Tuesday, July 29 2014
San Antonio's Famous Riverwalk, a wonderfully serene and colorful escape in the middle of the city.
Every year, other writers have gone to the RWA conference and come home with, stacks of new books to read, lists of famous writers they’ve met, workshops they attended, and stories of funny things that happened along the way. They all tell me how this conference is so much more than any of the smaller ones I usually attend. But until this year, I have not been tempted. My first book into print, Whatever It Takes, came out in 2012 and got wonderful reviews, but it was a mainstream political intrigue, not a romance (although there was a romance tucked into the plot.) For another thing, I’m happier with smaller groups where things aren’t so overwhelming. Lastly, with the exception of the one held in Washington DC, the RWA conference hadn’t been held in a city I felt particularly drawn to visit. Of course, some of you out there are wondering why the city matters when one expects to spend all of one’s time in the conference hotel except when hunting for a restaurant to grab a bite to eat or retiring to the bar after hours. While I enjoy meeting new people and attending interesting workshops, eventually, I need to get away for a bit. Five straight days of non-stop schedules, chattering crowds, and back to back workshops without a break and I’d probably never attend again. So, for me, the city matters.
But this year it all came together. RWA 2014 was being held in San Antonio which just happened to be on my bucket list, and the first book in my new contemporary romance series Falling for Zoe came out in April with the second book Loving Meg due out in August. The stars were lined up – it was time for me to take the plunge.
View from my balcony A boat ride on the River Colorful places to dine.
I was right about loving San Antonio, but in many ways very happily surprised by the conference. The workshops, at least those I attended, were loaded with great information with leads to finding even more. The networking was fantastic. I got to meet people face-to-face that I’d only known on FB or on author loops until now. And even better, I got to meet some of my favorite authors and a ton of new and interesting ladies. I won’t even mention the hunky cowboy that we all cuddled up to for a photo-op at the Amazon reception.
Literacy Book Signing Bell Bridge Books Open House Dinner with Deborah Smith
My editor, Deborah Smith, took me out to dinner along with a couple other writers from my home chapter, and after dinner, she spent far more than the five minutes I’d requested discussing my current project and her enthusiasm for it, which was amazingly encouraging for me. My publisher hosted a reception where I got to meet many of the ladies I’ve gotten to know on the email loop as well as the bubbly and super-nice Danielle Childers the lady in charge of marketing and publicity for Bell Bridge Books. Of all the “events” I attended, I think the Bell Bridge Open House was my favorite. The Keynote Luncheon with Sylvia Day was inspiring as well, and I sat at a table of complete strangers, who were friends when lunch was over. There were a few disappointments: two workshops I really wanted to attend scheduled opposite each other happened a few times and other times none of the choices seemed particularly helpful to my career as a writer. The Amazon reception was graced with the presence of two very cute cowboys, but the decibel level was off the charts and I left with a raging headache. And the two breakfasts that came with the conference were held far too early and were too brief in length – breakfast is my favorite meal, but sleeping in is even nicer after a truly busy day. So I missed hearing Cindy Ratzlaff and Karen Rose.
Handsome Cowboys Selfie with Danielle Childers My daily commute (Best ever)
As for San Antonio, I arrived the day before the conference began so I had a chance to visit the Alamo and soak up a little history – one of my favorite things to do and take a long stroll along the enchanting Riverwalk. At the end of the second day, I hopped on one of the riverboats and went for a ride and another history lesson our Captain imparted as we cruised.
The Alamo Heroes of the Alamo Alamo grounds
And on my last evening there, I opted out of the crazy bar scene and attended Fiesta Noche del Rio, a multi-cultural performance at the little theater right on the Riverwalk. It was a colorful collection of song, dance and music from Texas, Mexico, Spain and Argentina, and the perfect ending for my visit to this delightful city.
Dancers at Fiesta Noche del Rio - at scenic outdoor stage Saying goodbye to San Antonio
Monday, July 21 2014
San Antonio has been on my bucket list for some time. My brother lives in Texas, and during one of my visits to him, the subject of San Antonio came up. He and his wife love the place and thought it would be fun to show me around this charming city on one of my future visits. Somehow that never happened, but it still got onto my bucket list. (Check my Pinterest page)
I’ve also never been to RWA Nationals before so that’s a first, too. I’m not afraid of crowds or new places and people I’ve never met, but I admit to being a little nervous about making the most of this experience. To date, I’ve been drawn more to the laid back, small and informal conferences, and while I’m keeping an open mind, I’ll probably still feel that way when I get back. Casts of thousands and rubbing shoulders with famous people don’t impress me as much as spending time with a few sincere and interesting people. But you never know…
Nationals better live up to at least some of the hype considering what it’s costing me to go. I am looking forward to meeting some lovely people I’ve only known through email and Facebook. I’m also looking forward to seeing my own editor again – it’s been a couple years since I last saw her face to face, and back then she wasn’t my editor. I’ve reviewed the schedule and some of the workshops sound really interesting so I’ve got my trusty pencil and notebook (I’m a little old fashioned that way – always did take copious notes by hand and haven’t transferred that to electronic gadgets yet.) I’m sure I’ll come home with new ideas, new inspiration and new energy – that’s always been an aftermath of a conference. I hope I’ll also come home with some great take-aways and a few wonderful new friends. And that’s not even counting the books!
I also spent a tad more for my hotel room so I can see the Riverwalk from my own little balcony. Pictures of it have piqued my interest, and I’m eager to walk along the lovely paved walkways, poking into shops, perhaps stopping for a bite to eat at one of the many food emporiums. Since history is one of my passions, I’m taking time to visit the Alamo as well. It’s just a short walk from both the convention center and my hotel. If I had wheels, I might visit some of the other missions in the area, but for now the Alamo will have to do.
However my trip turns out, I’ll be back here next week checking in to give you the highlights and share a few photos from my not-so-barefoot trip to San Antonio. And also to share some good news about an upcoming deal on my book, FALLING FOR ZOE.
Tuesday, July 15 2014
Sunsets are stunning The lake is serene quiet places everywhere
There’s a lot to love about my island. It’s peaceful and beautiful. There are gorgeous sunsets at night and great swimming in the daytime. Duff, of course, loves the swimming part best. He doesn’t have to wait for me to take him to the beach – he can just take himself in swimming any time the spirit moves him. I have a wonderful little pea pod – a double ended boat designed originally in Maine for harvesting lobster pots. It rows like a dream and we can go out for a trip around the islands any time we like. It’s even got a set of sails and we can sail her when the wind is right.
Duff loves to swim The "cottage" Julie on the swing
My parents bought this little island when I was eleven. We camped on it for two years before my father built the “temporary cottage” that was supposed to be the precursor for the main event, a snug and comfortable summer home with heating and plumbing and plenty of room for everyone. But that was before he got his first New Hampshire real estate tax bill. In the years since, the building codes have changed and building anything bigger would take greasing some palms somewhere to get variances for the setback regulations. Eventually my Dad did add a small porch along the front and a tiny kitchen on the back corner, but the camp itself is still one room, fourteen feet square with bunks up one wall to sleep five. Six if you count the couch.
There a lot of great memories made over the years. My Sweet Sixteen birthday party was held here and I got to invite the boy I had a crush on at the time. We’ve had countless wedding showers, baby showers and birthday parties. Early on, my mother’s side of the family held an annual Clan Day and all her siblings, their kids and friends came together for a day-long event and many of these were held here at the island. But as kids grew and had their own agendas that family tradition died off and a new one began that we call Mutt’s Nuts. My kids and their kids, my sister-in-law and her kids and all their kids come for an entire week of family fun.
Mutt's Nuts (earlier years) The Hammock hangout Me and Natalie under the canopy
You’re asking where we all sleep, I’m sure, and there’s the rub. The camp is still only fourteen feet square, a dimension dictated by the size of the tent that it was originally built as a platform for. We still have to haul drinking water and use a single outhouse, and six beds don’t cut it. So, every family has their own tent, or tents. It’s like an encampment with tents popping up everywhere. My son-in-law has the biggest and most elaborate set up so we call that site Chateau DeVost. Some families with older kids have two or three tents to house them all. We’ve got a big picnic area we shelter under a temporary carport so we can all sit down to eat together rain or shine. We can also play games there or make puzzles.
Julie at the well Philip and Jack Jacqui can't decide what next
We’ve got Sammy’s Beach, a lovely little sandy beach in a shallow cove that’s perfect for the littlest among us, and we have a float in deep water for the rest of the swimmers. My grandkids love the place and the sense of freedom it gives them. Away from lives governed by electronic gadgets and television, they’ve discovered the joys of fort building and nature. And every night there’s a campfire. Smore’s of course! And a comfortable camaraderie that only sitting around a campfire can create.
We’re always here in the summer, but we’ve taken to celebrating all the holidays. This year it will be Easter and there will be a massive egg hunt. We had Halloween two years back when all the kidlets got dressed up and went trick or treating at all the tents in tent city. Maybe next year will be Christmas.
Pirate party Lynn & Theresa Philip in the bucket
Faerie Party Halloween
So the memories continue to be made and it’s still a fun place to come. BUT…
For the last six years, since I sold my Maine home and moved to St Augustine, I’ve come here for several weeks in the summer. My first year was for three months. It had to be the coldest June on record in New Hampshire and I shivered every night even in my LLBean winter weight sleeping bag. Since then, I’ve come only after the 4th of July and leave before the end of August. But I’m finding it harder and harder to appreciate “roughing it.” No hot showers, hauling all my drinking water, a short hike every time I need to use the bathroom, living out of a suitcase, sleeping on an air mattress in a tent, lousy to no cell service and on and off again internet, (no TV either but that’s not really much of a loss for me) and the utter isolation are getting to me. Not to mention that getting on and off the island requires a trip by boat and a hike up Cardiac Hill to where the car gets parked.
Sammy's Beach Summer Digs The Thunder House Dining al fresco
I hate to admit it, but I’m beginning to think I might be getting too old for this. A friend of mine said his idea of roughing it is a 3 star hotel and I’m beginning to agree. Maybe next year I’ll find myself a snug little cottage to rent for most of my New England stay and only come camping for the week the whole gang is here. I can hear the chorus calling me a fuddy duddy now, but it just might be worth it.
Monday, July 07 2014
As I scrolled through dozens of celebration photos and articles about our National birthday holiday on FB, and read the items in the local paper as diverse as one about how my home town has once again made a “best” list, this time for July 4th Fun, to a lengthy ad by a religious group with quotes from important men in our past, it occurred to me that for far too many, it’s only lip service.
I cannot claim that I have done much of anything to preserve what our forefathers created for us, even though I treasure the gift of freedom and independence. I fly my flag, I vote, I pray, and I support our soldiers, but I’ve never personally put anything on the line for the freedoms I enjoy. One blog I read pointed out that independence means NOT BEING DEPENDENT. That thought gave me pause. I collect Social Security. Does that make me dependent? Because I collect it, I also have a subsidy for my medical insurance - although I do still pay a monthly premium considerably in excess of any I ever paid while working. So, just how independent am I? Could or would I give up both should it become necessary to claim my independence?
Then there are my freedoms. Yes, I live in a country where I can read what is called the “free” press, but I’ve lived long enough and am well read enough to know that the press, the media so many in this country rely on for much of their news and understanding, is slanted so far in one direction it’s a wonder it doesn’t topple over on its face. So, I don’t rely on our media alone to figure out what’s going on in my world or my country. Perhaps that makes me a little independent. Thankfully, today there’s the internet where I can learn what’s going on from all points of view, everywhere in the world. Makes understanding things more balanced, but at the same time more frightening when I realize how many others around me do believe everything they read in our papers or see on TV.
I am, thankfully, allowed to worship as I wish, but even that is apparently not a guarantee. If you happen to be in the military, there are those who would like to make it unlawful for the military to allow prayer and even to remove the chaplain corps from our military completely. And there have been alarming reports of powerful people in our government making sure that Muslims are guaranteed their right to pray while at the same time curtailing the rights of Christians. I have no argument with the former, but I am dismayed by the latter. Our government, our entire Nation even, was founded on the right to choose how we pray, where and when and to whom. Why should a small percentage of those who choose NOT to believe be allowed to tell me that I have to sneak off to some private place to do so lest I offend them? I am offended by the very notion that I am not free to worship as I wish. If we as a nation are not offended by this encroachment then we will surely lose our right to freedom of religion because those who wage this war want us to be a nation free FROM religion.
I own a gun, but there are restrictions on where I can take it. I have an income (separate from Social Security) but there are limits on how I can use it and on how much I can keep. I am free to travel, but should I wish to do so by air, I must remove my shoes. let my body be scanned and leave my trusty Swiss Army knife at home. There are lots of freedoms that were once enjoyed without limit in this country that are slowly but surely being curtailed, taxed or legislated away.
It occurs to me to wonder what such men as John Adams or George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and so many others who we so often quote when discussing freedom and independence would think of the country we have become today. Among other things, they based our government on the sure knowledge that a moral Christian constituency was a given, and yet every vestige of morality and faith has been systematically removed from our schools and public life. I think they would be appalled.
Years ago, late on a hot summer night in our Nation’s capital, my daughter and I came upon a simple fountain made up of three columns of water gushing out of the ground. If there was a dedication plaque, it was dark and we didn’t see it, but it was still hot, even at midnight, and we were drawn to the cool water rushing into the night air. At first we just cuffed handfuls of water at each other, but soon we were daring each other to leap over the columns of water, and eventually we were thoroughly soaked, laughing, happy and feeling very free. At one point, I glanced up and noticed a police officer standing beside his cruiser watching us. Perhaps we weren’t supposed to be there playing in the water like that, but I’ll never know because that man decided to let freedom ring that night.
If the officer had come down and curtailed our fun, we’d have humbly, and drippingly, climbed into our car and gone back to our lodgings. But what else are we prepared to give up should someone in power decide we don’t have the freedom to choose what we wish to do? Our president is fond of drawing lines in the sand and warning others not to cross them, then retreating from the line the first time it’s challenged. Is that what we as a nation have become? Drawers of lines in the sand, giving lip service to what we believe, yet willing to back down at the first sign of dissent? It’s a difficult question and one I think we all need to ask ourselves.
How much is freedom and independence worth to you? What are you willing to sacrifice to keep the liberty you have been blessed with? Would you be willing to risk your home, your reputation and even your life? That's what our forefathers, who defied the king of England risked. Or how about your freedom if you decided that civil disobedience was the only answer to oppression or misguided policy? Our men and women in the military risk their lives every day in places were violence is a way of life to project the American ideal in a world where life means little and religion has been perverted to gain power. What is freedom and independence worth to you?