriend had said, these guys liked to get it on and get it on a lot. And they liked rough sex, or at least her friend’s husband did. Was it wrong that Megan was hoping for something other than ropes and handcuffs? Something soft and slow to build? Her insides had the potential to warm, but that still left them stone cold.
“Please?” he continued.
Relentless. Confident. He’ll never give up, will he? At least not until he gets what he came for.
Against the alarms screaming out of control in her head, she turned and focused on his lips. He inhaled and carefully removed her dark-rimmed glasses, setting them down on the table by her keys. He removed the clip holding her hair and let it fall, running his fingers through it. She felt his muscled arm drawing her in, the musky scent of his chest, the roughness of the stubble he’d not shaved off today. Deep inside his chest came the sound of a wounded animal just before he said her name.
View SEAL My Home Book Trailer here.
Bad boy Rory Kennedy was raised in foster care, bouncing in and out of trouble along the way. He finds his true family and real brothers as a Navy SEAL, one of the Navy’s elite warriors. When his BUD/S instructor barked the SEAL’s Motto: Only Easy Day Was Yesterday, he knew he had found home.
Megan Palmer works in a bookstore and finds her passion in life through reading steamy romance novels. Her brief affair with a man she later found out was married has left her damaged, until she meets the handsome SEAL, who stands ready to open her world and give her things she’s only dreamed.
I totally missed the passing of Rod McKuen this January. Just like so many things in life, we miss important events when we're rushing off to do all the stuff we do, those endless activities we do to stay busy, become successful. I literally forgot to stop and smell the roses and missed this milestone.
A roommate of mine in college turned me on to Rod McKuen, in the height of his popularity. A poet who dared to say things about love and loving, he moved my heart in ways I knew were important, and would be more important later on. Filled with those flower-filled days of first new loves, I look back on that time with fondness, somewhat immune to the many heartaches that are now faded memories. The passion for love and the love of life lingers in all its living color, happily, even though the pain of loss, but more the loss of what could have been, has softened.
I always wanted to meet Rod McKuen, who was born in Oakland, California, abandoned by his father at birth and ran away from home when he was 11. He would go on to write for Sinatra, and was recorded by Johnny Cash, Madonna, Barbara Streisand and many others. He sold out Carnegie Hall, and used to do a birthday concert there every year (I always thought it was fate that he and I almost share the same birthday). Who can forget his lovely song Jean from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? He wrote about places the Bay Area used to be. Stanyan Street is one of my favorite poems here:
Some other great quotes from McKuen:
“This is the way it was while I was waiting for your eyes to find me.”
“No map to help us find the tranquil flat lands, clearings calm, fields without mean fences. Rolling down the other side of life our compass is the sureness of ourselves. Time may make us rugged, ragged round the edges, but know and understand that love is still the safest place to land.”
Thank you, my love, a lover I never met, kissed or held hands with. Thank you for sharing the insides of your soul, for awakening in me that true passion for life. I vow that, no matter how busy I get, that I won't forget to remember, and to listen to the warm, or forget the sea.
I've been listening to some wonderful music by Jo Blankenburg, who has become one of my favorites. I have about 45 days worth of this kind of music stored on my computer, and yes, I know that's not wise. But I hear something I love, and then I get into a writing groove (I'll tell you some days it's way better than sex and trust me, I like that a lot too) and play the darned thing over and over again. Why? Because I love to be inspired. I think that's why I love to write.
I probably cruised through my early married life with rose colored glasses and missed so much along the way, but I'm defending my imagination and all the worlds I lived in while I was spending the 2 1/2 hours every day in my white Suburban, shuttling the kids from karate, to swimming lessons, acting classes, gymnastics, volleyball and soccer practice, listening to the music that would make my kids groan. Yes I've been an overbearing mother and they did it my way. Of course, now that they are older, I get some grief about it. None of them can listen to New Age music without losing their dinner.
Where did I go when I was doing that? I went to other worlds. Fell in love with beautiful men and handsome warriors. I became the faery princess and the Queen of everything. I lived in worlds where love was supreme and feeling great about being alive was all that was necessary. That's where I was. For years I was there.
My kids? They were in the back of the Suburban. Okay, so I ruined it for them. My license plate was SNOWEYT, because I usually packed around seven or more dwarfs everywhere I went. I even took all four kids to listing appointments, lined them up on the couch and told them to behave while I told the sellers I had about 30 minutes before the wheels came off my little family and boy did we get down to business fast. I became the number one Realtor in my office, then my company, then the whole county while I was traveling to those distant lands and meeting those strange beautiful beings.
I guess you would categorize me as an adrenalin junkie. I want the best part of life. I like the chocolate centers of the chocolate candies at Sees, the soft part in the middle of a cinnamon roll, the “point” of the slice of pizza, the first sip of a cold beer, the part of a song that is so incredibly sweet you will put up with the whole rest of it just to hear those two stanzas again. I used to read to the sexy parts in books, and then read them again with heightened anticipation because I knew they were coming. When I'm writing I write until I get tired, go back to bed and wake up 2 hours later and get like three or four new mornings out of one day. When I listen to educational tapes I play them on triple speed so you can do 45 hours of continuing education in less than 5 hours (btw it only takes about 5 minutes to get used to Mickey Mouse speaking to you). I hate reading manuals and love having someone tell me a really good story. I believe in people and I never give up. I get discouraged, but I never give up.
I once heard a motivational speech by a lady who put it well. She said she wanted the “juice of life”, that sweet part of the orange that is so rare. And to get it, you have to squeeze it. You have to grab it.