A full summer combined with RWA in San Antonio at the end of July has left me wondering where summer went. Are you there, too?
Both kids leave for college over the next two weeks–one for his last year undergrad and the other for her freshman year at university (do you hear the sob/chortle combo? It’s the sadness of the baby leaving the nest, with the joy of freedom for moi woven in).
Besides the omnipresent work with stories demanding my attention, the offspring have asked for “cozy dorm socks.” In appropriate university colors. Actually, oldest asked for them because a hat I knitted him was waaaay too big (Saskwatch proportions) and since I’d used super wash wool, un-shrinkable. But I’d started a lovely shrug (think Jane Austen) for my daughter, who informed me “um, Mom? I’m never going to wear a purple shrug.” Shrug ripped out, yarn re-purposed for dorm slipper-socks. Need to get the boy’s done this week. I only allow myself to knit after the words are on the page. Will I do it?
Monday will be only the second Veteran’s Day in thirty-one years that I haven’t either been in uniform or married to a man in uniform. And it’s only over the past two years since dh (dear hubby!) retired from the Navy that I’ve been able to take a step back and appreciate what a gift it was to serve our great nation. From my first day of Plebe Summer on a hot July day in 1982 until our small, intimate retirement ceremony for Steve at The Army War College in Carlisle, PA (yes, my navy guy served his last year at an army post), it’s all been a gift.
It didn’t always feel like a gift, a blessing. As much as I always wanted to serve my country since at least high school if not earlier, following one’s dreams comes at a price. I didn’t have college summers to get a “real” job and play during off-hours. When dh and I married three days after my graduation (did we really do that, that young?) we had a month or so together until we faced months, possibly years of separation. Fortunately the navy was always good to us as far as co-location is concerned. Because of my active-duty training and deployment schedules, it was my experience that a lot of my emotional maturation took a back seat until I was in a more “regular” environment, the Naval Post Graduate School. Besides earning another degree courtesy of the navy, I was able to make life-long friends and take a hard look at my life–what did I want out of it?
For me the answer was clear: I wanted to have a family and write. I was lucky–I was able to keep serving our country as a navy spouse, since dh had found his calling (let’s just say he knew he wanted to Fly Navy since he was three years old) while having our babies and pursuing my writing career.
When the time was right I resigned my commission and became the “stability” factor for our family, most importantly, our children. Scary thought, right? Yet I had as much fun as they did. When Dad was off on deployment, meals became simpler as did our routine. It was the only way to maintain the energy level needed to raise two active kiddos while Dad was away. I was always grateful I was able to be home with the kids, writing in the wee hours of the morning or late at night after they were asleep. I lived one dream–having a family–while going after another–being a published author.
Again, it wasn’t always easy to be thankful. DH was deployed on 9-11, and I’ll never forget our first phone conversation and having to confirm that yes, he’d heard right, we’d lost friends. During the war dh was interviewed on CNN in-flight, and I learned to hold my breath and pray at the same time. Explaining war to young children–can anyone?
The best part of being a navy family was of course the wonderful places we lived, and the incredible people we’ve met. Our last tour in Moscow, Russia, we met many public officials and even celebrities. And yes, we really did meet the President of the United States. I blogged about it, have photos of it, and still people ask me if it really happened. Or maybe that’s my elementary-girl self asking if it really happened. What all of it has done has allowed my children to be informed, globally-oriented kids who will make a much larger impression in their world than I ever have. This was all made possible because dh continued to serve his country.
This Veterans Day I am so grateful for those who serve, who have served, and for the small contribution I’ve been able to make.
Leave a comment by November 11 and be entered to win a copy of Navy Orders or Navy Rules–your choice! I’ll pick one winner at random. (North America only. I’m sorry to my dear international friends but postage costs and different mailing systems make overseas mailings cost prohibitive).
Before I ever sold one book I dreamt of how it “would be” once I’d published. I’d make the NYT bestseller list within a few months, be on Oprah (dating myself, I know), be interviewed by Charlie Rose as I’d seen him interview Robert McKee about his book STORY. And the book signings…I’d walk into independent bookstore after independent bookstore, booksellers so pleased to see me and my avid readers lined up around all of the quirky bookshelves. I’d be dressed like Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail,” a tweed skirt with cute tights.
Enter reality–it took far longer to sell and publish than I ever thought it would. The Information Age bloomed into the Digital Revolution. Print runs are down, there are too few books and too short a time for bookseller to order my novels. That’s if said bookseller will even consider hosting a genre author. You don’t want to know the mental revenge one-liners I’ve practiced after being told “we don’t carry your kind of book.” My kind? Oops, that’s another post, or better, an op-ed like Eloisa James did.
Then enter Michelle Mioff-Haring, owner of Cupboard Maker Books in Enola, PA. A dedicated professional who is passionate about books and the romance genre, she garnered the Romantic Times (RT) bookseller of the year award in Kansas City this past May. This is where Michelle and I met. I know, I had to travel far away to find the treasure right in my own backyard. Kind of cool, though, that I met her in the Land of Oz…
Ronda, Michelle’s assistant, contacted me and we set up a date for me to sign my latest, NAVY ORDERS. Could I please bring copies of NAVY RULES with me, as they were only able to get NAVY ORDERS? I tingled with glee–they had done their homework and knew what I wrote. Then, when I arrived, Michelle told me she’d read my book and enjoyed it. If you’re a writer you know how rare this is. In our age of information and entertainment inundation, it’s totally understood that a bookseller doesn’t have time to read all of the authors she hosts for signings. But Michelle makes the time, as does Ronda.
But wait–the best part of all of this is the bookstore! As soon as you open the door, the serenity-infused aroma of paperback and hardback books assaults you and leaves you in a warm state of reader bliss. Row upon row of neatly arranged books, by genre and author, await. Clean, neat, organized, welcoming. The shelving goes up to the ceiling…well, almost. The shelves actually go up to where there are wooden plank walk-ways for the rescue cats that reside at Cupboard Maker Books. Safe, sterile cages house the newly rescued, who graduate to wandering the tomes at will, serving sentry over centuries of story.
Back to the signing–I confess, I brought me knitting with me. But it never left the car–I was talking and selling books for the entire two hours, all to new readers who loved romance and many who had an affinity or bona fide connection to the U.S. Military. I spoke with a US Marine Corp vet who’d taken photos of the USS Pueblo (no link–if you don’t know, it’s worth looking up, like when your teacher told you to look up the word in the dictionary yourself). I spoke at length with an Army spouse whose husband was now retired from the military, like mine. I talked with a high school senior who is a writer and had the best questions of all–when did I know I was a writer? What keeps me going?
Back home I have rolled my writing sleeves back up so that I’ll have two Whidbey Island books for you in 2014. True confession: hoping to sign at Cupboard Maker Books again is a big incentive.
Since 2000 I have attended RWA’s national conference whenever my life and our family’s Navy travels have allowed. The passage of time has never been more evident to me than this year, this day, this moment. Maybe it’s my impending empty nest in just over a year, or my, ahem, maturation process, but I realize that relationships formed over the course of these conferences have become the sparkling diamonds in what is often a tough yet rewarding process.
It was a lot of work, time and effort but the spring push to get an additional paver patio put in that offers me a better view of the mini-forest behind our house was worth it. I have a place to sit and write to my heart’s content, and the birds aren’t afraid to come in for a visit. I will try to capture some of my feathered buddies over the next months. For now, I offer you some pics taken from the new patio. I took these photos only a week or so ago and the difference, day by day, is amazing.
It’s like that with writing, too. One paragraph, one page of dialogue may seem minuscule when faced with an entire novel to compose. Yet each word is a seed. Some words sprout into sturdy, tough plants like my tomato. Others are more fragile like the clematis who is so very tentatively starting to climb up the trellis I painted for it.
I don’t have control over what will bloom or not in my garden, not really. I can only do the research, consult experts, and time my planting as close to Mother Nature’s schedule as possible. Of course she, like my story, changes like the wind, like a mere few strokes of the keyboard.
Plant a seed today. In your life, in your words, in your garden.
My retired Navy family is hitting a major milestone this summer as we approach the two-year mark for how long we’ve been in one house, one home, one spot on the globe–and we’re going to stay here. After 13 moves in 26 years, you can imagine my relief. Even though I know we’re done with the Navy moves, and hope no other moves are in the near future, my brain seems to have a special compartment that must be labelled “Navy Move” or “PCS” (permanent change of station). I found myself restless about a month ago, thinking I needed to purge the house of junk, accumulated clothes or papers, books, etc. But wait–I did that when we moved in. And before we moved from Russia. And before we moved to Russia…
What do normal people, i.e. people who don’t live tour-to-tour, do?
Remodel! But wait, there’s the college tuition to consider for the eldest kid, and younger kid will be in college soon enough. What’s more economical?
Curb appeal! (HGTV junkie, full disclosure).
But we’re not selling, so who cares about the front of the house? I spend close to three seasons writing on my laptop or iPad on the patio. Shouldn’t it be a place of serenity and escape for me?
I am no gardening expert. After living in so many different places I’ve learned that if I want to have any success I need to stick with native plants. Lucky for me there is a local gardening expert who also happens to write a column in our paper and, for a very reasonable fee, make house calls and landscape design charts.
This has been a spring of deadlines and looming deadlines, and the excitement of attending a particular writer’s conference I haven’t been to before. But somehow the plans were drawn up, I limited myself to one side of the house per year (or every 5 years!) and besides the start of a wonderful garden I also have a second paver patio from which to write my novels.
We’ve been back home in the States for 10 months. I’ve settled my office (um, er, well, you know–it’s functional), planted flowers and now vegetables, and both kids have made it through most of a full school-year. I’ve had more writing success than ever–I’m launching my Whidbey Island series in June with the first book (and my fourth published novel) NAVY RULES, and I’m in the midst of contract negotiations for a 3-book deal with Harlequin Superromance. There will be more Whidbey Island books–yeah!!
The work-up for June promo, as well as getting ready to speak at RWA in July with my Romvets sisters, is exciting and exhausting. I’m so excited about all of the new changes and opportunities that I often find myself awake at 4 am, pondering the universe (or what subplot I should write next). I’ve found that when I’m getting too full of “me” stuff, it’s good to get grounded by reaching out and helping others. So this year I’m again happy and humbled to be a part of Brenda Novak’s Auction for a Cure for Juvenile Diabetes. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, there’s something here for you, including a book club basket from me and an Amish gift basket from the Three Glindas–me, Ann DeFee and Linda Cardillo. Check it out–there are so many wonderful items to bid on, and each bid takes us another dollar closer to a cure for this devastating disease. http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/.
I’m also getting geared up to meet my readers and re-connect with so many writing colleagues at many different events this spring and summer. Please peruse my bio page and scroll down to the Events list. If you can come out and meet me, please do! I’d love to meet you and talk about books, writing, knitting, military family life–you pick!
I don’t know about you but I’m going to brew a cup of tea now. Plain green. Peace.
In a blink, summer’s giving way to autumn. Today’s most likely the last hot day we’ll see in the Northeast.
I’ve been away from the blog due to a global move and associated tasks. Fancy speak for I’ve been overwhelmed by life.
Great news–I have a new book coming out in June 2012 with Harlequin Superromance, set on Whidbey Island, Washington. Details will emerge as the publication date gets closer. I already have two events planned for June which is the precise reason I’m so thrilled to be back in the States full-time. There’s nothing like connecting with dear readers in person.
No matter how crazy it gets, I try to eek out at least a smidgen of serenity each day. My dog Misha is often the source of this. Sometimes it’s Ripley the Fearless Parrot. What’s your serenity source?
We have a great example of what great smarts and a sincere heart can do for a person and in turn, for the rest of the world. Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is not only the Second Lady of the United States but also a teacher at Northern Virginia Community College. She holds a doctorate and is a fierce supporter of military families. She’s a military Mom and knows the sacrifices we all make on this unique path. I had the privilege of meeting her (and her husband!) yesterday and gave her a copy of SASHA’s DAD as a small token of my appreciation. It’s always great to be a writer, wonderful to be a published author, but even better when I can hand an extension of myself to someone as a gift. For whatever reason, but this was a great one!
The next time I get bummed about too long between contracts or the difficulty of pursuing a writing career while overseas, I’ll think “what would Dr. Biden do?” She’d get to work!
Honest, I’m not going to bore you with my transcendental journey while sitting in lotus or laying in corpse pose yesterday at yoga. Probably because my journey was more of a muscular nature, as in my lower back cramped up so badly I thought for sure I’d be laid flat and told to “take it easy, rest, eat whatever you want for the Holidays and no more hard work outs.”
Yet the class continued. Somehow I got through each pose, at times sweating out the discomfort. My lower back has been my nemesis ever since college, and of course being a runner for so many years didn’t help it. I’ve learned to balance my exercise–heavier on walking, lifting (resistance), stationery bike, etc, and I only run for fun occasions like a road race I want to do.
I know that to keep the back pain away I have to work out–hard, especially on my core. It’s just part of the I-want-to-be-healthy-and-strong gig. Still my lower back and I have our moments when I’ve been doing all the right things, and it still fusses and gives me grief. My inclination is to take an anti-inflammatory and rest. Yet if I work through it (carefully, not abusively) the spasms ease and I enjoy another long period with negligible pain.
Hmm…sounds like the same prescription for writing relevant, real, touching prose. If I ignore my craft and blow off my regular morning pages and daily writing, I start to feel like crap. And then when I do get back to the page, I’m writing, well, crap. It takes a lot longer to produce a great dialogue or to insert a much-needed metaphor.
Writing regularly, practicing anything that’s our vocation on a regular, consistent basis, is tough. At all the writer’s conferences and workshops I’ve attended or given, no one has ever stood up and said “this is so easy! I write whenever I want and I’m a successful New York Times bestselling author!” The most successful among us are either quiet and listening carefully to glean new insight into their craft, or they’re not there because they’re at work—writing.
The yoga instructor is Russian and when I first started her class I thought “great, Soviet gymnastics-turned-torture.” But while her style is different from what I’m used to, it’s not bad. Just different. She has us hang indefinitely in painful poses so that we get past the pain. So that my muscles finally trust. Relax. Take in more oxygen.
Hang in there. Don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the peace and joy this season is meant to bring. Soak in the beauty of a brightly lit Christmas tree, sigh in delight as another Menorah candle is lit. Breathe. Relax. Let your true vocation come through.