The Happiness Between Tails podcast speaks to and from the heart. Like its corresponding blog, HBT also connects book lovers and writers who'll enjoy the novels I’m drafting, which will soon become podcasts I will totally narrate. “Flamenco + the Sitting Cat" and “Tango + the Sitting Cat” are my love letters to all who fear they're too old, too damaged, too whatever to find love and happiness with or without a partner.
HappinessBetweenTails.com • ContactdaAL@gmail.com Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee at buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT
This episode is sponsored by
· Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app
Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message
Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support
Book lover that I am (about the book I’m working on here), I was ecstatic to catch Kolkata’s annual two-week book fair. Since the event’s inception in 1976, it’s grown into the world’s 3rd largest!
Mind you, every single one of the many people I tried to convey my excitement over it clearly stifled yawns. That, my blog friends, is why I appreciate you! If you happened here because I reached out to you, it was because you share my book amor.
My husband enjoys books. Unlike me, he has his limits. Good man that he is, he summoned a car (the driver adding his honk, honk, honks to Kolkata’s honking soundtrack that I blogged about earlier) to whisk us to my dream of nirvana — a football field worth of readers, authors, and publishers of books — albeit in languages neither of us understand…
This year’s theme was Spain. Never mind that the very young flamenco dancers were already unbuckling their shoes when we arrived. Lucky for my honey, an impromptu local musical group sang and strummed flamenco outside of the Spanish Tourism building. That’s fitting, given that flamenco’s long journey of the influences of many countries began in India! Sorry for the lack of photos — I was busy inhaling books…
Whew! Allow me a deep breath to come down from the high of recalling it…
For the sake of continuity, these vendors were across the street as we sought decent cell phone reception to get back home.
Tempting as the street food looked and smelled, we adhered to our doctor’s orders (explained here) to stay away from it. Thanks to fine restaurants and our hotel’s great buffets, it wasn’t too difficult to abstain. For instance breakfast included all sorts of freshly baked sweet and non-sweet breads, assorted nuts, cereals, fresh salads, hummus-type dips, and more…
So, like I was getting to, around the day of the fair, we strolled about a mile of jackhammers and dust from emerging buildings and an extensive overhead subway route. Many workers live on-site, much like how farm workers do in the States. Even trucks are adorned in Kolkata…
A huge roundabout surrounding a colossal spider building, reminiscent of LAX’s long-legged theme building, offered underground passages with some nice artwork…
Within the jet lagged blur of our first few days, we taxied (amid more honking) to downtown Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial.
The building and park echoes the Colonial British India era, when English businessmen shaped Kolkata to look like London.
In the meantime, why not play Aithal’s (he’s been a guest here and here and here and here before) Purple Turtle? Aithal in Irvine and his brother in Mumbai coordinated time zones to transcend a popular word game into the international language of numbers.
Thank heaven for writers like Ariel Henley, a young woman who describes what it is to be born (in this case with her twin sister) with Crouzon Syndrome, a condition wherein the skull doesn’t evolve as it does for most of us. Along her journey that’s included countless surgeries, she’s ruminated on beauty in ways that most of us never consider.
Here’s my review of her book, “A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome,” for Amazon and Goodreads:
Ariel Henley’s brave recount of growing up far beyond the absolutes of what society deems “conventional beauty” illustrates how truly limiting those confines are. Gorgeously and honestly written, she reminds us what each of us unfortunately needs to be reminded of over and over again. Our “shoulds” about our bodies don’t serve us unless they include our souls and our uniquenesses.
In the realm of fiction, Helene Tursten offers up Maude, an octogenarian who’s had it up to there with bad people. She’s a killer without remorse.
My review of Helene’s first small book of short stories about her, “An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good,” for Amazon and Goodreads:
Move over Olive Kitteridge (which I adored too, but in a different way). Maude’s fed up. She’s in her late 80s and she’s not taking it anymore… Such a rollick! The sequel is super charming too!
For the sequel, “An Elderly Lady Must Not be Crossed,” I offered:
Woman in her late 80’s is a killer. What’s not to like? #1 was great & this #2 is even more fun.
Today’s guest, Robert Pacilio, has self-published five novels of various genres — all after he retired from teaching! Find out more about him and his books, as well as to reach him for speaking engagements and book clubs, via his website.
Here he shares how he mined what he learned in Act I of his life to segue into his Act II…
Hello. I was born in 1955…that means that I am 67 years young. I started self-publishing my novels at 54. For 32 years, I was a high school teacher. That was ACT I. I loved teaching—I still love making a cameo appearance in another teacher’s classroom.
ACT I was a hit. I won numerous awards; however, the best reward was the love and respect of my students—which is why my next book is a memoir about those students and my impact on their lives. It is due out later this year.
I have always told stories—written and spoken, and as you read about my journey to ‘authorship’, you are likely to wonder how I got to “the Promised Land.”
Here is my answer: I didn’t get to the mythical land of the New York Times bestseller list. That is a mirage that seduces everyone with a word processor. If that is your endgame and nothing short of that is acceptable, then get used to rejection. Rejection. Rejection. (And I might add—those rejections will come in bland, form letters…if you receive anything at all.
So, you ask, why do I feel successful as a writer? How did my author’s biography indicate that this indie writer made a difference with his loyal readership? And just how did I even accumulate a readership? Let’s go back in time for the answers. Before we do, let’s discuss the latest trending word: nepo-babies.
Nepo-babies are not you or me. They do not need to read this or any other blog about being published. Why? Because they are (a) rich since their parents are rich; (b) children whose parents are famous; (c) they know people inside of the business of ‘publications’ because their parents do; (d) they went to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc., because their parents did, and they have ‘connections’; and finally (e) all the above.
That is not us, Gang. My parents were Tessie and Louie, Italians who came out of East New York (the non-glamorous side of Brooklyn in the 1940’s and 50’s).Theygraduated from high school and then spent a lifetime making a living in the world of hard knocks.
So if you are like me, just a hard working, regular person who learned his craft and then decided to have a second act as a writer, nobody–I mean nobody—is going to give you an unearned break. You have to earn it the old fashioned way—with grit and drive. No quitters make it and there are no short cuts for “tramps like us” (apologies to Springsteen).
Okay, still with me. Good. Flashback to 2007 when I decide to write a semi-autobiographical novel about a year in the lives four fictionalized students whose teacher just happens to be me. I wrote the novel as I was teachingAmerican literature that year and it took a year. I had a close friend as my editor, not a professional but close enough at the time. Once done, I had a manuscript and I did what all writers do—head to Writers Market to query an agent.
It is said 50 rejections is typical. That’s what I received. Some advised me to turn it into a how-to- book because non-fiction sells. That was not my jam.
Out of the blue, a former student who graduated years before visits my classroom (this is during my final years of teaching), and he tells me he works for Createspace. I ask, “Is this is a vanity publication?”
He responds, “No. You do all the work, hire an internal book designer, a cover designer, and an editor, and when you are done, we produce the book. You receive 70% of the profit.”
And that’s how I got started. Createspace had a community I could tap into to hire an internal book designer. I had a graphic artist and photographer whom I worked with and joined my team. Within a few months, VOLIA—“Meetings at the Metaphor Café” was born!
How did I produce it? My designer (Tony Loton and based in London) uploaded the manuscript and the Kindle version. He charged me $1,000 roughly (in 2007), and since I was already a teacher in a large district as well as being the 1998 San Diego County Teacher of the Year, I had what they call a PLATFORM. This allowed me to speak at teacher conventions, other schools outside my district, and even travel outside my state of California as word spread. That novel was nominated by other teachers for the California Young Readers Award (the only one to be self-published). Needless to say, I didn’t win. Remember, I am an outsider.
From there I wrote a sequel to that YA (young adult) book and then I moved to a different genre—adult/romance (think Nicholas Sparks—not Danielle Steel). During that time, I still was querying agents, and one agent who was impressed with my dogged pursuit of a publisher for my first novel decided to take me on. “EUREKA!” I thought.
She asked me to make over 100 edits to the manuscript, and then she tried to sell it to publishers. But as you might have guessed there were no takers. Why? First, it was self-published and they felt that most buyers have already bought it. Second, it was not “real enough” meaning no sex, violence, gratuitous cursing (the f-word). I wanted teenagers to read this is class and for a Board of Education to approve the novel, which has happened. Nevertheless, publishers believed that kids would not read a story that was just about growing up and learning about life from a teacher who didn’t look like Michelle Phieffer.
So after a year of those rejections, we parted ways until my next adult novel “The Restoration” was completed. She told me to not self-publish until she read it. I did as she suggested. She asked me to make numerous changes, and after I followed her advice, she abruptly decided it was a romance, and she did not handle that genre. I know what you are thinking—you must have been very angry. I was. She apologized. End of story.
My next novel “Meet Me at Moonlight Beach” also didn’t get any agent interest although at this point I was none too interested in the run-around.But the novel sure did sell. It got the attention of the local columnist Karla Peterson of the San Diego-Union-Tribune and a front page review in its “Arts” section—with a picture, no less (40 copies sold just that day). The power of media is evidently impactful. The same week, the books was for sale at none other than Barnes and Noble! I was invited to speak there. All this happened in 2018 and 2019. The train was rolling down the tracks…then Covid made the world skid to a stop.
During the isolation of 2020 I wrote my latest novel a legal/political jury trial titled “Whitewash.” This time I made a concerted effort to snag an agent using Querytracker. I decided to query several hundred agencies, and from all that effort I received two “nibbles.” You should know that each query requires a different chapter sample, different versions of my biography, and introductory query letters to grab their agency’s attention… so it took months of diligent work. In the end, of the two that seemed interested, one just ignored me (after making me wait for two months) and the other agent took it to his higher-ups. They thought it wouldn’t sell. So another no-thank-you, Sir, moment. I proceeded to self-publish it, and it has done fairly well, despite the Covid quarantine all of us have been dealing with.
So what are the ways I get the word out? All of the following tasks paid some dividends:
YouTube videos of me reading various sections of my novels, placed on Facebook, Twitter and any other social network with which I can engage.
Speaking at as many conventions as possible is enormously helpful. Teachers, writers, service clubs, and church groups.
Creating my own website www.robertpacilio.net and having a professional set it up on WIX. It has reviews of all my novels, links to video clips, and how to purchase any of my work, including how to order directly from me (and get a signed copy which I pay to ship it to the buyer). It also has a PayPal link for an easy purchase.
Getting local media outlets to cover/review my books. The local newspapers that serve communities are really helpful and will work with a determined writer.
Gathering all readers into a community and sending out newsletters updating what you are doing and where you will be speaking. Even small groups at a Starbucks work well. That is a way to get book clubs interested—especially if they know you can travel to them as I have.
I have a former student who specializes in publicity, and she has taken me on as her pro-bono client. She organized the virtual book club meetings during Covid and interviewed me on a Facebook LIVE segment.
I have spoken at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. They demand a healthy cut in the profits but that is just the way it is.
I have a tribe of loyal friends who act as readers of my manuscripts. They are so helpful, and they will spread the word. I also encourage folks to review my novels on Amazon.
I have been on several podcasts. They help reach people outside your “zone” of influence.
The most important thing I can tell an indie or a person breaking into the writer’s Field of Dreams is that YOU HAVE TO BE ACTIVE AS YOUR OWN SALES FORCE. Nobody else can sell your work effectively. You can’t just write a book and sit back passively, hoping the droves of fans will line up for your John Hancock.
As for getting rich, I would say that self-publishing a book means you probably have to front about $1,000 to $2,000. If you work hard and your writing touches your audience, you will make that back and more. I’ve been fortunate to have a great team working with me for the last 13 years. Michelle Lovi in New Zealand has edited two of my novels and designed the interior and covers. I highly recommend her, and I will pass on her information to anyone who wishes to reach her.
I wish all of you luck and to remember that nothing comes easily—certainly not writing. Be open to revisions and do not be discouraged. The curtain rises on Act II and the person who raises that curtain is YOU. Break a leg.
Do you have plans to author a book? Will you seek an agent or publish it yourself?
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com
Marketing, building a platform as a writer… There’s more to being a novelist than most people think…
I’m no expert on how to market fiction writing. Although I’ve produced video documentaries, radio news, published non-fiction articles and a short story or two, I’m still getting my novels ready to publish. What I know for certain is I’m having fun here — meeting you as I build my author platform! Who knew I’d encounter so many friendly people from all over the world, who would open my ridiculously sheltered eyes?
Before I started blogging, I romanticized the role of Author with a capital “A.” No need to lift a finger to sell their books. On talent alone, I believed, they attracted their super-star literary agent and publisher.
Before Author brandishes pen and paper or fires up their computer, there’s a rousing jog with their dog, a refreshing shower, and a decadent breakfast with aromatic teas. Next, Author inhabits their writing worlds from a cushy seat before an incredible desk that faces a spectacular view. For the sake of creativity, there’s a midmorning espresso break with sweets ala the madeleines writer Marcel Proust used as analyze memory.
Throw in more writing, a leisurely lunch, strolls between writing, which culminate at four for a feast shared with famed thinkers. Sleep is restful, peacefully given now and then to inspiring dreams… well, you get the picture…
Alas, that daydream is akin to figuring that all the amazing painters of bygone days did was simply dab at their canvases between tasting the displays of sumptuous meals they depicted and keeping their stunning models warm. Clothed subjects were always famed and genius…
In my fantasies, nowhere does marketing rear its head. Certainly, in my dreams, the fame of great Authors never involves any of them setting aside part of their day to develop an author platform.
For some writers, publicity is part of their process…
The novels I’m working on are comprised as letters to a deceased grandmother. Many stellar authors began by serializing their books. Charles Dickens, who wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and “Oliver Twist,” was a master of episodic, a.k.a. serial, storytelling. His chapters, which were featured in newspapers, garnered so much attention that he bound them into the popular novels we know did quite well!
For my books, my plan is to eventually podcast bits of my novel and then get it into print. This blog is the beginning, where I gather a circle of friends who are interested in novels and arts, who spread the word about my writing, and who hopefully will enjoy my books.
Author Charles Sterling wrote his first novel when he was 15 and has published many more since then! He writes and blogs from Russia. Here he shows us how easy the marketing/platforming side of writing is and that it builds upon itself…
Book Marketing & Author Platform by Charles Sterling
One day at age fifteen I walk into my father’s room and I ask him; ‘how difficult is it to write a book?’ He replies, ‘son, it’s the easiest thing in the world!’ Now, whether he was right or wrong, I believed him, and that belief allowed me to write my first ever 75k book at that young age.
Had I asked him ‘how difficult is it to sell a book?’ perhaps the answer would have been different. Selling a book is a whole other world. When you’re writing, you’re an artist. When you’re marketing, you’re in the business sphere. That’s where book marketing and the author platform comes in!
How to market your book
Having been marketing since 2011, when I made my first thousand dollars I used methods that would never work anymore! As times change, so does marketing. But luckily I adapted my approach and saw a steady improvement and increase in sales. The wonderful thing is, it’s like a snowball that goes down a hill and keeps getting bigger. The more books you sell, the more Amazon recommends your books!
Here’s what I did for my past few books.
Set your book for free and do some promotion stacking through “free book promotion” websites. This will give you thousands of downloads and some much needed reviews.
Pin your book with an inviting image to the top of your Twitter.
Promote it in forums like Reddit and GoodReads.
Have an incredible book cover.
We eat with our eyes first! And we do judge books by their covers. I guarantee you that if you had the best book cover in the world, your need for marketing would be zero. The book cover would do the job for you all the way to the New York Times Best Seller list.
Often enough as writers, after we’re done writing and we get onto promoting we start looking for ways to get more viewers. We forget about what we’ve been working on so hard and begin relying websites and methods to get us where we want to be. I wish to reiterate on this extremely important point, a good book cover sells your books first! And the reviews sell your book second, so make sure your book is wonderful too.
Personally, I design my covers myself because I’ve been graphic designing as long as I’ve been writing. Essentially one must look at the top selling book covers in your niche create something thematically similar. The reason being that, readers out there already know what they’re looking for, so it’s your book cover’s job to accurately portray that.
Now, I chose to market my ebooks exclusively through Amazon for its KDP program allowing you to set discount prices as well as put your book out for free. The free book part is important to get some reviews going early on. Amazon is also a good focus point because by putting all your effort into your book, the algorithm helps push your book forward by placing it in the “Recommended Books” section of your potential readers, which is what allows you to sell books even when you haven’t marketed for months.
I’ve tried publishing in Barnes & Nobles and SmashWords, but so far really enjoyed focusing on purely Amazon.
The Author Platform
It’s super easy, but super important to have! Once you have an author platform you’ll be proud of yourself and even feel a little famous when you appear in Google searches.
I believe Twitter is perfect for a few reasons; most authors and readers are either on Twitter or Facebook. Instagram is an image based platform, I tried it for a while and didn’t quite like it.
On Twitter the hashtag game is a lot stronger than on Facebook, making it easier to fit into a specific niche and target specific groups of people. The retweet function is nifty as well, as others retweet your stuff for more people to see!
So if you do decide on Twitter, get a photogenic picture of yourself and write a short and sweet bio. No need to be too long. Pin your book to the top of your page, and spend the rest of your social media rants about yourself, things you find funny and your opinions on things. If your Twitter is filled with nothing but your book, people will turn away.
Your book will already be pinned on top, so every single person that comes onto your profile is forced to see it before they see the rest. “The rest” should be inviting things and things that people can relate to and understand you better as a person. You want them to say “wow, I like this person. I’ll follow them and take a look at their book.”
To get followers is really easy; go around your niche and comment and put likes on people’s stuff. Thirty minutes of twittering a day and you’ll have a thousand followers in two weeks. I did just that with no complications!
Get either a Wix or a WordPress website going, use a free template to make it look nice, and fill it up with your stuff. Have a page for your books, have a page for your author bio, a page for your short stories or poetry, or even a page for pictures of your pet.
Images you use on your website will appear in Google Images, so make sure to keyword them with your name.
Words that you use in “Heading” format will appear in Google Search, so make sure they’re your book titles or your name. Then add your website to your Twitter and you’re basically set! A website might seem like the hardest part, but once you did it, you no longer need to worry about it.
My own website charlesimagines.com is as easy as that, yet has all my work neatly laid out for people to see, and it took me just about two days to fully complete.
Aha! An Amazon page is an author platform too! Make sure all your books are listed in your Author Central. If you have a blog, you can link it to your Author Central as well. Then in your GoodReads account make sure all your books are linked to your Amazon page, because often people write reviews and comment there.
This part is not difficult, and if you have some problems (like I did) just write them an email and they fix everything for you.
It’s a good time to mention that, Amazon has over 3000 different categories for your books, but you only get to see around 250 when you’re actually publishing. If there’s a specific category that you need (like mine was Young & Adult Pirate Adventure eBooks) then you’ll have to contact Amazon and they change it for you.
Reap the Benefits!
As a few final thoughts, I’ve only started using Twitter and adding things onto my website about five or six months ago and the benefits that came with it were enormous.I was discovered by authors and readers, invited to do podcasts, got free book reviews on other people’s websites and most importantly… I emerged from the shadows and began connecting with people!
Book marketing is usually a slow and steady process that gets faster and faster the more you do it. I started off with numbers like 2, 5, 13 and some months later they turned into 900, 1500, 3000, and are still on their way up.
At first things might seem like they’re not working out, or you’ll get tired or you might feel like it’s a waste of time, but the longer you go on, the more the puzzle pieces start fitting together, and the more the grind seemed worth it.
My final tiny advice that I wish to share applies to anything and is based around the principal of ‘compound effect’. Much like going to the gym or eating healthy, it’s about doing something small every day. This gets multiplied by hundreds of days, and the effects become massive.
This was the case with me; my first books back in 2011-2012 kept bringing me paychecks (despite the books being clearly written by a teenager) and then the books that followed were stranded in a desert with no activity. I was left wondering what was going on and what I had to do to make it work again, and ended up committing a huge portion of my time to learning on promoting and marketing.
I had to change my old fashioned book covers, market in different places, create better keywords, and I started seeing my numbers grow again. As of recently, the author platform I built has greatly helped!
How do you discover your next books to read?
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com
From any angle, writing a book is a huge undertaking — and then when it comes to publishing, that’s even huger, whether through the traditional route or by self-publishing. While I struggle to complete my novels while building an author platform, Mental health nurse/blogger/author Ashley L. Peterson of Vancouver, Canada, has put out several books!
I remember how overwhelming it was when I published my first book. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, and I was just flying by the seat of my pants. I had no idea what to expect when the book was released.
My second book was released 7 months later. I felt much more prepared, but then tossed in the new challenge of selling on sites other than Amazon, including my own website. There were also some hiccups; it felt like forever before Amazon accepted the file for my paperback, which turned out to be because there was a special character that it didn’t recognize and therefore didn’t accept. The biggest problem was my paperback cover; it wasn’t showing up on the Amazon listing as the same colour in the cover file I’d uploaded. I spent a whole lot of time trying to get that sorted out,
Now with my third book, I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole process. Sure, formatting and converting file types is still frustrating; I don’t think that would change even if I’d published a whole bookstore. Overall, though, I’m much more at ease. I feel a sense of mastery that I know how to do this – a very different feeling from the first time around.
I’m a huge list person, and my book launch lists are nicely fine-tuned. I’ve got all the steps laid out, so I can just do things without having to think about them.
While the learning curve is steep and self-publishing can be daunting, it gets easier – really. And if you’re thinking about self-publishing, dive right on in; the water’s warm.
Details on my new book Managing the Depression Puzzle can be found here.
I’m very grateful for my loving husband and that my dear mother and K-D doggie live with me. Are you thankful for anyone in your life?
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com
Ashley contributed twice to Happiness Between Tails. What follows below and in today’s audio/podcast version, is her first contribution (the second one is here), worded exactly as it originally appeared…
When it comes to self-publishing, she finds it’s wise to stay flexible with her listings at Amazon. On a daily basis, she experiments with keywords, especially in terms of how they work with setting bids per clicks on ads at the amounts suggested by Amazon.
Ashley L. Peterson publishes regularly on mental health issues.
I am a crazy guinea pig lady. Crazy in more ways than one.
The most obvious, perhaps, is that I have 5 guinea pigs (3 girls and 2 boys), and I treat them like my children.
What may be less obvious is that I’m crazy in a mentally ill sense. I have depression that only partially responds to treatment, so I deal with effects of the illness every single day.
I take medication and do various other things to manage my illness, but my guinea pigs are an important part of my overall wellness.
I live alone, and my illness has made it difficult to be around other people, so I’m on my own a lot of the time – at least in terms of human contact. But I’m never actually alone when I’m at home because I have 5 very active, very vocal munchkins to keep me company.
Routine helps me manage each day, and the piggies thrive on routine. I have a rather odd sleep schedule, which they’ve adapted to quite happily. They know that when I wake up, they get fed, so as soon as they hear me start rustling around in bed, they start wheeking (an onomatopoeic word for their “feed me” noise). It’s a pretty good motivator to get my butt out of bed.
I prefer to practice mindfulness focused outwardly rather than inwardly, and my piggies are a perfect target for that. I can just gaze at them in fascination as my mind just shuts off.
More than anything, though, they need me. They’re very good at making their needs known, and they know that I can be counted on to meet them, no matter how lousy I’m feeling. Because of that, I mean the world to them. It’s definitely mutual.
Each of us is precious…
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com
Who knows what inspires someone to write a novel? Even authors don’t always until much later. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” seemed merely an experiment, a dive into fiction. Only as it progressed did I see it’s really a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love…
So when it comes to producing a novel, there’s deciding to write, then comes writing, and then it’s published. At that point, the author releases their words into the world for book lovers to make of them what they will. Every reader brings themself into the act of sitting with a story.
Here blogger/author Mark Bierman (click here for his site, where you can find his book and contact him) reveals what he’s learned about the writing process and readers. Born and raised on a farm in Ontario, Canada, he merges country life with his adult experiences as a correctional officer and a story teller. You can find more of his guest posts for Happiness Between Tails here and here.
A few weeks ago, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.
First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.
Here’s a quick synopsis
Driven to despair by a shared loss, Americans John Webster and Tyler Montgomery try to self-medicate by embarking on a mission of goodwill to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. The reconstruction of an orphanage transforms into a nightmarish hunt after a young girl is kidnapped.
Unequipped, culturally illiterate, and alone, the pair are forced into alliances with shifty characters, as they delve deeper into the treacherous underbelly of the human trafficking world. Can they survive long enough to keep their promise to the child’s mother?
I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.
If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.
The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.
You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.
The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.
So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire to promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.
I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.
Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.
Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty-plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium security prisons.
The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary, which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.
This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize that Hollywood and the news are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.
I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.
Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve led normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.
I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick when I wrote this book.
It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.
I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.
The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”
I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.
The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.
The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.
Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.
At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.
Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.
Let me tell you, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.
Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers. Look around, you’ll find them everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.
Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read… you get the picture, then you are a helper.
Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.
John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.
Voting day is right around the corner. Readers and writers, please don’t throw away your voice. Fortunately, there’s still time to make it easy on yourself. Vote by mail! I just did.
Rev up your keyboards and pens and lips — tell every single politically like-minded connection you have to vote and to do it immediately before they find themselves too busy or too absent-minded!
Most of my decisions were easy. 1) Naturally, I’m pro-choice, and 2), whenever possible, I support candidates least likely to give an inch to our ex-ogre, errm I mean former president.
Besides voting, this week I’ve been progressing with learning about podcasting. Since my show’s start a little over a year ago, it’s been on amazon music (and a bunch of other places, as listed at the top of this post). Have you ever reached out to someone or somewhere and, when they took 10+ months to reply, you could’nt remember why you did? In this case, amazon music has a free bonus for podcasters, though I’m murky about particulars…
No matter. Since this show is for me to practice and learn, I did as they asked. Here’s the advert they requested, highlighting that Happiness Between Tails podcast streams on amazon music…
Upon receipt, they quickly (wow!) emailed back that it looked good (double wow!), and asked which of their music genres to aire the commercial on. Umm… I asked them if they have analytics on which attract dear blog-sphere folks like you. But, now hoping they won’t take another ten months to get back to me.
What genre of music do you listen to? Do you ever listen on amazon music?
Dunno how many free times this ad will air, when, and so forth. Will keep you posted if I learn more.
Now that we’ve all voted (yes?), today’s guest blog post is by David Hunt. He also contributed here too. Basically, we met as infants, working at a car rental at LAX. Since then, together we’ve traversed many winding roads.
Voting in mind (and again, tell your friends to be like you and me and get out their black pens to vote now), wouldn’t it be great if our votes resulted in supporting great workers like those at the fore of HIV/AIDS?
Thirty-five years ago this month the CDC warned about a troubling outbreak of Pneumocystis pneumonia in five otherwise healthy young, gay men in California. Later that summer, when I reported on the outbreak for radio station KPFK, the number of cases had grown to 41, including 6 in California and 20 in New York. And, in addition to the rare form of pneumonia, gay men were starting to come down with a rare form of cancer and other opportunistic infections. By the end of the year, this new disease, later called AIDS, would claim 121 lives.
I don’t suppose anyone who covered the early years of the AIDS epidemic came away untouched. I’ll never forget Robert Bland’s soft brown eyes and calm determination to serve as “an AIDS guinea pig,” even as he acknowledged that a cure would surely come long after his own death. Or the button imprinted with the defiant message “I Will Survive” that San Francisco AIDS activist Bobbi Campbell proudly wore right up until his death in 1984. Or the scathing criticism gay journalist Randy Shilts leveled at bathhouse owners who refused to provide their customers with condoms or educational materials. Courage, defiance and anger; like the stages of grief, these came to symbolize for me the stages of AIDS activism. To be honest, fear was there, too, just below the surface.
By the time I began working as a video producer in 1985 the AIDS epidemic had expanded beyond the gay community, and now affected people of color, teens, women and even infants and children. An educational video I co-produced for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in 1992-93 told the stories of three families struggling to deal with AIDS. it featured a 12-year-old boy, a 4-year-old girl (pictured above) and a baby boy. The message of the video, targeted to the parents and caregivers of children with HIV/AIDS, was not to give up hope, that new drug therapies were being tested and would soon be available. We titled the video “Hope for the Future.”
I don’t know if any of the children on the video survived long enough to benefit from the new drug cocktails that eventually made AIDS a largely manageable disease. I heard that the baby died shortly after we finished production. One thing you learn in an epidemic is to ration the amount of grief you have to handle at a given time. While I’d love to see those kids grown up and healthy, I’m not ready to face the other possibility.
If anybody’s still counting, AIDS has claimed more than 35 million lives worldwide since 1981.
Do you believe an afterlife exists? Today holds more than enough for me to agonize over… though sure it would be nice if my dearly departed ones dropped by now and again… if I’m going to consider that, should I dwell on how I’ll be remembered?…
Last week, when I mentioned a “dirty” (what is “dirty”?) book, Bojana (a great writer with a wonderful personal blog — maybe if you ask her nicely in the comments below, she’ll let you in?) enlightened me about James Joyce. The author is so revered that I want to read his tome called Ulysses, but even his own adoring wife wished his books were easier to get through.
Thanks to Bojana, I now see he also wrote some pretty easy-to-understand stuff. After he and his beloved wife passed away, some of his letters to her were discovered inside of the sleeve of an old coat. They were odes to loving his wife — in the context of explicit sex.
Obviously, they were meant only for her eyes.
Years later, the aftershocks continue of publicizing them. To name only a handful of the issues they bring up, there’s everyone sensationalizing them, the public’s far-ranging reactions, the fact that writers can and do experiment with many kinds of writing… questions like whether it’s important or mere avarice to reveal private details of people once they’re dead.. and if it’s okay to do with some, how do we differentiate?…
Or you can listen and see some photos of the clothed couple looking staid…
Today’s guest, Lori D. Marchell, is an artist of many talents and lives in Southern California. She also works in the healing arts…
Chert Dog’s Greatest Gift: Quantum Leaps of Faith, a synopsis by Lori D. Marchell
Chert Dog came into my dad’s life after the sudden passing of my mom. In his book entitled “My Father’s Greatest Gift: Life Lessons From A Black English Labrador Retriever,” he conveys his mission and purpose as to bring unconditional love and forgiveness to all he encounters with the main objective in healing my dad’s broken heart. This Black English Labrador Retriever accomplished this in his 14 years life span.
With Chert’s deep inspiration and connection to Spirit, he came to me in a dream three months after he crossed over and asked me to walk to watershed where the cover photograph of his book was taken. After walking around the park, as I began to leave, I heard a crying sound. When I approached the tall tree where this sound was coming from, I looked up and a yellow and white kitten was crying for help. After over an hour and a half, the kitten finally listened to me asking it to jump to a lower branch where I could reach him and that is where Jaco’s story begins.
Jaco Kitty has five toes on all four paws, with actual thumbs on his two front paws. His healing energy and leaps of faith into all areas of his life have taught me about the importance of listening to your intuition and taking on new adventures. Through his growing-up years he has taught me about standing up for myself and making new friends which brings in Tigger. About a year ago, Tigger, a brown and white tiger cat began visiting Jaco. Through a gradual bonding process, Tigger and Jaco are now best buddies. And added to this, Tigger’s family have become friends as well.
Check out my website, where you’ll find links to my father’s book and videos of Chert Dog’s and Jaco Kitty’s original piano music theme songs, along with various excerpts of their stories on my blog.
Whose life do you think is fair game for public exposure after they die?
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com
Progress — oh, you thrilling and unhinging thing — I finished writing my book, yes, I started recording an audio version via a compact homemade audiobooth (thank you, Mother Nature, for cooler days), and then there were setbacks of sorts.
All last week, I couldn’t figure out why, oh, why, my voice sounded hollow and flat on the audio recordings. Each day, I made changes that improved the sound, but only a little. When I was ready to chalk it off as “that’s just how I sound,” I hit on tweaks that, thank the goddesses, made the needed difference.
Yay! But — what a sinking feeling, too — should I or shouldn’t I start all over and re-record everything? Ugh… the idea of putting in all those days again…
Monday morning I awoke in a “give ‘em hell” frame of mind and took it from the top. I was rehearsed and felt not fully confident, but stronger. Whad’ya know, over that single day, I caught up to where I’d left off!
That same night, I got an email from Shut Up & Write. through Meetup. It was a call for entries for a TV pilot about writers.
Normally, I click contest notices into the junk bin. This time I actually opened the email, read it, and decided, “Okay!” Call me masochistic? Ordinarily sure, but in this case, much of the attraction was that the deadline was in two days, meaning I would give it my best shot without torturing myself for an extended period. Moreover, I now have the video to use here and to show you!
Besides a very specific type of video, they asked for a brief autobiography, a synopsis of the novel, and the first ten pages. Mind you, I am very-very protective of my novels. Fortunately, these people appear quite legit and they didn’t ask for a social security number, a bank account, or any other suspect info.
The TV show/pilot is called America’s Next Great Author, which the producers liken to The Great British Baking Show, in terms of goodwill among participants and all involved. All the people in charge are authors who’ve published many books as well as carved out careers of teaching others to publish.
Anything to do with authors, especially of fiction, I’m all over, so I wish them the best of luck, with or without me.
Here’s what I put together after countless attempts. I also tried to somewhat pretty up the finished clip for you, in terms of color and sound correcting, and adding titling. Dang though, no matter what I did, iMovie muted the ending, so this is it in its unvarnished glory (and I cringe each time I watch it, wish I had time for yet another take). If you want to follow along, the script follows beneath this YouTube window…
Script to the above audition for America’s Next Great Author
(ANGA’s pitch video strict instructions: 1:15 maxm and must include, in this order: name, where from, catchy autobio detail, book pitch.)
Hello, my name is da-AL, which is spelled d-a-A-L. I’m from many places and currently reside in Los Angeles.
Most people are interested to know that my father invented my name. And — that no one else on this planet shares it.
Okay, now let’s get to my novel!
Flamenco & the Sitting Cat is my love letter to anyone who thinks they’re too broken, too old, too whatever to find happiness.
In it, heart-cynical Lali Catala shows how every single one of us, at all our many coming-of-ages, deserves happiness, with others and alone. Closing on forty, her career as a journalist is bombing.
She aches for a life partner. However, the mere mention of the love-deadening convention called matrimony gives her hives.
She’s so lonely that she’s even writing to Abuela, her deceased grandmother.
Whad’ya know, Abuela answers!
How do you feel about writing competitions?
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com
Apologies in advance to you, dear reader, if this post’s intro is choppy with the rawness of my jangled nerves. The writing that follows (by the way, here’s about my novels-in-progress) won’t involve names or pertinent exposing facts — it’s just me trying to eek some good out of something upsetting. Scant hours ago, right after I’d taken a shower, someone apologized for a terrible thing they did to me a long ago. Now I could use another shower.
How to give an apology in 3 easy steps:
Don’t phone your victim… er hem person… to do it unless there’s plenty of time to converse.Don’t ask if they’ve got time to talk and if they only have ten minutes, just sob and blow through it. Not if you’re sincere about wanting to help the other person rather than merely unburden yourself.
Stay humble and on-topic. Don’t tell them how terrible you feel for all the bad turns you assume resulted in their life from the bad thing you did. Neither inflate your importance, nor imply the person is living a messed up life — that’s not apologizing, it’s condescending.
Remember you’re apologizing to help (or should be) the person you wronged. Don’t bother if your mind is on simply assuaging your own guilt.
7 more steps can show you mean it:
Heed #1 above by listening to their response with an open heart and mind.
Get to the point without the person having to dig for what you are referring to.
You can ask them if there’s something they’d like from you.
Better yet, say you wish you’d never done it and you’ll never (I hope) do it again to them or anyone else.
Don’t get angry back if they get angry.
Don’t later contradict your apology in any way, shape, or form.
I get that apologies are difficult and messy. Of course, I accepted this one and am grateful for it. Still, now I feel bad for feeling bad…
How have apologies made you feel?…
Today’s guest is award-winning contemporary romance writer Andrya Bailey. Since childhood, she yearned for the writing life. Years of writing later, she entered a manuscript contest. No, she didn’t win the actual competition. However, she won by having a novel she later self-published! A poetry book followed, and so did short stories, anthologies, journals, more contests, and a romance trilogy. Today she’s published by one of the 5th best publishing houses in Houston, and a press in Greece!
Researching Location for Contemporary Fiction Books by Andrya Bailey
When I started writing a romance trilogy, I knew that, since one character was Greek, the couple would eventually end up in Greece. I hadn’t been to Greece yet, even though it was a place I’d always dreamed of.
I knew I’d have to resort to internet research to describe the locations for the contemporary tale.
The primary location of the first book was Houston, TX, where I live.
As the book progressed, I recognized that being onsite gave me an advantage on how to describe the places. Instead of doing research on the internet, visiting a place you’re writing about brings forth senses you otherwise wouldn’t notice. For example: smells, sounds, sights and the total atmosphere which you can’t fully capture if you’re just looking at pictures. It also brings forth the emotions you feel and can instill in your characters. Thus, more “show” rather than “tell” in your story.
The primary location of the second book was Athens. When I took a trip to Greece, I had already finished the manuscript but it wasn’t published yet. It was a great opportunity to test the research I did online. I wanted to see if what I described was up to par with the actual places.
The research had been great. But seeing the places in person – it’s a cliché here – “it was priceless”. Did I change anything after the trip? Yes. Once I experienced firsthand the colors, sounds, tastes, the culture and personalities, it was easier to edit the story to reflect those senses. Not only that, but some details that may not be observable while researching online. For example, in one chapter, our Greek hero takes his beloved to a specific restaurant. She’s presented with a menu in Greek and, not being able to read Greek, she asks him to order whatever he thinks she’d like. When I went to that same restaurant, though, I noticed the menu was both in English and Greek. This is the case for most of the restaurants in big cities, such as Athens. So, I changed the narrative to reflect that. Since the choices on the menu overwhelmed her, she asked her hero to choose whatever he thought she’d like. The outcome was the same, but the detail was important enough to ensure she could read the menu in English. It all came to accuracy.
Here’s an excerpt of when the heroine arrives at the airport in Athens, according to my experience (from Olympian Heartbreak):
“As we stepped out of the airport terminal into the passenger pickup area to wait for our transportation to the hotel, smog and fumes from the hectic Athens’ traffic assaulted me. A hot, humid breeze carried along the sounds of car horns, police whistles, sirens, blasting radios, and tumultuous voices speaking a language I didn’t understand. Compact cars in the convoluted traffic and harried pedestrians smoking and talking on their cells completed this assault on my senses. Not what I had expected Athens to be like. It was overwhelming in an exotic way. I inhaled and took in the myriad of colors, sounds, and smells as a welcome change which would only enrich my life. And I hoped to have my god waiting for me at the other side of this archaeologically modern rainbow.”
I was fortunate to travel before the book publication. According to my travel experience, I edited the location details to make them more accurate. And I’m thankful we can resort to online research and books to find out more about the subject we’re writing about when traveling is not possible.
There’s another valuable and important resource to ensure accuracy while describing places we haven’t been to or can’t travel to. You can ask a person from the country for their feedback when in doubt about the cultural and local traditions. Finding a reliable local source can be of utmost importance to understand how their behavior can be exhibited in certain settings. I looked for local Greek teachers and historians to proofread the manuscripts. It ensured an accurate portrayal not only of their country and culture but also of their people. As a result, a Greek publisher accepted the trilogy for publication. Their editors were very pleased with the way I represented their country and culture in the story.
Although it can be costly and time-consuming, onsite and in person research can greatly enhance your perception of the place you’re writing about, and you’ll also have wonderful memories of a great vacation (and an excuse to travel more!).
Do you have a fave locale for fiction? And how have apologies made you feel?…
Share + Like + Rate + Comment + Follow + Email me at ContactdaAL@gmail.com