Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I can still recall the incident, oh so many years ago. I was a newlywed, visiting my mother, and telling her about some matter that, in hindsight, I’m sure was quite trivial. I said to her [or perhaps whined would be a better verb] “it’s just not fair!”

I remember this day in particular because of Mother’s response to that proclamation. She got this horrified look on her face, and immediately demanded, “Who the hell ever told you life was fair? If life was fair, your father would still be alive!”

I remember that her vehemence surprised me. Her attitude wasn’t one I possessed at the tender age of 18. At that age I believed life should be fair and would be fair if only I could figure out how to make it happen.

Times change, of course and thankfully, we mature. After more than a half century of living, one thing that has been proven to me over and over again is this: not only is life unfair, it is sometimes unfair to an appalling degree.

I’ve had that reality demonstrated to me again just this past weekend.

This past Saturday I drove for two and a half hours to visit my friend—the one I reconnected with just a couple of years ago. I wish I could say the occasion for this visit was to enjoy a fun, social time, but it was not.

I went, because her husband was dying from a brain tumor. He was at home, had refused any further treatment, and so she stayed at home with him, taking care of him because, as she said, “I promised him that I would”.

This will be the second time my friend has suffered the loss of a husband. She said to me, “At least this time I know, and I can say all the things I didn’t get to say last time.”

Her first husband died suddenly in his early forties.

My friend and her current husband are good people. They have family and friends, and they are loved by all who know them. They’ve never sought to do harm to another human being, and have offered their help to whomever, whenever they could—even reaching out to those who have wronged them.

Life really is not fair.

When I arrived at her home Saturday, she had friends there, and a nurse’s aide, as well. She needed to get out for a bit—aside from the fact that she had to run a couple of errands, she just needed a break.

I took her to lunch, and we spent time simply being in each other’s company. We reminisced about what it was like being kids in the 1960s, and since we’d known each other’s mothers, we looked back on them from the perspective of being mothers and grandmothers ourselves.

My friend is suffering of course, because, though she’s never been one to wax sentimental, her husband—this man who only a few short weeks before had been a vital, laughing, loving man—is the love of her life. She calls him her best friend, and her soul mate.

He’d been a best friend and a bulwark to her first, this man who’d also been a friend of her first husband’s which was how they met. He had been there for her children, too, as they’d grieved the loss of their father. Friendship eventually gave way to deeper, more intimate feelings. He has been good for her. He challenged her on so many different levels, expanding her horizons. He got her to do things she never thought she’d ever do.

At forty-something years old my friend learned how to ride motorcycle!

We returned from lunch, and she spent time getting her husband settled in the hospital bed that had arrived while we were out. He sleeps, mostly, but she said, he knows her when she’s there. He talks, but just the odd word here and there. After she made him as comfortable as possible in that bed Saturday, he said, “safe”.

She told me that when she held his hand the night before—which would have been Friday night—he brought her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers.

I had no words to give her, but she didn’t need my words. She just needed my hugs and my presence, both of which I was grateful to give her.

I’ve often wondered why some people seem to get such a super-sized helping of crap in their lives. That is a mystery for which I simply have no answer.

My friend’s husband passed away Monday afternoon.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing is a solitary profession. We who are authors each have our own writer’s “cave”, and spend the lion’s share of our days with our butts in our chairs, and our fingers on our keyboards.

Whatever the individual writing process may be, in essence we all do the same thing: we strive to write stories that we hope and pray that someone, somewhere, someday will read.

Every once in a while, we leave our caves and venture forth into the greater world, where we partake of meetings, conferences, and conventions.

This past week, I ventured forth to Dallas, to attend my publisher’s inaugural convention, “TRC2012”.

This was something I’d heard Ms. Hilton say she wanted to accomplish—holding an annual convention—several years ago. I knew the event would happen when the time was right, for my publisher is tremendously savvy when it comes to all things business.

And yet that is not her greatest talent as a publisher.

Her greatest talent is building relationships with her authors. She treats each of us as if we are someone special. If you send her an e-mail, as often as not she’ll pick up the phone and call you to address whatever questions or concerns you may have.

She cares about her authors as unique, and creative people.

She’s also acquired a staff of highly qualified, dedicated women and men who, like her, treat the authors with utmost professionalism and respect. This past weekend I got to meet some of them as they worked tirelessly to make TRC2012 a success.

From me to them, go my deepest thanks for all of their hard work.

I am so blessed to be a part of the Siren-Bookstrand family—and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

There was something for everyone in this inaugural conference. Authors got together in a fast-track retreat to discuss with our publisher and the president of the company issues that mattered to us—what’s hot and what’s not, and the state of this every-fluid industry we’re all in.

There were workshops and panels where readers were welcomed and sat side by side with the authors they love. What a joy it was for me to meet so many who’ve read my work!

We, as writers, were treated to a panel of avid readers, eager to answer our questions including that very hard to answer subject: “what makes you pick up one book as opposed to another?”

One of the panelists said that to them, we were rock stars. To her, and all the others, I would say, that to us, you’re the validation of all that we aspire to do. You allow us to say to ourselves, “it’s true: someone really reads my work and loves it.” This is the nectar and the manna that we, as authors, hunger for.

Thank you, readers, for feeding us so well.

The convention featured a book fair, and every author had people come to his or her table to meet, greet, receive swag and get autographs. Free books abounded. There were prizes, as well, and man, was that a busy, happy afternoon!

I was personally astounded by how many readers came to this fair.

There are a few things in this life that nourish me, replenish my energy and motivate me to write; but the top two are spending time with readers, and spending time with fellow authors.

I met face-to-face, for the first time, many of my sister-sirens with whom I’ve communicated on line. These women were already my friends, but those friendships now have faces, and smiles.

And I also re-connected with some authors who are very dear to my heart: Lara Santiago (affectionately known as The First Author, because well, she was), Heather Rainier, Peyton Elizabeth, and Corrine Davies.

Heather and I have been collaborating, since our two series’ “towns” are just down the road a piece from each other. It’s the most fun I’ve had writing, ever.

I was honored to be asked, along with Lara Santiago, to be the M. C. for the awards ceremony, and humbled to receive two awards myself.

My beloved was with me every moment throughout the convention, and I know it’s an experience he’s looking forward to repeating next year.

All things considered, I am Blessed and Highly Favored.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My beloved and I arrived in Texas last Sunday, eager to get to know a little of this state. We rented a car—something we’ve actually never done before when traveling—and headed out, destination Waco.

For those of you who may have been following my career over the last couple of years, you’ll understand immediately why we headed here, first.

My only two historical novels, written under the penname of Cara Covington, were set in Waco, and westward, into the Texas Hill Country. I wanted to see this city I’d researched.

I wanted to look out and up at the Texas night sky, and breathe in the Texas air. I wanted to feel the intensity of the Texas sun on my skin [and boy, did we ever luck out there].

I wanted to learn firsthand just a little bit about the spirit that is Texas. People are people everywhere, and we all have many things in common. But sometimes there is a regional spirit that binds folks to a location, that binds them heart and mind, body and soul to each other as well.

In my opinion, Texas is one such place. There is a sense of determination here, of pride and an independent spirit that says, “We can do what we need to do to take care of our own.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that same doggedness isn’t in existence elsewhere in this country or on this planet. I’m just saying it seems to be front and center in the souls of the people of this state.

It’s the main reason I’ve set my series here in Texas.

We spent a couple of hours at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Our inner “history buffs” were thrilled with the wealth of information there. If you ever come to Waco, that museum is a must-visit spot.

For me, the Rangers exemplify what I think of as the spirit of Texas. They had to volunteer for duty, supply their own horses and badges and guns—and they did so, serving proudly, accepting payment in the form of land, when they were paid at all. Many of them worked as surveyors to get by, and the two vocations went hand in hand.

As well as touching and getting close to that which is real and which I have studied, I also wanted to see if I could find that which I have only imagined.

So yesterday we set out, my beloved and I in our rental car, in search of Lusty, Texas.

In my contemporary series based on the historical, I always hedge about where Lusty is, exactly. My characters say, “it’s about an hour or so west of Waco”. Not completely an arbitrary choice, that. After all, my original characters in the historical stories had some connection to that city.

One of them had been a Texas Ranger there, circa 1880.

I do the best I can, when researching a novel, to try and make things at the very least plausible. In looking at the maps available to me, I decided that just outside of Gatesville, Texas, seemed like a pretty good choice for my imaginary town. There were a few small communities between Gatesville and Goldthwaite, but nothing solid—nothing that could ever be mistaken for this completely fictional town which I had created with my mind and described with my words.

I write what I write with no apologies, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to the fact that some people may react to my work in an unfavorable manner. I seek only to entertain, with no thought of offending anyone.

If someone is offended by my words, they don’t have to read them. For my part, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking “my town” was really “their town”.

Lusty, after all, isn’t Peyton Place.

So we drove, and watched our miles. We’d both decided when the time was right, we’d turn left off the highway. It just always seemed to me the Lusty had to be more left than right.

We found a road, and turned left, and traveled for a spell. Before long, we came upon a bit of flat land in amongst the hills that looked to be just right for an airfield. Then there was another twist in the road, and another few minutes, and… there it was.

Lusty, Texas.

It’s not a very big town, really, a couple of miles square all told, with rolling fields, plenty of trees, and space to spare. And it has a heart as big, and as welcoming, as the state surrounding it.

Just exactly where and how I imagined it would be.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hands are really pretty handy, aren’t they?

That’s a basic truth that I’ve had brought home to me anew this past week, as I recover from having carpel tunnel surgery on my right hand last Tuesday.

I am, by the way, right handed.

I find it a delicious bit of irony that the doctor told me that I must not do much with my hand at all until I get the stitches out (later today). I’m allowed to wiggle my fingers—almost identical to the way I move them when I am using a key board—and after the second day, I was able to drive—but that’s about it.

You’d think I would rejoice being told I could write, but do nothing else. Guess I’m just never happy no matter what.

I cannot get my stitches wet, and I cannot lift anything or put any pressure whatsoever on my right hand. I have to sleep with it elevated on a pillow, and I must avoid letting my hand hang down.

Fortunately, our second daughter is a nurse, and she has been kind enough to come by and change the dressing for me. When she has my stitches uncovered, she makes all kinds of “hmmm” sounds.

I’m not sure if there’s a problem or she’s just taking the opportunity to tease me. I am a notoriously easy mark, and my family, to a one—even the ones we’ve acquired—merciless teases.

The worst part of this entire situation isn’t the pain. It’s the forced inactivity.

Friends, it has truly been sheer hell for me, not being able to do anything. I’m such a creature of habit. I have my little routines—my boundaries—and I am happiest when I am plodding away within them.

Every morning I get up, turn on my computer, put the dishes in to soak, and scan my house making mental note of what jobs have to be done. I check my e-mail, then move on to my work in progress, and every thirty minutes or so get up and do other things. I call it multi-tasking.

This is the first time that I’ve been “laid up”, yet basically felt well enough to not be. The last time I was forced by medical circumstances to be idle was as a result of my triple by-pass surgery, 10 years ago. Back then I felt sick, and being inactive didn’t cause me stress.

I told my daughter a few days ago that my house was so “out of order” that it felt as if my skin was crawling. Her response was the same as her father’s had been. She took a moment, looked around, and declared that everything “looked fine”.

I have made a note to see to it they both get their eyes tested at the earliest opportunity.

Having just come home from California a week ago this past Sunday—and leaving for Texas this coming Sunday—I suppose one could say I didn’t exactly plan the timing of this procedure very well.

My beloved pointed out that there likely would never have been a perfect time for me to be “out of commission”. I suppose he’s right. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. And I really am used to being busy all day long.

When I hit my bed at night, I’m usually completely exhausted.

I can’t even really write for too long at a time in one go. I keep having to stop and rest my hand.

I know a few people who basically do nothing all day, every day. They sit and read, or watch television. They live in what I call Chaos, and don’t seem to mind it one bit.

How does anyone do that? The inactivity, the inability to tidy and cook and clean, is driving me crazy and believe me, it’s a short trip.

My beloved, in the mean time, has had to pitch in. He’s had to do the dishes every day, vacuum, and tidy where I cannot. By Sunday I was able to fold the laundry but I couldn’t really hang anything up or put it all away.

He knows how bad I feel that he’s had to do “my job”—suffice it to say that we’re both of an age that he isn’t used to doing any housework at all. And I suppose it’s not all negative, this situation I find myself in.

Mr. Ashbury has a newly refreshed appreciation for how much I actually do around the house. Or, as he so eloquently put it, “your life sucks”.

I know he means that in a kind, and loving way.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The writer’s lot is an interesting one, and nothing could make me happier. It’s not interesting all the time, of course. As with any other job, there is a modicum of tedium involved, and that’s really okay. But for the most part I find this life I now lead—this career—fascinating.

I’m constantly surprised by the blend of writing, editing, and promotion that’s required in order to be a professional writer today. Sometimes promotion is something as simple as posting a few excerpts on a Yahoo! Groups list. And sometimes it involves travel.

You think I’m going to talk about that conference I was at last week, don’t you? The one that was just three short blocks away from Disneyland.

Well, I’m not.

Instead I’m going to tell you about a brand new conference, one being held by my wonderful publisher, Siren-Bookstrand. TRC – The Romance Convention—will have its inaugural session the week after next, August 17th and 18th, in Dallas, Texas.

The first day will be devoted to the authors who have their books published with Siren-Bookstrand. There will be panels and workshops all geared to the author, to provide the extra tools, and resources and inspiration we need as we craft our stories to give our readers the best in romance fiction.

There is nothing more refreshing for me, as a writer, than to spend time with other writers. There is a chemistry that happens when we gather together that you don’t find anyplace else.

You see, basically, all writers are solitary creatures, working in their individual caves, with just the characters in their heads for company.

I had to grin last week as I was privileged to sit in on a session at the RWA conference with a very famous romance author. One thing she said that particularly resonated with me: “writing doesn’t make you neurotic; you’re neurotic to begin with.”

Because that is so, no one understands an author quite as well as another author.

The second day of this conference, being held at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel on North Olive Street, features a book fair that is open, free of charge, to the public. If you’re in the area, come by and say hello to us. There will be prizes and freebies, and a chance to meet some of your favorite authors. You see, as well as spending time with fellow authors, we writers love to meet our readers.

After all, we write our novels so that someone—you—will read them.

This has been a year of increased travel for my husband and me, especially after last year when we didn’t attend a single conference. But we’re both able to travel now, and so we’re making the most of it.

I’m excited to be going back to Texas. Any chance I get to spend time with my phenomenal publisher, I consider to be a golden opportunity. As well, I’ll be meeting some of my fellow Siren-Bookstrand authors for the first time, authors whose work I’ve read and enjoyed.

I’m also looking forward to spending time with my colleagues Sophie Oak, Kris Cook, and Heather Rainier, all of whom I met for the first time t his past spring, in Chicago. These three very successful writers, Texans all, will be acting as hosts to the rest of us during this convention.

Heather Rainier and I have been collaborating on a fun project. We’re “crossing” our series. She’s the author of the very popular “Divine Creek Ranch” books, and I of course, under my other pen name, ‘Cara Covington’, am the author of the “Lusty, Texas” series—book 9 of which comes out on the 13th of August.

Heather and I are having a blast working together, and I can say without exaggeration, that our readers are excited about our upcoming novels—and so are we!

Honestly, I have the best job in the world!