Weekend Update: Friends, Family, & Freedom

Wild winds that wrap around the oaks like long fingers, shaking the remaining acorns to the ground, low hanging clouds nipping at the mountain ridges, making those jagged tips disappear into the mists, and rain. Glorious rain. (In California, we do the happy dance when rain arrives.)

Friday sees a stormy start with the tink-tink-tink of rain outside. Even though it’s cool, I take my mug of coffee out to the terrace to inhale those fabulous earthy scents and say good morning to the hordes of turkeys that coo and gobble-squak, greeting one another after what I imagine was a scary night sleeping in the trees (lightening!). I wonder–do they have an opinion about the rain? Do they do their own version of a happy dance? Trade war stories of close calls with lightening?

It really feels like autumn now, at least for this small slice of time.

Besides being a full work day (almost done with the current manuscript’s third draft. woo!), I squeeze in an early afternoon tea with my dad and a late lunch with mom. Gotta fit the family in–I’m so grateful to have them in my life. As an only child, my parents are also my best buddies so the occasional tea and lunch with them does the heart good.

Saturday I wake to sunshine and get the day started right–with coffee, a jog through the puddles with my pup, then off to face an open, eager laptop. Work day for me. Soon dad texts me pictures of a hot air balloon festival happening nearby. Apparently he stepped out on his wife’s ranch and voila–balloons soaring in the sky.


After my writing day is done, I help out a friend and fabulous human being who has just returned from India where she works with Voices4Freedom to free slaves. Then, once the children (yes, children) are freed from slavery, they begin their education at one of the schools she and her team started with Schools4Freedom. Incredible work. I happily help her out with the V4F website while I eat homemade banana nut bread, drink hot tea, and give GRATITUDE for my freedom and for the food on my table.

Saturday evening I’m excited and tremendously proud to watch a new Hallmark movie directed by one of my pals, Christie, called A Wish For Christmas. Love these holiday romances–warm and happy. I’ve come to look forward to Christie’s new film each year. She and I studied at Playhouse West together and I enjoy her sensibilities as a storyteller/filmmaker. As an added bonus, one of her daughters is in the movie and is a darling addition.

Over the weekend I also have a great time looking over yearbook photos from 8th grade that a friend and classmate shared on Facebook. Very fun! What a great group to to have been part of. I have such fond memories from that time–lots of smiles in the photos which serve to punctuate those memories. (Funny, I forgot that my buddy Bart and I were voted “Best Smile.”)

Sunday is another full workday and I leap over the finish line of that third draft, earning an adult beverage. Wine here I come, then time to dive into a friend and fellow novelist’s debut book (a techno-thriller) and snuggle in for a cool night.

Hope everyone had a lovely weekend!

xo Isla


Romance Novels & Feminism

Do you see any conflict between being a romance novelist and being a feminist? Do you feel an obligation to interject socially conscious themes into your work? Are there authors you respect for their socially conscious stories? These are a few of the questions I was asked during a Q&A with Geek Girl Authority‘s Leona Laurie.

Here are a few soundbites from my responses:

“We’re at a time in our culture where long-standing and important issues are coming to light in a new way—including feminism—and I’m grateful to have grown up in a family that celebrates empowerment. When we empower individuals to feel good, do good and be equal players, I believe we lift ourselves as a whole.”

“In the genre of romance, Nora Roberts must have very strong shoulders because generations of writers are taking taller strides because of her.”

“My job is to tell the most authentic story that I can, each and every time, and I take that responsibility to heart.”

Check out the full Q&A here!

xo Isla



Cheers To You, Autumn

Autumn equinox brings the balance of day and night, light and dark. And here in the mountains of California, the first crisp day of Autumn brought a cool morning that required a thick, fully zipped sweatshirt in order to sit out on the terrace and sip coffee; the morning routine. (I wore pants too, but that may or may not have gone without saying.) It was as if Mother Nature decided to give us a proper sampling of the weather that was to come. And we are so grateful for the break in the heat–even though I do cherish warmth.

Saturday was a work day for me as last week we had a fun family visitor in town (Auntie Connie!) and I lost a couple days. I’m nearing the finish line of a second draft for a new book and am enjoying dipping into the story as the season changes around me, readying for those shorter days and longer nights.

Wine + California Sunset 

Saturday evening I celebrated the productive day with a glass of wine out on the terrace to enjoy the sunset, followed by a big bowl of popcorn (with the usual parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper) and a “brief” binge viewing (3 episodes) of Longmire on Netflix. I’m almost through the season and ready for the new episodes–a terrific show. I enjoy the pacing, the characters, the turbulent emotions just under the stoic surface with a strong spine of care and duty in the core.

Sunday saw another burst of warmth which took me by surprise. I was so ready for sweater season! It was a long, hot, fiery summer, and autumn is a very welcome change around here. Still I hunkered down, read a little, wrote a little, enjoyed homemade pizza made by my fabulous mother, and tried to nap given that I feel a cold trying to come my way, but I was too busy adoring my snuggling puppy to get any real sleep. 🙂

I’m ready for this week, ready for the harvest of that which has been planted in prior seasons, and ready to hunker down and see these characters that are in my heart through to the finish of their story.

Much love to all,



The Beginning…

I am often asked how/when/why I began writing. So here’s a short bit about how/when/why it came about:

I’ve always had a vibrantly active imagination. Always, always. But as a kid, perhaps because I’m an only child, I didn’t realize that this was anything out of the ordinary. I thought everyone experienced stories bursting to life in their head like I did (and do), and I thought everyone had an intense drive to write them or act them out. And that’s exactly what I did throughout my childhood–either acting out stories with my best bud, or taking my grandmother’s typewriter, lugging it out to the old woodshed (no idea why the woodshed, guess it felt like a cozy writing nook) and writing stories.

Also as a child, I loved to read. Scholastic book orders were among my favorite events. But I wasn’t a sedentary kid either. I was always zooming around my super small community on my motorcycle (pretending it was a car, acting out stories, of course) and I was in many (many many!) theatrical and dance performances at the local theatre–always expressing feeling and imagination in a disciplined way (not much has changed there). Also, my father was a race car driver so on long trips to wherever his races were, I’d gobble up books, asking to stop in every city along the way for new, fresh reads.

As an adult, one summer I ventured to a fishing village in Florida to visit some family friends and I was desperate for some entertainment while sitting outside in the swampy heat (others were smoking inside), so I headed to the nearest Wal-Mart (the only place in that town to buy a book), and purchased three books by Nora Roberts. And I was hooked. I was home. Having never read romance novels before then, the whole experience resonated deeply within me.

Soon after, I moved to New York after being offered a position at CNN. Across the country from my friends and family, and knowing only one person when I arrived there, I spent a lot of time in my imagination as I wandered up and down the streets, through Central Park, along the Hudson River, investigating the feel and flavors of my new city.

Because I was largely alone–in a densely populated city–that time I spent in my imagination was important for me. It gave me company, it entertained me, and helped me feel connected as I learned the ways of this new life adventure I was on.

I remember one day having this very strong, very distinct feeling under the surface that I wanted to connect with. It wasn’t a neighborhood I wanted to go to, it wasn’t a store, it wasn’t a restaurant, or place. I trekked to the nearest Barnes & Noble, then the Borders bookstore, scanning the shelves, searching for the book that contained the feeling of the world my imagination craved to dive into. It was such a specific feeling that I was seeking, I roamed every aisle, every genre, and couldn’t find it on any page in any book on any shelf.

And I remember it dawning on me like a flash of light bursting in my heart: the story was within me. It was my story to write. So I went home, back to my itty bitty studio apartment on the Upper West Side, and I wrote that story.

Isla while living in NYC
Isla while living in NYC

That first novel, I’m happy to say, will remain locked away forever. It was me working through those initial  kinks as a creator, I suppose. But then I sat down and wrote Hidden Harbor and haven’t looked back.

I am so incredibly grateful for this career. I love the whole process (even on days where a lot of wrestling is involved), including the imaginative elements (the research, the what next-ing, uncovering the motivation), the discipline of writing seven days a week, the re-writing, the polishing. I love falling in love with the characters through their story. I love getting to know my characters each and every time and my favorite book is always the one I’ve just finished because their story is still within me, lingering.

And then I immediately move on to the next book. The story I’ve just finished is no longer mine. It’s for the readers. And my job is to let those characters be adored–hopefully–and to focus on the new story in front of me. A new story to feel my way through, new characters to fall in love with.

I love my job, and I’m so grateful to be doing a job that I love with my whole heart. I love the opportunity to live my dreams just as I love watching my characters strive for their dreams.

Dream big.
xo Isla

A Weekend of Work & (Fast) Walks

It’s hot, stuffy hot, and raining ash. Animals–the deer and turkeys, birds and squirrels, raccoons and bears–are desperate for food and water. Our lovely, wonderful mountains of California are having a tough time and my heart breaks for the people who lost their homes to one of several fires over the weekend.

Red sunrise over smoke-rimmed mountains
Red sunrise over smoke-rimmed mountains

So while it would be easy to complain that the air is dreadful and dangerous, the heat instantly exhausting, I’d rather just be grateful to be in my favorite place on the planet: home.

Friends, neighbors, husbands, wives, and kids of friends go off to fight the fire and we’re so very grateful, knowing that they’re doing their best to save lives and homes.

As I’m sending love from my happy place–home in front of my computer writing with my puppy snuggled next to me–I’m glad to be productive. It’s been a weekend of work and super-duper quick walks so that puppy doesn’t go absolutely bananas. We both need our exercise but we get it in five minute treks given that the air is thick with falling ash.

Office manager hard at work
Office manager hard at work
Happy girl
Happy girl

This afternoon, we’ll pour cold micheladas and toast to the people of this amazing state working hard to keep us safe.

xo Isla

Women, Fabulous Women

As you know, I love writing about independent women who are doing interesting things. This is important to me, writing women with a strong, evolving point of view, and one of the many reasons I enjoy telling stories–I get to celebrate women being fabulous women.

In the book Pacific Passion, I adored writing about a budding female film director. We need more female film directors in the world and before we dismiss the past as locked with a giant men-only poster on the door, BFI compiled some photographs that celebrate female film directors of the past. 

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 6.34.50 AM

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 6.33.04 AM


xo Isla

Summer Sunday Sunset

Sunset in Cali with Gigi

Summer in California is still going strong, at least here in the mountains. It’s “cooled” down from the triple digit temps but we’re still spending evenings in the puppy pool. Well, Gigi is.

Come sunset on Sunday, the weekend winding down, yoga done, edits in progress, we were happy campers spending time at home. It’s still smokey from the drifting haze of the Hume Lake fire, the land is still in the midst of devastating drought, the bear is still galavanting on our property in the evenings, but this little nook in California is home.

And I’m so grateful that it is.

Happy week everyone!

xo Isla