Sci-fi Icon, Octavia E. Butler (and we’re over Covid)

Book-lover/library-lover Octavia at home. (c) Patti Perret/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Please note: From the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for your kind wishes for my husband and me while we were sick with Covid. Fortunately we’re well now and hope you and yours are staying safe. For anyone who thinks Covid is a simple flu, this is absolutely not the case. While it may start off mildly, it can quickly take a terrible turn. Please get vaccinated if you have the opportunity. Our doctor advises us to be as careful as ever as no conclusive evidence confirms that having been ill with it has gives us one iota of immunity, especially against the newer versions arising.

Savaged by self-doubt? Dry spells getting between you and your goals, including ones for writing your novel? You and I have brilliant company!

A first edition of Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, 1979. Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
A first edition of Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, 1979. Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Octavia E. Butler, the first African-American woman sci-fi writer, wrote herself many pep talks. She suffered through crummy jobs (potato chip quality control, anyone?) and years of crappy pay to attain her writing aspirations.

Octavia cemented her goals inside a notebook cover in 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia cemented her goals inside a notebook cover in 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Talk about paying off! She was the first science fiction author to receive the MacArthur Fellowship’s “Genius Grant”! And she was a multiple Hugo Award and Nebula Award winner!

One of Octavia's many self-reminders, this note regards forging credible characters and worlds. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
One of Octavia’s many self-reminders, this note regards forging credible characters and worlds. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

All that and still she continued to work hard at bolstering herself. Proof is within her donation to The Huntington Library’s Art Collections in Los Angeles, a collection ranging from extensive drafts, notes, and research materials to more than a dozen novels, numerous short stories, essays, correspondence, ephemera, and assorted books.

Detail from Octavia’s notes for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesis trilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
Detail from Octavia’s notes for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesis trilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Born in Pasadena, CA, on June 22, 1947, she grew up poor. She watched her single mom endure racism and classism while cleaning homes to raise her daughter. Octavia towered over her classmates and grappled with dyslexia.

Octavia at around 15. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia at around 15. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Her peers bullied her for not being more like them. As an only child most comfortable among adults, she spent her time at the public library, reading, and writing. Later she attended writing classes and workshops. Check out this cool interactive link the Los Angeles Times created regarding her stomping grounds.

In a 2000 interview for the New York Times, she said, “When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

In 1979, with the publishing of Kindred, she chartered fresh territory for how to relay history. The protagonist is an African American woman who vaporizes from the Los Angeles apartment she shares with her Anglo boyfriend. She careens between the pre-Civil War slave era and back, a harrowing ride to put it mildly. Did Octavia dream of the present, when these days mixed couples are common and now high school teachers assign Kindred to their students?

Photo of Science Fiction novel writer Octavia E. Butler near Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state, 2001. Photographer unknown.
Octavia near Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state, 2001. Photographer unknown.

Octavia was taken from us in 2006, at a far too young 58. She was staving off depression and writer’s block to finish a trilogy that remains incomplete. Her fans continue to grow.

Her advice to writers: Keep writing, no matter how you feel about your work.

Three months before she passed away, here she chatted with investigative journalist Amy Goodman, who heads Democracy Now (a fantastic video and radio news show, by the way) and co-host Juan González.

This fellow blogger’s post features 15 anecdotes about Octavia. Within it, a video link includes an interview with another stellar African-American woman sci-fi and fantasy writer, N. K. Jemisin.

How do you reckon with self-doubt?

DIY Podcasting: 15 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?

Ancient Egyptian Seshat is goddess of writing and a host of other amazing things! Photo: Jon Bodsworth.
Ancient Egyptian Seshat is goddess of writing and a host of other amazing things! Photo: Jon Bodsworth.

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 it 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 clue us in on how 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.
Blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston is a content and digital marketing specialist.

“15 Tips on Promoting Your Podcast Series” 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.

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

Is there a radio show or podcast you enjoy? (And btw, did you notice the new header pic of Ms. Black Dog Cuteness?)

The Henna Artist’s bighearted Alka Joshi on saris, plus my wedding henna

“When’s the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice — & that’s as empowering as it is romantic? Me? Never. Can’t wait for Joshi’s next book! Wish there were more novels that discuss pro-choice issues head-on. Enchanting story set in 1950s India from women’s point of view about the choices we’re given and how much we can make with them. Audiobook narrator Sneha Mathan is marvelous!”

~ My review of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for Amazon and Goodreads

I absolutely adore books (after all, I’m writing two)! Whenever I finish reading an exceptional novel, I review it on Goodreads and Amazon. Sure, not all stories resonate with me. As a tender-hearted author, I know too well the blood/sweat/tears that even a crappy book demands, so I don’t review those.

Then I email the novelist to thank them for making my life more thoughtful and maybe even fun. Ditto for any audiobook performer involved. Some thank me back, and on the days my stars are truly aligned, they agree to contribute to Happiness Between Tails.

Anyone who doesn’t read The Henna Artist is missing out. Clearly it’s written by a generous spirit. Just glance through Alka’s website and Youtube channel, where she lauds other authors to the extent that poses with their books! Here she is, holding Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic as she says how grateful she is for it. Btw, I love that book too, so she’s got good taste to her credit as well lol 🙂

Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds Bighearted author Alka Joshi lauds “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert in a video.

Allow me to digress a moment: Henna, oh, henna, you magical green powder! You enhance my hair, and you make lovely tattoos!…

Photo of da-AL's henna-tattooed hands. The day before I got married, I went to Los Angeles’ Little India for these gorgeous henna tattoos.

They’re far more forgiving than the permanent ink ones, and brides aren’t allowed to do housework until they’ve worn off…

Photo of my henna tattooed hands and feet. I needed just the right sandals to show off my enhanced tootsies!

Dusting off my photos to show you these provided an excuse to reconnect with Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer (check out her Instagram too) who was beyond kind to gift them to my sweetie and me. Back when she shot them, we both worked for the Beach Reporter, a Manhattan Beach community weekly. I reported on Hermosa Beach and, In addition to her work as an event fotog, at the time she was the publication’s photojournalist.

Wedding party photo of Khashayar and da-AL. It seems like yesterday when you’re having fun…

Back to our esteemed guest: Alka was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. At the age of nine, she moved to the U.S. As a Stanford University grad, she’s worked in advertising and PR, and owned a marketing consultancy. On top of all that, she has a Creative Writing MFA from Cal Arts San Francisco. The Henna Artist is her first book. In way less than a year, it’s a huge success! The sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is set for July, plus the third book in the trilogy for 2022. And — she’s an executive producer for the novel’s upcoming Miramax TV series!

Read on for her thoughts on women in India. Note that it’s not just India — unfortunately, I’ve met women architects in the U.S. who encounter discrimination here too…

Alka Joshi, author of Alka Joshi, author of “The Henna Artist” and more!…

“The Sari vs. Modern India” by Alka Joshi

In January 2019, the Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, received an email from the registrar to attend a convocation.

Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon's news bulletin board. Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon’s news bulletin board.

It requested formal dress: “trouser, coat and tie for men” and “saris for women.”

Students wear western clothes. Students wear western clothes.

This sparked a lively, funny, albeit very polite, conversation on WhatsApp among the female faculty, who normally wear trousers, Western blouses/tops, or salwar kameez (long tunics with legging-like bottoms) most days.

“I may not wear a sari…I don’t even own one!”

“I do not even know how to wear a sari.”

“[I’m] not against saris. But at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I’m not used to it is definitely a challenge.”

“Can’t tie one at 7am and drive…and get through the day!”

“No sari. Impossible to wear and report at 7:30 in the morning.”

“Why a sari at all?”

“If the women must wear a sari, wouldn’t a *dhoti be more in sync for the men?”

*(Now mostly worn by village men, a dhoti is a white cloth from five to seven yards in length, wrapped loosely around the legs and tied in a knot at the waist. While dhotis have gone out of fashion, saris are still a mainstay of female couture for weddings, special occasions and family gatherings.)

This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home. This Adjunct Prof of Architecture chose to leave her sari (if she has one) at home.

“We are all sensible enough to know what to wear. Most of us might even have worn saris to the event without being asked. But when you tell us exactly what to wear, we are going to have something to say,” laughs Monisha Sharma, associate professor. “Our Dean, who is female, told us to just look as smart as we do every day, so that’s what we’ll do.”

Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching. Associate Professor Monisha Sharma prefers a salwar kameez over a sari when she’s teaching.

In addition to teaching in the Architecture school, these women are working architects. At construction sites they are often greeted with curious expressions: Can women really be architects? Are these women here to tell us what to do?

One professor told me that she had organized a site visit to a factory for her students. When they got to the site, the founder only responded to the junior male faculty who had accompanied her, choosing not to acknowledge her at all. 

Similarly, a female architect who was managing a project for her father’s structural engineering firm was not being consulted by the construction team until her father ordered them to talk only to her. She was, after all, the project manager and the only one who could answer their questions.

Architecture Professor in India. “At 7:30 in the morning, I don’t have time to gather and pleat a sari. It’s a lot of work!”

To someone like me, who’s been raised in the West since the age of nine, it’s surprising that the women’s reaction is not anger (that would have been my response, along with bewilderment and confusion). 

Instead, the Indian women laugh it off. “We have already made our mark in our profession,” they say. “We don’t need to hit them over the head with it.”

At the convocation, the female faculty wore Western trouser suits. Not a sari in sight.

There’s more than one way to make a statement.

Are dress codes unbiased where you work?…

Mythical Greek Inspo for Writers (Made Easy) by Dionysius

Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louvre’s entrance. By Lyokoï88 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39152792
Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louvre’s entrance. By Lyokoï88 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39152792

Melodrama, romance, intrigue, mystery, mysticism, pragmatism — oh, wait, not the last one… If you’re looking for inspiration for writing or for reading excitement, check out Greek mythology!

Goddesses and gods, mortals, the blending of both — doesn’t that sound like Stan Lee comicbook territory? Surely he sorted through ancient myths to fashion superheroines and superheroes. Star Trek and Star Wars makers must’ve too.

Admittedly the Greek tales of olden times can be challenging. Every poetically written story is jam-packed with enough intrigue to rival a binge-watch of Days of Lives, a still-running daily soap opera that first aired in 1965 and I once upon a time worked as an extra for… but that’s another story.

South Carolina blogger Dionysius has the same monicker as the multi-cultural god/superhero who oversees everything from wine to fertility and ecstasy to madness. Some argue that Dionysus the god is really Jesus. Our guest, Dionysius, created his New Classical blog “to create a new contemporary literature deeply rooted in classic literary traditions… not to repeat old and dead literary traditions, but to rediscover what is living and vibrant in them today.”

Read on for a peek into how Dionysius sees classic literature… 

Bacchus by Charles Lucy (English, 1692 - 1767). Courtesy of Wikipedia. Bacchus by Charles Lucy (English, 1692 – 1767). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A brief summary and analysis of Euripedes’s “The Bacchae” by Dionysius

Summary

Prior to the events of The Bacchae, Dionysus is born from the love affair of Zeus and the mortal Semele. When he is born, his mortal family denies that he is the son of Zeus and refuses to give him worship. Dionysus then leaves Thebes and journeys to the east, where he gathers his cult of female worshippers, the maenads. The Bacchae opens when he returns to Thebes with his maenads to take vengeance on his family. He starts by luring the Theban women, including his aunts, into the forest around Mt. Cithaeron, where they join the maenads. This angers Pentheus, the king and Agave’s (Semele’s sister) son. After Pentheus fails to arrest and subdue Dionysus and the maenads, he is lured into the forest by Dionysus’s offer to look at them. In order to watch the maenads without being noticed, Dionysus tells him that he must dress as a woman. Pentheus complies and imitates the image and mannerisms of the maenads. When he arrives, his body is torn apart by them and by his own mother. Under the spell of Dionysus, she carries his head through Thebes, parading it, thinking that it is the head of a lion she caught during a hunt. When she is made aware of what she has done and whose head she’s been carrying, she falls into grief. The drama ends with Dionysus casting her and the royal family out of Thebes.

Maenads – The Mystery of Woman

Pentheus being torn by maenads. Roman fresco from the northern wall of the triclinium in the Casa dei Vettii (VI 15,1) in Pompeii. Courtesy of Wiki: Marisa Ranieri Panetta (ed.): Pompeji. Geschichte, Kunst und Leben in der versunkenen Stadt. Belser, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-7630-2266-X, p. 366 Pentheus being torn by maenads. Roman fresco from the northern wall of the triclinium in the Casa dei Vettii (VI 15,1) in Pompeii. Courtesy of Wiki: Marisa Ranieri Panetta (ed.): Pompeji. Geschichte, Kunst und Leben in der versunkenen Stadt. Belser, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-7630-2266-X, p. 366

The Bacchae revolves around the mystery of difference. Particularly sexual difference and cultural difference. This is seen clearly by the depiction of Dionysus’s maenads. That they are a cult of women and that Dionysus gathered them in the east is of significance here. In The Bacchae, the feminine, or the idea of Woman, takes on the form of the unknown. Like a woman behind a veil, there is mystery, temptation, and fear associated with the maenads. This is portrayed most clearly by the way Pentheus relates to them. At first, it is with fear, responding to the maenads with force and violence. Then, when it proves that the feminine is impossible to control or subdue, when the captured maenads escape his prison and most definingly when Dionysus(posing as a young mortal priest) himself escapes, Pentheus gives in to temptation at Dionysus’s first request to take him to look at the maenads. He goes as far as to dress as a woman and imitate their dances and appearances.

The temptation that is displayed here is twofold. It is the temptation not only to satiate his desires by seeing the bodies of the women, but also and more fundamentally, to be one of the maenads and experience their enjoyment. While the first temptation fits into a traditional male standpoint of desire, what is significant about the second temptation is that he is not merely taking the maenads as an object of desire, rather his desire is to assume the subjective position of the maenads, of “Woman” and their feminine enjoyment. What is revealed here is that his anger at the maenads was all along based in his own envy of their enjoyment.

Pentheus never understood what the condition for this enjoyment was.

The very condition for the sublime bliss that Pentheus sought after is a primordial unity of being. An overflow of life and nature. It is because the maenads abandon their individual identities and place in the Theban social order, that they can participate in this primordial unity. Their individuality is suspended for the tribal enjoyment of dance, ritual, hunt, and fertility. They participate seamlessly with nature and become a part of the overflowing development of life. Beyond the enjoyment that Pentheus sought, the “[…] Sweet streams of honey dripping,” this condition, is also at the same time the condition for an inhuman terror. This is displayed most clearly when he is torn apart by his own mother and the other maenads.

Unseen Essence

Four Caryatids at Erechtheum Acropolis, Athens: Wikimedia Commons Four Caryatids at Erechtheum Acropolis, Athens: Wikimedia Commons

What must be remembered is that what appears as purely negative in tragedy also has a positive dimension. This is the pinnacle of Greek tragic wisdom. Why does Woman present itself as the apocalypse of man in this tragedy? It is because of an original betrayal of the feminine reality committed by the mortal family of Dionysus. By his entire family when they initially rejected him, and by Pentheus when he returned. This is what causes the breakdown of the Theban social order and the revenge of Woman.

In the same way that Woman is a constitutive element of the reality of sex, including the reality of man. The Dionysian rituals that the maenads take part in, that return to a primordial being and oneness, are constitutive of the Theban social order. It is even the root of the Theban social order. The unconscious reality of Thebes exists as the basis for its conscious and institutional realities.

It is precisely because the rituals of Dionysus exist outside of Thebes, in the rituals of the maenads on Mt. Cithaeron, that it is the base of Theban society. It is precisely because the maenads are all women whose rituals are constitutive of the male Theban social order. And it is precisely because the maenads come from the east that they constitute the western social order of Thebes. Dionysus and his cult are the external essences of Theban society. Essence, unlike appearance, is always unseen.

Dionysus of the Night

Bacchus and Ariadne by Carlo Maratta: Wikimedia Commons Bacchus and Ariadne by Carlo Maratta: Wikimedia Commons

The place that Dionysus dwells in is the contradiction between appearance and essence.

Dionysus embodies this contradiction. He is returning from the east, and yet he was born in the west. He leads a cult of women, and yet he is a man. He is divine, and yet his mother is mortal. This contradiction is like the black of night, where one thousand stars shine. The failure of his mortal family to respect it, and to respect their own essence, is what leads to the breakdown of Thebes.

Visit Dionysius at his New Classical blog, his Twitter page, and his Facebook page.

I’ve always wanted to put on a cape, stretch out my arms, take a running jump, and whoosh! — feel the wind in my face, inhale the fragrance of treetops as I soar high into the clouds. Picture me Super-da-AL or Winged Victory of Samothrace ready for liftoff at the top of the Louver’s entrance.

What superpower would you want?

Got Inner Critic(s)? Meet Annie’s and mine

Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts,” did other stuff besides that comic strip. It’s said he battled his own gang of gremlins. Lucy, the psychiatrist from hell, for one…
Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts,” made other work besides that comic strip. It’s said he battled his own gang of gremlins. Lucy, the psychiatrist from hell, for one. (Peanuts image courtesy of pixy.org)

My inner jerks specialize in novel writing. Inner criticizing is just the beginning — they’re outer and everywhere.

A tongue-twisting ditty to be sung to whatever tune strikes your fancy:

“Here a critic… There a critic… Everywhere a crit, critty, critical critic…”

Moreover, mine barge in with droves of friends.

Have you got any? If not, how the heck do you pull that off?

I could list mine for days and days: Why you takin’ so long with them books you keep talkin’ ‘bout? Ya really gotta do that instead of this or those things or them stuff right now? Lookie here, there’s this to do that’s way more pressing and tons more fun! You’re wasting your time, so scrap that durned project already, just quit it. What in tarnation gave you the notion you could write anything of interest to anyone but you? People are just being polite when they compliment your work, don’t you know that? Who in their right mind will want to read your novels, much less spend hard-earned cash-ola on them? Seriously, if they do, they won’t finish them. And if they finish them, they won’t talk about them. For sure, if they talk about them, they won’t say anything nice. And promotion — you gotta be kidding me! — what do you know about that?

Some days, those are the nicer things I tell myself.

Read on, and you’ll see how Annie, a blogger from the United States east coast, makes perfect sense when she encourages us to name our inner critics.

Like my own name of da-AL, mine has a hyphenated moniker. “Them” goes by “A-Holes.”

How about you? What’s your inner demon(s) named? Maybe yours and mine could meet for drinks, get really plastered together, and meantime leave us alone for a spell?

More about today’s guest: Annie is a writer of many things, including poetry. In the past, she has even earned some real money from her writing! Here’s her advice — and a question for which I have no answer but send her lots of good wishes in solving it — for all of us. She blogs about whatever she pleases, including stuff that makes her and maybe us laugh…

Annie, a blogger and professional writer, gives her inner critic the one-two punch!
Annie, a blogger and professional writer, knows how to give her inner critic the one-two punch!

“My Attempts to Play Nice With My Inner Critic” by Annie

Whether or not you practice mindfulness meditation, as I have for several years, you are probably familiar with the voice known as the Inner Critic. It’s that part of us that says: “I’m such a dope!” “I’ll never be what I hope to be.” “How could I have done that?” “I just don’t measure up!” “My father/mother was right/wrong about me.” “Sure, I’m doing fine, but that’s because people really don’t know that I’m winging it.” “I’m not bright enough, attractive enough, witty enough, kind enough, tall enough, thin enough, tough enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, thoughtful enough…”

You get the picture. That negative voice has long been with us, often from childhood, from societal messages, maybe from a single cruel teacher, and on and on. I was raised by two loving parents. My mother felt I could do no wrong, but I still recall my father casting a questioning eye on my report card and asking: “What’s this A-minus?” 

The origins of the Inner Critic form a complex topic that I’m barely touching on here. But I know that I’m still the A student who goes nuts when autocorrect incorrectly changes “well” to “we’ll”—and I fail to catch it! Is that worth an iota of energy or distress? Of course not.

The Inner Critic certainly interferes with the goal of mindfulness coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Nonjudgmentally, indeed!

Several years ago, I wrote an article about mindfulness for an online women’s magazine. One of my interviewees was Sharon Salzberg, a renowned mindfulness educator and author who cofounded the highly regarded Insight Meditation Society at Barre, Massachusetts with two other giants in the field.

Salzberg’s special area of interest is lovingkindness, which begins with one’s self and then extends outward in ever larger circles to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and the entire world.

Salzberg, who has written that her childhood troubles started her on a path that led to Buddhism in India decades ago, said she is constantly aware of her Inner Critic. How to deal with this negativity? She suggests giving your Inner Critic a name.

She named hers Lucy, after the famous Charles Schulz comic character who tells her hapless friend: “The problem with you, Charlie Brown, is that you’re you.” I asked her if I could adopt Lucy, and she agreed.

But I soon realized that borrowing someone else’s inner critic doesn’t work. I needed my own. I named her “Flibberty,” which is short for “flibbertigibbet.” That’s a Middle English term for a flighty, excessively talkative person, a gossip.

One of the reasons I’m happy with Flibberty is that although she’s a pain in the gut (that’s where I experience stress), her name includes the word “liberty.” I know I must free myself from the heavy burdens that Flibberty sometimes bestows upon me. 

Mindfulness practitioners learn that you never try to fight with these negative forces; doing so simply enlarges their impact. Rather, you seek peaceful coexistence. When Flibberty rears her officious head, I say, “Oh, there you are, Flibberty. How ya doing?” That’s generally enough to move my mind into a better place.

Lately, however, perhaps because I’m essentially housebound due to COVID-19, Flibberty has been flitting about in my vicinity quite a bit. I’d call her a “FlitBit” who’s gauging my absence of activity, rather than the reverse, but then I’d be exposing my propensity for bad puns. I’d never want to do that!

Flibberty covets my desk. She tells me I’m being ridiculous, working in such a messy space. She laughs knowingly when my TV remote won’t work because the old New Yorker magazines are piled so high on the table in front of my couch that they block the signal.

Now here’s the tricky part, and I welcome your suggestions. I often write blog posts that require research, and I type them on my computer before cutting and pasting them into my blog. I then add the printouts of my collected newspaper and magazine articles—and my printed out computer entries—to the piles of previous papers that surround me.

The piles are increasing in both numbers and height. Some are approaching the tottering stage. 

Have you heard of the Collyer brothers, who hoarded books, newspapers, and other items to such an extent that when their bodies were found, they were surrounded by 140 tons of stuff? 

I haven’t reached that level, but I do wonder whether my Inner Critic’s reminders about what I’m failing to do with my papers might actually be positive after all. So I say, “OK, Flibberty, let’s attack this pile.”

I pick up a bunch of papers, look through them, wonder what to do with them, and set them aside. And then I tell Flibberty that I appreciate her concern, I really do, and I will get to them in good time.

I feel so much better. Flibberty is quiet.

But the piles are flourishing—testimony to my diligent work. And still…

If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I might hire an organizer to help me through this mini-crisis. If I were bolder, I could just throw all the papers into the shredder and move on. (Never mind, Flibberty; forget what I said about being bolder.) 

And thereby hangs my dilemma. Can you, kind readers, presumably some of whom are better organized than I, provide some common-sense suggestions concerning what I do and do not need to keep for posterity? I want to ensure that the contents of my blog are intact as a legacy for my family.

Or will you encourage me to just say, “Screw it, Flibberty. We’re doing fine. We can both relax.”

In other words, am I using Flibberty as a balm—or an excuse?

Flibberty and disorder notwithstanding, my wish is that you, we, and the entire world be filled with lovingkindness…

Annie

How about you? Got an inner critic to comment on below?…

Gandhi, Hitler, a Book, & Dog/God by da-AL plus Cheryl Batavia’s poem

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — supposedly Mahatma Gandhi said that. (Isn’t this picture of him great? He’s drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942. My novel-writer side can’t help but wonder if he knew that writing longhand enhances creativity — and I bet intelligence!) First off, he didn’t….

Gandhi drafting a document at Birla House, Mumbai, August 1942.
By Kanu Gandhi – gandhiserve.org, Public Domain.

Second off, if anyone said it, is it true? I love animals and have followed a vegetarian diet for years. All the same, I’m definitely nowhere near a saint, particularly given my now-and-again deviations into the hypocracy of eating fish. My father was wicked to his family, yet tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard that local geese were slaughtered. Hitler and was a vegetarian for the last part of his life. And he adored his dog, Blondi

Photo of Hitler with a dog.
Hitler & dog. Photo by Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051673-0059 / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

What I know for sure is that when I see someone acting kindly toward an animal, it makes me feel like there’s a soul somewhere within their despicableness…

Scratch the last paragraph — that was just my lazy brain leaning on clichés to please you with niceties, gentle reader. It was my typing falling into well-worn grooves of platitudes. Really, if someone is mean and shows neither remorse nor interest in reforming themselves, if people around them erect the scaffolding to sustain their meanness… well… Delving into morality is too lengthy to weave into this post.Cover of "Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey," by Kathleen Rooney

Here, look! My fingers have switched gears to copy this for you: a paragraph from wise and poetic Kathleen Rooney’s latest novel. She was a Happiness Between Tails guest to tell about her amazing Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, and then to tell us about her newest tale, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Her Cher Ami book is written in the style of first-person characterizations of various humans and Cher Ami, a true-life heroic pigeon who saved many World War I soldiers’ lives.

The most dazzling chapters are those through Cher Ami’s eyes. I’m about halfway through the book and am most recently awed by this bit of feathered philosophizing. Cher Ami thinks this about the soldiers:

“Sometimes they renamed animals as different animals. They called the canned corned beef in their rations “monkey meat” and referred to their body lice as “shirt rabbis.” They’d pick the insects off one another, comparing themselves to apes grooming in some great gray zoo. I could tell that many of the men felt terribly lonely, helpless and estranged from their fellow soldiers, but they were never alone and never powerless thanks to all the life that depended on them, the lice and the rats and the mice. Each man was the miserable monarch of a kingdom that squirmed with vermin, one that consisted of the dirt and the bit of sky each one could see from the dirt of their feet in their boots, of their boots in the mud — a kingdom all but indistinguishable from a grave.” An excerpt from Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney, who also wrote marvelous Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

About dogs…

So okay, I’m not one to dwell on whether ”God,” the kind with a capital “G,” exists. But the fact that Dog spells God backwards in English — isn’t that an interesting metaphor for how even the worst dirtbags among us can experience the love of a dog? (Here’s a post where I dip another toe into that conversation.)

Dogs… their lives are far far too short!!!! They get better and better with age, more perceptive of our needs, more adoring of us, and ready to kiss us for our slightest kindness. Just the other night, my husband mistakenly called our current dear doggie by the name of one of our two dogs who passed away — when? yesterday? two years ago? — either feels not much different at times (a bit about that here and more on it here). My heart goes out to a good friend who sweet Bambi-faced furry girl passed away recently… In these times of the COVID pandemic especially, our pets do so much for us. It’s no wonder that more folks are adopting furry family lately.

Now here’s Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet, to put smiles on our faces. A nature-lover, she blogs from Florida and has published books for all ages. She can also be reached via email.

Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.
Photo of Cheryl Batavia at Manasota Beach, FL, Gulf of Mexico, by Stephanie Snow Photography.

Tribute to a Family Dog; In loving memory of Clifford, 2001-2015

Copyright© 2020 by Cheryl Batavia, a.k.a. The Gulf Coast Poet

Enthusiasm

Your spirit is enthusiasm!

When you wag your tail,

your entire body shimmies.

You leap high into the air

to catch popcorn in your mouth,

drool at the dairy drive-thru,

anticipating your ice cream cone.

You swim far out into the lake,

to fetch a stick…

and swim back to fetch again.

You run alongside a wheelchair

that travels eight miles an hour,

keep pace with kids

on rollerblades and bicycles.

When I come home from work,

you greet me at the door,

all four feet in the air!

Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Clifford at age fourteen. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Friendliness

Friendliness is your persona!

You show open-hearted affection

for family, friends, neighbors…

and kindly strangers.

Grandmothers are your favorites…

The feeling is mutual!

The vet, when you are boarded,

locates you in a run where you can

greet all those who come and go…

You are overjoyed!

Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Katey Batavia and Clifford at Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Love

Your aura is love!

Love radiates from your eyes,

shimmers from your wagging tail.

Love is you resting near us,

ignoring the sassy new cat,

not snatching the Thanksgiving

turkey cooling on the countertop.

Somehow, you know we’ll share.

Love is barking at things

that go “bump” in the night.

Love is wet kisses, warm cuddles,

and sharing group hugs.

Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.
Joe and Katey Batavia joined Clifford in his crate. Photo by Cheryl Batavia.

Empathy

Empathy is in your soul!

You have a silly smile,

know family members by name,

understand most of what we say.

You talk to us with

unintelligible vocalizations…

We try really hard to understand!

You are happy when we are happy.

You comfort us when we are sad.

When we are injured,

you lick our wounds.

Petted and praised,

you know you are loved!

Tell us — what are your thoughts about the bonds between humans and the rest of the creature world? Or about anything else you want to discuss?…

Reading and Writing to Heal: how poet Jenny Irene Gunnarsson does it

Stories let me soar when I have neither wings nor airfare. Made up or personal, and whether I’m reading or novel-writing, words heal my spirit and body. When I think I’m merely seeking amusement, they teach me. They expand my compassion for others and for myself.

Jenny Irene Gunnarson photo of, “A wayward rainbow works its magic, framing the story born from a tiny piece of an ordinary day.”
Jenny Irene Gunnarson photo of, “A wayward rainbow works its magic, framing the story born from a tiny piece of an ordinary day.”

Author/poet Jenny Irene Gunnarsson blogs and tweets and emails from Sweden. There she tends her trees and communes with the gorgeous outdoors. One day she’ll make a living as an author. In the meantime, she’s a teacher who’s done a bit of everything, from working as a guard to caring for all sorts of people. When life overwhelmed her, she self-published Burnout, which she describes as, “a small book about something big, twenty-five poems about burning out and moving on.”

Self-photo of writer/poet/blogger Jenny Irene Gunnarsson.
Self-photo of writer/poet/blogger Jenny Irene Gunnarsson.

Happiness between tales by Jenny Irene Gunnarsson

Picking the sweet fruits

all the morsels of inspiration

all the lush treasures of fallen words.

My garden will be

filled with endless beauty.

Every story known to man

my sky and sparkling fountain.

Endless penmanship

on every emerald leaf.

Your voice

will ring there too.

When I first read this blog, I read the title wrong and thought it said Happiness between tales. Even after I got it right, I couldn’t stop thinking about this. Any person who enjoys reading knows that there is, indeed, such a thing as happiness between tales. This happiness is not only about the enjoyment of having read a good story. Tales open our eyes to details around us and make our imagination bloom like a garden in spring, enhancing the world in the process. Every story that makes any impression on us at all also affects the lives we lead when we are not reading.

For me, the love of tales began before I could even talk properly. As a three-year-old, I was brought along to a house my mother wanted to buy and as she wandered the rooms; I went off to explore on my own. This turned into a panicky situation for her later on, when it was time to go and she could not find me. When she finally thought to check the closets, I was sitting in one of them, in a cardboard box containing fairytale comics, so enthralled that I had not heard her scream my name. Even today, over forty years later, I can still remember how I was caught by the magic of those pages filled with pictures and signs I could not decipher, so different from the books I had previously been shown. It was love, no, obsession, at first sight. My mother had to carry me away from there, kicking and screaming because I could not take my treasure with me.

I spent the next year pestering everyone in my environment to teach me how to read. They all said that I was too young, which only made me pester them more until they finally relented. When I was four, I finally got to crack the mystery of letters and every bookcase I saw became my treasury, quickly looted of its contents by my hungry mind. The world has never been the same after that, especially since I have always had the ability to open any book and fall right into it and, on top of that, have a very vivid imagination. All at once, the world became so much more exciting than it had ever been before and I was its explorer, its Neil Armstrong and its Sherlock Holmes. When I was not reading, I wandered the woods around our house, searching for fairies, trolls and Baba Yaga among pines and blue anemones I was sure hid some vital clues to their whereabouts. I and my friends were Batman, Lucky Luke and Supergirl, taking turns to be fearless heroes and every old man I met was a wizard, either good or evil, depending on how he looked. I also kept opening and closing every door at home, trying to make them let me into other worlds and was equally disappointed every time it didn’t work. Do not get me started on the wardrobes. You all know where those lead.

There was an age-rule at the library, so I had to keep to the children’s section until I was twelve-much to my own and the librarians’ frustration. I came in at least three times per week, asking if there was anything new and they almost always had to tell me no. One time, when I was ten, one of them took pity on me and sent me into the adult section to find something to read. I was in absolute Heaven! There were hundreds of books-and they were thick enough to last me for days. After having wandered around for an hour and almost kissing the shelves, I picked the thickest book I could find and triumphantly returned to the loan desk. The librarian looked at the book, looked at me, looked at the book again and then sent me back to the children’s section in humiliation and close to tears. I borrowed Stephen King’s It from a friend that summer instead. It gave me nightmares for weeks, but it is still my favourite book-my first, thick love.

Cover of Burnout by Jenny Irene Gunnarsson.

When I grew up, there was no Internet and no smartphones and the libraries had a limited selection for my tastes. I have always been a fast reader and my brain was constantly screaming for more, more and more, so after having borrowed every book that interested me at least three times, I went to town on the rest of them-including Classics and English literature. This had the unexpected benefit of my grades suddenly sky-rocketing, which mystified me greatly until I understood the reason for it. Despite my forays into more serious literature, however, I never let go of my love of tales about things belonging to other worlds than my own. My mother told me at fifteen I was too old to read fairytales and comics and fantasy books. I told her those were the reason why I was getting A’s in Spelling, Literature and English and she never mentioned it again after that. Yes, I told a fib. They might have added to my grades, but they were not solely responsible for them. I just loved them so much I could not bear to give them up, even if it meant I had to lie a little to get out of hearing about how they did not ‘suit me’ since I was getting older. Even now, I think they suit me just fine.

As children, we have that golden period of time when magic is real and fairytales can be considered truth. This time is eventually left behind and often mourned, as we feel magic has become a part of the past, never to return. A precious few keep their belief in magic, but growing up, the tales of our childhoods is seen through different eyes. This all sounds kind of depressing, but reading tales is a gift that keeps giving, despite life trading our starry-eyed gazes and scrubbed knees for reading glasses and paying bills and we go on to read a lot of tales that have no happy endings.

Even if we no longer believe in fairies and other realms, there is still magic in every tale we encounter-and this magic is always with us. So, if everything is so magical, why do we not all glow with happiness every time we read a book? I think it is because we have to dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

To a child, the golden nuggets of stories are left out in the open thanks to its willingness to believe the impossible. He or she has only to go out and look around to find that gold and get rich. Adults, on the other hand, have both minds and lives that are more complex and are a lot less likely to believe in things outside of normalcy. They also read more complex stories, often written by complex people who may, or may not, have something they want to say.

If you think this sounds like mumbo-jumbo, try taking a course in literature and poetry.

You would be amazed by how much meaning is to be found in anything from where the story takes place when it is written, what language is used and which objects are most often described. Events described can be metaphors for things happening in society, existential truths, human nature and anything else there is, or ever has been, between Heaven and Earth. This meaning, these metaphors, whether we understand them or not, we bring with us as we look at the world and it changes our understanding of both ourselves and others-no belief in the impossible required.

Nowadays, I behave like the almost middle-aged woman I am.

At forty-four, I cannot run around and look for Russian witches or fight evil minions on my lunch break.

I am oh so calm and adult-but if you took one look into my mind, you would be surprised. It is always, at least partly, up in the sky somewhere, chasing as many witches and other fantasies as it pleases. Other, more serious, parts are constantly debating tales I have read and how they can be applied to my everyday life, hopefully also making me a little wiser. I have never read a story that has not taught me something about humanity or life, whether it is in the story itself or in how it is written, and I do my best to take advantage of what I learn. Then, there is one part; my favourite part, the part making up much of my heart, the part feeding my life much of its meaning-that is spinning tales of its own. Anything can be turned into a story I can tell myself or others, bringing me joy and sharing the magic. My car is an aeroplane, flying me through the sky on a secret mission while Spotify is thundering my personalized soundtrack through its interior-making my heart beat faster and life feel more exciting. As I ride my bicycle, I imagine it to be a noble steed, carrying me in a rush of freedom across open plains to deliver me to an exotic destination I have never visited. The small figurines of Buddha and an elephant on my window sill, beneath an inside rainbow who must have lost its way, are actually a story about friendship and meeting on a mountain to relight the lamp of the sun and bring daylight back. There are thousands of more tales strewn around me. Some, I write down, others I only tell in my head. There are tales never finished and tales forever rewritten. Tales have affected and always will affect my life in many different ways. They have made it so much richer and given it so many more nuances than I believe I would ever have found without them. This would not have been possible if there had not been people there to write the tales in the first place. Writers, myself included, are forever reminding me that the magic and the joy is still there if we only look for it. I firmly believe that there is happiness in and between tales as long as there are tales, no matter the age of the reader.

How do reading and writing help you?

For more about writing and reading and fun at Happiness Between Tails, check out the search box 🙂

27 Blog Tips, Word Fun, & More by da-AL

Are you sprouting something new under your mask?

Are you sprouting something new under your mask?
Are you sprouting something new under your mask?
  1. Grooming or the lack of it under our anti-COVID masks.
  2. Words so special to a country that we borrow theirs, such as “Schadenfreude.”
  3. Blogging tips.

What do they have in common? They’re among the activities that have unexpectedly cropped up since we’ve been sheltering-in-place.

  • Hair: Some friends are letting theirs grow. Others have shaved their scalps. A bunch are letting their color and texture go natural.
This friend's working-from-home mustache looks so cool! I had to grow one my own!
This friend’s working-from-home mustache looks so cool! I had to grow one my own!
  • Authors are digging into writing and stats show that readers are reading for fun again. That’s how I discovered “Schadenfreude.” It’s an English noun borrowed from two German words, Schaden ‘harm’ and Freude ‘joy.’ Combined, they refer to pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

On my Facebook page, I invited friends to riff on “Schadenfreude”…

Pam Christmas: I enjoy singing it to the tune of Danke Schoen. Schadenfreude, darling, schadenfreude. A favorite word and feeling.

Angela L Brown: Holy crap! Did that dude who keeps yelling about my dogs just get bit by his own?! Schadenfreude, sucka!

Stella B. Katz: Here’s a GREAT example of what Yuman is feeling. My Yuman will be experiencing Schadenfreude when Drumpf loses in November.

Chrys Mumma: I hope when I experience schadenfreude, that I recognize it as hateful.

Robb Fulcher: Carl Jung surpassing his former mentor gave me Sigmund Schadenfreude.

Tao Walker: I cannot help but have this feeling of schadenfreude over the Jerry Falwell Jr. scandal.

Bonnie Noble Pacego: Lily felt schadenfreude when she secretly found the loot the robber dropped as he fled the bank!

Beth Pottiger Gorman: The schadenfreude on Johnny’s face was obvious when he found the baseball someone else left lay.

Corky Anderson: Rump = Schadenfreude “joy at the misfortune of another.”

John Saffery’s link here.

Carol Snyder Jarvela: I prefer the southern belle term “mean bitch thrill.” It’s easier to spell and is self-explanatory.

Peter Basson: Me and my friend, Sigmund, were very hot so we stood in the schadenfreude.

Susan Sobon: Trump is a master of schadenfreude.

  • Lastly, people are doing more blogging, vlogging, and podcasting!

I listed some of what I’ve learned about blogging in a prior post. In no particular order, here are more tips I’ve gathered while working on my own blog and visiting other sites. Feel free to add your own insights in the comments section.

  1. Nothing detracts from a post as much as poor writing. The software that comes with a word processor isn’t enough. Fortunately, lots of useful apps like Grammarly have decent free versions.
  2. Reading aloud helps tremendously. Sometimes I even have my word processor read to me. That way, I can hear how my writing sounds without my own inflections.
  3. Finding an empty ‘about’ page feels like maybe there isn’t a real person managing the site. And when there’s no photo, I hope the blogger isn’t worried that their looks will frighten people.
  4. It doesn’t take much to keep a site’s background theme from looking cookie-cutter by adding photos and changing colors.
  5. Composing a post: sometimes WordPress leaves important messages in the right column.
  6. Ideas are precious. I capture mine by texting myself or jotting them into the notes section of my smartphone.
  7. Before publishing a post, I check how it looks on a smartphone, desktop, and tablet. Sometimes I need to replace a photo and break up my text more.
  8. Dimensions for photos: this is a fabulous link.
  9. Featured photos: a) make sure to select one, and b) lately, I’ve noticed that people who’re successful on social media add text to their main pictures. Canva’s free version does an adequate job.
  10. My workspace: desk clutter saps my creativity and efficiency. I try to keep only what I’m working on in front of me, and every night I tidy up.
  11. Sound: A fan, such as the one inside my compact space heater, is impressive at muting noise pollution.
  12. SEO, a.k.a. “search engine optimization”: to help get at the top of internet searches, use keywords in post headings and first sentences.
  13. Heading: again for SEO, keep them 70 characters or shorter.
  14. Categories: select less than ten.
  15. Tags: five is plenty.
  16. Visitors enjoy interacting with their fave bloggers. Ask readers to subscribe and share. End posts with something they can comment on.
  17. Invite visitors to look around your site by linking posts to other posts.
  18. Images: only use ones you have legal rights for (royalty-free is fab) and always credit where you got them from.
  19. Befriend other sites like yours — visit, comment, link, and meet their fans.
  20. Reblogs are lovely—and even nicer when introduced with comments of your own. Add your thoughts when you click “reblog” or later within your site’s editor.
  21. Composing Posts: Begin them with a sense of where you’re going, and conclude them with a quick review.
  22. It takes time and care (a.k.a. love) to compose a blog post that’s worth reading.
  23. Good writing is all about rewriting. Let a post sit, then review it a couple of hours later or the next day.
  24. Continually study how to use social media more effectively.
  25. Hosting: Self-hosting works for some. In my case, I use WordPress dot com and find that having them host my site is inexpensive and easy. Also, most of my followers come to me via the WordPress Reader, which I don’t think is available on self-hosted.
  26. It’s never too early to start collecting an email list — ugh! — in my case, I’m learning this far too late, so I’m now researching how best to start mine.
  27. WordPress Editor: Frustrated by WordPress’ block editor? I still mostly use Classic and here I explain how.

Let me know how you like my first attempt at adding a poll…

 

What tips have you learned? If you’re using self-hosted WordPress dot org, do you have a way to get your posts listed on the WordPress Reader?

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?

 

5 Writing Inspos by Rachel Tindall w Video: 2 Hot 4 Lizzy

Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill. Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill.

Today is too darned hot to write–neither a full-blown blog post nor the novels I’m writing. Instead, I’ve made you this refreshing video. If you want another, there’s this one too.

When it’s this muggy, I can barely sleep. I got out of bed early to find a new friend on my window sill, enjoying the heat. Watch to the end and let me know if you think it was too warm, even for my extra skinny pal Liz…

For you scribes with air-conditioners, Indiana writer Rachel Tindall offers inspiring tips. She and her blog, Capturing Your Confidence, are devoted to bringing out the best in writers…

Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua). Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua).

5 Critical Self-Talk Strategies for Writers by Rachel Tindall of Capturing Your Confidence blog

I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you want to be a writer. Or you are a writer, but maybe you’re stuck. Or you think of yourself as a writer but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to announce it to the world.

Wherever you are, it’s okay! Life is an adventure, and your experience as a writer is an ever-evolving journey.

But how do you take that next step? You know the one: where you tell the world you’re a writer and share your words.

The first step is to have a conversation with yourself about being a writer. That’s right, I want you to actually talk to yourself about being a writer.

Before you resist (I know it sounds kind of crazy), let’s talk about it.

What is Self-Talk? 

Have you heard the term self-talk before? When I started writing again as an adult (after a years-long hiatus), I started hearing all this stuff about self-talk, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

Essentially, self-talk is the little voice in our head that’s always giving us advice and considering what’s going on in everyday life. Part of self-talk is the inner critic, which is a whole other conversation, but the majority of self-talk is just our regular thoughts.

It includes things we know we’re thinking, like how good that BBQ restaurant smells when we drive past, and also unconscious things like the belief that if you get food from the BBQ restaurant, you will gain weight.

Self-talk can be good and bad. Overall, it mostly serves to help us figure out what’s going on around us and what we believe about those events.

Self-Talk & Self-Exploration

Self-talk creates an inner dialogue. I don’t know about you, but my self-talk can get kind of noisy – my brain is quite a talker! And I’ll tell you, not all of what she’s saying is important or useful.

One of the best things about self-talk, though, is that it allows us to explore what’s really going on inside our brain. If we take time to listen to our self-talk, it can be incredibly enlightening. We often get so bogged down by external distractions that we either ignore it or pass over it without really listening.

What happens when we listen?

We can do some GREAT self-exploration. We can find out so much about ourselves by simply listening! If/when we don’t listen, we run the risk of thinking we know ourselves (I mean, we’re in our body all the time, how could we not, right?) but really knowing an out-of-date version of ourselves. Doing self-exploration and listening to the dialogue in our mind is kind of like when you empty the Recycle Bin on your computer – it makes everything run more efficiently.

Occasionally we need to spend time cleaning out that old junk and negative self-talk to make way for the future and our great new ideas. We need to explore and listen to make sure we are pursuing what we actually want instead of what we wanted a few years ago, or when we were a kid. While we might have similar dreams, it’s worth double-checking with some good self-exploration.

Why is Knowing Yourself Important to Successful Writing? 

So what does self-exploration have to do with writing?

Well, besides clearing out the junk (if you’re like me, it might kind of be in precarious stacks just waiting to fall over and make a mess all over my current projects), you can also learn a TON from exploring the inner workings of your mind.

You’ll find out information like:

  • Interests – What do you actually like to do? What do you want to do? What piques your curiosity?
  • Passions – What’s most meaningful to you? What sets your soul on fire? What makes you excited to get up in the morning?
  • Habits – What do you do on a regular basis? What regular habits are helpful? What needs to change?
  • Desires – What do you want from your interests and passions? Do you have a new habit you want to try (or one that you want to get rid of)? What would make you excited to work on?
  • Goals – What do you want to achieve from your desires? Where do you want to be as a writer, or even just as a person a year from now? 5 years from now? How will you get there?

There will always be more you can learn from yourself, but you have to be willing to do the work and listen first.

Talk To Yourself in These 5 Ways

I’m hoping that talking to yourself is sounding a little less crazy. Just in case you like to skim to the “good” stuff in articles (me too!), I don’t mean to have a normal “How was your day?” out loud conversation with yourself. I mean the deep, self-exploring, figuring out you conversations.

Here are 5 critical ways to yourself that will help you become (or continue to become) the writer you want to be:

1: Self-Assessment 

First and foremost, take some time and do a self-assessment. Ask yourself the questions above (about your interests, passions, habits, desires, and goals) and thoughtfully take an inventory of what you find. It will be helpful to write this down as you think it through.

You might surprise yourself and realize that your passions and interests have changed over the years. Or that your goals have shifted as you’ve gotten older. Whatever you find, be kind to yourself! Assessing yourself isn’t about judging, it’s about figuring out what you’re all about. It’s hard to make changes or form new habits when you aren’t up to date with what you actually want, you know?

2: Speak About Yourself as a Writer 

When you’ve done your self-assessment and confirmed that you do want to be a writer, the next step is to speak about yourself as a writer. This can be hard when you first start because you might feel doubts like you’re not qualified, or you don’t really know if you’re a writer. Imposter syndrome is a real problem, even for those of us who have been writers for a long time.

This, too, is okay – and common! I was scared when I first started acknowledging myself as a writer, too. Take it slow. Tell yourself first. Write it down, say it to yourself in the mirror, whatever it takes for you to begin to believe. Practice until you feel the truth of it down to your core.

3: Name Yourself as a Writer 

When you’re confident in yourself, it’s time to take a little leap and start telling others. At first, this might just be your parents or your significant other. It might be your best friend. Someone who won’t judge you. Weave it into conversation and keep saying it in the presence of others.

Eventually, you’ll get the courage to share it with others outside of your immediate friends and family. For some of us, this takes a long time, and for others, it’s a quick progression. You might even want to put it on social media or your own website! As a writer, you will see your name out there with your words, so it’s important to get used to naming yourself as a writer.

4: Write Yourself a Reminder 

Not every day is a good one, and some days will be hard to think of yourself as a writer. There will be days where you don’t want to read words, let alone write them. Days where you feel like you’ll never finish your project or get published or be able to write full time (if that’s what you want).

It’s because of these days that it’s critical to write yourself a reminder you know you will see. I have a rainy day note, which is a letter I wrote to myself to remember why what I’m doing is incredibly exciting and worth it. Your reminder doesn’t have to be fancy, though. Even “I am a writer” will do. Whatever you choose to write should remind you that you are a creator, and a bad day doesn’t invalidate your creativity or your writing. Put this reminder where you will see it multiple times and take a breath. As my mom always says, this too shall pass.

5: Actually Write 

The thing about being a writer is that you do actually need to write. This probably sounds simple or cheesy, but you won’t feel like a writer if you don’t do the work of writing. This is because writing is what we writers do. It’s our bread and butter. You can’t be a writer without the hard work of writing.

This doesn’t mean you have to have a new magnum opus project you’re working on at all times, but you do have to write something. What works for me is writing in a journal every morning. I do 3 pages and let my mind go wherever it wants, be it complaints, plans, or excitement, and then go about my normal day. Sometimes even just this 15-20 minutes is enough to kick off my creativity throughout the day.

Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com

What do you think? Can you try these strategies?

You don’t have to answer, but I wanted to congratulate you on wanting to be a writer! It’s hard work, but it is by far the thing I find most satisfying and exciting to do. I would encourage you one last time to talk to yourself. Do some self-exploration to find out what’s really going on in your brain. What you really want – what makes you excited.

Do your self-assessment talk – which doesn’t have to be painful! – and answer the questions on a piece of paper and review them once in a while. Once you’ve figured out what you’re all about, you’ll want to start speaking about yourself as a writer. Start small and make sure you feel comfortable with yourself (at least a little) before you name yourself as a writer to other people. Jot down a quick reminder for the bad days, and then get to writing.

That’s really it!

Writing is a skill, and as long as you are willing to learn and put in the effort, you can be a writer.

Tell us—how are you staying cool?