Adulting and Videos + Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children

 

 

 

What was the day you became an adult?

(Podcast of this post and behind-the-scenes look at how it was made H-E-R-E.)

Young Adult (aka YA) is a major category when it comes to selling fiction, especially because people of all ages enjoy reading it. If I could swing it, I’d aim for that, rather than the harder sell of literary fiction, which the genre of the novels I’m working on.

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of young people leave home to start college. In one case, friends were driving their son to begin university classes in San Jose, 400 miles north of Los Angeles. My husband and I flew to meet up with the parents and then the four of us enjoyed a leisurely drive back south.

Khashayar takes our photo as José and Alina look over his right shoulder. Our southbound cruise along Pacific Coast Highway included Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Granted, it was a weekday, but it was still eerily quiet for peak summer season. Note the aerial ride is vacant, aside from a mannequin. Us, Dangerous Minds, Sudden Impact, Harold and Maude, and The Lost Boys, are some of the movies filmed there.
Khashayar takes our photo as José and Alina look over his right shoulder. Our southbound cruise along Pacific Coast Highway included Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Granted, it was a weekday, but it was still eerily quiet for peak summer season. Note the aerial ride is vacant, aside from a mannequin. Us, Dangerous Minds, Sudden Impact, Harold and Maude, and The Lost Boys, are some of the movies filmed there.

Along the way, we also visited a young cousin from Spain who that very week relocated to attend college in Santa Barbara, a stunning affluent beach town.

 

These images are from that drive…

Khashayar walking into a super cold Big Sur stream.
Khashayar was steely enough to brave a super cold Big Sur stream.

Seeing these teens on the precipice of adulthood got me thinking of when I was their age and how I set out on my own.

Dear reader, what was that transition like for you?

The way I was raised, girls absolutely must not aspire to anything beyond the role of ultra meek wife, and mother. That was my father’s indoctrination, and my mom supported it, although she was also the family’s breadwinner.

 

By age seventeen, I resided in at least fourteen different apartments and attended about ten schools. That year, my parents and I lived in Miami, Florida.

Video Note: Piedras Blancas is the beach of choice for many elephant seals. Average males grow to 16 feet and 5,000 pounds, so babies risk getting smothered by them. Learn more about them here.

My sole plan was to make it out with my sanity intact and to never return, even if it meant resorting to prostitution. I set to earning good grades and a high school diploma. To save money, I worked at the local mall’s pet store and earring kiosk. My parents didn’t charge me for rent and food, and I saved my earnings, carefully spending only for needed doctor and dentist visits, and clothing.

 

My father greatly admired Pablo Picasso, a fellow Spaniard. Everything I’ve read about the famed artist paints him as a complete horror of a family man, so much so that even his grandkids still fume about him. My dad was fond of paraphrasing one of Picasso’s milder sentiments, which was that offspring should be given the boot the moment they reach eighteen, and they should never get financial help or guidance.

Video Note: The entire length of Pacific Coast Highway is phenomenal.

It was generous that my parents waited the extra couple of months between my birthday and graduation to move to Spain.

I want to kid myself and believe that’s when I left home. A little before they departed, my mother asked if I’d like to join them. The relief in her posture when I shook my head no was enough to deduce this was one move where an insubordinate wasn’t welcome. That’s when I realized it was me who was being abandoned.

My father’s farewell was more honest than hers. He shook my hand and said, “Look us up if you’re ever in Spain.”

 

They saved me feeling guilty and ambivalent. A whole new life was plenty enough to contend with.

Video Note: Morro Bay is famed for Morro Rock. The historical site was formed about 23 million years ago from the plugs of long-extinct volcanoes. While we visited, Otters were doing log-rolls and lounging tummy-up in the water, but they were too far off to snap a good photo.

The necessity for compassion is a running theme in my blog posts. Often I urge people to keep in mind our interdependency extends far beyond our families of origin. 

 

Lucky for me, a friend took me in. Her parents had completed a mean divorce and she lived with her dad. He spent his days smoking and drinking and lamenting his loss of work because of his drinking. He’d been a long-time executive at a major airline and now he was passing time until he could draw his pension. As un-promising as that may sound, he was kind and patient in a way I hadn’t experienced a man to be. He and his spirited daughter provided a good family to me. They gave me confidence and taught me the basics of adulthood.

K-D doggie was overjoyed when her people returned home and she loved getting her chest rubbed.
K-D doggie was overjoyed when her people returned home and she was in nirvana when Khashayar gave her an overdue chest rub.

As for young people, author/blogger Darlene Foster has written eight books for them (and everyone else) in ten years! She writes full-time from Spain, and also writes and does some editing for other writers. She says, “I also travel whenever I get the chance and consider it part of my research. It’s a good life.”

When I asked her to let us know how she went about getting published, she emailed back:

“It took me three years to write my first book and five years to find a publisher. I sent out query letters to many publishers around the world, received many polite rejection letters and eventually found a publisher in my own neighbourhood. Go figure! Central Avenue Publishing is an independent traditional publisher and I am very happy with the professionalism and dedication of my publisher. The lesson here is, never give up!”

 

Learn more about Darlene, her books, where to get them, and all her social media links, at her blog.

Photo of author Darlene Foster.
Photo of author Darlene Foster.

Why I Write For Children by Darlene Foster

 

One of my favourite memories from my childhood is sitting on a large rock in the middle of a prairie field making up stories in my head. I had a wonderful childhood, although I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. I found it lonely, as I like being around people, and often wished I lived in a big, busy city. But it gave me plenty of time to daydream and create characters and adventures that later fuelled my desire to write. In grade three, I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me to write down my stories. She also taught us about other countries in such a fun, interesting way that made me want to travel the world and meet interesting people. I owe her a lot and have since found her and thanked her for making a difference in my life. When I was twelve, one of my stories was published in the local newspaper. I decided then that I wanted to be a published writer one day.

Why did I choose to write children’s adventure books? I love writing for children, they are like sponges and eager to learn. They enjoy adventures and characters who can get themselves out of a tight spot. I can better express the excitement of travelling to new places when I write from the point of view of a child. 

Interestingly, many adults read my books and enjoy them as well. Kids’ books aren’t just for kids!

The stories in the Amanda Travels series are inspired by my real-life travel experiences.

When I visit an interesting place, I get a strong desire to share my experience with the rest of the world. The best way for me to do this is to write about it. I am always thinking of how I can work a setting or situation into a story. I take notes and many pictures during my travels and think about what would interest a young person. 

I have travelled to all the places Amanda has been. However, I do not have all the adventures Amanda has. She has more fun, excitement and scary experiences in her travels than I do. For instance, I took a riverboat cruise down the Danube with my best friend and our husbands a few years ago, on a boat called, The Sounds of Music. It was a trip of a lifetime, with stops in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. I knew immediately it would be the perfect setting for an Amanda and Leah adventure. Including music in the story was a no-brainer. This is how Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music was conceived. 

On another occasion, I travelled to Taos, New Mexico with my aunt, who is also one of my best friends. We had such an amazing time. Besides being steeped in history, the place has a very paranormal feel about it. We even visited a haunted hotel in Cimarron. Everywhere we went, I kept saying, “Amanda would love it here.” When I returned home, I immediately started making notes which eventually became, Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind.

I love to read and so does Amanda. Books are important to both of us. When a vintage novel goes missing, Amanda feels compelled to find it. I love visiting the many used bookstores in England so I wanted to include one in the novel. I found a quintessential bookstore on the Isle of Wight which was perfect for the story, including a resident Main Coon cat. Rupert, the cat, plays an important role in Amanda in England: The Missing Novel.

 

My latest book in the series, Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady was a result of a trip I took with my hubby a couple of years ago. I loved the history and culture of Malta and felt it would be an ideal setting for an Amanda Travels book. I tossed in some endangered birds, a missing artefact and a friend in danger. Amanda would do anything to help her friend. One reviewer said, “I love the author’s ability to bring the settings alive, from the Blue Grotto to a beautiful cathedral in Valletta, all while keeping the suspense high.”

Covers of some of the many books Darlene Foster has published.
Covers of some of the many books Darlene Foster has published.

It took me three years to write the first book, Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask. It was a steep learning curve as I had so much to learn. I am still learning, but I can write a book in a year now. Keeping things fresh in a series is a challenge. I keep up with today´s young people, hang out with them and listen to their conversations. I introduce new characters in every book to keep it interesting. The character of Caleb, a classmate and good friend of Amanda’s was introduced in the New Mexico book. He was so well received he appears again in Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady.

Publishing eight books in ten years is a huge accomplishment for me. I have also won prizes for my short stories and have had stories published in several anthologies. A milestone for me was visiting my former school in rural Alberta and reading from my books to the current students. Seeing my books available online, and on shelves at bookstores and libraries is the most incredible feeling. Having readers tell me they enjoy the stories and hope I write more is like a dream come true. 

If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!

Amanda is the twelve-year-old I would have liked to be. It is so much easier for kids to travel these days, but I didn’t travel on an airplane until I was in my mid-twenties. I would have so loved to see the world as a child. I am doing it now through my writing!  

That’s why I love writing for kids. (And grown-up kids)

What was the day you became an adult?

20 Podcast Promotion Tips by Fiona Livingston

Reading… writing… listening! Hey, if “seeing is believing,” why doesn’t the same go for tasting and feeling and smelling — and hearing too?

When’s the last time you tuned into your fave radio show? Same as radio shows, podcasts are story readings, performances, interviews, and monologues. Radio shows are often repackaged into podcasts that allow you to dictate when to tune in.

When my first novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” is edited (and then its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat”), I’ll podcast them to create a buzz for when it’s published. Here’s an experimental podcast episode I produced borrowing a friend’s short story. A video version of it is on Youtube as well.

Creatives who want to control their work and keep 100% of their profits must become their own promoters. Podcasts are one way to get the word out. First, though, people need to know you have a podcast.

Here to give us 20 ways to do that is London-based Fiona Livingston. She blogs about marketing and podcasting on Medium, and produces The Culture Bar, an  arts and culture-related podcast…

Blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston is a content and digital marketing specialist.

“20 Podcast Promotion Tips,” by Fiona Livingston

You’ve poured your heart and soul into creating and recording your podcast series on a subject you are knowledgeable about. Now you need to get your podcast in front of audiences who are as passionate about the subject as you are.

But how do you get your podcast in front of listeners when there are 850,000 active podcasts out there in the world? 

This article covers the best, easiest, and most effective podcast promotion ideas to help you build your audience and market your podcast.

Fiona's illustration of "eau de marketing" trends makes me smile.
Fiona’s illustration of “eau de marketing” trends makes me smile.

First, let’s make sure you have some key podcast staples under your belt before you start promoting your podcast:

  1. Podcast cover artwork. My top advice for creating cover artwork is to be clear. Once uploaded onto your podcast distributor, the size of your artwork will reduce a lot, so you want something bold, simple, and eye-catching. You can create your artwork by using templates on Canva, or if you have a mac you can use Keynote which is a very powerful design tool. Here are some great cover artwork examples to inspire you.
  2. Episode titles. The way you title your episodes has a big impact on your total download numbers. My main tips for you are to NOT use a naming system such as ‘Episode 4’ or ‘XYZ Podcast: Episode 4’. You need to let your audiences know at a glance what the topic is so, your title should be as descriptive as possible.
  3. Record 3-5 podcasts before your launch/start of your next season. This will ensure you have a regular schedule of events planned out and also gives you time to record future episodes. Make sure you have a launch schedule in place. For example, in the first week, you can release 2 or 3 podcasts to keep audiences hooked.
  4. Create a dedicated podcast website. This can either be a section on an existing website or you can create a podcast website for free using providers such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. These sites give you a valuable presence on search engines and act as a home for your podcast so audiences can find out more about you. This also gives you further opportunities to supplement your podcast with more content to show your expertise and passion. 

Ok so now you have a great podcast recorded, fantastic eye-catching cover artwork, and launched a dedicated website. Let’s start promoting your series with these top tips (this list focusses on free marketing actions):

Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.
Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.

  1. Add your podcast to a distribution platform. Upload your podcast MP3 file to distribution sites such as Podbean (free and priced programmes) and Anchor (free) and they will automatically send your podcast episodes to a variety of podcast sites such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Alexa. Apple podcasts capture 32% of podcast listeners and downloads so your podcast must appear here.
  2. Meta-tag your podcast. On your chosen distributor and website, make sure you complete the meta-tagging options. This is the place to add keywords relating to your podcast, so it shows up in search results and makes you discoverable.
  3. Create a promotional trailer. This helps audiences understand what your podcast series is about, and you can embed this on your website and social media channels. Find tips on how to make a trailer here.
  4. Add show notes and include hyperlinks for each podcast episode. It is good practice to give a short summary and overview of what is included in your podcast episode. This is also a great place to add links to your guest/s or any resources that you mention in the episode.
  5. Leverage guest audiences. Make it easy for guests to share your podcast by creating audio snippets, quote cards, or prewritten tweets for them so they can easily use these on their social media channels.
  6. Create podcast artwork for each episode. Using your main cover artwork template, adapt it to show the title of each episode, and change the imagery to give each episode an identity and theme.
  7. Create a dedicated podcast social media channel. Set up a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram profile to promote your podcast.
  8. Create quote cards in Canva or Pablo. Select attention-grabbing quotes from each episode. This gives listeners great insight into what’s to come.
  9. Share rich media. Create extra content such as soundbites, audiograms (using tools such as GetAudiogram), behind-the-scenes photos, or teaser video clips to build excitement about your episode. Also, Twitter has an embed feature using Soundcloud so you can play the audio directly from a Twitter stream.
  10. Tease the episode 24 hours ahead of time e.g. 3x on Twitter and 2x to Facebook/Instagram. Talk about behind-the-scenes content in Instagram Stories.
  11. Create an audio-video to share on YouTube. If you use a provider such as Podbean they will automatically create a video for you and send it to your YouTube page. YouTube is a huge search engine for content and should be included in marketing your podcast. Or you can create a video using a tool such as Screenflow (free trial period) and use free video clip assets from Pexels.
  12. Audio transcription. To ensure your podcast is accessible and aid SEO discovery, you can create an audio transcription and add it to your podcast website. You can use audio transcription tools such as Otter.ai (free for up to 40 minutes, otherwise it’s $9.99 per month) to help you do this.
  13. Include your podcast in your e-newsletter. You can easily create your own e-newsletter using email service provider such as Mailchimp, Flodesk or Campaign Monitor to manage your subscribers and send them notifications about your latest podcast. Mailchimp and Flodesk have free basic tiers, and Campaign Monitor starts at $9/month. 
  1. Publish podcast-themed blog content on your website. A useful way to keep your website content fresh and to also include extra in-depth content on your podcast theme.
  2. Be a guest on other people’s podcasts. A great way for you to showcase your knowledge and build awareness of your podcast.

Photo of blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston.
Photo of blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston.

Here is a list of other important Podcatcher sites your podcast should feature on to generate greater visibility:

  1. Overcast
  2. Stitcher
  3. Podcast Addict
  4. Podcast subreddit
  5. PodcastLand
  6. TuneIn
  7. Bello Collective
  8. Deezer (great for French/EU audiences)
  9. Podcast Listen notes

Got a podcast or want to start one?

Grammar and Books and Toes + “I am a Tulpamancer” by Dr. Bob Newport

Grammar Matters:

“He told him that he loved him.” (Add “only” between the different words in that sentence to see how the meaning changes.)

“We never said I should kill him.” (One at a time, italicize each word to read how the emphasis changes.)

Photo of K-D doggie and da-AL's newly red-painted toes.

Courtesy of the COVID-19 quarantine, I’ve discovered the joy of working on my novels in the virtual company of others. MeetUp is a site that hosts free Shut Up & Write meetings (among other groups, including in-person ones). The sessions provide accountability and camaraderie. Shut Up & Write has many types of challenges and events. I prefer the basic virtuals; authors chat, write, chat some more, then maybe continue writing.

Before you read the essay below by fellow writer Dr. Bob, who I met on MeetUp, here are some new reviews I just wrote for Amazon and Goodreads:

Cover of the novel, "A Spark of Light," by Jodi Picoult.“A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult

When I blogged about anti-choice here, this novel was recommended by JoycesMysteryandFictionBookReviews.blog. Some reviewers at Amazon complain that it’s too pro-choice, to which I argue au contraire. Picoult’s story actually afforded me more compassion for those who are anti-choice.

Cover of the autobiographical book, "The Soul of a Woman," by Isabel Allende.“The Soul of a Woman” by Isabel Allende

Much as I adore some of Allende’s books and enjoy others, this was meh in places. The autobiographical parts were good. However, more vivid recounting could have “shown” rather than “told” and lent needed “soul” to her political musings that sometimes were wasted as preaching to the choir. Overall, though, it was worthwhile.

Cover of the novel, "Antiquities," by Cynthia Oziak.“Antiquities” by Cynthia Ozick

Since when do I try out an author based on their age alone? Since they’re over 90 and after a long career of accomplished publishing, they’re still at it! This finely nuanced book depicts how we can be wonderful and awful and sentimental and crude all rolled up into one.

Cover of "The Comfort Book," by Matt Haig.“The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig

His first book, “The Humans,” is sublime, so I’m amazed when he produces new novels even half as good. This book is altogether different, a non-fiction filled with bits about what comforts him. Thank you, Haig, for continually reminding us to hang on.

Cover of the novel, "Libertie," by Kaitlyn Greenwood.“Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenridge

What would it be like to be black and live in a black community post-Civil War era, to be a girl whose mom is a black female doctor? Freedom, identity, gender, caste, and plain ole’ relationships stitch together the canvas of this well constructed tale.

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People," by Stephen R. Covey.“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey

My fave nugget from this was his advice that we, “instead of using a map, use a compass,” when it comes to prioritizing. Unfortunate that right-wing religiousness and politics are deeply factored in.

Oh, and last time I mentioned my hair. I didn’t mean to appear vain, rather I meant to point out that it finally seems like life is sort of really kinda post-COVID19. In the photo at the start of this post, I’ve even painted my toes (thought K-D doggies isn’t that impressed), another first in two years!

Now onto our guest, Dr. Bob Newport. He blogs out of Los Angeles, and his self-published novel is available here for sale.

I don’t know whether I’ve got a magical side. Dr. Bob’s courage to seek his out and speak of her openly is truly admirable!…

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

“I am a Tulpamancer,” by Dr. Bob Newport

Don’t know what that is. Well you are in the vast majority of folks. We are a tiny group, who only have existence because of the internet. Prior to it’s existence, the very concept of tulpa, was known to only a few Tibetan Monks and a French woman, Alexandria David Neel. Ms. Neel lived at the turn of the twentieth century. She was an anthropologist who spent a dozen years in Tibet studying the culture. She became enthralled and took up meditation after becoming acquainted with a number of the luminaries at the time. She (as far as we know) was the first westerner to create a tulpa (a sprul-pa in the Tibetan language). She reports this in her book, Magic and Mysticism in Tibet. I got my copy from the L.A. Public Library. Published in 1919, it didn’t get to the U.S. until the 1940’s and didn’t get read until the internet came around and folks began to be intrigued by the possibility of creating their own magical creatures.

And, now you know what a tulpa is; a magical creature intentionally created by the tulpamancer, also known as a ‘thought-form’. Ms. Neel’s tulpa became so real, that he became a nuisance to her neighbors, and she had to terminate him.

Mine has appeared once in physical reality and only for a few seconds. As no one else was around, I can’t say whether or not, she would have been seen by anyone but me.  But I don’t care. She is real to me when we are able to connect . That is not often. I am not able to hold my concentration steady enough to maintain the contact. That takes practice. I have been at it since Dec. of 2018.

She, her name is Flora, first appeared in everyday consensual reality in March of 2019. She had been appearing in my dreams for some time. However, it was after her March debut that I really became excited by her, and she began to appear during my daily meditations. It was hard to hold my concentration because I became so excited, my heart would pound in my chest. I have worked on this and while I still become excited, I don’t let it distract me.

Shortly after Flora first appeared, I created N’sonowa (her full name; Katlego Kalisha N’sonowa, Il’oi-bonokoh of the black sisterhood) to fill out my desire for coming into direct contact with my ‘feminine current’, that part of my male psyche that in my life became encrusted with childhood traumas.

Cover of novel by Dr. Bob Newport, "Tulpa Tales."

This was my main reason for starting the practice. After discovering what it was about I realized that it could become a tool for repairing the damage I suffered at the hands of my mentally ill mother. I am not there yet. Not fully recovered, though I have made a great deal of improvement, more than decades of psychotherapy. But the difficulties I am having contacting her, suggest that I have more to do. It’s okay though, I have never shied from doing hard work and while I am not happy about having to do this ( neither is she and she lets me know when we do have a little time) I am going to do what it takes to give her a complete life. In the meantime, I do the practice daily and have enough contact to let me know she is still around and shares my goals for her.

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

She also has taken to writing. I have given her a page on my blog “Flora’s Own”  and this is currently the main way I have of knowing what she is up to. That and through my own writing, I have published one book, Tulpa Tales: Confessions of an Elder Tulpamancer and have two more in development. It might not surprise you to find that many tulpamancers are authors who find that their characters take on lives of their own and become tulpas. I was writing before tulpamancy, but the practice and the fact of my tulpas, have passionately motivated me to put them out in the world.  If this essay has at all interested you in finding out more, I keep a blog with my journal and the people at the Tulpa Community are very helpful.

About Publishing

In a nutshell self-publishing is easy if you can read instructions. Or, rather the instructions are easy to read, executing them is quite another story. I will hire someone to do the formatting in the future. As for the money. Kindle Direct Publishing (this is Amazon) pays about 30 cents of the dollar, for eBooks and the same less the printing cost on paperbacks. As the printing cost is proportional to the length of the book, my 184 page book selling at 9.99 yields about three dollars per sale.

In contrast, my wife gets $0.05 per sale of a $20 book. To be fair, her co-author, gets a nickel too. It costs me nothing to get mine out there, whereas she spent over 3k to have hers produced professionally. (There is something to be said for that  though; she has won awards and has been published in three languages.)

What are you reading? And have you discovered a magical side to you?

COVID Hair and Writing Life by da-AL + Pamela S. Wight’s New Memoir

K-D doggie with da-AL, who just tried to dye her hair turquoise.
Was nature set on whimsey when she fashioned dog noses?

“What do writers do when they’re not writing?” That question flabbergasted me when I saw it on Quora, an interactive “ask and answer site.” In my case as a novelist, I wish I was outside-the-box enough to warrant such an inquiry. When I’m not writing, I’m fretting about not writing. When I’m not fretting, I’m reading or listening to audiobooks, spending time with loved friends and family, walking my doggie, eating, sleeping, gardening, and ruminating way too much on my hair, as you’ll read later.

Note regarding Happiness Between Tails podcast: Apple Podcasts is taking longer than usual to process submissions, so will continue to keep you posted.

Regarding friends, look at the cool pen my dear pal, Patricia, gave me! (Btw, here’s a letter she wrote to you and me about her United States Marines recruit daughter, Rebekah Hyde, who’d love to get our postcards.) Patricia planned to gift me a mega-bling pen, but I snatched this instead. She appeared somewhat crestfallen, so I asked if she wanted it back, but she answered that she’d hoped to give me something pretty. Ah, I told her, thank you very much. However, how often do you come across a USMC Marine band pen? With a  revolving clicker that displays their website, phone number, and such?

The "President's Own" is the Marine band that accompanies the president everywhere.
The “President’s Own” is the Marine band that accompanies the president everywhere.

As for gardening, figs are coming in, kumquats are winding down, and so are tomatoes (here’s one of several posts they’ve figured into). “Wildlife” devoured the grapes. Despite K-D doggie’s best attempts, she has yet to de-populate our modest back yard of possums, rats, birds, and the figeater beetles who work their tiny gossamer wings very hard to fling their enormous green bodies into the soft fruits of our labors. (Btw, have you read “Miss Benson’s Beetle” by Rachel Joyce? So fun and so girl-power that it’s changed how I see beetles forever. Check out other books I like at my Goodreads page.)

It's fun to grow food.
It’s fun to grow food.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” here’s my hair short, before the COVID-19 quarantine hit. Sheesh, back then I had no inkling what the future would bring…

BC: Before COVID-19.
BC: Before COVID-19.

No one I know is happy about COVID-19, though my husband likes my newly long hair that resulted from not being able to get it cut during quarantine. It took a while to learn how to condition my hair to where it’s not a dried-out snarl. The photo at the very start of this post is an unveiling of sorts. It’s my hair yesterday, the day after I marinated it in temporary turquoise coloring. Admittedly, it now only looks a little darker.

All the aforementioned distractions and more are why I am especially impressed with writers who actually produce, and boy, does Pamela Wight produce! She’s an inspiration to me and I hope she’ll be one for you too. Here she was a Happiness Between Tails guest before. As you’ll read below, she’s a blogger (find all her social media links here, including for her books) who posts from Boston (though she’s from San Francisco), teaches, gives presentations, and publishes books for kids as well as adults. Also, she loves animals and values life’s simple moments. Read to the very end of her guest blog post to learn of her publishing journey…

Author Pamela Wight with her furry family, Charlie and Charlotte.
Author Pamela Wight with her furry family, Charlie and Charlotte.

“Memoir in a Flash” by Pamela S. Wight

As a writer of several genres — romantic suspense and children’s books — I thought that memoir was one genre I would never attempt.

Memoir is the stuff of hardship and life challenges. Memoirs often follow an individual who battles abuse/addiction/racial and sexual inequities/tribulations that eventually lead to triumph.

But ordinary me? What would I ever write about that made for an interesting “me” book?

But then, several of my blog followers began to suggest that I use my blog posts to create a fun memoir.

What? When I think of memoir, I don’t think of fun. I think of tragedy and hopelessness until the denouement, when hope and love are reestablished.

Cover of "Flashes of Life," by Pamela S. Wight.

Whoever heard of a light and easy memoir? A memoir of ordinary snippets about ordinary life? So I continued posting my fun everyday stories of a dog who barks longingly for pumpkin in his kibble, of an “elderly” grandmother who rollerblades with her eyes closed, of a fear of pedicures and of a scam gone wrong. Readers seem to delight in my honest discovery of the joys — and horrors — of babysitting grandbabies and of being horribly late for a brother’s wedding.

More blog readers and friends/strangers suggested I should compile these stories — those posted and those still filed away — into a book. 

Silly, I decided. Until I mentioned the silly idea to my publisher who immediately exclaimed: “A FLASH memoir! Perfect idea.”

I thought she had made up this genre on-the-spot — a flash memoir? But then my research revealed this new genre called micro-writing, which is also called the short short story. In his preface to In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction (edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones), Bernard Cooper writes in the Preface: “To write short nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.”

Well, yes, that’s exactly what I try to do in my flash stories. To show how extraordinary the ordinary is. To show how the amazing lightness of being can be available from one day to the next. The flash in “flash memoir” indicates brevity, yes, but even more importantly, it suggests a “flash” of insight into the human experience.

So, I listened to my publisher and to the beta readers who read my compilation of fun fast stories of everyday life. I hired an editor who wrote: “this is a really sweet, funny, readable, heartwarming collection of anecdotes from your life. I smile when I think about parts I’ve just read, and I’m sure readers will feel like that when they put the book down just for a short time before they find themselves smiling and picking it up again! Even the sad parts of the book are well done, drawing the reader in with empathy for your characters. The humility and humor are what make this a beautiful book. I love it.” (Thank you, Anneli Purchase.)

So yes, there are a few sad parts in here. This is about life, after all. But the sad is infused with joy.

I include eight sections in my flash memoir, with headings like “Fun Family Drama,” “For the Dogs,” and “Relationships.”  I wanted to keep this light memoir light, literally as well as metaphorically. So the page count is a modest 140. My publisher designed it brilliantly as a square book with black and white waterlogued photos of real people in my life — photos from the 1940s to current day.

I must admit, I’m glad I’m now a triple-genre author. And one of the genres is memoir.

On Publishing…

The first book I wrote was Twin Desires with co-author, Ashley Brandt. My co-writer and I were a great team. Ashley had been a student for several years in my creative writing classes, and at some courageous point we decided to write a romantic suspense novel together. We had a great time, because we set aside our egos, outlined a plot after writing about 1,000 words individually, sharing these pages, and then delegating chapters. Then we switched and edited each other’s chapters. After hiring an editor and making a few changes, we got an agent within a month of “putting it out there.” This is rather miraculous, as most writers know. The agent was marvelous and shopped the book to many publishing companies, and we got terrific feedback (all positive). That said, no one wanted to buy the book. We received comments like: “already published too many books with twins,” “don’t want a book with a bomb in it,” “well-written and page-turner but doesn’t fit in with our needs now.”

That’s when I decided to research Indie publishing. After doing so, I’ve never looked back. Both of my novels are self-published (Twin Desires and The Right Wrong Man). For my two children’s books (Birds of Paradise and Molly Finds Her Purr) and my “flash memoir,” I decided to go with hybrid publishing. For a fee, the publisher (Borgo Publishing) designed the books and organized the printing and getting them into Amazon and Barnes & Noble.. I receive 100% of the royalties. Each of these books needed specialized designs, and Borgo did an incredible job with all three.

Visit Pam’s blog for more about her.

How long did your hair get during the quarantine?…

Please Snail-Mail a Recruit + Willow Croft on Writing and Animals

Justice… I’m in the middle of continuing writing, in between working on my novels, about doing jury duty. (Here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2 and here’s Part 3). In the meantime, it’s triggered lots of thoughts about justice in general. (Btw, check out the podcast audio version of this post HERE.)

Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.
Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.

Today’s post begins with hefty justice — a letter to you from Patricia Hyde, my friend whose daughter, Rebekah, is determined to do justice for her country by serving in the Marines. Rebekah needs our encouragement while she mends from injuries sustained during military training so she can jump back in where she left off. The week before she began training, she got married. With luck, she’ll finish and see her husband next February, a year later.

Of all the military branches, Marine boot camp is the longest and probably most rugged. While healing, Rebekah still works, doing less taxing activities. Recruits are restricted from the outside world. They are obliged only snail-mail and one phone call a week. That’s it.

Should you find it in your heart to write to her, I doubt you’ll find anyone as grateful to receive your postcard or letter. 

After Patricia’s letter here to us, continue on for speculative fiction/horror author Willow Croft’s guest post regarding how she came to be published and her love of animals…

Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.
Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.

Patricia’s Letter to Us About her Daughter’s Service as a Marine Recruit

Note: info within parenthesis added by da-AL

Dear Reader,

This story is about my daughter, Rebekah Hyde, age 22. She tried out for the US Marine Band after she finished high school. Alas, she wasn’t selected, so she applied again after graduating from California State University Long Beach. After four years of college, paid for by working at Jersey Mike’s (a sandwich chain) and as a piano teacher, she was accepted into the USMC band. However, she must first get through boot camp.

Her adventure began February 8, 2021. After a two-week quarantine, she was shipped with other recruits to Parris Island, South Carolina.

Two months later, I received a fateful call. My daughter was seriously injured while carrying her 65-pound backpack. She suffered a stress fracture of her pelvis, both sides of her groin were pulled, and one of her fingers was broken. Nothing, though, can make her quit her dream.

Presently assigned to a medical platoon, she is coming along, healing and feeling less and less pain. In a few weeks, Rebekah will be placed in an active platoon to finish boot camp where she left off.

I’m concerned for her during “The Crucible,” a test every recruit must pass to become a marine. To graduate, recruits need to be “Forged by the Fire of the Crucible”: 54 hours, 48 miles, 45 pounds of gear, 36 stations, 29 problem-solving exercises, 6-8 hours sleep, and 5 MRE’s (Meals Ready-to-Eat). Of course, I’m concerned about the 45 pounds of gear — whether her pelvis will survive the weight on her small 5-foot, 110-pound body.

Rebekah is my only child. Strong and courageous, she will not give up her dream of joining the “President’s Own” and traveling with the US President.

When Rebekah was eight, she begin her music career playing the piano. In the sixth grade, she picked up the flute and immediately fell in love with it. She participated in marching band all four years of high school and also traveled with independent bands like “Impulse,” competing and showcasing her skills with the flute, cymbals, and synthesizer keyboard. Throughout it all, I was by her side as a “Booster Mom.”

I’d appreciate your letters and postcards to Rebekah, to encourage and motivate her through “The Crucible.” Prayers are also welcome.

Please write to Rebekah at:

RCT HYDE, REBEKAH
4TH RTBN OSCAR CO PLT 4041
BOX 16430
PARRIS ISLAND, SC 29905-6430

God bless you and your family. Thank You!

Sincerely,

Patricia Hyde

Willow Croft's book of poetry, "Quantum Singularity."

Willow Croft writes and blogs from the high desert. Her speculative fiction/horror has appeared in many anthologies and journals. Her blog includes more of her writing, her Amazon page, and her other social media links. When she’s not writing, she cares for three rescued cats…

“Writing, Publishing, and My Love for Animals” by Willow Croft

About Me

I acquired a degree in writing and literature from Goddard College (Vermont) back in 1998-2001 but I didn’t actually start writing in hopes of getting published until about the mid- to late 2010s. When I was growing up, creativity was only something you did on the side (if ever!) once you found a job and were a fully functioning and conformist member of society. Only then was it okay to express your creativity, and only if it never took the place of “real” work. And it was because of my 30-plus quest for “real” work that I not only acquired significant physical limitations, I was in a place of mental and emotional desperation. I was living in increasingly conservative, intolerant Florida, I couldn’t find any sort of work, I had been threatened by one of a group of those rabidly conservative types my home state was notorious for, and I had just gotten my master’s degree in a (futile) hope of expanding my hire-ability, with no luck. Although I had started my own freelance business, I was still having problems earning enough income to be independent, and I was just living under so much fear and sadness and stress that I allowed myself to turn to writing, because I just didn’t know what else to do any more. I mean, it was to the point where I was like “I’m almost middle-aged, and I’m still living way below poverty level, I have nothing to show for my efforts to conform to the system just to ‘get a job’ and I have very limited options, so why not write just to keep yourself sane?” And, amazingly, I started to get published in magazines and in anthologies. Granted, there was an immense amount of hard work and dedication involved, but I was actually seeing a return on that, as opposed to anything else I had attempted to achieve over the span of my lifetime. I could spin out so many cliched terms about what getting published meant (and continues to mean), but they are all sincere: a lifeline, a light in the darkness, a refuge, a sanctuary… the list goes on.

So, that’s my main issue with standardized education (and standardized employment, for you grownups out there!). Why force kids to live up to a standard and regimen that many adults (including me!) would have difficulty managing? (I mean, come on, schools; by the time pencils are sharpened, supplies and materials organized, fidgets and energy calmed, and brains drifting into the task ahead, then  —BAM! — it’s time to go to the next period or switch to the next educational subject area and OMG I’M THE TEACHER and I’ve just gotten into the zone and HOLY COW it’s already time for the SWITCH?!??!?! And all I can hope for at that point is that I’ve at least provided the kids some levity in their otherwise dull, rote-learning educational experience by watching their substitute teacher’s brain implode.)

Photo of Potato, Willow Croft's tabby cat.
Photo of Potato, Willow Croft’s tabby cat.

I mean, come on, what’s wrong with making education dynamic and fun and intuitive and stress/pressure-free and exploration-based? When did we stop making space for kids to be kids (and not mini-adults) in schools?

So, even though I’m not currently teaching, I still daydream about this amazingly interactive, pod-based learning environment for the school system that allows children to immerse themselves for a week or two in diverse and wide-ranging areas of interest of their choice, while teachers and guest teachers can weave in essentials, like reading, math, etc., as seamless parts of each pod. And utilize them to build up skill zones like critical thinking, creative nurturing, curiosity-fueled engagement, and more.

And, in the end, the school system could actually not only prepare kids for the changing world (of which, I firmly believe, the standardized school system is outdated, inefficient, and impractical, and well in need of not just an update, but a complete overhaul.)

And, in the best part of all, give kids a chance to explore all aspects of their potential, while they have a safe, judgement-free, supportive environment to do so, instead of having to play self-discovery catch-up as best you can at an older age. I mean, I look back now, and I know that tendencies of mine that had been criticized and considered a detriment, would have been an asset in the careers I had wanted to explore.

But I’ve tried to make up for lost time. As you can see from my “Tips” list, below, I’ve had the opportunity as an adult to explore things, and causes — namely animals, and the environment — that interest me. I may never be able to be the marine biologist or live the purely artistic lifestyle I dreamed of as a child, but at least I can reconnect with my innate interests and passions as best I can, with the time I have left. Why can’t kids have that, with all the time they have ahead of them? I don’t think it’s fair, to strip them of their potential, while we, as adults, want to make them fit into confining little boxes just because we had to/have to.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box, and into the tips I learned from my explorations as an adult (where nobody could deter me from getting involved in causes like this!).

About My Love of Animals

Anyone who knows my blog knows I love animals. And if you don’t… well, guess what? I am very passionate about animals and animal welfare. And I don’t just blog about animal welfare causes, like in my fixed post, “The Real-Life Horror of Pet Overpopulation.” I have been very involved in animal rescue causes… everything from cleaning out kennels to assisting on a cat hoarding investigation (and the cats’ subsequent relocation) to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. I’ve even attended greyhound racing protests. I often have a wonderful rapport with my animal friends, especially cats, chipmunks, and…skunks!

Photo of super fluffy calico cat, Moon Pie.
Moon Pie was a five-year-old, un-spayed, feral cat that showed up in my portal. Many of her behaviors and her physical state also pointed to her having been abused at some point. She was a tricky combination of feisty calico and feral. But I patiently worked with her for almost a year, and she’s now a happy indoor-only cat (though still very feisty!). Moon Pie is one of a set of feral cats I rescued from the street — all of which are indoor-only now.

So, even when I’m writing horror, I often include animals in my short stories and other written material. I especially like to include shelter animals and also try to give animals the agency and empowerment they often lack in the real world.

Here are a few examples (links) to stories (in anthologies) that include animals:

An attempt to liberate animals from laboratories:

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Magic

Rescued, Adopted, and Shelter Animals/Animal Shelters:

EconoClash Review #7

The Hollow: Where All Evil Things Lie Vol. 3

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

So, for this guest blog post, I’d thought I’d share some tips learned from my years in animal rescue and wildlife rescue/rehab.

On Wildlife

  • Can be a hard thing to resist. Even I, a former, longtime, wildlife rehabber who absolutely knows better, sometimes feel the compulsion to feed my wild animal friends (which I don’t give into). But it can do more harm than good. Like with dogs, people food is not good for animals. So, the next time you’re tempted to feed ducks, turtles (or, heaven forbid, raccoons!), or any other kind of wild animal, please try not to give in to the urge. It may seem like a small act, but it can be a matter of life or death for the wild creature.
  • It should go without saying, right? If you find an injured wildlife, immediately contact your local wildlife center or wildlife rescue group for advice, and the most current information regarding the proper rescue of the animal. Be hesitant about handling injured wildlife, as to avoid injury to yourself from a scared or stressed animal. Also, wildlife rescue organizations always need volunteers, and that can be the best way to learn how to safely handle wildlife, and perhaps even assist on wildlife rescues and releases out in the field.
  • Instead of an environmentally detrimental turf lawn, consider a landscape design that provides food, shelter, and a more natural ecosystem for animals, birds, insects/bugs, and other critters. If you put out water for wildlife and/or birds, make sure it’s flowing and not stagnant. Standing water cannot only play host to harmful bacteria that can sicken wildlife, it can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consult with the Parks Department or the Extension Service in your area for more expert advice on supporting the local wildlife in your region. Bat houses, birdhouses, and bee houses can be fun additions to your wildlife-friendly zone!

On Adopting Pets

Again, do I even need to say it? Okay, if you insist. “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” Spay/neuter your pets to prevent shelter overcrowding and pet overpopulation. Don’t buy breed or purchase any animals from puppy and cat mills. I worked for a number of years (and plan to, again, when I get settled) in animal rescue and in animal shelters, both as a volunteer and as a paid employee. I even worked on a hoarding case, once. It’s fulfilling work, but also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for so many different reasons. Mainly, there are too many animals and not enough homes. So, here’s some basics for navigating the pet adoption realm.

  • Give older cats and dogs a chance. For some reason, people seem to think any animal that’s not a kitten or a puppy as “old”. To put this in perspective, my own two cats (both adopted from a shelter) lived to be twenty and twenty-one, respectively. Cats over five years old are a lot more mellow and are often a better companion for families with kids, especially smaller kids. Teach kids (and, yes, even other adults) to be respectful of the cat’s boundaries, and provide spaces for the cat to get away from visitors, household residents, and the like. Adding vertical spaces to your home (cat towers, cat-friendly shelving, etc) can help the cat adjust and minimize stress and behavior issues. I’m not as much as an expert on dogs as I am on cats, but investing in proper training can be a life saver. Literally, in the case of the dog.
  • Keep cats indoors. I admit, I grew up in a household that let cats be indoor/outdoor, and I made the mistake of allowing my first cat be indoor/outdoor, and he developed so many behavior problems as a result. Everybody’s divided on this issue, but I am adamantly, fiercely entrenched on the side of keeping cats strictly indoors. It makes it easy to relocate, plus it saves on having to take the cat to the vet every other week for some abscessed wound after it tangled with a raccoon. Not to mention it’s so much less stress when you’re not worried every time the cat disappears that it’s been run over, or poisoned either accidentally, or on purpose by an angry neighbor because cats consistently ignore property lines. Plus, indoors, they’re not wreaking havoc on an already embattled ecosystem. Cats are opportunistic hunters and have a detrimental impact on local birds and wildlife. Now, here’s the worst parts to letting cats run free, and leaving dogs unattended in the yard: they are vulnerable to theft. And by theft, I don’t mean by people like me who might see a loose animal and think it’s a stray (Joking! Well, sort of.). I mean people who cruise neighbourhoods and steal pets in order to use them for bait animals in dog fighting or to sell them to laboratories for animal testing. Urban myth, right? Nope. Every few months, there would be a flood of lost pet posters in my (former) neighbourhood in Florida. I learned what was most likely happening to the animals from an animal rescue worker who’d been volunteering for about twenty years.
  • “Cute” pets like rabbits do not make good pets for kids. Which is a shame, because rescued rabbits need homes too, as they are often acquired as gifts and then discarded like so many other pet animals once the novelty wears off. I always make the joke “Unless your kid is 4-H experienced…” because rabbits require so much finicky care and handling. If rabbits are held the wrong way, they can kick and break their backs. They need so much specialized care, and unless the parent or guardian is prepared to take on that care, I wouldn’t recommend it. And, hopefully this goes without saying… get the rabbit spayed/neutered! Because rabbits really do breed like, well, rabbits! Or save yourself a lot of headache and stress, and turn the kid onto herpetology (from a licensed breeder that only sells captive bred reptiles, etc.).

Still have questions? Need advice on the weird and wacky things cats do? I’m always willing to talk animals. Visit me on my blog.

Do you know someone who could use a snail-mail letter or postcard? And have you rescued any animals?

Self-Publishing in S. India: A Guest Blog Post by Nadira Cotticollan

Traditional publishing, the kind that engages literary agents and monolithic publishing companies, has always been a challenge for writers. In my quest to find either for my soon-to-be-released novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” it feels akin to winning the lottery. Fortunately, self-publishing is rapidly becoming a mainstream empowering alternative. What’s your experience with either buying or publishing self-published novels?

A blogger/novelist from India, Nadira Cotticollan, shares about her venture into releasing fiction on her own…

When she’s not writing novels, Nadira Cotticollon loves being a grandmother.

“The Winnowing Waves” and Self-Publishing by Nadira Cotticollan

I belong to a  Muslim community from the coastal state of Kerala in South India. We are said to have been winnowed out from the rest of the Kerala populace by the inter-marriages that took place between the Arab traders and the local women. Most of the cultural aspects continued to be picked up from the customs prevalent in Kerala, with some changes to create a distinct identity.  But there was a marked Arab influence as well.

During the years I grew up, there were many changes that were happening which were, in fact, slowly erasing the differences in dress and lingo and the social mores of confining women indoors, etc. A female like me, therefore, got the benefit of education, which was a rare thing during my mother’s generation and almost non-existent before that.

Then, there was a  turn towards more strict observance of the religious customs although there was no going back on the education, fortunately.  In part, this had to do with the political changes that saw an upsurge of right-wing sentiments and the political events that they ushered in, as also with the influx of the Wahabian influence brought in by those who had found a livelihood in the Gulf countries. These attempts at aggressively establishing religious, political, and cultural identities between the Hindus and the Muslims, is now gradually bringing in a subtle divide and disturbing the harmony that had existed for thousands of years.

My novel has been woven through this backdrop, but it is in no way discourse on any of those aspects. It creeps in through the different characters, of course, but not stridently so.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective for the most part.

I am sixty-two now, and I have always cherished the idea of getting something that I wrote published. After finishing this novel, I did tentatively explore the regular publishing route. I realized that it would take a very long time and that there was no certainty of any of the established publishers taking it up. So I decided to look for self-publishing platforms. My children offered to bear the cost.

Notionpress, who I approached, came across as very professional, with a good team who managed the different aspects of the publication process. I chose the minimum package which would take care of the formatting, the cover design, the copyrights, and the online listing on their online store as well as on Flipkart and Amazon India. The editing is a facility available with a higher package. So I did the editing myself. They did allow for post-publication correction of the grammatical and spelling errors and a couple of errors in the names, etc. The whole process was completed in two weeks.

They do not do any promotion with this package, nor will the books be available in the bookshops.

But I’m happy.

My friends were the ones who read the book first and gave me feedback. They have liked it and assure me that they can relate to it, that the flow is smooth, that it speaks to them of what I had wanted to convey and so on.

With the money I earned in the last two months, I decided to upgrade the package, which would make the book available outside India on Amazon.com

The pricing they suggested appeared to be almost the same as that of many well-established authors, and I expressed my doubts to them about that. I was told that my book would be printed only as per demand, which would hike up the production costs, as compared to the mass production of the books of established authors.

The royalty I get on the sale of one copy after they deduct the production costs and half of the profits (that was the agreement) is only about 2/5th of the MRP if purchased through the Notionpress store and much less (about 1/8th) if sold through Amazon and Flipkart.

But what’s more important to me is that more people get to read the book.

da-AL’s kind offer to let me put up a blog post here about it is therefore very much appreciated.

I do hope some of you will pick it up from Amazon.com and give me your feedback after you’ve read it. Go to Notionpress here. Go to Amazon here.

Thank you all very much for reading this ☺

What’s your experience with buying or publishing self-published novels?

Novelist Jacqueline Diamond Published 100+ Books!

I'd be smiling this happily too if I'd published as many books as Jacqueline Diamond has!
I’d be smiling this happily too if I’d published as many books as Jacqueline Diamond has!

Writing my first novel is hard work. Veteran writers have a lot to teach us. Take Jacqueline Diamond, for instance. She’s published — drumroll here — 102 (maybe more by the time you read this) books! It’s no wonder she won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and is a two-time Rita Award finalist. Her books range from mystery and non-fiction to romances for all ages (including some about couples over 50) that span the 1800s to present.

This week I’m working especially hard on meeting a couple of novel-related deadlines I’ve set for myself, so I hope you don’t mind if we get right to our guest. (Oh, but first, for the many readers who enjoyed the guest blog post here at Happiness Between Tails by The Wheelchair Teen, check out the heartfelt dialog within the comments of her reblog of it to her site.)

Jacqueline began her life in Texas. Now she and her family reside in Southern California. At her site, learn more about her, her books, sign up for her newsletter, and find more of her writing tips.

Here’s a video of her discussing how to develop interesting characters. And here she describes the storytelling ins and outs of point-of-view.

Read on for her take on how animals and pets can help round out the writing of fiction, as well as make it that much more fun for readers…

A few of Jacqueline's books and office staff members.
A few of Jacqueline’s books and office staff members.

Like Cats and Dogs! by Jacqueline Diamond

Characters in a novel take on a life of their own—and not always what the author expects. Animals are no exception!

There weren’t any furry creatures in sight when I began writing Really? At Your Age?, Book One of my Sisters, Lovers & Second Chances series. My heroine, Dr. Cody Matchett, has no pets. She’s too busy delivering babies, risking romance at the age of 52, and losing her heart to the possibility of finally having children of her own.

Cover of "Really? At Your Age?" by Jacqueline Diamond.

Then her older sister, Mandy, a resolutely single nurse, has to move in with her for a few weeks…bringing her cats. Beanie and Queenie arrive with attitude! For me, they added a lot to the fun.

Next, while searching out cover images for my next book, Don’t Be Silly! At My Age?, I came across a cat who looks just like Beanie, squaring off with a German Shepherd. And since I wanted Mandy and the new man in her life to (more or less) fight like cats and dogs, it was irresistible.

Suddenly, my hero—a mystery novelist—became the owner of an aging rescue dog. Throughout the story, the animals play a key role. 

One of my favorite scenes occurs when the heroine’s ex-boyfriend worms his way into her house by bribing her cats. A furious Mandy tells him, “You are literally something the cat dragged in!”

Cover of "Don't be Silly! At My Age?" by Jacqueline Diamond.

How did I develop personalities for my cats? That was the easy part! I’ve been owned by several of them and, seriously, have you ever met a cat that didn’t have a distinctive personality?

My experience with dogs is spottier…literally. My family once owned a Dalmatian, a rather high-strung fellow. My hero’s German Shepherd, who gazed at me with soulful eyes from the photo, turned out to be mellower.

On reflection, I’m surprised animals haven’t figured into more of my novels. Perhaps that’s because many of the stories are set in hospitals, such as my Safe Harbor Medical series.

But I’ll be looking for more furry possibilities in the future. After all, they’re fun to read about and fun to write!

What’s your fiction right now? I’m in the middle of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Garden of Eden,” published posthumously. The protagonist is a writer much like Hemingway and apart from the main story, it’s interesting to read of his writing routine and philosophy. Also, I just finished “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows,” by Balli Kaur Jaswal, a fun yet thoughtful novel that wins beaucoup points for the title alone!

Author Reality + Charles Sterling on Marketing and Author Platform

Marketing, building a platform as a writer… There’s more to being a novelist than most people think.

Photo of author Charles Sterling.

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 need to work a little hard to attract a super-star literary agent and publisher. For this reason, they never 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 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, the Author joyfully wakes to do it all over again. Oh, no — I forgot to mention their lunch — well, you get the picture…

Alas, that daydream is akin to figuring that all the amazing painters of bygone days did was simply 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 and willing 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. 

The novels I’m writing are in the form of letters to a deceased grandmother, so I’m delighted that many stellar authors began their careers by serializing their books. For instance, Charles Dickens, who wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and “Oliver Twist,” was a master of episodic, a.k.a. serial, storytelling. His chapters, which were featured in newspapers, garnered so much attention that he bound them into the popular novels we know did quite well!

Another successful writer who worked that way is Helen Fielding. Her colossal hit, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” was first serialized in newspapers.

Armistead Maupin did the same with his “Tales of the City.” He’d get home from wild 1970s San Francisco parties, use them as inspiration for his serialized newspaper column, and voila! He was rewarded with success, fame, fortune, movies, and I hope more.

Now, let’s consider Bloggers.

The blog posts of E. L. James, who’s known for her “Fifty Shades of Grey,” mushroomed into a money-making atom bomb that included books, movies, and who knows what else.

Also, Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” blog eventually made her lots of money as a book and a movie.

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 that 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…

Photo of author Charles Sterling.
Photo of author Charles Sterling.

Book Marketing & Author Platform by Charles Sterling

Introduction

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Pin your book with an inviting image to the top of your Twitter.
  3. Promote it in forums like Reddit and GoodReads.
  4. 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.

Twitter

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!

Website

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.

Amazon Page

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?

COVID-19: Vids + Plants + Pets + Podcasting

Quick question and get your ears ready for another Happiness Between Tails podcast soon:

Have you checked out the new podcasting integration between WordPress and Anchor? I’m getting ready to try it and wonder if you have thoughts to share regarding it. (Here’s a podcast I published some months ago.) According to WordPress’ recent email, “We’re excited to announce a new feature that automatically converts the text of any page or post into a podcast on Anchor, the world’s largest podcast platform. If you’re already blogging on WordPress.com, there’s a good chance it’s podcast-ready—because our new integration with Anchor means you can now turn your words into audio in a few steps. The blog-to-podcast process is simple, and it opens up your work to new possibilities and listeners.”

COVID-19, staying-at-home included, is plenty hate-worthy. (I’ve griped about it here and here and here.) But not everything, i.e., I’m writing my novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” at a far better clip. (I elaborated on some COVID silver linings here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, as did author Alice Renaud here.)

Our doggie sits politely for pumpkin seeds. Anyone got a pumpkin seed?

Nonetheless, there are those among us who love, loooooove, luuuurrrve COVID-19. Indulge me for how tickled I am by the “sound effects” of one such COVID fan…

Our fluffed, furred, feathered, slippery, scaled, and whatever else creature-family who can’t get enough of us — those guys are overjoyed! In their unique ways, they broadcast, “Hurray! Our people are home!”

At the start of quarantine, I heard a radio item about a doggie who needed a vet’s attention because she’d sprained her tail from wagging it so much!

People I know average an extra three hours to their days thanks to working from home. Here in Los Angeles County, “driving’ is a euphemism for “fuming in stand-still traffic.” Think of all the heart attacks fended off if we didn’t have to waste hours fuming behind the wheel. Just the other day, road rage triggered (pardon the sad but irresistible pun) a shooting in Long Beach.

More free time means more gardening. Urban gardening activist Ron Finley of South Central Los Angeles says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

His TED talk describes how his first parkway (what divides sidewalk from street) orchard-ette turned eco-lutionary…

When we moved into our home, my dear husband, Khashayar, applied his engineer’s practicality to our front and backyards. “If we’re going to work it, we’re going to eat it,” he said. Or something to that effect.

Which is why we’ve got several fruit trees crammed onto our bit of green. We (okay, he did the grunt work as our soil is basically clay) spent Sunday laying the groundwork for this year’s tomatoes and herbs.

Our little garden blooms with future fruits and herbs. Our little garden blooms with future fruits and herbs. (Here you can see some of what we harvested.)

Do you know a pet who’s celebrating COVID-19?

Novelist Alice Renaud’s COVID-19 Inspo: Animals + Publishing

Quarantine: I enjoy staying home, but only when it’s not due to an illness that’s sickening us, killing us, and holding the world hostage.

Make no mistake, COVID is awful, as I’ve discussed here and here and here, when my husband and I were ill from it. Dire as the quarantine situation is, it’s brought some silver linings exist, like those I wrote of here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here. In my case, I’m grateful that my slowed pace offers more time to complete writing “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel.

Read on for how staying home and animals inspire fantasy romance author Alice Renaud, a Londoner. She also details how she published her award-winning books!…

Novelist Alice Renaud.
Novelist Alice Renaud.

Our Furry and Not-So-Furry Friends by Alice Renaud

As we begin to emerge from our third lockdown in a year (and boy was this one painful – over four months, and in winter) I’m reflecting on what I learned during this extraordinary year.

One thing I’ve discovered is that animals and nature are even more essential for my well-being than I thought. I’ve always loved the natural world, but during the lockdowns it has proved a lifeline. Admiring fresh flowers, lying on the grass on a sunny day, and watching birds, have injected pleasure into otherwise drab days. I’ve realized that even insects are fascinating. I’ve enjoyed observing the butterflies, ladybirds and bees as they emerge from hibernation and launch themselves into the world (which is a little bit how I feel right now as I learn to go to the shops again and dare to have a coffee at a terrace.)

Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.
Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.

I’m not the only one. Many people in the UK have discovered the joys of nature during the lockdown. Long may it last! Many have also adopted animals. My favorite pet is the cat, or The Cat as I’m always tempted to write, because The Cat is an animal that would definitely write its name in capitals if it could write (and maybe they can but are hiding it from us). We don’t have a Cat at the moment, since our last pet went to the great basket in the sky, so I content myself with the neighbours and family’s Cats, like Tabitha, my aunt’s tabby, shown here staring at the neighbour’s feline.

Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt's tabby and a neighbor.
Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt’s tabby and a neighbor.

Animals and the natural world are a big source of inspiration for me and play a big part in all my stories. My Sea of Love series, which won its category in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award, follows the lives and loves of shape shifting mermen and mermaids. In their aquatic form my merfolk have a tail but not a fish tail. They’re mammals and look quite a bit like dolphins or porpoises. I grew up by the sea and love all marine creatures. I’ll never forget the day I saw a porpoise for the first time. I was amazed by the power and grace of that big animal, and the ease and speed with which it swam through the waters. I’m also fond of seabirds, even seagulls which a lot of people in the UK don’t like. They can make a nuisance of themselves by stealing chips and cakes, but they’re sociable, tough, highly adaptable, and fantastic airborne acrobats.

Cover of Mermaids Marry in Green, a fantasy romance novel by Alice Renaud.

My books feature both real animals and fantastical ones. In my latest release Mermaids Marry in Green (also a winner in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award) there is a shifter mermaid, a warlock who can change into a cat, and also a mythical Welsh water monster, an afanc. Part beaver, part crocodile, he possesses magical powers and brings the hero and heroine together. Welsh legends are full of marvellous creatures and I enjoy putting them in my stories. As well as the afanc, there is the Ceffyl Dwr, the Water Horse, and the Giant Cat of Anglesey. Now that’s a feline I’d like to meet!

Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping well in these strange times, and I hope that like me you will find comfort in the company of furry (or not so furry) friends and in the beauty of the natural world.

My Publishing Journey

I started writing at the age of 14, but it’s not until many years later that I got my first short story published in a UK mass market magazine. I carried on writing and publishing romantic and family-themed short stories for several years before trying my hand at longer fiction. My first three romantic novels did not find a publisher, then I discovered that witches, mermen and angels were a lot more fun than sheikhs and billionaires. My first paranormal romance novella didn’t find a publisher either, but then I joined a writing group and met my wonderful tutor and editor, Laurie Sanders. She helped me whip another story into shape, and in 2019 A Merman’s Choice was published by an indie publisher, Black Velvet Seductions. Since then I have published two more novellas with them, and have contributed to several collections of short stories. I enjoy working with BVS very much. Ric Savage, my publisher, gives his authors plenty of freedom, I can write the story that I want to write without having to worry about conforming to strict pre-defined criteria. The other BVS authors are a great bunch and very supportive. Our anthologies are a great way to discover the writing of all these talented authors. The latest, Cowboy Desire, is out now in ebook and paperback.

For more about Alice, visit her site here.

How’s your creativity going?