My Summer Vacation

Yeah. So. This is going to be what is commonly known as a humdinger (first known use 1904) or a doozy (1916). If you’re looking for something older, it’s going to be a whopper (1712). So much to report in the long weeks since June 1 when I last checked in.

The tooth has healed. The bovine bone graft has taken hold and the titanium post has become part of my body. I feel bionic in my small way (Go Oscar Pistorius!) So, that’s it for the body update.

Now, on to the mind. Which is blown. Too much has happened to be concise so I’m just going to yammer. For the month of June I travelled nearly 6000 miles in the comfort of my Prius. It’s an awesome thing to drive for days without stopping at a gas station, even with screaming, disgruntled children in the back (and front). The entire trip was a series of wonderfully serendipitous (from its possession by the heroes of the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip; first known use: 1754) events that were loosely draped around some official business. A family wedding. Some boarding school visits. That sort of thing.

But for the most part, strange and wonderful things just kept happening. On our first day out of Florida, I posted on Facebook that I was hoping to make South Carolina by nightfall. A dear friend from high school posted on Facebook that she was on the rare visit to her father’s place in South Carolina. This was grand in many ways. This friend lives far away in a remote part of Colorado and the chances of me ever bumping into her have always been slight. And she has always fallen into that category of friends with whom I have lost touch but frequently think, “Why have we lost touch?” Because we’re busy. Nothing nefarious. Still, she is in me.

As my books start to come out, she will see how she was present at so many of my formative moments. She and I backpacked around France, Italy, and Switzerland when we were 17 and 16 respectively. Looking back, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. I can’t imagine letting my daughter traipse off by herself in a few years. What were my parents thinking? For my part, I was thinking that my grandmother had set up a little savings account for me when I was born in 1967 and she died a few years later. By 1984, it had accrued to a massive $1000. A fortune. I was gone. That was my money and I bought a transatlantic flight and my friend and another friend of hers and I headed into the wilds of Europe when books like “Europe on $25 Day” were still legitimate travel guides.

Anyway, it turns out my friend’s dad has been the custodian and protector of Middleton Place (https://www.middletonplace.org/gardens.html) for his entire life. I HIGHLY recommend that you stop by this incredible piece of American history. As many of you know, I am harboring a strong desire to write about William of Orange, or at least something to do with the early 17th century. Well, of course, the landscape architect of Middleton Place was André Le Nôtre. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/André_Le_Nôtre) who also happened to be the “principal gardener of Louis XIV.” So there was that. That was just the first stop of my 32-day road trip in June.

The thing about being a writer is that everything is a potential story. Or rather, everything is a story. I am reaching the point where I want to warn people, “Wait! Stop! This is happening to me so I am going to use it…in the best possible way, to elucidate the human condition and all that. But still…be careful!”

The next few stops along the way were similarly full of joyful coincidence. My brother’s farm was a reminder of what life can be like with eggs from the chicken coop for breakfast and steak from the cows for dinner. The kids got to bottle-feed the motherless calf. Really good.

Further stops along the way with writer-friends and photographer-friends. I guess I don’t need to frontload their jobs, but I sort of do. It seems like all these people are so accomplished. Not showy, just good at life. It was really great to see people who manage to get along with their lives and maybe throw together a healthy dinner at the end of the day and you know, it’s all good.

Then my mother-in-law’s wedding. She was widowed many years ago and, look, I’m a romantic fiction writer, so this was meat and drink. A beautiful wedding ceremony in the 18th century simplicity of a church in the rural trees of southern Connecticut. White clapboard. Solo voices. Vows. Cool early summer night air. Just perfect.

From there we went to New York City. Yeah, even all these decades later, it’s still thrilling to cross the border and see the little green sign, tilted in the trees on the side of the Hutchinson or the Henry Hudson or wherever and see “ENTERING NEW YORK CITY” because you just are. And it’s a-a-a-w-w-w-esome. That part of the trip was a mom-and-daughter solo chapter. We slammed New York like a shot of tequila. Coney Island? Yes. Harlem? Yes. Chelsea? Yes. Just YES YES YES. Also got to see lots of people and carry around my printed ARC of A Royal Pain and sort of pet it and hold it out to people and say, “Yes, this is it. My first real book.” The one thing I did not like about New York (or at least the swinging hot spots where I managed to secure dinner reservations) was the eff-ing NOISE. Don’t you people want to converse? Or at least not have laryngitis every Saturday morning? Sheesh. Dinner was delicious but talking was absolutely impossible.

The following week, my daughter and I toured boarding schools. Now. This is a touchy subject. Accusations of elitism. Patriarchy. What-have-you. But here’s the thing: these places are PHENOMENAL. And they want you and your smarty-pants kids to go there. Several of the schools we visited had brochures prominently displayed in the waiting rooms of their Admissions Offices (some say Admission Office…a change in etymology I have been meaning to investigate at some later date). Anyway, the financial aid brochures are brutally honest: if your family income is below $80,000 per year you are eligible for 100% financial aid. One. Hundred. Percent.

I don’t even know if my daughter will end up getting into any of these miraculous places, or, if she does, if she will end of choosing to go, but hell people! That is totally promising. We’ve been scrimping and saving and planning to sell the roof over our heads to pay for her to do this thing and then—wham!—it’s like Bob Barker shouting, “Come on down!” I don’t know what that has to do with me being a writer or the best way for you to query agents or Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. I guess it’s about the life of the writer. It’s about money. And sacrifice. There’s lots of talk about sacrifices and a lot of the time the sacrifices don’t end up being the ones you think they are going to be.

So fast-forward to California. Well, it was like a whole new world out there. Plus the fact that I was flying solo by that point made that part of my summer take on an entirely different vibe. Being a full-time mom without kids is practically like being on hallucinogens (not that I would know). I felt like my eyes were so wide open (and my ears and nostrils and taste buds).

I spent a few days in Northern California before attending the Romance Writers of America annual conference in Anaheim. Northern California is…well, deserving of its own blog. I stayed with a friend who has a collection of romance novels that is worthy of the Smithsonian. Linen closet? Romance novels. Garage? Romance novels. And not just stockpiled and lined up double-deep on shelves willy-nilly (1608) like they are here at my house. These books are what are known to those in the world of voracious-readers as “keepers.” And they are alphabetized.

Just.

Envy.

And then there was more of that joyful coincidence. Getting to have lunch with writers and old friends in San Francisco and Napa. Feeling a sense of awe and gratitude that I might have actually found a place in the non-physical world where people share my strange combination of interests. Then, from NoCal to SoCal.

Miranda Neville and I tried to frontload The Getty museum and it was like that TV show where the people in the grocery store have seven minutes to get $4000 worth of groceries. Van Gogh. Manet. Observe. Run. J.M.W. Turner. Observe. Run. Titian. Observe. Sprint. Remember to look out at priceless view of Los Angeles. Pause. Observe. Run.

Drum roll. Then. R. W. A. It’s pretty massive. And that too is worthy of its own dedicated blog. I have photos. Many. But I pretty much live-tweeted the whole time so you all know everything already. It’s like the Super Bowl of Rom. Next year in Atlanta, I am fully prepared to charge my phone battery so it does not die ten minutes into the Golden Heart and Rita ceremony when I am trying to take pictures of people’s feet for the #rwa13shoes hashtag. I intend to keep my priorities straight.

This is the mushy part, so stop reading now if you don’t go in for the weepy crap. I am SO incredibly grateful to have all of these romance writers in my life. These people are GOOD people. These are people who genuinely want to encourage the people around them to go for it. These are people who eat, sleep, and breathe a happy ending. It’s not just about the stories they write. I think it takes a certain type of person to say, “I got up at three o’clock every morning and wrote 52 books until I quite my full-time job.” Who does that? It’s so inspiring in the non-schmaltzy way. It’s inspiring in the way that makes me feel like I can totally handle two relatively normal kids and a relatively expectant husband and write 2000 words a day and not complain about it. Because I can. Because other people have, and I want what they have. Happiness. The real kind that comes from hard, hard work and something to show for it at the end of the day (or at the end of 52 books). 

*: All etymology references courtesy of http://www.merriam-webster.com/

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