Yesterday was one of those days where the pieces just fell into place, where I got to practice some of the things I've been speaking about to several groups over the last few weeks. I got to play with purpose and passion.
Writing is a practice. Living a passionate life is a practice. So is raising a family, maintaining a long-term relationship, re-bonding with good friends and creating new exciting ones. Often I get caught up in what I'm NOT doing instead of celebrating what I do have.
In the writing community sometimes there is this “mouse in the wheel” effect. We want to do everything we are drawn to, or see others do. We wish we had the money or time or other resources to do it all. But the plain fact of the matter is that we can't. We have limits.
But limits are good!
Testing limits is how we get great. We don't start out great, we practice at it until we get there. Or, perhaps we never get there, but we strive for it. We apply pressure, we PUSH OUR LIMITS. We learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Everyone has different limits and everyone pushes at different levels. How hard we push or how hard we stretch is based on how hard we want that goal, or that change.
Marina Adair has been a friend of mine since my first RWA chapter meeting almost six years ago. It seemed like there was so much to learn, so much to do, it was overwhelming. But we both had the same excitement for writing, and although we both took different paths, we both got to experience stretching our limits and achieving goals we never even thought possible.
I'm amazed at how sometimes old friendships can turn into new opportunities and connections, and lead the way to more magic and mayhem. Because there is certainly a little mayhem too! None of us does this crazy thing called being an author alone. We give each other a hand up. Just like we have readers who tell other people about our work, people we work with who help make us shine and help spread the word. It does indeed take a community to make an author. It takes a life of watching and pressing against the walls, to become a great mentor to others, and a great writer worth reading.
Living with some degree of stress (my old mentor said if you didn't want any stress in your life, have them surgically remove your brain and spinal cord, and float it in a saline solution for the rest of your life) is actually healthy for us. Putting it in terms of loving someone — we are driven to give them our best, because we care about what they think We are passionate about a relationship when we take the time to celebrate and treat it like the precious box of delights that relationship is.
I'm enjoying my venture in Marina's St. Helena Vineyards Kindle World. I'm also grateful for some of the good as well as the not so good things that have happened to me during my journey to get to this point. I'm not done, but I promise you, whatever comes next will be done full-on and with as much passion as I can stuff into my brain and my heart.
Because nothing else you can take with you. And that's a practice too.
As we honor and memorialize the 9-11 anniversary of the Twin Towers terrorist attacks, I'm reminded, again, how we are all connected. Forever.
We watched the towers fall from our television set in California, while on the phone with our son, who was attending NYU. He watched from the dorms some 26 blocks away.
I didn't know until later that I lost a member of my graduating class at Gunn in Palo Alto. Or that later I'd lose another member of my class in an attack on the UN offices in Algeria. I will never forget, as I'm sure most of you will never forget, where you were when you heard the news. We go forward with heavy hearts, but it never gets old to remember those who sacrificed so much. If we are truly to live, we need to do this as a world. It goes far beyond country, religion or cultural ethnicity. It is a scar on the landscape of the whole world, healed by love and remembrance.
Yesterday I spoke to the San Francisco chapter of Romance Writers of America. My topic was on becoming an Elite Warrior Indie Author. I've had the good fortune to meet, interview and be mentored by some of the greatest minds of today. Hopefully, I brought some of that to focus for the group.
A highlight of the day was that a group of readers came all the way from Sacramento to visit! It became clear to me, as I was preparing my talk, that our stories, once they leave us, no longer belong to us, but belong to the readers. How perfect that they were there.
We all want the easy walk, the life without conflict, tooling down the road of success and happiness like the resolutions in our romance novels. But reality isn't like that at all. The beauty of the fabric of life is that we are all connected. We share our lives with each other. We share our stories. We share our tears, and we share how we all move on.
Thank you for being part of my journey.
One memorable time I was at Acre Coffee in Santa Rosa, I witnessed a couple flirting and dropping notes to each other. He dropped a note to her. She opened it, smiled, wrote something in response, and, thinking no one was watching, dropped it off at his lap on the way to the bathroom. He smiled and did the same. It went on for several minutes. Did they leave together? I hope so, but I missed that part, having to make my own pit stop. My romance mind wanted to think they were strangers about to hook up. But wouldn't it be nice if it was a prearranged date between a very long-term couple?
Why don't we do this after years of marriage or long-term relationships? Well, if I knew that answer, I'd be selling that seminar out there. I suspect it's because as we age, we carve off the wild and crazy parts of ourselves, in favor of the more predictable parts that perhaps cause us less pain. I don't know about you, but I used to love jumping around with the full pot of coffee on Sunday mornings – working in the garden in cutoffs and braless, listening to Chinese music or an NPR interview. If it were today, perhaps a TED Talk blaring out over the 2 acre apple orchard we lived in back then, with a landlord from Columbia we thought might be a drug dealer. Oh my.
I often wonder what our neighbors thought of us. More than 23 cars, working at night because we felt like it with spotlights in the garden. Dancing. Running naked through the sprinklers. Oh yes, there was that day when I had to get in 13 cars in my little white uniform to get one that ran so I could go to work. And that vehicle was a 1941 Flatbed International truck we'd driven back from Indiana on a “vacation.” You know those kinds? Drove to Indiana to look at the truck in 36 hours, via Minnesota to deliver a car to a serviceman coming home and it was a free ride (except for gas). We probably didn't have the money at the time to afford a plane ride, so it would have been a bus ticket home for us. But we bought the truck, and then in Illinois bought me a 1953 Chevy.
I even hitchiked in Baja, back in the day, when it was sort of safe. Met up with a couple of guys from LA and drove all around the back streets in a looooooong red Cadillac convertable. I had more to drink than I ever had before…a lost weekend for sure. But that's another story for another time before I was married…Back to the green Chevy.
I used that green-two-toned Chevy years later when I started to sell Real Estate. People would walk out of their houses to look at it, when I doorknocked neighborhoods. I had the old Girl Scout photo I used in the ads. Even put all 4 of my kids in the back of the car and took a picture, for my brochure (remember those?). I even took all 4 of the kids to City Council meetings and listing appts., which guaranteed they wouldn't go over a half hour long.
Oh those coffee days. A wandering heart way back then. Trying to be responsible, but skirting the edges at the same time.
I think about all these times when I lament getting older. No one can ever take these away from me. And I wouldn't trade a minute for anything. I enjoyed my freedom then, and I enjoy it now even more.
I've been perusing a couple of little books lately. An old standby for me is Sarah Ban Breathnach's Moving On, which is no longer in print, but you can buy here for .01 in hard bound. I literally highlighted every other page in this book after the devastating fire that took our house and many of our valuables in 2008. Miraculously, because I had hired someone (Connie) to help me sort and archive things, all my family photographs were spared. Several boxes I'd recently inherited from my mother weren't yet unpacked and were also spared. But all my old family jewelry, the doll my great great grandmother came over with from Scotland and her box, and a braid of my other great grandmother's hair perished.
The house we had lived in before the fire was one of those I “settled” for and never should have. It was all we could afford, since we were raising 4 kids. The unfinished projects and the Mystery House effect didn't bother me because we were warm and safe. And we were saving for college educations.
Luckily, my kids either got partial scholarships, or went into the military. After they were all gone, my husband and I were left with literally this empty shell of a monstrosity. And then the fire took it all away.
I was grateful in a way. I got to spend time designing a house I would be happy living in. So Moving On was a great book for me. After a messy divorce, she was literally starting her writing career and her life all over again. I did something similar. Gave up my once successful life as a Realtor, for the life of a romance writer. We weathered a couple of very rough years financially and emotionally as well. We were attempting to heal.
Until I started planning my new house, I didn't realize what a toll those 23 years of living in that unfinished and quirky house had taken on me. I began to read about making spaces I would love, things that inspired me, like when SBB found “Newton's Cottage”.
When I read this comment, I was stopped in my tracks. It changed the direction of my life forever, as I pondered writing romance in a new house:
“Rosemary Sullivan (SBB had written about her treatise on falling obsessively in love) is meditating on the emotion women feel when they fall in love at first sight with men; I'm the one making the leap to house fever because I've succumbed to both. Suddenly, without warning (or so it seems) the trajectory of a woman's life changes, becoming “a vicarious route to some essential part of herself that she does not yet fully recognize or understand.” The Beloved becomes “the heroic territory she longs to occupy.”
She thinks she's found him–or home. (We say we feel “at home” with our true love). Interestingly, the name of the greatest lover of all time, Casanova, means ‘new house.'”
My professional organizer, Connie, came back to my house this week, and she mapped out some ideas for me to ponder and work on until she comes back on Tuesday and we spend a couple of hours getting my writing area, which includes the writing computer and the packaging and blogging area, organized. “You're going to have to decide what Sharon lives here,” she said as she walked around my space. Oddly enough, the office I once had, was given to my husband, who wanted to spend more time working from home. So, I was given the “bridge” – the walkway outside our bedrooms, but overlooking the gardens below and the living and dining areas below. And a “bridge” is what it's been. A place between two parts of me not yet put together properly. I have my gardens, and I have my bedroom. Between those two, is my writing. It's been growing faster than the garden and is less calm than the bedroom. The pad is unfinished to accept my Glider, so this bridge I'm finally making peace with. Instead of being temporary, I'm making it permanent. For now.
So, I'm throwing out things, moving things, clearing a space, a landing space so I can work on my projects. And as I'm doing so, I'm thinking about all those Sharons I am. Wife, mother, grandmother, writer, inspired and magical being.
I don't yet have a space of my own belonging, as Sara BanBreathnach writes about. But I have a place I can create from. It isn't an end game, I realize as I clean out, purge and choose. It's just the beginning of the Sharon I am becoming.
And that excites me totally!
I've been reading those little books again. None of my favorite shows are on TV these days and I've watched everything I want to that's streaming. I'm having a productive summer writing. My garden is doing well. This morning I harvested the first of my corn.
My mother used to talk about how in the midwest they'd say “knee high by the 4th of July” and I always think of that when I look at my corn. I just planted some new starts this weekend, so in California, it's a bit different. But the promise of “knee high” gives me hope that even though my garden isn't perfectly manicured, I'll have corn. And I do!
I bought a big strawberry candle at Mollie Stone's market in Palo Alto when I was there for the reunion party, then found it online and cheaper, of course. I enjoy that fleeting strawberry scent which is perfect for summertime daydreaming, or writing, or whatever. Candles and music are big for me, as is the ambience of place, so I can get into the rhythm of the story. I'm listening to Jim Wilson and Ludovico Einaudi almost non-stop.
I've said before that a story is like a patchwork quilt, made up of different colors and patterns, like the characters in the book and the past and emotions they bring to the story. If everything was “perfect” from the beginning, we'd soon lose interest. I do like to show some perfect things all throughout my books, but I want to show how close to a precipice the perfect, or order of my character's lives is. How easily it can fall away, be neglected, or ignored intentionally for other pressures.
So is it harmony we seek? I know my readers love the Happily Ever After, and I will deliver that every time without fail, or I can't call myself a romance writer. But worshiping the hero or heroine is worshiping the choices they ultimately make. This holds true whether we are talking about a good crime fiction, romantic suspense or inspirational romance. We celebrate the choices that are made, showing the change in the character from the beginning of the book. We show how he or she has learned something new.
I learn something new as an author with each book. I have my doubts sometimes at the beginning or in the middle (they call it the soggy middle for good reason), like I think everyone does. Of course, I keep those to myself, until the story “gels” for me, and that's when I feel the movement of my soul, pouring it out there for all to see, and hopefully enjoy. As a writer, I go through that change just like my characters do.
So creating art is a process, but it's also a practice. Loving is a practice. Marriage is a practice. Being a good friend is a practice. And writing a bestseller is definitely a practice we get better and better with each book we write. We turn our doubts, our chaos, our many parts of the story into a beautiful quilt of emotion and theme, just as we practice patience and allow all those chaotic parts to come inside us.
I have a good excuse for why this Sundays With Sharon is late. But I don't want to tell you! I'm becoming a nocturnal writer. I understand now those who are with their families during the day and then command the night to write. I have come full circle. I am one of those now.
Our tour of San Diego took us to one of the several SEAL bars (the touristy one) in SanDiego, run by a former SEAL. I make it a habit of not naming real places, so if I want to change them later, I can. That way I don't get lashed by the fact police. So, I won't tell you the name of the bar we hung out at with our little group of Coronado touristas.
The book I'm finishing now, has a beautiful sex scene before and after the arrival at the Waterwheel Inn, which is a favorite place my SEALs like to go. It is filled with romance. It just seems like the place to fall in love. It's where my SEALs spend a week's salary to take their ladies on a special night. The real name of the Inn is the Kenwood Inn. I say this because they want the publicity, and my son works there so it's good for him too.
I've used the lobby of this place in several books. It's also in one unfinished book, Be With Me, where my heroine places her palms against the glass of a case and the old pen that was once held by the strange man coming to her in her dreams rolls toward the glass all by itself. And then later she sees him looking up at her. He's standing in the mists of the azure pool at midnight, by full moon, and she is being pleasured by her then-partner, who stands behind her and does not see the vision. She will travel across space and time to find him because she instantly knows he's the love of her life.
The image of that scene is so stamped on my brain, I think it might be the last thing I think of when I finally close my eyes at the end of my days. Life was one way. My fantasy life was another way. Did I ever get there? Only time will tell.
So, when I sat at the Scupper in San Diego, I felt my SEAL Team 3 guys sitting in the corner, watching a ball game on one of the big screen TVs, or outside by the firepit watching the little hotties walk past. Fiction makes real what was formally unreal.
I bought challenge coins on the strand. I ate an ice cream like so many of my SEALs do. I put myself in my story, so I could write it from the inside out. And yes, fiercely. Because what I'm describing are not the facts, but the feeling about what it's like to be one of my characters so I can be inside their skin when I write their dialog. So I can feel like I'm on my honeymoon again, in a place where a mysterious man comes to me and I fall in love all over again, just in time for the next book.
Playing catchup to the #A-ZBlogChallenge, and my topic for the month is gratitude.
G is for:
I'm flying to Scottsdale for the Desert Dreams Convention. Teaching a couple of classes and looking forward to the reader signing on Saturday. I think I have only one suitcase close to the limit. I was smart and sent ahead my things, and I'll send any unused books to RT in Las Vegas.
Having dinner tonight with my friend from Tucson Festival of Books I think 3 years ago now, and his wife. He's one of those guys who has done things we don't want to know about. LOL. I have used him as a source for several FBI and other law enforcement questions I've had.
So, #atozchallenge is now at the letter F.
I get a lot done on the plane and in the hotel room. Meeting my narrator on Friday, and we'll be doing a class on audio books. After having worked together on 21 of them, I think we've got it down, but then we find something new just about every new project we undertake.
I am grateful for being able to fly to visit friends, to teach and to give back to the community of wonderful writers. It's like fishing, and that's another F word. I put myself in these places, and people show up, events happen and I learn something.
Friends is a good F word. Today I learned how to upload a movie file to my FB author page. Looking for a way to track it, and did not know the video is treated as an impression, rather than a click. I've got tons of videos I'd like to show off. And Facebook, okay, that's another F word, likes them right now.
I like Free also. Free books, free first in series.
And, as I write this, I hear frogs. I love frogs for various reasons. I've got 12 tattooed to my forearm, one for every SEAL book, just like my characters have in the series. And I have a pretty one on my back, something that could have been drawn in the 1960's. Love the color and the paisley symbols.
Flower Child. Some would make that one word, because it certaiinly is a THING! That's me. This flower child has a small garden this year. And that's another great F word:
I'm grateful for books. I love reading books. I love writing books. I love book conventions and all the beautiful readers there. Here are some other B things I'm grateful for:
1. Boys. I dated them, married one, bore two and fell in love with lots of them. What would my life be without boys? Not so sweet.
2. Band of Bachelors – and here you thought I wouldn't pimp my series? I am finishing up one now, and he's a very messed up bachelor, and that's my next grateful point!!
3. Bachelors! They shield themselves from women, but they fall and they fall badly. The give wrong advice. Without Bachelors to write about, what would life be?
4. Baseball. I'm grateful for the new Giant's Stadium, for lazy afternoons out at the ballpark, getting sunburned and loving every minute of it.
Better come back tomorrow!
|My long dining room table is going to be filled today.|
I'm energized by a little project I'm working on this weekend, taking a writing break. I'm doing a talk at Desert Dreams on Writing Series, Making Them Sizzle. I always love these projects because although I know the points I want to make, some of the results and demonstration are going to be surprises for me.
I've got all this office supply stuff (who else but me can spend too much in the office supply store, who covets paper and pens and stickers and stuff over clothes and jewelry I used to lust over?), and will be creating a banner to demonstrate what I mean at the class. I'm going to put all my series covers side by side and then identify the characters in that book, and then show other books that they show up in.
Now, believe me or not, even I forget sometimes, so there is this very handy feature in Word that allows me to search a term, a name, to find out all the references for it in the book. Easy peasy, right? Well then I thought I'd do tape to show where they completed a string, or an arc of the story.
I think one of the things that works in a series is when you connect them, like a quilt, putting pieces from other stories together, inserting them for extra color and texture. But you don't want to disorient a new reader and you don't want to bore an old reader. There is a right tipping point of information, just the right amount and not too much. I rely on my editors for some of this, because some I clearly don't see.
|Okay, I'm a collector and couldn't help myself.|
So, I'm anxious to see how it turns out. My mind works, like the creative place it is, now wondering if I could do it in a real fabric quilt, using different patterns for each book, and re-using those fabrics later to make a random, patchwork art piece of my series. I love “found” things and pieces that didn't go together before that make something new and beautiful. The elixir of creative life filled with passion and purpose.
By the way, will you be in Scottsdale April 7-10? The Desert Dreams Convention still has spaces. Or, if you're a reader in the area, want to get together for a coffee or some chow? Let me know. Would love to meet you, or see you again.
|J.D. Hart, my pirate storyteller, who narrates all my books.|
J.D. Hart and I are also doing a class on audio book production, and then a session afterwards for those who want more in-depth brainstorming. The Pirate Prince and I would love to see you there…