Have you ever been shamed for what you read? In childhood or later? For me it’s more about the shame I shovel onto myself for just about everything. Right now I’m working to get my novels podcast-ready and it takes everything I have to feel like my writing, whether print or audio, is presentable.
The very first time I set pen to paper and held a book, they became as much confidants as friends.
When it comes to reading material, as a kid, there was plenty of screaming and worse over whether my older brothers could buy and collect comic books. Later, in secret, they pointed out steamy lines in some of the popular fiction my mom read. Given my insular existence, it was only years later that what was going on between the pages made sense. Our mother was an avid reader and didn’t seem to mind that I read whatever she did. As an adult, however, when I mentioned reading some of her books, she was scandalized.
In her defense, maybe she hadn’t noticed because I always had my nose in one book or another. Weirdly enough, at the age of twelve her collected short stories by Marquis de Sade fascinated me. Their sadomasochistic sexuality was way over my head. It was his “good people never get rewarded” that rang truer than anything else I’d encountered before. Ditto for the “life sucks and then you die” philosophies of the rest of the French authors on our coffee table.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume, first published in 1970, continues to change lives through its sensitivity, candor, and humor about what it’s like to not be quite a child anymore…
Here blogger, DJ Sakata, shares her reading journey…
Aloha to you lovers of tails and tales. I am DJ Sakata/Empress DJ/Honolulubelle, and a new friend of da-AL. We met on Goodreads and were instant fangirls. She asked me to sprinkle a few words on her blog of my love of reading. As a child and well into my teens I used to hide under the covers and read with a flashlight as my strict and priggish mother would chide and punish me if I was caught as according to her, “Reading fiction is a waste of time.” Hmm, then I am now a total wastrel who squanders the majority of her free minutes indulging in such foolishness. I have an eclectic reading palate, but my favorite will always be women’s fiction.
Since I’ve retired – which BTW is oh, so, sweet – I read all day in my cozy little nest with all the windows open, I live in Hawaii so I can do that year-round – don’t hate me, I’ve earned it. I do occasionally put my Kindle down when my husband whines for food and/or attention. I thumb my nose at my mother’s ridiculously misguided notion as I’ve noticed my vocabulary and spelling have markedly improved with the increased perusal. I am an incredibly lazy blogger, but I do have one called Books and Bindings, which is just a small personal blog where I can toss up my silly little reviews that no one ever reads, but I don’t really care about that. If you find you are all caught up on Ms. da-AL’s posts and have a few minutes or an interest in seeing what nonsense I’ve recently read which my Bible banging mother would most certainly not approve, then come and see, or not. I’m happily whiling away in my little nook while lovingly tapping my Kindle and sipping Moscato 😉
Have you been shamed for the books you read? Or write?
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One of the many fun things about writing is that there are so many styles to experiment with! Number one on the ways to become a good writer is to write daily. Number two is to read and read and read. The more I write (like on my novels) and read, the more I find that I wish I knew more about.
The books I’ve read lately cover a range of styles. Here they are, along with the reviews I wrote for them on Amazon and Goodreads…
“Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands” is a graphic novel by Kate Beaton, and she uses the medium to its fullest. Through her text and illustrations, she narrates honestly and poignantly what it was like for her to leave her small remote community in Canada so she could pay for her college loans. Through her eyes, we understand how hard it is to work as the rare woman in oil exploration, in the middle of a freezing cold nowhere.
“Nightcrawling: A Novel,” by Leila Mottley, Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Narrator). My review: The best kinds of books let readers walk in the shoes of another, to truly experience and gain compassion for what someone else’s life is like. It’s an understatement to say that Leila Mottley does this in spades with maturity far far beyond the high schooler she was when she wrote this. Joniece Abbott-Pratt does a great job narrating.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver, Norman Dietz (Narrator). My review: Carver is a master short story teller. Love in its infinite gnarly yet beautiful forms. Norman Dietz does great narration.
“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water: A Novel,”by Angie Cruz, Rossmery Almonte (Narrator). My review: Sublime in every way!!!! Angie Cruz wrote a wonderful book — and then, and then, and then the amazing Rossmery Almonte narrated it into the stratosphere!!! Great title and cover too!
And then there’s poetry and all those styles, which blogger Aparna Sharma has decided to tackle. That’s between her General Medicine studies in Kazakhstan (though she’s from Rajasthan, in Norther India)! Pardon all the exclamations, but I can’t help how my heart warms at how blog-land lets me meet people like Aparna, who love to write that much!…
Thank heaven for writers like Ariel Henley, a young woman who describes what it is to be born (in this case with her twin sister) with Crouzon Syndrome, a condition wherein the skull doesn’t evolve as it does for most of us. Along her journey that’s included countless surgeries, she’s ruminated on beauty in ways that most of us never consider.
Here’s my review of her book, “A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome,” for Amazon and Goodreads:
Ariel Henley’s brave recount of growing up far beyond the absolutes of what society deems “conventional beauty” illustrates how truly limiting those confines are. Gorgeously and honestly written, she reminds us what each of us unfortunately needs to be reminded of over and over again. Our “shoulds” about our bodies don’t serve us unless they include our souls and our uniquenesses.
In the realm of fiction, Helene Tursten offers up Maude, an octogenarian who’s had it up to there with bad people. She’s a killer without remorse.
My review of Helene’s first small book of short stories about her, “An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good,” for Amazon and Goodreads:
Move over Olive Kitteridge (which I adored too, but in a different way). Maude’s fed up. She’s in her late 80s and she’s not taking it anymore… Such a rollick! The sequel is super charming too!
For the sequel, “An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed,” I offered:
Woman in her late 80’s is a killer. What’s not to like? #1 was great & this #2 is even more fun.
Today’s guest, Robert Pacilio, has self-published five novels of various genres — all after he retired from teaching! Find out more about him and his books, as well as to reach him for speaking engagements and book clubs, via his website.
Here he shares how he mined what he learned in Act I of his life to segue into his Act II…
Hello. I was born in 1955…that means that I am 67 years young. I started self-publishing my novels at 54. For 32 years, I was a high school teacher. That was ACT I. I loved teaching—I still love making a cameo appearance in another teacher’s classroom.
ACT I was a hit. I won numerous awards; however, the best reward was the love and respect of my students—which is why my next book is a memoir about those students and my impact on their lives. It is due out later this year.
I have always told stories—written and spoken, and as you read about my journey to ‘authorship’, you are likely to wonder how I got to “the Promised Land.”
Here is my answer: I didn’t get to the mythical land of the New York Times bestseller list. That is a mirage that seduces everyone with a word processor. If that is your endgame and nothing short of that is acceptable, then get used to rejection. Rejection. Rejection. (And I might add—those rejections will come in bland, form letters…if you receive anything at all.
So, you ask, why do I feel successful as a writer? How did my author’s biography indicate that this indie writer made a difference with his loyal readership? And just how did I even accumulate a readership? Let’s go back in time for the answers. Before we do, let’s discuss the latest trending word: nepo-babies.
Nepo-babies are not you or me. They do not need to read this or any other blog about being published. Why? Because they are (a) rich since their parents are rich; (b) children whose parents are famous; (c) they know people inside of the business of ‘publications’ because their parents do; (d) they went to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc., because their parents did, and they have ‘connections’; and finally (e) all the above.
That is not us, Gang. My parents were Tessie and Louie, Italians who came out of East New York (the non-glamorous side of Brooklyn in the 1940’s and 50’s).Theygraduated from high school and then spent a lifetime making a living in the world of hard knocks.
So if you are like me, just a hard working, regular person who learned his craft and then decided to have a second act as a writer, nobody–I mean nobody—is going to give you an unearned break. You have to earn it the old fashioned way—with grit and drive. No quitters make it and there are no short cuts for “tramps like us” (apologies to Springsteen).
Okay, still with me. Good. Flashback to 2007 when I decide to write a semi-autobiographical novel about a year in the lives four fictionalized students whose teacher just happens to be me. I wrote the novel as I was teachingAmerican literature that year and it took a year. I had a close friend as my editor, not a professional but close enough at the time. Once done, I had a manuscript and I did what all writers do—head to Writers Market to query an agent.
It is said 50 rejections is typical. That’s what I received. Some advised me to turn it into a how-to- book because non-fiction sells. That was not my jam.
Out of the blue, a former student who graduated years before visits my classroom (this is during my final years of teaching), and he tells me he works for Createspace. I ask, “Is this is a vanity publication?”
He responds, “No. You do all the work, hire an internal book designer, a cover designer, and an editor, and when you are done, we produce the book. You receive 70% of the profit.”
And that’s how I got started. Createspace had a community I could tap into to hire an internal book designer. I had a graphic artist and photographer whom I worked with and joined my team. Within a few months, VOLIA—“Meetings at the Metaphor Café” was born!
How did I produce it? My designer (Tony Loton and based in London) uploaded the manuscript and the Kindle version. He charged me $1,000 roughly (in 2007), and since I was already a teacher in a large district as well as being the 1998 San Diego County Teacher of the Year, I had what they call a PLATFORM. This allowed me to speak at teacher conventions, other schools outside my district, and even travel outside my state of California as word spread. That novel was nominated by other teachers for the California Young Readers Award (the only one to be self-published). Needless to say, I didn’t win. Remember, I am an outsider.
From there I wrote a sequel to that YA (young adult) book and then I moved to a different genre—adult/romance (think Nicholas Sparks—not Danielle Steel). During that time, I still was querying agents, and one agent who was impressed with my dogged pursuit of a publisher for my first novel decided to take me on. “EUREKA!” I thought.
She asked me to make over 100 edits to the manuscript, and then she tried to sell it to publishers. But as you might have guessed there were no takers. Why? First, it was self-published and they felt that most buyers have already bought it. Second, it was not “real enough” meaning no sex, violence, gratuitous cursing (the f-word). I wanted teenagers to read this is class and for a Board of Education to approve the novel, which has happened. Nevertheless, publishers believed that kids would not read a story that was just about growing up and learning about life from a teacher who didn’t look like Michelle Phieffer.
So after a year of those rejections, we parted ways until my next adult novel “The Restoration” was completed. She told me to not self-publish until she read it. I did as she suggested. She asked me to make numerous changes, and after I followed her advice, she abruptly decided it was a romance, and she did not handle that genre. I know what you are thinking—you must have been very angry. I was. She apologized. End of story.
My next novel “Meet Me at Moonlight Beach” also didn’t get any agent interest although at this point I was none too interested in the run-around.But the novel sure did sell. It got the attention of the local columnist Karla Peterson of the San Diego-Union-Tribune and a front page review in its “Arts” section—with a picture, no less (40 copies sold just that day). The power of media is evidently impactful. The same week, the books was for sale at none other than Barnes and Noble! I was invited to speak there. All this happened in 2018 and 2019. The train was rolling down the tracks…then Covid made the world skid to a stop.
During the isolation of 2020 I wrote my latest novel a legal/political jury trial titled “Whitewash.” This time I made a concerted effort to snag an agent using Querytracker. I decided to query several hundred agencies, and from all that effort I received two “nibbles.” You should know that each query requires a different chapter sample, different versions of my biography, and introductory query letters to grab their agency’s attention… so it took months of diligent work. In the end, of the two that seemed interested, one just ignored me (after making me wait for two months) and the other agent took it to his higher-ups. They thought it wouldn’t sell. So another no-thank-you, Sir, moment. I proceeded to self-publish it, and it has done fairly well, despite the Covid quarantine all of us have been dealing with.
So what are the ways I get the word out? All of the following tasks paid some dividends:
YouTube videos of me reading various sections of my novels, placed on Facebook, Twitter and any other social network with which I can engage.
Speaking at as many conventions as possible is enormously helpful. Teachers, writers, service clubs, and church groups.
Creating my own website www.robertpacilio.net and having a professional set it up on WIX. It has reviews of all my novels, links to video clips, and how to purchase any of my work, including how to order directly from me (and get a signed copy which I pay to ship it to the buyer). It also has a PayPal link for an easy purchase.
Getting local media outlets to cover/review my books. The local newspapers that serve communities are really helpful and will work with a determined writer.
Gathering all readers into a community and sending out newsletters updating what you are doing and where you will be speaking. Even small groups at a Starbucks work well. That is a way to get book clubs interested—especially if they know you can travel to them as I have.
I have a former student who specializes in publicity, and she has taken me on as her pro-bono client. She organized the virtual book club meetings during Covid and interviewed me on a Facebook LIVE segment.
I have spoken at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. They demand a healthy cut in the profits but that is just the way it is.
I have a tribe of loyal friends who act as readers of my manuscripts. They are so helpful, and they will spread the word. I also encourage folks to review my novels on Amazon.
I have been on several podcasts. They help reach people outside your “zone” of influence.
The most important thing I can tell an indie or a person breaking into the writer’s Field of Dreams is that YOU HAVE TO BE ACTIVE AS YOUR OWN SALES FORCE. Nobody else can sell your work effectively. You can’t just write a book and sit back passively, hoping the droves of fans will line up for your John Hancock.
As for getting rich, I would say that self-publishing a book means you probably have to front about $1,000 to $2,000. If you work hard and your writing touches your audience, you will make that back and more. I’ve been fortunate to have a great team working with me for the last 13 years. Michelle Lovi in New Zealand has edited two of my novels and designed the interior and covers. I highly recommend her, and I will pass on her information to anyone who wishes to reach her.
I wish all of you luck and to remember that nothing comes easily—certainly not writing. Be open to revisions and do not be discouraged. The curtain rises on Act II and the person who raises that curtain is YOU. Break a leg.
Do you have plans to author a book? Will you seek an agent or publish it yourself?
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Marketing, building a platform as a writer… There’s more to being a novelist than most people think…
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 getting my novels ready to publish. What I know for certain is I’m having fun here — meeting you as I build my author platform! Who knew I’d encounter so many friendly people from all over the world, who would open my ridiculously sheltered eyes?
Before I started blogging, I romanticized the role of Author with a capital “A.” No need to lift a finger to sell their books. On talent alone, I believed, they attracted their super-star literary agent and publisher.
Before Author brandishes pen and paper or fires up their computer, there’s a rousing jog with their dog, a refreshing shower, and a decadent breakfast with aromatic teas. Next, Author inhabits their writing worlds from a cushy seat before an incredible desk that faces a spectacular view. For the sake of creativity, there’s a midmorning espresso break with sweets ala the madeleines writer Marcel Proust used as analyze memory.
Throw in more writing, a leisurely lunch, strolls between writing, which culminate at four for a feast shared with famed thinkers. Sleep is restful, peacefully given now and then to inspiring dreams… 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 keeping their stunning models warm. Clothed subjects were always famed and genius…
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.
For some writers, publicity is part of their process…
The novels I’m working on are comprised as letters to a deceased grandmother. Many stellar authors began by serializing their books. 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!
For my books, my plan is to eventually podcast bits of my novel and then get it into print. This blog is the beginning, where I gather a circle of friends who are interested in novels and arts, who spread the word about my writing, and who hopefully will enjoy my books.
Author Charles Sterling wrote his first novel when he was 15 and has published many more since then! He writes and blogs from Russia. Here he shows us how easy the marketing/platforming side of writing is and that it builds upon itself…
Book Marketing & Author Platform by Charles Sterling
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!
How do you discover your next books to read?
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“When’s the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice — and that’s as empowering as it is romantic? Me, never — until Joshi’s follow-up novel! Joshi’s enchanting story is set in 1950s India, a woman’s narrative about the choices she’s been doled and how much she makes with them. Moreover, the performer of the book’s audio version, Sneha Mathan, is marvelous!” ~ My review of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for Amazon and Goodreads.
I absolutely adore books (after all, I’m writing two)! Whenever I finish reading an exceptional novel, I review it on Goodreads and Amazon. Sure, not all stories resonate with me. As a tender-hearted author, I know too well the blood, sweat, and tears that even a crappy book demands, so I let other people review those. Afterward, I email the novelist to thank them for making my life more thoughtful and maybe even fun. Ditto for any audiobook performer involved. Some thank me back, and on the days my stars are aligned, they agree to contribute to Happiness Between Tails.
Anyone who doesn’t read The Henna Artist is missing out. Clearly it’s written by a generous spirit. Just glance through Alka’s website and Youtube channel, where she lauds other authors to the extent that she poses with their books, including Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic as she says how grateful she is for it. Btw, I love that book too!
Allow me to digress a moment: Henna, oh, henna, you magical green powder! You enhance my hair, and you make lovely temporary tattoos!…
The day before I got married, I drove to Los Angeles’ Little India for these gorgeous henna tattoos.
They’re far more forgiving than the permanent ink ones, and brides aren’t allowed to do housework until they’ve worn off…
Dusting off my photos to show you these provided an excuse to reconnect with Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer (check out her Instagram too) who was beyond kind to gift them to my sweetie and me. Back when she shot them, we both worked for the Beach Reporter, a Manhattan Beach community weekly. I reported on Hermosa Beach while she worked as a private event photog and as the publication’s photojournalist.
Back to our esteemed guest: Alka was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. At the age of nine, she moved to the United States. Eventually she graduated from Stanford University and worked in advertising, public relations, and owned a marketing consultancy. Moreover, she has a Creative Writing MFA from Cal Arts San Francisco. The Henna Artist is her first book. In less than a year, it’s a huge success! The sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is set for July, plus the third book in the trilogy will come out in 2022. Above and beyond that, she’s an executive producer for the novel’s upcoming Miramax TV series! What follows are her thoughts on women in India. Note that when she speaks of how women, in this case architects, are often undermined, India is not the only country that restricts us. Unfortunately, I’ve met women architects in the United States who encounter discrimination here too…
In January 2019, the Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, received an email from the registrar to attend a convocation.
It requested formal dress: “trouser, coat and tie for men” and “saris for women.”
This sparked a lively, funny, albeit very polite, conversation on WhatsApp among the female faculty, who normally wear trousers, Western blouses/tops, or salwar kameez (long tunics with legging-like bottoms) most days.
“I may not wear a sari…I don’t even own one!” “I do not even know how to wear a sari.” “[I’m] not against saris. But at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I’m not used to it is definitely a challenge.” “Can’t tie one at 7am and drive…and get through the day!” “No sari. Impossible to wear and report at 7:30 in the morning.” “Why a sari at all?” “If the women must wear a sari, wouldn’t a *dhoti be more in sync for the men?”
*(Now mostly worn by village men, a dhoti is a white cloth from five to seven yards in length, wrapped loosely around the legs and tied in a knot at the waist. While dhotis have gone out of fashion, saris are still a mainstay of female couture for weddings, special occasions and family gatherings.)
“We are all sensible enough to know what to wear. Most of us might even have worn saris to the event without being asked. But when you tell us exactly what to wear, we are going to have something to say,” laughs Monisha Sharma, associate professor. “Our Dean, who is female, told us to just look as smart as we do every day, so that’s what we’ll do.”
In addition to teaching in the Architecture school, these women are working architects. At construction sites they are often greeted with curious expressions: Can women really be architects? Are these women here to tell us what to do? One professor told me that she had organized a site visit to a factory for her students. When they got to the site, the founder only responded to the junior male faculty who had accompanied her, choosing not to acknowledge her at all. Similarly, a female architect who was managing a project for her father’s structural engineering firm was not being consulted by the construction team until her father ordered them to talk only to her. She was, after all, the project manager and the only one who could answer their questions.
To someone like me, who’s been raised in the West since the age of nine, it’s surprising that the women’s reaction is not anger (that would have been my response, along with bewilderment and confusion). Instead, the Indian women laugh it off. “We have already made our mark in our profession,” they say. “We don’t need to hit them over the head with it.” At the convocation, the female faculty wore Western trouser suits. Not a sari in sight. There’s more than one way to make a statement.
Have you tried a henna tattoo?
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A great book to get you into the groove is How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. He also published How to Raise an Antiracist, discussed in an earlier post. Here’s my review of it for amazon and goodreads:
“Highly educated and wonderfully humble, Kendi details his own early prejudices and steps us through the United States’ history of racism. Bigotry harms everyone and anyone can be a bigot. Antiracism, fortunately, is the antidote that everyone can learn.”
Another informative read is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. This is my review of it on amazon and goodreads:
Race is about skin. Class is about external things one might be able to hide. Caste goes down to the bones. Bigotry in the United States — our inequities on all levels — boils down to caste. It’s why some people who’re victimized will trod upon others. Wilkerson explains all this and the context of our shameful history of slavery and discrimination. Did you know that we got so good at teaching people to stomach slavery that Hitler sought to learn from us?”
Any serious writer knows there’s more to communication than vocabulary and grammar. Language is about how people think.
Civil rights movements in the United States really took flight in the 60s and 70s — and labels played a major role in creating positive change. When Gloria Steinem named her feminist magazine “Ms.,” many family dinners became hot debates over whether women should use Ms. instead of Miss and Mrs.
Then came arguments over switching “mailman” to “postal carrier,” and “stewardess” to “flight attendant.” The next slog was weeding out racial slurs. To this day, there are people who enunciate the phrase “political correctness“ as if they’re cussing.
For most good ideas, the masses regard those first to propose them as nuts and worse. Eventually, a grudging acceptance sets in. Finally, it’s like the entire world acquires amnesia, and believes they were born thinking that way.
Make no mistake, I am no angel. In my case, I have to slap my forehead at how difficult (long ago, for whatever it’s worth) it was for me to transition from something as basic as calling a friend Jim instead of Jimmy when he turned eighteen!
People spend entire careers studying the way people from all parts of the world communicate. Some countries designate genders to everything from rocks to the sky.
When my husband speaks English, he occasionally confuses genders because in Iran, where he was born, Farsi doesn’t employ words for it. Which gets me meandering into recommending Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act,” where he explains how we all need to travel more so we can get our ostrich heads out of the sand. Part of why it can be harder to learn a language when we’re older is if we insist that there is only one “best” way for things like language to operate.
From as far back as when I was a kid, I questioned not pronouns, but gender roles. Back then, people sought to inspire me with their ideas about how wonderful it was that only women could bear children and be truly nurturing, but not anything else. From what “little me” saw and heard, “womanhood” amounted to life as a vessel and a slave. No, thank you.
Later, when I co-produced documentaries like this and this one, everyone assumed my male business partner was the boss. Except, that is, when we videotaped at a school for developmentally disabled adults. Wait, tell me again, who are we labeling “disabled”?
Thank you, everyone who works toward changing oppression. That includes anyone who wants to challenge how we think of pronouns. I wrote a bit about that H-E-R-E…
Adopting new behaviors can be a challenge. It’s fine to express frustration, but remember that how we express ourselves matters. The worst thing we can do is add fuel to the raging fire of bigotry.
Words are letters strung together to make sounds and are used to identify something. Seems very straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s always astonishing to me how upset people get about certain words, especially the ones in the English language that are literally the shortest words we have. Yes, I’m talking about pronouns. So what exactly is a pronoun? Grammatically speaking, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun—for example: I, he, she, we, they, and it. There are plenty of others depending on the case, like possessive pronouns such as mine, yours, his, hers, and theirs…you get the idea. But why all the consternation about pronouns? I mean, there are some people who get outraged if you tell them your pronouns, or lose their minds if a person chooses to go by “they” instead of the binary “he” or “she”. And if someone decides to change their pronouns, all hell might break loose. (Notice that I used the plural determiner “their” for the singular “someone” in the previous sentence and that’s just fine; in fact, the use of the singular “they” can be found in the English Language as early as the year 1375.)
But why do some folks get so up-in-arms about how other people choose their own pronouns? It’s personally baffling to me. I have a degree in English Language and Literature and I taught high school English for almost twenty-five years, but I never got my knickers in a knot about pronouns—if you tell me you’re “he”, that’s what I call you. If it’s “she”, fine by me. “They”? Absolutely not an issue. Unfortunately, not everyone is as accepting, and maybe that’s just borne out of a lack of understanding.So as someone with a certain expertise in English grammar, I’m happy to answer your questions about pronouns.
1) “Why are pronouns so important to some people? I never even think about mine.”
Exactly. You don’t have to think about yours, because you’ve never questioned or struggled with your own identity. But other people’s lives aren’t as simple, and the pronouns they ultimately choose, whether it’s he, she, or they, help them validate themselves to the world.
2) “But boys are he and girls are she, and that’s all there is to it. If a person doesn’t use “he” or “she”, how will we all know what sex the person is?”
First, what difference does it make to you? Why are you so worried about other people’s genitals? Because that’s how sex is assigned at birth, by someone doing a visual check and making an announcement about it. Second, birth-assigned sex is not binary. Sure, there’s male and female, but there’s also intersex. And if you’re that fixated on knowing someone’s sexual identity based on binary pronouns, it’s a good job you don’t speak Finnish or Chinese, because neither of those languages (and quite a few others) have gendered pronouns.
3) “But people shouldn’t be able to just change their pronouns, should they?”
Of course, they should. And if you’re having trouble with the concept, consider this example: You find a caterpillar in your backyard. “Hey, little caterpillar,” you say, and that’s what you call it all summer. But when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon and it’s transformed into a butterfly, do you still call it a caterpillar? Of course not. It’s the same with people. If a person has made a transition from one gender to another, why wouldn’t they change their pronouns to match their new identity and why wouldn’t you respect that? And if they decide that they’re somewhere in between the two genders, they can use the non-binary “they”. It’s fine—even the Oxford English Dictionary says so.
4) “Non-binary?! But there are only two genders and you can’t switch the one you were born with!”
Sorry, wrong. Gender is a very fluid spectrum and there are many places along it. Also, gender is a social construct. Most of our ideas about gender and gender expression are based on current social behaviours and attitudes, and those are also fluid. For example, in the 1700s, men wore wigs, ruffles, face powder, and high heels. It was considered appropriate for their gender. In the Victorian period, if a woman wore pants, it was scandalous, but I’m currently sitting here typing this while wearing jeans and no one even bats an eye. And the whole idea that only girls can wear pink? That’s an eccentric, late 20th century fad. Colours are part of another spectrum, one of light that our eyes perceive, and they have no gender; in fact, it was perfectly normal for men to wear pink right up until the 1940s. Everything changes over time, and the way we use language in terms of gender is no different.
5) “But language never changes! The English we speak now is the English people have always spoken, right?”
If you really believe that, then I have only one thing to say:
Nū scylun hergan hefaenrīcaes Uard, metudæs maecti end his mōdgidanc…
Oh, you don’t understand what I said? But it’s English—in fact, it’s from one of the earliest known English poems, called Caedmon’s Hymn. Wait, let me try again:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…
Still having trouble? But that’s from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century. In English. See, the English that you speak now has changed a lot. Did you also know that there used to be more than one word for “you”? If you were speaking to or about one person you knew quite well, you referred to them as “thou” or “thee” depending on the grammatical case. If you were speaking or referring to a group of people or someone you weren’t as familiar with, you used “you”. But around the end of the 1600s, using two different ways to refer to someone started to fall out of favour, and by the 1800s, no one used “thou”, “thee” and all its other derivatives anymore. And I’m sure there was a small faction of people back then who were just as incensed: “How will we ever be able to distinguish between a single person we know and a crowd of people we don’t?! It’s outrageous!” Well, we all got over it. And now there’s only one word for “you”, which simplifies things.
And speaking of simple, here’s the simple truth. If you’re bothered by someone putting pronouns in their bio, or you refuse to accept it when someone you know has requested that you refer to them as “he” instead of “she”, or “they” instead of “he”, or you get irrationally upset that someone you don’t even know has transitioned from one gender to another, the problem is thou, not them.
What book inspires you to do better? (And what do you think of this new blog theme I switched to since my old one became obsolete?)
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Voting day is right around the corner. Readers and writers, please don’t throw away your voice. Fortunately, there’s still time to make it easy on yourself. Vote by mail! I just did.
Rev up your keyboards and pens and lips — tell every single politically like-minded connection you have to vote and to do it immediately before they find themselves too busy or too absent-minded!
Most of my decisions were easy. 1) Naturally, I’m pro-choice, and 2), whenever possible, I support candidates least likely to give an inch to our ex-ogre, errm I mean former president.
Besides voting, this week I’ve been progressing with learning about podcasting. Since my show’s start a little over a year ago, it’s been on amazon music (and a bunch of other places, as listed at the top of this post). Have you ever reached out to someone or somewhere and, when they took 10+ months to reply, you could’nt remember why you did? In this case, amazon music has a free bonus for podcasters, though I’m murky about particulars…
No matter. Since this show is for me to practice and learn, I did as they asked. Here’s the advert they requested, highlighting that Happiness Between Tails podcast streams on amazon music…
Upon receipt, they quickly (wow!) emailed back that it looked good (double wow!), and asked which of their music genres to aire the commercial on. Umm… I asked them if they have analytics on which attract dear blog-sphere folks like you. But, now hoping they won’t take another ten months to get back to me.
What genre of music do you listen to? Do you ever listen on amazon music?
Dunno how many free times this ad will air, when, and so forth. Will keep you posted if I learn more.
Now that we’ve all voted (yes?), today’s guest blog post is by David Hunt. He also contributed here too. Basically, we met as infants, working at a car rental at LAX. Since then, together we’ve traversed many winding roads.
Voting in mind (and again, tell your friends to be like you and me and get out their black pens to vote now), wouldn’t it be great if our votes resulted in supporting great workers like those at the fore of HIV/AIDS?
Thirty-five years ago this month the CDC warned about a troubling outbreak of Pneumocystis pneumonia in five otherwise healthy young, gay men in California. Later that summer, when I reported on the outbreak for radio station KPFK, the number of cases had grown to 41, including 6 in California and 20 in New York. And, in addition to the rare form of pneumonia, gay men were starting to come down with a rare form of cancer and other opportunistic infections. By the end of the year, this new disease, later called AIDS, would claim 121 lives.
I don’t suppose anyone who covered the early years of the AIDS epidemic came away untouched. I’ll never forget Robert Bland’s soft brown eyes and calm determination to serve as “an AIDS guinea pig,” even as he acknowledged that a cure would surely come long after his own death. Or the button imprinted with the defiant message “I Will Survive” that San Francisco AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell proudly wore right up until his death in 1984. Or the scathing criticism gay journalist Randy Shilts leveled at bathhouse owners who refused to provide their customers with condoms or educational materials. Courage, defiance and anger; like the stages of grief, these came to symbolize for me the stages of AIDS activism. To be honest, fear was there, too, just below the surface.
By the time I began working as a video producer in 1985 the AIDS epidemic had expanded beyond the gay community, and now affected people of color, teens, women and even infants and children. An educational video I co-produced for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in 1992-93 told the stories of three families struggling to deal with AIDS. it featured a 12-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl (pictured above) and a baby boy. The message of the video, targeted to the parents and caregivers of children with HIV/AIDS, was not to give up hope, that new drug therapies were being tested and would soon be available. We titled the video “Hope for the Future.”
I don’t know if any of the children on the video survived long enough to benefit from the new drug cocktails that eventually made AIDS a largely manageable disease. I heard that the baby died shortly after we finished production. One thing you learn in an epidemic is to ration the amount of grief you have to handle at a given time. While I’d love to see those kids grown up and healthy, I’m not ready to face the other possibility.
If anybody’s still counting, AIDS has claimed more than 35 million lives worldwide since 1981.
Do you believe an afterlife exists? Today holds more than enough for me to agonize over… though sure it would be nice if my dearly departed ones dropped by now and again… if I’m going to consider that, should I dwell on how I’ll be remembered?…
Last week, when I mentioned a “dirty” (what is “dirty”?) book, Bojana (a great writer with a wonderful personal blog — maybe if you ask her nicely in the comments below, she’ll let you in?) enlightened me about James Joyce. The author is so revered that I want to read his tome called Ulysses, but even his own adoring wife wished his books were easier to get through.
Thanks to Bojana, I now see he also wrote some pretty easy-to-understand stuff. After he and his beloved wife passed away, some of his letters to her were discovered inside of the sleeve of an old coat. They were odes to loving his wife — in the context of explicit sex.
Obviously, they were meant only for her eyes.
Years later, the aftershocks continue of publicizing them. To name only a handful of the issues they bring up, there’s everyone sensationalizing them, the public’s far-ranging reactions, the fact that writers can and do experiment with many kinds of writing… questions like whether it’s important or mere avarice to reveal private details of people once they’re dead.. and if it’s okay to do with some, how do we differentiate?…
Or you can listen and see some photos of the clothed couple looking staid…
Today’s guest, Lori D. Marchell, is an artist of many talents and lives in Southern California. She also works in the healing arts…
Chert Dog’s Greatest Gift: Quantum Leaps of Faith, a synopsis by Lori D. Marchell
Chert Dog came into my dad’s life after the sudden passing of my mom. In his book entitled “My Father’s Greatest Gift: Life Lessons From A Black English Labrador Retriever,” he conveys his mission and purpose as to bring unconditional love and forgiveness to all he encounters with the main objective in healing my dad’s broken heart. This Black English Labrador Retriever accomplished this in his 14 years life span.
With Chert’s deep inspiration and connection to Spirit, he came to me in a dream three months after he crossed over and asked me to walk to watershed where the cover photograph of his book was taken. After walking around the park, as I began to leave, I heard a crying sound. When I approached the tall tree where this sound was coming from, I looked up and a yellow and white kitten was crying for help. After over an hour and a half, the kitten finally listened to me asking it to jump to a lower branch where I could reach him and that is where Jaco’s story begins.
Jaco Kitty has five toes on all four paws, with actual thumbs on his two front paws. His healing energy and leaps of faith into all areas of his life have taught me about the importance of listening to your intuition and taking on new adventures. Through his growing-up years he has taught me about standing up for myself and making new friends which brings in Tigger. About a year ago, Tigger, a brown and white tiger cat began visiting Jaco. Through a gradual bonding process, Tigger and Jaco are now best buddies. And added to this, Tigger’s family have become friends as well.
Check out my website, where you’ll find links to my father’s book and videos of Chert Dog’s and Jaco Kitty’s original piano music theme songs, along with various excerpts of their stories on my blog.
Whose life do you think is fair game for public exposure after they die?
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Fiction writing, from short stories to novels, is woefully underrated. When people ask me about my writing, I ask if they like reading. Eyes bright, they answer that of course they do. Argh, then they list their fave non-fiction titles. Any discussion of fiction elicits sighs about their lack of free time.
Folks in my circle muscle through books, gobble self-help and cookbooks and how-tos the way they do bitter greens and vitamins. Fiction, to them, is dessert, chocolate that isn’t even in the dark anti-oxidant range.
I beg to differ.
In keeping with the food/nutrition analogy, self-help is great in the way of popping supplements. Fiction, on the other hand, is whole-food goodness, nourishing in ways that defy science.
“Like a Love Story,” by Abdi Nazemian, is an exquisitely told novel. Ostensibly, it’s for young adults, but don’t let that keep you from reading it. In it, an Iranian-American teenage boy comes to grips with his gayness amid 1980’s AIDS. The audiobook also features a terrific cast of narrators.
In the way only fiction can, “Like a Love Story” evoked memories, feelings, and thoughts. A couple of nights after finishing it, I dreamt of a beautiful young man, David Fradkin, who I knew back then. He was wise, fun, talented, full of life… and got sick… Here’s a bit more about him.
Some liken AIDS to Covid. Hardly!
Yes, Covid involves ugliness, including squabbles between maskers and vaxers. However, the early days of AIDS were completely hateful.
With AIDS, people from government officials on down — and unfortunately they still do! — blamed victims and refused to help. Countless lives would’ve been saved if it had been handled with even half the urgency Covid inspired, false starts, mishaps, and all.
Besides my prior post’s mentions of experiences with AIDS, at another job during the early-ish AIDS era, this one as a temporary administrative assistant at an advertising agency, there was a man who impressed me because of how truly kind and professional he was. I worked many of the agency’s desks, filled in when full-timers were on vacation or sick leave. This man was a dancer in his real night-and-weekend job, and we liked to talk about our involvement with the entertainment industry. When I eventually subbed at his desk, days turned into weeks into months. The office was smallish and everyone lamented his absence. When I couldn’t find one of his computer files, one of his bosses insisted I phone his home.
Oh, how I wish I hadn’t. Everyone knew he had AIDS, that he was home dying. But I called and this good soul answered and then promptly hung up on me when he found out why I’d called Good for him.
On another day back then, I parked my car to temp at another office. (Most likely I was running late, having gotten lost, asked for directions at a gas station, and searched the Thomas Brothers map book under my seat, haha.) In the lot, a gaunt young man gasped with exertion, trying to get out of his car, then sat back down to catch his breath as he rested his forehead on his steering wheel. No, I couldn’t help, because yes, I knew…
In my heart’s eye, we’re all lucky for any gay man who’s still with us, having survived those horrible times. In my circle, by comparison, Covid seems like nothing, nowhere near the overwhelming number of deaths. Regardless of real statistics, senseless deaths due to hatred define AIDS, whereas politics and stupidity define Covid.
Read “Like a Love Story” because it’s hopeful — also, in ways that non-fiction can’t, it lets readers step into history to see that always, we’re more alike than not, when it comes to confusion and fear. Nazemian’s “The Authentics” is a great read too!
“Cat Brushing,” is a book that Jane Campbell at age 80! Among her radical collection of short stories, no topic is off-limits. Each vignette of noir humor illustrates how, to put it mildly and without revealing too much, we don’t ever have to stop surprising ourselves or anybody else.
While I’ve got your ear or rather eyes, if you haven’t already heard, a young woman in Iran was killed merely for not wearing her head scarf modestly enough. People there are so angry, so beyond fed up with government oppression, that the murder has lit the fuse to numerous public outcries.
To censor protesters, the government has closed access to WhatsApp, a major international internet phone/text/video app. You can help their voices be heard by sharing this video…
Were you around to remember or hear about AIDS in the 1980s? Then or now, what’s your most potent impression?
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Progress — oh, you thrilling and unhinging thing — I finished writing my book, yes, I started recording an audio version via a compact homemade audiobooth (thank you, Mother Nature, for cooler days), and then there were setbacks of sorts.
All last week, I couldn’t figure out why, oh, why, my voice sounded hollow and flat on the audio recordings. Each day, I made changes that improved the sound, but only a little. When I was ready to chalk it off as “that’s just how I sound,” I hit on tweaks that, thank the goddesses, made the needed difference.
Yay! But — what a sinking feeling, too — should I or shouldn’t I start all over and re-record everything? Ugh… the idea of putting in all those days again…
Monday morning I awoke in a “give ‘em hell” frame of mind and took it from the top. I was rehearsed and felt not fully confident, but stronger. Whad’ya know, over that single day, I caught up to where I’d left off!
That same night, I got an email from Shut Up & Write. through Meetup. It was a call for entries for a TV pilot about writers.
Normally, I click contest notices into the junk bin. This time I actually opened the email, read it, and decided, “Okay!” Call me masochistic? Ordinarily sure, but in this case, much of the attraction was that the deadline was in two days, meaning I would give it my best shot without torturing myself for an extended period. Moreover, I now have the video to use here and to show you!
Besides a very specific type of video, they asked for a brief autobiography, a synopsis of the novel, and the first ten pages. Mind you, I am very-very protective of my novels. Fortunately, these people appear quite legit and they didn’t ask for a social security number, a bank account, or any other suspect info.
The TV show/pilot is called America’s Next Great Author, which the producers liken to The Great British Baking Show, in terms of goodwill among participants and all involved. All the people in charge are authors who’ve published many books as well as carved out careers of teaching others to publish.
Anything to do with authors, especially of fiction, I’m all over, so I wish them the best of luck, with or without me.
Here’s what I put together after countless attempts. I also tried to somewhat pretty up the finished clip for you, in terms of color and sound correcting, and adding titling. Dang though, no matter what I did, iMovie muted the ending, so this is it in its unvarnished glory (and I cringe each time I watch it, wish I had time for yet another take). If you want to follow along, the script follows beneath this YouTube window…
Script to the above audition for America’s Next Great Author
(ANGA’s pitch video strict instructions: 1:15 maxm and must include, in this order: name, where from, catchy autobio detail, book pitch.)
Hello, my name is da-AL, which is spelled d-a-A-L. I’m from many places and currently reside in Los Angeles.
Most people are interested to know that my father invented my name. And — that no one else on this planet shares it.
Okay, now let’s get to my novel!
Flamenco & the Sitting Cat is my love letter to anyone who thinks they’re too broken, too old, too whatever to find happiness.
In it, heart-cynical Lali Catala shows how every single one of us, at all our many coming-of-ages, deserves happiness, with others and alone. Closing on forty, her career as a journalist is bombing.
She aches for a life partner. However, the mere mention of the love-deadening convention called matrimony gives her hives.
She’s so lonely that she’s even writing to Abuela, her deceased grandmother.
Whad’ya know, Abuela answers!
How do you feel about writing competitions?
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