Hidden Life of Vanished by Mark Bierman w Podcast Audio Version

Close up of "Vanished," cover, an action/thriller by Mark Bierman.

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

#Authors #Books #HumanTrafficking #Haiti #Writing #Canada Ever feel like your attempt to help the world is insignificant? When Mark Bierman, an author/blogger from Ontario, began to write an action/thriller, he found his subject ran deeper and broader than human trafficking. Within the horror, he discovered a message of hope. Do you believe a book can evolve beyond the author’s original dream for it? Your questions, thoughts, and/or experiences are welcome here. Record them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee: buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps: HBT introduction 1:00 Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 The Hidden Life of “Vanished,” a novel by Mark Bierman 3:18 My question for you 7:25 HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: The blog post for this episode includes photos and links to more info. Blogger/author Mark Bierman’s site includes his contact and book info. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” is a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of Mark Bierman’s guest blog post below.

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

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.

Vanished by Mark Bierman cover.

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

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

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

Here’s a quick synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the 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.

This is the true spirit of Vanished.

Here’s info at my site about how one woman works to help victims of human trafficking.

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

Vote + Books + Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock + Podcast Audio Version

Titles with book covers and photo of author Suzanne Craig-Whytock.
Photo of author Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Pronouns #Gender #Individuality #Writing #Grammar What’s your pronoun? Canadian author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock, who uses she and her, discusses pronouns from the standpoint of someone who is smart and funny, as well as who earned an Honours B.A. in English Language and Literature, and worked as an English teacher for almost 25 years. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee at http://buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. Canadian author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock and her books. Another guest post she did for Happiness Between Tails. Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act.” This link and this one to documentaries I’ve produced. Another post where I wrote a bit about pronouns. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of the blog post below.

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

Have you voted yet? If not, mark your calendar and tell your like-minded friends…

A great book to get you into the groove is How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. He also published How to Raise an Antiracist, discussed in an earlier post. Here’s my review of it for amazon and goodreads:

“Highly educated and wonderfully humble, Kendi details his own early prejudices and steps us through the United States’ history of racism. Bigotry harms everyone and anyone can be a bigot. Antiracism, fortunately, is the antidote that everyone can learn.”

Cover of How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Another informative read is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. This is my review of it on amazon and goodreads:

Race is about skin. Class is about external things one might be able to hide. Caste goes down to the bones. Bigotry in the United States — our inequities on all levels — boils down to caste. It’s why some people who’re victimized will trod upon others. Wilkerson explains all this and the context of our shameful history of slavery and discrimination. Did you know that we got so good at teaching people to stomach slavery that Hitler sought to learn from us?”

Cover of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.

Language… and labeling… and gender… and pronouns… Authors can be extra picky about language, as I am with the novels I’m working on.

Any serious writer knows there’s more to communication than vocabulary and grammar. Language is about how people think.

Civil rights movements in the United States really took flight in the 60s and 70s — and labels played a major role in creating positive change. When Gloria Steinem named her feminist magazine “Ms.,” many family dinners became hot debates over whether women should use Ms. instead of Miss and Mrs.

Then came arguments over switching “mailman” to “postal carrier,” and “stewardess” to “flight attendant.” The next slog was weeding out racial slurs. To this day, there are people who enunciate the phrase “political correctness“ as if they’re cussing.

For most good ideas, the masses regard those first to propose them as nuts and worse. Eventually, a grudging acceptance sets in. Finally, it’s like the entire world acquires amnesia, and believes they were born thinking that way.

Make no mistake, I am no angel. In my case, I have to slap my forehead at how difficult (long ago, for whatever it’s worth) it was for me to transition from something as basic as calling a friend Jim instead of Jimmy when he turned eighteen!

People spend entire careers studying the way people from all parts of the world communicate. Some countries designate genders to everything from rocks to the sky.

When my husband speaks English, he occasionally confuses genders because in Iran, where he was born, Farsi doesn’t employ words for it. Which gets me meandering into recommending Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act,” where he explains how we all need to travel more so we can get our ostrich heads out of the sand. Part of why it can be harder to learn a language when we’re older is if we insist that there is only one “best” way for things like language to operate.

From as far back as when I was a kid, I questioned not pronouns, but gender roles. Back then, people sought to inspire me with their ideas about how wonderful it was that only women could bear children and be truly nurturing, but not anything else. From what “little me” saw and heard, “womanhood” amounted to life as a vessel and a slave. No, thank you.

Later, when I co-produced documentaries like this and this one, everyone assumed my male business partner was the boss. Except, that is, when we videotaped at a school for developmentally disabled adults. Wait, tell me again, who are we labeling “disabled”?

Thank you, everyone who works toward changing oppression. That includes anyone who wants to challenge how we think of pronouns. I wrote a bit about that H-E-R-E

Adopting new behaviors can be a challenge. It’s fine to express frustration, but remember that how we express ourselves matters. The worst thing we can do is add fuel to the raging fire of bigotry.

Canadian author/blogger (mydangblog) Suzanne Craig-Whytock (she/her) is here to discuss pronouns from the standpoint of someone who is smart and funny, as well as who earned an Honours B.A. in English Language and Literature, and who worked as an English teacher for almost 25 years. See the books and stories she’s published.

She’s been a guest at Happiness Between Tails here too…

Let’s Talk About Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Note: Once you finish reading and listening here, be sure to check out Suzanne’s site for her clever riposte to this post.

Words are letters strung together to make sounds and are used to identify something. Seems very straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s always astonishing to me how upset people get about certain words, especially the ones in the English language that are literally the shortest words we have. Yes, I’m talking about pronouns. So what exactly is a pronoun? Grammatically speaking, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun—for example: I, he, she, we, they, and it. There are plenty of others depending on the case, like possessive pronouns such as mine, yours, his, hers, and theirs…you get the idea. But why all the consternation about pronouns? I mean, there are some people who get outraged if you tell them your pronouns, or lose their minds if a person chooses to go by “they” instead of the binary “he” or “she”. And if someone decides to change their pronouns, all hell might break loose. (Notice that I used the plural determiner “their” for the singular “someone” in the previous sentence and that’s just fine; in fact, the use of the singular “they” can be found in the English Language as early as the year 1375.)

But why do some folks get so up-in-arms about how other people choose their own pronouns? It’s personally baffling to me. I have a degree in English Language and Literature and I taught high school English for almost twenty-five years, but I never got my knickers in a knot about pronouns—if you tell me you’re “he”, that’s what I call you. If it’s “she”, fine by me. “They”? Absolutely not an issue. Unfortunately, not everyone is as accepting, and maybe that’s just borne out of a lack of understanding.  So as someone with a certain expertise in English grammar, I’m happy to answer your questions about pronouns.

1) “Why are pronouns so important to some people? I never even think about mine.”

Exactly. You don’t have to think about yours, because you’ve never questioned or struggled with your own identity. But other people’s lives aren’t as simple, and the pronouns they ultimately choose, whether it’s he, she, or they, help them validate themselves to the world. 

2) “But boys are he and girls are she, and that’s all there is to it. If a person doesn’t use “he” or “she”, how will we all know what sex the person is?” 

First, what difference does it make to you? Why are you so worried about other people’s genitals? Because that’s how sex is assigned at birth, by someone doing a visual check and making an announcement about it. Second, birth-assigned sex is not binary. Sure, there’s male and female, but there’s also intersex. And if you’re that fixated on knowing someone’s sexual identity based on binary pronouns, it’s a good job you don’t speak Finnish or Chinese, because neither of those languages (and quite a few others) have gendered pronouns. 

3) “But people shouldn’t be able to just change their pronouns, should they?”

Of course, they should. And if you’re having trouble with the concept, consider this example: You find a caterpillar in your backyard. “Hey, little caterpillar,” you say, and that’s what you call it all summer. But when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon and it’s transformed into a butterfly, do you still call it a caterpillar? Of course not. It’s the same with people. If a person has made a transition from one gender to another, why wouldn’t they change their pronouns to match their new identity and why wouldn’t you respect that? And if they decide that they’re somewhere in between the two genders, they can use the non-binary “they”. It’s fine—even the Oxford English Dictionary says so. 

4) “Non-binary?! But there are only two genders and you can’t switch the one you were born with!”

Sorry, wrong. Gender is a very fluid spectrum and there are many places along it. Also, gender is a social construct. Most of our ideas about gender and gender expression are based on current social behaviours and attitudes, and those are also fluid. For example, in the 1700s, men wore wigs, ruffles, face powder, and high heels. It was considered appropriate for their gender. In the Victorian period, if a woman wore pants, it was scandalous, but I’m currently sitting here typing this while wearing jeans and no one even bats an eye. And the whole idea that only girls can wear pink? That’s an eccentric, late 20th century fad. Colours are part of another spectrum, one of light that our eyes perceive, and they have no gender; in fact, it was perfectly normal for men to wear pink right up until the 1940s. Everything changes over time, and the way we use language in terms of gender is no different.

5) “But language never changes! The English we speak now is the English people have always spoken, right?”

If you really believe that, then I have only one thing to say: 

Nū scylun hergan     hefaenrīcaes Uard,
metudæs maecti     end his mōdgidanc…

Oh, you don’t understand what I said? But it’s English—in fact, it’s from one of the earliest known English poems, called Caedmon’s Hymn. Wait, let me try again:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…

Still having trouble? But that’s from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century. In English. See, the English that you speak now has changed a lot. Did you also know that there used to be more than one word for “you”? If you were speaking to or about one person you knew quite well, you referred to them as “thou” or “thee” depending on the grammatical case. If you were speaking or referring to a group of people or someone you weren’t as familiar with, you used “you”. But around the end of the 1600s, using two different ways to refer to someone started to fall out of favour, and by the 1800s, no one used “thou”, “thee” and all its other derivatives anymore. And I’m sure there was a small faction of people back then who were just as incensed: “How will we ever be able to distinguish between a single person we know and a crowd of people we don’t?! It’s outrageous!” Well, we all got over it. And now there’s only one word for “you”, which simplifies things. 

And speaking of simple, here’s the simple truth. If you’re bothered by someone putting pronouns in their bio, or you refuse to accept it when someone you know has requested that you refer to them as “he” instead of “she”, or “they” instead of “he”, or you get irrationally upset that someone you don’t even know has transitioned from one gender to another, the problem is thou, not them.

What book inspires you to do better? (And what do you think of this new blog theme I switched to since my old one became obsolete?)

DIY Amends + A. Bailey’s Book Sites + Podcast: L. Akiyama Published

Award-winning contemporary romance writer Andrya Bailey scouts a site in Athens.
Award-winning contemporary romance writer Andrya Bailey scouts a site in Athens.

How I Got Published (Big Time) by Lance Akiyama Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Books #Publishing #Learning #Crafts Have you published a book? Lance Akiyama got a big publishing house to put out four of his. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 How I Got Published (Big Time) by Lance Akiyama My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. About my own novels in progress. Lance Akiyama Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Lance Akiyama. Cover of one of his books, “Duct Tape Engineer.” — 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

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. Heed #1 above by listening to their response with an open heart and mind.
  2. Get to the point without the person having to dig for what you are referring to.
  3. You can ask them if there’s something they’d like from you.
  4. Better yet, say you wish you’d never done it and you’ll never (I hope) do it again to them or anyone else.
  5. Don’t get angry back if they get angry.
  6. 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.

Poseidon Temple in Cape Sounion, Greece, another location I researched for Olympian Heartbreak: Book 2. Photo by Andrya Bailey.
Poseidon Temple in Cape Sounion, Greece, another location I researched for Olympian Heartbreak: Book 2. Photo by Andrya Bailey.

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.

San Antonio, TX, where novelist Andrya Bailey lives, features prominently in Olympian Passion: Book 1.
San Antonio, TX, where novelist Andrya Bailey lives, features prominently in Olympian Passion: Book 1.

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.

Andrya researched Koulos Fort in Crete her Olympian Love: Book 3.
Andrya researched Koulos Fort in Crete her Olympian Love: Book 3.

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?…

Animals in Fiction by Peni Jo Renner: Pt 2 with Audio/Podcast

Title of blog post over photo of author Peni Jo Renner.
Historical novelist Peni Jo Renner.

Animals in Fiction by Peni Jo Renner: Part 2 of 2 Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Books #Novels #Writing #Fiction #Animals How do animals figure into your reading or writing? Historical novelist Peni Jo Renner tells us how she uses them in her books. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee.buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 Animals in Fiction by Peni Jo Renner: Part 2 of 2 My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. About my own novels in progress. Peni Jo Renner’s blog. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Peni Jo Renner — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s show is the audio version of the blog post below.

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

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

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

Peni Jo Renner, who blogs from in Maryland, is a three-time self-published historical novelist — plus she’s a blogger. She’s featured me on it plus she’s looking for people to review books there).

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

Here she discusses the value of animals in fiction…

The Importance of Furry and/or Feathered Characters by Peni Jo Renner (Part 1 with her here)

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

Accompanied by a bloodhound named Trapper.

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

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

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

As do non-humans.

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

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

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

Self-Publishing by Peni Jo Renner Pt 1 + Podcast Version

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

#Authors #Books #Novels #Writing #Fiction Do you want to write a book? Historical novelist Peni Jo Renner tells us how she published several. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 Self-Published Historical Novelist Peni Jo Renner: Part 1 of 2 My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. About my own novels in progress. Peni Jo Renner’s blog. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Peni Jo Renner Her books. 3CTl0Fn7PgHC4ITynM7O — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s show is the audio version of the blog post below.

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

Title of blog post over photo of historical novelist Peni Jo Renner.
Historical novelist Peni Jo Renner.

Many who visit here are soon-to-be self-published novelists (I’m writing novels too). Fortunately for us, Peni Jo Renner (who blogs from Maryland and has generously featured me on it plus she’s looking for people to review books there) has three self-published historical novels worth of experience to share with us…

Interview: Self-Publishing with Historical Novelist Peni Jo Renner Part 1 (Part 2 here)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Happiness Between Tails friends: Check back soon for when Peni Jo lends us a peek into her writing process!

My fave historical novel is Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits — what’s yours?…

Writing/Cleaning + Miss Bekah’s Growth/Change + Podcast: Covid + Books

Blogger/writer Rebekah of MissBekah Productions.
Blogger/writer Rebekah of MissBekah Productions.

Book Reviews + Writing + COVID-19: I’m Better Happiness Between Tails

#Books #Reading #Writing #COVID-19 #Authors #Reviews Getting sick with COVID-19, the quarantines, and my scaled down lifestyle that resulted have lent me more time to read and write book reviews. In this episode, I critique: 1. Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata. 2. Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano. 3. The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron. 4. The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt. What are you reading or writing lately? Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic 1:05 My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: – Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. Sayaka Murata says this is her other-worldly response to a Japanese health minister's announcement. Here's his statement from 2007. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Covers for each of the books I review here. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of “COVID, Friendship, Writing, and Books: We’re better” that you can read the text version of H-E-R-E.

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

This week, I’ve been doing some writing, but not as much as I’d like — for quite a happy reason! My husband and I are getting ready for an extended visit from my brother-in-law.

First, though, regarding the podcast at the start of this post, over the time that’s gone by since I originally published the blog version of it

  1. Covid: Somehow it can damage the brain, and in my case, how it connects to my senses. I have yet to fully taste and smell things properly. For instance, citrus fruit doesn’t taste like anything and it doesn’t smell “citrusy.” The smell of onions cooking is now horrendous, yet fortunately they’re ok to eat. It’s quite upsetting. If I think about it too much, I want to jump out of my skin, but I wanted you to know in case anyone around you thinks Covid is no big deal.

    Photo of K-D doggie still in bed.
    K-D-doggie decided to snuggle in bed a bit longer this morning. Nonetheless, she asked to say hi and to remind you to take extra care. These wintery days can physically and emotionally challenge us (and pets) worse than the rest of the year.
  2. Books: Last night I finished another fascinating one. Though officially a kids’ book, one of my fave authors, Ann Patchett (who also owns a bookstore), categorizes it more accurately as sui generis, meaning one of a kind/uncategorizable.

My review of it for Amazon and Goodreads: “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Imatoulline: “Is this for kids? I don’t have any, so I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s a great book for sensitive thoughtful adults. The kind who know that truly opening one’s heart is to risk getting hurt, yet there’s no better way to live. Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations are as gorgeous and deep as Kate DiCamillo’s writing. Note for those who need to know before reading: this book includes violence.”

Front cover of the book, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Imatoulline.

Back to why I haven’t written a lot. In addition to the good news above, as of the last post to you, I was sure I was ever so close to finished writing my first novel. I have to remind myself that actually I am, though further than I wish. Every time I send the final handful of chapters in for review, they still need something more… more depth, more smoothness, more, more, more. Argh!!! Not taking criticism personally and buoying myself that I can indeed improve on what I’ve written is not easy.

Better to discuss the cheery part of not writing — making room and cleaning up the house for my husband’s brother is a great excuse to organize our stuff better and to get rid of things we haven’t used in ages. Whatever we didn’t donate to Salvation Army, I listed for sale on Ebay and Craigslist. That involved sorting, cleaning, photographing, measuring, researching similar items, writing copy, and so on.

Did you know Ebay lets you advertise things for pick up only? Moreover, Craiglist lets you run ads in other languages, so I posted listings in Spanish as well as in English. Now we wait to see if anyone wants to buy them…

Working hard on things can get rather grim. As a result, these past couple of mornings we’ve started our days laughing as we eat breakfast! Technically, we’re doing “Laughter Yoga.” Watching others laugh, it’s impossible to not at least smile. The founder is a medical doctor who treks the world teaching the serious need for laughter. Amid his numerous Youtube examples, this is especially rib-tickling…

And now for today’s guest. Miss Bekah runs two blogs from her home in the United States, The Thoughts that Bind and Eight Years In, to help readers find their best selves and to follow a healthy vegan lifestyle. She also has videos on Youtube of her music

Photo of duck footprints on a snowy clearing, a picnic table in the background
Photo by Rebekah of MissBekah Productions: She uses photography to express sentiments. This one represents how, when one goes different directions in life, the dividends show up later.

Personal Growth and Change by Rebekah of MissBekah Productions

For ages, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of personal growth and change. And I think a lot of us can relate. Whether it’s that we want to finally get in shape, nix a bad habit, overcome an addiction, face our fears or just become a better person in general, we’re tasked with unraveling this question: how do we spearhead our own personal change? 

Now, I have chased bits and pieces of this idea for years. Whether I was engrossed in a self help book or going to therapy many times a week trying to cope and combat the symptoms of an unrested mind, it’s always been (at least) on the back burner. How do I change? How do I create a better life for myself and a better self for my life? And while I got results here and there for specific things, I don’t think I grew to understand the process until quite recently. I did, however, find myself gathering lessons from every turn of the road in order to synthesize this realization. 

Act before you’re ready

Although I wanted to improve myself for many years before, I think my first real success at doing so was my foray into addiction recovery, which also coincided with me getting therapy for the first time. 

In recovery, I learned that sometimes, you just have to do the things that you’re scared of. Even if you’re not ready. Because as I often say, you probably already know what you need to do in order to live the life you’ve always wanted. In many cases, it’s just a matter of putting it into action. 

Only you can do this

And as I was recovering and taking actions I was uncomfortable with at the time in order to start being healthy again, I realized just how alone I was in the responsibility of recovery. I had some incredibly supportive people on my treatment team. Talented individuals with bright ideas and big hearts who all wanted me to succeed. But ultimately, it didn’t matter what they thought or how much help they could give me. It had to be me who took it. 

And this whole idea of acting before you’re ready really plays into that, I think. Because if someone gives you a task you’re not ready for, all they can really do is present it to you. They can’t force you to do it, and if they manipulate you into doing it, you grow to resent and mistrust them. So all in all, it really has to be you pushing this engine of growth and change. 

Sometimes you need a rest

After the bulk of my recovery, I went into a sort of hibernation mode of sorts. I was uninterested in doing any extra sorts of action to improve myself. And as much as I think that state can be a downer, the more I look back on it, the more I conclude that it is what I needed at the time. 

Once you’ve had a big shift in who you are and how you manage your life, you need to be able to sit back and relax, even if it’s just for a little while. You need to rest to repair your resolve. Something that hardly anyone talks about is that even when you see the positive results of your efforts, you still need to sit back and relax for a brief period. You can’t always just keep chugging on momentum and adrenaline—that’s not sustainable. 

But I think another reason it’s good to take a period of rest after a big change is because it’s good to acclimate yourself to your new life and way of being. As creatures of habit, these things affect us more than we realize. Not only that, but if you want this change to be sustainable, then you need to learn how to live your life within the confines of it, whatever that may entail. 

Learn to guide your thoughts

Following this period of rest, I was wary of this action-oriented approach, for many reasons. For one, I realized that all of the actions that I had taken unconsciously out of my distress lead me down a very destructive path to begin with. And there were many thoughts and feelings and patterns to detangle behind the more obvious-presenting self-destructive habits. 

I wanted to understand where these things had come from. So I dove into self-reflection. This was a skill I had been introduced to through therapy, and was learning to replace for my usual rumination. I knew that I couldn’t control the life circumstances that I was given. But I could learn to control my brain, and how I used it. That’s all any of us can do when it comes to altering our mood and mindset. 

And so I set out to do just that—I learned about my brain, my patterns, my limiting beliefs. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share that knowledge of well-being with other people that might be able to benefit. And so I started a website called the Thoughts that Bind.

Don’t get wrapped up in perfection 

I think some point after starting the Thoughts that Bind, I had this sort of mistaken idea that at some point I would be fully happy and healed and have no more to learn or put on the site. And yet I was also concerned about, well, not being there yet. 

But after honing my mindset and perspective for years now, I’m starting to realize that there’s no end in sight. There will always be some new way I can learn and grow, something that I can work on to improve. 

It’s possible that the old me who was just starting out on the website would be a little upset to realize that, but for me, that’s a good thing! Never being able to get it done means I never have to be concerned about not completing my own self-actualization. I never have to think “wow I’m behind, I’m not fully healed and a master of my thought, word and deed.” I’ll never be completely there. It’s okay. 

It also means that as long as I live, there’s never a reason to be sitting in stagnation. There will always be something new to explore and blossom into, no matter how healed, grown or “expert” I become. I can use my knowledge, wisdom and skills to move to a forward that will always be there in front of me. That’s exciting!

Use your new perspective

I think I stayed that way, mindset oriented, for a long time. I suppose I figured my action-oriented days were done, since I was recovered now, after all. But something was brewing inside me. 

I think I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind that you need to take action, sooner or later. I had seen how much it had changed me back in my therapy and recovery days, and the more I looked, the more I saw it in the world. 

And so, I dipped my toe back into action and I realized that more than anything, it was the next natural step for me and my personal journey. I started taking my thoughts and realizations one step further and pushed myself. I thought, “this is a good idea. Now, how can I put this into action?” And I began slowly but surely, improving myself once again. I even started another website, Eight Years In, all about the actions we can take to live a more ethical life that leaves a good impact on the world around us. 

Most of all, I realized that any new perspective, when it’s a good one, is made better and more concrete when it’s followed by actions to back it up. I wouldn’t say that I was necessarily a full-on hypocrite before this realization. But I definitely didn’t push myself to consistently follow through. It was more like when I remembered, when I felt like it. And when I added that recommitment to action, based on reflection, things really started moving in my life. 

The balance

It was right around the time of recommitting myself to inspired action that I realized how much of a balance it all is. When it comes to self-improvement, I think there are two camps. The inside-out camp (thoughts oriented) or the outside-in camp (which is action oriented). I thought over the years, mistakenly, that I ought to pick one to agree with and reside in but now I realize that I really can’t and don’t want to. 

The recipe to personal development has two ingredients, mental and external. You need the right mindset to guide you in the direction you want to go, but you can’t expect that mindset to take care of it all for you. You need action and commitment to adhere you to the now reality and keep you progressing instead of pontificating. 

In the beginning, sometimes the best thing to do is look at what little information you have and just start. You’ll learn along the way what works and what doesn’t, especially if you prioritize the mental and emotional aspects of personal change and growth. 

You need action. And you need to change your mental patterns. These two things feed off of each other in a wonderfully symbiotic way. And when you’ve got them in balance, you’re golden. 

Do what works for you

And I think the last thing we all need to know about personal development is that it’s just that—personal. What worked for me isn’t going to work for you. And that’s okay! What’s important is getting to know yourself. Once you know yourself and what works for you, start applying those principles instead of what some random person on the internet (or wherever else you’re getting your information) has to say. Because ultimately, only you can know who you are, and what you want to be. 

Other people’s ideas are great to use as a jumping off point for you and your life. Hey, you might even use their ways of doing things. But that’s if it works for you. You are an intricate and unique individual, and nobody can perfectly tailor their advice to you and your situation, even if they know you (which many don’t). Learn to respect and embrace your uniqueness, by getting to know yourself and then using that knowledge to strategize your forward movement. 

I believe in you. I know you can grow and change. And I’m so excited to see who you become in a week, month, or year’s time. You can do this!

Got something great started?

Recipe: My No-Knead Bread + My Bread by Jim Lahey

"My Bread" by Jim Lahey book cover

Are you baking anything lately?

Surely there’s a place in heaven for bakers who have worked out the kinks of no-knead bread baking and share their secrets. No-knead recipes are yeasty home-baked goodness — but take a fraction of the usual time and effort. For me, less time baking means more time to work on my novels.

Bread genius and angel to home bakers that Jim Lahey, with his book, “My Bread” is, he does the other no-knead cookbooks one better. Forget any need for pizza stones and steam via his simple solution: baking in covered pots.

Recipes are starting points to be fiddled with after my first try, not instructions to be rigorously followed. Lahey encourages experimentation. All his recipes are all easy and all of them accommodate deviations.

2 loaves of no-knead bread

These two loaves are loose interpretations of his “Pane Integrale/Whole Wheat Bread,” that I baked for last Sunday’s brunch. The smaller was a whole recipe. The larger, a double recipe that needed a few extra minutes to bake thoroughly.

Lahey recommends two hours minimum for the dough to rise. Longer produces more patience fermentation, which all the tastier. I’ve let my dough sit for 24 hours. Longer-rise loaves steam with tangy sourdough excellence.

Crock Pots

It’s great to be able to experiment with ingredients (I added oatmeal to the smaller loaf, more whole wheat flour and less white flour to both of them), and still end up with something scrumptious.

Rather than the pots and Dutch ovens Lahey uses, I use crock pots. Of course, not the electric part. That way, I don’t ruining yet another non-heat-resistant handle.

Lining the pot with parchment paper makes for easier extraction. Moreover, the paper gives the loaves intriguing creases.

Parchment paper makes things easier
Parchment paper makes loaves slide out easier, plus it lends fun creases.
How to cut no-knead loaves
Scissors help with the last bit of slicing.

These loaves are dense and crusty. In the interest of not squashing them when I slice them, I often use an electric carving knife, then use scissors for the final bit of cutting.

Dough, same as baked bread, can be refrigerated for at least a week. Allow it to thaw to room temperature before baking.

Non-book note: Initially, when baked at Lahey’s recommended 475º, my oven emitted a metallic odor. An appliance repairman set my worries to rest. He advised running the oven at 500º for a couple of hours. Ever since, there’s been no problem.

This was from a review I wrote for Jeyran’s blog.

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

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

Willow Croft on Writing and Animals Happiness Between Tails

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

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

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

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

1. Veggie Kabobs with Grilled Tomatoes

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

Khashayar's veggie kabobs with grilled tomatoes.

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

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

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

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

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

For the “meat,” mix together:

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

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

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

Now…

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

2. Persian Rice and Tahdig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Asparagus Omelet with Mushrooms and Sweet Potatoes

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

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

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

Close up of Khashayar's asparagus omelet.

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

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

Bowl of Khashayar's fruit salad.

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

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

Nooshe jun! (Happy eating!)

What are you enjoying eating lately?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of da-AL's business cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Building by Chris Hall + Podcast Audio Version

‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, "Song of the Sea Goddess." Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.
‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, “Song of the Sea Goddess.” Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.

Imagining a New Place by novelist Chris Hall + Me and COVID Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Writing #WorldBuilding #SouthAfrica Have you ever created a new world? In this episode, author/blogger Chris Hall describes herself as “a compulsive story-teller, cat slave and hen keeper.” Record your thoughts, experiences, and qustions on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee: buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topics and about today’s guest 1:05 “Imagining a New Place” by novelist Chris Hall My question for you 5:28 HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post that corresponds to this episode. Chris Hall's website. About my works in progress, "Flamenco & the Sitting Cat," and "Tango & the Sitting Cat" Some of the posts about when my husband and I had COVID-19 are here and here. and here. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Photo of the riverside where by Chris Hall began writing her book, "Song of the Sea Goddess.” Photo of Chris Hall. Photo of Chris’s kitty, Luna. Photo of Chris’s book, “Song of the Sea Goddess”vg83yt618kz6sxYKe9w7x3vwvtkox1p4rpaz51 — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E to listen to today’s blog post below. The audio version is on AnchorFM’s Happiness Between Tails podcast page, where you’ll find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Notes on the progress of my new podcast and this blog: People listen to podcasts via so many different sites and devices that it’s important to upload one’s podcast onto as many directories (such as Apple and Spotify) as possible. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent much time making lists of them, uploading, waiting for verifications, etc., and still am not quite finished. By now, the show should be find-able on at least 50 places — yay! As for this site here, it’s got a new look when you click on the tab that gives you a list of past posts.

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

Writers get to build whatever world they please — sometimes our novels bend the truth only somewhat — other times they invent entire new galaxies.

My works in progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are set in fictitious towns within Los Angeles during 2002 and 2003. Back then, COVID-19 didn’t exist…

Note: When this post was first published in January of 2021, my husband and I found we were in the initial stages of COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, we were super careful. I’m reiterating this as a reminder that one can never be too conscientious about avoiding this severe illness and about working civically to help contain it. (Here’s more about our bout with it h-e-r-e, and h-e-r-e. and h-e-r-e.)

Deciding on settings, histories, and all the rest that goes into storytelling is chancy no matter what an author chooses to create. There will always be fans and foes. To be a novelist requires enough passion to outrun the discouraging thoughts that can torment us.

Chris Hall has been wonderfully prolific over the last few years. She’s published three novels and a short story collection! Originally from the UK, she describes herself as “a compulsive story-teller, cat slave and hen keeper.” To sample her short fiction, fan fiction, mini-series, and poetry, as well as to follow her on her various social media, check out her website.

“Song of the Sea Goddess,” her most recent novel, is set where she lives now, the Western Cape of South Africa. (Listen to a sample of the audiobook version h-e-r-e.) Here she describes why she decided to depict a South Africa different from how it is in real life…

Author Chris Hall.
Author Chris Hall.

“From the Writer’s desk” by Chris Hall

Writing a novel is not just about telling the story. There are other considerations that come into play. I’d like to share with you why I was motivated to write a book set in South Africa. In particular, why I chose to paint an idealised portrait of the place and why I drew on the overarching theme of environmental destruction, rather than dealing with the gritty issues of race and poverty in my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess.

The Setting

When it came to writing this, my fourth novel, I was determined to set it in my adopted country, South Africa. I’d been living near Cape Town for almost ten years and the time had come to give voice to the people around me. I’d also decided it was time to transition from historical fiction. It was time to write in the moment, but at the same time include elements borrowed from the ancient lore of the African continent, which are written on cave walls and embedded in the landscape.

I knew I needed a setting to match the story I was about to tell, although the story hadn’t really even begun. Then, at the beginning of 2019, while staying in a small town on our very beautiful west coast, while I sat by the banks of the Berg River and watched the little boats going past on their way out to sea, I was moved to write a story about a fisherman with a little boat.

Every writer needs a helper as inspiring as Chris Hall's kitty, Luna.
Every writer needs a helper as inspiring as Chris Hall’s kitty, Luna.

The Characters

I’m a lazy novelist. I let my characters emerge and develop and play around in my mind. Even before they are fully formed, they are always desperate to run to centre stage and act out their parts.

But there has to be a starting point.

A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. People whose backgrounds were unfamiliar to me; people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’ (as if their communities are not still disadvantaged in this country, which has the most polarized society on the planet).

I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity that characterizes their communities, of how they’d suffered under apartheid, but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.

So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.

I mixed them up a bit, taking a little bit of one and blending it with another, but their voices are true and their characteristics mirror real life in many respects. There’s a nod to some of the darker side of people’s lives with Sam’s flight from the Cape Flats’ gangland and in the history behind Jannie’s tattoos from the notorious ‘28s’ gang.

On the lighter side, several of the comical incidents, like when Auntie Rose loses her false teeth down her pants’ leg, are little events that actually happened. The food that the Aunties make and sell in the novel is based on recipes that I tasted and talked about with people. The love of food and the common ground we found over cookery has cemented several friendships in my new town.

The Theme

Concern for the environment is a theme I continue to return to in the short fiction and poetry, which I write on my blogsite, and while watching a TV documentary about water pollution, an idea began to form in my mind for the backdrop to my novel’s narrative. Water is in short supply in our country anyway, but what if the rivers were threatened? And what would happen if the forces of nature were moved to fight back? Soon my emerging novel would take a new and interesting turn.

My love of the landscape and ancient lore of the country that I now call home will continue to feature in my work. I’m already embroiled in a sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess, where myth and magic will once again be awakened in the little coastal town where the great river flows from the purple mountains into the southern ocean.

Visit Chris' site to order her books, and to find out more about her and the rest of her writings.
Visit Chris’ site to order her books, and to find out more about her and the rest of her writings.

Have you ever created a new world?