Recipes: Persian Veg Kabobs, Tahdig, Veg Omelet + Podcast: W. Croft

Photo of Khashayar with brunch spread he cooked.
Brunch ala Khashayar.

Willow Croft on Writing and Animals Happiness Between Tails

#Animals #Writing #Authors Poet/blogger/speculative and horror fiction author Willow Croft tells how her writing and love of animals merge. How do animals figure into your love of reading and/or writing? Record your thoughts on my podcast page on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy Me a Coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Visit this show’s original blog post for links and photos of Willow Croft’s book and cat. Time Stamps (where segments begin): Happiness Between Tails introduction da-AL discusses today’s guest 2:00 Willow Croft on writing and animals 2:20 A question for you 14:00 — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of “Willow Croft on Writing and Animals,” which you can read the text version of H-E-R-E. (This show has a new graphic to reflect that it’s shortened from an earlier version that included information that’s become outdated. Anchor’s tools make editing easy!)

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotifyand Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Click here for an audio version of the blog post below.

1. Veggie Kabobs with Grilled Tomatoes

The other night Khashayar, cooked something so outstanding that I took a picture, but didn’t think about creating a blog post for it until too late — I’d only shot this one photo from the top of the stove. Sorry I can’t show you how scrumptious it looked plated with plain rice. Khashayar enjoyed his with slices of raw onion as well. No wonder his recipes get more likes than my posts!

Khashayar's veggie kabobs with grilled tomatoes.

Pardon that the instructions here are a bit rough. He’s been extremely busy with work lately, otherwise he’d write it himself. What follows is how he told me he made it, and the notes in parentheses are mine:

It’s an easy recipe, like making what Persians call kabob-mahitabe. (Mahitabe simply means pan.)

The base is fake meat, a pound of “Beyond” brand ground meat. T-H-I-S link explains about the brand.

Get your grilled tomatoes started first, so they can caramelize while you make the kabobs.

  • Slice them in half and bake them, cut side up, at 400°F for about 30 minutes.

For the “meat,” mix together:

  • 1 lb. vegetarian ground meat substitute
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Then stir the following spices into the veggie meat and egg mixture:

  • 1 tablespoon red Korean chili pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Now…

  • Shape the “meat” into flat broad strips, then brown them in a pan with a small amount of oil.
  • Once plated, sprinkle the kabobs with sumac, which is a powdered berry that adds tartness, but no heat, even though it’s red.

2. Persian Rice and Tahdig

When  a friend saw the kabob photo, she asked about “fancy Persian rice.” By that, she meant the crispy layer called tadig, which in Farsi translates into “bottom of the pot.” Persians serve rice many ways, not always with tadig. They also cook spaghetti (which they label simply “pasta”) in a similar way to achieve spaghetti tadig!

The night of the kabobs, Khashayar didn’t make tadig so I don’t have a personal photo for you, but visit this blogger’s site for a nice photo of her variation on potato tahdig.

Begin with long-grain basmati white rice that’s been rinsed until the water runs clear. If time permits beforehand, soak it in salted water for several hours. Then boil it (don’t stir, otherwise it will turn mushy) only until it’s slightly undercooked, as it will be steamed further in the next step. Salt to taste.

The easiest method of making tadig is simply to leave it in the rice pot, cooking a bit longer. Basically whatever food is at the bottom of the pot, such as the rice, will crisp up.

Some cooks line a new pot with oil, then layer it with lavash (thin unleavened bread for which Mexican tortillas are a great substitute), or slivered potatoes. Gently heap the cooked rice over that, then cover the pot to steam everything until the bottom browns.

Many cooks simply pour several inches of oil at the bottom of the pot, while restaurants merely deep fry a bunch of rice. For a lighter version, Khashayar first lines the pot with a circle of parchment paper.

Rice is fluffiest when it’s handled least. Khashayar often rigs a thin towel to the underside of the pot lid, the ends of it pinned away from flames. That way steam can’t drip down and turn the rice gummy.

Once the rice is plated, liquify a pinch of saffron in a few tablespoons of boiling water. Stir into a ladle full of rice into that, then arrange the resulting bright gold grains over the white steaming mound.

The method for spaghetti tahdig is basically the same. Start with extra al dente pasta that’s been drained, then pile it into a pot lined with parchment paper and a little oil. Same as with the rice version, you can then steam the pasta over that, or you can first add thin bread or slivered potatoes to the bottom of the pot.

Photo of Khashayar and da-AL with scrumptious food!
I know I’m lucky to have a husband who loves to cook healthy!

3. Asparagus Omelet with Mushrooms and Sweet Potatoes

Saute onion, garlic, asparagus, salt and pepper to taste.

Just before the omelet is completely cooked, fold in the above mixture and sprinkle in as much grated parmesan as you like.

Once plated, those who eat fish can top it with bits of smoked salmon, a “better” fish because not much is required for a lot of flavor. Ring the omelet with sweet potatoes that you’ve oven-roasted with paprika and cinnamon, along with the steamed mushrooms. Garnish everything with chopped fresh chives and parsley.

Close up of Khashayar's asparagus omelet.

This makes a great brunch, especially when you serve it with a nice black tea mixed with cardamom and saffron. For the perfect compliments to the meal, fill bowls with whole leafy greens (soft mild ones such as fresh baby leaves from beets, arugula, and spinach), and herbs (such as parsley, mint, tarragon, and lemon basil), that everyone can eat in fistfuls between bites of the main dishes.

Warm lavash, feta cheese (a “better” cheese because just a few crumbles are quite satisfying), and walnuts soaked in brine are wonderful for breakfast too. Another great accompaniment is an interesting fruit salad like this one of pears, strawberries, bananas, and different colored grapes.

Bowl of Khashayar's fruit salad.

A brilliant Persian cookbook with splendid photos is “New Food of Life,” by Najimieh Batmanglij, which I reviewed H-E-R-E.

Want more of Khashayar’s recipes? Type his name into the search bar — H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E are some to get you started…

Nooshe jun! (Happy eating!)

What are you enjoying eating lately?

Blog and Pod Tricks + Podcast: Dwayne Sharpe’s Sci-Fi

Photo of K-D-doggie giving da-AL a sloppy kiss.

1st podcast!! + D. Sharpe’s Sci-Fi “Another Day in the Twilight Zone” Happiness Between Tails

#ShortStories #Podcasting #Novels #WritingLife #Authors #Drama This very first experimental installment premiered during the early days of the first COVID-19 lockdown in Los Angeles. First it discusses podcasting, then Dwayne Sharpe reads his sci-fi short story, “Another Day in the Twilight Zone.” As always, I welcome your insights and questions. Record them at my Anchor site — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. And buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Links referred to in this episode: Video version of this episode. Blog post with this episode in text form. This episode first resided here at Podbean, a podcast host. A Happiness Between Tails blog post where I sing public library praises and another one here. A video with my honey and a super cute baby chick in New Zealand, and this amazing cat video I made in Spain. Get Dwayne Sharpe’s books, "Thomas' 100 Cat Tales” and “Blaze Mysteries,” here. He also enjoys geocaching, which you can learn about here and here.) Los Angeles County Library Virtual writing groups offered through Shut Up & Write. Photos available at the blog version of this show: Dwayne Sharpe, the cover of his book, “Thomas’ 100 Cat Tales,” and the cover of another of his books “Blaze Mysteries.” Time Stamps (where segments begin): 1) Happiness Between Tails intro 2) Background info about today’s show 1:09 3) How I started this show and about today’s guest 1:59 4) Dwayne Sharpe's Sci-Fi, "Another Day in the Twilight Zone” 4:49 5) Happiness Between Tails outro 7:53 — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of an earlier post. There’s a video version of it H-E-R-E (and at the end of this post) — and a text version of it H-E-R-E.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotifyand Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

1. Getting the word out about Happiness Between Tails Podcast takes time away from writing my novels. Rather than worry I’ll never get my books done, I remind myself this stretch of learning is an investment for when I’m ready to produce serialized audio drama versions for the novels.

To that end, it occurred to me — duh, after all this time lol — that while Happiness Between Tails is meant to be a play on “tales” as well as “tails,” only the wag-able kind is represented in this site’s photo. A few days ago, I was feeling rather under-the-weather pasty, but hey, my hair was clean and brushed. Time to set aside excuses and dust off the selfie stick. The new masthead and the photo below are the results. The books? There’s a pile of them on my lap, but they kept sliding, so the book stamped onto my shirt must suffice.

2. Do you have business cards? Does anyone use them? I dunno, but it seems like the thing to have “just in case” if one is to be in business, so here’s mine. The two versions are because I discovered sites like t-h-i-s o-n-e that offer free QR codes. Who knew COVID would bring them back in style?

Screenshot of da-AL's business cards.

3. Podcasting and some lingo: It’s one thing to have a hosting site, like AnchorFM, where one’s podcast lives. “Directories” are also needed to get it into listeners’ smartphones and desktops of various operating systems, and such. For weeks I’ve researched “directories,” among them Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pandora, and so on — they’re the apps and sites that catalog and feature podcasts.

It would be impossible to get onto all the zillions that exist, so I just did my best and now I’m done, at least for now. Take a look at the list, not merely for to know where to listen, but to copy for when you submit your own podcast to directories.

The extended list of directories and other pertinent links are H-E-R-E at Linktree. It’s a site where, among other things, multiple links can be simultaneously funneled into a “master link.” A click of the screenshot below will also take you there…

Screenshot of Happiness Between Tails at LinkTree.
All Happiness Between Tails links are listed and scroll-tap-click-able at LinkTree.

Time-saving Linktree tip: before adding links there, first organize them in another document. Then drop them into Linktree starting with the last one. The last one loaded lands at the top.

Back to today’s podcast — here’s a video version of it…

Dwayne Sharpe submitted the story when Los Angeles was first quarantined, so… 

When you first heard about COVID, how did you think your life would be impacted?

Writing Collab by P. Springer + Podcast: COVID + P. Wight Flash Memoir

Photo of da-AL with a fluffy dog who isn't K-D-doggie.
Shhh… don’t tell my K-D-doggie that I spent a quality afternoon with this friend, Charlie.

Book Reviews + Aparna Sharma’s Tanka Happiness Between Tails

  1. Book Reviews + Aparna Sharma’s Tanka
  2. Carrot Delight Cake: a Healthier Recipe by Khashayar

Click H-E-R-E & you’ll find my brand new podcast page! It’s on AnchorFM, where the most recent show is the audio rendition of my blog post (the blog version is h-e-r-e), “COVID Hair and Writing Life by da-AL + Pamela S. Wight’s Flash Memoir.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotifyand Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Connection… collaboration… We affect each other, for good and bad. Please know that your visits, likes, and comments go far in helping me keep writing my novels (about them h-e-r-e) and the rest of my creative endeavors.

Connection includes your postcards! Rebekah, whose mom, Pat, wrote of her challenge of getting into the Marines h-e-r-e, recently completed the very difficult “The Crucible” culmination of boot camp! Moreover, she didn’t incur further injuries!! Yay!!! Pat says Rebekah, who still isn’t allowed to communicate with the greater outside world, is extremely grateful for your support. Rebekah will soon be in town, so I can’t wait to see her 🙂

This week I’ve slogged more through learning to start a podcast, hence I only got a little novel writing done. With luck, the Happiness Between Tails podcast will appear on least 50 directories (already included are Apple and Spotify). Each directory asked for my RSS feed, bios of varying character counts, different sizes of graphics, email verifications, etc. Halfway through submitting stuff, I discovered I was copying and pasting typos and repeated sentences. Oof! There was even junk to scour from this site’s “Welcome” page.

Next week, my ToDo List includes sorting through the rubble. Meantime, I also found stuff to fix in last week’s podcast version of “Khashayar’s Healthier Carrot Cake Recipe.”

Sheesh, how do people do all this and also promote?! I’m gonna say it now: Twitter, I hate you. I’m forever feeling like I’m hash-tagging you and sharing you and retweeting you all wrong, wrong, wrong. Most people who request to friend me aren’t “friend material” anyway. And Instagram, why, oh why, don’t you make yourself easier to use?! Life would be so much easier if you’d let me share to you from WordPress and from my desktop computer. (Oh, wait, I take back the second half of my rant about Insta thanks to Ashley of Mental Health at Home. She generously commented below that there’s a new way to upload to Instagram from desktops, so here’s a how-to I found on that.)

Today I got my first follower whose link is  a Snapchat. Ms. Sexy Snapchat, I’m not falling into your minefield of clicking on your sleezy-from-a-mile-away link, although I don’t mind that you increase my “followers count.”

Add in “life stuff,” and I wasn’t getting this week’s blog post written until the goddesses came through via Pete Springer. He’s contributed the immensely heartening post you’ll read further down!

Here’s a brief intro to author/blogger Pete Springer. After retiring from decades of teaching second to sixth graders, he published a book for future teachers called They Call Me Mom. He explains, “Every elementary teacher gets the title reference because kids are forever calling the teacher mom. Even though it was said unintentionally, I always took it as a beautiful compliment being compared to a mother.”

Now he’s finished his first middle-grade story, Second Chance Summer, which he’s trying to find a publisher and agent for. Thanks, Pete, for your wise and inspiriting words that follow…

Author Pete Springer.
Author Pete Springer.

The Importance of Collaboration in Writing: 6 Steps by Pete Springer

I’ve reached the age (62) where another birthday isn’t much cause for celebration. On the other hand, I’m still here, or as my mother-in-law used to say, “It’s better than the alternative.” One perk of being older is I’ve had a lifetime of experiences. I want to think I’ve learned a few things over that time. One of those beliefs is that it’s much better to try and fail than not to play the game.

I wish I could say that I’ve always been this fearless guy—the type who wasn’t afraid to try something new and equally comfortable in public speaking situations. The reality is I used to play it safe and took the easy way out. Look where that got me! Instead, now I put on my big boy pants every morning and go after what I want. I like this version of myself better than the old one. I love it when people say things like, “How do you do that?” or “I wish I had your nerve.” 

I have a couple of advantages over most others. I was an elementary school teacher for 31 years, so I got used to speaking to other people and doing things in front of my students that most people would never consider. I’m the one who wore his tidy whities over his dress pants on Backwards Day, the knucklehead who dressed up as one of the Blues Brothers while singing and doing cartwheels on stage, and the crazy guy who took his entire class and their families on biking fields trip across town.

It’s not like I’ve got one foot in the grave, but the hourglass has turned. I don’t have time to dilly around working up my nerve. That’s why I encourage anyone reading my piece to find your inner courage and go after your writing goals. Don’t wait until retirement to start that book you want to write. Get out there and sign up for that writing class you’ve always wanted to take. Above all, don’t be afraid to share your writing with other people because you worry that it doesn’t measure up. We all have to start somewhere, and that time is now.

I’ve done a lot of things to further my writing in the last few years. I’ve taken classes, read many books about writing, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators), started a blog, and networked with other writers. I didn’t consider myself a writer before, but now I do. Seldom does a day go by when I’m not writing something. I take my craft seriously because there is no substitute for practice if we want to improve. While these things have helped me develop better writing skills, the most crucial step was finding a critique group.

Being a retired teacher, I’ve always believed in the collaborative process. Getting regular feedback from others is a critical step in any endeavor. Anyone who has been part of a team understands that we get extra juice from our teammates and don’t want to let them down.

The most critical ingredient in a critique group is trust. I understand that when my partners make recommendations and suggestions, they’re offering their opinions because they’re trying to help. As writers, we need to be open to constructive criticism. Sometimes things that I don’t see right away become apparent when someone else points them out. I’d estimate that 90% of the time, I agree with my critique partners’ recommendations. 

Of course, sometimes there are differences of opinion. We don’t get into prolonged debates trying to prove that we’re right. Getting feedback from others doesn’t mean we always have to agree with it, but we should try to listen and understand their point of view.

Ultimately, writers must be happy with the words they choose. If someone makes a point that I differ on, I either respectfully disagree or don’t say anything and write what my heart tells me is the better choice. When my editor made recommendations and changes, I listened to these thoughtfully. She was usually right, and I trusted her judgment in most situations. On the rare occasion when I didn’t, I explained my reasoning and went with what I believed was better. Working with an editor should be a give-and-take process.

Every critique group must find a process that works for them. Because most of the people in our group are retired, we’re able to meet nearly every week for four hours. Regular feedback is critical as a story develops. I’m sharing our process, knowing that others may have formats that work better for them:

Step 1: We do a brief check-in where each member shares what has been going on in their life.

Step 2: We hold a one-minute meditation to free ourselves from outside distractions and get our minds focused on the task at hand.

Step 3: We have a regular order, so we always know who the first person to share will be. Whoever comes first after the last person who read the previous week begins. They give a brief thirty-second reminder of what was happening in their story and then pass out the new chapter to each of us. We have a limit of up to ten pages per week for each member.

Step 4: Everyone reads the paper silently and makes written notes on the draft. After everyone finishes, we share our thoughts. One of the most crucial parts of the process is that the writer may not immediately respond to any feedback. This part is vital because it forces the writer to listen to each comment critically rather than act defensively. 

Step 5:  After everyone has commented on the paper, we move into the period called “Open Discussion.” At this point, the writer may react to any feedback. Sometimes thoughts are briefly debated, but everyone understands that the writer may accept or reject the suggestions.

Step 6: We continue this format throughout the meeting. If we don’t get to someone by the end of the session, that person has the choice of whether they would like their chapter to be homework or not. Those writers who haven’t had their chapter read will go first at next week’s meeting.

I sat in one week with another group, and the group dynamics felt much different. The one person I knew from that group couldn’t attend that day, so I worked with strangers. Their format was completely different; that threw me off. Each writer read their paper aloud, and the others were making notes on their papers simultaneously. They were in the middle of stories, characters, and plots I was unfamiliar with, and I was pretty much lost. I also found it challenging to write notes while listening to the story at the same time. By the end of the meeting, I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I didn’t have any regrets about trying.

One final area that I want to address is that of having friends read your work. I did that with my first and second books, but I’ve learned this creates difficult situations. I had friends who told me they were dying to read my story. After I gave them a copy, I didn’t hear back from some for months. I don’t want to make it sound like this was the norm because many friends responded quickly with helpful comments. When I heard nothing, it created some confusion. Did they read it? Maybe they thought it wasn’t good and didn’t want to say anything. Perhaps they were too busy and forgot all about it. I tried to keep the process moving forward, but I also didn’t want to be a pest.

Having experienced this a few times, I was left wondering what to do. If I hadn’t heard anything for several weeks, I reached out again (once) and asked if they had a chance to get to it. A few times, I got the “I forgot all about it” response or “I’ve been super busy, but I’ll get to it soon” answer. I understand that those things can happen, but I’m the type of person who follows through when I make a promise. Knowing how uncomfortable and awkward this scenario felt, I’m no longer putting my friends in that position. Perhaps they didn’t know what they were signing up for when they volunteered. From now on, I will rely on my critique group, fellow writers, and other professionals in the industry. 

While writing is primarily a solitary pursuit, all writers should periodically get feedback. I am the least experienced writer in my group, but I didn’t let that intimidate me. The others made me feel like a valued member right away. I love the camaraderie of working with others, but what I like best is seeing my improvement as a writer. 

I’ve heard of critique groups that function online with Zoom. I can see how that could work. Others don’t meet face-to-face, and instead, people respond by email. I prefer meeting in person, but this method might work better for people who are still working. If we’re serious about improving as writers, then working with a group of equally committed people is an essential step in the process.

Do you find collaborating with other writers helpful?…

Tango Videos + Chris Hall Audiobook + Audio/Podcast Version

Screenshot from video of Khashayar and da-AL dancing Argentine Tango, un-choreographed.
Screenshot from video of Khashayar and da-AL dancing Argentine Tango, un-choreographed.

Dance Fun + How to Publish an Audiobook Novel by Chris Hall Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Dance #Audiobooks #Writing #Writing #Books Do you listen to audiobooks? A past guest, author/blogger Chris is from England and now resides in South Africa. For this show, she describes what went into producing her new audiobook. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 How to Publish an Audiobook Novel by Chris Hall My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. Link to author Chris Hall. Links to this video and this one of my husband and me dancing. A sample of Hall's audiobook. When Chris was a past guest. Audioshelf, the South African company that published Chris’ audiobook. Authors Republic, that offers audiobook publishing and distribution worldwide. Chris’ book at Audible and Chirp and Amazon. Info about my novels-in-progress. Headliner, which I used to produce a full-length video version of a another show. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Chris Hall and her audiobook. My husband and me dancing. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

For an audio/podcast version of today’s post, check out my podcast on Anchor.fm! At my homepage there, you’ll find links to subscribe, hear, and share shows via most any platform, from Spotifyand Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. Here’s the full list of 50+ places.

This week I had time to work on my novels. Yay! I’m also happy to report that my husband and I danced. The Covid quarantine put our tanging on hold. As much as we missed it, we were even more eager to see our dancing friends at last. Pre-Covid, a number of fellow students gathered several times a year for potluck and dance ranging from belly and flamenco, to tango and folk.

Khashayar and I performed two tangos for our friends last weekend. To be safe, the event was outdoors and only included friends who were vaccinated. Over the Covid interim, my hair had grown so long that during rehearsal, it got stuck in his armpit. The morning of the show, I whacked 4” of it off. When we performed for real, I was so out of shape and unaccustomed to wearing heels that my calves were cramping. All the same, the whole night was truly heartwarming and fun!

We began with a classic tango, un-choreographed as is the tradition for authentic Argentine tango…

Later we performed a milonga style Argentine tango, also not pre-choreographed, so as to adhere to convention… 

Back to the subject of books — do you listen to audiobooks? I’m obsessed with them. It’s amazing how quickly moments of listening during cooking, washing dishes, sweeping, driving, exercising, brushing my teeth, and walking my dog add up to a whole book!

Author/blogger Chris Hall, who has guested here before, just produced an audiobook! She calls herself a compulsive story-teller, a cat slave, and a hen keeper who hales from England and lives in South Africa with her artist husband. Lately she’s finishing the sequel to her novel, “Song of the Sea Goddess.” Visit her blog to read her flash fiction and poems.

In her recounting of the process she used to convert her novel into an audiobook, she includes helpful links, as well as where to hear a sample of it…

Graphic describing how "Song of the Sea Goddess" is available as an audiobook.

“The Rise of the Audiobook” by Chris Hall

Audiobooks are becoming more mainstream, most growth coming from people using technology to find more time in their day to consume more books”.
Chris Lynch, Simon & Schuster Audio.

Audiobooks have been around for almost a century in one form or another, although it was only in the 1990s that the advent of digitized recording technology saw audiobooks take off. They’re a boon for people with visual impairments and those who have difficulty with holding a book or e-reader. Or those who don’t get on with processing the written word but still love stories. And of course, they’re great for busy people who like to multi-task, all those artists and crafters, bakers, cooks and wielders of needles I know! From my hairdresser to my podiatrist, I’ve found people who love to listen to audiobooks.

There is also the opportunity to reach a brand new, younger audience. The ‘Podcast Generation’, the 18-24 year age group, are increasingly listening to audiobooks, and these are not a traditional book buying group. Plugged into their smartphones, they consume their stories on the go.

Increasingly aware of the appetite for creating audio offerings amongst some of the folk I know here on WP, where more people are converting their posts to podcasts, producing their own podcasts, and generally getting to grips with ‘all things audio’, I decided to dip my toe in the water and make an audiobook.

But which of my novels to choose?…

I decided on my most recently published novel, Song of the Sea Goddess. It’s the first book I’ve written set in South Africa, my adopted country, where in my experience, people are less wedded to the written word, but love their listening devices. It’s a book that I hope will appeal to both a local and a global audience.

Song of the Sea Goddess combines fantasy and magical realism, and contains elements of an eco-thriller. Key themes include man’s avarice and arrogance, and the human threat to the environment and to earth’s creatures (both real and imaginary). Written not long after Cape Town almost ran out of drinking water a couple of years ago, it also touches on the thirst for water experienced in many parts of Africa.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. My novel is populated by a small cast of quirky and humorous characters who reside in the charming little coastal town that I created for them, an imaginary place on the beautiful west coast of South Africa. They’re a great bunch to get to know, and very relatable to a local audience.

Author Chris Hall.
Author Chris Hall.

So, to the process of producing an audiobook…

A little online research led me to make my first decision: I had to find a good narrator. Even if I had that magical ‘voice for radio’, it’s a mammoth task to read and record an entire novel. Nor do I have the equipment or the skill to make a professional digital recording, and I can only imagine how many times I’d need to stop to silence my very opinionated cat! But, by great good fortune one of the teachers with whom my husband used to work is also a voice actor. I asked him to drop her an email.

Voice actor Terry Lloyd Roberts was happy to take on the project and in turn, she introduced me to Devon Martindale, Director at Audioshelf, a South African company dedicated to the production of audiobooks. From then on making the recording was easy. All I had to do was send them the manuscript and they’d do the rest. Over the next month, I received a chunk of chapters to review each week. Listening to the recordings made by Devon and golden-voiced Terry was an absolute delight. It couldn’t have been easier. You can listen to a sample here.

Armed with the finished recording, finding a platform on which to publish was the next step. Being in South Africa closes off many avenues (don’t get me started) and I was disappointed to find that ‘big names’ like ACX were ‘not available in your geographical location’. However, Devon came to the rescue and recommended Authors Republic who offer audiobook publishing and distribution worldwide.

After signing up, completing a US tax form, and adding my paypal account details, all that remained was to fill in the book details, load up the cover pic and upload the audio files, which had been perfectly prepared by Audioshelf, then finally set the price, although the distributors have the right to amend this to fit their pricing profile.

Just two weeks later, my audiobook was available via all the major audiobook retailers, including the ones unavailable to me in South Africa, like Audible and Chirp. It was also published on Amazon, alongside the e-book and paperback, which I’d been unable to do directly.

Bottom line: cost vs. sales…

Because of the time involved to read and record an entire novel, it is a relatively costly enterprise to engage a narrator and arrange the studio time. It cost me equivalent to a nice holiday! This of course, would have been drastically reduced if I’d done my own recording. 

Sales are paid quarterly by Authors Republic and I’m pleased to report that I earned more royalties from the audiobook than the combined paperback and e-book sales in these first three months since publication. It might take a while (if ever) to make my money back, but it does give me the opportunity to reach a new audience. Having people enjoy what I’ve written is reward enough for me.

Would I do it again?…

Oh yes! Terry and Devon are about to start recording my adventure story for all ages, Following the Green Rabbit, which will be out in time for the coming festive holiday.

Do you listen to audiobooks? And is there something you’ve gotten rusty at due to Covid?

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 n Writing Life by da-AL + Pamela S. Wight’s 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.

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

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 I 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?…

Transgender Rights, Coyotes, Girl Scouts, and Gaslighting: with Videos

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

I was in the middle of working out some particularly knotty bits of writing my novels when sweet K-D doggie dropped a ball at my feet. Her message was loud and clear: it was time for a walk. A couple of blocks into our stroll, we encountered this hand-drawn sign stapled to a phone pole. Note the adorable drawings of “doggos” and “cats,” the encouragement to educate oneself under the attention-grabbing “Coyotes are Dangerous!” headline.

Photo of neighborhood poster by local Girl Scouts.
This is the adorable of neighborhood poster I encountered while walking my doggie, hand made by neighborly Girl Scouts.

The coyotes and humans of Los Angeles County make for troubled neighbors. On the one hand, coyotes were here first. The burgeoning number of humans has put a strain on the families of our four-legged population. On the other hand, the more desperate coyotes get for food and shelter, the bolder they become about snacking on small family pets. To their credit, they also munch on vermin such as rats and mice that spread nasty germs and dine on backyard gardens.

Intrigued, I tore a paper tag from the sign, which noted the sign makers’ website. As soon as I got back to my desktop computer, I looked up the “Coyote Crew.” According to their site, they’re on “a mission to safely and peacefully get coyotes out of your neighborhood.”

As it turns out, they’re Girl Scouts! First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt thought Girl Scouts were great. A video on Youtube from around 1937 shows her with an encampment of girls from all over the world. In her speech, she relays a greeting from her husband and urges them to “grasp every good time you can.”

Of course, I had to invite the Coyote Crew to introduce themselves here at Happiness Between Tails. That led me to research the Girl Scouts, given that I knew practically nothing about the organization.

When I was a kid, other than a bit of high school team swimming and water polo, I didn’t join groups because my family didn’t have much money. Also, contrary to a relative who’s forever tried to gaslight me, we moved around a lot. By the time I left home at eighteen, I’d lived in fifteen apartments and attended ten schools.

What I learned about the Girl Scouts is impressive! They’ve been around since 1912 and have been lauded by everyone, including President Barack Obama.

Moreover,  they’ve repeatedly fended off groups that don’t want transgender girls to join. In one case, when a Bigoted Deep Pockets mailed them a check for $100,000 with the stipulation that they not help anyone who is transgender, the Girl Scouts mailed it back to them! Better yet, they collected $250,000 from people who were overjoyed by their intregrity!

Here’s a list of links for an array of girl-positive vintage Girl Scouts TV ads. Isn’t this 2002 ad below just the very best?! It highlights how little girls, cute ones included, have brains that should be nurtured, particularly by their fathers…

The organization is big into teaching self-reliance and smarts, including when it comes to money. Their cookie selling is epic. Their aptly titled “The Cookies Are Here” commercial from 1976 is smart and funny. The way all kinds of people stash them in all sorts of unexpected places makes me want to run out and buy some…

Now, here are Ava and Jamie, the two Girl Scouts behind the sign my dog and I saw on that telephone pole, to tell us about their coyote awareness project project. They’ve put together a great website where they can emailed from…

The Coyote Crew's website photo.
Here’s a picture of a page on The Coyote Crew’s website.

 

“A Silver Award Project (But Socially Distanced)” By Jamie & Ava, members of The Girl Scouts and of The Coyote Crew

Hi, we’re The Coyote Crew, Bronze award and 500/1200 club Girl Scouts who have always fought for animal rights and against animal cruelty. Our journey with animal rights started when people close to us had their cats killed by a coyote, and we have been searching for ways to protect our neighborhood pets from coyotes ever since. About a year ago, we were faced with the challenge of coming up with a project to do for our Girl Scout Silver Award, and so the Coyote Crew was created! Our mission is to help inform people about the dangers of coyotes, and the fact that the coyotes need to be protected as well as our pets. It is our job as humans to keep our animals safe and keep ourselves safe from wildlife, while respecting the boundaries of wild animals, especially those who live around neighborhoods. This project will tell you a little bit about coyotes, how to keep your pets safe from them, why harming coyotes is a bad idea, and expose you to the personal lives of people living with coyotes practically next door to them through interviews.

Meet the Crew

Hi I’m Jamie. I have always loved animals, and after doing a research project on animal testing in fifth grade, I became passionate about animal rights. I joined PETA, and several other animal rights foundations and organizations and began buying cruelty free products. My extensive research on animal rights never touched the topic of coyotes, and although coyotes continued to be a negative thing in my life, I always thought that they deserved more than what humans give to them. Depleting their food source and taking over their land, making them skinny and hungry and unable to live without eating our pets. So I helped start The Coyote Crew. Of course, I have never particularly liked coyotes- my next door neighbor had his cat, Jazz, killed by one, and my dad had to clean up the cat’s dead body in their front lawn. Nobody liked that experience in the slightest, obviously. Jazz was an awesome cat, and we all miss him, but he is only gone because the coytes didn’t have any other options or land to hunt on. And what I hope to do is to make sure that coyotes don’t have a chance to eat the pets, and that humans don’t have intentions to hurt coyotes.

Hi I’m Ava. I have always been scared of coyotes coming into my neighborhood. Some of my firsthand experience includes having coyotes visit my neighborhood, and even being only feet away from one as a small child. Ever since I was a little kid I cared for animals and their rights. One of the main topics I wanted Coyote Crew to cover was that while we should take action to get coyotes out of our neighborhoods, we should not harm the coyotes in the process. Another point is that not only should we strive for our neighborhoods to be free of coyotes but to learn and educate others on why coyotes come to neighborhoods in the first place. Most times when there is a conflict between the two, it is misunderstood on what is really happening on either side. Hopefully in my future I will continue on this journey of learning and educating about animals as it is a topic that cannot be explained in simple words.

The Coyote Crew as a whole has always been about peace between animals and humans. Our goal is to keep coyotes peacefully and safely out of your neighborhood. That however, is only one of our motives for doing this project. Our second one is that we are Girl Scouts with the determination to achieve our Silver Award. If you are unaware of what that is, it is a project most Girl Scouts go through; the qualifications for it require 50 hours of work towards the project, it has to contribute to the community, and you have to work with the community itself. So far we have completed 50+ hours of work and presented to five classes about our project. We have also hung up posters and even started a website.

Now doing this during a literal Pandemic has been no easy feat. Whether it was the fear of contracting the virus itself or the struggle of actually getting the project planned and finished, there were complications. We would say that about 95% of the project was online or digital. We haven’t met up for any of this project.

It sounds crazy to say, but all of our meetings were either on Zoom or facetime. The Pandemic added extra stress about our working with the community, because we haven’t been able to really work with the community as of late. Luckily, we had an opportunity to present to a few classes and interview community members with experience over Zoom. And to make our project sustainable, we thought the internet is one of the few things that will stay for…well a long time to say the least. What better way to do so than to make a website?

Check out our website and email us from there if you are interested in protecting yourself and your pets, and email us with any coyote related questions! Our website explains simply how to keep your boundaries with coyotes and how to keep yourself and your pets safe. There is also a link to a podcast we spoke in (coming soon), an interview with a cat fosterer who has a lot of experience on coyotes, and pages where you can email us and have your own experience with coyotes put up, including an encounters page, a Q&A, and “a design your own flier” (to put up in your neighborhood warning about coyotes.) We hope you use the information in the website and put it to good use, as well as interacting with it. We don’t have many supporters now, but we do hope to in the future!

Thank you so much for reading our article, it means the world to us! We are so grateful to have been invited to post on this site. We never thought we would get as far as to be sought out to speak about something we care about so much, and we appreciate every ounce of support!

The Coyote Crew

Growing up, were you a member of any youth groups? How many homes did you live in and how many schools did you attend? And remember, the best way to combat gaslighting is to speak your truth…

Video: Cool Doggie Days + Lillian Brummet’s Leeks Recipe

K-D doggie is a singer.
K-D takes her singing seriously.

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

Even writers get hungry. When I hit a rough patch as I edit “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel, it’s fortunate I’ve got my workmate who reminds me to break for lunch. Having her beside me as I eat on the steps of our front porch turns sweltering breezes into caresses. If she’s in the mood, she’ll serenade the neighborhood when a siren goes by…

These soft days of late spring we get to see monarch butterflies flutter across our Los Angeles front lawn. They’ve flown all the way from Canada and are headed for Mexico (here’s a wild PBS video of them). How arrogant humans are to use our supposed intelligence as a yard-stick against the know-how of earth’s other life forms, insects included.

Speaking of gorgeous weather and sights, during a recent walk with K-D, I was holding my cellphone to my ear to listen to an audiobook. The novel was the outstanding, “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House,” by Cherie Jones. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I got home, I found I’d unintentionally snapped several serendipitous photos! They’re of blue skies streaked with clouds and of our shadows across the sidewalk. This morning we even enjoyed a few minutes of rain. It was nowhere near enough to slake Southern California’s ongoing tremendous thirst, but it brightened the air.

Photo of amazing in Los Angeles!
The sky is amazing in Los Angeles!

This photo of my dog's shadow is a bit of accidental art!
This photo of my dog’s shadow is a bit of accidental art!

Author Lillian Brummet, who blogs from Canada, says it’s leek season. In my garden it’s time for their sisters, green onions. Before my husband started planting them, who knew one could grow food from the rooty scraps of store-bought ones. They also produce gorgeous flowers! Khashayar, quite the cook, has contributed recipes for Happiness Between Tails such as a great hot soup, a crunchy salad, a fruity dessert and a carrot cake, an entrée, and this appetizer and this one.

Closeup of flower on a green onion.
The flowers on green onions are fascinating!

Back to Lillian and her leeks. Here’s a recipe for them from one of her many books, “From One Small Garden,” which features 300+ recipes. Visit her site for more about her books and the many endeavors she and her husband, Dave, work together on…

Photo of Lillian and Dave Brummet.
Lillian Brummet writes books and works with her husband, Dave, on many projects.

“Leek N’ Mushroom Bundles” by Lillian Brummet

Tis the season of fresh leek harvests  this beautiful bounty is of the onion family and looks like a giant, flat green onion. Early spring and late fall leek varieties are quite sweet due to the plant concentrating the sugars when the weather turns cool. It is one of the earliest items to come out of the garden, especially if you have spread the seed just before snowfall. They don’t take much room in the garden, and they keep very well in the fridge.

These delicious, crunchy bundles make a wonderful side dish to almost anything, or served as an appetizer to enhance the appetite. The bundles can be frozen when raw; and taken directly out of the freezer and straight into the oven (do not thaw) whenever you are craving a few of these tasty tidbits.

1/3 c. olive oil, divided

2 c. chopped leeks

8 c. chopped mushrooms, dime-sized pieces

3/4 c. milk

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

16 oz. package phyllo pastry cut in 4” squares

Sauté the leeks and mushrooms in 1 Tbsp. oil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile combine the milk with salt, nutmeg and pepper, then add to the skillet and cook on low for 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated. Grease 2 phyllo squares, and layer one on top of the other offsetting the top one. This creates 8 corners to draw into a bundle. Place 1 Tbsp. filling in the center of the phyllo squares. Grabbing all the corners of the dough in one hand, twist firmly to hold in place and set on a baking sheet. Cover both the unused phyllo and the bundles with a clean damp towel while you work to prevent drying out. When you’ve made this dish a few times you’ll get faster at it and probably will only need one damp towel to cover the phyllo sheets. Bake at 350˚ for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

What are you hungry for these days?

Novel to Big Screen: how Gabriel Constans turns novels into movies

Are you a novelist? I’m working on “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat.”

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.) 

Wait — let me start over — regardless of whether you’re a fiction writer, have you ever wondered what it’s like to complete a book and then see it made into a Hollywood production-type of film?

Cover of Buddha's Wife by Gabriel Constans.

I met Gabriel Constans through Twitter, where he was working to promote his movie, The Last Conception. The trailer is so charming that it induced me to ask if he’d share his writing and filmmaking wisdom with us….

The guest blog post he emailed confused me because it wasn’t about The Last Conception — but it was interesting too, so I urge you to read to the end of this, where you’ll find it.

As for The Last Conception, here’s what he wrote back when I requested info on how he came to write it, whether someone hired him, or if he was somehow inspired, etc, and what did it feel like to see it on the big screen:

The book (The Last Conception) was written as a romance. I was inspired by both our daughters, and some friends lives, to write the story. It is also somewhat of a continuation of Buddha’s Wife, but set in a contemporary setting.

I decided to write the script from the book and found the producers myself. They turned the movie into a romantic comedy, with my input along the way, and changed and added a lot of the dialogue. They had me go over the movie in pre and post-production and let them know anything they missed or that needed correcting. The film turned out really well. Each of the actors/actresses were perfect for their part and it maintained the essence of my book as well. I am thrilled with the final product, and it seems many others who have watched the movie feel the same way.

Regarding his background, he replied:

I worked with hospice, hospitals and mental health centers as a grief and trauma counselor for many years; have been writing since I was sixteen (novels, articles, non-fiction, etc.); and written screenplays for the last twenty years. I live in the Bay Area in California and love getting together with friends to play our ukuleles and sing.

I’ve had two other screenplays produced — Stellina Blue and, most recently, The Last Conception (which is the one in the trailer above).

As for his guest post that follows, he explained:

It’s about another script I’ve written called Buddha’s Wife. After many years, it now has a director, production company and distributor. They are looking for funding to make the movie.

Find about more about Gabriel and his projects at his blog.

Photo of writer/filmmaker Gabriel Constans. Photo of writer/filmmaker Gabriel Constans.

“It Only Takes a Few Days… Right?” by Gabriel Constans

The story, as seen at this time. So close and yet so far and so far and yet so close.

  • Write a book based on the life of the woman (Yasodhara) who was married to the man (Siddhartha) who became known as The Buddha. Rewrite and edit the book a zillion times.
  • Obtain quotes and advance reviews for novel.
  • Book published.
  • Book signings, promotions, connections and marketing for over two years (before and after novel is released).
  • Meet Navyo Ericsen at book signing. A musician, web designer and film and video producer who wants to bring Buddha’s Wife to the screen.
  • Work with Navyo for a year trying to find a screenwriter to write screenplay on spec, since we have no funds for film. Several possible, but all fall through.
  • Decide to write screenplay ourselves and change historical setting into a contemporary story. One of my previous screenplays (Stellina Blue) was made into a film.
  • Work on screenplay for a year, with wonderful feedback and suggestions from a famous screenwriter/director.
  • Workable, moving and entertaining screenplay completed.
  • Write up logline, summary of film and treatment.
  • Start approaching well-known actresses, executive producers, directors and production companies.
  • Write and develop estimated budget.
  • Elapsed time, from book being published to presenting screenplay to others for film is four years.
  • Presently (two years later), the film has been co-written with Shandra McDonald and optioned by her production company, Kiss the Limit Productions. It also won best screenplay at the FLOW Film Festival in 2020 and has worldwide distribution in place.
  • The challenge is to get the film financed without a name actress yet attached and vice-a-versa, to get a well-known actress attached without first having the picture funded.
  • This is a scene that thousands of novelists, screenwriters and filmmakers find themselves in, so we are not babes in the woods, but it has been an interesting situation with infinite possibilities for Buddha’s Wife to come into being as a movie.

To those in the film industry, this story will be anti-climatic and familiar, but I hope for those just starting out or venturing to put your toe in the water, it provides a little preparation and insight into the amount of patience, persistence and ordered chaos that can await many on the journey to bring their story to screen.

Do you have a project you’re mustering patience and persistence for?