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17

Christmas Lights and Hope For A New Year

Christmas and Hanukkah mean so many things to me, as I'm sure they do for you. It is the season of family, new beginnings, and a festival of lights signaling the brightness of hope. This year, the lights in Windsor Town Green were made even more special by the outpouring of thanks for our First Responders.

Many of the grammar school classes chose to honor these heroes, who helped protect many of us and our homes from the devastating fires in Sonoma County. Our heart goes out for the loss of life and property we experienced as a community, and for what's going on in Southern California now.

We know what they're feeling, because we lived through the same. There are families spending the holidays in an apartment, or rented home, instead of the family home they celebrated in for years. For some, it will be truly a new beginning. For others, it chronicles the end of an era, and how some things will never be the same again. Displaced and evacuated peoples are finding all sorts of new ways to celebrate this end of 2017 as we mourn the past and adjust to the future. It's what we do.

House Lights In The Town Green

I make a pilgrimage to look at favorite house lights and the trees in the Town Green every year, but this year affected me more. My grandkids enjoyed looking at each and every one of the trees — I think there were over 100 — all decorated by classrooms, families, businesses and civic groups from all areas of our county. I would say that the overarching theme was that of gratitude, how we are family, all of us, and how we'll all survive.

We ran into a group of carolers strolling down the streets, a gathering of Santas and elves celebrating at a local pub, and a vendor on the square selling bright flashing wands and glow-in-the-dark necklaces. We finished off our meal with ice cream at Powell's, and of course couldn't resist bringing home some peppermint bark, Giants Pez and salt water taffy.

I like it when the windows in local restaurants fog up, when the laughter behind glass as office parties and family get-togethers take place. I found myself missing the family members who will not be with us this year, and it gave me an improved opening scene for a novella I'm trying to finish.

We've had a mild, crisp winter so far, with a cold snap. I harvested a dozen pomegranate fruits, about two dozen new mandarins and some Meyer lemons. I came home to a cracklling fire and turned in early, wearing socks and a flannel nightgown. I considered penning a note to Santa myself.

And I dreamt of what glorious things were in store for me next year — for all of us. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. May the joys of the season be many for you and your family.

(PS – Blogger is not letting me respond to your lovely responses, but know I've been reading them all one by one. Thank you all!)  — Sharon

Love is All You Need

 

Honoring Home Town Heroes serving the military

 

9

Planning My Writing Year

Every year I start planning my writing year in the fourth quarter. When I used to coach Realtors, my line would be, “The most important quarter of next year is the last quarter of this year.” That way, when you start out January 1, you hit the ground running.

It's the same for writing. In fact, all my nearly 30 years selling real estate and coaching agents for the top-rated professional coaching organization I was part of, has only underscored these business principles. We think of writing as an emotional journey. People think we writers write when we feel like it, and when “the muse strikes us,” and for some, that definitely is the way of it. But for the successful authors, which I strive to remain part of, it takes prior planning and discipline.

I used to think that writing was different than selling Real Estate. Well, after some 7 years, I can tell you it isn't. Everything is sales. Relationships are based on sales. Raising children is a huge sales job (and sometimes a battle between who is doing the better sell job on whom). Falling in love is sales. Having clients or fans is sales. Associating with other authors or other business people, is sales. Maintaining your positive energy and mindset is a tricky and important sell job we do on ourselves.

So, once again, I've stripped off the cloak of confusion, hiding and secrets, and jump head-on into the Business of Writing. After all, we are not hobbyists with our writing. We are professional authors. And to call us such, we have to have a business plan, a direction and a template to repeat or build on our successes and strive to eliminate what didn't work well.

In the old days, I started by telling a story:

What Went Right
     What Needs Improvement

Then I gave my numbers from the previous year, and used a percentage at the sidebar, stating if it was up (an improvement) or down (a decrease), or stayed the same. I listed my 5 most important goals for last year and how I did on all 5 of them. After all, a year cannot be evaluated based on one thing alone. There are always things that are better or worse than before. It's never totally a success or a failure, right?

Then I decided what were my new goals for this upcoming year, and the numbers that supported that success. I broke it down to the number of work days, weeks, time off, conventions and events I wanted to attend, vacations, and came up with a total number of days I wanted to work. I backed the numbers into those days, figuring how many it took of each category to achieve what my goal was. For instance, if I made 42 cold calls a day, for 5 days a week, it automatically guaranteed an income of $X, based on my ratios. I knew how many appts. I needed to make, how many listings I would take, buyers I would have, and how many of those would turn into successful transactions, even figuring what my average transaction income was.

I've done the same for my writing year. I know there will be fluctuations in the marketplace, just like there is in Real Estate, and those are out of my control. But I can figure on a general figure, and I usually aim low. I know that certain books will generate what average income, whether it be by genre or length of book. I estimate how much I need to spend to promote and achieve those numbers, but I weigh them not on the promotion costs, but my activity costs. (I'm not buying the business, I'm generating a writing income. I've seen writers, as well as Realtors spend money to achieve ranking rather than actually creating it, which is the long-term sustainability goal).  A book takes X number of days to write, and X number of days to edit, get the cover done, have formatted and upload. I have to take into account all these time factors to realistically estimate how much time it will take to achieve my goal. I may have to adjust by: being more consistent with my writing day, or, spending less on costs, or learning to write or edit faster, or change the environment around me as far as helpers and people who I pay to help me produce my product. Perhaps I need to trim staff. Perhaps I need to add. Perhaps trim the number of conventions, perhaps increase certain ones. You see how it goes.

And then the fun part happens, I mark it all out on a yearly calendar. I have eBooks, Audio Books, and Print Books. I have swag and other things I buy to promote. I put a budget to all these things, and then track it. And I keep a tight leash on my writing day vs. my promotional part of the day. For me, I like to keep the writing together, and the promotional days together so I don't have to keep switching hats all the time in the same day.

The last phase is How We Do It Here. I love Michael Gerber's books like e-Myth. I love the SEALs code of Prepare, prepare, prepare, train, train, train, action. Then aim. I like to aim after I've executed. I like to prepare after I've trained. I like to prepare for my training, and so forth, working backwards. Saying it more simply:

     I dream about what I want to achieve
     I plan for success
     I train and focus on the plan
     I execute** (notice I don't adjust during execution-“Balls To The Wall”)
     I track and evaluate constantly
     I adjust my plan


We often see the routes an airplane takes as a straight crescent from Point A to Point B. But in fact, it is a series of hundreds, perhaps thousands of adjustments along the way. If you were to see the path the plane took, it would look like wiggly lines a mouse might make traveling from one place to another, as he makes adjustments and perhaps gets distracted. We are the same as writers!

Why should we plan as writers? Well, my mentor used to say, “You get what you think about most the time.” He'd add to someone in the audience, a male he could joke with, “That means you'd turn into a blonde 30 year old bombshell.” But in seriousness, we have a plan so we have the vision to achieve it, and the backup to that vision, the way we're going to make it happen. This way, we get to launch into our next year with confidence. Those first few weeks of our year are like the Honeymoon Event, when everything is possible and nothing hasn't turned out wrong — YET! But the plan keeps us on track, so we can adjust, perhaps see where we made a miscalculation and make that correction before we have to work out the whole year in a mode that isn't going to work. Our plan is adjustable, because it's a working plan.

And any good working plan needs the courage to follow it, to track and look at it critically to make those adjustments. Otherwise, the plan is an exercise in futility. I knew a lot of Realtors who made a plan, but never concentrated on the execution or the little tweaks that could have paid them huge dividends. Writers are the same.

We learned to walk as toddlers by bumping into things and falling on our rears. No plan is perfect. No execution is perfect. But if we focus on it, focus on the training and preparation, the execution will come easier. Or rather, we can execute without second-guessing ourselves in the process. If we prepare and train, we don't hesitate. If we have a plan for the year, each day becomes more relevant instead of slipping away. Every story becomes part of the fabric of our writing year. Every character sketch or re-write brings us more jewels, more clarity and better books.

And it makes the whole process more fun.

I hope your 2018 is the very best year of your writing or reading life. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a New Year that will sparkle with all the magic success brings us all. After all, you deserve it!

Now, go!

***Late Note: Blogger is not allowing me to respond to all your wonderful comments. Just know that I'm reading each and every one of them, and taking them to heart. Feel free to pass along this column if you wish. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!***

 

12

Family Traditions

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…

8

SPECIAL SNEAK PEAK: Bachelor SEAL

They stared into each other’s eyes for several seconds. They
never used to do this. It was all go at it, get to the sex or the argument. But
tonight, they just looked at each other’s faces and absorbed what they saw. She
saw a man damaged by his own hand and burdened by a past that wasn’t his fault.
She saw a man who had one speed, and that was fast. On. Present. No daydreams or
visions of greatness. He used to tell her he was just a man who was hired “to
get ’er done” because he could. He did the things others couldn’t do, and for
that, he’d paid a heavy price. But he also didn’t want anyone’s pity.
And she was a woman who couldn’t take the energy because it
interfered with her own. He needed someone who could support him. She needed
the same thing, and neither one could give the other what was needed. That was
the long and the short of it.
Unmasked and without the emotional overtones, the angry
upsets, and hurts, she could see better who this man really was. And he wasn’t
so threatening. Or maybe he’d learned to couch some things, change his behavior
in ways she’d not noticed. This could be the way he was all along, and she just
never saw it.

Any way she served it up, she came to the same conclusion.
She’d heard people say it on military blogs or at functions she used to attend.
She’d seen it written on a plaque located on an island in the South Pacific,
carved by men who knew what they were talking about and who’d just lost their
best friends on a foreign beach. She stepped toward him without touching,
inhaled, and said, “Thank you, Morgan for all you’ve done and continue to do to
keep me safe. Thank you for my freedom. I appreciate you more than I’ve ever
told you before.”
He was going to grab her and kiss her, but she pushed him
away.
“Whoa! I didn’t mean that. I said
‘thank you’, not ‘come fuck me.’”
His smirk was so disarming, in spite of how wrong it was to
love seeing it. He was forbidden fruit all the way. Every part of him. The way
he looked, the imaginary way he made love to her in her dreams—full tilt
without holding anything back. He made quick decisions just like she did, like
it was ready, fire, and then aim. He’d always give his all and bear the
consequences of the haunting afterward. He wouldn’t change for anyone or
anything because being damaged looked good on him. Like a uniform that was
perfectly tailored. His scars were his medals. He was a hurricane sometimes without
a focus, and he’d never be tethered to anyone, no matter what the cost. But he
could, and she honestly believed this with her whole heart, that he could save
her from whomever was after her.

Just before he opened the door, he turned. “Darlin’, I’m
revved and ready to go if and when you ever decide to drop that gate.”

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!

38

TUCKER

Who could resist this face? We visited with some people who were trying to care for this little orphan puppy, once loved, but the product of a divorce. My heart broke when I saw such a sweet dog having to live in an environment that isn't healthy for Dobermans. They need a lot of affection, and a lot of connection to their humans. They are working dogs, so they need a place to run. The pup practically wouldn't let me leave, and his behavior told me he was starved for affection. I knew we could give that affection and the right environment for him to heal.

When we left, I mentioned that if they needed a home for this darling, sweet tan Doberman, that we could provide a loving home. They of course had to check with the original owners, and the next day, they delivered this pup to our front door. He's scared, very skinny, but has one of the sweetest temperaments I've ever seen in a dog. It's a pure joy to see him running in our seven acre fenced yard, trying to keep up with the older dogs. He's already faster than Rosa (who is a bit chunky and everyone mistakes her for a Chocolate Lab).

We named him Tucker, since he's a Tan. Now we have a Blue, (Blue), a Red (Rosa), and a Tan (Tucker). Blue and Rosa are adjusting surprisingly well. Both of them are rather spoiled, so there have been some growling and boundary setting issues, but so far it's been better than we expected. And he didn't cry all night long. He can't make it up stairs yet (probably never experienced them), nor does he know what a dog toy or a dog treat is.

He slept on a new bed I bought him with a fleece cover, and when I showed it to him, he lay right down on it like he understood. We have beds all over our house for the other dogs, but I wanted a fresh one without a scent to be his. My two older ones are delighted they can have the entire upstairs to themselves – their sanctuary. He doesn't pee in the house either, which is the one phase of puppyhood I wasn't looking forward to.

We think he'll be big, as we estimate he's about 5 months old. He goes to the vet this week for shots and a checkup. We'll get a little meat on him, if we can, so we don't see those ribs, which are painful to watch.

But what a joy, and a pure love. Next issue will be having him neutered, but one event at a time. We'll let him get adjusted first. Then we'll deal with his manhood issue. LOL. Rosa and Blue are both fixed. We want him to heal when he feels more confident in his surroundings.

We felt we saved this sweet dog's life. Welcome to the family, Tucker.

6

My Own Arizona Memorial Story

Our President has visited the Arizona Memorial today and I was reminded of my trip to Pearl Harbor in February of 2016, while at a writer's conference. Each time I visit this sacred site, my love for the military and all those who sacrificed for me and my freedoms increases. Words cannot express how it changes a person to see the oil still leaking from the bow of the great ship, now residing in the shallow waters of the Bay, with some of its crew forever enshrined.

I wrote about that visit on my blog from December 2016 here


During that visit, I was able to see several Japanese visitors pay their respects to the fallen. The flowers I wore that day floated out to sea with the flowers and water contributed by those visitors in a shared time and place that was over 75 years in the making. For this memorial is their memorial too. It is a memorial for the whole world. It's a reminder of what was, what was done, and what remains to this day. It's the ongoing saga of war and peace that has haunted mankind for centuries. It is the best and worst of times all in one.

We study history through the lens of our own experience and to each one of us, that history is slightly different with many thoughts and feelings in common. But not all. History is personal. And it needs many voices to tell the story in all its detail. For one person alone could never do it. Even one nation couldn't tell the story of why so many men and women die while serving those they protect honorably, and why and how those of us who remember and live on are grateful.

I write about fictional heroes, who don't always die. I am saving fictional characters, one at a time. It's all I can do, by adding names and stories from my head, putting them on paper for readers to love and enjoy. It's another fantasy view of the history of the world inside my brain. Writers have the joy and the burden of not only telling stories of what really happened, but what could be. In that way, these men and women live forever. My stories will outlive me some day.

On this rainy day in Northern California, I'm remembering those wind-swept afternoons I walked along the beach in Honolulu and traveled on a little boat to visit a part of my history. And I'm grateful to be here to reflect and share. Throwing my words like leis on the water going out to sea.

24

Rising From The Fire

My parent's old home was left standing. Melted shutters.

Many of you familiar with my history and my work know that in 2008 our house burned down. I had, up until that time, maintained a busy and successful Real Estate career. It was a challenge, in a falling market, working with two other family members and a team of assistants, but it was a well-oiled machine that left us in the top 10 of just about every category in Northern California. I was proud of it.

When our fire occurred, it gave me the opportunity to do something else. Insurance gave us some living arrangements (a small one bedroom apartment), which I mainly stayed in by myself. Our property and house were an all-consuming job for my husband. Plus we had about 50 chickens, our Dobermans and “visits” by people who thought it was a good idea to help themselves to some of our things. He was doing battle with the insurance company, contractors and cleanup crew. All my clothes were either burned or affected by smoke.

Here are some scenes from the recent Wildfires in Santa Rosa. Not my house this time, but way more devastating.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/7539286-181/lesson-for-santa-rosa-in?artslide=0

I had a couple of choices. I could go replace everything, pretend nothing had happened and just resume my former business, or I could take a little time to sort out what exactly I wanted to do. We had to decide whether or not to rebuild the house, where we would live, what things we would throw away and what things we'd save for later sorting. My head was spinning.

Because I was alone with the apartment, next door to our office, I solved my lack of sleeping problem (too much to think about) with some late-night movies, and some reading. I did more reading than I'd previously done in years. I discovered Outlander and it got me hooked into good old fashioned storytelling. I even began an email dialog with Diana Gabaldon at one point.

Although very stressful, the fire actually became the catalyst for my writing career. I think opportunity comes from stresses that seem at the time to be overwhelming. Just like diamonds created by millions of years of pressure and heat from earth masses, the creative side of me, one that hadn't been tested or expressed, began oozing out and I spent more time in my fantasyworld than I did on reality. I did it first out of self preservation. And then I began to do it because I felt it was my calling.

I wish I could say the process was clear, direct and in a straight line to success. Just like everything worthwhile in life, there are ups and downs. But, looking back, if I had to do it all over again: sacrifice some of my very precious things for a chance adventure into a new realm, or to wake up my fantasy world, I'd do it all over again. I really would.

Like the Phoenix, I emerged from the fire a completely different human being. I think about this these days as I drive past burned out homes and consider all the decisions and issues affecting people's lives who have survived our horrible wildfire.

Remember my premise: circumstances don't make a person. They reveal a person. This path wasn't one I'd planned on following. But it's one I chose once I had the options. I guess that's why they say we have to understand the difference between what we can control and what we cannot. And be good with it, focusing on what we can control.

In a way, my house burning down was a blessing. I hope some of this will be the experience of some others this year. Terrible tragedy in most ways. But not all ways. There are some people who are going to be given choices they'd never really had before. And that's where the rising, the magic comes.

6

The Chase for Great Story

Watched the documentary on Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Long Strange Trip. I'd never been a Dead Head, though I lived amongst people who knew them well, and have meet several of the Dead band members. I had to be introduced because I wouldn't have recognized them.  I sold a house to one of their Sound Engineers and he had to go see the property at 2-3AM to make sure the countryside was sufficiently quiet enough so, when he came home from work, he could sleep.

We don't think about all the sacrifices people have to endure to make creative endeavors. How some endeavors overtake us, some make us whole and happy, and others haunt our very lives. I do understand the burden of having to be the leader of a band and a movement not of Mr. Garcia's own creation. He just wanted to make music and help people have fun. Period.

I've said it many, many times: Circumstances don't make a person. They reveal a person. How we react to the forces in our time on this earth is our choice, our focus. Some people try to change it, direct it. I see it like raising a child. You can't tell them everything they will need to know to grow up straight, resilient, happy and strong. But you gently guide them and introduce them to different directions, and some of these may take hold. There is no right nor wrong of it. It's what we do.

It's the same for creative endeavors like writing a story. We fall in love with characters, bring them to the edge and just before they fall off the cliff, we save them. It could be something that randomly comes from their past, or something deep inside them and brings a strength they didn't know they had inside until they are tested. Compelling stories in romance tell how a person becomes a better version of him or herself, due to the love relationship that changes their lives.

If I do it right, I take the reader on a journey. The reader knows things the character doesn't yet know about. Of course, things have to be a surprise too, we want the character to do or say things outside his or her usual sphere, and we can have fun with that as they experiment with something new. We do this as writers all the time with our own worlds — I mean, the worlds inside and outside my head.

I had trouble sleeping last night, so I spent it with my characters, former SEAL Morgan Hansen and his ex-wife, supermodel and women's empowerment guru, Halley (who still goes by the last name Hansen). In this story I've gotten to explore the chemical attraction between the two of them, now tempered with the passage of alone time, while her career has spiked and his as a former Navy SEAL has ended. Except, once a SEAL, always a SEAL, there is danger and a forced collaboration that results in an almost pre-determined series of events neither one is able to control.

You can preorder the book here: Bachelor SEAL

Amazon
US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072BWYC76/?tag=sharohamil-20

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bachelor-SEAL-Sleeper-SEALs-Book-ebook/dp/B072BWYC76/?tag=sharohamil-20

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/d/Bachelor-SEAL-Sleeper-SEALs-Book-ebook/B072BWYC76/?tag=sharohamil-20

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Bachelor-SEAL-Sleeper-SEALs-Book-ebook/dp/B072BWYC76/?tag=sharohamil-20
Amazon FR: https://www.amazon.fr/Bachelor-SEAL-Sleeper-SEALs-English-ebook/dp/B072BWYC76/?tag=sharohamil-20

Amazon DE: https://www.amazon.de/Bachelor-SEAL-Sleeper-SEALs-English-ebook/dp/B072BWYC76/?tag=sharohamil-20

Barnes & Noble: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/bachelor-seal

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/bachelor-seal/id1212824382?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/bachelor-sealAnd I love the idea of control as a theme, or rather, how we have little of it. We don't control mother nature (our recent wildfires), or how God has made each one of us unique (the birth of my 6th grandchild, Lily Aria), or when we have set the forces of the universe on a particular path that will have a collision course with other forces in motion and out of our control.

Having fun. Eating doughnuts, drinking coffee, and I'm going to take a couple of hours off this afternoon for some grandbaby time.

Life is good. Another story is nearing it's HEA. Once it's out there, I will have no control. I think I like it better that way.

33

Is It A Battle or A Marriage? Creative Brain vs. Logical Brain

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.

Word.

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).

8

Rich Like Chocolate, Strong Like Coffee, and then there’s Berzerker….

If you hadn't met me, you'd think I was seriously mixed up. Well, maybe I am. Here I like flowers and gardening, romance and all that goes with it. Expensive lingerie and kids and family and kisses. Going barefoot at the beach, and Happily Ever After.

But I also love my men to be men. Having a man's man around makes it easier to be a woman, I mean a real woman. That is different things to different people. But I find a man who respects women, who honors our country and protects me and my freedoms, is worthy of my undying love and loyalty. It is something bred into my DNA. I can't speak for all women, but this is what it is for me.

So when I read about this real hero, believe it or not, it makes me want to sit down and write romance. I can't explain it, but it brings out all the romance in my body and soul. I'm sure there is some biological chemical reaction to this, which is way beyond me, and not important for me to understand fully. It is what it is.

I'd like to share this interview with the folks at Black Rifle Coffee Company. I am a coffee club member, and I get these shipments regularly, and I have since stopped buying anything from those big box places. This company is owned and operated by Veterans, who help other veterans. And it's darned good coffee too. I love their attitude, their very non-PC approach to freedom, living a life full-out, and being men among men and the women who are lucky enough to love them. It's a family and kith not everyone can understand.

But I love them dearly.

So hope you'll read this newsletter, and perhaps subscribe yourself. And with your first cup of Joe, you let me know which blend is your favorite. I haven't tried Berzerker Blend, but I'll be ordering it today.

My favorite so far is Black Beard's Delight, with the flag logo of Edward Teach, the most notorious pirate of the Caribbean. I got the patch, the hat and the thermos to go along with it.

Enjoy and I hope I've expanded your world today.

Here's an excerpt from their blog and the link to read more:

Kyle Lamb is a man who has lived a life most can’t even dream of. He grew up in a small town in South Dakota, but by the age of 24 he had been selected into the most elite special operations unit in the military. He went on to serve in “The Unit” for the next fifteen years with deployments to Somalia, Bosnia, and Iraq on multiple occasions (among many others).
Since Kyle’s retirement from the Army, he has authored two books on topics ranging from marksmanship to leadership, and founded Viking Tactics, Inc. which specializes in tactical training and equipment. You may have even seen some of his articles in Guns & Ammo Magazine, or his face on the Outdoor Channel.
Black Rifle Coffee recently caught up with Kyle to talk about everything from combat in Mogadishu to his passion for history. Check it out:
You spent the vast majority of your career as a member of the military’s premiere special missions unit. There’s a lot of mystique that (rightfully) surrounds that world, but what is the one thing that would surprise most people about what it’s like to live that life?
Probably how normal those guys are. Not everyone there is like that, but there are a lot of really normal husbands and dads. They go to work in street clothes, then put on their commando costume and go do crazy stuff. Everyone expects those guys to look and act a certain way, but a lot of them aren’t like that at all. Their neighbors don’t even know what they do. It’s just a different world.
You can read more here.
Have a powerful day and enjoy your freedoms.
8

Naughty Romance Novelist Waters Garden in her Nightie and Lives to Tell The Tale!

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:

           Gretchen avoided Trace’s eyes, but
she could tell he was watching her every chance he had. She’d not had that much
attention since the TV reporters who hounded her after her husband’s very
public display of indecency. In that case, these heartless reporters even
ramped it up when she was with her daughters. Clover even ran after one of
them, and, thank goodness, didn’t catch up with the cameraman, or they’d have
had a lawsuit for sure.
            Even
that landed on the tabloid TV show and her ex had the gall to call Gretchen up
and ream her about not getting better control of their girls.
            What an asshole.
            But this kind of attention made
her nipples knot, made her knees wobble a little, made her want to run her
fingers through her hair and reposition her clip several times, always leaving
a wisp or two of curls lapping down the back of her neck because it made her
feel wanted and desired. She knew her cheeks were flushed and her panties were
in a constant state of wet and cool, depending on if she was sitting or
standing on the porch, hanging on to the pale yellow wooden pillar and
marveling at the view below. She knew wood, especially painted wood, was not
the way of the islands now. This house had obviously been built during the old
plantation days, when the monarchy was in its glory. The old Queen was gone now
for nearly a hundred years, but her legacy of grace, raising beautiful tropical
flowers and her love of singing and watching the young dancers swing their hips
and call to each other with their graceful arms and hands, was legendary. She
herself had once been a beauty and had been an expert Polynesian dancer.
            Maybe
there was something to what Linda said, because the story of the Hawaiian
princess and the Navy SEAL started fanning the flames of her heart, making the
hairs on the back of her neck desire to be kissed.
            She
could tell he was staring at her, and that he knew she was aware of it, too. She
gave him a smile and did not dare look for his reaction. All she could do was
fan herself with the folder she was holding, and then take down and re-clip her
hair again, for the tenth time in the past hour as they had been setting things
up in the house.
            They’d
given her a room with Linda, one of the smaller ones, with twin beds. But she
loved the privacy, and the little marble-topped writing desk in front of the
gabled window. The flush of cool ocean breeze was something she was looking
forward to inhaling all night long as she slept.
            Trace
was standing at the doorway, and of course, like a gentleman, would not come
into the room without an invitation. She could imagine herself as the island
princess and he, a pirate sea captain, not daring to touch her, for fear of
losing his life. The tension was there, just the same in this century as it
could have been way back over a hundred years ago.
            “I
think I’ve just found a prettier view. Too bad you can’t see it,” he said,
casually, in a near-whisper. But she heard every word.
            Turning,
she snickered at his lack of uniform, no hat tucked under his arm, because he
wore flip flops and shorts that came just to the tops of his knees. His
well-developed calf muscles were covered withy dark hair. His white v-neck tee
shirt was so bright she nearly needed shades, and he had a pair of sunglasses
tucked into the bottom of the V. His day plus old stubble was distracting, as
was the drip of sweat that trickled from under his chin, down between his
collar bone to parts unknown. Part of the tee shirt had stuck to his chest and
abdomen below.
            He
uncrossed his arms and angled his head, waiting for a response. “You think I
look funny?”
            She
gave him a graceful smile worthy of an island princess of great lineage. “No,
Trace. I was thinking about—“
            “How
nice it would be to go down to the beach.” Linda interrupted, pushing the big
hulking SEAL aside. “Are you game, or do my stories of sex on the white sand
make you itch?” She wiggled her eyebrows, oblivious of the scene she’d just
crashed. “I’m in the mood for an umbrella drink and some bare bodies to go gaze
at.” She opened her red suitcase up and pulled out a red beach bag. “I’m
changing into my bikini now,” she said as she removed her top and revealed a
red bra with pink lipstick kisses on it.
            Trace
was out of there so fast Gretchen wasn’t sure he even got a glimpse of the bra.
            “You
like?” Linda fondled the satin cups of her bra.
            Gretchen
laughed. “You’re the only person I know who matches her luggage with her
underwear. Very clever.”
            “You
have no idea, dear. I had to hunt and hunt. But thank God for Amazon. Now they
show me everything pink and red with hearts and kisses.”
            Gretchen
watched through the window as another van pulled up to the front porch and
several people piled out. Trace was greeting several of the guys and was
introduced to a pair of very cute twenty-somethings and instantly she was
disappointed seeing his wide smile and ready hug.
            Linda
peered over her shoulder.
            “Oh,
Gretchen. Here I was jealous of you, since you’ve obviously attracted Trace’s
attention. And now we both have competition from those little sweet tarts.”
            “Gretchen
looked away from the window and walked to her bed. “No worries. I’m looking for
a superrich investment mogul who owns his own island, and only likes women over
thirty.”
            “Good
idea, Gretchen. SEAL’s don’t make that much, but I understand the sex is worth
it.” She was examining her clothes, trying to pick out a combination. Most
everything in her suitcase was red.
            Gretchen
was slightly irritated. “Is everything about sex with you?”
            “Yup.
Sex sells.” She held up a red and pink flowered sarong and examined herself in
the mirror, holding the fabric under her chin. “You like this on me?”
            “How
do you feel wearing it?”
            “Positively
a cougar waiting to pounce. But the answer to your question is, yes, maybe.
It’s called the law of attraction.” Her beautiful brown eyes sparkled. Gretchen
knew she was about to get a lesson she hadn’t asked for.
            “So
let’s have it,” Gretchen said as she sat on the bed, rummaging through her own
clothes.
            “Everything
is sales. We are selling each other right now.”
            “Come
again?” She was seriously concerned for Linda’s state of mind.
            “We
don’t know each other very well, just met today, right?”
            “Yes.
On the plane.”
            “Exactly.
Tyler and Kate met on the plane. They fell in love on that plane that day,
remember?”
            Gretchen
frowned. “Linda, I hope you haven’t gotten the wrong message here.”
            “Oh,
silly. I love women, but not in bed.
But I love getting silly drunk with my women friends. Just the best thing in
the world. The funny banter and gossip. I can tell you and I could do a serious
drunk together and wind up feeling like we’ve been sisters our whole lives.”
            “You
are close to Kate that way now?”
            “No,
silly. She has the kids, she has Tyler, and she’s not the same as me,
temperament wise. Now Tyler? If he wasn’t my brother, OMG, OMG, he would be so
much fun. And we did have fun in high school. He helped fix me up big time.”
            “Not
the other way around?”
            “He
never liked any of my slutty friends.” She gave Gretchen a smirk. “His loss, if
you ask me. Those girls would have treated him fine, and worshiped the ground
he walked on, too. But he fixed me up with tamer guys and I got what I could
out of them. I mean, drop dead gorgeous, gentlemen, you know. Wouldn’t touch me
until they thought it was right. Nice guys. Oh man, I bolloxed them up
something good.”
            “Bolloxed?”
            “Messed
with their brains. You know, stroked their ego, and then I just stroked them
and I loved blowing their minds.”
            “And
they never called you back.”
            Linda
dropped another piece of lingerie and stared back at Gretchen. “Sadly, no. How
did you know that?”
            “Because
I don’t think men like to be chased. They like to do the hunting.”
            “But
so do I.”
            “Then
hunt for something else. Don’t hunt a man. At least, if I did it, it wouldn’t work. You have to just be there, and you hope
that they get the message. Nice guys are worth it.”
            “I
have no patience. But you see, that’s why we’re going to be great friends. You
can teach me a lot about men. Have you had a lot of them?”
            Gretchen
looked at her hands folded in her lap. She would have to tell Linda the truth.
            “I
only had sex with one man, and I married him.”
            “Gretchen!”
Linda ran over to the bed, pulled her up to standing position and gave her a
big hug. “You poor thing! Starved, absolutely starved! That’s so unfair,
sweetie.” She raised Gretchen’s chin and looked at her sorrowfully. “My heart is
breaking for you, Gretchen.” She actually produced tears, which Gretchen
thought was miraculous.
            Grabbing
Linda’s hands, which still held her and pushing her away slightly, Gretchen got
her composure back. “I’ve been raising three beautiful daughters. I’ve had
boyfriends, and we’ve done some things, you know, but no sex. I just don’t want
to have sex with someone I couldn’t marry. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the
way I was brought up. Or, at least, that’s the way I thought I was.”
            Linda
stepped back. “There’s a story there,” she said, pointing to Gretchen.
            “Oh
yes, there really is. Sometime when we’re having those umbrella drinks, I’ll
tell you the tale my mother told me about the time Tyler and Kate had decided
to get married.”
            “Spill.”
            “I’m
not going to right now. But Kate and I have different fathers.”
            “So
your mother slept around.”
            “Linda,
I’ll tell you when I’m ready.” Gretchen was getting irritated with her again.
“But no, it wasn’t anything like that. If you could get your mind out of the
gutter, you might actually learn there are some really decent and cool love stories
out there, and they’re way more about love than sex.”
            Gretchen
made a bee line for the hallway so she could hit the rest room before she was
going to erupt into tears, and ran smack into Trace Bennett’s chest.
            “Hold
on there, darlin’” he said in that low growl. “I had no idea you wanted to
dance so bad. You need to wait until I get my dancin’ shoes on. These don’t
move.”
            He
looked down at his toes and they both watched him wiggle them. But while they
were watching, he’d slipped his arms around her waist and her palms had spread
out on his wet tee shirt. Her lips were close to his Adam’s apple and the dark
scruffiness of his jawline. And they were so very close to his lips if she’d
just raise her chin up, which she did. He was whispering something soft and she
didn’t dare listen because her spine had gone all tingly and if she wasn’t
imagining things, something was taking firm shape between them as he pressed
her to him until their thighs touched through fabric.
            “You
smell like heaven, Gretchen. Like a starlit night on a beach.”
            “I
didn’t think stars smelled like anything,” she said as she waited, and let him
angle down toward her mouth. She was hungry for him, but, just before he could
cover her lips, the hallway was filled with chatty newcomers.
            “Well,
I can see some people are deep into
their vacation already,” said Ollie. He was overflowing with suitcases and he
dropped one, which was quickly picked up by one of the twenty-somethings
accompanying him.
            Gretchen
immediately pulled away and she and Trace left a wide gap for the entourage to
pass. The “twins” gave her a smile that hinted at warmth but was laced with
something else. Ollie gave her a wink and sashayed between them all, one case
above his head.
            Trace
had his hands in his shorts, checking out his wiggling toes. When their eyes
finally connected, Gretchen saw the fire was still there and her pulse
quickened. When he gave her a lopsided smile and rubbed his chin, she nearly
fainted.
            More
people were coming up the stairs. Trace gracefully hopped across the hallway to
stand next to Gretchen. He bent down and whispered, “To be continued, my dear.”
            She
watched him maneuver around suitcase-carrying well-built men and young women as
he made his way down the stairs. Gretchen retreated to the bedroom, closed the
door, leaned against it and closed her eyes.
            “Well
done.”
            She’d
forgotten Linda was still in the room. With her breathing ragged and her
embarrassment stabbing her stomach lining with little pitchforks, she felt
exposed, and without defenses.
            “You’ve
got it bad, sweetie.”
            She
knew Linda was right. But she had to attempt to show she was casual about the
whole thing—if she could. “Just not used to the guy flirting with me before I’m
ready. I’m way out of practice.” She saw Linda nodding in response. Gretchen
was proud of herself. Her comment was nearly 100% truthful.
            “He’s a babe magnet all right.
I’ll grant you that. I’m going to honor your territory.”
            “Linda,
no need for that. I’m a big girl. Just rusty.” Then she stopped herself. “Actually,
that was a fib. I never was any good at it.”
            “Well,
make sure you have a case of condoms because I have a feeling you’re going to
get all the practice you need, plus a little extra for desert. You’ll do fine.
He looks like he wants to lead, so let him. Holy hell I wish I was in your
shoes.”
            “Might
make it into you book, then?”
            “Could
be. Most my friends are in my books—not that they’d recognize themselves. I
take a kernel of the truth and explode it into something they’d never think of.
My guilty pleasure. But, if you want to share any details, I’m your gal. You
sure you two have never met before?” Linda quickly slipped on a red polka dot
bikini, turning her back so Gretchen could tie the spaghetti straps together at
her shoulder blades.
            “Just
like the song, Linda.”
            “Who
was that who sang it?” she asked.
            “Beats
me.”
            “Bryan
something. Except it was a Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
            “You
think they’ll notice? That’s the smallest thing I’ve seen. Mine’s a one-piece.”
            “You’re
kidding?”
            “I
like a little tummy help after three girls.”
            “Yes,
and my little tummy is all mine. No children to blame it on. A little lazy, I
guess.”
            “Well,
I tried. But in the end, all I wanted to be was just a good mom. Not a movie
star, or a celebrity like you.”
            “Oh
nonsense, Gretchen. You’re gorgeous. And you married a celebrity, so you know
what that’s all about. What a total
jerk, if you ask me.”
            “I
didn’t ask you.” She had tied and re-tied the strings together, and was finally
satisfied the bow was straight. “There. I think that meets my high standards.
And I double tied it, so in case you get the sudden need to flash your boobs on
the beach, just understand your top may not fall to the sand gracefully when
you pull the strings.” Gretchen fluttered her eyelashes for extra effect.
            “You
should be a romance writer,” said Linda. “You’re a natural. Flashing boobs and
having things fall delicately to the sand. Oh my, what an imagination you
have!”
            “Don’t
lie to me. I have none.”
            “And
you’re a very good liar too.”

So, tell me dear reader, do you water your garden in your nightgown and dream of love stories? I think for this book, reality imitates art, don't you think? Am I Linda Gray?
8

Story of the 2 Jakes

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!

2

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Birthday America! Today we remember those who went before us. I wrote a whole post on my visit to Valley Forge last year, and how moving it was for me. I loved it so much, we're planning on a military salute at the same location next August, and would love you to join us.

There are some times recently when I've forgotten how hard it was for those early freedom fighters, and the men who commanded them. Most of these men did not fare well during the Battle for Independence. But they fought for the cause of freedom. Not many of them knew this was going to be the case, but they fought and died so we could have what we have today.

It is an awesome choice we have these days: honor our tradition of fierce independence, or ignore it, scrap it all and let someone else figure it out. It is frustrating to know what is the right way to do it. How about we just agree to let them get it done and stay out of the way. We show up, we vote, and then let's have faith that our system will survive, even if, at the time, we may or may not like what's going on?

I looked at those photographs, the film that chronicled the fact that so many men died just from lack of food, or shoes. It was a cold winter that year at Valley Forge, and perhaps it would have been easier to give up. But they didn't.

We'd do well to remember that.

Here's my blog about Valley Forge from last year here.

And if you'd like to join us, here's all the information on the Salute With Love military author signing – for readers and authors alive. Help us spread the word.

And celebrate your independence, your freedom, by living the best life you can live, standing for the highest principles we can, and including everyone in our tent, but excluding those who would do us harm. And I hope you join with me in honoring those who fought so that we could have a more perfect union. I celebrate us all.

Happy Independence Day!

3

SATISFACTION AND GARDENING

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.

Watering the Garden:

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.

Thinning/Pruning/Discovering:

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.

4

INDULGING IN READER FANDOM

It does feel good to spend time as a writer in the company of readers. It's lush and feels wonderful! One of the best things about being a writer is to know that we are an important part of avid reader's lives. It is an honor, and it also comes with it a bit of a burden, to continue to deliver content and new story lines. I'm up for the challenge!

There are lots of things we do to become visible, and I've lined out some of my concerns in my post of last Sunday here. As you know, I have some things about this whole field that trouble me greatly. But, it is the platform we have, it is the platform that has given me the ability to sell my books in the open market.

My own future direction is to stay in the vein of interest for readers, and not to artificially create it, which some forms of advertising and promotion feel like. Certain types of “fandom” experiences feel that way too. Yet, we want fans. How do we know when we've crossed the line?

I guess the readers get to choose. My attending events like this, I get to become a “person” they know, not just read. That's important. I want to be generous with my readers, but I understand I won't win them all. But they are my life blood.

I've seen first-hand how the ebb and flow of popularity can change in a year, in a few months, even in a week. The bottom line? Be ready for the long haul, and don't get attached to any temporary setback. The long haul means basking in the glow of success, as well as plodding through the mud when we get discouraged. Most readers don't understand how writers sometimes get discouraged.

I have a great life and a great family I don't get a lot of time to be with. That has concerned be a bit this year. So, I may be cutting back on my travels and appearances. I'm going to choose wisely the reader events where I get good one-on-one interaction, not just ones where I party or get drunk with readers. That's not me. My breakfast this morning, as a wrap-up to Lori Foster's event, is just perfect: with either other wonderful ladies, where we got to talk about Navy SEALs, and hopefully answer their questions about me, my books and how I write. I love talking about my experiences. I also love it when family members bring new readers or members of their family along. Those readers I will do almost anything for.

So, you may not see me at the really big conventions. Not at the crazy conventions, or the ones where they specialize in over-the-top behavior. I'm a product of my generation, and a lady, even though I do write spicy books. Am I a non-fiction writer where I give 100% accurate portrayal of what being a Navy SEAL is really like? Heck no. I'm a novelist. I take stories and situations and make them into things I would like to read. I embellish! Some are based on true events, but most of them are my active imagination! And I think that's what's wanted and needed.

So, I go home to California tonight, thinking about getting into the next book to finish, spend time in my garden (some rescue will no doubt be needed, but not making anyone wrong for that), and some personal reflection time on what I want to do going forward. I know that I have some things I can assist my family in financially, and will be cutting away at other things so I can be a better contributor. It no longer is okay for me not to be available, or be traveling so much. Life is short and the grands grow up, and I want to be a part of all that.

So, it's balance I'm seeking. I have a good life. I'm taking care of my health. I'm blessed with a wonderful family and have been very successful in all the businesses we've had. Part of doing something for me is not only being a romance writer, but being a better wife, mother and grandmother, and perhaps have some time for friendships. I've neglected some of these in the past, and that's something I'm going to focus on most of all.

It's always good every once in awhile to get off the treadmill and make sure that my goals and dreams are all aligned with what the rest of the family wants and needs. And then, of course, I can add that extra bit of sparkle and fantasy. My rose colored glasses are still firmly in place. But those glasses have given me far more in real life results than a magnifying glass ever could. It's a balance of both worlds.

And I hope you'll continue to join me there.

6

Memorial Day – Hearing the Flags Wave

Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning the first time my son was deployed overseas. We weren't told where he was going, when he'd be back, and, because of the outpost he would be sent to, communication would be nil.

I found great comfort walking the paths at Santa Rosa Memorial Park, seeing all the beautiful flags posted by the local Boy Scouts on the grave of every veteran. I watched as the newly interred were honored, their families given a folded flag, and a salute from an the Officer doing the officiating that day. One of my friends had lost his son just a few days before. His grave was still covered in flowers and wreaths.

We had protestors too that day, with their nasty signs inappropriately displayed, written comments meant to send distress to this young warrior's parents. If it wasn't for the beefy bikers who do the angel runs, picking up the coffins from San Francisco and escorting them up Highway 101 in a solemn parade of pride, the parents might have seen the disgusting message. I was glad they did not.

Just like every other mother who sends her son off to war, I thought about how I would act if it was suddenly my turn to show up at a ceremony like this. I hoped I never would. And so far, he's been safe.

When my son decided to serve, I admit trying to talk him out of it. That was the job for someone else's boy to do. I even harbored the thoughts that perhaps his talents in sports and leadership would be wasted on a battlefield. What parent hasn't thought the same. I'm not proud of it.

But as he stood steadfast, unwavering, waiting for me to come around, I saw in him not the boy I raised but a man who wanted to serve. I didn't want to take that away from him. And so I honored him with his decision, by deciding then and there, I'd be a willing participant and serve alongside him. I would support him as best I could.

It is an incredible thing to put on a uniform and selflessly serve a nation or an administration that you don't always agree with. But regardless of politics, background, race or religion, the military man or woman serves by setting aside their today for our tomorrow. We can be sad about the ones who don't come home. But they'd want us to live our lives and be grateful for the freedoms we have.

And to remember, not just on Memorial Day, or R.E.D. Fridays, but every day. With all the turmoil and nastiness out there today, it is truly a miracle, washed in the blood of those who have sacrificed, that we get to live the life we have.

May your grateful nation always remember you, veterans in peacetime and in war. And say thank you for your gift of freedom.

5

Gifts of May Gardening

There are certain times of the year that are just lush. That's the best way to describe them. In Northern California, we've had a lot of rain this spring, and even some last week, which is nearly unheard of. So the weeds are crazy strong, but so are the plants when I can weed them.

Never seen so many rose blooms. The soil is just perfect for working in it. I've lost my fingerprints from patting down soil around new plants. My toes and fingernails look like I lived in the time of Outlander, they are eternally black around the edges, no matter how much I scrub. Good that it doesn't interfere with my writing – except these times I make sure to use a keyboard protector!

Because of the weather, and our schedules, our garden is very late. So these pictures, compared to last year, might look less full. Have no fear. As my favorite sign says, “My Garden Isn't Dead. It's Sleeping.”

So I've planted literally about 100 little flower transplants and bulbs. I should be good in about a month with some lush pictures, if I can keep them properly weeded. I went all out and planted 9 melon plants, including 5 watermelon mounds. We heard that the rind is actually very healthy – more so than the fruit, so we'll be adding these to our healthy smoothies this summer.

My peas are just starting to peek out and I hope the shady area I grew them will help promote some yummy pods. I have yellow, purple, French and Blue Lake beans. I've planted a dozen asparagus plants, 3 new violet artichokes and a couple new green ones. I planted about 50′ of potatoes, with the onions around them (my only tried and true remedy for gopher and mole control). I've got red cabbage, red cauliflower. Celery and yellow beets. Seven kinds of cucumber including Armenian, Burpless and a new Russian variety (how appropriate, right?). I am babying some volunteer turban squash, hubbard squash, zuccini, and patty pans. And of course, 14 tomato plants of all varieties – several cherry (chocolate, yellow and red) and two Heirloom brands. My lettuce is doing great. I have onions all over the place. I was delighted to find a new variety of Hydrangea – nice and purple.

We are checking our watering on the roses, and the fruit trees and discovered our apple tree had termites! Yuck. Sprayed that sucker with that tar spray (only thing in my garden non-organic) and will fill up the hole they've eaten in the trunk with (you guessed it) concrete! We always have that lying around for repairing our rock walls.

So while finishing this next book, Paradise, I'm watering, planting and doing other things outside to get me moving and stimulate ideas. It is a great way to craft a love story.

I'm not sure whether the love stories inspires my garden or my garden inspires my love stories, and I don't care to find out.

All I know is, it's lush here in Northern California. I don't travel for a couple of weeks, and, being a Taurus, I'm very firmly planted in the soil of my garden, even though my head and heart is in the clouds.

Enjoy these last few days of May.

And who could forget Richard Harris with this timeless piece.

4

Romance Writer Thinks About Motherhood

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:


1. You won't feel like you have the time or energy to get up in the wee hours of the morning for feeding, sometimes a bath and certainly a diaper change. And then perhaps another bath and diaper change. But somehow, you'll just find a way.
2. Motherhood is part nurse, part camp counselor, part disciplinarian, taxi driver and the unlimited source of funds. But all those things are done out of love. You learn to get used to the feel of clotted spitup traveling down your back and into your butt crack occasionally.
3. Being a mother is very simple, but not easy.

4. Your home will be invaded with smelly soccer teams and brownie sleepovers. You'll recover your furniture and replace your carpet about every three years. You have to instruct the little ones not to pick up the dog by its belly, or by its ears, or the cat by its tail.
5. When you give a gift to the relatives and the children are present, they'll always tell the recipient you got it on sale. They're practicing being truthful.
6. You will cherish those little soap dishes and ashtrays made in grammar school, and will never throw out the handprint painted bright blue or green made in preschool. You'll look for evidence of talent in the butcher paper drawings you'll be presented with. 
7. You'll not have the heart to throw out the baby teeth the Tooth Fairy stole, leaving money under the kid's pillows. You will learn it's okay to read the same bedtime story over and over and over again. You won't get medals or pay raises. You won't be given an instruction manual.
8. You'll never forget the fact that you will be the first woman your sons will love, and they'll show it to you even though they try very hard to cover it up. And you try not to laugh.

9. You'll discover enthusiasm for bugs, water fights, large bubbles, pink plastic high heels, fold up field chairs, hard wooden gym benches or the midnight bad dreams that bring the kids back to your bed occasionally. You'll remember and cherish all of these memories. Christmas morning will never ever be the same again.
10. Motherhood means the celebration of unselfish love, belief in all things, even when everyone else has given up hope. Mothers hope a lot. And they pray. They keep and tell the stories of the family. They demonstrate the healing power of love. They remind us all that we are family.

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.

11

Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz Day Trip. Saying Good-Bye

Yesterday we took a road trip from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz. The excuse was to attend a farewell family gathering there organized by my husband's sister's family. But we took the whole day to enjoy the scenery along the way and to just mark this page in our lives. My daughter is due in early October, and it had been years since just the three of us spent a day together.

Mac's Deli, in Santa Rosa was our starting place. Omelettes (I admit it: ortega chilis, sour cream, cheddar and black olives is my personal favorite) with Santa Rosa Chili Gods sauce, and pancakes (shared amongst the 3 of us, of course), a choice of light or dark coffee, and greeting locals and friends, great conversation, and our day was primed. I felt like I wouldn't need to eat until supper.

I was wrong.

At San Francisco, we took Hwy 1 to Pacifica and followed the coastline all the way to Santa Cruz. It has been over 20 years since I've taken that two-lane highway – a testament to my rushing around trying to get from point A to B fast, and missing things along the way. A nice reminder for me to slow down a bit. I don't have to do it all…


We passed through little towns of Davenport, Pescadero, larger ones like Half Moon Bay. We were tempted by berry stands and local truck farms, as well as places where you could pick your own veggies and fruit. One of our highlights was the trip to the Pie Ranch. Now, what a great  store name!

Gardening for me is near to religion, but I don't go to the extreme some do. Still, I like the fact that people take sustainable and organic gardening seriously. It's more than not using sprays and chemicals, it's about feeling the pulse of the warm soil, and nurturing growing things. My garden shows me when I neglect it. It actually hurts me to see it untended, or to see weeds I can't get to. Almost like ignoring to feed our dogs, which I would never do! So, when I walk into a barn that nearly worships the work in the garden, I'm in church. I find church at Farmer's Markets and nurseries, greenhouses, or demonstration gardens. Yes, I sometimes am moved to tears when I smell the damp earth and musty tones in a greenhouse, or the way the moisture bathes my face as I wander through. It holds a perfume that uplifts my soul on dozens of levels. Nearly orgasmic!

I had to buy a onesie for my new granddaughter coming this fall. Eat Pie. That sums it up rather poetically, don't you think? I love the Just Laid duck tee. But the strawberry rhubarb pie and lemon buttermilk pie were showstoppers.

Another unexpected find was the Abalone Farm at Pescadero. Off the highway, and with little fanfare, only open Saturdays from 10-2, we lucked out and watched abalone being grown in large saltwater bubbling vats. There's a little back room where all the magic happens, we were told. The water ph and extra nutrients created microscopic baby abalone that get moved to the nursery when they are old enough to actually be seen with the naked eye. We learned what they ate, and that they are voracious eaters of kelp and kale. We came home with 10 steaks we will partially devour tonight like candy.

At Santa Cruz we parked after driving past the old Boardwalk and arcade, passing by the lovely homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the beaches with volleyball nets and the surfers dotting the waves everywhere. We strolled down the pier in search of a perfect bowl of clam chowder and a view, and found it. Best
chowder I've ever had. I limited myself to one bun of sourdough French bread. We examined the tourist shops, bought a lovely sweatshirt that summed up my sentiments exactly, and some socks for the baby to come.

We met up with the rest of the family at our relative's home, bracing ourselves for that final good-bye. My husband's sister will be leaving us shortly, and this was on her bucket list: to get the family together one more time, to whisper things to her little brother and walk the beach one more time. All the treatments are done, and now it was time to prepare for her final journey. I heard music she'd made, her clear, beautiful voice. She instilled in all her children the love of music, and singing in particular. There was always music at every wedding, funeral or family event, sung by family groups or solos throughout the years. Lovely memories we reflected on. Life moves on. New babies are born as we all age and take our place as we enter and leave this wonderful family of ours.

We were home safely before midnight, and yes, we took the fast way back. Each of us quiet, thinking about the day and what was shared. Like most things in life, it was perfect in its complexity, like multicolored beads strung together to make a beautiful necklace. A necklace of found and discovered things.

I like days like yesterday, which are measured both by what we gave, as well as what we took home to ponder secretly. Footsteps taken, and little ones yet to come.

8

On Being Super Human

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.