Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Lights and Hope For A New Year


Christmas and Hanukkah mean so many things to me, as I'm sure they do for you. It is the season of family, new beginnings, and a festival of lights signaling the brightness of hope. This year, the lights in Windsor Town Green were made even more special by the outpouring of thanks for our First Responders.

Many of the grammar school classes chose to honor these heroes, who helped protect many of us and our homes from the devastating fires in Sonoma County. Our heart goes out for the loss of life and property we experienced as a community, and for what's going on in Southern California now.

We know what they're feeling, because we lived through the same. There are families spending the holidays in an apartment, or rented home, instead of the family home they celebrated in for years. For some, it will be truly a new beginning. For others, it chronicles the end of an era, and how some things will never be the same again. Displaced and evacuated peoples are finding all sorts of new ways to celebrate this end of 2017 as we mourn the past and adjust to the future. It's what we do.

I make a pilgrimage to look at favorite house lights and the trees in the Town Green every year, but this year affected me more. My grandkids enjoyed looking at each and every one of the trees -- I think there were over 100 -- all decorated by classrooms, families, businesses and civic groups from all areas of our county. I would say that the overarching theme was that of gratitude, how we are family, all of us, and how we'll all survive.

We ran into a group of carolers strolling down the streets, a gathering of Santas and elves celebrating at a local pub, and a vendor on the square selling bright flashing wands and glow-in-the-dark necklaces. We finished off our meal with ice cream at Powell's, and of course couldn't resist bringing home some peppermint bark, Giants Pez and salt water taffy.

I like it when the windows in local restaurants fog up, when the laughter behind glass as office parties and family get-togethers take place. I found myself missing the family members who will not be with us this year, and it gave me an improved opening scene for a novella I'm trying to finish.

We've had a mild, crisp winter so far, with a cold snap. I harvested a dozen pomegranate fruits, about two dozen new mandarins and some Meyer lemons. I came home to a cracklling fire and turned in early, wearing socks and a flannel nightgown. I considered penning a note to Santa myself.


And I dreamt of what glorious things were in store for me next year -- for all of us. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. May the joys of the season be many for you and your family.

(PS - Blogger is not letting me respond to your lovely responses, but know I've been reading them all one by one. Thank you all!)  -- Sharon

Love is All You Need

Honoring Home Town Heroes serving the military






Sunday, December 10, 2017

Planning My Writing Year

Every year I start planning my writing year in the fourth quarter. When I used to coach Realtors, my line would be, "The most important quarter of next year is the last quarter of this year." That way, when you start out January 1, you hit the ground running.

It's the same for writing. In fact, all my nearly 30 years selling real estate and coaching agents for the top-rated professional coaching organization I was part of, has only underscored these business principles. We think of writing as an emotional journey. People think we writers write when we feel like it, and when "the muse strikes us," and for some, that definitely is the way of it. But for the successful authors, which I strive to remain part of, it takes prior planning and discipline.

I used to think that writing was different than selling Real Estate. Well, after some 7 years, I can tell you it isn't. Everything is sales. Relationships are based on sales. Raising children is a huge sales job (and sometimes a battle between who is doing the better sell job on whom). Falling in love is sales. Having clients or fans is sales. Associating with other authors or other business people, is sales. Maintaining your positive energy and mindset is a tricky and important sell job we do on ourselves.

So, once again, I've stripped off the cloak of confusion, hiding and secrets, and jump head-on into the Business of Writing. After all, we are not hobbyists with our writing. We are professional authors. And to call us such, we have to have a business plan, a direction and a template to repeat or build on our successes and strive to eliminate what didn't work well.

In the old days, I started by telling a story:

     What Went Right
     What Needs Improvement


Then I gave my numbers from the previous year, and used a percentage at the sidebar, stating if it was up (an improvement) or down (a decrease), or stayed the same. I listed my 5 most important goals for last year and how I did on all 5 of them. After all, a year cannot be evaluated based on one thing alone. There are always things that are better or worse than before. It's never totally a success or a failure, right?

Then I decided what were my new goals for this upcoming year, and the numbers that supported that success. I broke it down to the number of work days, weeks, time off, conventions and events I wanted to attend, vacations, and came up with a total number of days I wanted to work. I backed the numbers into those days, figuring how many it took of each category to achieve what my goal was. For instance, if I made 42 cold calls a day, for 5 days a week, it automatically guaranteed an income of $X, based on my ratios. I knew how many appts. I needed to make, how many listings I would take, buyers I would have, and how many of those would turn into successful transactions, even figuring what my average transaction income was.

I've done the same for my writing year. I know there will be fluctuations in the marketplace, just like there is in Real Estate, and those are out of my control. But I can figure on a general figure, and I usually aim low. I know that certain books will generate what average income, whether it be by genre or length of book. I estimate how much I need to spend to promote and achieve those numbers, but I weigh them not on the promotion costs, but my activity costs. (I'm not buying the business, I'm generating a writing income. I've seen writers, as well as Realtors spend money to achieve ranking rather than actually creating it, which is the long-term sustainability goal).  A book takes X number of days to write, and X number of days to edit, get the cover done, have formatted and upload. I have to take into account all these time factors to realistically estimate how much time it will take to achieve my goal. I may have to adjust by: being more consistent with my writing day, or, spending less on costs, or learning to write or edit faster, or change the environment around me as far as helpers and people who I pay to help me produce my product. Perhaps I need to trim staff. Perhaps I need to add. Perhaps trim the number of conventions, perhaps increase certain ones. You see how it goes.

And then the fun part happens, I mark it all out on a yearly calendar. I have eBooks, Audio Books, and Print Books. I have swag and other things I buy to promote. I put a budget to all these things, and then track it. And I keep a tight leash on my writing day vs. my promotional part of the day. For me, I like to keep the writing together, and the promotional days together so I don't have to keep switching hats all the time in the same day.

The last phase is How We Do It Here. I love Michael Gerber's books like e-Myth. I love the SEALs code of Prepare, prepare, prepare, train, train, train, action. Then aim. I like to aim after I've executed. I like to prepare after I've trained. I like to prepare for my training, and so forth, working backwards. Saying it more simply:

     I dream about what I want to achieve
     I plan for success
     I train and focus on the plan
     I execute** (notice I don't adjust during execution-"Balls To The Wall")
     I track and evaluate constantly
     I adjust my plan

We often see the routes an airplane takes as a straight crescent from Point A to Point B. But in fact, it is a series of hundreds, perhaps thousands of adjustments along the way. If you were to see the path the plane took, it would look like wiggly lines a mouse might make traveling from one place to another, as he makes adjustments and perhaps gets distracted. We are the same as writers!

Why should we plan as writers? Well, my mentor used to say, "You get what you think about most the time." He'd add to someone in the audience, a male he could joke with, "That means you'd turn into a blonde 30 year old bombshell." But in seriousness, we have a plan so we have the vision to achieve it, and the backup to that vision, the way we're going to make it happen. This way, we get to launch into our next year with confidence. Those first few weeks of our year are like the Honeymoon Event, when everything is possible and nothing hasn't turned out wrong -- YET! But the plan keeps us on track, so we can adjust, perhaps see where we made a miscalculation and make that correction before we have to work out the whole year in a mode that isn't going to work. Our plan is adjustable, because it's a working plan.

And any good working plan needs the courage to follow it, to track and look at it critically to make those adjustments. Otherwise, the plan is an exercise in futility. I knew a lot of Realtors who made a plan, but never concentrated on the execution or the little tweaks that could have paid them huge dividends. Writers are the same.

We learned to walk as toddlers by bumping into things and falling on our rears. No plan is perfect. No execution is perfect. But if we focus on it, focus on the training and preparation, the execution will come easier. Or rather, we can execute without second-guessing ourselves in the process. If we prepare and train, we don't hesitate. If we have a plan for the year, each day becomes more relevant instead of slipping away. Every story becomes part of the fabric of our writing year. Every character sketch or re-write brings us more jewels, more clarity and better books.

And it makes the whole process more fun.


I hope your 2018 is the very best year of your writing or reading life. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a New Year that will sparkle with all the magic success brings us all. After all, you deserve it!

Now, go!

***Late Note: Blogger is not allowing me to respond to all your wonderful comments. Just know that I'm reading each and every one of them, and taking them to heart. Feel free to pass along this column if you wish. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!***




Sunday, November 26, 2017

Family Traditions


Making soap for mom and dad.
Most of us have fond memories of the holidays when we were children. I can still remember making Swedish Tea Ring with my grandmother Christensen, in her kitchen in Fresno. My little hands worked the dough, and sliced little holes as the wreath was made, revealing the red and green candied cherries, the nuts and cinnamon tucked inside. It wasn't Christmas unless I could do that.

My grandparents sang Christmas carols in Danish, as well. My grandmother Fox told the story of how, as a new bride, they were snowed in one Christmas, and she couldn't get to the store.  Instead of having a big feast, they had frozen sausages, pineapple rings, which she made with sprinkled red and green sugar, with red candy dots making the berries at the bottom of the wreath. To this day, we fry these little pineapple wreaths as we tell the story to the younger generation.

Our 37# bird this year. Cooked in a bag.
My little brother sang "Binkle Bells" at night when he was about three or four, when the whole house was quiet on Christmas Eve. I will never forget the sound of his sweet little voice echoing throughout our house.

We'd invite Stanford students from different countries to share our Thanksgiving tables. I remember Lali from Turkey, Bobo from France (his real name was Hubert), and our favorite vagabond traveler who had been all over the world, Currie. I could listen to his stories about his travels throughout the jungles and beaches of Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand years before there was a war there. My mother taught him how to bake bread and cook because he'd hired on to an Alaskan exploration crew as a cook, and didn't know the first thing about it. Our friend, Harold, another student, taught my brother and I how to collect pennies.

I loved listening to Grandpa Fox's sermons, and, although I was embarrassed having to walk down the church aisle behind Grandma Fox (because she wore 7 purses), it was a special time for the Fox grandchildren, because the church body loved us as much as they loved Grandpa. He was and still is the largest person in life, who had a big God and the heart big enough to envelop us all.

Butternut Squash from the garden
When my brother and I sometimes stayed with them in Napa, sometimes women and children would be sheltered there, hidden away from an abusive husband. We would be awakened, and asked to sleep in the living room, so the mother and her children could have a warm bed to safely sleep in at night. We also learned that homeless people learned they could get a free meal at my Grandmother's rear kitchen door, and we knew there had been marking left on the fencepost, although we could never tell where those marks were.

When our kids were younger, we took a cruise at Christmas to the Caribbean, and were entertained by a local children's choir with their island-flavor Christmas carols one special Christmas Day. We watched monkeys come up to us on the beach and large parrots with colorful foliage robbed us of our fruit at a picnic.

I remember my oldest, D.J., arguing with children at a Macy's in San Francisco, talking to the "Talking Christmas Tree" and defending his honor, when these children called him stupid and made fun of the tree. "I'm your friend, Mr. Christmas Tree," he told him. I was never more proud.

I was lucky. And so now I complete the cycle, spreading the stories. It's so difficult now, because we can't all sit at the same table. The little ones are so precious. My next-to-the-youngest last night told me this, "Grandma, I wish it was Christmas."

I agree. With all four of my children safe and in the US out of harm's way, their spouses and children by their sides, we were all together this year. I think that makes it about the most perfect Thanksgiving and early Christmas it could ever be.

What about you? What's been special about your holiday so far? I'd love to hear about your traditions...



Sunday, November 12, 2017

SPECIAL SNEAK PEAK: Bachelor SEAL

They stared into each other’s eyes for several seconds. They never used to do this. It was all go at it, get to the sex or the argument. But tonight, they just looked at each other’s faces and absorbed what they saw. She saw a man damaged by his own hand and burdened by a past that wasn’t his fault. She saw a man who had one speed, and that was fast. On. Present. No daydreams or visions of greatness. He used to tell her he was just a man who was hired “to get ’er done” because he could. He did the things others couldn’t do, and for that, he’d paid a heavy price. But he also didn’t want anyone’s pity.
And she was a woman who couldn’t take the energy because it interfered with her own. He needed someone who could support him. She needed the same thing, and neither one could give the other what was needed. That was the long and the short of it.
Unmasked and without the emotional overtones, the angry upsets, and hurts, she could see better who this man really was. And he wasn’t so threatening. Or maybe he’d learned to couch some things, change his behavior in ways she’d not noticed. This could be the way he was all along, and she just never saw it.

Any way she served it up, she came to the same conclusion. She’d heard people say it on military blogs or at functions she used to attend. She’d seen it written on a plaque located on an island in the South Pacific, carved by men who knew what they were talking about and who’d just lost their best friends on a foreign beach. She stepped toward him without touching, inhaled, and said, “Thank you, Morgan for all you’ve done and continue to do to keep me safe. Thank you for my freedom. I appreciate you more than I’ve ever told you before.”
He was going to grab her and kiss her, but she pushed him away.
“Whoa! I didn’t mean that. I said ‘thank you’, not ‘come fuck me.’”
His smirk was so disarming, in spite of how wrong it was to love seeing it. He was forbidden fruit all the way. Every part of him. The way he looked, the imaginary way he made love to her in her dreams—full tilt without holding anything back. He made quick decisions just like she did, like it was ready, fire, and then aim. He’d always give his all and bear the consequences of the haunting afterward. He wouldn’t change for anyone or anything because being damaged looked good on him. Like a uniform that was perfectly tailored. His scars were his medals. He was a hurricane sometimes without a focus, and he’d never be tethered to anyone, no matter what the cost. But he could, and she honestly believed this with her whole heart, that he could save her from whomever was after her.

Just before he opened the door, he turned. “Darlin’, I’m revved and ready to go if and when you ever decide to drop that gate.”

Thought you also wouldn't mind a couple of other shots of my San Francisco model, Justin Thomas (who is about as nice to meet as he looks). Just 2 more days. Ok ladies, start your engines!

You can order Bachelor SEAL here. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

TUCKER

Who could resist this face? We visited with some people who were trying to care for this little orphan puppy, once loved, but the product of a divorce. My heart broke when I saw such a sweet dog having to live in an environment that isn't healthy for Dobermans. They need a lot of affection, and a lot of connection to their humans. They are working dogs, so they need a place to run. The pup practically wouldn't let me leave, and his behavior told me he was starved for affection. I knew we could give that affection and the right environment for him to heal.

When we left, I mentioned that if they needed a home for this darling, sweet tan Doberman, that we could provide a loving home. They of course had to check with the original owners, and the next day, they delivered this pup to our front door. He's scared, very skinny, but has one of the sweetest temperaments I've ever seen in a dog. It's a pure joy to see him running in our seven acre fenced yard, trying to keep up with the older dogs. He's already faster than Rosa (who is a bit chunky and everyone mistakes her for a Chocolate Lab).

We named him Tucker, since he's a Tan. Now we have a Blue, (Blue), a Red (Rosa), and a Tan (Tucker). Blue and Rosa are adjusting surprisingly well. Both of them are rather spoiled, so there have been some growling and boundary setting issues, but so far it's been better than we expected. And he didn't cry all night long. He can't make it up stairs yet (probably never experienced them), nor does he know what a dog toy or a dog treat is.

He slept on a new bed I bought him with a fleece cover, and when I showed it to him, he lay right down on it like he understood. We have beds all over our house for the other dogs, but I wanted a fresh one without a scent to be his. My two older ones are delighted they can have the entire upstairs to themselves - their sanctuary. He doesn't pee in the house either, which is the one phase of puppyhood I wasn't looking forward to.

We think he'll be big, as we estimate he's about 5 months old. He goes to the vet this week for shots and a checkup. We'll get a little meat on him, if we can, so we don't see those ribs, which are painful to watch.

But what a joy, and a pure love. Next issue will be having him neutered, but one event at a time. We'll let him get adjusted first. Then we'll deal with his manhood issue. LOL. Rosa and Blue are both fixed. We want him to heal when he feels more confident in his surroundings.

We felt we saved this sweet dog's life. Welcome to the family, Tucker.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

My Own Arizona Memorial Story

Our President has visited the Arizona Memorial today and I was reminded of my trip to Pearl Harbor in February of 2016, while at a writer's conference. Each time I visit this sacred site, my love for the military and all those who sacrificed for me and my freedoms increases. Words cannot express how it changes a person to see the oil still leaking from the bow of the great ship, now residing in the shallow waters of the Bay, with some of its crew forever enshrined.

I wrote about that visit on my blog from December 2016 here

During that visit, I was able to see several Japanese visitors pay their respects to the fallen. The flowers I wore that day floated out to sea with the flowers and water contributed by those visitors in a shared time and place that was over 75 years in the making. For this memorial is their memorial too. It is a memorial for the whole world. It's a reminder of what was, what was done, and what remains to this day. It's the ongoing saga of war and peace that has haunted mankind for centuries. It is the best and worst of times all in one.

We study history through the lens of our own experience and to each one of us, that history is slightly different with many thoughts and feelings in common. But not all. History is personal. And it needs many voices to tell the story in all its detail. For one person alone could never do it. Even one nation couldn't tell the story of why so many men and women die while serving those they protect honorably, and why and how those of us who remember and live on are grateful.


I write about fictional heroes, who don't always die. I am saving fictional characters, one at a time. It's all I can do, by adding names and stories from my head, putting them on paper for readers to love and enjoy. It's another fantasy view of the history of the world inside my brain. Writers have the joy and the burden of not only telling stories of what really happened, but what could be. In that way, these men and women live forever. My stories will outlive me some day.


On this rainy day in Northern California, I'm remembering those wind-swept afternoons I walked along the beach in Honolulu and traveled on a little boat to visit a part of my history. And I'm grateful to be here to reflect and share. Throwing my words like leis on the water going out to sea.








Sunday, October 29, 2017

Rising From The Fire

My parent's old home was left standing. Melted shutters.
Many of you familiar with my history and my work know that in 2008 our house burned down. I had, up until that time, maintained a busy and successful Real Estate career. It was a challenge, in a falling market, working with two other family members and a team of assistants, but it was a well-oiled machine that left us in the top 10 of just about every category in Northern California. I was proud of it.

When our fire occurred, it gave me the opportunity to do something else. Insurance gave us some living arrangements (a small one bedroom apartment), which I mainly stayed in by myself. Our property and house were an all-consuming job for my husband. Plus we had about 50 chickens, our Dobermans and "visits" by people who thought it was a good idea to help themselves to some of our things. He was doing battle with the insurance company, contractors and cleanup crew. All my clothes were either burned or affected by smoke.

Here are some scenes from the recent Wildfires in Santa Rosa. Not my house this time, but way more devastating.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/7539286-181/lesson-for-santa-rosa-in?artslide=0


I had a couple of choices. I could go replace everything, pretend nothing had happened and just resume my former business, or I could take a little time to sort out what exactly I wanted to do. We had to decide whether or not to rebuild the house, where we would live, what things we would throw away and what things we'd save for later sorting. My head was spinning.

Because I was alone with the apartment, next door to our office, I solved my lack of sleeping problem (too much to think about) with some late-night movies, and some reading. I did more reading than I'd previously done in years. I discovered Outlander and it got me hooked into good old fashioned storytelling. I even began an email dialog with Diana Gabaldon at one point.

Although very stressful, the fire actually became the catalyst for my writing career. I think opportunity comes from stresses that seem at the time to be overwhelming. Just like diamonds created by millions of years of pressure and heat from earth masses, the creative side of me, one that hadn't been tested or expressed, began oozing out and I spent more time in my fantasyworld than I did on reality. I did it first out of self preservation. And then I began to do it because I felt it was my calling.

I wish I could say the process was clear, direct and in a straight line to success. Just like everything worthwhile in life, there are ups and downs. But, looking back, if I had to do it all over again: sacrifice some of my very precious things for a chance adventure into a new realm, or to wake up my fantasy world, I'd do it all over again. I really would.

Like the Phoenix, I emerged from the fire a completely different human being. I think about this these days as I drive past burned out homes and consider all the decisions and issues affecting people's lives who have survived our horrible wildfire.

Remember my premise: circumstances don't make a person. They reveal a person. This path wasn't one I'd planned on following. But it's one I chose once I had the options. I guess that's why they say we have to understand the difference between what we can control and what we cannot. And be good with it, focusing on what we can control.

In a way, my house burning down was a blessing. I hope some of this will be the experience of some others this year. Terrible tragedy in most ways. But not all ways. There are some people who are going to be given choices they'd never really had before. And that's where the rising, the magic comes.