Sunday, August 30, 2015

WRITING COTTAGES: Sundays With Sharon

I've yearned for a writing cottage since the first publication of one of my novels in 2011. Just a place to dream, to play my favorite music, a place to take myself away to the fantasy of my stories. I can do that well with an empty house and a good set of headphones with some of my 50 days of music stored on my computer. I once read a writer's blog about how she set up her writing desk separate from all the rest of her "office activities" as a writer.

“Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become
quiet, and still, and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked.
It has no choice;
it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
Franz Kafka

A very necessary part of our routine in life is paying bills. I know some feel it's a spiritual experience, but for me, the opposite happens. For years I took care of paying all the bills and for the past year, my husband has taken that over, and I'm grateful. Still, there are things I have to take care of, certain bills, reservations, emails and "stuff" of writing that isn't fun. I don't include in that sending off SWAG, because I truly enjoy it, and often make it the first or second thing I do in the day. So having a dedicated place for just writing has become more important to me. I blogged about the idea earlier this year. There are places you an rent a cabin for a week or two or a month.
Whitby Island Writer's Refuge

I've toyed with using a shed from one of those improvement stores, and we put a deposit down on one. Like most projects around here, it grew to huge proportions as we calculated what it would cost to lay a slab, or build a perimeter foundation, or lay down rock and drainage. The cost of the shed turned out to be the small expense and we abandoned the idea.

An Airstream trailer was my next dream, and I began looking all over the country for some used ones we could refurbish. We thought perhaps getting one that could be towed by my Murano so I could take it to Bodega and Marin beaches for a day of writing would be ideal. New ones were prohibitive, but beautiful. Much more fun getting an older one and fixing it up like the gypsy inside me. But then we stumbled upon the rock wall project in our rear yard, which seemed a better idea for the overall value of our property, and in the design there was no way to put a ramp to
Heaven on wheels
the backyard. The alternative of writing in my driveway was not sexy enough. And then the cost of the beautiful walls and concrete patio shot up in price, and the budget fell short. I again pushed the idea aside.

My desire to have a traveling cottage isn't dead, just on hold until next year. I vow it will be done, even if I have to be helped up into it in a walker or by cane! Some day I'll have one. Trust me, eventually I get my way. And I'm not complaining. Life is a series of choices and then adaptation to those choices and circumstances beyond our control. That's where the fun is. I still have the dream, and that's even more important than having the cottage at this point.

So, for now, I purchased another computer and Thunderbolt Screen, and when I write, I sit at my adjustable desk. I can stand, or sit on the stool. I light my candles, and inspiration does come. I usually have two sleeping Dobermans at my feet, vying for attention, so I have a jar of cookies nearby to reward their loyalty. I don't pay bills or even do anything email-wise or business-wise on that computer. I don't even write these blogs there. It was expensive to do this, but ever since, I have found it to be liberating. I've written poetry here. Sometimes I do a little research for my stories, but everything I do is related to a current book I'm working on.

And like all of you, I'm still waiting for my Happily Ever After. But this is my Happily Ever After, for now. Doesn't it make the goal, once achieved, that much more delicious?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

GOING AND COMING: Life

Going and Coming: Life

Ethan Aged 1 hour
Ethan's birthday was yesterday, and I had to miss it because I've been sick in bed for the past 3 days. Getting better, but still too sick to be around a group of little ones. I'm reposting this from the week of his birth. The theme still holds up today. Enjoy
A visit to the doctor reminds me of how fragile life is. I'm well. But I get to see a lot of not-well people. And right now experiencing some un-wellness in my immediate family. Along with new birth. I guess I've begun to get it, now that I am 6 decades old: life goes on. I can scream and yell and protest its passing, but it still goes on as if I never said anything.

I guess that's why writing has become so important to me. Taking stories from real life and weaving them into other worlds is what we do as writers. And we take the pain, the emotions, from those life events, and use them. I blogged today about Editing Woes over at RRR, and one of my points was that the reader reads for the emotions in the story, the emotions of the characters, the love scenes, not just the description of what went on and who did what to whom.

We are cheering Ethan's birth and how strong he is, while we are saying goodbye to my dad, who has lived a wonderful life, and been the best dad a girl could ever want. Good time to remind myself it's not all about me, but the people around me. My job is to feel. Sometimes I run away from my feelings because they are just too much to handle. But my job is to feel, and then write them down.

We don't get do-overs like some of our characters get in our stories. Actually, that would make an interesting story concept. Life is not permanent. Neither are feelings. What we do about it is. We love babies because we know we are only going to be around long enough to perhaps see them get married and perhaps have children and grandchildren of their own. These little ones, in the beginning of their lives, will know us, the older ones, at the end of our lives. We each get to discover what the world is like before or after the loved one has been born, or passes on.

It's a pea soup kind of day here in Sonoma County, which is good for the grapes. This misty fog means I can be a bit lazy with my watering, I'm tempted to make a fire, but know my house will heat up like a firecracker soon enough. My hubby is away getting inspiration from a mastermind meeting, and I anticipate seeing lots of friends at the Silicon Valley Romance Writers meeting tomorrow, where I will be a panelist and hopefully will give some nuggets of things I've learned along the way.

Book sales are going well. Accidental SEAL has been in the top 100 for Amazon Kindle paid sales for 9 weeks in a row and made some serious money. Over 13,000 people downloaded Honeymoon Bite on a free promotional 4 day blog, and it shot to #1 for Fantasy Romance for 3 days in a row. Same thing happened in June for Heavenly Lover. So, despite the occasional stinker review (which doesn't affect sales at all) people are liking my books. I don't go trolling for the 300+ reviews like some do. I have a problem with faking things to look like they aren't. Just being honest and taking my lumps as they come. And writing is the best cure for anything that ills me. Anything.

My family is safe for now. Prayers go out to those that have suffered with loss of life: the SEALs and other military men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice recently, and all their families who proudly bear the mourning. The people who have lost their life in senseless acts of violence, and their families. My shock and dismay at the truth being distorted so much in our political campaigns, and all the hate it spews. How people fall like lemmings after slogans and catch phrases like "war on women" when we have more opportunity here than anywhere else in the world. And people have died to make sure it stays that way. I was thinking we were going to take the higher road this election season. I was wrong.

So I guess with this theme of what I have and don't have, in the going and the passing of life, what I'm feeling today is being connected.

And that's a good thing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

SUNDAYS WITH SHARON: Disney Touch of Magic

My favorite
I traveled home to San Francisco with this pin on my chest. I wore it proudly, like a true time traveler, reminded of my six days at Walt Disney World and the magic it inspired in me. I once got to spend some time with a long time friend of Disney, who told us tales of how the original park was built, the obstacles Disney overcame, and the vision and dedication of "getting things right," from the simple to the complicated.

At every turn, the branding that Disney does is consistent. Bus drivers to and from the parks play videos, and even the shuttle going from our Animal Kingdom Lodge and the sister lodge on property pumped in African songs, just like the lobby of the hotel. I have never been to a hunting lodge at Lake Tanganyika, or ridden the train to the Mountains of the Moon west from Kenya into Uganda, or stayed at the Treetops Lodge, but I'll bet some of what Disney created would feel similar. Sitting out by the pool, I got to listen to the piped in music of my favorite African performer, Samite and his lovely voice. The rhythms he plays are universal and would find a home in many genres, including folk and country. If you want a history lesson on some of the hardships he endured growing up in East Africa, you can read more about him here. A voice of inspiration and hope for a world that needs so much of it.

I admit, I have a problem.

I have to admit that, during this trip, I got my family addicted to collecting pins. I'm not proud of the fact that I spent easily a day or two's lodging on getting these pins, then trading them all over the park. It gave us something to do during those long line waits. We scouted out clerks and customer service reps who had whole books of pins we could trade, just two at a time. But if going overboard is a religion, I am a true believer. Those that know me well know that I don't do things half-way. Throwing myself into the pin trading game, including learning to negotiate with my very savvy 6 year old granddaughter (who really didn't need her parent's help to draw her line in the sand) was one of the highlights of the trip.

My second favorite.

My granddaughters got to be made up as princesses. Not sure what I was expecting, but walking into a magical makeup room, set with at least 10 beauty stations, all manned by Fairy Godmothers, making their little charges into princesses, was just simply enchanting. The message was clear: anyone can be a princess. To watch the little girls walk out of that dressing room, transformed into a make-believe character, and expecting a happily ever after was awe-inspiring. The old cynical me, before children, before grandchildren, would have said, "For what purpose? They're living a lie."

Not true. It's fantasy. The stuff of fairy dust and happily ever afters. The things your heart dreams about when you let it follow it's natural course. All things seek love. When you realize this, the world suddenly becomes a different place. We are lucky enough to be able to feel it every day in our lives. Our destiny is to spread it all over the world. It's the only reality we can truly create, after all.


Sunday, August 9, 2015

SUNDAYS WITH SHARON: LAND OF LEMONY SNICKET (Sage Words from an Unlikely Source)

Our recent trip to the Sonoma County Fair was charmed and enhanced by the incredible Florence, the Land Yacht built by Gypsy Time Travelers. You can look up their website at www.gypsytimetravelers/com. I think we are planning a visit to Mendocino County for the incredible Kinetic Carnivale.

We are lucky to live in California, where all the strange and unusual things are. Northern California is like the Lemony Snicket of the United States. Strange. Beautiful. Fun. Unpredictable. We don't have the drama or harsh weather or horrible economic conditions that seem to plague the rest of the nation. People frolic here, come here on vacation, and scrape everything they can to "get by" just to live here. I was just lucky. I was born here, second generation, in fact.
Florence

Florence is such a curious structure. It's a vehicle, but it's also something much more. It's a stage, a living quarters, a happening, borne out of pure creativity and fun. Michael is a blacksmith. His creation is a magnet for kids and adults alike. We are oddly curious about things we know little about--things cloaked in mystery, with a little magic and sparkly stuff (perhaps some black faery dust too).

I loved the Lemony Snicket series on TV my two oldest kids watched years ago, brushing aside the concerns about "dark fantasy". I truly think dark fantasy has always had a place in our culture. Look at Hansel and Gretl, or Snow White, for instance.

I'm going to have more pictures in my Newsletter this month. We are trying out an expanded version and I'd love to hear what you think. Part newsy and part fun.

By the time you read this, my family and I will be in Disney World. I think that one of the most wonderful things about raising a child, or having grandchildren is the fact that for some space and time, we get to return to that age when we didn't know everything and everything grownup was a true mystery. Time enough for being an adult. For the next week, I'm going to be a child, and live through the eyes of my grandchildren.

We don't have Florence, but we have the adventure in our hearts! And just like the crew of Florence, we're keeping a sharp eye out for pirates!




Sunday, August 2, 2015

SUNDAYS WITH SHARON: Romance At 35,000 Feet

It's all fun and games until someone
winds up in a cone.
I'm looking down at the US from above the clouds, on my way back to California. I never know what I'll discover when I go on these trips. I have given up making long lists of things I want to accomplish. Besides, being a storyteller, I kind of like letting things go the way they go, not the way I go. Still, I can't help but have a few expectations.

I needed this trip, because nothing that I expected to happen, actually happened. I say this in a good way. I wasn't feeling that way last night. In fact, I sort of cried myself to sleep, asking myself why I did this in the first place.

But the beautiful thing about morning is that it is a new day and a fresh start. I hit the reset button. I read a little meditation this morning that talked about telling the truth, and I discovered (huge palm to my forehead), I'd forgotten to do so.

First let's talk about the weather in Orlando this time of year. Humid, raining torrentially and then next minute so sunny and hot, when I walked outside, my glasses fogged up. People used to this didn't blink. California is dry and almost never humid, or at least not enough to fog up your glasses.

I knew going in that most the authors would be unknown to me. I knew of no readers who were from this area, and I didn't do any advance promo because, well, my head was frankly stuck in another world in the weeks prior to the convention (truth coming with the fresh morning).

I participated in panels, participated in an online interview with my narrator, J.D. Hart (which was fun), all unscripted and without all the proper equipment, and listened to what panels were saying. I got two really great marketing ideas out of it. And of course, I got to spend time with my storyteller, who has become my best friend and biggest fan.



Blinding flash of the obvious
He was the grounding device I needed, and I'm so happy I had him come to help with the signing, and just mingle with other authors and readers, who always love him.

I also met my PA's incredible 13 year old kid, who is doing things with YouTube that made my jaw drop. I heard this morning he hadn't been looking forward to telling me about it, but I understand he enjoyed it, and his mom was sure proud. This awesome kid stood there, discussed what he does just like any college professor. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Honest.

In short, I got what I was supposed to get. God gave me these cards, one of those unlikely hands that you don't have much hope for, but brings you everything you really need.

I'm happy to put back the crown as Queen of the Universe. I'm just a writer. I make mistakes, I enjoy some of them more than others. I just keep opening the doors and being willing to let in what's supposed to be there.

It was a perfect trip, not for what I got, but for what it was. It was everything I needed, and more.

I know this has happened to you. Love to hear about it? Are sometimes our unexpected miracles the best afterall even though they might not look like them at the time?





Sunday, July 26, 2015

SUNDAYS WITH SHARON: Living in Cinderella

Harry Chapin once said that every song he wrote had some little part of his life, some emotion he was feeling, or experience he remembered, and that it was impossible to be a songwriter without this "gift" as he called it.

I feel the same way as a writer. My early days as a child molded me in a very big way. We lived in Oakland when I was little, until my family moved to Palo Alto, where I lived until college. My parents bought the house from our pastor. It was way bigger than we needed, so my parents had two "grandmothers" who boarded two of the upstairs three bedrooms. The third bedroom was mine. My windows faced my mother's flower garden, some half acre going up a hillside. I used to spend hours and hours looking out that window at the garden and imagining all sorts of things in my future. Adventures and stories, and most of them love stories.
My best friend sent me this, the exact player I used to listen to!

I think I was about three when I moved in there. At first, I was scared, being all alone. We didn't get
the boarders for the first year. So I had the creaking upstairs all to myself--the locked attic doors at the side of the large staircase, and the empty rooms waiting for someone to come stay with us. My parents bought me a little record player, and I used to sit there all alone and listen to my stories on that single switch player, playing Walt Disney '45's, of Snow White, Cinderella, Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales sung by Danny Kaye.

These tales, especially Cinderella, resonated with me. It didn't take much imagination for me to put myself in Cinderella's shoes, waiting for my handsome Prince Charming to come take me away. I loved the beautiful blue gown with the lace trim made by her bird friends, as she danced the whole night in the arms of that dark-haired prince. I matched the tilt of her head, imagined what the feel of his hand would be on her tiny waist, imagined what the stars would be like as we'd twirl, and the ballroom would be transformed into some magical place where all things are possible and the future is brighter than the present.

I think I never stopped living there, really. I played those records so often, it's a wonder they didn't
wear out. I'd cry at the sad parts, and cry really hard at the Happily Ever After. I think those days were the happiest for me as a child. Being left alone, listening to songs and music and the spoken word of a love story.

And now it resonates with me. Life has come full circle. I've completed perhaps my "job" of being a mother, a dutiful wife, a career and income generator. I've done all those things for others, as well as myself. Now these days are for me, my gift to myself for a life worked hard for. I get to experience the fantasy of a life in the Happily Ever After, even if reality isn't there yet. I get to live in the fantasy of what could be. I no longer wish for the same things I did as a younger woman. I want to wrap myself in love stories and I don't care about reality.

I'm lucky enough to be living in Cinderella. It's as if I will manifest this fairy tale the more I write about it, the more I feel it. I gladly give up this world for that one.

I hear music. I feel like dancing. Won't you come along?


Sunday, July 19, 2015

SUNDAYS WITH SHARON: Honoring Those Who Serve By Living Our Lives

My heart bleeds for the families of the men lost in the recent tragedy in Tennessee. These types of things should not be happening, but, unfortunately, our world is becoming smaller every year. We are closer and closer to each other through social media. Along with this benefit, comes the unadulterated fact that we are also connected to the very worst of humanity. These cretins, as my SEALs like to say, can use our own freedoms, to take advantage and try to rob us of them.

They won't succeed.

I had a difficult time at first when I was plotting out SEAL's Promise. Oddly enough it was about a year ago now. I wanted to insert the plot line of home grown terrorists, or terrorists who come to our shores, familiar with our ways and customs, able to blend in and use that information to take advantage of us. I considered that perhaps I was going overboard, even though I knew the military had recently requested families get off social media, be very careful about who they invited into their circles, and to be watchful and observant.

I continued with that theme in SEAL My Home, using the scenario that someone from overseas would be allowed entry to the U.S. and would stalk and try to harm one of the SEAL warriors he'd encountered in Afghanistan. I used the theme of human trafficking and sexual slavery in SEAL's Code, which was a slight departure, but still focusing on a great evil in our world today. In Code, we discuss how heroism is handed down, is our birthright, and that love is always stronger than evil.

I firmly believe this.

Even if we all lived in cages, we wouldn't be safe. It is a great testament to our fighting forces that we haven't had to experience the ravages of war as some societies have. Here at home, we can't protect against every eventuality. But the steady tide, the history and the honor and love for our flag and our respective countries, fought and paid for with human life's blood, the vast freedoms we have to read what we want, speak what we want and live and do what we want, worship where we want, that overwhelms the evil little plans of the most evil amongst us.

It's hard to understand why someone would want to harm people who protect and defend our way of life. It's hard to figure out why a cause or movement that takes away more than it leaves, would be something that would be attractive to anybody. As I've said before, sometimes the cost of freedom is too great. It's not a burden shared equally. But we equally share in the benefit, whether we appreciate it or not. And just as I was blogging a year ago, the landscape of this evil has changed. Now some of us innocents, some not even wearing a uniform, will pay the ultimate price.

I am so thankful that I have a job writing heroes and happily ever afters, being able to bring fantasy to people's lives, to enrich them in some small way. Because the best way we can honor the fallen, both men and women who don a uniform and protect us, but innocents who just happen to be standing at the wrong place at the wrong time, is to go on enjoying those freedoms. The best way to honor the fallen is never to forget, always to remember, and always to live life to the fullest.

I happen to think that's what every true hero would want.

We've just wrapped up SEAL's Code on audio. Our last audio release, SEAL Brotherhood Box Set No. 2 is out on audio as of last week. You can hear a couple sample audio clips on my website, or click on the snippets I've provided you below.

Hope you'll continue the journey with my new series, Band of Bachelors, releasing in novella form, 8/4/15 in Cat Johnson's Hot SEALs Kindle World. More to come!

https://soundcloud.com/j-d-hart/seal-brotherhood-series-set-two-sample-3
https://soundcloud.com/j-d-hart/are-you-an-audio-virgin
https://soundcloud.com/j-d-hart/seals-code-danny-talking-to-grandfather

Book trailers: SEAL's Code, SEAL My Home.

Until we meet again, have a safe, and love-filled week. Don't ever stop believing we can all have our dreams become reality. Don't stop remembering love is always much stronger than hate. It's what we were made for.