Writing beach retreat.

So for years now, Emily & I have gone on writing retreats to the beach. Usually 3 or 4 days where we sneak away from our regular daily lives and hole ourselves away to focus on nothing but writing. We’re here now with our 4 kids and we’ll play and chat and write and the kids will have a blast. But it hasn’t always been like this. Once upon a time there were 4 of us that would come, us and 2 other writers and that’s what I want to talk about today.

When we started these retreats, we were fortunate that one of us had a lovely beach house we could use and it made our twice yearly trips (usually February and September) even more of a treat. For the brief stint I lived in Tennessee, it made things more difficult as I would see family when I went to Texas and there simply wasn’t time to carve out for those writing retreats. But one  November we decided it was time for another one so I flew into Austin and together we piled into the minivan (this time with a very pregnant Emily and a rather chatty toddler) and we hit the road for the five plus hour drive down to Bolivar peninsula. We had these traditions with these trips, we’d usually stop at Chili’s in Houston and then make our way to Galveston where we’d load onto the ferry that would take us over to the smaller strip of land that housed the beautiful Crystal Beach.

I suspect that many of you might not have heard of Crystal Beach or Bolivar peninsula unless you remember Hurricane Ike, the one that hit shortly after Katrina. Ike’s damage didn’t get quite the media attention that Katrina did – Bolivar is obviously not as populated as New Orleans, but still many people lost their lives and even more lost their homes.

It wasn’t just writing retreats though that mark my memories of this blue house on stilts, it was a family vacation spot a few times, a place where I went with several friends for just a weekend away at the beach.

Before the storm, you could see rows and rows of houses, these are the pictures of the aftermath of Ike, you can see how nearly everything was leveled. Now I only lost a place where I have memories, I didn’t lose property or land or belongings or loved ones, and I can only imagine how those people will begin to put their lives back together.

I’m one of those beach people. You know, how some people prefer the mountains – The Professor is one of those, but me, I’m all about the beach. The waves, the sand in my toes and the sun warming my face. I can sit there and watch that water for hours. Or walk along the shore and pick up shimmering pieces of sea glass. It is a refuge for me, the one place on earth that fills my soul more than any other.

Changing beach locations is not the only way our retreats are different. As I mentioned before, now we have kids in tow, whereas when we started, we were both kid-free. Not only that but our dear friend, the one who owned the beach house that we lost now has late-stage Alzheimer’s. Our trips are different, but we still write and recharge and laugh and enjoy a few days away from our “normal” lives. But I miss those early retreats, I miss that blue house and I miss our dear friend.

Guest Mom Tracy Brogan: Are We There Yet?

Love this woman. Love, love, love! She’s funny. She’s brilliant. She’s kind. And I’m so happy for her success. Returning PBK Guest Mom Tracy Brogan is a star, and like many stars, she’s not taking her success for granted.

I do wish for Tracy–and for you, dear readers–dreams to race toward and present-day joys. Thanks, Tracy, for reminding us that both are essential to happiness. And congratulations on your new release!!! 

Are we there yet? How often have you heard that whined/moaned/screeched/caterwauled from the backseat of your minivan? It’s so ubiquitous a question, I don’t even need to explain it. Kids are impatient. Whether it’s a 15-day day road trip to Yellowstone, or a 15-minute jaunt to the grocery store, they just want to get there.

These days so do most adults. Our instant gratification culture has programmed us to want to be there. Enjoying the journey is less important than arriving at your destination. For me, that is proving to be true in my writing career as well. I’m not taking time to smell the proverbial roses. I’m not stopping to savor each tiny victory. But perhaps the biggest impediment to me enjoying the process of getting there is that I keep moving the target.

Let’s back up a little bit and start at the beginning. For most of my life I’d been one of those people who said, “I’m going to write a book someday.” I had all the requisite fantasies of becoming an international, bestselling author who frequented Oprah’s talk show, but no plan, and little real hope of that ever happening. Especially considering I’d started dozens of manuscripts and had finished exactly… none. Something always interrupted my grand scheme. A crying baby, a new house, an episode of Friends, you know.

When my youngest daughter started school, I realized it was time to put up or shut up. I had to either finish writing a book, or stop talking about it because my friends had taken to glazing over whenever I brought up the subject. So, step one – draft and polish a completed manuscript. Selling it wasn’t even on my radar at the time. I plugged away while my kids were at school and after they went to bed. The house got cluttered, bills were set aside, but in May of that year, I got’er done! I was so proud of myself!

For about 37 seconds.

Almost immediately, that goal was rendered meaningless. What good was a book, even a finished book, if no one would ever read it? Suddenly, the quest became to sell the book. And that meant getting an agent. I gave myself six months. It took three times as long. During the process, I became quite adept at dealing with rejection. Sometimes I’d deliberately slam my fingers in a drawer just to practice experiencing that sharp agony, although most days there was enough rejection and self-doubt to keep that pain fresh! (I’m kidding about the drawer slamming, of course, but it might have hurt less than some of the query responses.)

HoldOnMyHeart Best CoverI started attending conferences, and entering contests. Those seemed like minor accomplishments, too. I was networking, studying craft, learning that I had so much more to learn, And all the while I kept inching the bar higher. If I finaled in a contest I was pleased, but then I wanted to win. If I got a request for a partial, I wanted the request for the full to come soon after. I’d enjoy each moment for about a moment, and then it was behind me and I needed to leap the next hurdle.

As luck would have it, I managed to final in the holy grail of contests for unpublished writers, The RWA® Golden Heart. Not once, but twice. I was proud to sport that pink GH ribbon and I cherish every aspect of those finals. I am a Starcatcher and a Firebird. But by the second time around, I had an agent and my eye was on the prize of selling.

Once again, I’d moved my target. Rather than bask in the joy of the experience, I was looking to the next thing. In all that time, I never felt certain I was doing enough, or doing it right. I didn’t look back at the people just starting their journey and reminisce about how far I’d come. I only looked forward toward those ahead of me, and I wondered how to get to where THEY were.

It wasn’t jealousy making me ask that. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was respectful admiration for the effort they must have exerted to reach their place. It wasn’t envy. It was awe, and it still is. Surely those cool, fancy RITA girls know they have ARRIVED. Those authors with “best seller” added to their names must be confident in their abilities. They must have a system to their process. They must feel secure that they are loved by the masses and appreciated by their publishers. They must know the secret handshake.

Well, fast forward to today, just four years from when I started. I’m a RITA finalist for Best First Book, a double winner in the Golden Quill, and a finalist in the Book Sellers Best contest. My third book will be released tomorrow and I just signed my second three-book contract with my publisher. Although the NYT and USA Today won’t include my Montlake titles on their lists, both my books have sold enough copies to be considered best sellers. So I should be utterly confident in my abilities, right? I should be certain I know what I’m doing, yes?

Nope. I don’t feel it. Because there are more hurdles. There is the next book to write. Craft to hone. Marketing to master. Are we there yet? I’m starting to realize that as long as I keep moving the end-zone, I’m never going to stop to enjoy right where I am. And that’s a shame because I’m in a very good place. And this makes me wonder how many other writers create this same dilemma. Are you thinking about, and appreciating, all you have accomplished? Because you should! Or are you too busy looking at the road ahead and worrying how to get there? And then there. And then there.

I have a friend who compares this journey to sharks. If they stop swimming, they’ll sink to the bottom and die. I don’t want to sink, but I might need to pull over to the side of the ocean for a while and remember to enjoy this view.  Absolutely set goals, and absolutely continue to push forward toward new ones. But don’t forget to think about how far you’ve come.

Tracy Brogan 2013 RITAPast or present, Tracy Brogan loves romance.  She writes funny contemporary stories about ordinary people finding extraordinary love, and stirring historical romance full of political intrigue, damsels causing distress, and the occasional man in a kilt.

She is a best-selling author, a 2013 Romance Writers of America® RITA Best First Book Finalist for CRAZY LITTLE THING, and a two-time Golden Heart Finalist in both contemporary and historical romance.

Her next contemporary romance, HOLD ON MY HEART, releases June 25, 2013. If you’d like to see the trailer, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUB7zan3dCc&feature=youtu.be

Tracy lives in Michigan with her husband, her children and their overly-indulged dogs. Please stop by her website at tracybrogan.com, or visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AuthorTracyBrogan

Guest mom: Rhonda Peyton (Robyn’s sister!)

Image 4This is Robyn and today we have a super special guest blogger…it’s my older sister, Rhonda. I asked her to guest blog today because we’re getting close to summer vacation time and she’s a veritable expert on traveling with children regardless of their age. So without further ado…I give you my sister…

My name is Rhonda, I am the mother of 2, married to my best friend and and we have been traveling across America together for the past 20 years. As I look back on our travels I realize that not only did we travel well with young children, but have given our kids, now 20 and 18, a love for the great Road Trip. In part, passed onto me from my own childhood.

Here are the trips we’ve taken over the last 18 years.

Disney World (flew) ages 2&4
Washington DC. 3&5
W.Virginia 4&6
Florida 5&7
Colorado 6&8
Mississippi/New Orleans 7&9
Big Bend, TX 8&10
St. Louis, MO 9&11
Disney World (flew) 10&12
Tennessee 11&13
St. Louis/Chicago, IL (drove/Amtrak) 12&14
Mt. Rushmore 13$15
NY/Niagara Falls/DC. 14&16
Tennessee 14&16
California/Las Vegas/New Mexico 15&17
Wisconsin/St. Louis 16&18
Big Bend, TX 18&20
Beach trips (10 or more times) from the age of 2 and up. Corpus Christi, Galveston, Padre Island, Bolivar (all beaches in TX)

TRANSPORTATION: 5 different vans, Taurus, Suburban, Highlander, steam engine, Amtrak, subway, taxi, trolly, bus, fairy, boat and airplane.

Image 7FOOD: White table-cloth steak houses, Triple D diners, local dives, fast-food and chains.

AMUSEMENT PARKS:  Six Flags, Astroworld, Sea World, Fiesta Texas, Busch Gardens & Disney World.

ZOOS: Amarillo, TX; Ft. Worth, TX, Houston, TX, San Antonio, TX; Waco, TX; DC.; St. Louis, MO

AQUARIUMS: Corpus Christi, TX; Moody Gardens (TX); Chattanooga, TN; DC.

OTHER SIGHTS: Museums, mounments,bridges, national parks.

CAR TUNES: Joe Scruggs, Veggie Tales, various vbs, Toby Keith, George Straight, Beach Boys, WOW’s, oldies, and music from multiple shows we were in or saw.

Image 2Each time we decided on our next destination, I began the research. I think making as detailed of plan as possible is the key to having a successful and enjoyable trip. I would divide the miles to be traveled by the hours and then begin preparing my 2 lists:  the 1st list was of items we always traveled with and the 2nd list would be more specific to the particular trip at hand.

Usual list 1: gallon ziplock bags,mileage bags, cd’s, addresses & stamps, first aid, wet wipes, towels, travel cups, snacks,box of sandwich bags, books on tape, swim suits, cooler with drinks, receipt envelope, window shades, travel boxes….

Gallon bags : these I used to pack the kids clothes in. Each bag had the childs name on it and date to be worn. This helped when planning which clothes were for traveling (for comfort) , which were for parks, museums, the White House or meeting famous people like senators or Mickey Mouse! Packing in ziplocks also helped save room (like space saver bags) and made for a great way to store dirty clothes separate from clean, by putting them back in the same bag they came in. (Great for wet swim suits too)

Image 3Mileage bags: these were life-savers when traveling with small children. I used small paper bags, each numbered and labeled with kids name. Each bag usually contained 3 items : a snack (animal cookies, fruit snacks…) an activity (crayons & book, silly puddy, wipe off  bd,paper dolls, stickers…) and a character for pretending (action figure, small stuffed toy). I would divide the miles we were going to travel into small sections, like about every 90 to 120 miles and then the kids would get their bag. This helped pass the time, and taught them about mile-markers and time of travel.

CD’s : music we All liked as a family that we could sing to….without judgement.

Sandwich bags: were for all the treasures we would find during our stops and a sharpie so I could label each bag so we knew whose treasures they were and where they came from.

Travel boxes: each kid had a plastic box with a lid that could hold all their travel needs and double as a desk. This helped things not get lost, and not be so cluttered in the back seat.

ImageBeing a stay home mom with a 1 income (educator’s salary) we were usually on a tight budget, so we found ways to enjoy our trips without spending too much, especially on the traveling days. I did however, research the trip and area we would be in so if we were going to be near a park or a specific interest of 1 of ours….like my son went thru a phase where he was interested in bridges. Well when I did research I found all kinds of bridges we would have missed had I not been looking. Seeing these extras didn’t add much time to the trip and were free! Maybe you are going to be near a famous persons place, in history, like Billy the Kid or Laura Wilder. Just do a search for interest that are near where you will be traveling.

A typical, long travel day for us would have looked something like this…we packed the car the night before and had everything ready for departure, so when we woke them up all they had to do was get dressed and we would each grab our travel cups. We would leave as early as possible, before breakfast, so that we could get as many miles as possible behind us before stopping for breakfast. I know fast-food is not the healthy choice, but we would look for a stop that had one of those indoor playgrounds, this way we could eat while they played and then we would all visit the restrooms and bring any of the kids breakfast with us when we left. When we got back into the car the kids would eat and then they would get their first mileage bag. We would just talk and let the kids get the most out of their 1st mileage bag…we wanted it to entertain them for long as it could. We would then play a book on tape, music or play a car game to pass the time. ( ie… Car bingo, alphabet game.)

Image 6Our kids did not have a movie playing device for the car until they were 10 & 12, so we had to use what we had to entertain them. We tried to plan our lunch by packing one with us or we would stop and pick something up and head to the nearest park or rest area. We tried to go somewhere outside so that they could walk around and get some exercise. This is when we would use the little ziplock bags and let each kid pick up some ” treasures” rocks, acorns, a leaf….the point was to get some moving in, so that just maybe they would nap when we got back on the road. After lunch and hopefully a nap we would sometimes look for another indoor playground stop, we could get a drink, maybe a small cone, the kids could play and of course we would all go to the restroom before loading back up. The kids always knew that these stops would be short, so they were prepared for us to give them the 5 min warning and they seemed fine with it. 10 – 20 min went a long way in helping the weary traveling kid, and helping them…..helped us!

On travel days we always tried to stay in a hotel that had 3 things in common: cheap, free breakfast and a POOL! We would try to get to the hotel with enough time for us to swim, for at least 30 minutes. Swimming is great for tired, stiff muscles that have been sitting in a car all day and it makes for a great nights sleep. We liked to go out to dinner to a place with the “local” flavor. If time permitted, we would try and swim in the morning too, this would cause us to have a later start on morning 2. When scheduling our trip we tried to have our heaviest travel day on day 1 so that day 2 could be lighter. If we had several days of travel in front of us then we often alternated long then short travel days.

Image 5We have traveled 35 of the 50 states, we even had one of our new teenage drivers get his driving hours in 25 of those states. We have seen the Grand Canyon, Pala Duro canyon, the white sands desert, Hoover Dam, Niagara Falls,the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the giant red woods, the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and the Pacific, Crater Lake and a great lake, the mountains of Colorado, the Smokies in Tennessee and all the plains in between….memories for a lifetime

My advice, make your trips as personal as you can, for your family. Maybe you and your family like a specific food show, make a list of places and dishes you would like to try. Maybe architecture is interesting or battlefields, maybe courthouses, Route 66 , national monuments or windmills…..whatever your family finds interesting will add to your family trips. When crossing state lines stop at the welcome centers, they have clean restrooms, complimentary maps, information about state wide attractions and often a state-themed activity book for kids. Just do your homework so you know how much things cost, so you can plan for it. Be prepared for plans to change due to unforeseen things that Will come up. Rain closed an attraction, sick kids, car trouble….we have sat on the side of the road and played cards or gone to a movie because of a rained out attraction. Don’t let things outside of your control ruin your trip, you are making memories…make them good ones!

Image 4Souvenirs. We did like to buy post cards to send to family, friends, teachers…we helped the kids write them until they were old enough to do it themselves. We sent them to a variety of people depending on when and where we went. Our souvenirs were not always the same but we did have some usuals. I like coffee mugs & christmas ornaments, my daughter liked bells or playing cards my son liked things that were specific to the trip, sometimes both son and husband got hats. We also liked getting music from someone we had seen on our trip or a soundtrack from a musical or show that we got to see. We tried to keep them to small items, with a few exceptions…like the walking stick my son had to have and has traveled with us to every park since. He has it with us on this trip we are currently taking to Big Bend and we are also listening to our soundtract from Grease that we got to see on Broadway.

We have a shell luggage carrier we put on top of our car, so that everything inside the car is for traveling purpose and that gives us a lot more room. The luggage carrier makes our vehicle look like a turtle and so that is what we call it, it also makes it easy to find in a crowded parking lot. As we take this trip to Big Bend and plan for a summer wedding trip to Gatlinberg, I am mindful that any of these trips could be the last “family” trip we take. My kids will both be in college next year and our lives are changing daily. I cherish the travels and adventures we have had and look forward to getting postcards from them when they travel with their own families some day. I wish you safe and happy travels, now go make some memories!

Image 9

Rhonda Peyton is a wife and mother. She’s a former Dance Team instructor and taught high school for ten years. She’s the sister of the fabulously famous Robyn DeHart.