The Hidden Life of “Vanished,” a novel by Mark Bierman

Who knows what inspires someone to write a novel? Even authors don’t always truly until much later. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” seemed merely an experiment, a dive into fiction. Only as it progressed did I see it’s really a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love…

So when it comes to producing a novel, there’s deciding to write, then comes writing, and then it’s published. At that point, the author releases their words into the world for book lovers to make of them what they will. Every reader brings themself into the act of sitting with a story.

Here blogger/author Mark Bierman (click here for his site, to get his book, and to contact him) reveals what he’s learned about him writing process and his readers. Born and raised on a farm in Ontario, he merges country life with his adult experiences as a correctional officer and a story teller. You can find more of his guest posts for Happiness Between Tails here and here.

Vanished by Mark Bierman cover.

The Hidden Life of “Vanished,” a novel by Mark Bierman

A few weeks ago, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.

First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.

Here’s a quick synopsis

Driven to despair by a shared loss, Americans John Webster and Tyler Montgomery try to self-medicate by embarking on a mission of goodwill to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The reconstruction of an orphanage transforms into a nightmarish hunt after a young girl is kidnapped.

 Unequipped, culturally illiterate, and alone, the pair are forced into alliances with shifty characters, as they delve deeper into the treacherous underbelly of the human trafficking world. Can they survive long enough to keep their promise to the child’s mother?

I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.

If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.

The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.

You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.

The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.

So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire to promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.

I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.

Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.

Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty-plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium security prisons.

Novelist/blogger Mark Bierman.
Novelist/blogger Mark Bierman.

The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.

This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize that Hollywood and the news are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.

I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.

Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve led normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.

I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick when I wrote this book.

It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.

I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.

The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”

I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.

The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.        

The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.

Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.

At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.

Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.

Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.

Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers. Look around, you’ll find them everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.

Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read… you get the picture, then you are a helper.

Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.

John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.

This is the true spirit of Vanished.

Here’s how one woman works to help victims of human trafficking.

Do you believe a book can evolve beyond the author’s dream for it?

Keep calm and dance! plus Guest Blog Post by RoiJoyeux

How are you faring during this challenging time? I mean individually in your slice of the globe? Let’s all help each other — tell us — how do you keep your spirits high?

Screenshot from The Weeknd – Blinding Lights – Vintage Dance Choreography – Roberto F

“I do everything the man does, only backward and in high heels!” — Ginger Rogers

Here in Los Angeles, weeks ago, cleaning supplies were nowhere to be seen. Still, it wasn’t until I grocery shopped a couple of days ago that the sight of ravaged shelves was genuinely arresting. And then yesterday — things reached a tipping point. Long lines of heaped grocery carts, jammed parking lots… a friend canceled a much-planned birthday party, Iranian-American family shelved Persian New Year’s festivities…

Connecting with loved ones in any way I can, keeping fit — and having fun!! — are what keeps me afloat. Fortunately, everyone I know has their toilet paper and we’re all okay. That includes my family in worst-afflicted Iran, Italy, and Spain, along with Australia, Argentina, England, and Canada.

It also helps when my husband reminds me that people elsewhere have endured far worse for much longer. Another thing that lifts my spirits is when I visit blogs like RoiJoyeux’s. His is filled with kisses, interesting biographies of non-straight people, the treats he bakes for his loved ones, and dancing!…

“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.” — Truman Capote (read, don’t watching his phenom “Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories.”)

Roijoyeux

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Does Your Light Frighten You? by da-AL

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, activist/author of, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES,”
Marianne Williamson, activist/author of “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A COURSE IN MIRACLES”– Photo by Supearnesh – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

This famous quote — which surely Williamson is proud of however zillion times it’s attributed to Nelson Mandela — reminds me of how sneaky my fear of success can be. As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism. My ultimate goal, I was firmly instructed when my imagination soared, was predetermined. Girls must be cute and sweet so they’d be attractive to boys. Women, I was told, were born to be wives and mothers.

Fears continue to gnaw at me. Now they’re sophisticated, requiring constant vigilance to upend them. Art begs an audience. When art is personal, it’s difficult to not give a damn what others might think, not to mention how wicked my own self-doubt can be. An hour after I was awarded an Emmy, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was blather. He reminded me that I had indeed won it…

Williamson is correct to point that that being our best benefits everyone. When I’m upset about my goals, I remind myself of her wise words.

Do you ever hold yourself back?

Guest Blog Post: Self-Published Author Nadira Cotticollan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all very much for reading this ☺

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

Guest Blog Post: Writing – ways to learn the craft by M.L. Davis

Novelist/marketer/copywriter M.L. Davis blogs from South West England.

Love, practice, and persistence go far with any endeavor — including when it comes to writing. For me, it helps if I can tap into something fun about a project (like with my soon-to-be self-published novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat”). What works for you?

Novelist/marketer/copywriter M.L. Davis blogs from South West England. Here’s how Davis hones her craft…

Uninspired Writers

Writing is a skill, and like all skills it cane be learned and honed. Some people have a natural talent and flare for certain things, others have to try a little harder. Wherever you stand, if you love writing you should write. And if you’d like to improve and grow there are plenty of ways to do so.

1. Write
Let’s start with the simple and most effective answer. Write. You learn as you do, and you improve as you do. As with all skills, you will get better with practice and perseverance.
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2. Read Fiction
If you’re writing fiction, you’ll learn a great deal about what you like/don’t like by reading fiction. You’ll get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. And if you’re going to tell stories, it’s important to get used to the way stories are shaped. (This can also be done by…

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Video: Dark Waters

Before I was a soon-to-be self-published novelist, I was a radio, print, and cable TV journalist…

da-AL in Dark Waters documentary.
Pre-novelist days, here I am in a documentary I hosted and co-produced, “Dark Waters.”

Here’s a video that by my business partner at the time, David Hunt (who describes the event in additional detail here), and I won a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award for. Adam Yurman composed the haunting music for it. Earth Alert! funded it.

What a find — I thought it was lost!

Interviewees include Heal the Bay founding president/environmentalist Dorothy Green and marine biologist/environmentalist Rim Fay, Jr., along with former California senator Tom Hayden representative Cliff Gladstein and former California supervisor Dean Dana.

Back when it was made, we produced a documentary series, a talk show, and more for the cable TV station located in Hermosa Beach, CA, in addition to videos and commercials for small businesses. Once a show was produced, we’d ‘bicycle’ it, meaning we’d distribute copies of it to outlying cities to air on their channels.

In this episode, off-camera is an audience of passersby. Already nervous, the presence of onlookers made me borrow my partner’s jacket to calm my shivers despite the warm day.

Have you had your 5 minutes of fame yet?…

Guest Blog Post: My Road to Getting Published by Geoffrey Simpson

The story of how author Geoffrey Simpson, who just released “The Three Hares,” got his first book published — in his own words…

Geoffrey Simpson, author of The Three Hares
Geoffrey Simpson, author of The Three Hares

On a gloomy January morning, the air was heavy and uninspired. I read an article about ancient symbols—a distraction from those about politics, rife with propaganda. One symbol, with three rabbits chasing one another in an infinite circle, struck a chord. A whirlwind flooded my conscience.

Although I’ve never written before, a few story ideas were tucked away for a rainy day. That same morning, I began to plot. That same gloomy day was the beginning of an adventurous journey to becoming an author. 

Three months later, manuscript in hand and an intent to self-publish, an author friend of the family strongly encouraged me to find an editor. I hadn’t planned on investing in this project, but I also never expected to write a novel. 

As an author, I’ve transitioned through two distinct phases. There was pre-Janet, and post-Janet. As you probably assumed, Janet Fix, owner of thewordverve inc., agreed to become my editor, mentor, and inspirer.

With a polished manuscript and newfound confidence, I changed course from self-publishing and sought an agent. A thrilling adventure began, but as the queries went out, the feedback was unanimous. “Unfortunately, I’m not the right agent for this project.” Not a single manuscript request came forth.

Discouraged and circling back toward self-publishing, I spoke to Janet the Inspirer. She, who wasn’t just an editor, was transitioning her business from hybrid to traditional publishing, asked me to join Team Verve.

Twelve months after that gloomy January morning, Janet became my publisher, and there’s no looking back. Today, Janet is editing the sequel to The Three Hares, and I am writing the third installment of this five-book YA adventure/mystery series. It is this partnership/friendship which has made all the difference.

Cover of Geoffrey Simpson's book, The Three Hares

I’ve got two novels I’m writing. What are your experiences with traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?

Guest Blog Post: Don’t by Born in Providence

When nowhere seems safe, blogger Born in Providence invites us to find shelter on her Island of Sanctuary…

Born in Providence

Don’t show them your drawing

They’ll find the mistakes, compare it to what’s already on the fridge or that Picasso we saw on the field trip last year. Third grade is no excuse; third degree.

Don’t ask them how you look

They’ll find the bump in your pony, the hole in your sock which is already inside your shoe, which are too tight and have a scuff. They’ll see that too. You look tired. Did you even brush your teeth?

Don’t tell them you’re hungry or full

They’ll decide you’re too big, small, selfish, greedy, a bottomless pit, picky. Comparing your plate to everyone with more or less deserving than you, making it impossible to taste or swallow past the lump in your throat.

Don’t offer your opinion even when they ask

They’ll decide their ideas, experiences, thoughts and preferences are superior while simultaneously highlighting why everything that comes out…

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Guest Blog Post: American Grocery List by Elan Mudrow

1930s or so black & white photo of young woman typing
From Elan’s ‘about’ page.

Tired of taking food too seriously? Let blogger Elan Mudrow help…

Guest Blog Post: Ignorance by Chuy

Photo of Chuy dog

It took me a long time to learn this. Paz’ dog Chuy taught it to him…

Chow Dog Zen

Road to The Wonder Woods

Just because you 

Don’t Know

You are 

Beautiful,

Perfect,

And Precious to this

Great Cosmos

Doesn’t mean

It isn’t So.

  • Chuy

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