Last two Christmases we've been on a cruise just prior to Christmas Day. What a treat that was to walk the streets in Spain, France, Brazil and Italy with many local bakers and craftsmen show off their wares. I've seen cakes and jellies and treats as well as ornaments I've never seen before or since.
Every year I enjoy seeing the posts on the lights and celebrations all over the world. Because I have international fans, I've been invited to view local celebrations of towns I've yet to visit. Once of my readers, Rise, is from Norway, from the town my Grandmother was born in: Bergen.
As I look at the stunning pictures, I love the use of all the colored lights, the fireworks and the sense of a community celebration we don't see here. We save the fireworks for the 4th of July. But why? Christmas here sometimes seems like one mad shopping adventure. I'd rather see lights, hear choirs and listen to wonderful Christmas music sung by children, bright lights and candles everywhere. To me, the celebration of Christmas is the celebration of the heart.
How perfect for a romance writer, right?
My children are grown, but I remember going to San Francisco when I was little, to look at the store displays, having hot chocolate at the St. Francis or the Fairmont – places my parents could never afford to stay. But they could buy me a $20 mug of hot chocolate and some treat.
I remember the time my oldest came running into the house. “Mom! Dad bought a scorched tree!” My husband regretted buying that flocked tree, and it was the tree from Hell as I picked up bits of white flocking all over the house that season. Yes, we still talk about it today, some 40 years later. There are some things a man just cannot outlive and this will be one of them.
I do miss my grandparents, on my father's side – so poor they drank Tang instead of orange juice and bought our gifts from the 10 Cent Store. We loved those little things anyway. I remember when one of my biggest treats from my mother's parents was to get a book of lifesavers – all ten kinds in one box! And maybe a package of chewing gum from the Wrigley's factory near Santa Cruz – where you could go to the factory and buy them in 10-packs cheap.
However we celebrate Christmas, it surely changes through all life's adventures. As I grew to adulthood and began to have children of my own it changed. All the holiday dinners I had for sometimes over 30 guests, and the tradition my parents set of inviting a Stanford student from another country to sit at our table, especially if they did not celebrate Christmas in their country. Our little piece of diplomacy to help heal the world. Share our family with others.
So that's what Christmas is for me. Sharing. Sharing the world and our place in it, our love of each other, our families. That is what the culture of Christmas for me. Celebrating a man who showed the ultimate and greatest love in the universe.
Be well. And let your love light shine.
Today we commemorate the death of President John F. Kennedy, November 22, 1963. This isn't the celebration it once was. I remember those days, when it was the “Land of Camelot” as they called it, the handsome president and his beautiful wife, someone we looked up to, even if we didn't vote for him initially. It was a different time and era in this country, and one I barely became part of. I was in high school when he was shot. I was in College when Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. It was a horrible time with lots of uncertainty. But we survived as a nation.
How soon we forget these things. I remember watching the funeral, sitting beside my mother, both of us in tears, especially when John-John saluted his father's casket.
But most people are surprised to learn that President John F. Kennedy formally recognized and created the U.S. Navy SEALs in 1962. While he didn't invent them, as is sometimes claimed, he was the first to sign into legislation the formal elite branch of the Navy that became the SEALs. Prior to that, SEALs had been known as UDT or “elite frogmen”, since World War II. Learning from some of the heartbreak of earlier beach invasions, under water demolition (UDT) groups were trained to remove some of the land mines and obstacles to future invasion landings. These men were in fact the early SEALs.
In 1962 President Kennedy outlined in his now-famous speech to Congress that he desired to implement an elite fighting force that was well-trained and ready to respond to any “hot spot” or emergency that developed that threatened to destabilize our interests or those of our allies, or American citizens. Most people remember the speech as mentioning “putting a man on the moon,” but he also talked about implementing the birth of the Navy SEALs. Kennedy was controversially interested in restructuring the military to make room for quick, unconventional forms of warfare, to augment and in some cases replace, the massive troop buildup and operations. He didn't create the SEALs, but he was the one who realized their importance and formalized their status and training, and helped gather the funding so the program could go forward and expand into what it is today. He had a vision for us all, some would say.
The two groups formed in 1962 later became 10, with other ancillary teams and crews of special operators from other branches, such that today we have arguably one of the best (not the only) highly trained elite fighting forces the world has ever seen. The gold standard.
You can read more history on the birth of the SEALs here. There is a great quote from Pierre Salinger, the John F. Kennedy biographer, part of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, I found fascinating.
The 1960's were a great time of political turmoil and upheaval in this country. Kennedy's presidency was questioned, frought with problems, and then untimely ended, ushering in another era we all endured: Viet Nam. Those of us who remember those days may find some similarities to events of today. But out of necessity, comes innovation. For a brief time we had Camelot. Kennedy's vision gave us two things: A man on the moon, and the U.S. Navy SEALs.
|View from my window|
I just finished my new novella, Nashville SEAL. It is going to be included in an anthology coming out this December, called Holding Out For A Hero. I plan to release a print and audio version as well.
I've thoroughly loved writing this book, as I do all my books. These colorful characters come to life as I put the story on the page, and I see opportunities to add fun details, sketches of people who would fit in, or, in many cases, don't fit into the story – because I find the deets that don't fit in are sometimes the best and most likeable for readers.
|Fireplace, tossed sheets, what could be better?|
So I put myself up in the lovely Kenwood Inn & Spa in Kenwood, a place I have gone to before when I needed a story “recharging” and what I call growing the kernels of my story in my own cornfield.
It is impossible to live in a heightened state of emotional intimacy 24/7 with anyone, let alone a fictional character, but when I travel to some place like the Kenwood Inn, my regular life fades into the distance and I get to live in my story. I've heard other writers do the same. I try to pick not just a “motel” room stay unless I'm writing about college dorm life. In this case, I was writing about a young singer-songwriter who is experiencing a good degree of success, and decides he wants more out of life, right at the same time something very moving and important from his past comes back on the scene.
|Wine bar writing|
Room service keeps me in the story because I don't have to stop and prepare or share my dinnertime with anyone (yes, this is a solo trip, by necessity), I can go to sleep when I want to, stay up all night and write, edit and doze by fireplace. Just walking the grounds gives me ideas. I have a time-travel romance set in this location, and have referred to it in Underworld Lover, and several of my SEAL books. In my books, it's called the Waterwheel Inn.
With my chapters done and not polished, I decided to finish that job at Las Vegas, since I was going there this weekend for an author signing put on by my friend, Crystal Perkins. I've done events with her in the past. Met up with Lance Taubold, and met a couple of new shining stars in my collection of author friends. I have some posts planned later for that.
|Everyone should lick responsibly, don't you agree?|
So I ran across this store here off the Flamingo, called LICK. Okay, yes, it's a candy store, but OMG I should have shopped here before my bachelorette party at RomCon. Every imaginable thing that had to do with candy, and lollipops, and (ahem) licking, was present. The atmosphere couldn't be more different, but the end result: I still focus on the romance. Watched the beautiful Bellagio water shows several times, wandered along the promenade and did a little naughty shopping. Cherry stuff, like oh, warmers and such, lip gloss, and my Lick Responsibly tee shirt. Some of these things are going to have to stay private, but boy did I have fun! Love the beer cozies, don't you? Not sure where I can wear the tee shirt, but it could be a nice message to wear around the house. Oh yes, the tit mints are kinda cool too. Yes, I am two women wrapped up in one. Well, perhaps three or four, but if you can't have fun, what good is it to be alive?
Even got red Tootsie Pop glasses for my new Romance Rider!
And it gave the right amount of kink and spice I needed to polish the book to it's jewel essence. And I had fun in the process.
I go home to hopefully a pad ready for my Romance Rider, and now that the book is finished, I can start to clean out my office and get her all set up! Life is good!
WOW. Just Wow. I spent yesterday at an all-day seminar in the beautiful Carneros Inn in Napa, with the awesome Elizabeth Gilbert. It was a gift to myself for a year of inspiration, frustration, tears and mostly wonder. I'm at the point in my career I'm ready to hit the re-set button. Taking classes outside of writing, more in inspiration, the brain function and what it means to be in connection and relationship. That goes everywhere. And right now all these thoughts are like a school of colorful angel fishes swimming around my brain as I write them down.
To say I got inspired is to say I am alive. Several things she gave to me, but the first one was her connection with her readers and her audience. Her new book, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear is a #1 Bestseller, and there is no wonder why. It is, as she puts it, her manifesto. I think every writer on the planet should read it. Here are only a few of the things that have settled in enough to be identifiable. And how perfect is it that I've booked a room at the Kenwood Inn for 3 days of writing, reflection and planning out next year's schedule for me. The Kenwood Inn has been prominent in some of my yet-to-be works, and some of my SEAL stories. I have an encounter with the uncompromisingly hunky Victorian British explorer in a time travel novel that is half finished, based upon bringing Sir Richard Burton (the explorer) to modern times, where he would have lived a perfect life. A man living before his time, for sure.
Anyway, that's another story or ten. Here's what I learned yesterday:
Have a conversation with Fear. Let Him Speak. Yes, for me, Fear is a man. He asked me some questions and suggested that perhaps I don't want to run away so fast from him, that his rooms were populated with some of the most interesting characters I've written, hope to write and real-life people who scare me with their brilliance. He was sultry and suggestive, I have to say, even sexy. Does that sound insane? He suggested I hang out with him more, that life would be a little more exciting, that he'd have my back, and would make sure I didn't really get into the kind of irreparable trouble I worried about…He asked me this question, “Sharon, when was it that you stopped riding on roller coasters you loved as a child?” And then he asked, “When was it you decided safe meant you'd live longer?”
Have a conversation with my Faery Godmother. She wrote me a long letter about what's in store for me. It involves dressing up in costumes, going to exotic places, going dancing in a big ball gown by candlelight. “Claim back some of the fun you folded and put away in lavender-scented drawers. They looked nice, Sharon, all folded up, and you thought you were practicing good self care.”
|Better to eat more gelato|
Like the Velveteen Rabbit conversation, she suggested my fun have all the hair rubbed off it and get squishy joints. It doesn't deserve to be folded in a drawer, even if it is lavender-infused…
She also suggested more hair color. More laughter. Finding more people to share the vision with. Oh! I loved this lady, and she didn't look anything like Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, HBC, but she would have been her sister.
Write a Permission Slip. You know the ones, the hall passes you used to get in High School, the permission to do X,Y and Z. What if your inner principal gave you a permission slip for the rest of your life? What would it say? Some of the things on mine were: Permission to be inconsistent. Permission to play the music too loud. Permission to feel and to mine for the feelings. Permission to express love, to be deserving of pure everlasting love.
This was the hardest list of all for me to write in. My inner principal is looking for another appointment. Summing it up, I think he wants to give me Permission to be happy.
Elizabeth gave me permission to do a creativity triage. Suggested we read this poem every day, and I will, by Louise Erdrich:
Advice to Myself
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.
My hope is that I be able to play in this arena forever and that all of you who chose to join me will find your lives inspired as much as I have been by all the wonderful people around me. Enjoy your Sunday, my friends. May it be this way forever…
We've had a wonderful two days at KallypsoCon. I got to meet readers I have never met. We had lots of opportunity to sit, have dinner with, and play games with readers, about half of whom were from the New England area. I had never been in New England in the fall, and, although the bright colors were gone, I still got to see the tail end of it. One more thing checked off my bucket list.
Kallypso Masters does a great job bringing together other authors and readers at every venue she's at. Her loyal fans soon became my fans, and vice versa. In the true spirit of love and friendship, we all help each other as authors, by serving the readers. A reader-centric convention is unusual in this business. In my opinion it is something I wish more conventions focused on.
So what did we do? We had panel discussions about why we write military heroes, how we got started being interested in our genre, what's new for us, and how we write. We told stories and played games that brought tears to our eyes. I met readers from the UK, from Canada, and even Puerto Rico.
There were several husbands who attended, and I was happy to see that. Great to see how they support their author wives, all of them had military backgrounds we could learn from.
Next year's KallypsoCon will be a cowboy theme, and I don't write those, so I won't be in attendance, but if you're a reader and you want to get up close and personal with some of the best cowboy writers in the business, I'd look to book your tickets for KallypsoCon in Casper, Wyoming, early. It will sell out. I already know they have a stable of great authors ready to thrill your reading needs.
We continue this morning with more craft events and some games, and more reader interaction. We had a grat time using old keys from my house fire, making necklaces that readers will enjoy for years to come. Wasn't sure how it would go over, but it was very popular. Now I get to lug that 15# anvil home!!
Sold lots of books, and networked with bloggers and several reviewers who had reviewed my books. It was an honor to be part of this group. Can't wait to get home today, but it was fun being part of this great event.