I had a strange evening yesterday. Bittersweet and overwhelming, the tears suddenly erupted: a therapeutic mess of fear, sadness ... but most of all? Gratitude. And that gratitude came from love, realizations, photos, simple words. Let me explain:
I'm a long way from a home (the Northeast) I'm not sure I can call home anymore. In five years, a lot has changed. Priorities, obligations ... you know how it is. If I felt unmoored since moving, it's nothing compared to the last week. I struggle with anxiety and this virus situation has me trying to fight the worst of it tooth and nail. To be honest, I have been damn lucky, though. Post-move, I still have daily, weekly, or monthly calls with friends. And then there is social media. Over the last week, I've been keeping touch heavily with many of the people I love, with one friend somehow always calling just when I need to talk the most.
But last night spurred a perfect storm of the worries we are all dealing with, the death of a wonderful lady, my dad's sanity following the same trends as the market, a hefty decision I have to make, worrying about friends who are coping with so much right now....
Yesterday morning, my amazing friend since I was fifteen decided to post an invitation for virtual drinks at 8pm on her FB wall. Shortly before 8pm, my friend, Mike ... whose mom had just died (not from Covid-19) ... was looking for photos of her so he had something to use at a two-hour wake and funeral limited to ten people ... which now won't happen since New York is on lockdown. He found photos of our 'crew' all through high school, college, and into adulthood. We looked ridiculous in some of them and you could 'hear' the laughter in our group texting. And then the virtual drinks started over on FB, and by some coincidence, I knew everyone who participated ... mostly college friends, some high school. We liked, haha'd commented for over an hour and agreed to do it again. We didn't solve anything, of course. But in the end, those of us who knew Mike's mom toasted her, although he wasn't present at the moment on the thread ... he was too busy making some of us laugh and cry on that photo text thread. So, we wouldn't be gathering together this weekend at a wake or funeral as we always imagined would happen as our parents' aged, but there was power for me in that toast ... in the sharing of photos ... in the connecting simply to ask how is everybody doing? Admittedly, the photos had me worrying my life was flashing before my eyes ... but that's my anxiety issues talking. One day, I'm going to learn how to shut it up.
So there I was, bombarded with photos from my past, my friend's sorrow over his mom, connection with friends I don't get to talk to in our normal lives, messaging with my newest super special friend coping with her dog's illness ... seeing posts from another new friend about missing her military husband and the long list of things she's trying to be strong about, praying for a respiratory therapist to stay safe .... worrying about people far and wind ... some I barely know.... In other words, a perfect storm of emotion.
I broke. Crying and laughing at the same time. Must have been a sight. But it was healing, in a way. My husband is fond of saying, "Your four walls are not your home no matter how long you've been there." It's a rather deep statement coming from him, let me tell ya'! But he's right.
Via posts, chats, messaging, and phone calls, I was 'home' last night surrounded by people I care about. And it was messy, silly, sorrowful, fun, nostalgic. And isn't that home? We weren't anywhere near each other physically, but our personal energies had come together.
My heart was full last night and still is today. Sure, it races with moments of panic every couple of hours. Am I worried about money? Terrified. Health, of course, too. But I'm finding what's most important right now is keeping it together. The only way I can do that is by living too adages:
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, and
Home is where the heart is.
My friends and family are my treasure ... and they are my home.
Let's all do our best to give of our hearts during this bizarro situation.
What are you doing to stay sane?
So I'm about to be a big number I don't feel like typing. However, I do feel lucky to have friends at this stage of my life who are super amazing and make it not quite as bad as it seems. The other day, I got a fantastic gift from someone who has become a kindred spirit and dear God, if we ever were both down and out on the same day, I don't know what we would do because we take turns offering solutions, boosts, tough love, and humor to get each other out of bad days.
So I got this beautiful piece of art from Shay Stone, and it's so meaningful for many reasons, in addition to how much I value her friendship.
The tree of life is a symbol found in various cultures and religions. The meaning can vary, but at its heart it's a message of staying connected ... that all forms of life connect through cosmic energy and it's a reminder to stay in harmony with the world. It's also a symbol of strength and wisdom as the roots dig down deep to stay rooted in whatever is important to you so you can flourish like the leaves above. At least, that's how I see it.
I'm also thrilled to have this particular tree of life, because it's a type of art that is mentioned in my upcoming novel, Glass Hearts. One of the characters deals in fair trade art and the metal artistry in Haiti is mentioned. These pieces are made from oil drums and you can still see the rich subtle tints of the oil in the resulting work. The tree of life is one of the popular images you'll find in this work. For more information on Haitian metal work, I like this blog post by Third Eye Mom. As you'll see, there are many different styles.
So, thank you, Shay Stone! You're awesome and so is this beautiful artwork!
So, I introduced a little contest when I was at Literary Love Savannah 2019. In the spirit of my next release, Glass Hearts, I thought I would make it an art contest since the main character is an artist. The theme? "True Love." I limited the contest to 12 entries--but only three used the kit and entered. That's okay, though, for two reasons:
1) I'm still thrilled by the entries I received!
2) It made my job choosing winners easier. There were supposed to be two winners--one for being my favorite one and then a random winner. Each would receive a print copy of Glass Hearts when it comes out. But here's the thing about me--I hate making people feel excluded! So I'm not going to have two winners, leaving the only other entry out. Not my style. So, I ditched the randomizer and have three winners! Now, while I did love all the entries for various reasons, I'll list my favorite first.
From the lovely Kayla, reader extraordinaire, who used watercolors for the first time on this painting! I love this sweet couple. Awesome job, Kayla!
Next up, Jan, an avid reader who is synonymous with fun, painted the logo for 2020's Literary Love Savannah. If you have never been as a reader or author, you need to attend! Thanks so much for that, Jan. It is a convention that so many people truly love!
I really love this image of a couple's clasped hands that Michelle's daughter did. Michelle was another person at LLS who really knew how to have a great time! It has me thinking about the couple in Glass Hearts for reasons I can't really talk about without possibly doing the spoiler thing!
Thanks again, everybody! As soon as Glass Hearts is ready, I'll be sending it out to the three of you! Hope to see you all again soon!
P.S.: For those who have not read my work, I hope you'll check it out! Glass Hearts will stand on its own, but you might want to meet some of the characters earlier through the first story arc in the Awaken My Heart series.
What happens when you spend close to a year thinking about a convention and prepping for it? You wind up seriously hoping it's all worth it--that you have highlights you won't forget afterward. Well, Literary Love Savannah 2019 did not disappoint!
My list of highlights:
I sat there, phone in palm, wondering where to go to burst into tears without an entire university student union witnessing it. I read the panicky texts my daughter had sent me over the last couple of hours again and again:
"Do I really want this major?"
"So, now I don't want to go to college."
"I'm never going to find friends here."
It was the second day of an overnight college orientation for my daughter and I was about done with the endless seminars on everything from health on campus to financial aid tips to--no joke--learning football cheers. Some sessions were together, others for parents while students broke into small groups elsewhere. Emotionally and physically exhausted, I longed to be done with putting on the 'isn't this exciting' face for my daughter's sake while all I could think about was how I wouldn't be seeing my sunshine every day anymore come August. At the same time, I want to watch her soar. So, all of a sudden to think maybe this place wasn't for her after all? That her sensitive nature would be her downfall? In the moment, it was all too much.
Now, I have lost 12 pounds over the last few months, but I was so 'done' I decided to hit Starbucks for a frap and a chocolate chip cookie I knew I would pay for in heartburn hours later. Because you know that makes everything all better for the amount of time it takes you to eat it! I had just hit the line when my phone pinged again:
"FOUND A FRIEND!"
This, people, is (one reason) why parents lose their minds.
Still, I started laughing, got off the line without tacking on thousands of calories ... and sent her an "I told you so" gif. Then I hit the ballroom with a smile on my face in time to hear all about transportation around campus.
And it got me thinking: At any given moment, we are potentially seconds away from a positive experience ... a turning point. The key for me is to remember this when I'm losing my mind. So this is my new mantra. May I remember it and may it inspire someone else:
I am mere seconds, minutes, hours, days--one STEP--away from ...
And if you see me NOT remembering this new mantra, smack me up the back of the head, will you? Thanks!
In a word ... no. They're slobbery, klutzy, and constantly look like they've just arrived on the scene after someone spiked their water dish. BUT ... are they not the most loveable creatures?
By AKS.9955 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75293197
A friend of mine, we'll call him Ferdie, isn't the sort who reads romance novels. Not at all. He is the sort to do anything for a friend, though (except hop a flight to come down to Florida-ehem) and my life would be rather drab and sad without him and his insights. Since he's that sort of friend, I didn't need to twist his arm to read the Awaken My Heart series so far. The fact that he loved it on many different levels? That surprised me, but he did. Now Ferdie is a fan of background characters in books. His favorite in mine? Avocado the English Sheep Dog ... a key member of the Zabriese family ... according to him.
The more I think about it, he might be right: The bumbling Avocado does have his place.
“Easy, kiddo,” Katherine rested a hand on my shoulder. “Avocado is about as dangerous as … well, an avocado. All he wants is love.”
And I suppose he might have played a small role in fate's plan for bringing Ren and Gale together....
In one swoop, Galen’s arm swung around my waist just as I fell backward.
When I was a kid, we had an English Sheep Dog living next door. He was the biggest one I had ever seen before or since. Lord Fitzgerald aka Fitzie, was loveable and as dumb as a box of rocks covered in concrete. One day, the latch on the fence he often rested his mammoth paws on to watch passersby came loose. The gate swung open. I was terrified! If he bounded toward me, he would knock me over! But at the sight of me, Fitzie jumped on the gate as was his habit ... his paws of course having nothing to rest on. He tried again. And again. And again. He had no clue the gate was no longer there. Maybe he just couldn't see anything under his mop of fur?
I often tell people that nobody in Awaken My Heart is based on anyone I've ever known. I should say, 'No person'. Lord Fitzgerald is alive and well in Avocado.
Anyone out there have an English Sheep Dog? How about a dog they knew from years back that influenced your decision in choosing a pet in adulthood?
So, here's the deal--and I'm not psychic or anything, but I am pretty sure you regularly do one or more of the following:
Where is this fantastic place? Come to Literary Love Savannah for a gathering you'll never forget. It's an event where scores of authors and readers hang out together, get to know each other, and enjoy experiences in beautiful Savannah, Georgia--right on the water at the Savannah Riverfront Marriott. (Get tickets here.)
Thinking you're in? Join the LLS Attendee Group on Facebook!
What happens at this fantastic event, you ask?
LLS 2019 List of programming
Special Bundle and New release book signing and Open bar
Welcome event (includes welcome bag, Freebie Books and MORE!)
Blind Date Book Party
Open night for meals
First Date Breakfast
Panels (to Include: AUdiobooks, YA/NA, WoC, Mystery, Horror, Suspense, and a few others)
Why Choose Candy Bar and Party (Reverse Harem themed)
High Tea for History Party
Night Open for Dinner out
Scifi-Fantasy Dance Party
Naughty Trivia (erotic and Erotic Romance author lead)
Erotic Readings (late night)
First in a Series Brunch
Booksigning (partially open to the public) 1-4
Faerie Ball (light and Dark!)
Fairwell (out by 10am)
Shifter Scavenger Hunt
Tattoo and Corset Room (yes we have an In house tattoo artist AND master corsetiere and OMG you WANT to get tied up!)
Offsite hangouts (Thursday, Friday) and tours and such
Meals Out (Thursday, Friday nights)
Side parties and events (room parties, trips to the beach or HHI, Or the outlets or the Waterpark)
Wed and Thursday Writing and marketing workshops (mini)
My inspiration for Corinne's Glass artistry....
Image: Pixabay / nataliaaggiato
Ever been to a place that made such an impact on you that you've never forgotten it? I'm not talking about an island, town, or city. Just a small space that impacted you more in a couple of hours than places you go to on a daily basis?
In the past, I went to an inn in the Catskills that I frequented with friends and family once or twice a year. One of my last years doing that, we took a long side trip to a little art/cafe boutique called Blue Pearl. Owned by glass artist Ulla Darni, the little building had this air about it that all was--or at least could be--right with the world. Ulla herself was not there that day, but a friendly, bubbly, peace-exuding salesperson--I wish I remembered her name--showed us around the place and told us how she and Ulla had brought back many of the items for sale in the boutique from their travels. That idea fascinated me--and it sparked an idea for the vocation of Corinne's leading man in her upcoming novel. (And let me just tell you right here: He is something!)
That salesperson ... she was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable ... wound up as inspiration for a character in a different series and genre. And she totally touched my heart that day in a way I have never forgotten. My friend was trying on a batik dress in a curtained corner of the room and was having trouble. I wanted to help her with the zipper but my hands were full with my son--he must have been about ten months at the time. The woman offered to hold him and ... despite my being so overprotective ... I felt completely comfortable letting her. As I helped my friend, I heard her talking to him:
"Hello, Little Gift of God! What a great person you're going to be. And yes, you're such a sweetie, aren't you?" Afterward, she was complimenting me on what a good boy he was and how blessed I was. I know lots of people say that to new mothers ... but there was something different about that time. Was it the way she said it? The words she chose? The fact that she just seemed representative of the better part of this world? My coffee was stronger than I thought that morning? I'll never know.
My eyes well up with tears thinking about it, because that's exactly what he was ... my gift with awesome potential. Now in college, he's working toward fulfilling that potential. How time flies, huh? And that woman ... I didn't know her from a hole in the wall, but she became my idea of good in the world: a person who had seen it all (or much of it, anyway), offered unabashed words of kindness, and who had seemed to find her happy place. She is the woman Katherine Zabriese (Galen and Corinne's mother in my series) wholeheartedly strives to be despite the obstacles she has faced. In my experience, the people I know and have met who have traveled the world extensively just seem to be the most kind, loving, compassionate sort. Perhaps because they have actually met enough people to put the idea that we are all the same on some level to an actual test?
Anyway, I never got back to Blue Pearl because the next time we went to the Inn, nobody had time to go, and then I never got to go again for economic reasons. Oddly enough, Blue Pearl closed in 2008 for economic reasons. But guess what I discovered today? They reopened in 2015 and now I just want to scream because I can't go. It's a must the next time I get up North, though.
I adore Ulla's gorgeous artistry on glass--we actually went to her studio as well that day, which wasn't far from the shop--and one day I would love to own one of her pieces. (This sconce is one of my favorites!) Yet another incentive to make it in this writing business! Although, I just noticed she started selling phone cases of her designs so that's a thought! Anyway, the brightness of the colors Ulla uses is similar to Corinne's work, only Corinne doesn't do much with florals.
If you go to this link, and scroll down, you'll get a glimpse of Blue Pearl. Now, in my upcoming novel of Corinne's love story, Corinne's actual gallery is very open and bright, but her boutique area is modeled in a similar style to Ulla's.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story background glimpse inside my head!
What small experience has affected you in a big way?
In my books, you might have noticed a 'Genevieve Trudeau' in the Acknowledgments sections. Genevieve has been a friend since college and the ornament above was sent by her to my daughter one year from Budapest. Sometimes, it's so hard to stop during this busy season and truly reflect on people, places, and situations in our lives, but my Christmas tree ornaments always help me do that. Genevieve is easy to reflect on because I've been lucky to have her as a friend all these years.
My groups of friends vary widely in experience, politics, religion, education, hobbies, careers, location, and temperament. Genevieve is extraordinary in that she has traveled extensively, worked for impressive non-profits that make a difference in the world, has lived overseas, is well-read, and has the sort of compassion that--if the world had far more of her--we'd be living on a rather fantastic planet. On top of all that--and I only learned this a couple of years ago--she can belt out some damn powerful karaoke.
She's the person I turned to for information on Tibetan boxes that I needed for a story and insights on topics I'm exploring in my next Awaken My Heart series novel. She knows what makes a good story (she's my prime beta reader), and she has one-liners that can make me laugh no matter how I'm feeling.
Like most of us, she has her share of things she would like to change about life...sometimes real tough stuff, but I've never seen someone so contantly battle to keep challenges at bay. Maybe it's because she's freaking brave and bold in ways I wish I could be. Apart from moving across the Atlantic back and forth and venturing into third world countries, she has hunted down relatives in another country to find out more about her past--and took on a new language to facilitate that.
I'm grateful for her friendship and her willingness to beta for me this Christmas!
One of my favorite things to hear about the Awaken My Heart series is how people love the Zabriese family. Readers have said they want to be adopted by them and they wish Katherine was their mom!
I agree. I have always wanted a big family. I wanted to know that when one person wasn't available to tag along somewhere or help solve a problem, someone else likely would be. In short, a large supply of unconditional love, and the Zabrieses are full of that. They're open-minded, full of empathy ... yet, as any fan of the series knows, they are not perfect. I suppose that's what makes them so appealing: They have had their tragedies, arguments, family issues ... but they rise above it all, tripping and stumbling along the way. Most important? They take care of each other--perhaps to a fault at times, like the way Galen always feels he must safeguard his siblings and his mother, preserving the deep bond between them all. I love the idea of that emotional security.
I grew up with one sibling, a cousin who was like one, and a friend who became like a brother from a young age. Those were special relationships to me and I thought they would last forever. Much of it drifted away, though when I was older and the sadness over that did a number on me. Still, it might have been even worse if it wasn't for something else ...
Around age 15, I met a group of friends--four guys and one girl--who became family. Although one has steered in another direction, the rest have been the closest I could ever get to the Zabrieses. They've seen me at my worst and never cast me aside afterward. So, when I ruminate over wishing I had come from a large family, I am reminded that those friends filled in the empty spaces to become real uncles to my kids, examples of loyalty and love.
So this Thanksgiving, I'm going to concentrate on being grateful for the people and things that filled in the empty spaces. After all, part of what makes the Zabrieses so fantastic is the group of friends they typically have around them. I have that. They might be way too far away these days, but I do have them.
And my immediate family? It might be just the four of us, but if there was one thing I've ever done right in my life, it was raising two really great kids...awesome people. So, this Thanksgiving, I'll be feeling a bit like Katherine, I suppose.
Who are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?