For months, Jack, our 16-year-old sweetheart-of-a-dog had been inching his way toward heaven. It was hard to watch. He weakened. Stopped doing the things he loved. He slowly lost his zest for living.
If you’re lucky, once in a lifetime, a dog comes along who opens your heart a little more than usual. If you’re lucky, you have the privilege of knowing a special creature who touches your soul and reminds you what true love is. My Jack was one of those soul-touching dogs.
Jack joined me sixteen years ago when I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. (I stayed for three years, as it turned out before returning to my beloved mountains of North Carolina). I wanted a companion for my five-year-old dog, Emma, who seemed homesick for eastern forests.
So one hot August day I drove to the Ahimsa Ranch Animal Rescue nearly on the Wyoming border to meet a dog of uncertain age (estimated at 8 months) and 50 pounds. He was an orangey-brown (from the photos on the website) and got along with other dogs, as well as cats. His name was “Cricket,” which implied energy and youth. Was I up for this?
Before arriving at the rescue ranch, Cricket had been in Ukiah, California at a no-kill shelter. I don’t know the details, but he was sent with some other dogs to the Colorado ranch. So by the time I met him, he had already been through a lot.
I wandered for over an hour on dusty country roads with Emma in the back seat of my ancient Toyota Corolla. Emma had the power to approve or disapprove if Cricket would be hopping into the back seat with her on the drive home.
I took a left at a long row of rural mailboxes with no evidence of where all these people lived. It was easy to imagine that these boxes were only checked periodically on the way into town for ‘supplies.’
Down another long gravel road, countryfolk and coyotes alike could see me coming as I raised a dust cloud that announced my arrival.
When I reached the small rescue ranch, which amounted to a double-wide trailer, we were greeted by Lauren who smiled and extended her hand.
Having lived in the southern US all my life, I had never seen a genuine cowgirl before, but there she stood as if she had been dressed by central casting at Universal Studios. Her hair pulled back in a braid, she wore a cowboy hat, tight blue jeans, a checkered shirt, and leather boots. A large knife was strapped to her belt that I imagined she used daily, and not just for peeling apples.
Behind the double-wide was a huge, corralled area that contained a mixture of gray swayback horses, two mules, and various three-legged goats. Various weather-beaten chickens scattered about with haggard-looking geese. It occurred to me that whoever ran this ranch was an angel of sorts who let old horses age with dignity and grace.
As I approached the trailer to meet Cricket, I was told that he was one of 16 dogs who resided on her bed because the air conditioner was in her bedroom. I waited on the porch as she went inside.
Within minutes, my boy bounded out. As mutts go, he was ordinary looking. White chest, ears straight up, white paws. Little did I know then that I would caress those soft ears thousands of times over the years.
Emma and Cricket met. They exchanged business cards, a.k.a. sniffed butts. All seemed well enough to give it a try. I gave the ranch-hand angel the required nominal fee for changing my life forever for the better.
I settled on a new name – nothing clever, indeed a much-used but rock-solid name for dogs: Jack. I often called him Jackie, and on occasion for fun, Jacqueline.
Happily, he was a total mutt:
Jack’s personality was so even-keeled – nothing fazed him. He wasn’t aggressive with people or other dogs, but he also wasn’t fearful. He was mellow with my cats and happy to let them head-butt him. If he had been human, I imagined he would be a laid back surfer dude who smoked s little too much weed.
He was intensely loyal as dogs usually are, following me from room to room wherever I would go.
He was not a big barker, just when people would come up to the house.
Jack was a huge sniffer compared to Emma and other dogs I’d had. He loved his walks and he loved to play in creeks and rivers.
And he was very huggable – he didn’t mind hugs at all–and was like having a living teddy bear.
I nearly lost him at age 13 to some illness, but he pulled through. Thirteen is already pretty old for a dog. He later had trouble with his hips. His back-end gradually weakened to the point he couldn’t go up and down the stairs without help. Both getting up off the floor and laying down were painful.
I gave him all manner of joint and other supplements that seemed to help some, as did some hemp oil. The surfer dude loved his ‘weed.’
I struggled to get him to eat enough, and he lost a lot of weight. His walks grew shorter and shorter. He slept the days away and I often looked closely to see if he was still breathing.
After almost sixteen years and an estimated 6,000 walks, last Friday I said goodbye to that pup who bounded off the porch of the rescue ranch and into my heart. At about 104 in human years, I didn’t want him to suffer anymore, even though I knew I would miss him terribly.
Well done, faithful friend. Thank you for your service. Until your last day on earth, you stood and came to me whenever I entered a room like I was royalty. You were the sweetest dog in the world. Thank you for loving me with your whole being. I became a better human because of you.
Jackie, I will love you forever. xoxo
I hope this finds you and your loved ones well. The last 22 months have been quite an “adventure.” When the pandemic rolled out in early 2020, my creativity went into survival mode. To make the best of this extreme situation, I created a Resilience Dispatch—daily words of encouragement about resilience—that I posted on my blog and my Facebook Author page. As a former psychotherapist and writer of novels for twenty-five years, I like to think that I know something about resilience. Initially, I had planned to keep going with these dispatches until the pandemic was over. Little did I know how long it would be with us.
When I began to feel my creativity reemerge later last year, my priorities had changed. I turned instead to my love of something familiar—the characters I had created in Temple Secrets and Gullah Secrets. During the ongoing pandemic, I wanted to spend time with Old Sally, Queenie, Violet, and Rose. I needed their wisdom, their views of life, and their courage.
With that, I began to create an unexpected and somehow necessary third book in the Temple Secret series which became this book, Tea Leaf Secrets. Book one of the trilogy is Temple Secrets, book two is Gullah Secrets. Writing more of the story of these strong women was like preparing a feast of southern comfort food, minus the calories.
Now that Tea Leaf Secrets is finally here, I hope this book will give you comfort, as well.
Here’s the official book description:
A legacy to fulfill. A long-hidden secret. A shocking climax to the trilogy that began with Temple Secrets and Gullah Secrets.
Although Old Sally has been gone a year, Violet still hasn’t gotten over the loss of her beloved grandmother, with whom she shared the connection of the ancient Gullah magic. Mired in grief despite her thriving tea shop in downtown Savannah, what Violet wants more than anything is to hear from her grandmother—especially when her Gullah intuition indicates a storm is brewing.
Does it have something to do with the strange couple Queenie keeps spotting in the dunes? Or Iris’s diary that Rose discovered hidden in the family bank vault, revealing a side of her aloof and aristocratic mother that she never knew?
But Old Sally remains silent as shocking secrets are revealed that will turn the lives of the Temple women upside down.
Now everything that Violet holds dear is threatened . . . unless she’s brave enough to answer the call of her ancestors.
The ghosts of the past are laid to rest once and for all in the amazing finale in the bestselling Temple Secrets series, where Southern gothic mystery meets a heartwarming cast of unforgettable independent women in one immensely satisfying story of fate, family, and friendship.
Tea Leaf Secrets is available in ebook, paperback and hardcover (audiobook Spring 2022). See below regarding paperback price. (Do NOT pay $27.66!)
Autographed by “the author” (me!) here at my website (paperback and hardcover)
Barnes & Noble paperback $16.99)
Amazon paperback (Do NOT pay $27.66. The paperback *IS* available through Amazon at $16.99 – you just have to scroll to “4 new from $16.99” or “other buying options”. Amazon is super busy this time of year and once they are fully stocked with the paperback, they will list it on the main page.)
Hardcover will be available soon on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can get an autographed copy of the hardcover or paperback on my website here.
Note: Hardcover books are now also available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for The Wildflower Trilogy (The Secret Sense of Wildflower, Lily’s Song, Daisy’s Fortune) and the Temple Secrets Trilogy (Temple Secrets, Gullah Secrets, Tea Leaf Secrets). Autographed copies are available on my website at SusanGabriel.com.
Your local bookstore can order the paperback and hardcover versions of Tea Leaf Secrets.
I hope you have the best of holidays and that the coming year is full of good health and resilience. Keep the courage fires burning!
With every good wish,
P.S. If you do decide to read Tea Leaf Secrets feel free to let me know what you think. I love hearing from readers! You can respond to this email, email me at email@example.com or message me on my facebook author page.
P.P.S. Please consider leaving a review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Goodreads, etc. It really does help readers who are unfamiliar with my novels take a chance on my work. Thank you!
A book club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina recently read my novel Trueluck Summer (2016). They got in touch to ask me if I could Zoom or FaceTime into their meeting. Since I was already committed that evening, I invited them to email me any questions they might have about the book. Below are my answers. [Note: If you are on my email list, you will also get this post.]
If you haven’t read the book, here is the description, and you may want to skip the Q&A if you’re concerned about spoilers:
A hopeful grandmother. A sassy young girl. Their audacious summer stunt could change their southern town forever.
Charleston, 1964. Ida Trueluck is still adjusting to life on her own. Moving into her son’s house creates a few family conflicts, but the widow’s saving grace is her whipsmart granddaughter Trudy. Ida makes it her top priority to give the girl a summer she’ll never forget.
When a runaway truck nearly takes her life, Trudy makes fast friends with the boy who saves her. But since Paris is black, the racism they encounter inspires Trudy’s surprising summer mission: to take down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. And she knows she can’t do it without the help of her beloved grandmother can Trudy, Ida, and their friends pull off the impossible?
Trueluck Summer is a Southern historical women’s fiction novel set in a time of great cultural change. If you like courageous characters, heartwarming humor, and inspirational acts, then you’ll love Susan Gabriel’s captivating tale.
Here is the Q & A:
Question: Debbie, a member of our book club, asked if you grew up in the ’60s? If so, how did you experience any of the Civil Rights Movement? Did you grow up in the South and see all of the injustices you tell about in the book?
Answer: Hi Debbie. I did grow up in the 1960s in Knoxville, Tennessee, but in 1964 (when Trueluck Summer takes place), I would have been several years younger than Trudy. Subtle and not-so-subtle injustices were everywhere, I’m sure, but as a kid, I didn’t really notice. It was the air we breathed.
In the late 60s, I invited the only black girl in my elementary school over to my house to play because she seemed lonely. She came (courageous of her), and I remember our next-door neighbor watching us in the backyard from behind her sheer curtains in the shadows. My parents discouraged me from doing that again. I had not specified that the ‘friend’ I was inviting over was black. That was the first time I realized personally that black and white kids weren’t supposed to play together. So, that is something Trudy might have done and did do with her friend, Paris. The seeds of novels are sometimes planted in our childhoods.
It wasn’t until I lived in Charleston from 1980 – 1994 that I became aware of the history of the Civil War (how could you not with Fort Sumter nearby—I even went with one of my daughter’s classes on a field trip there), and the Civil Rights Movement.
For several years we lived in downtown Charleston near Hampton Park and The Citadel. I had black neighbors who, no matter how nice I was, would lower their eyes if I spoke to them or would cross the street to the other sidewalk to avoid passing me, a white woman. So it seemed, in some ways, that the Civil War was still being played out there.
Charleston is an amazing and beautiful city, and I loved living there. In a way, writing a novel set in 1964 with Charleston as a backdrop was a love letter to my time there. It was also my way of imagining some of the healing that I wished for the low country.
Question: Missy asked if the story was close to your own truths? A political father or Trudy figure?
Answer: Thanks, Missy. Trueluck Summer is a story I made up in my imagination. My father was in no way political, a mayor, nor did he write novels in the attic. He was kind of the opposite, a product of his time, and more than a tad racist. As for Trudy, there are parts of her that are like me. Counting freckles was something I might have done as a girl, for instance. But otherwise, she is much braver and more outgoing than me. I was a very shy kid.
Question: From Sarah: I wonder if it was somehow inspired by the removal of the Confederate Flag from the capital in 2015? Did you read about that as it was happening?
Answer: Hi Sarah. I had already written the story a decade before, though it hadn’t been published yet. As I said in the Letter to Readers at the back of the book, initially, the story was from the kid’s point of view, and it languished in a file for several years until that horrible event happened at the historic black church in Charleston in June of 2015. In July of that year, I got inspired to finish it and pulled the story out of the file. I added Ida Trueluck as one of the main characters to help anchor the story. I loved creating Ida. She is like the grandmother I never had. I also really liked the idea of a grandmother and granddaughter being the heroines in a story. The story is fictional, so I never dreamed that historical flag might actually be removed ten years after I initially imagined it.
Other tidbits that seem to interest book clubs I’ve spoken to:
I have written several novels over the last 25 years. Two are a series: The Wildflower Trilogy (Book 1 is The Secret Sense of Wildflower. Book 2 is Lily’s Song. Book 3 is Daisy’s Fortune—the story is set in the Tennessee mountains from 1940- 1980) and the Temple Secrets series. (Book 1 is Temple Secrets. Book 2 is Gullah Secrets. Book 3 is currently being written, making it a trilogy, too. The story takes place in Savannah, GA and a nearby island in the early 2000s)
I always write in the mornings, usually Monday – Friday, for 3 – 4 hours. My ritual is to make a pot of tea before I begin, that I sip while I write. Organic Assam (a black tea) is my favorite.
I live in the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville. I have two grown daughters who live in Knoxville. My oldest daughter loves history and researches my historical novels (or Gullah references) for me.
I am what is called an intuitive writer, as opposed to someone who writes using an outline. I never know where my stories will take me, and they play out in my imagination like I am watching a movie. I write what I see, scene after scene. This is, of course, followed by many months of challenging editing and polishing.
There are generally two types of structures in fiction. Those that are character-driven (which is called literary fiction) and those that are plot-driven (like mysteries, etc.). My books are mainly about the characters and their stories, with enough plot to keep readers turning the pages. Many readers tell me they don’t want to put my books down once they start.
My characters feel real to me, and I’ve heard from readers that they often experience them as real, too. My characters also feel like family to me. I miss them after I finish a book or series. But so far, I have always had more characters show up wanting their stories to be told. I often think how lucky I am to get to write stories for a living!
If you have you read Trueluck Summer, what did you think? Is it a controversial book, even though the setting is 1964? What questions do you have about any of my other books?
Hi sweet readers. My African violets are blooming like crazy right now. I’ve nurtured these plants for decades, carrying them to all the different places I’ve lived.
I often put objects from my personal life in my novels. I even named one of the main characters in Temple Secrets, Violet. In Gullah Secrets she buys a tea shop in Savannah and puts dozens of violets in the front window.
If you’ve read those stories, now you know that I’ve been secretly sending you violets, from my home to yours. xo ♥️
What a crazy and challenging year 2020 has been. I hope you are well and resilient. I am trying to stay grateful and find the beauty in things. Some days are easier than others, but I trust we will get through this difficult time.
Temple Secrets Series: Book 3
As you may know, I didn’t think I would write another book in the Temple Secrets Series. I had planned to start something new. But never say never, as the saying goes. When the pandemic hit, it was the Temple characters that I wanted to spend time with. So, I have been working hard all year on a third book in what will apparently be a trilogy! (Book One is Temple Secrets, Book Two is Gullah Secrets.) This last book of the series is a story full of surprises that I think you will enjoy.
The editing process is long and tedious, but I expect it will be out some time in 2021. Stay tuned!
I am delighted to announce that in addition to versions in paperback, ebook, and audiobook, some of my books are also now available in hardcover. The three books of The Wildflower Trilogy and the two books (so far!) of the Temple Secrets Series are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore can order them. Or on my website.
The hardcover books are gorgeous!
Which are your top three favorite characters from my books? Take the poll here (anonymous) and see how my other readers voted, too.
If your book club reads one of my books, please send me a photo to put on the book club page on my website. I’d love to have your beautiful smiling faces on that page. You can find discussion guides on that page too.
* * *
Thank you so much for reading my books and for recommending them to your friends, families and book clubs. I am forever grateful for your kindness to me and my work and I love hearing that you are enjoying my books.
May your holidays be filled with love, gratitude and good health.
With every good wish,
Today is my birthday, and I thought I would celebrate the day by making a list of things I treasure. These are in no particular order, starting with …
- You! (my sweet readers, family, and friends)
- Good books
- Deep conversations
- The sound of mountain streams
- Shade trees on hot, sunny days
- Connectedness to nature
- The beautiful mountains of North Carolina where I live
- Good stories
- Mystical and mysterious things
- Inspiration from all sources
- Birds at the birdfeeders
- My dogs (and author assistants) Jack and Charlie
- Our planet
- Our country
- Milk chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts
- A good cup of tea with friends
- Change that transforms for the better
- My inner journey of thoughts, feelings, and aha’s
- Nourishing, satisfying foods
- Caring friendships
- Good luck
- Best wishes
- Good reviews
- Feeling satisfied with my work
- A good night’s sleep
- A walk by the river when the leaves are falling
- Leisurely walking through an art museum
- Spending time in libraries and bookstores
- Music that touches me
- Warm soup on a cold day
- A good series on television
- Forests and wildlife
- The privilege to vote
- The chair I sit in to write my novels
- Thoughtful people
- Porch swings
- Creating art in my studio
- A good poem
- Being alive
If you are so moved, I’d love for you to tell us one or more things you treasure.
Stay safe, resilient readers!
Sending you love,
P.S. To those of you who are curious about where I am in my writing process, I have finished a rough draft of the new novel, the final book in the Temple Secrets series. (Book 1 is Temple Secrets. Book 2 is Gullah Secrets.) There are still months of revising and polishing to go. I usually read it through and make changes 5 or 6 times before I finally give it to my first readers, who are a handful of people that provide me with feedback. I make changes again based on their feedback, and then it goes to my editor. All that to say, I’ve made good progress in the last few weeks, and I’ll keep you posted!
You matter to me. My first resilience dispatch was on March 19th, 2020. A national emergency had been declared. A pandemic was upon us. I wanted to do something to help my reader community. As a former counselor turned novelist, I have always believed in resilience. The characters I create in my novels are resilient, and though they go through rough times, they persevere with courage. I wanted to pass that on.
I committed to posting something uplifting on my Facebook Author Page and personal blog every day at 4 pm (Eastern) until we got through the Covid-19 crisis. At that point, I thought I would be creating a daily dispatch for a month or two (at most) until we got this scary pandemic under control. Little did I know.
Over the months, I adapted to the long term, writing an additional 84 dispatches, as well as working on my latest novel (the final book of the Temple Series). I trusted that I would know when it was time to step away and go back to my regular routine.
Lately, it has become harder to come up with fresh content for the dispatches. At the same time, I have been closing in on the first draft of my new novel. Months of revisions will follow—the nitty-gritty work of writing a good story. So, it makes sense to me that this is the time to return to writing books full time.
While this will be my final resilience dispatch, please know that I am not going anywhere. I will continue to post on my Facebook Author Page and blog, just not as frequently–spontaneous instead of scheduled.
In the meantime, thank you for reading. It has been an honor to spend time with you. I have greatly appreciated your numerous comments and the opportunity to get to know you better. You are a great group of folks, and I genuinely care about you.
Stay resilient, sweet readers. We will get through these challenging times and continue on—hopefully with more compassion and courage than we ever had before. Never lose heart. I promise to do the same.
P.S. This is a photograph of the chair that I sit in to write. I have had it for over a decade, and I have written several novels in this very spot.
Read the previous dispatch here.
I will let Mr. Rogers do most of the talking today, except to say that it is the deep part of you that I also like. The part of you that is kind, compassionate, and courageously doing your best.
May we all choose love over hate, peace over war, and justice over greed, and challenge ourselves to put these choices into action every day.
Have a good week! Stay steady. Be well.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve done lately?
Becoming a parent may be the most courageous thing I’ve ever done overall. Or maybe it was becoming a writer. Or maybe it was getting out of bed this morning.
Courage is relative. It depends on the person and the situation. It may even depend on your time of life.
I’ve collected 20 of my favorite quotes about courage—from fictional characters to real people—to give you some things to ponder when thinking about your own courage. Maybe you are braver than you think.
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
—Winston S. Churchill
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
—e. e. Cummings
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.“
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
—C. JoyBell C.
“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”
—Emma Donoghue, Room
“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
“There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.
“But sometimes it doesn’t.
“Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.
“That is the sort of bravery I must have now.”
—Veronica Roth (the Divergent series)
“Courage is found in unlikely places.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien
“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Courage is grace under pressure.”
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”
“At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.”
Do you have a favorite quote?
Please send courage to the brave souls impacted by Hurricane Laura, as well as the people dealing personally with Covid-19.
Be safe. Be kind. Be courageous.
You can read the previous dispatch here.
Although I’ve talked about self-kindness before, I want to circle back to it.
In the 90s, when I was a licensed professional counselor in Charleston, SC, most of the women clients I saw did not think they deserved kindness or gentleness from anyone, and especially not from themselves. This saddened me, given how resilient and amazing they were.
It reminds me of the mother on the plane who in case of emergency is instructed to put the oxygen mask on herself first, in order to save her children. Kindness to ourselves needs to come first, so we can then pass it on.
Since this is a concept that many of us struggle with, what might kindness to yourself look like? Here are some ideas:
Rest when you are tired.
Take a walk.
Seek beauty in nature.
Read a book.
Say “No” when you need to.
Let people help you.
Go easy on the self-criticism.
Have a nice cup of tea.
Enjoy a phone call or a FaceTime chat with a friend.
Listen to your favorite music.
Write in your journal.
Make yourself something nice for dinner.
If the news scares you, take a break, don’t watch it.
Sing in the shower.
Dance while making breakfast.
Smile at yourself in the mirror, and maybe throw yourself a kiss.
Laugh more often.
Do something creative.
Do something silly.
Forgive yourself for being imperfect.
Trust the process.
What would you add to this list? What are one or two things you might like to try this week?
Stay safe. Be gentle with yourself.
Read the previous dispatch here.