Sunday, November 27, 2016

AND NOW THE MADNESS BEGINS - OR DOES IT???

Some of you understand what it's like to be a romance writer during the holidays. Those family get-togethers turn bizarre in a heartbeat, don't they? I know as a child, the weirder and weirder it got, the better I liked it.

My Grandma Fox had trouble swallowing, due to a series of strokes she'd suffered that left half of her body paralyzed. It never failed that for each big family meal, she'd start choking on something, and there were more than a few moments of tension when she'd remove her false teeth, leave them on the side of the plate on the beautiful table my mother always set, with all the finest crystal and china. Grandfather would stand up, and slap her back while she leaned over her dish and expelled whatever had gotten stuck.

She was beet red afterwards, sincerely ashamed for the spectacle. My grandfather never swore, but he could be heard saying something like, "Ah, Shaw," and we filled in the blanks. We were used to her drooling, and she wore a little purse affixed to her wrist with a strap, lovingly made by one of the ladies in the church, which contained a couple pretty hankies she used all day long. In fact, she was always with a hankie in her hand.

My other grandfather would go off on some political tangent, sure that the whole country was going to Hell quickly, and often we'd wake up Christmas morning to find that he'd had such a difficult time sleeping, they'd packed up in the middle of the night and drive the long way home to Fresno, California. Yes. I was born in Fresno. A good place to be from.

The stories were exaggerated, as family stories go. I'd heard them every year. Every year they'd get more and more fantastic, and I didn't care if they came from morphing, or told by people who always instructed me to take the moral high ground and never lie. They were family stories, and as such, were exempt from the normal constraints of reality. It was a kind of better than the truth: it was fiction. Was there something wrong with me for preferring the morphing stories of our family history? And does it really matter anyway?

By candlelight, those tales were told, passed down from the mouths of people now long gone. And I think I must do some of the same.

We always enjoyed visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco. My uncle could have made it as a comedian, he was so good with his jokes. Especially during the years when he was drinking. Afterward, he was just as funny, by the way. As an insurance salesman, he had stories of all the creative ways he got past the secretaries who tried to screen him from seeing the execs he wanted to sell to. He called it his Zippo Success Institute.


Between my uncle and my grandfather, the preacher, I learned what it was like to sell. In one case, it was a safety net to cheat death's impact on a family, in the other, redemption and a life everlasting. But trust me, it required a good salesman to do either. I knew long before I married and started having kids that life is one sales job after another. Raising children or being long time married, it's still the same thing to me today.

So I guess the madness of the season isn't really that for me, is it? I can get behind the crowds, though I don't participate in it. I don't mind people selling things, even things I don't need. I get caught up in it just like I did as a child. The stories, the pitch given to inspire change, the way to figure out problems and not get stuck by them, how to alter another's opinion with a smile or the right choice of words. Life is sales.

If it weren't so, we wouldn't take this most sacred of holidays, and turn it into one huge gift giving bonanza in this country. The idea of giving a gift is doing the unexpected. To show to someone what the inside of our heart looks like, to make the act one of love.


I don't remember the gifts, but I remember the love. Yes, sometimes I remember the pain too. I don't remember the words, but I remember the story. I remember what it felt like and how it feels now.

That gift is one I shall cherish forever.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

My SEALs Have A Winery!


Greetings from Frog Haven Winery!

I'm Amy Chambers, your hostess for this Thanksgiving event. Zak and I are so happy you've decided to join us. We've set a table up outside on the porch, so we all have a place to sit together. Zak found some timbers he and Marco Zapparelli salvaged from the winery construction next door. These huge timbers used to hold up part of the tower that fell during the bombing at Zapparelli Winery, and is now being restored. Since they are nearly twenty feet long, we can serve all of our best friends!


Things here are much simpler than over at Marco's winery (and he says hi, by the way). The crush is fermenting and we've had a decent harvest. We've interviewed and are hiring our first real winemaker shortly. Up to now, we've had nothing but research going on and instead of a lab, we have our kitchen. We are getting ready to make our first batch of beer. Zak has been experimenting with fermentations, but without the hops we've grown. I've attached a picture of our harvest.

Marco has brought over his favorite Cabernet Franc blend. Nick and Devon and their little one are coming and they're bringing some of their wines that placed at the LA County Fair as well as the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Sophie's Choice winery has beautiful lavender tee shirts for everyone. Do you like the lavender logo she designed? She's promised to bring some samples of her lavender-infused soaps and salt scrubs, and should have a whole line of bath products available next year.

Next year, some of our first Frog Piss and Punish Yourself Beer will be available in the tasting room, and soon to be in your local store. So, here's the menu:

Main Course & Soup

Willie Bird Turkey (we have three: 1 brined and baked, one stuffed and baked and one deep fried).
Mashed potatoes from Nick and Devon's garden
Giblets Gravy (Amy's specialty)
Sweet potato mash with sugared sour cherries garnish
Zucchini torte with cranberry garnish
String Beans with bacon (Zak's mother's recipe)
Fresh Acorn Squash Soup
Stuffed red, yellow and orange bell peppers with wild rice and cheese
Amy's famous whole wheat biscuits
Grandma Chamber's cranberry sauce
Pineapple/kiwi/tangelo and apple fruit salad with nutmeg and Cointreau garnish
Romaine lettuce salad with Caesar dressing
Marco Zapparelli's homemade linguini pasta with Mama Zapparelli's famous 100-year old meat ball sauce

Dessert
Lime Meringue Pie
Marco Zappareli's tiramisu
Hand cranked Coconut ice cream
Raspberry and blueberry sorbet
Pumpkin Pie and whipped cream

Hope you come with a big appetite. And come to our table with a thankful heart. Each of us will tell our table what we are most thankful for this year.

Many blessings.


Share this blog post with someone else, or on your FB page, share the link in the comments, and one commenter will win all 4 labels (yes, these are real labels). They are suitable for putting on your own bottle of wine or beer!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Unbeatable

I recently ran across an article on Stephenie Meyer and her new book, The Chemist, which comes out shortly. I'd not been following her career and haven't read any of her work except the Twilight series, and did not follow her to the alternative POVs on the saga she wrote afterwards. Now she's tackling more the thriller genre, while still keeping a love story prominent in the work. I cheer for her (that's the sound me me clapping).

In searching her books, I also saw a book I won't even mention, with a title disparaging her name and her writing. And this was allowed on Amazon, in fact, shows up on her Amazon search page as an "also buy."

I've about had it with some of the things allowed under the guise of free speech. The great Zon in the sky allows a title like that with a four-letter word front and center, demeaning an author, but has a problem with a naked man's chest (or God forbid, nipples showing under his shirt), in their advertising. None of my book covers, for instance, are allowed to be advertised in paid ads. They either contain a man's torso, or a couple looking lustily at each other, or a feather with a little dangerous blood on it in my angel series, starting with Heavenly Lover.

I certainly approve of controls to protect young children from reading or seeing adult content or themes. But children see far worse on the television and in movies every day. They hear rap music with disgusting lyrics and somehow we are taught that this is "mainstream" while writing about sex or a couple enjoying sex, that's a bad thing.

So is degrading an author for being successful supposed to be okay too? So are phony reviews and hurtful things said and done by small-minded people intent on wielding their two seconds of fame on the internet. We are so PC about some things, and not on others. Being a romance writer, or someone who writes happily ever after tales, we develop a thick skin, and endure all sorts of things most people have no idea actually happen to writers.

Conflict cannot survive without your participation - Wayne Dyer. I once got to spend an afternoon with a small group gathered to hear Mr. Dyer speak to us, and got to speak to him over lunch. I found his message hopeful, and uplifting. He had detractors in his career. Horrible things said about him and his writing or his speeches. And he didn't participate in any of that.

I have things all around me that remind me of the good things in my life, not to fool myself, but to remind myself that I've decided to participate in a different game. I've decided to follow my heart's desire and passion for the things I do with meaning. I've also had to make tough choices to protect that creative and willful streak in my being. Sometimes saying No is better than saying Yes. Just like sometimes being kind is better than mouthing off under the guise of "being free."

Because being unbeatable means remembering that when life is full of passion and hope, all things are possible, no matter what anybody else says or does. We write, edit, put it out there, be awesome and then do it all over again. That's the game I want to play.




Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fierce On The Page




We think a lot about horror and fright this time of year. Read an interesting article this week by Neil Strauss, who is someone I follow when I can. He discusses the difference between Fear and Anxiety. He's been doing some studies on this with members of the scientific community and has come to some interesting conclusions. Some I've listed below, and I've added my notes about them.




Most of what you call fear is really anxiety.

He suggests that being willing to enter the doorway of no return, or facing fear head-on, is a precursor to achieving great success. Consider the number of people who go through near-death experiences and then discover in themselves some magic and walk away changed forever. Or pushing yourself to high performance, to the point of failure, without fear, to achieve a high degree of competency. We look to the BUD/S training our Navy SEALs go through, where less than 10% of the class actually graduates, where the recruit is tested mentally as well as physically. Part of the success of that training is in pushing to the limit while setting the fear of failure to the side.

Good decisions are made from this place.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is debilitating, and it is the response to uncertainty.

Uncertainty is so uncomfortable, most people will make bad decisions to create the illusion of certainty.

Uncertainty is defined as something that is unknown or doubtful. The opposite to this, of course, is certainty, or knowing something. And that requires, as a method for ending uncertainty, that something become known, studied or understood. We run away from uncertainty when that will only enhance it. Finding out about what is troubling is the path to diminishing the effects, eliminating the anxiety. We embrace the knowledge of the cause for it, rather than withdrawing from it.

Bad decisions are made from the state of anxiety.

I used to beat myself up about writing things at the last minute, when I actually love writing that way. Not everyone can, but I enjoy it. I call it Fierce Writing, writing with my hair on fire. Inspired writing. If I were writing memoir or poetry, perhaps I would take a lighter approach, do little bits and pieces every day to keep the muscle developed.

But writing fierce is feeling the story like an extreme movie in your head, where all the characters in your tale work together to create that play. Unexpected things sometimes happen and they thrill me. Other times, if I don't feel the intensity of the story, I lay down tracks and then go back and polish the jewels to make it great. But for me, there is no great writing done until I feel the intensity and am actually living in that story, occupying the space right beside my characters, and in some cases inside their heads. I lose myself. I push my limits. I risk the point of no return.

Writing Fierce is also writing without worry. This is why Nanowrimo works for some writers. We write like our hair's on fire for 30 days. We write intense, we embrace the fear and bust through the anxiety.

We would rather not lose than win.

Safety is not always safe. But we'll do lots of things to "feel" safe, including lying to ourselves. We get excited when we gain something (except weight) but we don't like the fear of losing something. Strauss talks about making sure we crunch the numbers, look at the upside and downside of the possible outcomes before making a decision, especially if we are coming from the place of anxiety. He also suggests that if we can't make a decision, we haven't found enough people to hang with that are divergent in their thinking. We could be spending too much time in the "group polarization" process with like-minded people. Change should be embraced. Or too much time is spent on outside forces we have no control over, like the internet or TV News. They tend not to give a person knowledge, but instead help a person feel small. He advises killing your TV. See the world through your own eyes.

I've just completed an exercise where I took a big step and decided to deal with an anxiety I was having about my writing. I had been worrying about it now for some two months. I finally decided to do the old Abe Lincoln investigation where I'd list pro's on one side, and con's on the other, and then look at the whole grid to make my final decision.

Surprising, even to me, and I've done a lot of this in my lifetime through all my careers, was how simple things looked when I took a good, close look at it. It made a couple of decisions I was worrying about much easier to accept, and I took action. I made the decisions with knowledge. I put into motion something that I needed to do. I called several people I trust, I asked questions and listened. I noticed the people who went into hiding and didn't participate, and I kept researching until the answers came to me through my own eyes.

In the relative absence of fear. Amazing.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

NAUGHTY NASHVILLE WAS GOOD TO ME

I'm writing this now at 30k feet, flying into SFO in a couple of hours. I got up early, so my apologies for not having this post out there sooner.

It was fun to get my batteries charged up. Funny how the attention of fans makes one feel excited, even more excited about the craft than we normally do. We hear those stories about what our books have meant to people, help celebrate other people's successes. I look at covers, and marketing and SWAG.

I came away thinking I need to be very choosy about where I go next year. I've already committed to some good ones. Some are new, some repeats, some I will skip for a year. My time is valuable writing. Those are my most expensive "billable" hours. I need to protect it at all costs. There's always that writing retreat, book signing, author event that looks too good to be true and tempts me. Especially when all my friends are going. I'm going to exercise the word "no" a lot more.

Naughty Nashville was good for me. So was the Unmask The Passion event in Valley Forge earlier in the month. I liked them mainly because everyone was so excited and happy to be there. There wasn't much in the way of drama (that I saw), and readers showed up not to browse, but to buy. So, attending those will require I say no to others, and I will. Valley Forge gave me a taste of history, which I loved as an added bonus.

I also learned that readers are inundated with free books, ARCS and overcommitted to Street Teams and Reader Groups. They're more overwhelmed than the authors sometimes! Reviewers are running behind. Readers avidly want to meet new authors, get surprised with new genres, books and series. My job as an author is to attract new readers, while giving my "one-click" readers material they'll devour.

I don't think there is such a thing as a One Size Fits All way of being a successful author. I see things I like and will try. I see some things that don't work and I don't have to spend time or energy trying. Success is one thing to one person and another to another. Even my own definition of success has changed several times this year.

But when the day is over and I head off to bed at night, the only thing I want to say is, "I did the best I could." That means I wrote my best, edited my best, said thank you more than I received praise, was kind to people I want to throw my computer at, and kept myself focused. I didn't gossip, envy, complain or make excuses. I did my job. and my job--my only job--is writing.


If I do my job well, then I get to spend more and more time in my fantasy world of my own creation. I'm happier there. It's safer there. It's the stuff of magic, and creating magic is what I'm all about. Give me make believe over anything REAL any day.

Some day I'll go there and stay forever. But in the meantime, there are a lot of stories to tell, tales to spin, and people to delight.

What a glorious job that is!




Sunday, October 9, 2016

Valley Forge Celebration

Last weekend I attended a book signing at Valley Forge, at the Freedom Foundation Center building, hosted by Renee Fisher and A.L. Wood. I'd never been to Valley Forge before, and it moved me greatly.

I trust my gut instincts when it comes to events. This one was on my list because I have a lot of readers in the area, and I'd never been here before. I try to switch where I go so I can network with readers. As next year comes around, I will be cutting back, or hopefully so, so I'm going to be careful with my time and money. But Renee and I began emailing back and forth, and I found a new, warm friend, and one who I hope to get to know even more as the years go by.

As events went, it was wonderful, especially with all the planning Renee and her team did. Awesome fans, and people helping her. But the whole area was what made it even more special to me. Cloaked in history, I found myself so moved, it was hard for me not to cry as I toured the State Park and looked at the history of my country.

Remember, politics is completely separate from love of country. I wish it wasn't so, but especially this year, it is. Somehow, as a country we muddle through, because of the foundation that was laid nearly 250 years ago now. I was struck with the sacrifice, not only in terms of life, but title, fortunes lost and titles or privileges removed, including the impact the Revolutionary War had on Native Americans, who fought with either side. Their fortunes were caught up in the war as well. It happened again in the American Civil War.

It's been said more than once that we form an imperfect union. And yet, this union has withstood the battles of nasty elections, strife, intrigue, treachery, greed, and the life blood of the nation, a belief in a principle far greater than all of us combined: freedom. The quote that comes to me when I think about walking around the Valley Forge center is: "I never said it was going to be easy. I said it was going to be worth it."

In California, we don't have these types of monuments to honor our history of this time period. We have very few patriotic displays in California. Our local post office just repainted their lobby, and they took down all the pictures of the men and women serving in the military, some of whom bore gold stars, which was erected after 9-11. How things change, go back to the way they were before. I see fewer and fewer American flags and more and more bumper stickers for campaigns. I haven't had a political sticker on my car since I had the "Reelect Nobody" back in the 1990's. "Wag More. Bark Less" is another one I had for years.

As I had my tomato soup in the bar at the hotel after the signing, looking at the celebrations of two wedding parties, the glasses crushed, hugs given and kisses shared, the loudness of people celebrating and just going on with their lives, I was pulled back to what George Washington would think if he were sitting with me.

I don't know that I would have an adequate explanation for how our country has fared, except to say, we've made it this far. I hope we will continue. We continue to right some of the terrible wrongs of the past, we continue to try to hold up our system of laws and government that has proven to be the most stable in the whole world. I was reminded about what a special country we have here, how it's bloody roots were hard fought, and how much I appreciate the sacrifices. And just like the fallen heroes, the best thing I can do to honor them all is just to go on. Not give up. Keep the memory of the miracle that is this nation alive in my heart. And maybe to remind others.

Valley Forge is a place everyone should see. 10% of the men who wintered over here that third year into the war were diseased and would eventually not see the spring. Another 10% didn't even have shoes to wear. Dissertions were high, expectations were at an all time low. Our Commander In Chief knew that even in the worst of times, it was the time to prepare. The outcome of the war was uncertain. Philadelphia had been lost. Washington looked across the Delaware, and envisioned a country and it's freedom.

And he decided it was worth it. All those men did. They trained. They healed, those who could, and they got equipment and clothing, often having to seize it from local inhabitants who also needed the clothing and equipment, and sometimes at gunpoint. Loyalties were tested. The army of Washington faced a better armed British army, larger and better trained than our rag-tag Patriots in the Spring. And the Patriots eventually won.


It took 7 years. Even years later things were not stable. I complain about our political season lasting so long. But those woes are peanuts compared to what was fought, and lost during those 7 precious years. Families who were lost, sacrificed, interrupted by something bigger than themselves.

In the end, it was worth it.




Sunday, September 25, 2016

GLAMPING! - Sin On Wheels with Romance Rider

Last year I made a minor investment in my writing career by purchasing a 1950 Glider. It's 27' and she's all original. A fragile babe, like me.

I had my eyes opened to Glamping, which is, camping with trailers, but tricking them out. So here are some pictures that are inspirations to me. My Glider, named, Romance Rider, will be just as cute, but I'm waiting until the power gets turned on, I have a cold refrig for my drinks, so I can run a blender and a coffee maker, and have air conditioning.

I used the idea of Glamping in my new novella, Love Me Tender, Love You Hard. My hero, Derek, interviews for a job at a wild animal park nearby, run by a former SEAL with one leg. Oh yes, you're gonna love this "sweet" novella, (told someone else today my editor is probably going to think I'm writing from a hospital bed), full of quirks and twists. Short, and to the point. All that a novella should be in a Kindle World.

So glamping is a new thing people do now. I know people who collect old trailers for their backyards used as pool houses, or guest houses. Some of the wineries in our valley have started using them in the Air B&B craze, and people pay hundreds of bucks to stay in them now. Especially cool are vintage Airstreams.

While not an Airstream, Glider was made by a sister company who also made (you guessed it), airplane gliders.

I've given you an interior look at my plain Glider. There are two videos:  One,  Two.  More to come. But after a year, it's finally in place. We wanted to build a firm pad to protect the frame, an overhang to product the beautiful aluminum finish and protect it also from the leaves and elements in general. We'll have a deck and two lawn chairs and who knows what else. I even bought a stopsign and a no parking sign.

So tell me, are you a glamour girl or guy? Would you come glamping with me? Just think of the adventures we could have together!

Warning!! If you click on some of these images, you'll be hooked!

Some Glamping ideas from around the world here.
Glamping in Wine Country
Flippin RVs TV Show
Wanna Buy One? Subscribe to a Blog?
Sisters On The Fly for sale
1949 Glider - Tin Can Tourist