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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About dogs…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enthusiasm

Your spirit is enthusiasm!

When you wag your tail,

your entire body shimmies.

You leap high into the air

to catch popcorn in your mouth,

drool at the dairy drive-thru,

anticipating your ice cream cone.

You swim far out into the lake,

to fetch a stick…

and swim back to fetch again.

You run alongside a wheelchair

that travels eight miles an hour,

keep pace with kids

on rollerblades and bicycles.

When I come home from work,

you greet me at the door,

all four feet in the air!

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

Friendliness

Friendliness is your persona!

You show open-hearted affection

for family, friends, neighbors…

and kindly strangers.

Grandmothers are your favorites…

The feeling is mutual!

The vet, when you are boarded,

locates you in a run where you can

greet all those who come and go…

You are overjoyed!

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

Love

Your aura is love!

Love radiates from your eyes,

shimmers from your wagging tail.

Love is you resting near us,

ignoring the sassy new cat,

not snatching the Thanksgiving

turkey cooling on the countertop.

Somehow, you know we’ll share.

Love is barking at things

that go “bump” in the night.

Love is wet kisses, warm cuddles,

and sharing group hugs.

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

Empathy

Empathy is in your soul!

You have a silly smile,

know family members by name,

understand most of what we say.

You talk to us with

unintelligible vocalizations…

We try really hard to understand!

You are happy when we are happy.

You comfort us when we are sad.

When we are injured,

you lick our wounds.

Petted and praised,

you know you are loved!

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

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


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

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

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

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

Happiness between tales by Jenny Irene Gunnarsson

Picking the sweet fruits

all the morsels of inspiration

all the lush treasures of fallen words.

My garden will be

filled with endless beauty.

Every story known to man

my sky and sparkling fountain.

Endless penmanship

on every emerald leaf.

Your voice

will ring there too.

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

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

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

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

Cover of Burnout by Jenny Irene Gunnarsson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do reading and writing help you?

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

Poetry and you? A few poems and thoughts by writer David Selzer


Poetry, for me, lies somewhere between blissful and excruciating. When I take the time to read a piece, which is seldom due to the reasons above, I marvel at how only a few precise words can haul a truckload of soul. More often than not, though, it makes me antsy at best, question my intelligence at worst. Never mind trying to write some of it myself.

Do you have experience writing poetry?

Read on for the great kind of poetic journey, courtesy of blogger/writer David Selzer. He’s a poet who makes it look easy…

Photo of poet/blogger David Selzer by Sylvia Selzer. Photo of poet/blogger David Selzer by Sylvia Selzer.

Making Poetry by David Selzer

I was born in London, UK, in 1942 but have lived most of my life in Hoole, a Victorian suburb of Chester, a city in the north west of England.

I have been writing poetry since I was 14. In the summer holidays of 1957, I was on a day trip with my Auntie Renee to Llandudno, a town in North Wales. We were sitting on the steep slope above St Tudno’s church. Two things happened. Inspired by a poem, about the terrors of a nuclear holocaust, written by a sixth former and published in that summer term’s school magazine, I decided that I should be a poet. It seemed a grand thing to write about important subjects and be read by hundreds of people. (I hadn’t at that point actually written anything).

Before or after the decision, I can’t remember which, a group of nuns, in the long, black habits they wore then, left the church and climbed along one of the sheep tracks up the slope. My aunt would have commented on it, I’m sure, but I can’t remember what she said. The pristine image has stayed with me. I used it in a poem more than twenty years later, and in a screenplay nearly forty years later.

Poetry in some ways is the easiest of the arts. It is solitary, and comparatively economical in terms of time-over-task. The technology needed is minimal — just a pencil and some paper. No violins or blocks of Carrara marble.

I have always had things I want to say about love and death, and human history, pictures I wanted to create, stories I wanted to tell. Making poetry has been part of my life for more than sixty years. It is a compulsion. I cannot imagine ever saying to myself, I shall write no more poems.

In 2009, I came to the conclusion that, in order for most poetry to reach as wide a readership as possible –- and a readership which, if it chooses, can truly interact with the writer — publication on the web rather than in book form is the way forward. My website was launched in April of that year.

The first poem to be published on the site was:

A Short History

For a generation, like weather cocks,

their skeletons swung near the highway.

James Price and Thomas Brown had robbed the Mail.

Years turned. The Gowy flooded and the heath

flowered. Travellers noted the bones

hanging in chains by the Warrington road.

Justices ordered the gibbet removed,

the remains disposed of. In Price’s skull,

while Napoleon was crossing the Alps

or Telford building bridges or Hegel

defining Historical Necessity

or Goya painting Wellington’s portrait,

a robin made its nest.

The latest to be published (i.e. as of June 25th 2020) is:

The Colston Bun

‘And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.’ DEUTERONOMY 12.3

‘Black deaths do not have a good press, especially when they occur in the custody of our custodians. The media leads the public to believe that our guardians can do no wrong. Racism leads them to believe that blacks can do no right. The silence of the custodial system is compounded by the silences of racism.’ DEADLY SILENCE: BLACK DEATHS IN CUSTODY, Institute of Race Relations, London, 1991

 

Anger, one Sunday in June, overcame

decorum in that diverse city,

and – no doubt, inspired by the toppling

of other graven tyrants – righteously

pulled down the effigy, with a thump of stone

and a hollow gong of metal, and tossed it

from the quay into the harbour water.

***

The Royal African Company received

its charter from Charles II and James,

his brother, hence the US east coast seaports

Jamestown and Charleston. It was established

by the restored royals to provide them,

free of interference from the Commons,

with their own spending money. Board members

included the philosopher, John Locke.

The company’s profits came mostly

from enslaving West African men, women

and children, and transporting them across

the North Atlantic’s turbulence. More than

two hundred thousand were taken, and nearly

fifty thousand died on the journey,

the firm’s double entry bookkeeping shows.

 

One prominent member of the board

was Edward Colston, a Bristol merchant,

the city from whose harbour the slavers sailed,

and which, in due course, would make chocolates

and cigarettes. His philanthropy

inveigled the streets like a bad conscience,

almost a rebuke of victimhood:

his name on a hospital, a school,

a bun flavoured with dried currants and allspice

topped with sugar, given to the poor yearly

and still made for sale by local bakeries –

and himself looking thoughtful in bronze

with a periwig and a walking stick.

 

Apologists who claim he was merely

of his time, an accidental racist,

and collateral ethical damage,

like Henry Wills and Elizabeth Fry,

should remember John Locke, his damascene

moment unrecorded, who threw his shares

into the fire. ‘Slavery is so vile and

miserable an estate of man …that ’tis

hardly to be conceived’. That June Sunday

civic anger overcame decorum.

To my surprise, one of the most read poems is:

Marjorie Beebe’s Bottom

For Ian Craine (Note from da-Al: here’s a guest post by Ian Craine here.)

‘Marjorie Beebe is the greatest comic possibility

that ever worked in my studio. I think she is

destined to become the finest comedienne

the screen has ever seen.’ Mack Sennett

 

Her bottom was a serious matter:

the butt, as it were, of numerous pratfalls

in many Mack Sennett two reelers – like

The Chumps, Campus Crushes and The Cowcatcher’s

Daughter – in which she was a capricious,

lubricious Columbine with witty eyes

and good teeth and various Harlequins,

who ended invariably as losers.

From Kansas City, her mother took her

on the Yellow Brick Road to Tinsel Town.

Beebe and Sennett became lovers, despite

or because of the thirty year difference,

so he knew her asset first hand so to speak.

From silents to talkies, slapsticks to wise cracks,

her Mid West accent playing well, then Mack goes bust

and Marjorie gradually disappears.

Was it the booze? She was certainly

a toper. Or, more likely, The Hays Code:

irony suppressed, vulgarity outlawed,

Puritan America triumphant!

One of my favourites is:

Enchantment

“Do you know, Grandpa, this book has seventeen

chapters, and I’m on chapter fifteen,

‘The Forbidden Forest’?” “I didn’t,” I say,

“That’s excellent!” and this seven year old,

who has mastered the use of apostrophes,

curls up, like the proverbial worm

on the sofa, and continues to read

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.

I am re-reading, in English, ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’.

 

In the garden, using extended loppers,

Grandma is cutting choice blooms from a rose

we have had some thirty years, a rambler

as high as our upper floor and worthy

of Sleeping Beauty’s entranced gardens.

 

I look up to watch my grand child read. My pride

tempts me to ask fatuous questions –

“Are you enjoying it? What’s it about?” –

then speak of alchemy. Humility

prevails. I hear Grandma in the kitchen.

She is hammering the ends of the stems.

The deep scent of the roses, from wherever

she has placed the vase, enters the lounge

like a wisp of sweet smoke.

For more great poetry, visit David’s site!

What’s your experience with poetry?

How do you define a great novel? plus writer Ian Craine’s 6 picks


Is a great novel the one you had the most fun reading? One that transported you to a whole new situation, a new land, a new time? Or did that story unlock new insights? How about one that allowed you to feel understood and less alone? What about the books of childhood, which stripped away all the anguish of being small and vulnerable? Is your favorite one that’s compelled you to read it more than once?

The desire to read

I was born ready, jumping out of my diapers with eagerness to comprehend how written language worked.

My reading list from the start

All printed words that came my way. Food wrappers, cereal boxes, and street signs were intermingled with picture books.

School days

Fourth-grade outings with my best friend were bike rides to the library. There I would tick off readings from the Newberry Medal list (the highest esteemed American children’s books). Kids’ magazines with fiction, grown-up mags that featured stories, books lying about the house, I was starved for reading no matter how much I learned. That included Playboy Magazines, The Godfather, Marquis de Sade. That last one fascinated eleven-year-old me not for the sex (it went over my head), but for how sadomasochism mirrored the day-to-day I saw. Later in high school, Shakespeare taught me how stories can tap numerous levels beyond surface and deep.

Lately

My idea of “best” has more to do with whatever I’ve recently read that left an impression. Since embarking upon novel-writing, much of my fiction is via audiobooks. Minutes spent sitting is time I could be writing. The books I select are for enjoyment as well as for learning. Since the books I’m writing, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are epistolary (correspondence or diary), I’m apt to download books of that style. That includes the historically latent “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” the contemporary “Queenie,” the fizzy “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “The Roxy Letters.” Non-epistolary includes anything by authors like Anne Patchett, and Anne Tyler, who’s endings are complex. Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent protagonist encourages us to never regret losing our virginity. Now I’m dizzy with memories of beautiful reads, too many to note here but irresistible to type: “Little,” “A Tale for the Time Being,” “Kindred”… I can’t wait to read Kathleen Rooney’s latest (she was so very kind to be a Happiness Between Tails guest here).

Ian Craine, writer Ian Craine, writer

With that, dear readers, let’s meet Ian Craine — he often blogs on his wife’s site (Roberta Franklin is a writer of romantic fiction). He’s a Brit currently living in London who hopes to move to Wales and has worked as a lawyer, a book indexer, and a writer. He enjoys history, books, writing, walking, travel, horse racing, cinema, and music.

About writing, he notes, “…to write, one first of all, has to be able to read. Our life experiences, as Borges once said, include both the things we have done and the books we have read. Reading needs to be a balance between fiction and non-fiction, both from the reader’s and the writer’s point of view.”

Ian has written screenplays in various genres, novellas, stage plays, articles, short stories, flash and poetry. As for novels, he says, “…I confess I have always signally failed there. Somehow I just cannot write that many words. Perhaps I just haven’t got enough to say. But I admire anybody who can from Miguel Cervantes to my own wife.”

A lover of good novels, here are the ones he regards as the best six…

Six Great Novels: Ian Craine’s picks (in chronological order)

Painting of Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa by Honore DaumierDon Quixote and Sancho Pansa by Honore Daumier
  1. Don Quixote” by Miguel Cervantes: This is where the novel began, this is the template. It may never have been bettered since. It’s wonderfully layered, whose story are we hearing? This is a world that contains all worlds- those of dream, of memory and of imagination, of bawdy and elegy, the fantastical and the prosaic. This satire of romance now bears its own warm romantic glow. It has inspired many of the world’s greatest writers — Diderot, Mark Twain, Borges, Graham Greene, Nabokov, Carlos Fuentes — as it was inspired by Homer’s majestic Odyssey.
  2. The Black Arrow” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Stevenson was a man for all seasons from the early spring of childhood with tales like Treasure Island to winter’s disillusionment of old age in South Seas Island novellas such as Ebb Tide. My choice is in the earlier category, a stirring tale of derring-do from “The Wars of the Roses.” I am sure it was as fun to write as it is to read.
  3. The Alexandrian Quartet” by Laurence Durrell: These are four linked tales, the first three told contemporaneously but from different points of view; the fourth is subsequent to the earlier events. To me, nobody has combined a sense of place with a sense of the human condition as perfectly as Durrell. Alexandria is described on every page as the essential witness to all the characters do — their affairs, relationships, journeys, and desires. Beautiful descriptive writing effortlessly merges with a keen post-Freudian feel for humanity. It’s an object lesson too, in the primacy of the novel in describing human behaviour. This is rich beyond anything Freud himself ever wrote.
  4. Downriver” by Iain Sinclair: As Durrell wrote of a city, so Sinclair wrote of a river. The river is the Thames. The starting point is Thatcher’s London, the “revival” of the dockland with bijou apartments for bracered brokers, and it takes place largely downriver of the City, where such folk “earned” their commissions. The book, told in ten chapters, brings us an incredibly rich mix of deeply eccentric characters and allusions to episodes in London’s history over the centuries. Sinclair was a walker (till age put paid to his excursions) with a sharp eye for the topography and architecture of London, and the effects of crushing change on those left behind by the sudden hysteria orchestrated by “The Widow.”
  5. “The Blind Man’s Garden” by Nadeem Aslam: It’s 2001 and 9/11 has come and gone. But this is not about its effect on the West. This is what happened afterwards in Afghanistan. A beautifully evoked Pakistani family, each with their problems and preoccupations, are torn apart when the son decides to go to Afghanistan as a medic. An adopted “cousin” goes along for the ride. But they are too naive (perhaps a modern version of our old friends, the Quixote and Sancho Panza) and those they think are helping are out for their own cut- they are sold to the Taliban. Now they have to tread with care amidst their new “owners” while the other enemy, the Americans, fill their skies with terror and destruction. But like all serious novels about conflict, this is about trying to find common ground, mutual respect and reconciliation amid the chaos. Only “Sancho” survives because only he would have been equipped to survive. And this tremendous book, beautifully written, a tale of redemption amid horror, is his Odyssey. New ways of telling old tales.
  6. “The Professor and the Bird” by Roberta Franklin: This is a beautiful story, again with a strong sense of place, and like The Quartet set in the Mediterranean by a writer deeply conversant with the rhythms of life of Greeks and Turks and the Levant generally. She tells a lovely tale of May and November. A sparky young Irish girl on a motorbike meets an ageing Greek archaeologist. They would appear to have little in common at first, but a love of history, the sort buried deep beneath the sands and sea of the Med, begins to bring them together. She is friendly and open, he kind but academic and diffident. Their burgeoning relationship is told with warmth and humour, and the supporting crew on the dig all have their own stories to tell.

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


This is an exciting post for me because — hurrah! — today you’ll listen to my first ever podcast!

Please help make it a success by subscribing to it, sharing it, commenting on it, and liking it.

https://youtu.be/LG91OXR95tE

Tale-telling has been around for eons, yet we can never get enough of stories. Drawings to hieroglyphs, scribes to printing presses, photography to film to radio to TV… am I leaving anything out?

Enter podcasts! Do you listen to any that are dedicated to novels? If you do, how did you learn of them chose, and how do you listen to them?

I’m asking because eventually, hopefully, sooner than later, I’ll podcast my novels, starting with “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat.” With that as my plan, I’ve spent the last several weeks of my ‘sheltering in place time’ taking an internet class on podcasting. It’s offered online with a professional Gale Courses teacher at the other end — for free! Thank you, Los Angeles County Library, for which I’ve sung the praises of numerous times, most prominently here and here.

Perhaps you have a podcast of your own? If you do, share your hands-on insights: your do’s, your don’ts, your money-making tips, your platforms, and what has worked best for you, especially when it comes to getting people to listen.

The class I took recommending starting with Podbean as a podcast host. In addition to that, I’ve uploaded this first-ever of mine to Youtube. I’ve already got an account there for the shorts I’ve featured already like this baby chick one and this amazing cat one. Plus, Youtube commands a heck of a lot of traffic.

My first podcast guest is Dwayne Sharpe. He’s the generous member of a local library writing group. I’d only just discovered it in real life — but— that was right before the COVID19 crisis knocked us sideways. First, we bumbled about with convoluted email lists. Recently, fingers crossed that we haven’t already lost all our members — we’re experimenting with Facebook.

All that aside — back to Dwayne. As far as I’m concerned, prolific is his middle name. He’s written scores of tales, and he’s published two books. One is called “Thomas’ 100 Cat Tales,” and the other is “Blaze Mysteries,” both available at Amazon.

Listen to Dwayne perform his chilling short story, “Another Day in the Twilight Zone,” for the podcast. Here’s a player for just the audio. Below it, you can also read the tale…

Dwayne Sharpe Dwayne Sharpe

“Another Day in the Twilight Zone,” a short story by Dwayne Sharpe

Wow! The sun is shining, and a few cumulus clouds drift around the morning sky. Dressed in a light sweater, I venture out. The need to stretch the legs fills me with energy to bound down the steps and take a deep breath. The concrete walkways entice my exploration traits as I trudge north, then west in a zig-zag pattern of streets and alleyways. Time has no meaning while the feet are moving, now east, and again north.

Where is everyone? My journey passed many homes and a few businesses, but no one in sight. Nary a vehicle is heard, only a few birds. I begin a closer inspection of the houses I pass, seeking movement behind curtains and blinds. Surely a child’s scream of laughter will break the silence. A breeze causes a few leaves to bristle, nothing substantial.

A pocket park lies ahead. Surely there will be kids playing on the swings or giggling down a slide. Alas, the park is empty, not even a dog walker. The picnic table sits empty, with an inviting BBQ standing next to it. I take the path where a sign reads, “Quarter-mile fitness walk.” Pine trees stand guard along the narrow gravel path. A pine cone lies in wait for me, and a swift kick sends it along.

The sun has moved behind darkening clouds, and a chilly wind has begun to blow. I travel south, then east, a different thoroughfare than before, hope fills my mind of seeing someone, anyone. Cars parked alongside the curb, abandoned, gasoline no longer available. Leaves piled up around the wheels. Weeds have grown tall, replacing the lush green grass of years past.

Today’s expedition ends as I approach the only house on the block, free of tall weeds. A weathered sign in my yard reads, “We are all in this together.” I inspect the sign and look up and down my block. There is no one left to speak these words to. I pull the picket sign and toss it into the growing pile of debris. Not even the sanitation engineers will come. Am I the last person alive?

About Dwayne Sharpe: In addition to his books listed above, he’s written over 50 short stories in subjects including Love, Crime, Adventure, and Fantasy. His hobbies include genealogy and geocaching. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, California. (Learn about geocaching here and here.)

Please support my 1st podcast ever by sharing, subscribing, liking, and commenting… And tell us about your experiences with podcasts for fiction books…

Writing a book? Go for it! a Guest Blog Post by Mr E


Soon-to-be-self-published novelist that I am, I’m always looking to see what other authors are doing. You too?

Or maybe you’d like a bit of inspiration to complete your book and to self-publish it? Mr E has done just that — twice. His most poignant advice for me is that he did it because he wanted to lighten the days of as many people as he could!

In his own words, here’s what the experience of writing and publishing The Stories of 1542: Mini prequel too 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 2)” and “The Stories of 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 1)” was like for him…

Mr E's signature for his books started with his original iPad artwork.
Mr E’s signature for his books started with his original iPad artwork.

“My Experience Writing Books, for Future Authors,” by Mr E

Myself

Hello, there. My name is Mr E. Now obviously, that’s just my pen name, as many authors tend to go by. I come from a little beach town in England where I write from on my good old MacBook. Originally not intending to become an author, I studied being a computer technician, obtaining a few degrees in my late teenage years.

Let’s Get Started

May I start off by saying that if you’re interested in writing your own books, go for it. You have absolutely nothing to lose but so much to gain. Let your passion run wide.

Even if you decide being an author isn’t for you, the amount you learn will stay with you forever."The Stories of 1642," by Mr E

Experience

I started off by making up silly short stories in my head and telling people about them, just to bring some smiles and laughs to our day-to-day lives. After a while, I ended up writing them down on the notes app on my iPhone. Accumulating quite a few, I wanted to share them with as many people as I could, remembering that one way of getting yourself out there is to release ebooks.

After learning about setting up my own publisher account on Amazon, I found my way forward. However, there are many more options out there, such as Apple Books, Google Play Books, and so on. All are relatively easy to get started with.

I thought with all these short stories, how could I put them all together? My answer was to create a narrative behind them, not only to make each story flow to the next but also to give them more personality.

Advice

Writing your first book will take quite a bit of time, but as you go through the motions, eventually, you will get the hang of it and form your own style.

Take this picture, for example. I simply made this on my iPad by continually adding more and more detail to it by using a free drawing app. This particular design ended up being a background for my signature on the fronts of my books.

Mr E's art before it became his signature.
Mr E’s art before it became his signature.

You want to write about things you enjoy in life. That could be horror, romance, comedy, and so on. If you’re solely going for the money, you’re in the wrong place. You won’t make a great book if your heart isn’t in it. But for the people whose hearts are, the amount of enjoyment that comes will be more worth it than any monetary gain.

You don’t have to be a master at photoshop to design a great front cover. Here’s the cover of my second book, “The Stories of 1542.” I believe it to be simple but effective.

Mr E's self-designed cover to his, "The Stories of 1542: Mini prequel to 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 2)"
Mr E’s self-designed cover to his, “The Stories of 1542: Mini prequel to 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 2)”

Thanks

A special thanks to da-AL For letting me guest blog on her site.

Writing community

If you have any questions or just would like some advice on writing, my Twitter DMs are open at @AuthorMrE where we have an amazing writing community.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple This quote I share from someone who’s not with us anymore. Thank you for reading.

Are you writing a book?

Free COVID19 all-ages humor uplift: Guest Blog Post by Mike Befeler


Everyone seems distracted these days. I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation with someone outside of my home that wasn’t 80% about COVID19… How about you? No — before you answer that — more importantly, my arty friends, how do you keep your creative juices flowing lately?

Kid-lover and child-free-by-choice as I am, these days, my heart goes out to my friends with families. Now more than ever, it’s become a challenge for many to attend to the emotional as well as financial needs of their flock. (Here and here and here and here and here and here and here are a few of my posts that I hope will help you cope with the current crisis.)

To lighten everyone’s hearts, enter novelist/mystery writer/blogger Mike Befeler! He’s been our guest at Happiness Between Tails before — when he presented his engaging geezer-lit mysteries here and his delightful paranormal geezer-lit mysteries here. A proud grandfather, he’s using this quarantine to apply his imagination to a younger crowd. His brand-new uplifting and humorous short story about the Coronavirus pandemic is free to all who act quickly. Read on for how to get it for free!…

Author/blogger Mike Befeler with his family -- and Mickey!
Author/blogger Mike Befeler with his family — and Mickey!

Writing a Short Story during the Coronavirus Pandemic by Mike Befeler

Like so many people, I have been hunkered down at home during the Coronavirus pandemic. My last writer activity before self-quarantining was the ill-fated Left Coast Crime Conference in March. I arrived in San Diego, had a full day of conference activity, and then the remainder of the conference was canceled.

My main activity since then has been taking care of our four-year-old grandson during the workweek. Since we weren’t getting together with anyone in-person except our immediate family, I started phoning old friends around the county to check in with them. In addition, we held Zoom calls with our kids in other parts of the country and even with one of the neighborhood friends of our grandson.

Mike Befeler writes for all ages, including his charming grandson!
Mike Befeler writes for all ages, including his charming grandson!

At first, I did no new writing. Then an idea struck me. Since I have another grandson who is in middle school, what would it be like for a boy his age to be an only child at home with his parents? The idea grabbed me, and I began writing a journal from my fictional boy’s point of view. I tend to be an outliner, but in this case, I operated as more of a seat-of-the-pantster. I had no idea where his journal would go. I sprinkled in some of the things going on in the news and how a boy would handle being bored and not able to see his friends. As I wrote, a whole new plot developed. My protagonist, Tad, made an unexpected discovery that changed his life. The result was a story titled, “Coronavirus Daze,” which I have just published as an e-book on Kindle. My goal was to provide an inspiring and humorous story that would give a positive diversion for readers struggling with being homebound.

I published it on Amazon Kindle and priced it at $.99, but I wanted to provide it free, so I signed up for KDP Select, which allowed me to do a five-day free offer. I then send out an email blast to my email list with the Kindle link as well as an offer to email a free copy to anyone who didn’t want to get it through Amazon. I also sent out this information on my blog, social media, and the email loops I’m on. See the end of this post for how to get your copy.

A little by Mike about his short story, “Coronavirus Pandemic”…

The uplifting and humorous story is about a boy keeping a journal during the Coronavirus outbreak. A middle school student in Southern California, Tad must deal with the boredom of being stuck at home with his parents during the Coronavirus pandemic. He has a life-transforming experience when he makes an unexpected discovery. Readers may shed a tear and will undoubtedly have some chuckles as Tad recounts his adventures in a time of chaos and uncertainty.

You can get it for free! Emailing Mike at mikebef@aol.com and he’ll send you a free copy. If you enjoy the story, pass it along to your family and friends.

About Mike Befeler: he is the author of seventeen books, including mysteries, a thriller, and a biography of a World War II veteran. Two of his mystery novels have been finalists for the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery. He began writing later in life and lives with his wife Wendy in Lakewood, CA. He played competitive tennis as a kid and in college and now enjoys pickleball (when the pickleball courts open again).

My arty friends, how are you keeping your creative juices flowing?…

Guest Blog Post: Discovery and Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri


Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere!

Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…

“Freedom.” Photo of Maria Alfieri by Flora Westbrook.

How I Rediscovered Myself through Reading and Writing by Maria Alfieri

I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.

I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.

Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.

They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.

As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,” by Maria Alfieri.

Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.

More about Maria Alfieri here. Her “The Silent Scream Anthology” is available in hardback here and here, in paperback here, and in both here.

What book or story has made the most impact on you?

Guest Blog Post: Goodreads Listopia for Book Promotion by Mae Clair


Mystery and suspense author Mae Clair.

Goodreads is sort of like Facebook, only it’s a site for book lovers! How do you find out about good books?

Here mystery and suspense author/reader/blogger Mae Clair explains how book lovers of all sorts can use Goodreads to let others know about their favorite reads…

Story Empire

Hi, SEers! Mae here today with a small promo tactic you may not be using. This one involves some help from your friends, but it’s another avenue to get your work noticed.

Screenshot from Goodreads showing navigation drop down for listsHave you ever searched lists on Goodreads? You’ll find them under the BROWSE drop-down on the main navigation bar (screen shot at left). The link will connect you to Listopia—Goodreads’ home for sorting books by category.

You’ll find plenty of genre lists, along with specific niche lists as well. These are the ones likely to benefit you the most.Screenshot of book covers for several cryptozoology fiction lists on Goodreads Listopia

As an example, I enjoy books featuring creatures from cryptozoology (i.e, Loch Ness, the Mothman, the Van Meter Monster, etc). Fortunately, Listopia has a Crypto Fiction list that allows me to sort through a number of books at once. As a reader, I find GR lists easier and more accurate to use than Amazon, especially when I want to search…

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Guest Blog Post: The Gift of a Book by Tom Darby


The smallest kindnesses of strangers, things that they probably no longer remember doing, have benefitted me for my entire life. Those gestures combined with the sorcery of books can conjure magic potent enough turn lead into gold!

Tom Darby is a blogger and writer, born in Chateauroux, France, raised in Klamath, California, residing in Spanish Springs, Nevada. He is an award-winning journalist and hall-of-fame radio jock. You can find his stories and other articles here.

Read on for Tom’s example of exactly what I mean…

One of Tom Darby’s “Trees of Mystery” tags.

“The Gift of a Book,” by Tom Darby

The roadside tourist destination opened at seven in the morning, and I was expected to be there an hour later, ready to work. My job was to place a red-on-yellow piece of 15-by-5 inch cardboard on each automobile that read: ‘Trees of Mystery’ in large letters and ‘Shrine of the Redwood Highway,’ below that.

We called them ‘tags,’ those who put them on, ‘taggers,’ and the act of doing so, ‘tagging.’  The object of the job was to slip a piece of wire through the holes at either end of the tag and hook the wire over the bumper so that the tag could be seen as a vehicle passed by on the highway. 

Advertising at its simplest.

There were usually three or four taggers on duty each day in the summer months. Each boy hauled a hundred tags and twice as much precut wire in a leather satchel in, through and around the vehicles that quickly filled the parking lot.

One early morning I approached a young couple from British Columbia, Canada, driving a burnt orange Volkswagen bus and asked if they’d like a tag on their vehicle. They did and I obliged them.

As I stood up I saw a thick paperback book shoved down between the dashboard and windshield. The artwork of a ‘naked woman’ swimming with a gigantic shark, mouth agape and swimming out of the depths to gobble her upheld my attention.

“I jus’ finished it,” the woman said, “Do you want to read it?”

“Yes, please.”

She retrieved it and handed it to me.

“Thank you,” I responded.

It took me all of the summer of 1974 to finish “Jaws,” written by Peter Benchley. That gift helped to germinate, not only my young but ripening imagination but also my continuing desire to write.

Has the kindness of a stranger ever affected you profoundly?