Even writers get hungry. When I hit a rough patch as I edit “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel, it’s fortunate I’ve got my workmate who reminds me to break for lunch. Having her beside me as I eat on the steps of our front porch turns breezes into caresses. If she’s in the mood, she’ll serenade me when a siren inspires her…
These soft days of late spring are when Monarch butterflies make their way across Los Angeles. They’ve flown all the way from Canada and are headed for Mexico (here’s a wild PBS video of them). How arrogant humans are to use our supposed intelligence as a yard-stick against the know-how of earth’s other life forms, insects included.
During a recent walk with K-D, I accidentally shot these photos as I listened to an audiobook (the outstanding “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House” by Cherie Jones, btw)— what serendipity! They show the beautiful sky and our shadows. This morning we even enjoyed a smattering of rain, although it was hardly enough to slake SoCal’s ongoing tremendous thirst.
Tis the season of fresh leek harvests – this beautiful bounty is of the onion family and looks like a giant, flat green onion. Early spring and late fall leek varieties are quite sweet due to the plant concentrating the sugars when the weather turns cool. It is one of the earliest items to come out of the garden, especially if you have spread the seed just before snowfall. They don’t take much room in the garden, and they keep very well in the fridge.
These delicious, crunchy bundles make a wonderful side dish to almost anything, or served as an appetizer to enhance the appetite. The bundles can be frozen when raw; and taken directly out of the freezer and straight into the oven (do not thaw) whenever you are craving a few of these tasty tidbits.
1/3 c. olive oil, divided
2 c. chopped leeks
8 c. chopped mushrooms, dime-sized pieces
3/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
16 oz. package phyllo pastry cut in 4” squares
Sauté the leeks and mushrooms in 1 Tbsp. oil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile combine the milk with salt, nutmeg and pepper, then add to the skillet and cook on low for 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated. Grease 2 phyllo squares, and layer one on top of the other offsetting the top one. This creates 8 corners to draw into a bundle. Place 1 Tbsp. filling in the center of the phyllo squares. Grabbing all the corners of the dough in one hand, twist firmly to hold in place and set on a baking sheet. Cover both the unused phyllo and the bundles with a clean damp towel while you work to prevent drying out. When you’ve made this dish a few times you’ll get faster at it and probably will only need one damp towel to cover the phyllo sheets. Bake at 350˚ for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
What are you hungry for these days?
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Marketing, building a platform as a writer… There’s more to being a novelist than most people assume.
I’m no expert on how to market fiction writing. Although I’ve produced video documentaries, radio news, published non-fiction articles and a short story or two, I’m still editing my novels. However, what I know for certain is I’m having fun here — meeting you! Who knew I’d encounter so many friendly people from all over the world, who would open my ridiculously sheltered eyes?
In my hugely romanticized imaginings, I picture an Author with a capital “A.” On virtue of their talent, they only needed to work a little hard to attract a super-star literary agent and publisher. For this reason, they never have to lift a finger to sell their books. The Author sits at an incredible desk in a gorgeous office with a spectacular view. After a walk with their dog, a shower, and a scrumptious breakfast, they begin their day writing. Until they get hungry, that is. That’s when they enjoy a tea or a hot chocolate or an espresso with sweets such as the madeleines that writer Marcel Proust used as analyze memory.
Next, said Author does some more writing, takes a stroll for inspiration, writes a tad, then shares dinner with famed thinkers and creatives. The Author’s day ends with a blissful night of rest. The next day, they joyfully wake to do it all over again. Oh, no — I forgot to mention their lunch — well, you get the picture…
Alas, that day dream is akin to figuring that all the fab painters of bygone days did nothing but dab at their canvases between tasting the displays of sumptuous meals they depicted, and doing whatever with their human models. They might chat brilliantly with their clothed subjects who were always famed and genius, or they could indulge in a tryst with their naked, perfectly gorgeous ones.
In my fantasies, nowhere does marketing rear its head. Certainly, in my dreams, the fame of great Authors never involves any of them setting aside part of their day to develop an author platform.
Now for Reality…
Most Authors, even ultra-talented ones, work hard — and that work includes getting people to know about them.
For instance, I don’t know how much of the day Charles Dickens , who wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and “Oliver Twist,” spent actually writing, but someone told me that each night he’d read his pages aloud to his family, so he could get their constructive input. For sure was a master of episodic, a.k.a. serial, storytelling. His episodes, which were featured in newspapers, garnered so much attention that he bound them into books that became the popular novels we know did quite well!
My idea is to eventually podcast bits of my novel and then get it into print. First, I started with this blog. Here I continue to do my best to create a larger and larger circle of friends interested in novels and arts, and who might be so kind as to spread the word about my writing.
Author Charles Sterling, who blogs from Russia, is here to show us the marketing/platforming side of writing may not be all that awful after all. He published his first novel when he was fifteen! Since then he’s put out at least eight novels and a bunch more sorts of writing. He’s also a digital artist. Read on for his book selling experience…
One day at age fifteen I walk into my father’s room and I ask him; ‘how difficult is it to write a book?’ He replies, ‘son, it’s the easiest thing in the world!’ Now, whether he was right or wrong, I believed him, and that belief allowed me to write my first ever 75k book at that young age.
Had I asked him ‘how difficult is it to sell a book?’ perhaps the answer would have been different. Selling a book is a whole other world. When you’re writing, you’re an artist. When you’re marketing, you’re in the business sphere. That’s where book marketing and the author platform comes in!
How to market your book
Having been marketing since 2011, when I made my first thousand dollars I used methods that would never work anymore! As times change, so does marketing. But luckily I adapted my approach and saw a steady improvement and increase in sales. The wonderful thing is, it’s like a snowball that goes down a hill and keeps getting bigger. The more books you sell, the more Amazon recommends your books!
Here’s what I did for my past few books.
Set your book for free and do some promotion stacking through “free book promotion” websites. This will give you thousands of downloads and some much needed reviews.
Pin your book with an inviting image to the top of your Twitter.
Promote it in forums like Reddit and GoodReads.
Have an incredible book cover.
We eat with our eyes first! And we do judge books by their covers. I guarantee you that if you had the best book cover in the world, your need for marketing would be zero. The book cover would do the job for you all the way to the New York Times Best Seller list.
Often enough as writers, after we’re done writing and we get onto promoting we start looking for ways to get more viewers. We forget about what we’ve been working on so hard and begin relying websites and methods to get us where we want to be. I wish to reiterate on this extremely important point, a good book cover sells your books first! And the reviews sell your book second, so make sure your book is wonderful too.
Personally, I design my covers myself because I’ve been graphic designing as long as I’ve been writing. Essentially one must look at the top selling book covers in your niche create something thematically similar. The reason being that, readers out there already know what they’re looking for, so it’s your book cover’s job to accurately portray that.
Now, I chose to market my ebooks exclusively through Amazon for its KDP program allowing you to set discount prices as well as put your book out for free. The free book part is important to get some reviews going early on. Amazon is also a good focus point because by putting all your effort into your book, the algorithm helps push your book forward by placing it in the “Recommended Books” section of your potential readers, which is what allows you to sell books even when you haven’t marketed for months.
I’ve tried publishing in Barnes & Nobles and SmashWords, but so far really enjoyed focusing on purely Amazon.
The Author Platform
It’s super easy, but super important to have! Once you have an author platform you’ll be proud of yourself and even feel a little famous when you appear in Google searches.
I believe Twitter is perfect for a few reasons; most authors and readers are either on Twitter or Facebook. Instagram is an image based platform, I tried it for a while and didn’t quite like it.
On Twitter the hashtag game is a lot stronger than on Facebook, making it easier to fit into a specific niche and target specific groups of people. The retweet function is nifty as well, as others retweet your stuff for more people to see!
So if you do decide on Twitter, get a photogenic picture of yourself and write a short and sweet bio. No need to be too long. Pin your book to the top of your page, and spend the rest of your social media rants about yourself, things you find funny and your opinions on things. If your Twitter is filled with nothing but your book, people will turn away.
Your book will already be pinned on top, so every single person that comes onto your profile is forced to see it before they see the rest. “The rest” should be inviting things and things that people can relate to and understand you better as a person. You want them to say “wow, I like this person. I’ll follow them and take a look at their book.”
To get followers is really easy; go around your niche and comment and put likes on people’s stuff. Thirty minutes of twittering a day and you’ll have a thousand followers in two weeks. I did just that with no complications!
Get either a Wix or a WordPress website going, use a free template to make it look nice, and fill it up with your stuff. Have a page for your books, have a page for your author bio, a page for your short stories or poetry, or even a page for pictures of your pet.
Images you use on your website will appear in Google Images, so make sure to keyword them with your name.
Words that you use in “Heading” format will appear in Google Search, so make sure they’re your book titles or your name. Then add your website to your Twitter and you’re basically set! A website might seem like the hardest part, but once you did it, you no longer need to worry about it.
My own website charlesimagines.com is as easy as that, yet has all my work neatly laid out for people to see, and it took me just about two days to fully complete.
Aha! An Amazon page is an author platform too! Make sure all your books are listed in your Author Central. If you have a blog, you can link it to your Author Central as well. Then in your GoodReads account make sure all your books are linked to your Amazon page, because often people write reviews and comment there.
This part is not difficult, and if you have some problems (like I did) just write them an email and they fix everything for you.
It’s a good time to mention that, Amazon has over 3000 different categories for your books, but you only get to see around 250 when you’re actually publishing. If there’s a specific category that you need (like mine was Young & Adult Pirate Adventure eBooks) then you’ll have to contact Amazon and they change it for you.
Reap the Benefits!
As a few final thoughts, I’ve only started using Twitter and adding things onto my website about five or six months ago and the benefits that came with it were enormous.I was discovered by authors and readers, invited to do podcasts, got free book reviews on other people’s websites and most importantly… I emerged from the shadows and began connecting with people!
Book marketing is usually a slow and steady process that gets faster and faster the more you do it. I started off with numbers like 2, 5, 13 and some months later they turned into 900, 1500, 3000, and are still on their way up.
At first things might seem like they’re not working out, or you’ll get tired or you might feel like it’s a waste of time, but the longer you go on, the more the puzzle pieces start fitting together, and the more the grind seemed worth it.
My final tiny advice that I wish to share applies to anything and is based around the principal of ‘compound effect’. Much like going to the gym or eating healthy, it’s about doing something small every day. This gets multiplied by hundreds of days, and the effects become massive.
This was the case with me; my first books back in 2011-2012 kept bringing me paychecks (despite the books being clearly written by a teenager) and then the books that followed were stranded in a desert with no activity. I was left wondering what was going on and what I had to do to make it work again, and ended up committing a huge portion of my time to learning on promoting and marketing.
I had to change my old fashioned book covers, market in different places, create better keywords, and I started seeing my numbers grow again. As of recently, the author platform I built has greatly helped!
What are your thoughts on selling books?
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Wait — let me start over — regardless of whether you’re a fiction writer, have you ever wondered what it’s like to complete a book and then see it made into a Hollywood production-type of film?
I met Gabriel Constans through Twitter, where he was working to promote his movie, The Last Conception. The trailer is so charming that it induced me to ask if he’d share his writing and filmmaking wisdom with us….
The guest blog post he emailed confused me because it wasn’t about The Last Conception — but it was interesting too, so I urge you to read to the end of this, where you’ll find it.
As for The Last Conception, here’s what he wrote back when I requested info on how he came to write it, whether someone hired him, or if he was somehow inspired, etc, and what did it feel like to see it on the big screen:
The book (The Last Conception) was written as a romance. I was inspired by both our daughters, and some friends lives, to write the story. It is also somewhat of a continuation of Buddha’s Wife, but set in a contemporary setting.
I decided to write the script from the book and found the producers myself. They turned the movie into a romantic comedy, with my input along the way, and changed and added a lot of the dialogue. They had me go over the movie in pre and post-production and let them know anything they missed or that needed correcting. The film turned out really well. Each of the actors/actresses were perfect for their part and it maintained the essence of my book as well. I am thrilled with the final product, and it seems many others who have watched the movie feel the same way.
Regarding his background, he replied:
I worked with hospice, hospitals and mental health centers as a grief and trauma counselor for many years; have been writing since I was sixteen (novels, articles, non-fiction, etc.); and written screenplays for the last twenty years. I live in the Bay Area in California and love getting together with friends to play our ukuleles and sing.
I’ve had two other screenplays produced — Stellina Blue and, most recently, The Last Conception (which is the one in the trailer above).
As for his guest post that follows, he explained:
It’s about another script I’ve written called Buddha’s Wife. After many years, it now has a director, production company and distributor. They are looking for funding to make the movie.
Book signings, promotions, connections and marketing for over two years (before and after novel is released).
Meet Navyo Ericsen at book signing. A musician, web designer and film and video producer who wants to bring Buddha’s Wife to the screen.
Work with Navyo for a year trying to find a screenwriter to write screenplay on spec, since we have no funds for film. Several possible, but all fall through.
Decide to write screenplay ourselves and change historical setting into a contemporary story. One of my previous screenplays (Stellina Blue) was made into a film.
Work on screenplay for a year, with wonderful feedback and suggestions from a famous screenwriter/director.
Workable, moving and entertaining screenplay completed.
Write up logline, summary of film and treatment.
Start approaching well-known actresses, executive producers, directors and production companies.
Write and develop estimated budget.
Elapsed time, from book being published to presenting screenplay to others for film is four years.
Presently (two years later), the film has been co-written with Shandra McDonald and optioned by her production company, Kiss the Limit Productions. It also won best screenplay at the FLOW Film Festival in 2020 and has worldwide distribution in place.
The challenge is to get the film financed without a name actress yet attached and vice-a-versa, to get a well-known actress attached without first having the picture funded.
This is a scene that thousands of novelists, screenwriters and filmmakers find themselves in, so we are not babes in the woods, but it has been an interesting situation with infinite possibilities for Buddha’s Wife to come into being as a movie.
To those in the film industry, this story will be anti-climatic and familiar, but I hope for those just starting out or venturing to put your toe in the water, it provides a little preparation and insight into the amount of patience, persistence and ordered chaos that can await many on the journey to bring their story to screen.
Do you have a project you’re mustering patience and persistence for?
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What kind of eater are you? Writer, reader, whatever you do for fun (I’m working on my novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat’ and “Tango & the Sitting Cat”), you gotta eat, right?
I’m sort of vegetarian — more pescatarian — more accurately hypocritical — but definitely not vegan.
Whatever one is or isn’t, I believe the thoughtful — and emotional — life is best. The idea of considering one’s actions, being honest with oneself and the world at large mean a lot to me. Particularly because I believe not being so causes harm, i.e., people doing bad things to themselves, each other, their pets, the environment. I’m no expert, though. The only thing I know for sure is that generalizing generally gets me in trouble.
So for the rest of this post I’ll stick to worrying about myself. I’ve written about what my pets have taught me here and here and here…
For a long time, I didn’t really want to eat meat, but I ate it because the vegetarians I knew were so insufferable that I didn’t want to be anything like them. For one thing, they were awful to eat with, the way they’d badmouth nearby meat-eaters and discuss food in unwholesome ways. But as someone who too often bends backward to be understanding and accommodating, who am I to speak badly of vociferous vegetarians?
What I can say is one day I attended a BBQ. One where the hosts had purchased ribs as I’d never encountered them before; long racks of them, as boney and white-pinkish as mine! I can’t remember if I ate some to be polite. What I know is that very night I had a nightmare wherein I ate the little lovebird I owned at the time. It didn’t help that around then (in real life, I mean) it seemed convenient, tasty, and nutritious to once a week or so rinse a dead refrigerated Cornish game hen and dump it into a crock pot with veggies. How grown up of me — Voila! — dinner awaited as soon as I got home from work!
After aforementioned BBQ, the next time I rinsed a little boney pink-white-grey game hen — I thought of my ribs, my pet bird who was named Gumbie for her adorable putty green feathers, and the nightmare.
I can’t remember if I immediately — “cold turkey” harhar? — stopped eating flesh. Maybe I ate whatever was left in the fridge as it would’ve been beyond disrespectful to toss the corpse remains in the trash….
What I’m sure of is the convergence of discomfort woke me to the fact that I was foolish to eat meat only because I didn’t want to be like the sort of folks I could never anyway be.
It wasn’t hard to stop. The meaty meals I enjoyed had to do with the stuff on them, the sauces and such. And I’ve always loved veggies and fruit and nuts and beans and grains and the like. Good chance less meat would clear space for more of the better stuff, assuming I didn’t fill said “meat gap” with candy. That I could easily do as I love chocolate, but I didn’t. Not much, at least.
The first year, to be social, I ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. I was taken aback by just how much meat some people consume when I heard lots of, “I would starve if I didn’t eat meat. What do you eat?” The trickiest situations were eating at people’s homes until I realized I should just bring a good veggie dish to share. As a result, I found people enjoy veggies a lot more than they think, so long as they’re prepared nicely. In fact, at parties, it’s the veggie pizzas that usually finish before the meat ones.
But I eat fish sometimes. So I’m a hypocrite. Though I don’t go out of my way to eat fish meals…
Eating is complicated. For all the health advice I’ve encountered, stress is hands down the worst thing for us. And eating can be super emotional. So if not eating meat is going to stress anyone out, not that anyone seeks my opinion on this, I’d say just go ahead and eat some, but try to do it with thought and compassion.
For sure don’t heap more of it than you can eat on your plate and then throw it away. That animal died for you, after all, unwilling as it was. And try to make sure it had a halfway decent life before it was led into a slaughterhouse or tossed into boiling water or…
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I recently stumbled onto “Infidel753: we are not fallen angels, we are risen apes,” a blog filled with so many genius posts that I asked Mr. Infidel753 to guest blog post here for you! The following post he wrote for us is what inspired my preceding aside. BTW, with all the quarantining, like him, between no social eating and exercising more regularly since now I do it on zoom without having to add in a commute, I’m now actually healthier.
Born in the United States since his parents arrived here from Britain, Indfidel753 blogs from Portland, Oregon. He’s been to the UK, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Germany, Ukraine, and Japan, and hopes to travel some more. Though he earned degrees in Middle Eastern history, he works in something secret that’s other than academia. A blogging pioneer, he started in 2006!
Pursuing health in a land of sickness by Infidel753
It started with the pigs.
For most of my life I ate pretty much like a typical American. That included eating meat, with little or no thought to what meat is or where it comes from. But due to a long-standing interest in evolutionary biology, I steadily learned more and more about animals — including how similar they, especially other mammals, are to humans in many ways. Did you know, for example, that the other great ape species have the same blood types as we do — A, B, O, etc? In the case of chimpanzees the blood chemistry is close enough that transfusions between species would be possible, with individuals of the same blood type.
Around 2008 my reading made me aware that pigs, in particular, are at least as intelligent and emotionally sophisticated as dogs. This made me uncomfortable with the thought of eating their meat. Most people, at least in the West, would not be comfortable with eating dog flesh because we think of dogs as quasi-persons. But I realized that eating pig meat was no different — so I stopped doing it.
Over time, as I learned more, I extended the same principle to mammals generally. Cattle and sheep are not as intelligent as pigs, but they’re also self-aware creatures, and I could simply no longer blank out the knowledge that what I was eating was part of the corpse of a conscious being. Finally I gave up meat altogether. Even animals like chickens and fish seem obviously self-aware to some extent, and they certainly have the capacity to suffer.
And suffer they do. Most meat now is produced on factory farms, where animals are kept in horrific conditions of overcrowding and immobility, constantly dosed with antibiotics to suppress the infectious diseases which would otherwise run rampant under such conditions (and even so, disease is often widespread). Unlike many vegetarians, I don’t really like animals — they’re unpredictable, generally not very clean, and in many cases dangerous; I don’t like having them around me. But I don’t like the thought of them suffering.
But I still hadn’t grasped the implications for human health. If anything, I worried that eliminating meat might lead to malnutrition. I still ate things like eggs and cheese, as well as the wide range of processed junk that makes up so much of the “normal” American diet.
By the beginning of 2020 I knew I needed to do more. I had lost some weight, but at 225 pounds and 5’11″ I was still clinically obese, and I was about to turn sixty. That put me in the express lane to a stroke or a heart attack. I started educating myself about health and came to realize that animal by-products like cheese and eggs are probably even more toxic to the human system than meat is.
The pandemic was the final straw. It soon became clear that if you catch covid-19, overall health has a lot of impact on how badly it harms you. I observed rigorous isolation to avoid the virus, but I knew I couldn’t absolutely eliminate the risk of catching it. So I cut out all the remaining animal products and most of the junk food. It was, I suppose, partly a way of feeling proactive and taking action rather than being passive in the face of the viral threat.
I also became something of a fanatic for learning as much as I could about the effects of various kinds of food on the human body. Human anatomy and biochemistry are those of a herbivorous animal, not an omnivorous one, and our pervasive problems of obesity, diabetes, arterial damage, and a dozen other scourges, are simply the kinds of things that happen to an animal when it eats the wrong kind of food. Such problems have historically been rare in populations which traditionally ate a mostly starch-based diet with very little meat, as in much of Asia — but as prosperity brought American-style eating to those cultures, American-style health problems have followed. Conversely, among Americans, it’s vegans — those who eat mostly vegetables, fruit, nuts, and legumes, eschewing animal products and keeping processed stuff to a minimum — who statistically suffer least from such ailments. All this self-education helped me stick to the new path.
The results far exceeded expectations. By the end of 2020 I had lost thirty pounds, and the joint inflammation flare-ups and chest pains which had plagued me for most of my life had almost disappeared.
This isn’t a “diet” in the sense of a temporary program to be followed until its goals are achieved. It’s a reversion to what should be the norm. I consider it analogous to quitting smoking.
In terms of popular thinking and moral consensus, I think meat-eating today is about where slavery was around 1800. Most people still accept it as a normal part of life without giving it much thought. Only a small minority recognizes that there’s a serious moral problem, to say nothing of the health issues. But that minority is growing with time. There is, at least, fairly widespread awareness of how much animal farming contributes to global warming. But that issue is only the tip of a very large, ugly, and dangerous iceberg. Over time, I hope and believe, the reality of the problem will become widely understood despite the dense fog of misinformation, propaganda, and wishful thinking that now obscures it. Until then, at least I personally am no longer implicated — and no longer harming myself.
How do you feel about eating these days?
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Who knows what inspires someone to write a novel? Even authors don’t always truly until much later. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” seemed merely an experiment, a dive into fiction. Only as it progressed did I see it’s really a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love…
So when it comes to producing a novel, there’s deciding to write, then comes writing, and then it’s published. At that point, the author releases their words into the world for book lovers to make of them what they will. Every reader brings themself into the act of sitting with a story.
Here blogger/author Mark Bierman (click here for his site, to get his book, and to contact him) reveals what he’s learned about him writing process and his readers. Born and raised on a farm in Ontario, he merges country life with his adult experiences as a correctional officer and a story teller. You can find more of his guest posts for Happiness Between Tails here and here.
A few weeks ago, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.
First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.
Here’s a quick synopsis
Driven to despair by a shared loss, Americans John Webster and Tyler Montgomery try to self-medicate by embarking on a mission of goodwill to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The reconstruction of an orphanage transforms into a nightmarish hunt after a young girl is kidnapped.
Unequipped, culturally illiterate, and alone, the pair are forced into alliances with shifty characters, as they delve deeper into the treacherous underbelly of the human trafficking world. Can they survive long enough to keep their promise to the child’s mother?
I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.
If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.
The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.
You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.
The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.
So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire to promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.
I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.
Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.
Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty-plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium security prisons.
The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.
This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize that Hollywood and the news are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.
I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.
Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve led normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.
I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick when I wrote this book.
It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.
I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.
The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”
I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.
The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.
The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.
Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.
At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.
Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.
Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.
Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers. Look around, you’ll find them everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.
Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read… you get the picture, then you are a helper.
Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.
John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.
At the time, he was only somewhat uncomfortable. Quickly thereafter, he got really ill.
Very very very fortunately, just this month he’d found employment that provides excellent health insurance. Moreover, only a couple of days earlier, the health plan started offering monoclonal antibodies treatments to “patients who qualify.” Lucky him, he got sick sick sick enough to qualify.
Three mornings, he spent hours getting to the hospital, having his blood tested, taking medications including steroids, and sitting with an IV drip. The first day he felt the worst of his life, could hardly stand to get out of bed, and could barely eat or drink. By days two and three, he was markedly improved. It’s been a few days since, and he’s not entirely over it, but he’s definitely (knock on wood) out of the woods. Now he wishes the pounds he initially lost on the “COVID diet” weren’t creeping back. Thank goodness his sense of humor is returning.
As for me, the first day he fell sick, I felt crummy too, but mine passed within a couple of hours. I hoped it meant my body had faced down the nasty bug. A few days later, still feeling fine, hi ho hurrah, I tested negative. Then a few days later, woe is me, positive results of a retest came in shortly after I became feverish and headachy and yucky and… (okay, I’ll stick with keeping things polite) and it didn’t go away. I’m still not entirely great, but I hope I’m done with the worst of it.
How fortunate I am to have decent health insurance, a nurturing husband, and the generosity of dear people.
Now indulge me a moment on my soapbox:
Know anyone who’s anti-immigration? Invite them to find a predominantly white hospital and tell them good luck with that. The medical professionals who’ve helped my husband and me were overwhelmingly first and later generation immigrants. I’d rather not contemplate where we’d be without their hard work, dedication, care, bravery, and on and on…
Definitely, if everyone wore masks, neither my husband nor I would have gotten COVID-19. Wishing you and yours excellent health.
Have you ever changed a bigot’s mind? At least I can be one less person who allows them to think it’s okay to spread hate and divisiveness…
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Note: Earlier this week, my husband became feverish and unwell. Turns out he has COVID-19. He’s doing his best to get well while I feel healthy and am awaiting my test results. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been super careful. I’m letting you know this as a reminder that one can never be too conscientious about avoiding this severe illness and about working civically to help contain it. (Here’s the follow-up, and here’s after that. and here’s the latest.)
Deciding on setting and histories and all that goes into storytelling is chancy no matter what an author chooses to create. There will always be fans and foes. To be a novelist requires enough passion to outrun the discouraging thoughts that can torment us.
Chris Hall has been wonderfully prolific over the last few years. She’s published three novels and a short story collection! Originally from the UK, she describes herself as “a compulsive story-teller, cat slave and hen keeper.” To sample her short fiction, fan fiction, mini-series, and poetry, as well as to follow her on her various social media, check out her website.
“Song of the Sea Goddess,” her most recent novel, is set where she lives now, the Western Cape of South Africa. Here she describes why she decided to depict a South Africa different from how it is in real life…
Writing a novel is not just about telling the story. There are other considerations that come into play. I’d like to share with you why I was motivated to write a book set in South Africa. In particular, why I chose to paint an idealised portrait of the place and why I drew on the overarching theme of environmental destruction, rather than dealing with the gritty issues of race and poverty in my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess.
When it came to writing this, my fourth novel, I was determined to set it in my adopted country, South Africa. I’d been living near Cape Town for almost ten years and the time had come to give voice to the people around me. I’d also decided it was time to transition from historical fiction. It was time to write in the moment, but at the same time include elements borrowed from the ancient lore of the African continent, which are written on cave walls and embedded in the landscape.
I knew I needed a setting to match the story I was about to tell, although the story hadn’t really even begun. Then, at the beginning of 2019, while staying in a small town on our very beautiful west coast, while I sat by the banks of the Berg River and watched the little boats going past on their way out to sea, I was moved to write a story about a fisherman with a little boat.
I’m a lazy novelist. I let my characters emerge and develop and play around in my mind. Even before they are fully formed, they are always desperate to run to centre stage and act out their parts.
But there has to be a starting point.
A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. People whose backgrounds were unfamiliar to me; people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’ (as if their communities are not still disadvantaged in this country, which has the most polarized society on the planet).
I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity that characterizes their communities, of how they’d suffered under apartheid, but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.
So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.
I mixed them up a bit, taking a little bit of one and blending it with another, but their voices are true and their characteristics mirror real life in many respects. There’s a nod to some of the darker side of people’s lives with Sam’s flight from the Cape Flats’ gangland and in the history behind Jannie’s tattoos from the notorious ‘28s’ gang.
On the lighter side, several of the comical incidents, like when Auntie Rose loses her false teeth down her pants’ leg, are little events that actually happened. The food that the Aunties make and sell in the novel is based on recipes that I tasted and talked about with people. The love of food and the common ground we found over cookery has cemented several friendships in my new town.
Concern for the environment is a theme I continue to return to in the short fiction and poetry, which I write on my blogsite, and while watching a TV documentary about water pollution, an idea began to form in my mind for the backdrop to my novel’s narrative. Water is in short supply in our country anyway, but what if the rivers were threatened? And what would happen if the forces of nature were moved to fight back? Soon my emerging novel would take a new and interesting turn.
My love of the landscape and ancient lore of the country that I now call home will continue to feature in my work. I’m already embroiled in a sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess, where myth and magic will once again be awakened in the little coastal town where the great river flows from the purple mountains into the southern ocean.
Have you ever created a new world?
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Melodrama, romance, intrigue, mystery, mysticism, pragmatism — oh, wait, not the last one… If you’re looking for inspiration for writing or for reading excitement, check out Greek mythology!
Goddesses and gods, mortals, the blending of both — doesn’t that sound like Stan Lee comicbook territory? Surely he sorted through ancient myths to fashion superheroines and superheroes. Star Trek and Star Wars makers must’ve too.
Admittedly the Greek tales of olden times can be challenging. Every poetically written story is jam-packed with enough intrigue to rival a binge-watch of Days of Lives, a still-running daily soap opera that first aired in 1965 and I once upon a time worked as an extra for… but that’s another story.
South Carolina blogger Dionysius has the same monicker as the multi-cultural god/superhero who oversees everything from wine to fertility and ecstasy to madness. Some argue that Dionysus the god is really Jesus. Our guest, Dionysius, created his New Classical blog “to create a new contemporary literature deeply rooted in classic literary traditions… not to repeat old and dead literary traditions, but to rediscover what is living and vibrant in them today.”
Read on for a peek into how Dionysius sees classic literature…
A brief summary and analysis of Euripedes’s “The Bacchae” by Dionysius
Prior to the events of The Bacchae, Dionysus is born from the love affair of Zeus and the mortal Semele. When he is born, his mortal family denies that he is the son of Zeus and refuses to give him worship. Dionysus then leaves Thebes and journeys to the east, where he gathers his cult of female worshippers, the maenads. The Bacchae opens when he returns to Thebes with his maenads to take vengeance on his family. He starts by luring the Theban women, including his aunts, into the forest around Mt. Cithaeron, where they join the maenads. This angers Pentheus, the king and Agave’s (Semele’s sister) son. After Pentheus fails to arrest and subdue Dionysus and the maenads, he is lured into the forest by Dionysus’s offer to look at them. In order to watch the maenads without being noticed, Dionysus tells him that he must dress as a woman. Pentheus complies and imitates the image and mannerisms of the maenads. When he arrives, his body is torn apart by them and by his own mother. Under the spell of Dionysus, she carries his head through Thebes, parading it, thinking that it is the head of a lion she caught during a hunt. When she is made aware of what she has done and whose head she’s been carrying, she falls into grief. The drama ends with Dionysus casting her and the royal family out of Thebes.
Maenads – The Mystery of Woman
The Bacchae revolves around the mystery of difference. Particularly sexual difference and cultural difference. This is seen clearly by the depiction of Dionysus’s maenads. That they are a cult of women and that Dionysus gathered them in the east is of significance here. In The Bacchae, the feminine, or the idea of Woman, takes on the form of the unknown. Like a woman behind a veil, there is mystery, temptation, and fear associated with the maenads. This is portrayed most clearly by the way Pentheus relates to them. At first, it is with fear, responding to the maenads with force and violence. Then, when it proves that the feminine is impossible to control or subdue, when the captured maenads escape his prison and most definingly when Dionysus(posing as a young mortal priest) himself escapes, Pentheus gives in to temptation at Dionysus’s first request to take him to look at the maenads. He goes as far as to dress as a woman and imitate their dances and appearances.
The temptation that is displayed here is twofold. It is the temptation not only to satiate his desires by seeing the bodies of the women, but also and more fundamentally, to be one of the maenads and experience their enjoyment. While the first temptation fits into a traditional male standpoint of desire, what is significant about the second temptation is that he is not merely taking the maenads as an object of desire, rather his desire is to assume the subjective position of the maenads, of “Woman” and their feminine enjoyment. What is revealed here is that his anger at the maenads was all along based in his own envy of their enjoyment.
Pentheus never understood what the condition for this enjoyment was.
The very condition for the sublime bliss that Pentheus sought after is a primordial unity of being. An overflow of life and nature. It is because the maenads abandon their individual identities and place in the Theban social order, that they can participate in this primordial unity. Their individuality is suspended for the tribal enjoyment of dance, ritual, hunt, and fertility. They participate seamlessly with nature and become a part of the overflowing development of life. Beyond the enjoyment that Pentheus sought, the “[…] Sweet streams of honey dripping,” this condition, is also at the same time the condition for an inhuman terror. This is displayed most clearly when he is torn apart by his own mother and the other maenads.
What must be remembered is that what appears as purely negative in tragedy also has a positive dimension. This is the pinnacle of Greek tragic wisdom. Why does Woman present itself as the apocalypse of man in this tragedy? It is because of an original betrayal of the feminine reality committed by the mortal family of Dionysus. By his entire family when they initially rejected him, and by Pentheus when he returned. This is what causes the breakdown of the Theban social order and the revenge of Woman.
In the same way that Woman is a constitutive element of the reality of sex, including the reality of man. The Dionysian rituals that the maenads take part in, that return to a primordial being and oneness, are constitutive of the Theban social order. It is even the root of the Theban social order. The unconscious reality of Thebes exists as the basis for its conscious and institutional realities.
It is precisely because the rituals of Dionysus exist outside of Thebes, in the rituals of the maenads on Mt. Cithaeron, that it is the base of Theban society. It is precisely because the maenads are all women whose rituals are constitutive of the male Theban social order. And it is precisely because the maenads come from the east that they constitute the western social order of Thebes. Dionysus and his cult are the external essences of Theban society. Essence, unlike appearance, is always unseen.
Dionysus of the Night
The place that Dionysus dwells in is the contradiction between appearance and essence.
Dionysus embodies this contradiction. He is returning from the east, and yet he was born in the west. He leads a cult of women, and yet he is a man. He is divine, and yet his mother is mortal. This contradiction is like the black of night, where one thousand stars shine. The failure of his mortal family to respect it, and to respect their own essence, is what leads to the breakdown of Thebes.
I’ve always wanted to put on a cape, stretch out my arms, take a running jump, and whoosh! — feel the wind in my face, inhale the fragrance of treetops as I soar high into the clouds. Picture me Super-da-AL or Winged Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louver’s entrance.
What superpower would you want?
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My inner jerks specialize in novel writing. Inner criticizing is just the beginning — they’re outer and everywhere.
A tongue-twisting ditty to be sung to whatever tune strikes your fancy:
“Here a critic… There a critic… Everywhere a crit, critty, critical critic…”
Moreover, mine barge in with droves of friends.
Have you got any? If not, how the heck do you pull that off?
I could list mine for days and days: Why you takin’ so long with them books you keep talkin’ ‘bout? Ya really gotta do that instead of this or those things or them stuff right now? Lookie here, there’s this to do that’s way more pressing and tons more fun! You’re wasting your time, so scrap that durned project already, just quit it. What in tarnation gave you the notion you could write anything of interest to anyone but you? People are just being polite when they compliment your work, don’t you know that? Who in their right mind will want to read your novels, much less spend hard-earned cash-ola on them? Seriously, if they do, they won’t finish them. And if they finish them, they won’t talk about them. For sure, if they talk about them, they won’t say anything nice. And promotion — you gotta be kidding me! — what do you know about that?
Some days, those are the nicer things I tell myself.
Read on, and you’ll see how Annie, a blogger from the United States east coast, makes perfect sense when she encourages us to name our inner critics.
Like my own name of da-AL, mine has a hyphenated moniker. “Them” goes by “A-Holes.”
How about you? What’s your inner demon(s) named? Maybe yours and mine could meet for drinks, get really plastered together, and meantime leave us alone for a spell?
More about today’s guest: Annie is a writer of many things, including poetry. In the past, she has even earned some real money from her writing! Here’s her advice — and a question for which I have no answer but send her lots of good wishes in solving it — for all of us. She blogs about whatever she pleases, including stuff that makes her and maybe us laugh…
“My Attempts to Play Nice With My Inner Critic” by Annie
Whether or not you practice mindfulness meditation, as I have for several years, you are probably familiar with the voice known as the Inner Critic. It’s that part of us that says: “I’m such a dope!” “I’ll never be what I hope to be.” “How could I have done that?” “I just don’t measure up!” “My father/mother was right/wrong about me.” “Sure, I’m doing fine, but that’s because people really don’t know that I’m winging it.” “I’m not bright enough, attractive enough, witty enough, kind enough, tall enough, thin enough, tough enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, thoughtful enough…”
You get the picture. That negative voice has long been with us, often from childhood, from societal messages, maybe from a single cruel teacher, and on and on. I was raised by two loving parents. My mother felt I could do no wrong, but I still recall my father casting a questioning eye on my report card and asking: “What’s this A-minus?”
The origins of the Inner Critic form a complex topic that I’m barely touching on here. But I know that I’m still the A student who goes nuts when autocorrect incorrectly changes “well” to “we’ll”—and I fail to catch it! Is that worth an iota of energy or distress? Of course not.
The Inner Critic certainly interferes with the goal of mindfulness coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Nonjudgmentally, indeed!
Several years ago, I wrote an article about mindfulness for an online women’s magazine. One of my interviewees was Sharon Salzberg, a renowned mindfulness educator and author who cofounded the highly regarded Insight Meditation Society at Barre, Massachusetts with two other giants in the field.
Salzberg’s special area of interest is lovingkindness, which begins with one’s self and then extends outward in ever larger circles to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and the entire world.
Salzberg, who has written that her childhood troubles started her on a path that led to Buddhism in India decades ago, said she is constantly aware of her Inner Critic. How to deal with this negativity? She suggests giving your Inner Critic a name.
She named hers Lucy, after the famous Charles Schulz comic character who tells her hapless friend: “The problem with you, Charlie Brown, is that you’re you.” I asked her if I could adopt Lucy, and she agreed.
But I soon realized that borrowing someone else’s inner critic doesn’t work. I needed my own. I named her “Flibberty,” which is short for “flibbertigibbet.” That’s a Middle English term for a flighty, excessively talkative person, a gossip.
One of the reasons I’m happy with Flibberty is that although she’s a pain in the gut (that’s where I experience stress), her name includes the word “liberty.” I know I must free myself from the heavy burdens that Flibberty sometimes bestows upon me.
Mindfulness practitioners learn that you never try to fight with these negative forces; doing so simply enlarges their impact. Rather, you seek peaceful coexistence. When Flibberty rears her officious head, I say, “Oh, there you are, Flibberty. How ya doing?” That’s generally enough to move my mind into a better place.
Lately, however, perhaps because I’m essentially housebound due to COVID-19, Flibberty has been flitting about in my vicinity quite a bit. I’d call her a “FlitBit” who’s gauging my absence of activity, rather than the reverse, but then I’d be exposing my propensity for bad puns. I’d never want to do that!
Flibberty covets my desk. She tells me I’m being ridiculous, working in such a messy space. She laughs knowingly when my TV remote won’t work because the old New Yorker magazines are piled so high on the table in front of my couch that they block the signal.
Now here’s the tricky part, and I welcome your suggestions. I often write blog posts that require research, and I type them on my computer before cutting and pasting them into my blog. I then add the printouts of my collected newspaper and magazine articles—and my printed out computer entries—to the piles of previous papers that surround me.
The piles are increasing in both numbers and height. Some are approaching the tottering stage.
Have you heard of the Collyer brothers, who hoarded books, newspapers, and other items to such an extent that when their bodies were found, they were surrounded by 140 tons of stuff?
I haven’t reached that level, but I do wonder whether my Inner Critic’s reminders about what I’m failing to do with my papers might actually be positive after all. So I say, “OK, Flibberty, let’s attack this pile.”
I pick up a bunch of papers, look through them, wonder what to do with them, and set them aside. And then I tell Flibberty that I appreciate her concern, I really do, and I will get to them in good time.
I feel so much better. Flibberty is quiet.
But the piles are flourishing—testimony to my diligent work. And still…
If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I might hire an organizer to help me through this mini-crisis. If I were bolder, I could just throw all the papers into the shredder and move on. (Never mind, Flibberty; forget what I said about being bolder.)
And thereby hangs my dilemma. Can you, kind readers, presumably some of whom are better organized than I, provide some common-sense suggestions concerning what I do and do not need to keep for posterity? I want to ensure that the contents of my blog are intact as a legacy for my family.
Or will you encourage me to just say, “Screw it, Flibberty. We’re doing fine. We can both relax.”
In other words, am I using Flibberty as a balm—or an excuse?
Flibberty and disorder notwithstanding, my wish is that you, we, and the entire world be filled with lovingkindness…
Some time ago, I messed up my left knee big time in a skiing accident. This is a revival of an older post, one that I wish brings hope to anyone who’s feeling frustrated — about anything. My recovery from that mishap was horrendous, as was dealing with insurance. It wasn’t till six months later that I had healed enough to schedule the surgery I was informed that I needed. A few weeks before the big day, however, I slipped and broke more parts of the same knee. That second fall meant postponing surgery.
A blessing! As I waited anew for the surgery, I met a wonderful orthopedist who suggested that I might not need cutting after all! Lo and behold, within a year and a half later, my knee was — and remains almost perfect! I can dance!
Here are a couple of short clips of my husband and me at the very start of our learning new Tango Elegante steps taught to us by the best Argentine Tango teachers ever! Btw, if you’d like to learn how to edit video, I found this youtube video on how to use iMovie very helpful.
Want to try learning? Here are excellent teachers online…
Did you know that dogs like to dance too? Ours does!
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