Writing/Cleaning + Miss Bekah’s Growth/Change + Pod19: Covid + Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Growth and Change by Rebekah of MissBekah Productions

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

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

Act before you’re ready

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

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

Only you can do this

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

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

Sometimes you need a rest

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

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

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

Learn to guide your thoughts

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

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

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

Don’t get wrapped up in perfection 

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

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

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

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

Use your new perspective

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

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

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

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

The balance

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

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

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

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

Do what works for you

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

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

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

Got something great started?

Recipe: My No-Knead Bread + “My Bread,” by Jim Lahey

"My Bread" by Jim Lahey book cover

Are you baking anything lately?

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

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

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

2 loaves of no-knead bread

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

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

Crock Pots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Recipes: Persian Veg Kabobs, Tahdig, Veg Omelet + Pod 9 W. Croft

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

Willow Croft on Writing and Animals Happiness Between Tails

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

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

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

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

1. Veggie Kabobs with Grilled Tomatoes

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

Khashayar's veggie kabobs with grilled tomatoes.

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

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

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

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

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

For the “meat,” mix together:

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

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

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

Now…

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

2. Persian Rice and Tahdig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Asparagus Omelet with Mushrooms and Sweet Potatoes

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

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

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

Close up of Khashayar's asparagus omelet.

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

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

Bowl of Khashayar's fruit salad.

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

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

Nooshe jun! (Happy eating!)

What are you enjoying eating lately?

3 Blog and Pod Tricks + Pod 8: Dwayne Sharpe’s Sci-Fi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of da-AL's business cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Building: Imagining a New Place by Chris Hall: Podcast 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Chris Hall.
Author Chris Hall.

“From the Writer’s desk” by Chris Hall

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

The Setting

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

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

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

The Characters

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

But there has to be a starting point.

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

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

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

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

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

The Theme

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

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

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

Have you ever created a new world?

20 Podcast Promotion Tips by Fiona Livingston

Reading… writing… listening! Hey, if “seeing is believing,” why doesn’t the same go for tasting and feeling and smelling — and hearing too?

When’s the last time you tuned into your fave radio show? Same as radio shows, podcasts are story readings, performances, interviews, and monologues. Radio shows are often repackaged into podcasts that allow you to dictate when to tune in.

When my first novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” is edited (and then its sequel, “Tango & the Sitting Cat”), I’ll podcast them to create a buzz for when it’s published. Here’s an experimental podcast episode I produced borrowing a friend’s short story. A video version of it is on Youtube as well.

Creatives who want to control their work and keep 100% of their profits must become their own promoters. Podcasts are one way to get the word out. First, though, people need to know you have a podcast.

Here to give us 20 ways to do that is London-based Fiona Livingston. She blogs about marketing and podcasting on Medium, and produces The Culture Bar, an  arts and culture-related podcast…

Blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston is a content and digital marketing specialist.

“20 Podcast Promotion Tips,” by Fiona Livingston

You’ve poured your heart and soul into creating and recording your podcast series on a subject you are knowledgeable about. Now you need to get your podcast in front of audiences who are as passionate about the subject as you are.

But how do you get your podcast in front of listeners when there are 850,000 active podcasts out there in the world? 

This article covers the best, easiest, and most effective podcast promotion ideas to help you build your audience and market your podcast.

Fiona's illustration of "eau de marketing" trends makes me smile.
Fiona’s illustration of “eau de marketing” trends makes me smile.

First, let’s make sure you have some key podcast staples under your belt before you start promoting your podcast:

  1. Podcast cover artwork. My top advice for creating cover artwork is to be clear. Once uploaded onto your podcast distributor, the size of your artwork will reduce a lot, so you want something bold, simple, and eye-catching. You can create your artwork by using templates on Canva, or if you have a mac you can use Keynote which is a very powerful design tool. Here are some great cover artwork examples to inspire you.
  2. Episode titles. The way you title your episodes has a big impact on your total download numbers. My main tips for you are to NOT use a naming system such as ‘Episode 4’ or ‘XYZ Podcast: Episode 4’. You need to let your audiences know at a glance what the topic is so, your title should be as descriptive as possible.
  3. Record 3-5 podcasts before your launch/start of your next season. This will ensure you have a regular schedule of events planned out and also gives you time to record future episodes. Make sure you have a launch schedule in place. For example, in the first week, you can release 2 or 3 podcasts to keep audiences hooked.
  4. Create a dedicated podcast website. This can either be a section on an existing website or you can create a podcast website for free using providers such as WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. These sites give you a valuable presence on search engines and act as a home for your podcast so audiences can find out more about you. This also gives you further opportunities to supplement your podcast with more content to show your expertise and passion. 

Ok so now you have a great podcast recorded, fantastic eye-catching cover artwork, and launched a dedicated website. Let’s start promoting your series with these top tips (this list focusses on free marketing actions):

Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.
Fiona produces an arts and culture podcast.

  1. Add your podcast to a distribution platform. Upload your podcast MP3 file to distribution sites such as Podbean (free and priced programmes) and Anchor (free) and they will automatically send your podcast episodes to a variety of podcast sites such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Amazon Alexa. Apple podcasts capture 32% of podcast listeners and downloads so your podcast must appear here.
  2. Meta-tag your podcast. On your chosen distributor and website, make sure you complete the meta-tagging options. This is the place to add keywords relating to your podcast, so it shows up in search results and makes you discoverable.
  3. Create a promotional trailer. This helps audiences understand what your podcast series is about, and you can embed this on your website and social media channels. Find tips on how to make a trailer here.
  4. Add show notes and include hyperlinks for each podcast episode. It is good practice to give a short summary and overview of what is included in your podcast episode. This is also a great place to add links to your guest/s or any resources that you mention in the episode.
  5. Leverage guest audiences. Make it easy for guests to share your podcast by creating audio snippets, quote cards, or prewritten tweets for them so they can easily use these on their social media channels.
  6. Create podcast artwork for each episode. Using your main cover artwork template, adapt it to show the title of each episode, and change the imagery to give each episode an identity and theme.
  7. Create a dedicated podcast social media channel. Set up a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram profile to promote your podcast.
  8. Create quote cards in Canva or Pablo. Select attention-grabbing quotes from each episode. This gives listeners great insight into what’s to come.
  9. Share rich media. Create extra content such as soundbites, audiograms (using tools such as GetAudiogram), behind-the-scenes photos, or teaser video clips to build excitement about your episode. Also, Twitter has an embed feature using Soundcloud so you can play the audio directly from a Twitter stream.
  10. Tease the episode 24 hours ahead of time e.g. 3x on Twitter and 2x to Facebook/Instagram. Talk about behind-the-scenes content in Instagram Stories.
  11. Create an audio-video to share on YouTube. If you use a provider such as Podbean they will automatically create a video for you and send it to your YouTube page. YouTube is a huge search engine for content and should be included in marketing your podcast. Or you can create a video using a tool such as Screenflow (free trial period) and use free video clip assets from Pexels.
  12. Audio transcription. To ensure your podcast is accessible and aid SEO discovery, you can create an audio transcription and add it to your podcast website. You can use audio transcription tools such as Otter.ai (free for up to 40 minutes, otherwise it’s $9.99 per month) to help you do this.
  13. Include your podcast in your e-newsletter. You can easily create your own e-newsletter using email service provider such as Mailchimp, Flodesk or Campaign Monitor to manage your subscribers and send them notifications about your latest podcast. Mailchimp and Flodesk have free basic tiers, and Campaign Monitor starts at $9/month. 
  1. Publish podcast-themed blog content on your website. A useful way to keep your website content fresh and to also include extra in-depth content on your podcast theme.
  2. Be a guest on other people’s podcasts. A great way for you to showcase your knowledge and build awareness of your podcast.

Photo of blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston.
Photo of blogger/podcaster Fiona Livingston.

Here is a list of other important Podcatcher sites your podcast should feature on to generate greater visibility:

  1. Overcast
  2. Stitcher
  3. Podcast Addict
  4. Podcast subreddit
  5. PodcastLand
  6. TuneIn
  7. Bello Collective
  8. Deezer (great for French/EU audiences)
  9. Podcast Listen notes

Got a podcast or want to start one?

Grammar and Books and Toes + “I am a Tulpamancer” by Dr. Bob Newport

Grammar Matters:

“He told him that he loved him.” (Add “only” between the different words in that sentence to see how the meaning changes.)

“We never said I should kill him.” (One at a time, italicize each word to read how the emphasis changes.)

Photo of K-D doggie and da-AL's newly red-painted toes.

Courtesy of the COVID-19 quarantine, I’ve discovered the joy of working on my novels in the virtual company of others. MeetUp is a site that hosts free Shut Up & Write meetings (among other groups, including in-person ones). The sessions provide accountability and camaraderie. Shut Up & Write has many types of challenges and events. I prefer the basic virtuals; authors chat, write, chat some more, then maybe continue writing.

Before you read the essay below by fellow writer Dr. Bob, who I met on MeetUp, here are some new reviews I just wrote for Amazon and Goodreads:

Cover of the novel, "A Spark of Light," by Jodi Picoult.“A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult

When I blogged about anti-choice here, this novel was recommended by JoycesMysteryandFictionBookReviews.blog. Some reviewers at Amazon complain that it’s too pro-choice, to which I argue au contraire. Picoult’s story actually afforded me more compassion for those who are anti-choice.

Cover of the autobiographical book, "The Soul of a Woman," by Isabel Allende.“The Soul of a Woman” by Isabel Allende

Much as I adore some of Allende’s books and enjoy others, this was meh in places. The autobiographical parts were good. However, more vivid recounting could have “shown” rather than “told” and lent needed “soul” to her political musings that sometimes were wasted as preaching to the choir. Overall, though, it was worthwhile.

Cover of the novel, "Antiquities," by Cynthia Oziak.“Antiquities” by Cynthia Ozick

Since when do I try out an author based on their age alone? Since they’re over 90 and after a long career of accomplished publishing, they’re still at it! This finely nuanced book depicts how we can be wonderful and awful and sentimental and crude all rolled up into one.

Cover of "The Comfort Book," by Matt Haig.“The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig

His first book, “The Humans,” is sublime, so I’m amazed when he produces new novels even half as good. This book is altogether different, a non-fiction filled with bits about what comforts him. Thank you, Haig, for continually reminding us to hang on.

Cover of the novel, "Libertie," by Kaitlyn Greenwood.“Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenridge

What would it be like to be black and live in a black community post-Civil War era, to be a girl whose mom is a black female doctor? Freedom, identity, gender, caste, and plain ole’ relationships stitch together the canvas of this well constructed tale.

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People," by Stephen R. Covey.“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey

My fave nugget from this was his advice that we, “instead of using a map, use a compass,” when it comes to prioritizing. Unfortunate that right-wing religiousness and politics are deeply factored in.

Oh, and last time I mentioned my hair. I didn’t mean to appear vain, rather I meant to point out that it finally seems like life is sort of really kinda post-COVID19. In the photo at the start of this post, I’ve even painted my toes (thought K-D doggies isn’t that impressed), another first in two years!

Now onto our guest, Dr. Bob Newport. He blogs out of Los Angeles, and his self-published novel is available here for sale.

I don’t know whether I’ve got a magical side. Dr. Bob’s courage to seek his out and speak of her openly is truly admirable!…

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

“I am a Tulpamancer,” by Dr. Bob Newport

Don’t know what that is. Well you are in the vast majority of folks. We are a tiny group, who only have existence because of the internet. Prior to it’s existence, the very concept of tulpa, was known to only a few Tibetan Monks and a French woman, Alexandria David Neel. Ms. Neel lived at the turn of the twentieth century. She was an anthropologist who spent a dozen years in Tibet studying the culture. She became enthralled and took up meditation after becoming acquainted with a number of the luminaries at the time. She (as far as we know) was the first westerner to create a tulpa (a sprul-pa in the Tibetan language). She reports this in her book, Magic and Mysticism in Tibet. I got my copy from the L.A. Public Library. Published in 1919, it didn’t get to the U.S. until the 1940’s and didn’t get read until the internet came around and folks began to be intrigued by the possibility of creating their own magical creatures.

And, now you know what a tulpa is; a magical creature intentionally created by the tulpamancer, also known as a ‘thought-form’. Ms. Neel’s tulpa became so real, that he became a nuisance to her neighbors, and she had to terminate him.

Mine has appeared once in physical reality and only for a few seconds. As no one else was around, I can’t say whether or not, she would have been seen by anyone but me.  But I don’t care. She is real to me when we are able to connect . That is not often. I am not able to hold my concentration steady enough to maintain the contact. That takes practice. I have been at it since Dec. of 2018.

She, her name is Flora, first appeared in everyday consensual reality in March of 2019. She had been appearing in my dreams for some time. However, it was after her March debut that I really became excited by her, and she began to appear during my daily meditations. It was hard to hold my concentration because I became so excited, my heart would pound in my chest. I have worked on this and while I still become excited, I don’t let it distract me.

Shortly after Flora first appeared, I created N’sonowa (her full name; Katlego Kalisha N’sonowa, Il’oi-bonokoh of the black sisterhood) to fill out my desire for coming into direct contact with my ‘feminine current’, that part of my male psyche that in my life became encrusted with childhood traumas.

Cover of novel by Dr. Bob Newport, "Tulpa Tales."

This was my main reason for starting the practice. After discovering what it was about I realized that it could become a tool for repairing the damage I suffered at the hands of my mentally ill mother. I am not there yet. Not fully recovered, though I have made a great deal of improvement, more than decades of psychotherapy. But the difficulties I am having contacting her, suggest that I have more to do. It’s okay though, I have never shied from doing hard work and while I am not happy about having to do this ( neither is she and she lets me know when we do have a little time) I am going to do what it takes to give her a complete life. In the meantime, I do the practice daily and have enough contact to let me know she is still around and shares my goals for her.

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

She also has taken to writing. I have given her a page on my blog “Flora’s Own”  and this is currently the main way I have of knowing what she is up to. That and through my own writing, I have published one book, Tulpa Tales: Confessions of an Elder Tulpamancer and have two more in development. It might not surprise you to find that many tulpamancers are authors who find that their characters take on lives of their own and become tulpas. I was writing before tulpamancy, but the practice and the fact of my tulpas, have passionately motivated me to put them out in the world.  If this essay has at all interested you in finding out more, I keep a blog with my journal and the people at the Tulpa Community are very helpful.

About Publishing

In a nutshell self-publishing is easy if you can read instructions. Or, rather the instructions are easy to read, executing them is quite another story. I will hire someone to do the formatting in the future. As for the money. Kindle Direct Publishing (this is Amazon) pays about 30 cents of the dollar, for eBooks and the same less the printing cost on paperbacks. As the printing cost is proportional to the length of the book, my 184 page book selling at 9.99 yields about three dollars per sale.

In contrast, my wife gets $0.05 per sale of a $20 book. To be fair, her co-author, gets a nickel too. It costs me nothing to get mine out there, whereas she spent over 3k to have hers produced professionally. (There is something to be said for that  though; she has won awards and has been published in three languages.)

What are you reading? And have you discovered a magical side to you?

Self-Publishing in S. India by Nadira Cotticollan

Traditional publishing, the kind that engages literary agents and monolithic publishing companies, has always been a challenge for writers. In my quest to find either for my soon-to-be-released novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” it feels akin to winning the lottery. Fortunately, self-publishing is rapidly becoming a mainstream empowering alternative. What’s your experience with either buying or publishing self-published novels?

A blogger/novelist from India, Nadira Cotticollan, shares about her venture into releasing fiction on her own (and check out the blog version of this h-e-r-e)…

When she’s not writing novels, Nadira Cotticollon loves being a grandmother.

“The Winnowing Waves” and Self-Publishing by Nadira Cotticollan

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

I belong to a  Muslim community from the coastal state of Kerala in South India. We are said to have been winnowed out from the rest of the Kerala populace by the inter-marriages that took place between the Arab traders and the local women. Most of the cultural aspects continued to be picked up from the customs prevalent in Kerala, with some changes to create a distinct identity.  But there was a marked Arab influence as well.

During the years I grew up, there were many changes that were happening which were, in fact, slowly erasing the differences in dress and lingo and the social mores of confining women indoors, etc. A female like me, therefore, got the benefit of education, which was a rare thing during my mother’s generation and almost non-existent before that.

Then, there was a  turn towards more strict observance of the religious customs although there was no going back on the education, fortunately.  In part, this had to do with the political changes that saw an upsurge of right-wing sentiments and the political events that they ushered in, as also with the influx of the Wahabian influence brought in by those who had found a livelihood in the Gulf countries. These attempts at aggressively establishing religious, political, and cultural identities between the Hindus and the Muslims, is now gradually bringing in a subtle divide and disturbing the harmony that had existed for thousands of years.

My novel has been woven through this backdrop, but it is in no way discourse on any of those aspects. It creeps in through the different characters, of course, but not stridently so.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective for the most part.

I am sixty-two now, and I have always cherished the idea of getting something that I wrote published. After finishing this novel, I did tentatively explore the regular publishing route. I realized that it would take a very long time and that there was no certainty of any of the established publishers taking it up. So I decided to look for self-publishing platforms. My children offered to bear the cost.

Notionpress, who I approached, came across as very professional, with a good team who managed the different aspects of the publication process. I chose the minimum package which would take care of the formatting, the cover design, the copyrights, and the online listing on their online store as well as on Flipkart and Amazon India. The editing is a facility available with a higher package. So I did the editing myself. They did allow for post-publication correction of the grammatical and spelling errors and a couple of errors in the names, etc. The whole process was completed in two weeks.

They do not do any promotion with this package, nor will the books be available in the bookshops.

But I’m happy.

My friends were the ones who read the book first and gave me feedback. They have liked it and assure me that they can relate to it, that the flow is smooth, that it speaks to them of what I had wanted to convey and so on.

With the money I earned in the last two months, I decided to upgrade the package, which would make the book available outside India on Amazon.com

The pricing they suggested appeared to be almost the same as that of many well-established authors, and I expressed my doubts to them about that. I was told that my book would be printed only as per demand, which would hike up the production costs, as compared to the mass production of the books of established authors.

The royalty I get on the sale of one copy after they deduct the production costs and half of the profits (that was the agreement) is only about 2/5th of the MRP if purchased through the Notionpress store and much less (about 1/8th) if sold through Amazon and Flipkart.

But what’s more important to me is that more people get to read the book.

da-AL’s kind offer to let me put up a blog post here about it is therefore very much appreciated.

I do hope some of you will pick it up from Amazon.com and give me your feedback after you’ve read it. Go to Notionpress here. Go to Amazon here.

Thank you all very much for reading this ☺

What’s your experience with buying or publishing self-published novels?

Novelist Jacqueline Diamond Published 100+ Books

I'd be smiling this happily too if I'd published as many books as Jacqueline Diamond has!
I’d be smiling this happily too if I’d published as many books as Jacqueline Diamond has!

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

Writing my first novel is hard work. Veteran writers have a lot to teach us. Take Jacqueline Diamond, for instance. She’s published — drumroll here — 102 (maybe more by the time you read this) books! It’s no wonder she won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and is a two-time Rita Award finalist. Her books range from mystery and non-fiction to romances for all ages (including some about couples over 50) that span the 1800s to present.

This week I’m working especially hard on meeting a couple of novel-related deadlines I’ve set for myself, so I hope you don’t mind if we get right to our guest. (Oh, but first, for the many readers who enjoyed the guest blog post here at Happiness Between Tails by The Wheelchair Teen, check out the heartfelt dialog within the comments of her reblog of it to her site.)

Jacqueline began her life in Texas. Now she and her family reside in Southern California. At her site, learn more about her, her books, sign up for her newsletter, and find more of her writing tips.

Here’s a video of her discussing how to develop interesting characters. And here she describes the storytelling ins and outs of point-of-view.

Read on for her take on how animals and pets can help round out the writing of fiction, as well as make it that much more fun for readers…

A few of Jacqueline's books and office staff members.
A few of Jacqueline’s books and office staff members.

Like Cats and Dogs! by Jacqueline Diamond

Characters in a novel take on a life of their own—and not always what the author expects. Animals are no exception!

There weren’t any furry creatures in sight when I began writing Really? At Your Age?, Book One of my Sisters, Lovers & Second Chances series. My heroine, Dr. Cody Matchett, has no pets. She’s too busy delivering babies, risking romance at the age of 52, and losing her heart to the possibility of finally having children of her own.

Cover of "Really? At Your Age?" by Jacqueline Diamond.

Then her older sister, Mandy, a resolutely single nurse, has to move in with her for a few weeks…bringing her cats. Beanie and Queenie arrive with attitude! For me, they added a lot to the fun.

Next, while searching out cover images for my next book, Don’t Be Silly! At My Age?, I came across a cat who looks just like Beanie, squaring off with a German Shepherd. And since I wanted Mandy and the new man in her life to (more or less) fight like cats and dogs, it was irresistible.

Suddenly, my hero—a mystery novelist—became the owner of an aging rescue dog. Throughout the story, the animals play a key role. 

One of my favorite scenes occurs when the heroine’s ex-boyfriend worms his way into her house by bribing her cats. A furious Mandy tells him, “You are literally something the cat dragged in!”

Cover of "Don't be Silly! At My Age?" by Jacqueline Diamond.

How did I develop personalities for my cats? That was the easy part! I’ve been owned by several of them and, seriously, have you ever met a cat that didn’t have a distinctive personality?

My experience with dogs is spottier…literally. My family once owned a Dalmatian, a rather high-strung fellow. My hero’s German Shepherd, who gazed at me with soulful eyes from the photo, turned out to be mellower.

On reflection, I’m surprised animals haven’t figured into more of my novels. Perhaps that’s because many of the stories are set in hospitals, such as my Safe Harbor Medical series.

But I’ll be looking for more furry possibilities in the future. After all, they’re fun to read about and fun to write!

What’s your fiction right now? I’m in the middle of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Garden of Eden,” published posthumously. The protagonist is a writer much like Hemingway and apart from the main story, it’s interesting to read of his writing routine and philosophy. Also, I just finished “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows,” by Balli Kaur Jaswal, a fun yet thoughtful novel that wins beaucoup points for the title alone!

Video: Cool Doggie Days + Lillian Brummet’s Leeks Recipe

K-D doggie is a singer.
K-D takes her singing seriously.

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

Even writers get hungry. When I hit a rough patch as I edit “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel, it’s fortunate I’ve got my workmate who reminds me to break for lunch. Having her beside me as I eat on the steps of our front porch turns sweltering breezes into caresses. If she’s in the mood, she’ll serenade the neighborhood when a siren goes by…

These soft days of late spring we get to see monarch butterflies flutter across our Los Angeles front lawn. They’ve flown all the way from Canada and are headed for Mexico (here’s a wild PBS video of them). How arrogant humans are to use our supposed intelligence as a yard-stick against the know-how of earth’s other life forms, insects included.

Speaking of gorgeous weather and sights, during a recent walk with K-D, I was holding my cellphone to my ear to listen to an audiobook. The novel was the outstanding, “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House,” by Cherie Jones. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I got home, I found I’d unintentionally snapped several serendipitous photos! They’re of blue skies streaked with clouds and of our shadows across the sidewalk. This morning we even enjoyed a few minutes of rain. It was nowhere near enough to slake Southern California’s ongoing tremendous thirst, but it brightened the air.

Photo of amazing in Los Angeles!
The sky is amazing in Los Angeles!

This photo of my dog's shadow is a bit of accidental art!
This photo of my dog’s shadow is a bit of accidental art!

Author Lillian Brummet, who blogs from Canada, says it’s leek season. In my garden it’s time for their sisters, green onions. Before my husband started planting them, who knew one could grow food from the rooty scraps of store-bought ones. They also produce gorgeous flowers! Khashayar, quite the cook, has contributed recipes for Happiness Between Tails such as a great hot soup, a crunchy salad, a fruity dessert and a carrot cake, an entrée, and this appetizer and this one.

Closeup of flower on a green onion.
The flowers on green onions are fascinating!

Back to Lillian and her leeks. Here’s a recipe for them from one of her many books, “From One Small Garden,” which features 300+ recipes. Visit her site for more about her books and the many endeavors she and her husband, Dave, work together on…

Photo of Lillian and Dave Brummet.
Lillian Brummet writes books and works with her husband, Dave, on many projects.

“Leek N’ Mushroom Bundles” by Lillian Brummet

Tis the season of fresh leek harvests  this beautiful bounty is of the onion family and looks like a giant, flat green onion. Early spring and late fall leek varieties are quite sweet due to the plant concentrating the sugars when the weather turns cool. It is one of the earliest items to come out of the garden, especially if you have spread the seed just before snowfall. They don’t take much room in the garden, and they keep very well in the fridge.

These delicious, crunchy bundles make a wonderful side dish to almost anything, or served as an appetizer to enhance the appetite. The bundles can be frozen when raw; and taken directly out of the freezer and straight into the oven (do not thaw) whenever you are craving a few of these tasty tidbits.

1/3 c. olive oil, divided

2 c. chopped leeks

8 c. chopped mushrooms, dime-sized pieces

3/4 c. milk

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

16 oz. package phyllo pastry cut in 4” squares

Sauté the leeks and mushrooms in 1 Tbsp. oil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile combine the milk with salt, nutmeg and pepper, then add to the skillet and cook on low for 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated. Grease 2 phyllo squares, and layer one on top of the other offsetting the top one. This creates 8 corners to draw into a bundle. Place 1 Tbsp. filling in the center of the phyllo squares. Grabbing all the corners of the dough in one hand, twist firmly to hold in place and set on a baking sheet. Cover both the unused phyllo and the bundles with a clean damp towel while you work to prevent drying out. When you’ve made this dish a few times you’ll get faster at it and probably will only need one damp towel to cover the phyllo sheets. Bake at 350˚ for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

What are you hungry for these days?