Tomales, California is a great little coastal town, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, in Marin County. We used to take long drives through the countryside when my husband and I were first married, so I've driven these winding roads through forests, grasslands and over craggy outcroppings with stunning ocean views many times over the years.
It's been over 30 years since I started the trip this way. Though I've been a Sonoma County resident for almost 42 years, I've been doing it backwards, not from South to North. Saturday it was like driving on them for the very first time. A different perspective.
Took my breath away.
Before children, a group of us young marrieds would gather together at Marshall or Nick's Cove, and eat oysters (and yes, drink a little bit of vino) until we could barely walk. You could spend $20 on food and drink and not break the bank. Saturday's lunch, for instance, without all the extras, came to just under $100. The cottages they rent are spectacular, and would not have been available to us starving students, but are on my TBD list for later in the year. Things have indeed changed.
But not the stunning scenery, or the beautiful little town.
I grew up in Silicon Valley when Los Altos was dusted with apricot orchards. Moving to Sonoma County felt like stepping back in time about 50 years. I've read stories about Jack London haunting these places, and how he used to steal oysters by moonlight. Robert Louis Stevenson and his new bride honeymooned in parts of the Valley of the Moon. Even Sir Richard Burton made a trek through these parts in 1860, the year before he returned to England to marry Isobel, in his search for the spirit of the west. Among other places, he visited Brigham Young in Salt Lake City and his 17 wives.
The remnants of bawdy roadhouses are now upscale motels and bakery/espresso cafes, perfect for a long meandering afternoon of caffeine, conversation and reading.
I'm a great fan of just getting in the car and getting lost some place. Discovering something new. In this case, re-discovering why it is I live in Northern California, and why it feeds my writer's soul.
We took a drive today in West Sonoma and Marin Counties. If you don't know where that is, it's 60 miles north of San Francisco, and west of Petaluma, at the coast. We traveled from Sonoma County South, into Marin County, through green cattle-grazed hills in bright sunshine. No fog, and very little wind. We have a client moving here from out of state, who is considering purchasing some acreage out there, and today was the perfect day to go check it out and send him photos.
We've had so much rain, the hills are still green. After viewing the property, we headed to south to Nick's Cove for some oysters and some chowder. We ran into a local Motorcycle Club, Iron Souls, from Oakland, California. I think there must have been about 50 beautiful Harleys there.
I think I've found a great place to hole up when the fall storms come along. At the Boat House they stoke up the fire and you can stay there well after sunset – perched over the water. Do you see the fog beginning to show itself over the trees?
We took a tour of a couple of the cabins. One is an actual boat converted to a one bedroom rental.
I'm grateful I get to live in such a beautiful spot in wine country, California. Many people come here for vacation, and I get to live here all the time. Just 30 minutes from my house, I can be on the water, overlooking clam and oyster beds Jack London used to steal from by moonlight around 100 years ago. It probably looked very similar then.
The favorite part of my writing day is the very early “wee hours of the morning,” as the song says. Before the house wakes up and the activities of a busy family begin, the early morning quiet has always been so important to me.
My husband and I have gotten into the habit of soaking in the hot tub, waiting and watching the sun rise. These days, there is the shadow of a chalky moon in the sky, and the last few stars. I love the canopy of black turn into a deep vibrant blue, and then lighten until everything is covered in a golden glow.
Hard not to be inspired with this splash of color. Nature's bounty. Evidence of a great day unfolding. I also spend a half hour writing in my journal, and reading some select pieces that bring me things that enhance the quality of my life.
But when the owls are hooting and the early birds are just beginning to stir, there is a magic that descends over my laptop. I love the words written then.
What about you? What do you do in the early “wee hours of the morning?”
Welcome to Day 16 of the A-Z Blog Challenge, and my Letters of Gratitude.
I've said it before here on my blog: We OVERESTIMATE what we can accomplish in a day and UNDERESTIMATE what we can accomplish in a year.
PERSISTENCE: Do it and stuff happens.
I've always been a big one for goal setting. I used to coach people in business. For two and a half days each week I would talk to clients every half hour for 8 hours a day. My job was to help them become more productive.
Most people would come to the phone feeling they'd been missing something, that they needed that secret that would propel them into the stratosphere. Our level of production at the time was so huge, they couldn't see themselves being able to do a tenth of what we had accomplished in business. “Sharon, what's that missing piece? What's that spark that motivated you to go to the next level?” Everyone thought there was some secret to high levels of achievement. They hired me to give it to them.
My job was to help them realize that the secret was within them all along. You don't have to be smarter, faster, prettier than anybody else. Every writer alive has been told, “You're a natural.” We all think we are all so special, don't we? Yes, we have to believe in our work. But the truth is, TALENT IS OVERRATED.
It's persistence that gets us to where we want to go. If you want to do and go where others haven't gone, you have to do what others won't do to get there. Everyone wants a shortcut. A magic bullet. A technique or brilliant answer to all our problems, without learning through trial and error, what we should be doing.
Bella Andre taught me this. I don't think I've ever run across a harder working writer. And she reads a book EVERY day, too. She's managed to turn her career from mid-list author without a contract to megablockbusting Indie author phenom in less than 2 years. She did it by doing what others wouldn't do.
How many of us would have quit if we had a big deal withdrawn? Who picks up the pieces after the Snoopy Dancing when there is no party? When the bride and groom don't show up to the wedding? Bella went to work. She got very good at literally running over every obstacle that could come her way.
She became persistent.
Did she fail? Sometimes. Did she have doubts, disappointments? Of course. But just like the Realtors I used to coach, and I've coached probably 200-250 of them during my time, I would tell my clients what they needed to do to be successful and less than 10% would do it. It's probably even less than 10%.
But not Bella. What about you? Do you show up every day and do your best? Like I said in the letter O post, are you Open for business? Really?
We are over halfway there on the A-Z Blog, letters of gratitude. I'm grateful you're here, too. Did I say that before?
Open hand. When we think about it, and open hand is an invitation. A calling to take someone's hand and walk. A chance to receive a gift. An indication we are open and not closed to the other. Opening ourselves up to our compelling future.
What an open hand is not is a fist. Fists hold things tightly. Like the monkeys they catch by putting holes in trees or pumpkins and filling it with treats. The money won't let go and then can't get his little hand through the hole that would give him freedom. If only he would let go and open his hand. He would be free.
Fists are also used to defend ourselves. When our stomach and psyche is balled up in a fist it is cold and hard as a lump of coal. We protect, and therefore become smaller, focused on defense rather than logic, rather than receiving. We stave off blows with a fist.
Don't get me wrong, there is a time and place for battle. I have the scars to prove it. I have the stories. There are those that are trained to battle for us, so we don't have to. So we can live a “normal” life without having to worry about our safety.
But I find most my own personal growth has come when I receive, rather than fight off. When I listen and not speak. When I think before I act.
Are you open for business in your life?
When we began this race, we expected to win. We didn't plan to lose. But something came along, and got in the way. We slow down and focus on the wrong things. We say, “Oh no, not that!” and then that thing happens.
We learn from our mistakes, if we can extricate ourselves out of the hole we sometimes dig, blaming ourselves or others for those errors. You've heard it said before, “when you're in a hole, stop digging.” I like this statement because it contains the dose of humor we so humbly need when we have been challenged, and perhaps didn't fight the war as cleanly or swiftly as we should have. We focus on the disappointment of the now, rather than the possibilities of the future.
But we survived. Perhaps that is what we should be grateful for. We live to fight, love, write, do whatever it is our work is on this planet, another day. We have accomplished enough to have a second chance at that challenge. It hasn't defeated us. It has, in fact, made us stronger.
Regret is a debilitating emotion that does no one any benefit. We live in the past when we regret something. We second guess another choice and how that would have benefitted us. We don't see the perfection in what has happened, what was accomplished. A friend of mine once wisely said, “We get negative when we forget all the great things that have happened to us.”
In truth, being grateful for what we have received (again, the donut analogy), and not focused on what we don't have is renewing and life-bringing. Being grateful requires we be in action. We do the tools we know help us. We sharpen our sword of discernment, we oil the mechanisms of our tongue and our body language, we become calm and receive messages rather than send out hateful ones. This is how we prepare for the battlefield of the mind. We contribute. We defend against the darkness by receiving the light.
We get up, dust ourselves off, and say Next. And we look forward to our compelling future.
I had a lot of choices for the letter M. I'm running 2 days Late, which could have been the one I did yesterday for L, but life is doing what life does. And I've had some good insights in the last 24 hours about what it takes to be a mother.
When your children grow up you have to let them do what they are going to do. We always want what's best for them. Always. We raise them as best we can, given the tools available to us. I think most of us mothers have some kind of intuitive sense of what is right and good for our children. But there are times when stress, or other factors affect our decisions.
There's a fine line between helping, and truly loving our child, though. We can all look back on our own childhoods, and see evidence of mistakes made that have perhaps caused us unnecessary pain. We swore we would not do the same for our own children. But like I said, life gets in the way, and we are, of course, not perfect. Does anyone else hear their own mother's voice when we've had those unpleasant conversations, or when we were angry? I know I do.
Part of loving your child, or anyone, is in remembering the boundaries we need to establish for ourselves. I've been guilty of putting myself second many times. Not good when it causes confusion and pain. And often the recipient doesn't understand the cost. No one can monitor our internal cost like we can.
And then I have to remember I don't control the world. I have to let it all go, just do the best I can. A quote on my mother's funeral program reads, “There are two things you give your children. One of them is life. The other is wings.”
Welcome to day 12 of the A-Z Blog Challenge, and my theme of Letters of Gratitude. I think I can safely say I have been addicted to love. Hardly been a time in my life when someone else wasn't at my side. How strange that now that I have had all these years in a long term relationship, that I could actually see that I don't NEED it, but WANT it. Instead of fixing it, tweaking it to become perfect, I can LET IT BE. And, if I had to, I could live without it.
I'm not talking about losing love, or reminiscing on lost love. I'm realizing that I choose to love another the way they are, the way we are: lumps, warts and all. That life is perfect just the way it is.
Another lesson I've learned this year is to Let It Be. I admit to being a drama queen. We've had some family drama in the past couple of days. The Big Kahuna of Drama with the capital D concerning one of my kids. But family is all important to me. My writing, my blogging, my other friendships outside of my family are also important, but they take second to my family. I can't fix everything in their lives like I'd tried to do as they were growing up. I have to love them, warts and all, the way they are.
I think when you love someone with pure motives, the very best in yourself comes out. It's one of the themes in my writing: Love Heals In The Gardens of the Heart. It is what drew me to romance writing in the first place. I enjoy living in the hearts of my characters as they discover the “other” and the effect they have on their lives. In the claiming, the connection, comes the miracles and the freedom to feel limitless. There is trust, faith, hope. It is almost a spiritual experience.
Another thing that Love isn't is doing things. I've been a “gotta do more” type of gal. If packing for a volleyball tournament is important, I adopt the fill-my-Suburban-so-full-that-there's-no-room-for-my-daughter kind of mindset. When she stood there in the parking lot, looking up to me and asked, “Mom, there's no room for me here,” I couldn't believe I had been so focused on the “things” for our week-long tournament, and not my daughter, who I was doing it for.
If you can this weekend, go rent Love Actually. The movie explores several couples and their struggles with love, and love lost. What character do you see yourself as? What actor/actress would you trade places with for just a few minutes? I'll bet you can guess who I'd be.
Welcome to Day 11 of the A-Z Blog Challenge, letters of gratitude.
When I was in my 20's, I couldn't understand how anyone managed to like living to be 50 or 60 or older. I would look at people's faces and see all the wrinkles, the lines. How their bodies morphed into something resembling an apple from an hourglass.
Though there were always exceptions to this rule, I just couldn't see myself getting old. And I wondered how anyone could do it.
But time and gravity plays tricks with us all. I'd suck in my tummy (which is getting smaller every day, thank you) when I used to look at myself in the mirror in the morning, and I'd see a young woman of 20, not the one that was there. Until recently.
Now I see my body for what it is and what it is not. Wrinkles and all. Lumpy parts and parts that still manage to stay smooth and soft. I am seeing more and more the reality of who I am. And okay, I will admit it publicly, expensive underwear helps!!
Part of my journey this past year has been to learn to do with less, to learn how to manage the big stresses in life, when it looks like it all will be taken away. At some point this past year I realized that I didn't own my stuff, my stuff owned me. A friend reminded me that I stressed over giving up some of my stuff because I placed too much importance in it. Otherwise, it wouldn't cause me so much pain to lose it. The really important things in life are not made of stuff.
I read blogs by young women who should have their mouths scrubbed out with soap, and regularly. I've made the mistake sometimes of speaking my mind, to object to something, or someone's attitude when it would have been better to zip it, and I've caused problems for myself. I get to feeling righteous when there is only one who can be truly righteous.
Yes, I am grateful for the wisdom that comes from years of making mistakes, saying the wrong things, and learning how to listen more and speak less. Being kind is a virtue that comes gracefully with age, and from appreciating every living being, regardless of the odd little worlds they drag around with them. It comes from releasing the resentment or fear I hold onto. Making an extended hand instead of a fist.
After all, salvaging a relationship is always better than being right. And that can't be bought or sold. It is given, by one who is truly kind of heart. It rewards the giver more than the receiver.
A much wiser person than I once said that our lives are not about the destination, but the journey. What we learn along the way is the value, not the where we wind up.
“No person is your enemy, no person is your friend, every person is your teacher.” (Florence Scovel Shinn)
“Sharp, pointy people help polish you into the jewel that you are.” (Kristen Lamb)
“Life is what happens while you're making other plans.” (John Lennon)
So I guess I would have to say I am grateful for every event in my life — ones that are labeled “good” and ones that challenge me. Either way I win. If I endure something I gain in experience. Life becomes its own reward. I'm on a boat, being ferried on a river I cannot control, I learn because I remember to have faith that the journey is the reward.
Teachers are everywhere. I love the saying, “I know what I think I know, but I can set it aside for what I have yet to learn.” When we're ready, the teacher appears. I've also learned that a chest full of pride makes me cautious. Something is out there waiting to teach me a lesson I hadn't anticipated.
These are truly magical times, then. I hear so much pain around me. People in this country are being challenged financially every day, questioning what is needed and what should fall by the wayside. What is good and true and pure and what needs to be shed like an old skin. All those discoveries are good for us, but not easy to go through. Sometimes I wish there were a softer, kinder, gentler way, but there isn't. I have to remind myself to be grateful for what I have and not what I don't. Someone said this weekend to focus on the donut and not the hole.
Although, in my case, I can't focus on the donut either. But that's a story for another time.
Welcome to day 9 of the A-Z Blog Hop. My month long topic is on things I'm grateful for.
I have some traditional writer friends who think it is almost sacrilegious to speak of Indie publishing, and that makes me sad sometimes. I am happy for their publishing success, and God knows, it's tough to get a contract these days. But being Indie doesn't take anything away from them. If someone can sell books without a large publisher, so be it. I have friends making upper 6-figures and higher, doing so.
There is no question that being a Hybrid Author is better. Those that have a backlist, and are able to take advantage of this trend, are being rewarded for years of being mid-list authors who made very little money. Writing is fun, but don't misunderstand me. It is work. I write to get paid for it. The fact that I enjoy it only makes me able to do it.
I think there is perhaps some fear some NYC published authors have that the Indie craze is hurting their sales. Not true. I think when there is more variety, there will still be those books that will stand out, no matter what source they sprang from. I don't think people who order books on Amazon look to see if it is Indie published or not. People buy because they hear about the book or the author, from blogs like this one, or they search by category online. Bookstores are a whole other world, and they will always be there, but the trend is toward more electronic reading.
So I'm grateful for the many new opportunities to read a variety of authors, and have my works out there for others to enjoy. Would I sign with a NYC house some day? Of course. But in the meantime, I'm doing my job working on my brand, learning about what it takes to be successful. Sticking close to my writing friends.
And working on being the best romance writer I can be. Because with Indie, I can.
Welcome back to day 8 of the A-Z Blog Challenge. This month I am doing the letters of gratitude.
I read an interesting story yesterday in the local paper. A woman bought an old dresser or trunk, and inside the piece she found some letters written during WWII from a soldier to his new bride. They couldn't wait until they could go on their honeymoon, which was postponed due to the war.
The woman who found the letters located the couple, still living in the area, and returned them. What a miracle it was that they were both still alive and they were able to re-read the letters, and pass them down to their children and grandchildren.
I thought about what a great romance that would make. Sometimes I wish mainstream romances involved older lovers, sometimes. Seems like what sells are books about people falling in love in their 20's and 30's, and believe me, there is nothing wrong with that! Maybe with the Indie opportunities, another kind of love story could be written, and sold. And wouldn't it make a great story about a honeymoon taken maybe 50 or 60 years later? People finding each other after years of marriage and raising children, and perhaps burying their spouses?
The picture above is my honeymoon in 1971. We left for Europe the day after the ceremony, and spent the next 3 months driving all over England, Scotland, Spain, France, parts of Germany, Belgium, Italy, Yugoslavia (called that at the time) and all the little countries in between. We camped the whole way, cooked over a fire pit and met people from all over the world. We had bought our car in the Netherlands, with Dutch license plates, so no one knew we were American until they talked to us.
It was a wonderful trip. Towards the end, in Spain, we were robbed. Don's passport and all our money was stolen. We spent this day in the American Consulate in Barcelona, applying for and receiving a small loan and papers to get his passport re-issued so we could leave the country.
In the lobby was an assortment of people: An American woman who had gotten married to a Spanish man the night before after a raucous party, and now wanted an annulment; a barefooted teen spacing on acid who had lost everything somewhere he couldn't remember and couldn't string two words together in a sentence; a father who had lost his son on a train accident, and was trying to bring his body home since he had been buried as a John Doe.
It was a good look at the life of a consular official in the 1970's, and I can imagine it would be a tough job, dealing with all these problems. But none of this could diminish the glow we felt on our Honeymoon, and the love coursing through our young veins. We were literally drunk on love, and being penniless and without passport made no difference. Even trying to communicate with the police officials to report the theft (and I had to speak French because they didn't understand Don's Spanish), we laughed off as just another experience we'd talk about for years.
Some of these stories would fit into an Elmore Leonard book, and I've often thought he could write about The Honeymoon From Hell type of thing I'd enjoy reading.
Watching people has always been a pastime of mine, starting way back before I was married. It makes me the kind of writer I am today. I love the creating characters, putting them in places they would not normally be in, getting them into jams and getting them lovingly out.
So because today is H and stands for Honeymoon, let me do a little shameless promotion. Here's my blurb for Honeymoon Bite, now available on Nook, Kindle, and Apple:
Anne caught her husband cheating with the maid of Honor before their wedding cake was cut. She decided to take her planned and paid for honeymoon in Tuscany, alone. On the evening of what was to be her wedding night, she gets bitten by a female vampire.
Marcus Monteleone has waited three hundred years to find his fated female, only to discover her dying in his arms. He saves Anne's life by turning her, and then works to gain her trust, to cope with being a newly-formed golden vampire.
But when Anne finds out Marcus has not been completely truthful about his past, she vows to live as a human, and shuns the vampire world. Alone and unprotected, she falls prey to the very villainess who took her human soul, and who now takes the only man she’s ever loved.
Which lover will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the other before they both are lost?