One of the many fun things about writing is that there are so many styles to experiment with! Number one on the ways to become a good writer is to write daily. Number two is to read and read and read. The more I write (like on my novels) and read, the more I find that I wish I knew more about.
The books I’ve read lately cover a range of styles. Here they are, along with the reviews I wrote for them on Amazon and Goodreads…
“Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands” is a graphic novel by Kate Beaton, and she uses the medium to its fullest. Through her text and illustrations, she narrates honestly and poignantly what it was like for her to leave her small remote community in Canada so she could pay for her college loans. Through her eyes, we understand how hard it is to work as the rare woman in oil exploration, in the middle of a freezing cold nowhere.
“Nightcrawling: A Novel,” by Leila Mottley, Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Narrator). My review: The best kinds of books let readers walk in the shoes of another, to truly experience and gain compassion for what someone else’s life is like. It’s an understatement to say that Leila Mottley does this in spades with maturity far far beyond the high schooler she was when she wrote this. Joniece Abbott-Pratt does a great job narrating.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver, Norman Dietz (Narrator). My review: Carver is a master short story teller. Love in its infinite gnarly yet beautiful forms. Norman Dietz does great narration.
“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water: A Novel,”by Angie Cruz, Rossmery Almonte (Narrator). My review: Sublime in every way!!!! Angie Cruz wrote a wonderful book — and then, and then, and then the amazing Rossmery Almonte narrated it into the stratosphere!!! Great title and cover too!
And then there’s poetry and all those styles, which blogger Aparna Sharma has decided to tackle. That’s between her General Medicine studies in Kazakhstan (though she’s from Rajasthan, in Norther India)! Pardon all the exclamations, but I can’t help how my heart warms at how blog-land lets me meet people like Aparna, who love to write that much!…
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?
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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?
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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.
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.”
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?”
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.
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?)
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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?…
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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?
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!).
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?
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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.
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?…
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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…
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.
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.”
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…
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.
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.