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

Justice… I’m in the middle of continuing writing from here and here (in between working on my novels) about doing jury duty (read of the actual trial in an upcoming post) and some general thoughts about justice that have resulted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: info within parenthesis added by da-AL

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please write to Rebekah at:

RCT Hyde, Rebekah

STC/FRP

PO BOX 15210

Parris Island, SC 29905

God bless you and your family. Thank You!

Sincerely,

Patricia Hyde

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

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

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

About Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About My Love of Animals

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

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

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

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

An attempt to liberate animals from laboratories:

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Magic

Rescued, Adopted, and Shelter Animals/Animal Shelters:

EconoClash Review #7

The Hollow: Where All Evil Things Lie Vol. 3

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

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

On Wildlife

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

On Adopting Pets

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Astrology in Novels: Nina Romano’s Inspo

In high school, a classmate who was as passionate about reading as I was sat near me. Best friendship was in our stars!

The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64844306 The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Her preferred reading was historical fiction, the ancient sort with mythology and astrology mixed in. Thanks to her, I read a bunch by Mary Renault, an English author who lived much of her life in South Africa. Those books depicted lots of buff gay guys from olden days. Ironically, a) in South Africa Renault could live more peacefully than in the U.K. with her life partner who was also a woman, b) she often portrayed women harshly, and c) she criticized the gay rights movement.

My friend also introduced me to “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.” (Here’s a rare video interview with Goodman.) For me, Goodman was worthy of extra esteem as she was Aries, the same as me. When it came to Aries, all compliments were correct and unflattering attributes were incorrect. Until, that is, at some point in my so-called maturity when I tossed astrology into the same bundle as my Catholic upbringing. Both harbored too many confounding and disturbing aspects, so best not to fret about either.

Not so much later, though, a new friend entered who was into astrology. Charts, she explained, are how astrology becomes scientific. She introduced me to Angela Louise Gallo, a master at charting the stars. Gallo read and taught from her home in Van Nuys, which is just above Hollywood, hence she garnered a sizable entertainment biz crowd of followers.

Gallo’s monthly talks culminated with “hororary” readings, as in “hour-related” since those forecasts tied her psychic powers to the time of night when she would take questions. From slips of paper handed to her, she’d give quickie predictions. I’d parted ways with my parents as soon as I graduated high school with no plan other than survival. By the time I met Gallo those few years later, I’d collected myself enough to realize that I needed to do better. I asked Gallo whether I should sign up for college. She answered, “Wait a couple of semesters. Soon you’ll be taking a long trip.”

That month my grandmother sent me an airplane-paid invitation to visit her in Argentina! During childhood, my grandmothers and I exchanged many letters. They were fantastic in all the ways that mattered to me: they didn’t sugar-coat life, they wanted the best for me, and they helped foster the writer in me who will eventually publish Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat. I loved them dearly, sight unseen. The one in Spain I first met when I was nine. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got to hug my Abuela in Buenos Aires.

After that trip, I hired Gallo to do a detailed chart, yet I can’t remember anything about it, including what happened to it. These days, I’d rather not presuppose anyone based on their birthday, and I prefer to bumble along as best I can when it comes to my future.

Yet I still adore stories about astrology!

In this admittedly roundabout way, I present to you, dear reader, today’s poet/novelist guest, Nina Romano, who writes from Florida and Utah. Originally from New York, she’s a world traveler who’s earned degrees and writing awards galore, plus she’s published a slew of books.

Here she generously recounts the way that Chinese astrology figured into her The Secret Language of Women, the first of her Wayfarer Trilogy. Read to the end for an excerpt from it in addition to links for Nina and her writings.

Writer Nina Romano. Writer Nina Romano.

How Chinese Horoscopes Helped Me Develop a Realistic Protagonist by Nina Romano

For The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding of the protagonist’s psyche for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is a warm and caring being, a healer, courageous and intelligent. When a person born under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change.

Loyalty and honesty are two of this horoscope sign’s characteristics. Lian falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor, and remains faithful to that love, despite the fact that she is forced into a loveless marriage. Her quest is a difficult one, but she chooses to follow her path despite menaces, oppositions, troubles, risks, and dangers. She is fierce in her love and faithful to everything she believes concerning it.

Having visited China several times afforded me unique experiences that enabled me to see in person Hong Kong, Beijing, and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and Lian’s enchanting city of Guilin. I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture, and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had an incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing during the Year of the Horse.

While writing this novel, I pictured what happens during the Chinese New Year: careful cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, Lian cooking on a wok, and serving rice to her beloved.

Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia, is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I describe a pool with carp in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that, there is little doubt.

Cover of

Excerpt from The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano

The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.

My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshu represent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.

Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to

conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian. 

Amazon Author — hardcover, softcover print, and Kindle: The Secret Language of Women & Lemon Blossoms & In America — softcover print and Kindle: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

Goodreads & Twitter & @ninsthewriter & Facebook & BookBub

Has astrology helped you with storytelling and anything else?

 

Guest Blog Post: How well do you know your hometown? by Nina Zee

My Los Angeles, much as I adore it, is an urban sprawl that takes effort to get around in. Busses take forever to get from one stop to the next, our new-ish subway system doesn’t go to nearly as many places as I’d like, and our freeways are clogged round the clock. Do you take the time to get to know all that your city has to offer?

Born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, and a decided globetrotter, blogger Nina Zee is on a mission; to inspire travelers to create dream trips using tips from her vast experience. Here she shows us around her home city, Atlanta, Georgia…

Blogger/world traveler Nina Zee.

“How well do you know your hometown?” by Nina Zee

Until last year, I know the answer for me was not very well! While I had lived in Atlanta for most of my life, I did not explore it or really venture downtown. Heck, most of it really was not that safe. But thanks to us getting the Olympics in 1996 and other development since then, like the Beltline, it continually becomes a great place to wander aimlessly.

Like most others, I was busy going to school, getting married, building a career, raising puppies, creating a dream home, and just living life in general. We would head downtown to see NHL hockey, but when that was gone, we no longer had a reason to go to that corner of town.

When people would come to town, we would head to the aquarium, the largest in the western hemisphere, and Centennial Olympic Park, but that was about it.

Ponce City Market in Atlanta, Georgia.

My New Year’s resolution in 2019 was to fall in love with my new hometown. I made a list of the top things to see and do. Every time we did some new, like going to Atlanta Botanical Gardens, the Dragon Con parade, or Ponce City Market, I fell more in love with it.

Lucky for me, our street art scene is busting at the seams.

Street artist Greg Mike’s Atlanta Braves mural.

After spending most of the year visiting sites around town and attending events, I can proudly call myself an Atlantan. It is amazing what seeing it through a new pair of eyes can do for you.

I dare you to explore your city like a tourist and not fall in love with it!

Even though you live someplace, do you really explore it? Do you know it like the places you visit?

Let me know.

Nina Zee

Animals in Fiction: Part 2 of 2 about novelist Peni Jo Renner

If you’re planning to be a soon-to-be self-published novelist like me, what’s your game plan? Mine is first to gather a following of folks who enjoy my general sensibility and style. Everyone can get an idea of both through Happiness Between Tails and the other social media I use. That way (fingers crossed) there will be some people interested in reading my books when they finally debut.

How do you find out about novels, purchase them, and in what format?

Peni Jo Renner, who lives in Maryland, is a self-published historical novelist — plus she’s a blogger. In a prior post about her, she shared her self-publishing insights.

Her three books are available by clicking on their titles. The 3-part series begins with multi-award-winning Puritan Witch; The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, followed by, Letters to Kezia, and lastly, Raid on Cochecho.

Here she discusses the value of animals in fiction…

Historical novelist Peni Jo Renner has self-published three books!

“The Importance of Furry and/or Feathered Characters” by Peni Jo Renner

I spent my childhood pounding out corny stories on a plastic manual typewriter that printed only in caps. Admittedly, my plots were shallow set in idyllic valleys where the protagonist’s biggest challenge was locating a runaway Palomino mare named Nugget.

Accompanied by a bloodhound named Trapper.

And a pet raven named Edgar (and no, I’d never even heard of Edgar Allen Poe yet!).

Fast-forward about 40 years, and after putting aside fiction writing for nearly a quarter of a century, the writing bug bit me again and I realized my dream of writing (and getting published!) when I wrote Puritan Witch; The Redemption of Rebecca Eames. This multi-award-winning novel was quickly followed by its sequel, Letters to Kezia.  A third novel, Raid on Cochecho, completed the trilogy and I had accomplished my task of writing historical fiction.

My novels are peopled by my own Colonial ancestors, and it was really fun researching life in the 17th century. During my research, I was reminded that although styles may change and technology may advance, humans retain their proclivities throughout the centuries. 

As do non-humans.

Some of the most fun characters to bring to life are the four-legged ones. Riff, the big, loyal dog in Puritan Witch, continues his role as a devoted companion in Letters to Kezia. In the opening scene of Raid on Cochecho, the purity and innocence of childhood are embodied in a playful white kitten simply called Kitty. 

A human-only cast of characters, with their human foibles such as hate, greed, and selfishness, in this author’s opinion, needs a little respite with the sprinkling of a few animal companions here and there. After all, they can be the most fun to write!

Self-Published Historical Novelist Peni Jo Renner: Part 1 of 2

Historical novelist Peni Jo Renner has self-published three books!

Many who visit here are soon-to-be self-published novelists — me too! Fortunately for us, Peni Jo Renner (who lives in Maryland) has three self-published historical novels worth of experience to share with us…

da-AL: What advice can you give to writers who want to self-publish? And who’d like to get their books into public libraries?

Peni Jo Renner: Advice? Well, in 2012, I hadn’t written in like 25 years, and I felt I needed a refresher, so I took a class at our local community college. A fellow student told me that she had published HER book with iUniverse, so I went with them. But due to the measly 20% royalties iUniverse offered, I looked into other self-publishing companies and settled on Lulu with its 80% royalty rate. LuLu took care of all the copyrights and stuff. Self-publishing with companies like this can be expensive, so if money is an issue,  Amazon’s Createspace is free. 

I’m not big on self-promotion. I didn’t write my trilogy to make money, more to fulfill a lifelong dream. However,  I do ask new Facebook friends to “Like” my author page, and I participate in #SharingIsCaring on Facebook. #SharingIsCaring is this campaign on Facebook (and I suppose Twitter and Instagram) that authors list their FB author pages on other authors’ pages. Everyone Likes everyone else’s pages. Usually, the campaigns begin on Sundays.

In the past, I have participated in local book-signing events, but they are few and far between. However, I like to keep a supply of “The Puritan Chronicles” bookmarks, and I’ll ask people, “Do you enjoy reading historical fiction?” If they reply in the affirmative, I give them a bookmark. 

As to libraries; I know my trilogy is at my local library, but that may be due to the fact I used to work there! However, a cousin in Texas did show me a photo of my book, “Puritan Witch,” that she found at HER library!

My books are POD (Print on Demand), so the best way to purchase them is online. I wrote Puritan Witch; The Redemption of Rebecca Eames. This multi-award-winning novel was quickly followed by its sequel, Letters to Kezia.  A third novel, Raid on Cochecho, completed the trilogy and I had accomplished my task of writing historical fiction.

Here’s the bookmark that historical novelist Peni Jo Renner hands out.

Dear Happiness Between Tails friends: Check back soon for the follow-up to this Happiness Between Tails blog post, when in “Animals in Fiction: Part 2 of 2” about novelist Peni Jo Renner, she gives us a peek at her writing process.

Are you writing, or planning to write, a novel?

Guest Blog Post: Who is Family? by K E Garland

Photo of author/blogger K E Garland
Photo of author/blogger K E Garland.

Holidays and New Year celebrations are when messages about what family should and shouldn’t make me want to gag. They generalize everyone into one big homogenous lump.

That’s when I step back and take stock of the people I know. It does my heart good to see that we’re individuals — and that includes our families, the ones we make, or our lack thereof.

What are your thoughts on family?

Here blogger and author of books, K E Garland, describes how being adopted shapes her concept of family…

K E Garland

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was…

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Guest Blog Post: Mutts and Mistletoe by MACSBOOKS311

Cover of "Mutts and Mistletoe" by Natalie Cox

Mention a dog in a book and instantly it’s that much better! Do you agree?

Here MACSBOOKS311 revisits us with another great book review…

Macsbooks

If you are a dog lover, then Mutts and Mistletoe is must read book for you! Even if you aren’t a dog lover, you will enjoy this delightful holiday book!

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The holidays – which for me begin on October 1 – are the only time of the year that I actually read and enjoy cozy mysteries and romance books. I think it has something to do with being raised on holiday classics which morphed into Hallmark Holiday movies. I like feeling nostalgic and magical and in love this time of year. If given the opportunity to read a fun holiday story, I will jump at the chance. Mutts and Mistletoe was such an opportunity!

Charlie’s life has hit the rocks – her boyfriend just ran off with his trainer, her mother has fled to Australia with her new husband and, in a neighbor’s freak explosion, her apartment ceiling caved in…

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Happy Halloween and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) by da-AL

da-AL and her husband in Halloween 1970s disco costumes.

Get out your candy corn and candles and costumes! It’s Halloween and Dia de los Muertos aka Day of the Dead. Do you celebrate them?

Huntington Library, Art, and Gardens by da-AL

da-AL at The Huntington, sitting on a bench in rose garden

What better way is there to celebrate a special occasion than with an all-day excursion of gorgeous weather, strolling an array of gardens that span rainforest to desert and Japanese to Australian to more, seeing the worlds’s stinkiest (and amusingly phallic) plant, eating international fare, admiring fine art museums, and ending it all with a high tea?

My honey and I spent our special day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (a collections-based educational and research institution) located in San Marino, California. Tap photos for captions…

da-AL and her honey having high tea at The Huntington

What’s your favorite way to celebrate a special day?