Sunday, January 31, 2016

Canary Island Tale - Using places I've traveled in books.

Many of you know we've traveled on some long cruises, usually starting in Italy, and going across the Atlantic. These are not nearly as exclusive as they sound, and are quite affordable. Since there are a lot of days at sea, and the weather is warm, it's perfect for writing. I could hardly stay in a hotel anywhere for the price of these long distance cruises. They have to move the ship from Europe to the Caribbean, or South America when the seasons change and their routes expand, so they take on passengers for a very affordable price. I think the cheapest was like $800 for 21 days, believe it or not!

We opted not to do one this winter, so these pictures are from the 2014-2015 trip. I needed a location that was away from Europe (the Secretary of State meets with a Moroccan leader secretly), wanted the meeting to look like a vacation, and needed it to be close to Africa. The Canary Islands was one stop we've made a couple of times. This was perfect!

I like writing about places I've visited because it not only gives me a point of reference to be accurate with some details, but also because it gives me a focus if I can feel I'm in the place as I'm writing it. Sometimes I search the net for pictures of properties for sale, with lovely photos to choose from. Often we can use these in our book trailers. Getting a "feel" for a place is important. One speaker told me that the location becomes a character in your book. I think that's right.

I try to give variety to my books, not have the same theme, except the arc of the whole series, which is that these SEALs learn to overcome everything: from international events, to local home grown terrorists, to just plan evil bad guys. They save the day. They get thrown into things they didn't expect.

So I guess I use the place as the anchor, and then weave tales around these points, like spinning a spider web, hoping to snag readers and bring them into my world of the Brotherhood. Traveling gives me lots of dreams for my muse. It's fun to bring all my readers along on these adventures, both real and imagined.

Here's a snippet of the new book, which releases next month, and is on preorder, True Blue SEALs: Zak. It is Book #13 in the SEAL Brotherhood Series. Enjoy!

Where have you always wanted to travel? If you could go anywhere, where would it be?

See book trailer here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

SNOW DAY, And CALIFORNIA IS NOT AN ISLAND, DID YOU KNOW?

My heart goes out to all those who are reading this, battling the cold. And I'm envious of those of you who are having a great Snow Day. You guys deserve all the beautiful white goodness. You have to work so hard to put up with other weather conditions, let us Northern Californios have our rain and damp. It doesn't last long. Besides, we need the rain.

I'm looking forward to spending a week in Hawaii coming up here in a couple of weeks. I love the people, and the scent of flowers everywhere. I come back hearing Ukelele music in my head for weeks. Just like when we go to the Caribbean, I hear those steel drums at night, when I wake up in the morning and often when I'm writing without music.

I am sponsoring a 15-author book signing at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville on February 20. If you are in the area, the tickets can be purchased here. The fee is going towards the awesome chocolate desserts, the wine pairings, and of course the beautiful pavilion we'll be wandering through, meeting romance authors and finding new books! Copperfields Books, a great local independent book store, will be handling all the sales. But there will be goodies as well.

Many of the authors will be staying in Healdsburg, one of the great tourist attractions of our wine country region. Early on it was a favorite for those who cane for the wine, but since then it's become an eclectic collection of shops, galleries and restaurants that rival some of the best tourist attractions in the country. I've lived here 45 years, and I can still get lost for a whole day shopping.

Here are some things you might not know about Healdsburg and our Wine Country.

1. Up until 1747, California was believed to be an island. Although Father Kino walked from the mainland in 1698 to disprove this theory, it wasn't until nearly 50 years later Father Consag sailed completely around the Gulf of California in 1747, and only then did King Ferdinand of Spain issue the Royal decree stating "Callifornia is Not An Island".

2. Although the area was populated with Miwok and Pomo Native American tribes for centuries, the first Europeans actually spotted the San Francisco Bay in 1769. Yes, Sir Francis Drake landed in what is now known as Marin County, at Drake's Bay or Bodega Bay (we aren't exactly sure where) in 1579, he did not travel far enough into the interior and he missed the San Francisco Bay completely. So, around the time of our American Revolution, only a handful of people even knew about California or its Bay, and most of those were the Spanish who had designs to colonize it. Missions were started, the Spanish built the Presidio in what is now Golden Gate Park, for Spanish troops.

3. Mexico rules over California in the early 1820's. A series of Mexican land grants were given out. The town of Sonoma was established to protect the mission, and the young General in charge was Mariano Vallejo, who was given a 66,600 acre land grant we now celebrate at the Vallejo Adobe.

4. In the 1830's and 1840's a series of Russian immigrants came down from the Russian Fort at Fort Ross, investigating the potential for grape growing, and settled in what is now Alexander Valley. Fort Ross is then sold to John Sutter just prior to the gold rush, the Russian immigrants writing, "Local grapes make good wine, but in small quantities and does not keep well." By 1850, California was added as the 31st state, and Healdsburg had a whopping population of 300. Sonoma was temporarily the capital of California in the Bear Flag Revolt, and they took General Vallejo prisoner for a time, the flag designating Alta California its own independent republic.

5. The famous outlaw, Black Bart held up a stage coach just south of town that made national
headlines. The first railroad opens in 1886.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake hits (the epicenter was really north, closer to Healdsburg, in Santa Rosa). Several buildings in the downtown collapse. With the rebuild of San Francisco, most of the local forests, much of it old growth redwood trees, are used for the massive rebuild. More railroads, then lights, ferry boats that came all the way up from San Francisco to Petaluma and beyond. Who can forget the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair?

6. Prohibition nearly killed the wine and hops industrues. Remember Burgermeister, Hamms and Schlitz? These San Francisco breweries relied on hops from our beautiful valley. When the breweries failed or consolidated on the East Coast, more and more land was planted for grapes, which turned out to be more able to rebound. German and French champagne makers arrived.

We've changed quite a bit since then. For Californios (that was the self-described title the independent peoples of this region called themselves, not owing loyalty to Spain or to the United States) we love our roots, our rich multi-cultural heritage. Luther Burbank would settle in Santa Rosa. Mark Twain and his young bride would travel on their honeymoon through this region. Sir Richard Burton was spotted here, and Jack London put down roots in the town of Glen Ellen.

Our history is newer than many other parts of the country. But one thing it has always been, unique, and fiercely independent. And like most Americans, we are survivors of generations who came before us and helped make us what we are today.






Sunday, January 17, 2016

FINISHING A BOOK, FIERCE WRITING, AND OTHER TALES OF FICTION

I get kind of crazy when I'm finishing a book, which usually means I'm anti-social and hermit-like. Not this time. This time, for whatever reason, I'm connected with lots of people. I've been working on Romancing The Vines, book signing at Coppola Winery on 2-20-16, coordinating things with the wonderful event staff there and making sure all of us are on the same page. There's more about that, but I best not put it in writing until after the event.

Then I fly to Hawaii to participate in an author's conference, and then another book signing in Honolulu for military writers. I'm sponsoring a trip to Pearl Harbor, and the Missouri and Arizona memorials. While I'm there, I'll be going to a swing dance (stag), but who knows? Perhaps I'll find a young officer to dance with, since my husband has to stay home this time.

End of February I'll be attending an Indie Un-Con in San Francisco. Next week I give a luncheon address for a group, talking about Navy SEALs and the heroism they display. This will not be my normal group of writers and avid romance fans, so I'm bringing to them brand new material.

We saw 13 Hours, which is a movie everyone should see, and watched some interviews with the real survivors. I finished Black Sails and Mozart In the Jungle, two new programs for me, which rival my previously favorite: House of Cards.

I've completely straightened my writing area, AGAIN! I've uncovered my gym, put material and quilting supplies that were encroaching into bins and boxes so I can see what I have. I've raided the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa and walked out with every aloha shirt I could find for my quilt.

This is behavior I had when I was pregnant! Impossible now, but perhaps the birth of the book is bringing out all the nesting instincts in me. And I'm still enjoying Christmas, even though the tree is torch-like dry. I'm leaving up all the decorations until the book is done. I have other writer friends who are stressing over deadlines farther out, and I've kept my mouth shut.

And I've done all this without coffee, can you believe it? And I've stuck to my diet, and have lost about 6#, perhaps more now.

I guess what's happening is I'm organizing my whole world so my focus is sharp and detailed. I call it Fierce Writing. In the zone, as one of my good friends says. I love writing this way. When I walk in and out of rooms, I get excited because they're clean, orderly and I'm not distracted. I don't feel bad because everything else has been allowed to slide. This is a planned attack, just like my SEALs do in the books I write. Writing fiercely and clear-headed is a practice, a devotion to something hopefully greater than myself.

Interesting that when I decide to clean up my spaces, I write better. My relationships are cleaner. Even three of my kids said thank you to me for being the mother I was. Two of them actually asked for advice!

Yes, I've gone to Heaven.

Okay, now back to the book. I'm working hard, and I do it for you!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

HEART IS THE SEAT OF THE SOUL-FOUND THINGS IN LIFE

Lucky Heart on a Chain by Monty Monty
What I love most about being a writer is finding things. Finding people, finding great stories, finding readers, finding tossed away things and repurposing them. I live in a recycled repurposed house. I don't like to throw away "junk" because those things inspire me, truly inspire me. If I could travel the world and explore the junk piles of every country, I'll bet I'd find objects that others throw away that could become incredible pieces of art, when put together.

If you examine this heart, (my new favorite artist from Healdsburg, California, Monty Monty) the piece says so many things to me. It has parts from the Edgewater Hotel & Casino (gamble on love?), gears from a timepiece now silenced (time for love? Love is timeless?) and a small child's heart-shaped pie tin (the passions of youth never flies away). He uses no soldering, just screws everything in place. Things once discarded are now made into a great piece of art I'm going to wear around my neck. Something a writer to muse on. A gift of love for someone special. You can see more of his works here. Other Sonoma County adventures here. More assembled art by inspirational Sebastopol artist, Patrick Arniot.

A writer's life is more than the sum of the parts. I worried about being a good writer when I first desired to be one in grammar school, then high school, then as a young bride, mother, and now as a grandmother. I have to say, this is the best time of my life. Yes my joints are creaky and the gravity still works against me in some respects, and I have lines of sorry and joy-lots of both (see my blog post on the Velveteen Rabbit, still my favorite children's book), but the stories in my head are always there, ruminating, thilling me, driving me forward, like the parts of my life I've lived, found and put together into my characters. In the process what I gain is not only satisfaction, but the friendship and bonding with readers all over the globe. I couldn't have done this in my twenties, thirties, or later. I had to be what I am now, with the stories of a lifetime and the emotional maturity to be able to look at them and organize them into a work of art, just like this Lucky Heart On A Chain.

I am reminded of our friendship with Jack Chandler, a client of ours in real estate some years ago we had the honor to be able to represent. He designs homes that are living works of art with all the whimsy and magic a true artist can inspire. Imagine living in an art piece. I mean, really living inside it!

My travels are calling me home, to Sonoma County, where I've lived all of my adult life. All the big changes in my life have happened here in this region. Like Babette's Feast, which is one of my favorite movies, I'm calling, like a pied piper, other authors and readers to come out and have a reading/signing/romantic Romancing The Vines party with me. Found things coming together. The magic of serendipity, the magic of writer friends I cannot wait to spend time with, and a sharing of the words of the heart, like this heart, all found and rejoicing together. How perfect to do this at Coppola Winery, where the movie sets and the magic and fantasy of The Godfather, Dracula, Tucker and others, are displayed near the tasting room of world class wines. If you are a reader or a writer, like our brand new Facebook page.

As a reader, you can sign up to attend this event here. If you are an author who has "found" this site and "found" me, and you want to come join the party, fill out this form for more information for the event. You won't want to miss it.

Kate Douglas, also a Sonoma County resident and one of the participating authors, and I had a wonderful afternoon together sipping water, nibbling on things at Portalupi Winery (I had to pick up my shipment), and gabbing over at a new coffee house in Healdsburg on the Square. She is like a long lost sister, a fellow writer I could spend weeks getting to know. Our paths have come from different places, but we've both arrived at this point, in this time, together. I can't wait to celebrate further with her, and all the other great authors coming.

Life is made up of found things: things of the heart and soul. Are you lost or are you found? If you've found this blog, I'd say we found each other. Let's never part. I believe in Happily Ever Afters, True Love Heals In The Gardens Of The Heart, everlasting explorations and adventures into the unknown. Please stay by my side and let's explore together!




Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Was A Banner Year - What Lies Ahead (sounds like a book title)

I used to have a friend in real estate, from Colorado, who always did a ton of business each year, and each January lst, she would call a couple of friends, in a total panic, not sure she could do it again. For some reason, that never happened to me, because what I did was so well planned out (yes, this is me, not some alien), I knew exactly what to do to get there again, even exceed those plans.

I used to coach realtors, especially on setting up their business plans. Here are a couple of things I learned.

1. IF IT DOESN'T MAKE YOU EXCITED, REDO IT. Make the goals specific and achievable, and track them daily. Make sure they make you shiver with excitement, too. If they don't, you aren't thinking big enough. And thinking big doesn't mean being unrealistic, or changing something big about yourself, just something you can stretch into (unlike that one size up stretch thing). Like exercise, if you don't invest in yourself and your direction, you will never have any control over your future. It is impossible to have more than a bit of control, so part of that plan should include "screw around" time, or time for daydreaming, thinking, and not doing anything by the clock, or numbers. Put everything in there that will get in the way if you don't schedule it. It's the law of business: if it will get in the way it will come up fast.  Now you get to say, "Oh yeah, that was in the plan!"

2. KNOW WHERE YOU STARTED. Take an evaluation of what you did last year, plan to improve on what went right, eliminate what went wrong. Or make it an interim goal to improve by so much. Don't plan on a 100% turnaround. We used to go for a 20% increase in business each year, then, when our in success was established and we had a certain percentage of business that just walked in the door without our actions (other than being open), we changed that to 10%.

3. EXPECT SUCCESS. We overestimate what we can do in one year, underestimate what we can do in 5. My favorite quote from my friend Tim Woods, is "Do what others won't do for the next 5 years and live how others can't for the rest of your life."

I wrote this statement down some 5 years before my books started to sell in great numbers. It's amazing to me to see how much of this has already come true. I just ran across it in a sealed envelope while I was cleaning my desk this past week:


We are not yet bicoastal, and the cruise on The World hasn't happened yet, but we're working on those things. Some day. Some day.

4. EXECUTE. After you've determined what it is you want, and how to achieve it, EXECUTE! Like the SEALs say, 80% of the mission is in the identification of the target, mission, the planning with Plans A-Z, so every eventuality is taken into account, planning for something popping up that you didn't plan on. Then you go for it, for an 80% outcome. The fear, the hesitation, the concern for the plan goes out the window. You go "balls to the wall", as some of my SEALs and some real SEALs I know say. The time to worry about it, or wonder about it is long past. In execution mode, you are going for results because you have planned for it. Now it's part of your DNA.

I'm making a dreamboard this week. I'll be sharing a number of pages from my last one, as days go by. Hope you all have a fantastic 2016. Let me know if any of these ideas work for you, or if you tweak them into something even better. I'd love to hear about it.

#weareexceptional.




Monday, December 28, 2015

Holding On To Christmas: Sundays With Sharon (Except it's Monday) and other stories...

First Christmas Tree, Madison Square Park 1906
I am guilty, especially this year, of holding on to Christmas, perhaps a little too tight. I will be a mess the day we take the tree down and put away all the ornaments and decorations. I like to buy things after Christmas, and this year I haven't done any shopping, except exchange for a jacket that didn't fit my daughter. It's a do-over.

I wish we could make Christmas a do-over. I have a lot of work staring me in the face in January.

I took a lot of days of rest this December, got well, emersed myself in family traditions, put on a big dinner with 38# of prime rib that was out of this world, gave some presents that were close to my heart. At the end of it all, I still wonder if I did enough. I know I shouldn't feel guilty of taking a few private days for myself - watching Knick in binge mode, going to the movies twice and just watching as the Christmas lights danced in my grandchildren's eyes. The bears were a hit and we got a beautiful video of all three Eastern Grands playing with them.

My dogs have eaten 3 rib bones already, and I've been lovingly vacuuming up white bone splinters here and there. My bedspread has paw prints on it and will have to be washed.

We wore ugly sweaters for Christmas morning breakfast, our tradition, and carried on the tradition of my grandparents some 90 years ago when they were a young newlywed couple. Forgive me if you've heard the story before, but here it is again.

My grandfather was a young preacher in Illinois, at his first church. Many of you know he started from a wealthy family in upstate New York, his mother was a concert pianist and his father was a "man of business." They had racehorses and a beautiful home that stood above the Hudson River he liked to say the New York Stock Exchange was copied after. My grandfather was training to be a stock broker.

My grandfather witnessed a suicide, a man jumping from an office window, when he'd lost his fortunes. It had such an impression on him, he felt called to do something about it, and so began preaching in Madison Square Park. Yes, it was the park Madison Square Gardens was named after. As a child I was told it was, "On the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway."

Apparently it was known in the day as a kind of Speaker's Park, where people could get up on a box and begin to protest or to preach. My grandfather became a well-known regular, and turned his back on his wealthy upbringing. A gentleman used to stop by and listen to him, later telling him he should get a degree and become a leader of a flock. He even helped pay for an education at the divinity school. Grandpa got involved in the Riverside Baptist Church, and became an ordained Baptist minister some years later. I can remember a picture of this church was on his wall.
Madison Square Park today

His first church, then, was in Illinois. He'd already met and married my grandmother, an invalid he'd called upon, and with the help of his readings and the love of the handsome young preacher, she got out of bed and became his partner in all things. A woman who was supposed to die in her late twenties, she went on to bear two children and live to be 73 (outliving 3 of her doctors). I always loved hearing that story, because it read like the Brownings.

That first Christmas they were snowed in, and Grandma wasn't able to go out and get the shopping done for Christmas dinner. All she had were eggs, canned pineapple rings, and some sausage. She made a dinner, using red and green sprinkles on the pineapple rings, served the sausage and eggs and her famous fresh biscuits. And that has become our family traditional Christmas morning breakfast ever since.

When we went back to visit the 9-11 memorial some years ago, and to visit our son, then attending NYU Film School, my husband and I sat in the park, and yes, I could hear my grandfather's words echoing in the distance, bouncing off the faces of now-famous buildings, one of them the Flatiron Building. I felt the connection to my past, his past.

Maybe this year we'll leave up all our decorations until Easter, like we did one year, until my youngest burst into tears and told me he couldn't invite over his friends because "our Christmas Tree is still up."

Yes, I am guilty of holding on too much. I never give up on a good story, or a memory. I never forget that who I am today is the result of those who came before me and who gave their life's stories, customs, and history.

But I don't have to worry about it today. I have a book to write, a book to finish, and it's a long time before Easter.






Sunday, December 20, 2015

Becoming Real

One of my favorite readings at this time of you, is a gift to you. Enjoy. May your Christmas be merry and bright, and your New Year sparkly and exciting. Thank you for traveling with me this year, and hope we stay connected in the years to come.

Excerpt, from The Velveteen Rabbit:

                  Christmas Morning

For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor,
and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and
being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite
snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down
upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended
they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and
lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an
opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit
could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that
real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust
like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and
should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed
wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have
had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with
Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel
himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who
was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others.
He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the
seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled
out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long
succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and
by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they
were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery
magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that
are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all
about it. "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?" "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
The Skin Horse Tells His Story "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him. There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this "tidying up," and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The Rabbit didn't mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he came down soft. One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn't find the china dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she simply looked about her, and seeing that the toy cupboard door stood open, she made a swoop. "Here," she said, "take your old Bunny! He'll do to sleep with you!" And she dragged the Rabbit out by one ear, and put him into the Boy's arms. That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept in the Boy's bed. At first he found it rather uncomfortable, for the Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks with the Skin Horse. But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the bedclothes that he said were like the burrows the real rabbits lived in. And they had splendid games together, in whispers, when Nana had gone away to her supper and left the night-light burning on the mantelpiece. And when the Boy dropped off to sleep, the Rabbit would snuggle down close under his little warm chin and dream, with the Boy's hands clasped close round him all night long. And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy-so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail becoming unsewn, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.
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