We spent yesterday in Antigua. Headed straight for the Admiral Nelson Dockyard, which is a National Park here, at English Harbor. We've been before, but always on an organized tour, where we were crowded in for the rum punch freebie, and bellied up to the bar like a good tourist with our German, English and French friends from the ship. This time we hired our own driver, Winston James, and he was a hoot. When we left the ship, we had to make our way through the gauntlet of taxi and tour drivers looking to pick up a good customer. We made it clear, it was just a taxi ride, but in the end, we wound up with something sort of hybrid. He got us there, but we also took in some other sights he thought were important. Well, they were beautiful. And he's rightly proud of “his island.”
Nelson's Shipyard was originally founded in 1740, but the great Admiral himself lived there only 3 years in the 1760's I believe. It was fascinating to read about this garrison, founded before the Revolutionary War, and England's plans to not only protect its interests in the Caribbean, but to establish a safe harbor from the hurricanes that would sometimes decimate a fleet in this region. They also were attempting to stop local pirates from having their way with merchant ships that frequented the Caribbean, loaded with money and other goods bound for England. I was fascinated by the accounts of family life, with “no women allowed” yet where evidence that the sailors and some of the workers they brought from overseas developed relationships with the local women, sometimes raising families, even though there was a wife and family at home. There was one account where a sailor's grave was repositioned, to find that he had been buried with an infant son on his chest, probably due to Yellow Fever. Very touching.
An unexpected miracle was the fact that there was a charter yacht convention going on. They are gearing up for a Sailing Week coming in 2 weeks, where the rich and richer gather with their “boats”, will race, party and party harder. I'm sure it will be a wild time. I was in awe as I walked down the pier, passing probably fifty ships that cost more than I'll earn in 10 lifetimes. Some of these were for sale. Some prospective buyers were charter tour operators and people who liked to own a percentage share of a “boat” like owning part of a racehorse. New stuff for me. And fascinating.
The internet was spotty around the dockyard, where I'll definitely come back to again, so we took local advice and hopped on a dingy, a water taxi, and headed over to Galleon Beach, and had, yes, a cheeseburger in paradise at Roxy's Beach Bar. I was introduced to their version of rum punch, both the old fashioned kind and the standard variety. I got a nutmeg moustache, enjoyed the sun on the water, sat under the fronds and umbrellas, and checked my FB and internet messages. While there, a woman from one of those huge boats tied up her dingy, bringing her chocolate lab to the ocean for a swim. And she stood in the water while he had his fun, a romance novel clutched in her hand. I found this woman fascinating! She said she brought 75 romance novels with her on this trip. Good for her! Wish I'd had a spare book I could have given her, although she was into historicals.
I talked last week about going through doorways and unexpected turns. The trip on the water taxi was a whim for us, just to see something new. Now I feel like the whole trip, the whole cruise was created just so we could have this day at Galleon Beach. We met a group of prospective yacht buyers from the UK who were going home that day, a couple from South Africa, another handsome bartender from South Africa, and Joshua, originally from Guyana, but who came to Antigua when he was 15. I felt the westernized stiffness leave my bones as I relaxed, loved the sounds of the gentle waves, the music and light chatter, and just unwound. Found a part of myself there I didn't know I'd left behind. A new story developed, I'm itching to get to, but I lined it out briefly, shared it, and hope that I can keep the fire burning after I complete some edits I have to start working on tomorrow.
Wonder what Admiral Nelson would think of these boats that are probably worth more than the entire net worth of Antigua itself as a country. One thing is for sure, he probably sat on this beach and enjoyed the sounds of the bay and felt the warm breeze on his face, saw the blue sky and big billowy clouds, and knew that this was indeed paradise.
This day changed me in ways I cannot calculate at the moment. I had it all: romance, lazy Caribbean breeze, beach, stories and, of course, rum. I could get lost here, if I chose to. Perfect!
We grace many doorways and walk through many gates. Some of those were locked, some were left ajar so we'd find our way onto the garden paths that take us on life's journeys. I love doorways, gates and unexpected voyages.
I started photographing doors, gates and pathways some years ago, and I think I probably have enough for a nice colorful picture book. Perhaps some day I'll collaborate with someone who knows how to do this, and will produce one. But more important to me is the significance of gates and doorways, what they mean to all of us in the larger sense of life.
None of us knows what will befall us when we start out on our journeys. I like the accidents best because it teaches us how flexible we can be in the face of usually our own fears. Just like Robert Frost said in his wonderful poem, Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, which was read at John F. Kennedy's inauguration, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.” This poem and Robert Frost's reading was not supposed to be on the program. Kennedy's featured poet (sorry, name escapes me), came down with a cold and could not speak. At the last minute Robert Frost was asked to do it. And he chose this poem, which was one of Kennedy's favorites, and history was made. It talks about choices, and which path to take, and whether or not it did or didn't make a difference.
The process of being a writer is about making choices with the lives of our characters. We decide what to put in, what to reveal, or hint at and reveal later. We decide to show an awkward moment, or that moment when suddenly a sunny window in the heart opens up and true love is first revealed in the warm apricot glow that true love lives in. I think of my characters sometimes as curious children, finding something to explore, and then finding the Secret Garden where all things miraculous happen.
What makes a good book a wonderful one we'll fall in love with is in the choosing choosing Like a good chef, just the right amount of spice and aroma. Like a painter, just enough color and texture. Like a songbird or a storyteller, just the right amount of passion in the voice or the soothing words of love that helps the body to vibrate to some mythical pattern somewhere between sound, color, space and emotion.
That's where I live. When they say a tale is woven, it is true. One golden thread at a time. We suspend disbelief. We believe in angels. We believe in true love that never dies. We believe in heroes that ultimately become greater than they ever thought possible. We believe in that perfect place, that Happily Ever After.
It's always there. It's just around the bend. Beyond that closed gate that opens with a loud metallic creek. Just beyond where we hear the sound of running water, the music of our souls, the sounds of birds calling to us, and the way our hearts feel when we are on an adventure. Or when we stand very near those we love.
Sundays With Sharon
Many of you remember the cruise we took last year from Italy to Brazil, and all the amazing places we visited. I took over 300 pictures and posted many of them. I plan on doing the same this year. Once again, we are cruising from Savonna, Italy to a mysterious and exotic destination: Miami. By the time you wake up and read this, we will be leaving port.
Today we wandered around Savonna, after catching a train from Genoa. Our hotel is right at the port of Savonna, and we had a day there twice before when we boarded the ship from this location. It was here during breakfast I met the Brazilian dance instructor, Roberto, from Cruisin For A SEAL. I also had the chance meeting between Mark and Sophia in the little piazza where this picture was taken. Sophia was speaking with her mother, and Mark couldn't help but watch her out of the side of his eyes as he sipped his cappuccino. Remember the description? There was a statue of the Virgin Mary embedded in the building? She's there in the picture.
The other SEALs hung out at the Ferrari store, sat and drank espresso and beer by the boats in the harbor. Remember Jones was hoping to get lucky and wanted Mark to go with him? But Mark had a date with Sophia, who lived in an appartment in one of these little winding streets off the Piazza?
In earlier books, Anne goes to the chapel here (although I do not call it Savonna, taking literary license) and prays for true love. Little does she know that Marcus Monteleone is in the chapel at that very moment, can hear her prayer and feel that she is the woman he's waited for for 300 years.
Just about everything I do I can make into a story. Today I watched another young couple kiss goodbye and I found myself staring. I love watching people in love, kissing in public. It makes my heart sing. In Italy, they do it a lot.
I wrote nearly 60% of Cruisin For A SEAL on the cruise we took last year, finding the lifeboat Mark and Sophia would have their rendezvous, and later where the Team would pull off a daring rescue. I climbed aboard this lifeboat and sat on the seat where they made love by candlelight. I found a secret way to enter the deck through a door covered by a curtain by accident. It was the perfect plan!
So, coming to Italy and going on another cruise has lots of meaning for me. I hope my readers will enjoy some of my next adventure. I've also got a setting in the Caribbean I'm wanting to research, and looking for a house to rent so I can explore next year further, perhaps stay a month or two and write. Another thing to add to my bucket list.
How about you? Do locations create stories in your head. Even if you're not a writer, do you make up stories about people just by watching them like I did with the young couple today? Are there places that get your creative juices flowing? Or make you so romantic you practically can't stand it? I want to hear it!!
Enjoy your Sunday.
I've walked past this little store for what I thought was a year. Turns out it's been open for three. Who would have thought this little hat store would thrive in the heart of Wine Country where we have foodies and wine enthusiasts from all over the world descend. But apparently it does. What makes it special is that they custom make their hats. Except or the special ones for the Kentucky Derby, they specialize in making men's hats. I didn't even know there was an industry for this, but I'm not a guy.
Every Easter, my mother would wear the widest brimmed hat she could find. She'd wear it straight on her face, bisecting her large square forehead and covering up her widow's peak someone from one of her father's churches said was the sign of the devil. I always thought she looked like Saturn with its rings. I wasn't into hats or gloves, another thing we wore on Easter and when we went to New York City, where every other person would yell “tourist” as we walked down the street. Made absolutely no difference to my mother, no matter how mortified my little brother and I were. It was a Miss Jean Brody kind of moment, “Come along,” and of course we would. I mean, how would we get back to California?
Later I would love the big floppy hats wit huge flowers all over it in my hippie youth, wearing them with granny dresses, platform shoes with real hardwood heels that really hurt when you turned your ankle, peace symbols and the biggest hoop earrings we could manage that wouldn't drag on our shoulders. Wearing a hat was a statement, just like the statement my mother made in church. With that straight brim and her strong brown eyes that could see right through a person, she might as well have worn a holster and a Colt .45. She was aiming for souls. I was so glad to be invisible and only in grammar school, where acting up was still a little on the cute side. I didn't have the taste for conquest. That wouldn't happen until later and then, well, that's another story.
This hat store was enchanting. Hats are very personal things. I became a different character with each little hit I tried on. A small green pointy hat screamed for a clown face and big red nose. The black clutch hats with a veil made me feel like the merry black widow plotting murder and mayhem. And then I came upon the mushroom hats.
Made in the mountains of Transylvania! How perfect for a pre-Halloween post. These hats are actually made from a special mushroom only grown there, and being harvested right now. I'm not sure if this was the birth of the phrase, “I'll eat my hat,” but in California you never eat mushrooms without a spirit guide, not to mention an Emergency Room close at hand. They are odd little buttons, but very velvety and look more like imitation mushroom instead of the real thing. But they are the real thing. They even smell like real mushrooms.
I rather liked this one in the end. It wasn't hippie, but had an ancient ancestor there. It was already folded and scrunched, which is more my style than the straight brimmed hat that had to live in a hat box three feet in diameter on a top shelf forever. I can't do the little feather and things the Queen Mum used to wear, but this one seemed to suit me.
So, hat's off to a great little store. As I wear two hats and launch into my 8th SEAL Brotherhood Series book, SEAL's Promise, I'm also promoting my paranormal series The Golden Vampires of Tuscany and The Guardians. Who says you can't wear two hats? I'm rather proud to say I can.
NYT and USA/Today and Amazon Top 100 Best Selling Author Sharon Hamilton’s SEAL Brotherhood series have earned her Amazon author rankings of #1 in Romantic Suspense, Military Romance and Contemporary Romance. Her characters follow a sometimes rocky road to redemption through passion and true love. Her Golden Vampires of Tuscany earned her a #1 Amazon author ranking in Gothic Romance. A lifelong organic vegetable and flower gardener, Sharon and her husband live in the Wine Country of Northern California, where most of her stories take place.
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I’ve told the story how, when I was about 3 or 4, my mother and father moved into a big house in Oakland (the McArthur freeway took the house when it was built), that was ½ acre, but seemed like a whole city block to me. The two-story house had two bedrooms downstairs, where my mom and dad and little brother slept. Upstairs were three other bedrooms and two side attic doors, where I used to worry demons lived. Later we would take on boarders to fill the two gabled bedrooms that looked over the busy street, but my bedroom was at the back and overlooked my mother’s beautiful garden. The view from my writing desk will some day resemble this, as the hill was filled with hydrangeas, roses and lush flowering plants and filled the entire glass pane of the windows there.
I had a bunk bed, and liked to take turns sleeping on the top bunk and then the bottom. At the bottom I would make a fort with other blankets, or sheer nightgowns I’d steal from my mother’s room. I pretended I was in a harem many long afternoons. The view of the green foliage was huge from the lower bunk.
The top bunk gave me sort of a sense of security, as I could look down on everything and feel I guess a little safer from pirates or gremlins or other such things as might frequent the attic spaces. One of the things I’d look down on would be the little table in the middle of the room that held my record player.
I think I was 3 when I was given this RCA record player, along with some sets of .45 records, Snow White and Cinderella being my favorites. I liked Snow White because of the handsome prince that awoke her from the witches curse. Cinderella I related to because I was alone up in the top part of the house, and I could easily feel how Cinderella used to sit and dream about her Prince Charming coming to rescue her.
I was given other books as well, including some Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, and other Mother Goose things, Little Red Riding Hood and The Gingerbred Man. When I was to turn the page, there would be some sign, like little Gus the mouse saying “Gus Gus Gus Gus Gus,” for Cinderella.
I was told by my father to only touch the little red button, only put 3 or 4 records on the turnstile, and only then to adjust the volume button on the side. I think my Little Red Riding Hood records were bright red, others were turquoise, but most of them were standard black .45s.
It didn’t matter how many times I played these albums and listened to the narration, I would cry at all the right places, and get angry with others, or jump for joy. I think I became addicted to romance and the Happily Ever After way back then when I was 3. The beauty of the spoken word or a story I loved came to me and filled me with wonder, hope and the clear sense of a beautiful, loving destiny. I just knew the Happily Ever After was going to be my story some day.
These are cherished moments. My storyteller and favorite pirate prince, J.D. Hart, send me this YouTube video of the exact copy of my record player. Listen and enjoy. And then listen to his narration, my grownup version of that little attic room, where I get to don my headsets, listen, cry at the sad parts and jump for joy at all the happy ones, just like those days many years ago.
Except now I get to share them with you.
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