Listening to the Prompts

All creative people devise ways to communicate with the mysterious place where ideas come from. A scientific person might call it the right side of the brain. A more mystical one (that would be me) probably calls it the universe or Spirit. Whatever the name, we all learn over time to trust the whispering prompts that nudge us into a particular direction.

Detail-from-JMW-Turners-B-007I’ve had some weird communications going on with the universe over painter JMW Turner, an Englishman I’d honestly never heard of until three months ago. I don’t know how I missed him now, since he is one of the most highly regarded of all English painters, and his style was a forerunner of the Impressionists, whom I adore with heart and soul, but there’s the truth. I had never heard of him or seen his work until I needed a painter for Brilliant. Jess gives Tyler a biography of a painter for Christmas, so I googled watercolorists and Turner came up. He was an eccentric who did things his own way and he fit the bill, so I ran with it. (Deadlines make a writer practical. Yep, works, toss it in there, move on.)

Afterward, Turner kept coming up—everywhere. At first, I put it down to simply awareness. You never notice how many cars of a certain model there are until you start driving one, then they are everywhere. Or you learn a new word and then see it in twenty places the next few weeks. I’m studying watercolors a bit, so reading in that world, and he’s a master. Of course I would see his name.

But it kept going and going. An article in a magazine I rarely read. A comment about the new movie. (Me: “There’s a movie?”)  

On the road

imageI promised blogs every week, but must say the Internet access was not great in many of our stops the past ten days. Here are a couple of photos to keep you company for a few days. We are on our way home and I’ll post later this week about foggy weather, venison stew, windows as studies, and my weird conversation with the universe about the English painter Turner.

Meanwhile, enjoy one of the windows, from a rambling country house in Devon on a cold winter morning.

 

Ta da! A surprise and a revelation….

If you follow me on Facebook, you already know about this, but here’s a little background.

You may have noticed that I’ve been scarce this summer. So much has been happening behind the scenes!  It all started when I went to Breckenridge with Christopher Robin in late May to have a long weekend for my birthday. It snowed. A lot. Which meant we didn’t do any hiking or kayaking as we’d planned, but read and napped and ate and rested. Also good.

On the second morning, the Girls woke me up at 4 am with a book idea. I told them to go away and turned over. They insisted I need to get up and write this down. Like, now. So I got up and made a cup of tea, and by the time CR woke up, I had an entire book outline. Characters, plot, story, romance.  All of it.

Every now and then, I get a gift book. I don’t remember one coming to me so fully fleshed. Bemused, I set it aside and hung out with CR for breakfast. By afternoon, the book was bothering me again. I decided to take my notebook to the local Starbucks (which is so adorable and has amazing views).  I realized halfway down the hill that I’d forgotten a pen. It’s not that easy to find something like that in Breckenridge and I really didn’t want to walk all the way back to the hotel.  I was about to give up when the Girls said, “Oh, no you don’t. Go ask that boarder in the t-shirt shop if he has one you can borrow.” So I did. And he was like, “Sure, dude.”  I said, “I’ll bring it back.” He waved me away. “No worries.”

I went to Starbucks. I ordered a coffee. An hour later, I had 67 scenes, in order. Basically, uh, the whole book.

I’m no idiot. A book shows up like that, I’m going to show up, too, and write.  So write I did. The entire book over the summer. My fingers couldn’t keep up.  I had no interest in doing anything but showing up for the book. It was like living in a movie for the summer. It is the most fun I’ve had writing in about 100 years, and you know me, I love writing!

The thing is, this is not my usual realm. It’s not even Young Adult, which I’ve been writing on the side for awhile.  (More on that in a few weeks…yes, the OtherLands are finally going to be published.)  This attack book is New Adult, a genre I’ve been reading but really had had no plans to write until this 19-year-old girl showed up. To keep the branding straight for those of you who want my women’s fiction–that’s still Barbara O’Neal.  If you like the romances, that’s Barbara Samuel.  If you want New Adult and Young Adult, come see me as Lark O’Neal.

Here is her first book.  It will be out November 12, with book #2 to follow in the spring, 2014 and #3 in the summer, 2014.  You can pre-order now at Amazon and Apple.  Subscribe to Lark’s newsletter. Follow her on Facebook  and Twitter. Check out the website.

Ta-da! Here is the cover and back cover blurb:

1-random-front

Life is random…

 

19-year-old Jess Donovan knows better than most that life is random. Her mom is dead, and she’s on her own, patching together a living as a waitress when a car crashes through the restaurant where she works. In two seconds, she loses her job, watches her best friend hauled away in an ambulance…and meets Tyler Smith, one of the hottest, most fascinating—and mysterious guys she’s ever met.

 

Both for the good and the bad…

 

Within days, Jess is swept up into the mesmerizing force that is Tyler. Their every touch sizzles, every kiss dissolves them both, and the sex is…fierce. But there’s more to Tyler than his hypnotic eyes. He’s adrift, too, and his body—and his soul—are covered with scars. How can she find herself with a guy who is lost himself?

 

Until you take charge….

 

Jess is determined to find her way, and make a life that is better than the one she was given. But how?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty excited, I think you can tell. :)

Also, for those who are pursuing NaNoWriMo this year, come make me your buddy.  I’m awriterafoot.

Riding the Canals

photoSometimes, an over the top tourist trap experience can still be emotionally authentic.  CR and I rode the gondola at the Venice hotel in Las Vegas this weekend.  It was a Disney sort of thing, a water ride through the shopping areas of the hotel.  It turned out that our guide was an Italian opera singer (who had sung at the Bonfils center in Denver for years and arrived in Las Vegas to discover she is too short for the shows).  So she sings for tourists who imagine what Venice might be like. Her voice reduced me to puddles of emotion–I was genuinely, deeply moved.

South Island, New Zealand Trip Report, #1

January 10, 2013
Queenstown

 

(Having trouble adding images….will try to add more later today….)

It’s raining this morning, a very agreeable weather considering how many days in a row we’ve been moving, moving, moving. I was delighted at the moody weather when we drove in last night, heavy clouds in dark puffs around the startlingly high, steep mountains and the enormous, long lake.

There is a reason a tourist town becomes a tourist town.

And the rain gives me time to collect a few thoughts about the trip so far. Everyone else has gone swimming, so I am left in the silence of the apartment to gather the sea- and sun- and delight-drenched moments to see what we have here. It goes so fast when you’re in the middle of it, and I have rarely been anywhere I felt so very much at home, but of course, we are outdoors, doing outdoor things, and when we are not, we are drinking tea and or ginger beer or choosing a little cake from a glass case.

How to gather a thousand moments into something coherent for you? I don’t have time to condense it all, so just follow along as you will.

Three words: color, animals, the sea.

COLOR
I knew NZ was beautiful. I’d seen bits of it ten years ago, on a whirlwind trip to the North Island. The sea and trees and mountains are a winning combination.

But when we came South, I was not expecting it to be so mouth-gapingly beautiful, so lavishly painted with color. How many times have I stood still to grapple with ways to describe the layers and layers and layers of color here? Not all colors, but two of my favorites–blue and green. The bays, perhaps because they are relatively shallow, are startling shades of aquamarine, turquoise. The mountains are green close in, blue and bluer and bluest against the horizon of blue sky. The Abel Tasman park has to be one of the most gorgeous spots I’ve ever seen, with that stunning colored sea and the islands covered with heavy bush, and little caves coyly placed nearby gold sand beaches.

In Marlborough, were the Sauvignon Blanc grapes have become the countries largest fruit export (at 68% of the total), the rolling hills are planted endlessly with green vines, that familiar striped pattern undulating for miles and miles and miles, all of it quilted against soft brown hills that look as velvety as antlers.

And everything remarkably uncrowded, even at one of the busy times of year. We have encountered crowds, of course, at the main sites, but nothing like they would be in any busy tourist center in the US or Europe at the corresponding high season.

I thought Abel Tasman was as beautiful as it could get, but then we arrived in Kaikoura, where the mountains are taller, and then we drove further down to Dunedin’s little town on the sea, and now we’ve arrived in Queenstown, which is even more startling.

A lot of it looks like Scotland to me, the lochs and the hills, the sudden sweep of a turn that reveals a bay or an expanse of ocean.

ANIMALS AND THE SEA

It feels in a way that my education this time is all about the ocean. What lives there, how it looks, how it smells, how it feels. Just how very salty it is on my face by the end of a day of kayaking. Just how tangled my hair can be (and full! and wavy!) I grew up in Colorado, so there was no sea, but I remember clearly the first time I saw the ocean, the Pacific in Southern California. It was a windy day and the steel gray waves were high and choppy, and then it died down and we wandered on the beach picking up shells. I have no idea where we were exactly–somewhere near San Diego, I’m guessing. Ever after, I had the sense that the ocean would make me happy. I struggled to get back to California, and almost joined the Navy (but they would have made me cut my waist length hair). I landed there again a couple more times before my children were born, on a long wander down the coast at nineteen, and a couple of months living in San Diego a year or so later.

But then I settled in to go to college, and then raise my boys, and we traveled to the interior of the country more often than not. Sometimes, RWA conferences were held by the sea, and I could visit. A few times, I visited friends who had access, and they would take pity on my yearning and we’d go to peer in tide pools or walk along the sand so I could get my feet wet. My family and I took a ferry across the Irish Sea and I learned I can be terribly seasick. CR and I took a ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, British Columbia, which was astonishingly beautiful. When I started teaching at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference (which I will be doing again this summer–please come!), I had the most beach access of my life–that vast beach in the early morning, deserted except for me and my yoga mat, the boats bouncing gently under the June gloom.

The ocean itself, its vast, deep depths still were a mystery to me. I don’t really eat fish. I don’t know how they live and grow. I know it’s deep. I know things live in the water. I have no desire to swim in it. (Okay, maybe I’d swim by the Great Barrier Reef. That was very clear water. You can see what’s coming.)

This trip seems all about Things That Live In And Around The Ocean. Whales, seals, dolphins, sea birds, fish. The gigantic Royal Albatross, with it’s six foot wing span, wings that fold in threes, neatly, like origami, over its gigantic back. It can fly 1000 km in a day. It knows how to get back to the place it was born so that it can mate. Sometimes mated pairs arrive at the mating ground within hours of each other. Hours, after flying alone, thousands of miles, for months on end. How do they DO that?

How delicious is it that there are varieties of squid for every level of feeder along the currents where squids live? Seals it one variety, whales and penguins each another type.

I have learned to recognize three kids of sea gulls, all of them big and bossy and brash. I don’t like them since being mugged by one in Santa Barbara, but this time, I sat and watched a trio bathing at the edge of the water, fluttering wings and dipping heads, and it was peaceful and kindly, a ritual of conversation, coos and clicks. It isn’t their fault that they are the tourist scavenger birds from hell.

The whale was impressive, but nowhere close to as thrilling for me as the pod of little dolphins we saw, frolicking and dancing, or the baby seal pups diving and swirling in a small pool ringed with adults sunning themselves with one eye open.

This afternoon is more rain and a quiet dinner alone with CR. In between, my sister and law and I are going to indulge at the spa, which is a holiday sort of thing to do, as well.

More as I am able.

Oh, PS: KAYAKING ROCKS! How is it possible I never indulged this pursuit until three years ago??

The Age of Aquarius–a time of balance

Happily, the end of the world has not yet arrived, and we’re all here to begin the long awaited Age of Aquarius, which some say begins this year.  It is meant to be a time of spiritual growth for society, and to me, it  does feel like the dawn of a new age.  I’d like to think so.

I’m thinking about change and balance myself, and a few things have come together to insist that I begin to consider exactly what I want each day to contain, how I want to live, what changes I’d like to make.  In October and November, I was pulling my usual deadline marathon, finishing the new book, Flavor of a Blue Moon, which will be out in early 2014.  (Sorry, I know that will be a disappointment to some of you, but the truth is, it just took more time to research and write than some other books.  I think you’re going to fall in love with Lavender and Ginny and all the adventures they have.  In the meantime, I promise to have some novellas up this year, just for you.)

Back to the deadline marathon.  It was exhausting.  Way more exhausting than it ever has been.  By the time I emailed it to my editor and agent, I felt like a zombie, and looked like one, too: my eyes were bloodshot constantly, and my skin was the color of wax, to compliment the smeared-cinders look of the circles under my eyes.  The last week of the deadline, I realized that I had a sinus infection and dashed over to the local urgent care to get some antibiotics.

There I discovered that one reason I felt so crappy was that my  blood pressure, which I’d been trying to control with diet and exercise, had gone way too high, and my heart was murmuring and all sorts of alarms went off and I was hustled to this doctor and that and had tests and Serious Conversations and–well, the bottom line is,

Upcoming New Zealand

I haven’t been on a long journey since the splendiferous trip to England and Spain in 2010, when I walked a part of the Camino de Santiago (which showed up emphatically in The Garden of Happy Endings).  In a couple of weeks, Christopher Robin and I are headed off to New Zealand for a month, to visit family and wander and recharge the batteries and celebrate a certain important birthday for CR.  I’ll be blogging and posting photos, of course, and I know some of you like these journeys a lot.

We leave Dec 27.  On the schedule are penguins and the earthquake-savaged Christchurch, Mitford Sound and Queenstown. I can’t wait to see those savagely beautiful mountains.  I hope we’ll be able to sea kayak (even if I’ll be nervous).  Everyone has insisted glow worms are really a treat.   I once visited the 90-mile beach in the far northlands and saw a wild horse laughing on a hill, and picked up a purple shell and held my breath over such long stretches of beach so unpopulated, so I want to take CR there.

The rest…who knows?  Bookshops and grocery stores.  Cookies and nephews.  That crazy accent and calla lilies and greenery.  Also, long long flights, which I admit I sort of love.  Time to read, to think, to be away from ordinary life.

Any tips? Anything you’ve seen I must not miss?  What are the best trips you’ve made? 

The Story of Neko, involving good luck, good Samaritans, and a good helping of cat charm

On Saturday night, Neko somehow escaped into the backyard when Jack when outside. We didn’t notice he was gone until Sunday morning, when he didn’t show up for breakfast (and believe me, breakfast is his favorite thing). I felt sick to my stomach when I realized he was gone. We went out to look for him, calling and calling, but nothing.

Not on Sunday, or Monday. Monday morning, I made a couple dozen posters with his picture and walked around taping them to the central mailboxes all over the neighborhood, along with taping them to the park signs (there are two parks–gotta love the suburbs). I tried to figure out line of sight for a cat–over fences, down sidewalks, and posted in those places.

CR went to the Humane Society. I signed up for a pet alert service.

I was not, this time, particularly worried about foxes. He’s a big cat, and fierce, and fast, and young. I WAS really, really, really fretting about the cold. It’s been below twenty most nights. He’s a very coddled cat.

I also worried that somebody would just like him so much they wouldn’t return him. He’s so adorable, and really pretty, and a total charmer.

Tuesday, nothing.

The Off-Season

I’m back in Breckenridge, this time for a Writing Away Retreat, which I agreed to do a couple of years ago. Funny.

It’s again the slow season.  The gondola to the slopes is closed, and mostly the tourists are elderly, stopping to shoot a photo of the river. I walked five miles in the autumn sunshine, feeling all the stress of the past couple of weeks drop away, and last night slept like a five-year-old.

I keep looping back here. It’s a tourist town, plain and simple. The streets rare filled with milling out of towers all the time, winter, summer, spring, even now on this off-midweek in September.  So why do I like it so much? I don’t even (downhill) ski.

We’ve been looking for a long time for the place where we might have a little condo or cabin or something.  Both CR and I love to be in the high mountains. I love to hike, and he loves to run, and I’m just a mountain girl.   I find it healing to be in the thin air, amid the trees and on the lakes.  He just loves altitude. The more the better.  At 10,000 feet, he starts to talk.  At 11,000, he’s positively chatty.

We visited a lot of places.  There are some that are just too glitzy. Some that are too small or far away or backward or ridiculously expensive.  We were enamored for awhile with Buena Vista, which is not far away from Breckenridge.  There are hot springs, and it’s quiet, away from the tourist hordes, and there is a big hiking area that both of us like–he for orienteering, me for, well, hiking.  Also, the views of Mount Princeton are amazing.  It’s one of my favorite mountains in the state.

But Buena Vista is quiet.  REALLY quiet.  I finally nixed it, and that was when CR cast his net another direction.  We ambled into Breckenridge one summer afternoon and there was an art fair. I bought a small painting, and we looked at glass, and ate at decent cafe and walked around with the HORDES of tourists and I thought, “Hmmm.”  I never mind a tourist town. I grew up in one.

The thing is, I love the mountains, but I don’t love really small towns.  I spent a lot of time in Sedalia and CAstle Rock when I was a kid, and it was just….boring.  (For locals, I know it is hard to imagine a Castle Rock that was a small town, but trust me, it was tiny and boring.)  I also don’t want a place that’s as glitzy and monied as Aspen or Vail.  Breck is absolutely nothing but a ski and outdoor-lure town, but that’s kinda what makes it possible to consider actually spending lots of time here.  There is a ton of hiking and running, and in ten minutes, you can be in the serious backwoods. There’s a giant lake not far down the road, where we could kayak in summer.  My kids could come ski (neither of us downhill ski).  There are some good restaurants, and a movie theater down the road in Frisco, and a long, long, long bike path and the mountains are IN YOUR FACE in every direction.

And I can drive here in two hours, on my own.  Maybe not in the wintertime on my own, but that’s not the season I care about.  I like the others.

Let’s see how much work I get done this time.  That’s part of the equation–one reason for a condo is to have a retreat center where I can work without distraction when I need to.  (We’ve been using hotel rooms and time shares, but they don’t allow animals and I need to have the company of critters if I’m working for a week at a time on my own. It’s okay if there are no humans, but I need a snoring dog or a purring cat.)

I have to admit, too, that it’s sort of funny to imagine that we’re actually going to think about buying a vacation condo.  My inner working class kid thinks simultaneously, whoa! and who do you think you are?  My adult self who has worked a long time at a profession she loves thinks it’s just fine.  😉

Happy to find the spot! Even better, CR loves this place.

If you could have a second home or a retreat anywhere you liked, where would you choose? 

 

 

How One Writer Persisted

Here is the story of a novel.  

It was written in the wee hours before dawn before the writer’s family awakened and needed to be herded off to school.   Before the work of the day began,  before the brain was sullied by the noise of news and commerce and obligations.

And when it was finished, she sent it to her agent, who loved it. Declared it one of the best romances she had ever read. Ever.  She took it to market with great energy—but the book was rejected over and over with the kind of crushing rejections that say, “we love this book, but can’t imagine that it will sell very well.” The setting was wrong. The love story was too unusual.

After nearly a year, the writer admitted defeat and put the book away.

The writer was me, of course.  I was divorced and dating when the book arrived in my consciousness again, when Christopher Robin and I discovered we both knew the facts of the English arm of WWII backwards and forwards.  On one of our first dates, we eagerly exchanged facts about the landings at Normandy and Battle of the Bulge—but I one-upped him: I knew the history of the African American soldier in that war; knew that it was the bloody, bloody toll of Normandy, then the push across France that led to the Army finally dropping its policy of segregation, so black troops were armed and pressed into service, to fight against Hitler’s army in that harsh, terrible winter of 1944-45.  It was that year that led to the desegregation of the Army, and in my opinion, the eventual desegregation of the country.

I knew it because that was part of the story I told in that book I woke up early to write.  Isaiah High joins the Army to flee his hometown. Through his letters home, we see his journey, in England and through France, at last at Dachau, where he is part of the forces of liberation. It’s also a love story, of course, but the WWII aspect is very important.

CR was entranced.  It had been a long time since I’d read it, but I pulled it out and discovered that I had grown quite a lot as a writer and wanted to rewrite it, but the bones were good, and I still loved the characters madly.  The trouble was, I only had a hard copy, and scanning technology—which has taken off insanely the past couple of years, was extremely primitive.  The scan was a mess.  An absolute, practically unreadable mess.   I had deadlines and side projects and just didn’t have time to fix it.

And perhaps I was wary of getting my heart broken all over again.  As long as the book sat safely in my heart and drawer, it would never be rejected again.

But CR did not give up.  We visited the British War Museum.  We traveled to the beaches of Normandy.  He sometimes had a book on black soldiers sent to me, or linked me to a story online.

Two years ago, feeling the urge to maybe make some time to clean up the draft to see what I actually had there, I stumbled over a website devoted to the letters of a young WWII soldier home to his family.  He was stationed in England, just like Isaiah, and he was headed for Normandy.  I read, engrossed, one night, thinking of the letters Angel and Isaiah had exchanged.  I read to the very end of that soldier’s letters.   Powerfully moved, I decided that I would at least give The Book a chance.  Tucked between deadlines was a six week window that I could spare.  I booked a hotel room in a retreat center, and before I went, I cleaned up the worst of the typos and strange words in the scanned file.  By the time I arrived at the retreat center, I was ready to dig in.

I rewrote it, and then came home and rewrote again.  I knew my main publisher and agent would be wary, because it is a very different story than the books I am publishing now as Barbara O’Neal, and we’ve all put a tremendous amount of energy into branding those books.  I knew who I wanted to publish it—Belle Bridge Books.

But again, I was terrified.  What if they didn’t like it, either, and my baby, this book of my heart, was orphaned again? I sent it to a writer friend to read, and she emphatically pronounced it beautiful and moving, so with some trepidation, I sent a note to Deb Smith at Belle Bridge, and she responded in about two hours: SEND IT.

She loved it.  She made an offer in one of the shortest negotiations I’ve ever participated in.   I needed the time to go through it one more time.  One year later I am pleased to announce:

 The Sleeping Night is now on sale!

 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony, and soon will be in all outlets.

The reviews are amazing.  Read a few here:

Romance Reviews by Sallie:  “The Sleeping Night is a refined, romantic tale.  I imagine if Jane Austen wrote novels today, her stories would read a lot like Barbara Samuel’s.”  Read More >>>

From Karen Knows Best: “Told partially in the present day, partially in Angel and Isaiah’s past after the war, and partially through their wartime letters, this is not just a suspenseful forbidden love romance, but a powerful story about spiritual and emotional needs. The letters give rich historical detail about everyday life while showing the closeness of their connection, the depth of their sorrow over the ugliness of the world, and their need to understand how such awful things could happen.”  Read More >>>

From Angela Booth’s Writing Blog:  “I’m not sentimental; I can’t remember the last time a book made me break down in tears, but this book did it. Several times I had to resist the urge to stop reading because it was too painful. I’m glad I kept on, because it was worth it. The Sleeping Night is wonderful, precisely because the characters’ struggle is so agonizing.

(That said, if you hate books with unhappy endings be relieved — there’s a happy ending. :-))”  Read More>>>

 

There will be some giveaways for this book.  Check back soon.  Oh, and check out the dedication.  Can you guess who got it?