|Making soap for mom and dad.|
Most of us have fond memories of the holidays when we were children. I can still remember making Swedish Tea Ring with my grandmother Christensen, in her kitchen in Fresno. My little hands worked the dough, and sliced little holes as the wreath was made, revealing the red and green candied cherries, the nuts and cinnamon tucked inside. It wasn't Christmas unless I could do that.
My grandparents sang Christmas carols in Danish, as well. My grandmother Fox told the story of how, as a new bride, they were snowed in one Christmas, and she couldn't get to the store. Instead of having a big feast, they had frozen sausages, pineapple rings, which she made with sprinkled red and green sugar, with red candy dots making the berries at the bottom of the wreath. To this day, we fry these little pineapple wreaths as we tell the story to the younger generation.
|Our 37# bird this year. Cooked in a bag.|
My little brother sang “Binkle Bells” at night when he was about three or four, when the whole house was quiet on Christmas Eve. I will never forget the sound of his sweet little voice echoing throughout our house.
We'd invite Stanford students from different countries to share our Thanksgiving tables. I remember Lali from Turkey, Bobo from France (his real name was Hubert), and our favorite vagabond traveler who had been all over the world, Currie. I could listen to his stories about his travels throughout the jungles and beaches of Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand years before there was a war there. My mother taught him how to bake bread and cook because he'd hired on to an Alaskan exploration crew as a cook, and didn't know the first thing about it. Our friend, Harold, another student, taught my brother and I how to collect pennies.
I loved listening to Grandpa Fox's sermons, and, although I was embarrassed having to walk down the church aisle behind Grandma Fox (because she wore 7 purses), it was a special time for the Fox grandchildren, because the church body loved us as much as they loved Grandpa. He was and still is the largest person in life, who had a big God and the heart big enough to envelop us all.
|Butternut Squash from the garden|
When my brother and I sometimes stayed with them in Napa, sometimes women and children would be sheltered there, hidden away from an abusive husband. We would be awakened, and asked to sleep in the living room, so the mother and her children could have a warm bed to safely sleep in at night. We also learned that homeless people learned they could get a free meal at my Grandmother's rear kitchen door, and we knew there had been marking left on the fencepost, although we could never tell where those marks were.
When our kids were younger, we took a cruise at Christmas to the Caribbean, and were entertained by a local children's choir with their island-flavor Christmas carols one special Christmas Day. We watched monkeys come up to us on the beach and large parrots with colorful foliage robbed us of our fruit at a picnic.
I remember my oldest, D.J., arguing with children at a Macy's in San Francisco, talking to the “Talking Christmas Tree” and defending his honor, when these children called him stupid and made fun of the tree. “I'm your friend, Mr. Christmas Tree,” he told him. I was never more proud.
I was lucky. And so now I complete the cycle, spreading the stories. It's so difficult now, because we can't all sit at the same table. The little ones are so precious. My next-to-the-youngest last night told me this, “Grandma, I wish it was Christmas.”
I agree. With all four of my children safe and in the US out of harm's way, their spouses and children by their sides, we were all together this year. I think that makes it about the most perfect Thanksgiving and early Christmas it could ever be.
What about you? What's been special about your holiday so far? I'd love to hear about your traditions…
Thought you also wouldn't mind a couple of other shots of my San Francisco model, Justin Thomas (who is about as nice to meet as he looks). Just 2 more days. Ok ladies, start your engines!
You can order Bachelor SEAL here. Enjoy!
|She's in the fantasy of the story. He eats cake.|
I always told myself that I loved writing my stories so thoroughly that I would never experience burn-out, or need a break. I told myself that was what other authors did who perhaps had overwhelming things come up in their lives: family concerns, economic downturns or just life in general, and this somehow wouldn't apply to me. Because none of these things would happen to me. I always thought of myself as bullet-proof. Unstoppable. I'm a great one for giving this kind of advice too. Just ask me.
And then June-July of this year happened. I can't say what it was. I knew something was up (still in denial mode) when I knew I shouldn't read my reviews and couldn't stop from doing so, when friends who had phenomenal success suddenly made me feel like a loser, or when I made up stories about the significance of book sales, how fast people got back to me, and on and on and on it went. You know the drill. Your mind goes on a dribble like chasing oversized zucchinis down a hill. These lumpy thoughts felt like my brain was filled with busy little ants trying to make a kingdom of my gray matter.
|Seeking vehicular meaning. Not.|
Every one of my calendars was still on July, until last week. My desk looked like a hamster was nesting there. I hated to check social media, stayed off Facebook and especially Messenger, but a few got through. When people started thinking perhaps I was dead, I had to laugh. Even then I didn't respond sometimes. I know. It was selfish, self-absorbed, poor manners. But I needed a break.
This December 15th it will be ten years since I started writing. It will be eight years since I published my first little novella, and five years since I published my biggest seller, Accidental SEAL, my first book to take off and begin to make some serious money. I've taken roughly sixty online writing classes, attended about a hundred RWA Chapter meetings, attended probably close to that number of book signings and online FB events. I have a huge following and newsletter list, and lots of adoring fans who fill me with delight. So, what's the problem?
|The emergency brainectomy of life.|
At first I thought I'm boycotting social media because, after all, this last election cycle had to be one of the nastiest one in our history. I was so disappointed to read how my very good writer friends had positions I thought were crazy, or how they thought my positions were. I stopped talking politics except at home, but I should have stayed out of it there too. There was nothing redeeming on social media and I felt like a mouse in that enormous flywheel, running, running, running to catch up. I still missed things, deadlines snuck up on me, and others I had to just walk away from.
But social media wasn't the reason for my situation. Amazon wasn't the big bad monster interfering with discoverability and book sales. I wondered if my Red-White-and-Blue-Rah-Rah-Love-The-Military themes in my books were getting shoved down in the algorhithms. Was there too much competition? Or, did I not work hard enough? Did I believe in myself enough? Where was God, my family and my friends and how come they couldn't fix me? Help me?
|I expected to look 20 when I peeled this off.|
Facials and massages didn't work. The soapmaking classes, collage classes, walks in the park, gardening, starting a new business, traveling to Mexico, didn't work. I dyed my hair red, and that made me laugh, but it didn't put the fire in my soul. I listened to music, burned a ton of candles, stayed out in the sun as much as I could stand, and even tried to go vegan for awhile. I tried to read and couldn't get through any of the first chapters. I got more sleep than I've had in years. I cancelled seven events, dealt with a blood clot to my leg and a minor stroke my husband had. Everything is fine. No life-threatening things on the horizon then or now.
So, what was it?
It was my logical mind trying to do a BDSM session with my creative mind. It took special glee in whipping and tying my creative self up with “that doesn't works” and “you are so stupid” comments, humiliating that part of me where all the magic lives. And the longer it went, the more my logical mind tried to be in control. I was trying to figure it all out.
I love the story about the two dogs. One dog is the vicious, fearful one, and the other dog is the excited, loving and creative dog that loves affection, connection and that sense of coming home. That famous Native American story goes that we have to decide what dog we feed.
The only way through it is to give myself over to the Creative Brain. There is no real control, is there? We don't know why music fills our soul, or why flowers make us happy, or why sun brings us some sort of divine energy from the Heavens. Our creative side has no limits, no borders, no barriers and no regrets.
And it's a choice. That's what I've chosen.
Will I go back to being a social butterfly? No. I'm going to be careful. I'm going to pace myself. I'm going to be careful who I hang around, who fills my day. But I'm going to make most of it filled with my characters from the books. I've been missing them.
And unlike real life, I can have as many lovers in my fantasy life as I choose. I guess what I found, after all this wandering is not my brain, but my heart. Writing stories is the most enjoyable activity in my life. That's the dog I'm feeding.
What do you think? I'd really love to hear it…(kiss, kiss).
I put everything on hold yesterday and attended a soap and lotion making class held through The Goat Farm. OMG I had so much fun. Was like a play day with several lady friends. My hairdresser told me about The Goat Farm, and I intended to schedule a meet and greet sometime soon with Mindy and her husband, who own the farm. Then I discovered she was having two classes on making soap and making salves and lotions – I got in and Ta Da! Another new world has opened up for me.
You already know I do paper collage. And I love to quilt. I have been an organic gardener for over 40 years now, and I have a big local family, a business to run, helping with the family business occasionally (my former career in Real Estate), and on and on and on. I'd always thought I would make a wonderful grandmother, staying home to knit, sew things, make collage art, decorate the house, make candles and soap, write romances and garden.
Well, my life is sort of like this. Today, I will be taking my expecting daughter on a little mother-daughter shopping. Her baby is due in October, and her shower is next week. Then I spend a week partially in Las Vegas for some real estate things, and then off to Ottawa for Romancing the Capital, Eve Langlois's wonderful event, where I hope to see some great dedicated readers I've never met in person before…
So this week is about finishing, getting my instructions ready for the garden watering so that doesn't turn into an epic fail, making sure everything I need to get done gets done this week. And so why not take a soap-making class? Meet some new friends and indulge myself in scents and beautiful soap and lotion art?
My long term plans are sort of turning out. The part that isn't is I forgot to meditate and dream/look forward to the deadlines in my life. The trick, for me, is to float through life, doing all these things, and make it look artsy, effortless and soul-affirming, while making sure I keep to my commitments to others. After all, I am not independently wealthy. I didn't marry Prince Charming who has a trust fund and unlimited resources. And I'm the primary bread-winner in our family. So I can't piddle and dawdle too long. But I have to trick my brain into thinking I am living the life of ease and luxury, the life and soul-affirming things of my every day, so that the stress doesn't get in the way of me actually doing anything.
I have several partnerships. First, and foremost, I partner with myself. Am I getting healthier as I age? Am I doing what things I want to do while I can do them? Am I managing my finances and my time in such a way that there is more life at the end of the month instead of more stress? Do I live in a house of my design, a place where I enjoy being and where I can feel my soul growing? Or, does it limit me? And is the cost (time/emotional energy) worth the result?
I partner with my husband. Not everything is perfect all the time. After some 46 years of marriage, we've done a pretty good job of balancing the urgent and the necessary, with the folly, leaving time for creative endeavors and explorations. I think we do best at the explorations. For me, that's travel. Part of being a good partner is learning and telling the truth on what we can and are willing to bring to the table. I'm no Cinderella either. But partnerships don't do very well under stress or chaos, and a lot of our time is spent making sure these things happen only on a limited basis. Gardening, traveling, going on soap-binges or shopping (in moderation) helps with this, too.
I partner with my other family members. I am nearly the oldest woman member of my little tribe. That comes with it some responsibilities to pass on what I've learned in a way that doesn't make my family feel like I've hit them between the eyes. I want to give them memories they can laugh about when I'm gone. And yes, I admit, I'd like there to be a big hole when I leave. I'd like to be missed.
Partnerships with others in my real estate or writing community, in other endeavors I'm involved with requires telling the truth and learning who and what I can trust. I have some partners I'd love to listen to but would never count on in a crisis. I have others who I can count on for different things, but not for all things. I sort and pick, and yes, occasionally dead-head my friends and associates. No sense trying to make or keep a friend who is drifting, or not wanting to reciprocate, or for whom I have to do all the heavy lifting. As I get older, I've been better and better about discerning those things. And I've made some major screw-ups along the way being too trusting. But the lessons have been massive, and the circumstances have taught me a lot about myself. Just like raising children, being long-term married, growing a garden or starting a successful business — failure is part of the story.
I guess I could sum up my life as a patchwork of things, some found, some discovered, some worked for, some gifted and some lost, or lost and re-found. It is a blend of highs and lows, colors and blandness, determination and creativity, art and science and a little magic thrown in along the way.
I guess these are all life skills I'll need some day when I take my next great adventure into the unknown. I take that hole that hopefully will be made here and bring that value to wherever else I'm going. And then give it all away again.
Because, in the end, all of it is a series of giving everything away, in various stages of our lives. It's not about receiving all day long. For me, it's about watching how my gifts change the world around me. My gardens. My books. My loves. My family. My quilts. My spaces.
What about you?
Oh yes, you think I'm joking? I did it this morning. Last night I needed something very light to wear because it was still near 100 degrees at bed time. So, I wore one of my black long lacy nighties worthy of any erotic Halloween. As I do these days, I get up and water my garden in whatever I've been wearing to bed. So, today I vamped in my black nightgown. I deadheaded like any good witch, picked replacement roses that had wilted last night beside my bed in the heat, checked my cucumbers and melons, pulled some bolted lettuce, clipped my coriopsis and daisies, and added extra sprinkler timers to the flower bed and part of the lawn that doesn't catch water yet.
We have no neighbors so I can do this. My gown was muddy and wet, but refreshingly stuck to my body in cold ribbons in the hot breeze. Yes, I started about 6:30 AM and didn't finish until nearly 10.
The story I'm finishing is a novella, and I'm in love with this couple. Yes, I know, I do say this every time, but I am in love with Trace and Gretchen, both second time arounders. Trace has just transferred to Kyle's Team 3 from an east coast team, like Cooper did in the early books. Gretchen is Kate's sister (of Kate and Tyler in SEAL Of My Heart that was just on a Book Bub special), Book 7 of the SEAL Brotherhood Series. She was married to a professional basketball player until he outed his womanizing on one of the tabloid TV shows and the marriage was over. So, Gretchen has some baggage, but nothing Trace can't work out.
Many of you will remember that Tyler's sister, Linda Gray, is a romance novelist, in her thirties, and Tyler modeled for the cover of her book. Linda has never married, but she's one outrageous character. Like me, she wears red all the time and lives a life in her books she never gets to have in real life. So she and Gretchen are becoming acquainted and best friends. While they both go after Trace, from two different corners.
This is an unedited chapter I hope you'll enjoy. This novella will be part of Tropical Tryst, an anthology of works from 25 of your favorite authors, releasing August l, and available for preorder now.
Enjoy the story. I plan on doing a full length book with this couple next year.
The scene takes place as Gretchen is getting situated in the room she's sharing with Linda, in an old plantation-style Hawaiian home built in the 1800's. It is up in the hills, with views of several of the Hawaiian islands and the beach and ocean several miles away. Linda thinks she going to use this as the location for her next novel, about a Hawaiian girl of royal lineage who falls in love with a Navy SEAL.
So, here's a chapter (unedited) from SEAL My Love:
Thank you, readers, for my great launch week for Jake2. I truly appreciate your feedback and support! Loved writing this book!
Sometimes you get into a story, and it becomes deeper than you'd planned, or you get caught up in a secondary character who makes his/her appearance on stage and completely takes over the storyline for a time.
With Band of Bachelors: Jake, I had one of those occurrences. I loved writing about this dysfunctional family and all their problems. Jake, based on a real SEAL I knew briefly, had fathered four children with three different women, not because he was a bad person, but because he couldn't say no, and wasn't careful. It didn't matter to him if sex brought him more children because he loved his children.
I know there are “norms” and I get hit with occasional comments from the Reader Police, informing me about how I've bended or broken the rules. In the words of one of my delightful writer friends, “You don't have to worry about breaking the rules, just understand the rules you are breaking.” She breaks them all the time, and so do I. I think that gives variety and spice to the romance genre, and we also get to try out things that perhaps we wouldn't have been able to if we all subscribed to the same lock-step rules.
So my guy is one of those who doesn't pay attention to the seed he spawns. Okay. That still doesn't disqualify him as a hero, because he makes good on his intentions – just learns the lesson later than most. And that happens in real life, right?
So, at the end of Band of Bachelors: Jake, I already knew there had to be a Book 2. I also am aiming more toward things that could be made into TV or movie pilots, and, from talking to screenwriters and others who produce TV pilots, they usually want the same character in each episode, not different couples, like I have in the beginning of my SEAL Brotherhood Series. So, I've been testing how I could do this, and have done it now three times: with Jameson in Nashville SEALs, Fredo in Fredo's Dream, and now with Jake2.
As a writer, I try to look for new projects for me, experiments that tickle my fancy (maybe some other things too, but I won't mention them!) and keep the creative part, well, creative! In Paradise, I wrote that book in first person. In SEAL Of Time, I created a paranormal Navy SEAL, son of Poseidon, who is an immortal healer.
As a reader, you like that, right? I know as a reader of some of my favorite authors, I sure do. I love seeing new things my favorite authors can accomplish. It's like opening a new chapter on a familiar book, and discovering something you hadn't read before. Thanks for taking the journey with me!
There are lots of things that satisfy me about gardening. Here are some of my favorites.
Preparing the Soil:
Yesterday afternoon we were weeding the garden. I've planted carrots, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage and lettuce in long rows, along with onions and potatoes. Every year for nearly twenty years I'd get a 10-yard dump truck load of mushroom manure from the Mushroom Farm in Petaluma. In case you don't know how much that is, it's a pile that would nearly touch the second story of a house! I'd work this into the dark clay soil one wheelbarrow at a time (and yes, my arms got sore). I usually got a sunburn on that day, and for a week afterwards, the whole yard smelled like a manure pile.
To me, it smelled like Heaven! Really! So, last night, as I was pulling these weeds, they came out so clean, the soil was so balanced and lovely, with just the right amount of moistness and nutrients, it was pure pleasure. My remaining little plants are standing straight and tall this morning. A great garden takes years in the making, because it has to start with wonderful soil.
I've hired gardeners to help with some of the heavy labor, and help set up irrigation systems, something I've not taken the time to learn. Some day. All of them remark how they'd like to put in this system and that, to help with the watering. And they'd look at me strange when I'd tell them, “But I like the two hours a day it takes to water.”
I really do. I look over the leaves as the wand spreads the wet goodness and washes away the dirt and grit, I watch as it sinks into the soil. I snip the heads off flowers while I water (I wear an apron with clippers, a small shovel, mosquito repellant, some assorted seeds for in-filling, a couple plastic plant identifiers and a permanent marker, along with some string). I replant seeds that didn't come up, or replace a plant that won't grow properly with a new seed, or bury the seeds I'm dead-heading back into the soil to create volunteers. It's the tending it takes to notice, adjust and gently coax and guide my garden into a thing of beauty.
And it very much is like writing a book.
Small shoots of cabbage and lettuces are plucked for salads. Othertimes I just thin the plants so that the ones remaining have room to grow. When your fingers work the soil so carefully and closely, you see things you would miss otherwise. Last night I discovered one of my baby praying mantis bugs. I put a larvae of them on each of two rose bushes in my garden out back. Each is supposed to harvest about 500 little mantis, who are voracious eaters of aphids and other non-beneficial bugs. Since he was crawling over the little pile of weeds, I carefully cupped my hands around his little 1/2″ body and placed him back in the roses where he could find the best food. Unless I'd been on my knees doing this job, I'd have missed getting introduced to him!
Every year my garden takes on a new personality, like the books I write. Working on my hands and knees, or watching from above carefully, helps me get to know the garden that wants to reveal itself to me. Yes, I don't grow the garden. The garden grows all by itself. I just place the order of things, set the stage for the play they create all their own. It is a very magical experience for me. It's like discovering characters that fall in love, or experience hurt or happiness in my books.
Taking the Bounty:
Harvesting comes along with the changing of the seasons. Like in the Bible, the time to sow and time to harvest. When I remove something, I can replant, or put something else in its place. Or, I can let the ground rest. Like one of my favorite signs over my desk states, “My garden isn't dead. It's sleeping.” Letting a garden rest is a good thing.
Eating the first fruits of my labor is always a joy. I've now had my first sunflower. My first handful of sugar peas, flat French beans and we've juiced lots of baby Chinese cabbage and bok choi plants as we've thinned the mounds. I've had a half dozen cherry tomatoes already and am on my second cycle of lettuce. We had enough small patty pan squash for dinner last night too.
And that reminds me, time to get the refrigerator cleaned out, because I'm about to become inundated with good, healthy food!
As you see, I could go on and on. There is one mindset for a flower garden. Another for a food garden. And I like to mix them together as well. I think lettuce grows well at the base of a trellis of sweet pea blossoms. Calendulas help with the moths that bring aphids and also discourage gophers. The garden changes every day, and each day it emotes different emotions as I tend, watch and enjoy seeing it transform before my eyes.
It is truly a living work of art. Hopelessly addicted. In love forever.
My father is gone, and every Father's Day I get over to his grave to leave some roses from my garden, and at Christmas I like to bring him drumsticks so he can keep playing. Dad was an engineer, and looked about as wrong as wrong could be as a drummer, with his hair fringe, and jerky motions, and the fact that he had to bite his lip and frown because he concentrated so hard on keeping up with the beat. Like everything he did, even making music was hard work. But he loved hard work. Always did and I'm sure he's working hard now.
What I learned from my father was how to survive. He was a very smart man. He did very well in school, but his childhood was marred by the fact that his own father suffered severely in World War I in battles in France, and basically came home mentally broken and eventually was sent to a state hospital until he could fight his way out. He never talked about his Dad's trials, or the fact that he had to get up at one or two in the morning to sing hymns or those Tennessee Ernie Ford songs, and that his mother got up and played piano for him. It was just a fact of life.
His father wore pajamas all day long after he came home, and wore an apron, was the chief housekeeper and cook for the family, and Dad had many tales about those days. He'd come home, throw his books in the corner, and not return until dinner, then after dinner he studied into the night. It was his way of dealing with the unknowns of living with a parent who was mentally ill for most of his life, in an environment where he didn't feel safe.
But Dad was never bitter. He loved his Dad. And as I was the oldest granddaughter, I loved him as well. Quirks, crying jags, days in the bedroom with the shades drawn and the arguments at the dinner table or the early morning songs my brother and I heard when we stayed there for a week at summer time, all seemed part of life. We took it just like my Dad did.
We were opposites in personality style. He would prepare and take copious notes. He hated to not know everything and so spent hours and hours researching thing. He once took apart our television set just because he wanted to see how it was made. He went to the dentist one time without novacaine so he could experience what that felt like. He was the perfect grandfather for my kids, even sliding down brown hills on our property on a cardboard refrigerator carton with the kids, and hitting a tree. He had to go to work the next day with a black eye. His commitment to the family was 100%.
As my mother was getting weaker from the ravages of cancer, he cut a fresh rose for her every day and brought it into her room. He took it as his job to take care of her those last 14 years of her life, and when she passed over, he was left without a job in life. Though my mother had gone, he was not ready to stop being a husband. So, at 80, my dad remarried, something none of us ever thought would happen and lived another ten years. I credit some of this to my new mom, Eunice, whom he loved with everything in his being, another testament, and another lesson to us all.
But the funniest thing I remember about Dad was a conversation we had at one of my son's soccer tournaments in Davis. He'd gotten married the previous year. My mother had been buried in a plot in the lawn of our local Memorial Park. He'd bought the plot next to her, but now that he was married again, his priorities had changed.
He asked my permission to have my mother moved to the mausoleum, where he had a spot next to her, but the two of them would rest beneath his current new wife and her deceased husband. “Sharon, when I die, I'd like to be buried next to both my wives.”
I thought about it for a minute or two and then answered him this way, “I'm okay with it, Dad. But let me ask you this. Are you planning on getting married a third time?”
Forgive the use of some of these promo pictures, but they are some of my favorite father/daughter images and I thought you wouldn't mind.
Happy Fathers' Day. Hope you spoil him, or spoil him in your dreams.
I didn't grow up reading romances. I read classics like Anna Karenina, Tale of Two Cities, or Doctor Zhivago. Just like I used to listen to music for the beautiful set in the middle of the song – that “favorite part” that was so moving that I'd put up with whatever came before or after – I used to read those classics for the jewels of romance I'd find scattered there, albeit sparsely.
My mother would be proud of my success today, and I like to think she would thinly approve. But I would never have been able to get a romance book in through the front door. She was taught what her mother taught her. The women of our family didn't read romance.
I think they should have!
So I came to this late in life. And now I'm knee-deep in it. I write now from memories of what it felt like to be twenty-something, in love so full to bursting, having children and watching them grow. I get to re-live all those days again. what a treat I've had! It's not a second childhood at all, but a second lifetime. And there is no end in sight.
I've said before that being a mother is the hardest job you'll ever love. My post from last year summed up some of my story. (https://sharonhamiltonauthor.blogspot.com/2016/05/motherhood-should-come-with-warning.html)
Today, we are going to the same cafe. The Grands are one year older, my youngest daughter is expecting a new baby this Fall, and life is good. Still with all the drama of years past, but good. I'm writing up a storm, loving the stories more and more, and enjoying this phase of my writing career. I couldn't ask for a better time to be alive.
So, to rob my brilliance from last year, here are the 10 things that should perhaps come on the Warning Label of Motherhood. I'd like to hear your favorite:
Happy Mother's Day to all of you, and to all of you who are honored to help a mother celebrate her special day by saying thanks.
I hope that you celebrate the love of a mother, whether your mother, or someone else's. You are blessed specially today if you do so. It is always more fulfilling to show love for someone, no matter who they are, who has dedicated a portion of their lives raising a child. No mother should go without love today. Let's make that happen.
|First roses from my garden collage|
Is there anything more precious than new words? We love new roses from our gardens, new little starts that stick up from the warm brown soil in the Spring. We love new love, and what it feels like. We love meeting a new friend, or rekindling with an exciting old friend. Other new things I love: a new quilt pattern, new dress, colorful scarf, new haircut. I love new fabric or a great colorful fabric discounted! New bright red in my hair. New car! New jewelry, or a new candle scent or perfume. New shower gel! I love meeting a new reader who loves my books, or getting a great new review!
All these lush things are wonderful, and the most exciting of them all for me are New Words.
With new words, a new character develops. Like a chess game, the hunter and hunted meet, the warriors clash over a battle of wills. The Beast becomes the gentleman, and the Beauty becomes strong and supportive on her own. It's a classic tale of falling and having love burn so brightly in your chest that you just have to tell every stranger.
It's what makes a book something nice into something I gotta have!
It happens when I become the pro writer and not the amateur writer. It bashes through all obstacles and walls, limitations of funds, time, age, distance. I turned from being a reader who loved to read compelling books to wanting to create them. That creative process stimulates and excites everything in my world. It no longer is work. I ask my brain to be patient with the thoughts so I have the time to get everything down on paper. When I feel this way, I have to stop whatever else I'm doing and submit to that great spirit.
My beautiful music is even more beautiful. The colors are brighter. Scenes are more stunning. I wear loneliness like a badge and let the emotional energy spur me on to bring about a closure and connection that wasn't there before. My perceived lacks of the physical world I live in disappear in the fantasy life I create. My characters are my best friends and lovers. They don't leave. They love as fiercely as they play, with as much passion as I can imagine. I know there's even more off the screen of what I can hold at one time.
|Bought this in Sao Paolo, Brazil|
Today I give myself to new words. After all, it is World Book Day. #LovetoRead
Of course, you could always watch Cinderella with someone you love, too.
So, here are some FIRST WORDS for you of a book called Paradise – The Search For Love (unedited):
Long before I was a romance writer, I was fascinated with what made people do things. It's why I was a Psychology major in college. I loved reading about what made people do things. Originally, I thought I'd like to study lands and cultures – what made a whole country or group of people do things. The career choices were limited (or appeared limited) back then. My love of travel and foreign lands spurred me on to thinking being an International Affairs major would get me where I wanted to be.
But no, I took a detour into Sociology, and then wound up finally in Psychology, bringing it all back to the individual. I was looking outside myself for reasons, and found them inside myself instead.
Now that I write romance, the study of character and calling is more important than just about anything else. That's why I enjoy writing about the Brotherhood, specifically the SEAL Brotherhood. These are men who put aside their fears (have them, but set them on the back burner) to do the things others cannot or will not do. I'm not naive to think that that makes them perfect. It makes them the ones who do not quit.
Navy SEALs go through the grueling BUD/S training not to find the strongest and most well qualified, but to find the ones who will not quit. People who don't understand this don't understand SEALs. Men who have passed the SEAL training look on those who have washed out or DOR (Drop On Request) in a different light than others do, perhaps. They don't see them as failures. They see them as men who discovered where their limits were. The real SEAL training makes them a SEAL. The BUD/S portion of it is just to see who is qualified TO START the training.
Everyone wants to be rich. Everyone wants to be handsome and beautiful. Everyone wants to be successful, to be well liked. To raise a family that leave their mark. Everyone wants to be a good friend, someone to be counted on. Not everyone is willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to do so.
I listen to blogs and read about heroes every chance I get. One of the men I study I will not mention here, but he has given me so much wisdom about what it takes to be a true hero, a real man, a warrior of the first caliber. And although he speaks in terms of being a man, it also works for those who are not men, but those who wish to be a warrior at whatever they are passionate about. Writing? Love? Family? Being the best person I can be? Whatever the driving force inside of us, one thing is clear: it is the best part of all of us.
He defines Brotherhood in this way: “Mutually held feelings of love, possessiveness, and respect that improves the current or future situation(s) of each member. True brotherhood is created by shared experience and defined by feelings. The experiences must be: 1) Difficult 2) Tied to ones survival.”
We live in an age and time when “getting along” is the norm. When getting pampered is mistaken for care. When right thinking or silence is preferable to conflict. We are taught to avoid battle in all it's forms: battle of wills, battle of negotiation, taking risks, being unrelenting and unstoppable. Being unbeatable becomes fiction in such a world. Striving to go beyond our own limits something of fiction and fantasy and not real.
I write about the heroes who transcend all this, who are not perfect men by any stretch of the imagination, but who are blessed with the singleness of purpose: to serve and protect at all costs.
And to never quit.
Wonder what kind of a world we would have if everyone felt the same way.
Amazon always gives me little notifications when they think my spelling isn't up to par. I'm a creative speller. Oh yes, I know the difference. A creative speller makes up words that fit the moment, like some of my SEAL characters nicknames: Fredo becomes Frodo, Kyle Lansdowne becomes Lannie or Landmine. Armando Guzman becomes Armani. And of course they also get creative – very creative – with swear words.
If I had to clean up my prose and take out that certain word that begins with the letter “F”, my manuscripts would lose about 10,000 words, I'm sure.
So here are a couple I found today. I love Spellcheck Days!
Minidrone – I actually think that's a word I've read somewhere. Amazon doesn't recognize it.
Microwinery – well, they have microbreweries, why not microwineries. I really think I did make this one up.
Sexploits – I think that's a valid description of some of the “in search of” capers my SEALs go on until they come smack up against someone who snags their attention.
F**kbunny – I love that word and use it all I can. My editors usually limit me to a diet of 2 per book.
How about you? Do you like to use favorite words, make up words? Find words you've read or heard and loved them into existence?
|Field of marigolds in India|
Enjoyed giving a presentation to the Suguaro Romance Writers in Tucson yesterday. True to my standards, I made a dramatic entrance.
Enjoyed meeting with the board Friday night, and over a spectacular mexican dinner, I began to pass out. One minute I twas speaking, and the next, I was looking down at someone kneeling and asking me if I was okay. I don't even remember them separating the tables, customers from that side of the restaurant looking on. Light-headed and unable to finish my food, and a little sick to my stomach, I was confused and unable to move.
Well, next I heard they'd called paramedics. “I'm fine!” I said, to which they all laughed. I was helped outside and was treated by six (count them) handsome paramedics. We're all romance writers. We write about firemen and paramedics all the time. I'm telling you, if I'd felt better, I might have laughed it off better, but the ladies were having fun. Every single one of our paramedic crew knew we wrote romance. I heard about it all the way to the hospital.
|This could be Sonoma County, but it's India.|
I waved good night to my group of board members who were having me speak, from the back of the ambulance, and was transported to the Emergency Room.
Okay, so I did admit to passing out a few bookmarks, and one of the nurses who attended me was a big military romance reader and had heard of me. I got an Uber driver for $5.67 who took me from the hospital back to my hotel at 2 AM, after I'd been checked out, hydrated with an IV and discharged. We talked romance in his RAM truck. I think his girlfriend will be getting one of my books.
And at 9 AM, I was feeling great. After my grand dramatic entrance, I was on.
|A grand railway adventure to the caves in Goa?|
I talked about my journey, and literally had some laughs about stories I'd heard about other writers and their perserverance, which was a theme in my talk, about not giving up, not ringing the bell. We talked about exposure, getting follows, getting a dedicated fanbase of readers. Taking what we got and just expanding on that, large or small, grand or simple. The pros and cons of different types of marketing and Newsletters, assistants, review teams and reader groups. It was all out there.
Of course I talked about my thoughts about watching my son get his Trident. What he had to go through, and showed what things did or didn't make their way into my books and why.
|Life is color, and meant to celebrate.|
It was inspiring for me to get up and talk for a couple of hours, to laugh, and to demonstrate the sisterhood (and brotherhood) of writers we are. Great group, and was one of my better days. Hospital scare and all.
I come back refreshed, recalibrated. Sometimes I think I get so wound up with my own goals and focus, I forget that being an inspiration is part of what I love about being a writer. If I didn't feel I gave anything back, it honestly wouldn't be worth it.
|Indian monuments of love. My kind of trail. I'm going.|
On the plane home, I found something new for my bucket list. I have a story brewing about India, about a time travel romance spanning a hundred and fifty years crossing three continents. Now I have a new mission. This picture is pasted on my wall by my computer screen to remember.
Visiting the great monuments of love? What's not right for a romance writer? I have to get there, somehow.
I find meeting other authors, readers and the social interaction with people in general to be very stimulating. I percolate with ideas whenever I come back from a conference, or signing or get-together. I am planning on some serious brainstorming with one of my writing buddies, Carolyn Jewel, at the San Francisco Indie UnCon later this month.
Just got back from the Love and Fifty in Sacramento last weekend, and saw the Fifty Shades movie with a whole theater of other romance writers and their reader fans. Now I want to buy a theater somewhere and put in those wonderful lounge chairs and serve beer and wine like they do in Portland…Okay, in my next life…Show nothing but romance 24/7. How about rented cubbies on the side where writers could work while watching the screen? Have a sound-proof office so you can turn off the dialogue or add your own music?
The possibilities are endless!
So everything I do, see and feel goes into my books. People ask me all the time where all the stories come from, or whether or not I'll ever run out. They come from everywhere! Watch out! Spend time with a writer and you'll be immortalized! That's more than a promise, it's a fact!
What makes a good romance story is that you can count on the HEA. Sometimes it's cataclysmic, sometimes it's subtle, yet speaks volumes. But between the beginning and that HEA ending, we go on a journey together and the writer stretches the boundaries, takes the reader on twists and turns of the unexpected, all to arrive at the expected (but not too predictable) outcome. I like it when I read a book and I'm screaming, “No! Bad decision. Don't go there!” and yet I know that that decision leads to a series of events that becomes part of the outcome, which could have never happened without those decisions.
Some say we writers like to torture our readers. Man, it does affect me when I have to have a breakup scene, or when the hero or heroine thinks the other is either lost or has been rejected. It hurts me as much as it hurts you, the reader. I've cried while writing in coffee shops and drawn some attention from well-meaning people around me, consoling me, until they find out I'm just a writer.
Spending a few hours talking to my 90 year-old-step mom brought out another series of stories you wouldn't expect after visiting her retirement home. Love blooms, friends become enemies, and politics infuses every aspect of our culture, of the world's culture. There's drama everywhere, regardless of the circumstances and regardless of age.
No, I'm not going to start writing Octogenarian Romance, although I've got a story there too. But I've got an idea that could start there.
Tropes are timeless, regardless of genre or age of the characters. An inciting incident can happen in a Retirement Community or in a shopping mall, as well as on a desert island. Because wherever there are people, there are relationships. The story of those relationships is what we write, how people both lose love and find it again, which is the story of hope that is in so many romance novels.
So, as we get ready to celebrate the Love Holiday with those who mean so much to us, let's remember the opening of the heart as the most worthwhile endeavor man has ever done. It is the one hope that every child seeks, every adult desires, at every age. It is the one thing we can't get too much of, as the song goes.
And the one thing we need more now than ever before. Let's celebrate together. You know that quote from Love, Actually? “Let's all get the s**t kicked out of us by love.” I think that's fine advice. Couldn't have said it better myself!
The recent celebration with my granddaughter, who was chosen as Student Of The Month, inspired this post. Her standard, adorned with her funny picture and smiling face, chronicles all her favorite likes. It is an award for the whole student she is, not just the academic part. It's a “Hey, look at me, and this is who I am!”
Social media has made it possible for me to interact with my readers and other author friends, essentially saying the same thing: “look at me!” I work on writing things that readers and others will want to hear about, not just about my books, but the journey, things that might be interesting about my life and the ups and downs of it. As authors, we invite others in. We call it “being sticky” in the business.
It takes years to develop a following, to brand a name or series, or to be known for something. And then we try to give readers something different, ask them to go on another journey, expand their tastes a bit. Sometimes it works, others it doesn't.
There is no magic formula. In the meantime, and between the highs and the lows there is one constant. For the most part, I think I've been pretty good with it: confidence in ourselves. My goal is to be a good writer for my readers, but for myself, my job is to stay positive, and to continually be my own best friend.
I've probably told this story before, but one day in Real Estate I'd listed a big home, got another one sold, made my designated number of contacts (44 per day) and coached several other agents on coaching calls. I closed a big escrow. It was a huge day for me, spoken in terms of “deals” as 7, my record at the time. I was on cloud 9. I drove home, and on the way passed a house with a competing sign in the front yard. Those were my people! How dare they? But the truth was, they'd chosen someone else when I thought I had it in the bag.
I drove up my driveway feeling dejected, a failure. I was grumpy and tossing things around, making lots of noice in the kitchen. My kids picked up on it immediately and we discussed it. “What do you mean, Mom? You had a great day!”
And they were right. I'd forgotten the cardinal rule of mine, a rule I'd taught agents for years: “Give yourself that pat on the back. Be your own best friend first.” By being upset I didn't do 100%, I completely wiped out all my previous wins. Big mistake.
Writing is lonely and most people would be surprised to learn how insecure we can be as writers. We wonder what happens when a reader we used to hear a lot from doesn't communicate any longer. We think it's us, and not something going on with them and their lives. We take compliments sometimes and judge the sincerity of them when we just should be grateful for the compliment in the first place! We don't encourage ourself or celebrate our wins.
I'm going to a collage/art class today up at Bishop's Ranch. It's the first class in a series of 5 given by the resident artist there. Like when I quilt and when I garden, doing something else than writing brings me new life and I come away feeling so good about myself and what I'm doing. I'm launching into two new series, and completing one trilogy. Spring is almost here and my daffodils are coming up.
Loved this blog post the other day, here, which talks about some of the same issues. Have a fabulous Sunday my lovelies!!
Remember, you are exceptional!!
Yes. I'm all in for SEALs. I have some precious mementos, collected during my journey as romance writer. One of the most cherished items is my plank from the Navy SEAL/UDT Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. I am a supporter of the museum, and have donated a portion of all my sales there for years, as well as raised money from quilts we've had made and auctioned off.
This last year we earned over $400 on our Operation Aloha Shirt Quilt project. I rounded it up and we sent $500 to the Museum. This quilt contains Aloha shirts sent to me by people from all over the US, lovingly stitched together by Sandie Greis, and quilted by the women of the Santa Rosa Quilt Guild, the oldest of this group who is 90 years old.
When a SEAL detaches from his Team, he is given a plank, like the one in the picture. I was so surprised when I received this. If you ever want to learn about the history of the Teams, how they came to be and how they have developed, you'll love spending a day there. This museum is run by the SEAL community, friends and family of the community. No Federal funds are used for its support.
Another of my cherished possessions is a signed autograph by the man who eliminated OBL, Rob O'Neill, who says “SEALs are sexy!” It hangs just above my plank from the Museum. Thank you, Rob, and thank you Cherokee and J.D. Hart for helping me get this cherished gift.
I received a Challenge Coin from Anne Elizabeth's former Navy SEAL husband. Anne (who also writes Navy SEAL Romance) and I were in an anthology together a couple of years ago, along with a dozen other of my favorite military romance author friends. Anne awarded us all this Challenge Coin. It is a symbol of a mission, a job well done, and I have to say it was! Thank you, Anne.
I have my tattoo of the Hippy Bone Frog, as I call him. Made a little alteration to this picture, and sucked it up and had it done. I also have a frog print frog print tat on my right forearm for every SEAL book I've written. I'm going to have to start on the other arm now…lol.
I was honored to be given this helmet for safekeeping. It's now been returned to this SEAL's children, but it was on my desk for nearly six years while I wrote my first SEAL Brotherhood stories, and was a constant source of inspiration. These helmets are worn by BUD/S recruits on their way to becoming worthy of wearing the Trident. Whenever things get tough for me, I look at that picture and I remember, “Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.” How true.
It's been my honor to write about Navy SEAL heroes for these past six years. I hope to be doing so until they have to yank my laptop from my lifeless body!!
Working on a Son of Poseidon SEAL duet with another author which you will hear about very shortly, and then comes Jake, my 3rd book in the Band of Bachelors. I can hardly wait for you to read them both!
How does an author cross genres and still keep his or her audience? Or have her audience risk traveling with her on a journey into a new genre?
Along with pen names, this topic has been discussed many many times in writers' groups. It can be a scary thing for an author to change genres, or add genres. But I think the realities of the marketplace are such that we have to be prepared for genre tastes to change. Or become over-saturated. I think it's healthy to have a couple of sources you can draw stories from and pick up new readers.
The Indie community allows us to explore all these options at our own will. We don't necessarily have to give up one genre to explore another one. And we don't necessarily have to just chase the rabbit of “best selling genres” which I see so many try to do. That's something that is guaranteed to make a writer go crazy in a heartbeat.
Speaking only from my personal experience, writing in more than one genre is healthy for my writing. Not everything can be quantified in terms of sales, although that's what we're doing as authors, writing books readers will buy. But adding “sparkly body parts” to the mix of stories in our fantasy worlds is a good thing. Like exercising a new muscle, it can be painful, but overall adds to our overall strength.
I think what makes us stronger writers is that we take chances, not stupid chances, but chances nonetheless, and we have confidence in the work. Tastes change. What is the rage one day may not be the next. There is the phenomenon that readers are always looking for new writers they can discover, like treasure hunting. Someone with a good backlist is at an advantage because of past reader loyalty, but at a disadvantage if we're not the new shiny penny anymore. The work has to be shiny, not the author.
The answer? Just continue writing what we like to write, what tickles our fancy, and what readers in the past have loved. It has been said that every author tells the same story, just with different characters. Whether they are a Dark Angel, a Golden Vampire or Navy SEAL hero, the heroes in my book all find their true calling and higher selves through finding true love.
So, here are a couple of rules I think apply when writing across genres.
1. Have confidence readers will enjoy creativity and introduction of new characters.
2. Your voice as a writer doesn't change.
3. In romance, it's still about the hero and heroine's journey to find each other.
4. Be patient with yourself and listen to the writing voice inside your heart. Let that intuition serve you and feed the faith, not the fear.
5. Explain what you're doing and make sure past readers know you are not leaving one area permanently, that you'll be back.
6. Take the new excitement of learning new things to your new writing, even if it's an old genre.
7. Writers make it every day, break out, do the impossible and defy odds all the time.
8. Payoffs are not always in dollars. Write from your heart, not just for the market.
9. Embrace change and know we learn from our mistakes.
10. Keep everyone guessing! (What the heck is she doing now?)
What about you?
It is my guilty pleasure, I admit it. If I wasn't a romance novelist, I'd be a romance reader and live in those books 24/7. The alternative to reading or writing romance? A world with not enough love in it. I live in a world where relationships magically happen and continually bring out the very best in all of us. Am I a better writer because I have loved so intensely? Or am I a better woman because I have written so intensely?
Of all the choices in my life, I think becoming a novelist has been my best one. I think, just like my SEALs, writers are born, not created. A hero is a hero from birth. We are surrounded by the ordinary all the time. Our fantasy lives enable us to live free from the earthly bonds of age, health, finances and opportunity. Not all of us will meet a titan of industry, a military hero or a man who knows everything about us and will always do the perfect thing to rock our worlds. But in our fantasy lives, that happens not just every day, but several times a day.
This addiction to studying love, falling in love, sex, finding one's highest self, living in a world were all is possible and nothing is impossible, is something that will be with me the rest of my life. And it's legal.
I scan the TV and look at topics on the internet and am amazed so few people live in the aspiration side of life, in the part where miracles do happen, where people find and do the right things. If I were to spend my focus on the “reality” of the world, all the signs point elsewhere.
So fantasy, love is my reality. I hope more of us join us there. I do think love can heal the world. I really do. This world needs a lot more romance, and a lot less rhetoric.
I'm just one of the grateful cheerleaders.
There are a number of things I am grateful for in 2016. It was great for a lot of reasons:
1. I survived. 💪
2. Got sick and got well. 😎
3. Finished 5 books. 🏆
4. Weathered some breakups, shakeups and uncertainties with grace and a pinch of humor. 🂱
5. Better prepared for the travels ahead. 🎢
6. Kept my focus, realigned my purpose, learned about some new opportunities. 🔑
7. Welcomed the New Year with an open heart, and a head full of stories. 🎇
8. Reinforced the power of gratitude and being light-hearted at the right times. 🙏
9. Re-fell in love with falling in love ALL-IN. 💓
10. I start the year off being INSPIRED. 💫💗💥
So, here are some things I'm focusing on this New Year's Day. Hope you can join me along the way some of the time. We have a lot of work to do together, you and I. I can't wait. How about you?
MY 2017 FOCUS:
1. I write every day because it is my life.
2. I'd rather be in a book or story than anywhere else. It is my reality.
3. Concentrate on creativity and the flow will come.
4. Expect to be amazed, not understanding everything. Amazed, like a child.
5. Be a well-used character in my own life like a favorite toy and much-loved soul.
6. Pointy people grind the rough edges off me and make me shine.
7. Circumstances REVEAL a person, they don't make a person.
8. Getting up and getting started now is the most important attitude to have.
9. Learn from everyone, everything. Seek lessons like jewels.
10. Show gratitude, grace and humor more than anger, frustration or hurt.
11. Be loveable more than right.
12. Understand but keep to my side of the fence.
13. Have compassion but be strong enough to tell the truth.
14. Feel the healing power of love.
15. Take more chances, feel deeper, understand the strength to let go when needed.
16. I can't fix anybody. ANYbody.
17. Walk with other warm hearts and bright spirits. Close my doors and windows to negativity.
18. Notice, nurture, never forget.
19. Lead with love and kindness.
20. Hug the little girl inside me every day.
I recently ran across an article on Stephenie Meyer and her new book, The Chemist, which comes out shortly. I'd not been following her career and haven't read any of her work except the Twilight series, and did not follow her to the alternative POVs on the saga she wrote afterwards. Now she's tackling more the thriller genre, while still keeping a love story prominent in the work. I cheer for her (that's the sound me me clapping).
In searching her books, I also saw a book I won't even mention, with a title disparaging her name and her writing. And this was allowed on Amazon, in fact, shows up on her Amazon search page as an “also buy.”
I've about had it with some of the things allowed under the guise of free speech. The great Zon in the sky allows a title like that with a four-letter word front and center, demeaning an author, but has a problem with a naked man's chest (or God forbid, nipples showing under his shirt), in their advertising. None of my book covers, for instance, are allowed to be advertised in paid ads. They either contain a man's torso, or a couple looking lustily at each other, or a feather with a little dangerous blood on it in my angel series, starting with Heavenly Lover.
I certainly approve of controls to protect young children from reading or seeing adult content or themes. But children see far worse on the television and in movies every day. They hear rap music with disgusting lyrics and somehow we are taught that this is “mainstream” while writing about sex or a couple enjoying sex, that's a bad thing.
So is degrading an author for being successful supposed to be okay too? So are phony reviews and hurtful things said and done by small-minded people intent on wielding their two seconds of fame on the internet. We are so PC about some things, and not on others. Being a romance writer, or someone who writes happily ever after tales, we develop a thick skin, and endure all sorts of things most people have no idea actually happen to writers.
Conflict cannot survive without your participation – Wayne Dyer. I once got to spend an afternoon with a small group gathered to hear Mr. Dyer speak to us, and got to speak to him over lunch. I found his message hopeful, and uplifting. He had detractors in his career. Horrible things said about him and his writing or his speeches. And he didn't participate in any of that.
I have things all around me that remind me of the good things in my life, not to fool myself, but to remind myself that I've decided to participate in a different game. I've decided to follow my heart's desire and passion for the things I do with meaning. I've also had to make tough choices to protect that creative and willful streak in my being. Sometimes saying No is better than saying Yes. Just like sometimes being kind is better than mouthing off under the guise of “being free.”
Because being unbeatable means remembering that when life is full of passion and hope, all things are possible, no matter what anybody else says or does. We write, edit, put it out there, be awesome and then do it all over again. That's the game I want to play.