Poetry? + J.M. Wristen’s + Pod36: Audiobook How 2 by Chris Hall

Photo of Jose Mayo Wristen standing with a hat on and taking a selfie. Title of blog post is superimposed.
Even poets like Joseph May Wristen take selfies.

Dance Fun + How to Publish an Audiobook Novel by Chris Hall Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Dance #Audiobooks #Writing #Writing #Books Do you listen to audiobooks? A past guest, author/blogger Chris is from England and now resides in South Africa. For this show, she describes what went into producing her new audiobook. 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 Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 How to Publish an Audiobook Novel by Chris Hall 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. Link to author Chris Hall. Links to this video and this one of my husband and me dancing. A sample of Hall's audiobook. When Chris was a past guest. Audioshelf, the South African company that published Chris’ audiobook. Authors Republic, that offers audiobook publishing and distribution worldwide. Chris’ book at Audible and Chirp and Amazon. Info about my novels-in-progress. Headliner, which I used to produce a full-length video version of a another show. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Chris Hall and her audiobook. My husband and me dancing. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s show is the audio version of “Dance Fun + How to Publish an Audiobook Novel by Chris Hall.”

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

What’s poetry mean to you? You can find definitions, but to be honest, I’m the “I know it when I see it, and only then I think maybe I know it,” sort. Could that be part of why my novels are taking so long (tell me about it)?

For some, the poetry has to rhyme. Others want the words perform some sort of rhyming math, along the lines of 5-7-5 triplets that haikus do. There are plenty of poetry lovers who elect to break all the rules. It’s been said that one needs to know rules first, but lots of writers consider the learning part too much of a bother. If you want, here’s writer/scholar Brian Geiger’s advice on publishing poetry at WordPress, and author Josephine Corcoran’s on formatting it for WordPress.

Ahhh… to each their own…

In today’s case, the “own” belongs to Joseph Mayo Wristen. Born in Toppenish, Washington, he’s mostly lived in the U.S. North West. From ages 17 to 26, he traveled all over Europe and North America, working odd jobs and meeting interesting people. He’s attended college and film school, sold encyclopedias and children’s books, and currently works in the solar energy.

It took a while for him to share his poetry, but since his youngest daughter told him he should, he’s published a bunch!

His Facebook page includes videos of him reading aloud. Here’s one of his that Nopoet JaArtist uploaded to their Youtube site.

Remember, Emily Dickinson showed us, “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers”…

a bird’s song heard in a dream by joseph mayo wristen

12 crows sitting across the street

scattered wings of origin

perched from the tree tops

to the hanging branches below

someone is here visiting us

misunderstandings found in

history’s unknown truths

feelings that come over you when

you know you’re not alone

drop of rain touching trenched

soil secret in magic’s reconciliation

an eye summoning autumn’s flower

our souls last tear — love

calling out for collectivism

in this world of fame there are

many forces that stand against

man’s idol tides of destruction

voices heard in the silence of the

wind, modernization scattered

across time’s voided scheme

players in twilight’s hour

calling out to you, asking you

to take a moment to listen to

nature’s wish, rhythms found

in her breath violent yet caring

in a succession of union

lights appearing one at a time

here and there throughout

bear wolf earth’s seeded wilderness

all along the way life’s song

giving us a chance

for solitude in love’s redemption

there can be no blame in

our yesterday or in our search

for the way of tomorrow

here lies the

warble answer to

the diseased

rumors and innuendoes of our heritage

you know there is nothing to finding

peace if we will only allow ourselves to believe

in the vision found in god’s dream

a bird heard in the night

singing

to us his song of forgiveness

What does poetry mean to you?

Co-Authors: J.L. Harland + 4 Bloomers + Pod24: Peterson’s Pub’g Inspo

Blog title over photo of “J. L. Harland,” the writing duo Janet Laugharne and Jacqueline Harrett.
“J. L. Harland” is writing duo Janet Laugharne (left) and Jacqueline Harrett (right).

Self-Publishing and Thera-Piggies by Ashley L. Peterson Happiness Between Tails

#MentalHealth #Books #Authors #Publishing #Guinea Pigs Mental health nurse and author Ashley L. Peterson of Mental Health At Home dot org blogs out of Vancouver, Canada, and writes from both a personal perspective as well as that of a medical professional. Here she talks about how her pets help her to relieve stress. What's your best stress reliever? 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): Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:00 Self-Publishing and Thera – Piggies: Ashley L. Peterson 2:00 My question for you 4:00 HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Here’s the original blog version of this podcast episode. Ashley’s website Photos available at the HBT posts for this show: Ashley and her guinea pigs. Covers of her books. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of this blog post of “Self-Publishing and Thera-Piggies: Ashley L. Peterson.”

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. Here’s the full LinkTree list of 50+ places.

Fearful of getting old? Wonder what it would be like to collaborate on a novel (working on my novels can be lonely)? Read on to meet four late-bloomers who reinvented themselves, some better categorized as “re-bloomers” with several life success! Numbers 3 and 4 describe in their own words what it’s like to be co-authors…

In the interest of learning to blog at any age, have you read WordPress’s ebook/pdf, “The Ultimate Traffic Guide”? A few chapters in, there are already some broken and rather old “additional info” links, and I’m unsure it’s worth a full $17. However, it’s got me updating posts to total no more than 15 categories plus tags each to ensure (fingers crossed) they show up on searches at the WordPress Reader. Given how important WP says they are and how our success as bloggers can only help WP, wouldn’t it be great if there were category/tag counters on editing pages and the post list pages? An alert when we go over would be all the better!

Between updating categories and tags, I clicked over to try another (here’s the first one I tried) super easy near-immediate gratification Jenny Can Cook no-knead bread recipe, this one for whole wheat. After 10 minutes of measuring and mixing, a 3-hour rise, a 40-minute bake, and an hour to cool and slice — yum!!!!…

Whole Whole wheat bread ala Jenny Can Cook's no-knead recipe.  bread ala Jenny Can Cook recipe.
Whole wheat bread ala Jenny Can Cook’s no-knead recipe.

Now meet late bloomer/re-bloomer #1: Grandma Moses…

Grandma Moses, circa 1950 by Clara Sipprell.
Grandma Moses, circa 1950 by Clara Sipprell, 31 Oct 1885 – 27 Dec 1975 – https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.81.8, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110147052

American folk artist of worldwide fame, Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses, September 7, 1860 – December 13, 1961) grew up humbly; farming as a child, at twelve leaving home to work, and later giving birth to ten children, only five of who lived past infancy. She’d always loved creating beauty out of nothing, but it wasn’t until she turned 78 that arthritis forced her to take up painting. When one hand tired, she’d switch to the other.

U.S. postage stamp with art by Grandma Moses.
This U.S. postage stamp is only one of Grandma Moses’s many honors. By Bureau of Engraving and Printing – U.S. Post Office; Smithsonian National Postal Museum; Image enlarged and rendered for tone, clarity by Gwillhickers, Public Domain.

As practical as she was prolific, she told journalism giant William R. Murrow that painters should be self-taught, otherwise, “You’ll paint as the teacher paints.” When he asked her if it was hard to part with her work, she answered, “Oh, no. I’d rather see the money.”

Late bloomer/re-bloomer #1: Colonel Sanders…

Kentucky Colonel Harland Sanders circa 1974. A showman and businessman, his trademark “colonel” string tie along with bleached hair and mustache was his costume to market chicken. By Edgy01 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Kentucky Colonel Harland Sanders circa 1974. A showman and businessman, his trademark “colonel” string tie along with bleached hair and mustache was his costume to market chicken. By Edgy01 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Heard of a little fast-food chain called Kentucky Fried Chicken? Harlan David Sanders (September 9, 1890 – December 16, 1980) started it when he was 65. Prior to that, he worked as everything from a streetcar conductor and an army wagoner, to a blacksmith’s helper and a fireman. After he sold KFC for boo-coo bucks, he badmouthed the new owners for cutting so many corners they ruined the food.

In 1962, Sanders taught Tennessee Ernie Ford and Minnie Pearl how to cook their own KFC chicken…

Today’s Guests: Late bloomers/re-bloomers #3 and #4…

J. L. Harland is a duo of authors, both who “turned new pages” after retirement; Janet Laugharne and Jacqueline Harrett. Check out each of the aforementioned three links, because they also write independently. Residents of Cardiff, South Wales, UK, they met as colleagues and ended up friends for thirty years.

Jan, originally from North Wales, speaks Welsh and worked as a professor of languages in education. She writes poetry and short fiction.

Jacqui says, “Writing together has been an unexpected joy as we share much laughter in the process. Plus, it’s an excuse to meet and eat cake!”

She grew up in Northern Ireland, was a teacher and an academic before she became a multi-genre author. Her writing includes an award-winning non-fiction book for teachers and recently published crime novel, The Nesting Place.

Authors Janet Laugharne (right) and Jacqueline Harrett (left), 2 halves of J.L. Harland
Authors Janet Laugharne (right) and Jacqueline Harrett (left), 2 halves of J.L. Harland

The Joy of Co-authoring by J. L. Harland (Janet Laugharne and Jacqueline Harrett)

We are J. L. Harland: two writers with one voice and co-authors of What Lies Between Them, published by Dixi Books. The name is a combination of Janet Laugharne and Jacqueline Harrett, both former academics and flourishing in retirement.

Many people see retirement as the end of a meaningful life, especially if they have left a job which has occupied every waking moment. Retirement should be seen as an opportunity to do all those things you dreamt of doing when you were a youngster, before the need to earn a living became a reality.

As academics our working lives were busy, demanding, intellectually stimulating and often stressful so when we retired, around 2014, we threw ourselves into exploring the opportunities our new freedom afforded. Academic life consists of many different aspects and requires people skills as well as writing ability. We both published academic papers, chapters in books, modules for degrees and helped students to edit their work and expand their knowledge. It was inevitable that we should both want to do something more creative. We discussed the art of creative writing and which areas we felt we had weaknesses, set targets and then edited each other’s work. Tentative beginnings. We also took classes in creative writing. 

The first class we attended was across the city, so the journey entailed two buses to get to the venue. We met in the city centre and had a coffee and a chat before heading to class. It was during one of these chats that writing together was mooted. And so, our journey began.

What shall we write about? Where shall we set it? Who are the characters? Those were our questions and starting point. Every week when we met, we talked and planned. Our recent experiences of Higher Education gave us the setting, a fictional university in a familiar city, Cardiff, South Wales.

We each had a notebook and spent hours working out the characters first. Physical, personality, backstory, friends, relatives and what dilemma our main character had to face to ensure conflict. It was so much fun, and Elin Fiorelli was created. It should be noted that we both believe so much in this fictional character that we think we’ve seen her. Elin Fiorelli is a Welsh/Italian academic, a career woman whose life starts to unravel when she returns from a research trip abroad to find her former lover is now her boss. Can she keep the secret from her past while dealing with present day problems? You need to read it to find out.

Once we had a vague plot – we knew where it started and ended, the story arc, but the middle was more muddled – we started writing. Taking a chapter each, in turn, we wrote four chapters at a time. It was very exciting as, to keep the storyline intact, we each waited for a chapter before continuing to write. Opening the computer to find that your writing partner has completed the next stage in the story was stimulating and motivating. We are both guilty of going ‘off piste’ and creating scenes and minor characters not in the planning but that adds to the thrill of the writing process.

Cover of "What Lies Between Them," by J. L. Harland.

The story was in a very rough almost first draft when it was longlisted for a debut novel prize. That gave us encouragement and hope that it would be published. We sought editorial advice from a couple of sources, tweaked, adjusted and polished the manuscript before sending it into the world. It has been edited so many times and our writing voice so blended even we do not know who wrote which bits. 

As any writer is aware, rejection is part of the journey. Our previous experiences as academics had made rejection something to be expected so it didn’t deter us. Every so often, we’d send the novel out while continuing to write other things. 

During lockdown, when we couldn’t met in person, we Facetimed and managed, after the initial panic, to write a novella, a novelette and several pieces of short fiction. We kept a record of where What Lies Between Them had been submitted and put it on the back burner while we carried on creating. A second novel was nearing completion when we found our publisher. A couple of publishers had previously shown an interest but not the right fit, for various reasons.

For both of us having a novel published is a dream we held as teenagers. Now it’s a dream realised. The fun and laughter, as well as tears of frustration, we have shared on this journey has been a joy and we have many ideas and plans for future co-authoring projects.

Although many of the skills we learnt in our working lives have been of benefit on this journey we are still learning. Some of the learning curves have been vertical and we are busy marketing in the local area, doing talks and signings at all sorts of venues. For writers who have no public speaking experience this aspect, the need to be seen and engage with people, must be agonising. For both of us it almost feels like a return to work. 

We also pursue our individual writing and are happy to support each other in these endeavours. As well as long form writing, Janet enjoys writing short stories, flash fiction and poetry, with work published in national magazines, literary journals and online. Jacqui’s debut crime novel, The Nesting Place, was published by Diamond Books UK in 2021 and she’s busy working on the next in the series.

Retirement? What’s that? We’ve found a new career in retirement, and we are relishing all the opportunities offered to carry on living purposeful and enjoyable lives.

How many times do you hope to bloom?

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?

Hidden Life of “Vanished” by Mark Bierman

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

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

Who knows what inspires someone to write a novel? Even authors don’t always truly until much later. My own literary-novel-in-progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” seemed merely an experiment, a dive into fiction. Only as it progressed did I see it’s really a love letter to all who believe they’re too old, young, broken, lost, too whatever for love…

So when it comes to producing a novel, there’s deciding to write, then comes writing, and then it’s published. At that point, the author releases their words into the world for book lovers to make of them what they will. Every reader brings themself into the act of sitting with a story.

Here blogger/author Mark Bierman (click here for his site, to get his book, and to contact him) reveals what he’s learned about the writing process and readers. Born and raised on a farm in Ontario, Canada, he merges country life with his adult experiences as a correctional officer and a story teller. You can find more of his guest posts for Happiness Between Tails here and here.

Vanished by Mark Bierman cover.

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

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

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

Here’s a quick synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”

I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.

The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.        

The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.

Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.

At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.

Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.

Let me tell you, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.

Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers. Look around, you’ll find them everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.

Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read… you get the picture, then you are a helper.

Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.

John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.

This is the true spirit of Vanished.

Here’s how one woman works to help victims of human trafficking.

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

Transgender Visibility Day and Valeska Réon’s great news

Rachel Crandall started Transgender Day of Visibility as a day of hope, back in 2009. Indeed it is this year! For the first time, a U.S. President, Joe Biden, issued a proclamation on it!

Here Rachel talks about the annual event…

Now is also a good excuse for an update on what Valeska Réon’s been up to since I wrote of her a while ago.

Valeska Réon has wonderful news!
Valeska Réon has wonderful news!

Her book, “Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer,” has a favorable opportunity to become a Netflix film. Here’s an interview with Valeska and director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler who will film it in Maastricht, Netherlands. If you, like me, don’t understand German, Google Translate does a terrific job.

Valeska Réon with director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler.
Valeska Réon with director/actor/screen writer Nicolai Tegeler.

In addition, her next book is set to published in less than a year. Already, Valeska is working to make it a Netflix miniseries. The historic novel features Anne of Brittany (1477-1514), the only woman who served twice as France’s queen consort (the most powerful sort of queen). Not just that, Anne was queen consort of Naples, and a duchess consort of Milan. All that and she died when she was only 34!

“Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer” by Valeska Réon.
“Der Bibelkiller/The Bible Killer” by Valeska Réon.

“The Multiple Lives of Author Valeska Réon” in her own words

When I started writing back in 1997, the world of literature was not like it is today. Self-publishing wasn’t yet invented, so you first had to find a publisher before the book could see the light of day. The Internet was still in its infancy in Germany, so you had to resort to traditional marketing strategies.

In 2012, after three non-fiction books on health and beauty, I took all my courage and wrote my autobiography, “Flowers for a Chameleon.” What happened next — I hadn’t expected that! Perhaps I should tell you that I was not born a woman, but had already worked as a model in Paris before the sex reassignment surgery. Always I was careful that nobody learned of my secret. 1985 was another time, and models like Andrej(a) Pejic and Lea T. did not exist. The reactions to my book were overwhelming, it sold very well, and a filmmaker contacted me to film it.

But above all, I became aware of one thing – as an author, you market yourself best when you are authentic. Due to my life story, I was suddenly in the focus of the German LBGT community, which I first had to deal with. Countless letters from my readers all had the same core message: “Thank you for giving us such courage with your book!”

Today #beyoubetrue is my favorite hashtag, and I use it not only on Instagram but also on my author portraits.

Valeska Réon wears her favorite hashtag.
Valeska Réon wears her favorite hashtag.

After that, I changed my genre to now writing thrillers –- and that’s when I had a new marketing idea. In my book, “Double Sacrifice,” the song, “J’aime tellement,” plays such an essential role that once I wrote the lyrics, I then found a singer/composer to set them to music. Finally, it was remixed and is now available for download –- a great compliment to the book.

My new thriller, “Walking on Sand,” is was rewritten into a stage play that premiered in Düsseldorf, December 2019. Another autobiographical story, this one is about the transsexual children’s book author Lea. After many years, she returns to her hometown to avenge the terrible things her classmates did to her. The children’s book mentioned within it, “Charlotte Inside,” is taken out of the crime plot and made into a book of its own. It is the first children‘s book ever to tell young readers about therapy with the inner child.

Valeska Réon lays on the sand, a watchtower in the background, with her dog.
What new creative adventure is Valeska Réon conjuring?

My greatest wish is for “Charlotte Inside” to appear internationally so it can bring joy and courage to children everywhere.

How many lives have you lived?

Passion at Any Age: Writer/Actress Lee Gale Gruen

“No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatsoever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.” Martha Graham (United States, May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991), modern dance pioneer.

“God has pitted you against a rought antagonist that you may be a conqueror, and this cannot be without toil.” Epictetus, Greek philosopher, (c. 50 – c. 135 AD)

Cover of “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years,” by Lee Gale Gruen.

That kind of encouragement from people who actually achieved great things later in life, bolster me to muscle through and finish writing my novels. Heck, anyone can tell us we’re never too old to embark on bold new adventures. But we all know what they say about seeing! To get any eyeful of believing, let’s take a gander at actress/author/blogger/lecturer Lee Gale Gruen.

A retired probation officer, Lee Gale first visited us here to describe her newfound passion for acting. Bringing her father along to classes inspired her to write her first book, “Adventures with Dad.”

These days she continues to act, now in the East San Francisco Bay Area. Catch some of her performances by typing her full name into the YouTube.com search bar.

Since she recently published a second book, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years,” I invited her to tell us about that too…

Actress/author/blogger Lee Gale Gruen.
Actress/author/blogger Lee Gale Gruen.

Passion at Any Age by Lee Gale Gruen

Too many retirees and seniors have no idea what to do in the new stage of their lives called retirement. Many sink into isolation and depression. When I first retired, I had no clue what to do next. My 37-year career as a probation officer was over, and my children were launched. I struggled for a long time to carve out a new identity for myself.

After trying many different things, none particularly satisfying, I mistakenly signed up for an acting class for seniors, thinking it was just a play reading group. I was hooked on acting that first day despite my lifelong stage fright. My 85-year-old father began attending the class with me and was my scene partner in the class showcases where we performed the humorous scenes I wrote for us. From there, I networked with classmates and learned about going on auditions. I eventually found an agent and booked real, paid acting jobs. I then got the idea of writing a memoir about it, and in 2013, Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class, was published.

Cover of "Adventures with Dad," by Lee Gale Gruen.

As an author, I learned that I was expected to promote my book. Fortunately, I had slowly and painstakingly been able to overcome my crippling stage fright as a result of my acting. So, I started giving interviews and appearing before groups, talking about the book. People shared their own stories with me about how lost they felt since they retired. I realized I had something to give back to the community. I could show people how to reinvent themselves in retirement. I had discovered the secret: find a passion which will motivate you to want to get up in the morning, get dressed, get out of the house, and embrace life. That’s what happened to me after I discovered a passion for acting.

I developed a lecture from my own experiences as well as research I did, and I began giving talks titled “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years” aimed at the retiree and senior demographic. I also started writing a blog of the same name to share my thoughts, observations, and experiences with the goal of helping my readers reinvent themselves after they retire. I have been blogging and lecturing on this subject for the past eight years.

Audience members at my lectures began asking if they could buy a book about my talk. That has resulted in my recently published book which is an adjunct to my blog and lecture. All three share the same title, Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement Years. My new book contains the contents of my lecture as well as seven years of posts from my blog. It is available on Amazon by clicking here. My goal with my blog, lecture, and new book is to help retirees, those soon to retire, baby boomers, and seniors find joy, excitement, and purpose after they retire just like I did.

Seniors make up about a third of the population of the United States, so that’s a pretty big demographic. However, it’s often a forgotten group. It shouldn’t be. A group that big has great influence socially, economically, and politically. The senior population can learn to flex that muscle. It would improve their status and put them back into the role of wise and respected elders that they once held and really still are.  There is no need for retirees and seniors to feel like their life is over. Plenty of exciting pursuits and opportunities await them. They only have to figure out what they might like, where it is, and how to access it. My new book is geared to help each individual find activities and pursuits at their own comfort level. It will guide them through the maze in developing their own “second act” in life.

For more about her, her books, and to connect with her, visit her blog.

Do you worry that you’re too old to accomplish something you ‘re passionate about?

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 🙂

When Life Gives You Oranges: Uzo Njoku artist chat w video

Books + Art = Happiness

Dear readers, that’s why, when I learned of Uzo Njoku through Bust Magazine (a lifestyle/feminist publication started in 1993), I thought of you. Many of you are novelists like me, most of you writers and creatives, and lovers of books.

"When Things Fall Apart," by Uzo Njoku: "My favorite book by Chinua Achebe."
“When Things Fall Apart,” by Uzo Njoku: “My favorite book by Chinua Achebe.”

Her self-published coloring book, “The Bluestocking Society,” launched the statistics-turned-art-major a couple of years ago when she was a 22-year-old college student. It’s filled with images and facts about all sorts of wonderful women throughout history. She also offers free printable coloring pages.

Uzo moved from Lagos, Nigeria, to the United States as a child. Here’s a writeup about her by the University of Virginia, and here’s another by their news magazine.

"When Life Gives You Oranges" by Uzo Njoku: "I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist."
“When Life Gives You Oranges” by Uzo Njoku: “I created this when dancing the idea of me being an orange farmer if I was not an artist.”

Along with Uzo’s comments on these paintings, what follows are the answers she kindly emailed back to me…

Question: How does being bi-cultural play out in your day-to-day life and influence your art? And in terms of how you regard your own loveliness and potential?

Answer: Being in the middle of two worlds gives me more content to work with. My work addresses important issues such as identity, duality and spirituality, yet is approached with a particular openness snd beauty. The themes addressed in my work stem directly from my life experience as a female artist living and working between cultures, and yet the aim is to show how a single person’s ‘double vision’ can produce images that possess much wider social effects by collapsing racial and cultural borders.

"Stretch," by Uzo Njoku: "Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern."
“Stretch,” by Uzo Njoku: “Exploring the limitations of the body with a simple leg stretch image against the stark contrast of a flower pattern.”

Question: Many of my readers (myself included) are struggling creatives. How do you juggle making art, marketing, fulfilling orders, and attending university? How did you initially let people know about your amazing coloring book? How do you continue to expose people to your art?

Answer: Everything I have done starts from my friends supporting me. Constantly telling others about my work and word-of-mouth helping to spread the news. A lot of artists don’t have a business mindset, and I believe that is how a lot of them do get exploited initially. I took an arts administration class in college, and that really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes. This helped me understand more what it takes for shows to happen and the right people to reach out to.

I studied Statistics in college before switching over to art, so by nature, I am a very technical person. I see numbers alongside art a lot and understood when it was time to pay a marketing personnel to run ads when I released a new product on my website. I don’t really know exactly what to advise people because everyone is different, but I learned everything from Google and YouTube videos. So a lot of research.

"Strangers," by Uzo Njoku: "I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything."
“Strangers,” by Uzo Njoku: “I had a conversation at a bar with a man who essentially told me everything going on in my life, and then I went about my normal life the next day because we were still just strangers even though he told me everything.”

Question: How has the horrific politics of late as well as the pandemic affected you and your work?

Answer: I am not a social artist, so I do not create art based on political events. But in regards to Oluwatoyin passing away, I feel it was my duty to beautify her image because I know a lot of media outlets would try to show her in a negative light. A good amount of the sales during this period I have been able to donate out to small BLM groups and artists struggling during this pandemic.

Artist Uzo Njoku in her studio.
Uzo Njoku in her art studio.

Question: How do you find and choose your marketing personnel?

Answer: My marketing personnel reached out to me. He had been following me for years and felt that he could reach new customers for me. Basically, anyone who understands how to market on Social Media is an asset.

Question: What are one or more mistakes you see artists making business-wise most often?

Answer: I would say the biggest mistake is forgetting to follow up on business taxes when tax season comes by. It can bite you if you’re not careful. Also, you need to get into the habit of having a second pair of eyes look at contracts with you, whether they are those of a family member, a friend, or a professional.

Dear reader, if you didn’t do what you do now, what would farm oranges…or what?…

Sheltering in Place Thoughts 4 Writers: mine w author Paul Broome’s

FOMO: fear of missing out

COVID19 has nixed all that for me, replaced it with guilt for how great mine and I have it. No one I know directly is sick. Early on, a couple of brilliant friends were ailing from it, but after a stint at home, I’m relieved to report that they’re well and back to work… The weather’s been marvelous this entire quarantine… Working from home is no prob… Bills are paid…

Social distancing is hardly the equivalent of isolation. Being sequestered pales in light of flagging economies… people whose lives are overturned by illness and debt and worse…

da-AL social distancing with K-D doggie.
Social distancing isn’t so bad when you have a friend…

Again with the guilt… Because as a soon-to-be-published author (and podcaster here!) — fewer errands and less commuting is lending me more time to think — and to write, write, write!

Authors fork over wads of money, more than I can afford, to attend retreats. I’ve often drooled over websites that advertise sojourns in the woods, luxury cabins populated with fellow scribes who share s’mores smokey firepits. The beautiful escapes provide meals and laundry and cleaning and errands — e-v-e-r-y single thing that hinders writing is whisked clean away. All I’d need to do (besides the money part) is to write and to talk about writing and to listen about writing! Sorta like being cared for as lovingly as if I were a baby — a writer one, of course — sans the diapers — no?

Writing retreat in mind, that’s why I’ve resolved to make use of the sequestering. I’ve knuckled down, slammed away at the keyboard. And it’s going pretty well! Other posts I’ve written about the pandemic are here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Fellow author/blogger Paul A. Broome is a retired English professor. He recently completed his first novel!!!! Yeah!!!! It’s named “Girls Who Don’t Believe.” Now he’s working on another!

He and his wife, Sadako, live in North Alabama with their two pets, Cody, a black lab, and Tora, who he affectionately describes as, “a crazy tabby.” Here’s a slice of his “sheltering-in-place” life…

Paul A. Broome with Cody.
Paul A. Broome with Cody.

What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do by Paul A. Broome

We Americans are people who truly enjoy looking at things — any and all things. I personally do not see this visual obsession of ours as a problem. Looking at things can be understood as one of evolution’s magnificent gifts to humankind. Early on, we had to look carefully at the world around us in order to eat green leafy things that wouldn’t poison us and to avoid big furry things that would eat us. Now we happily look at things to satisfy our aesthetic demands, or more prosaically, to figure out whether or not we want to shell out the bucks to buy it!

Red bird about to fly to the feeder. Photo by Paul A. Broome
Red bird about to fly to the feeder. Photo by Paul A. Broome

At any rate, here we are, all of us, whether we agree with it or not, sheltering in place to avoid a virus, that can, for a short amount of time, float in the air, after someone sneezes, coughs, or shouts to their spouse at the other end of the pet food aisle to get two packs of Kitty Treats for Angel. “The one with tuna!”

Sheltering. In. Home. Is it really so bad?

I don’t think so, and many folks with whom I’ve chatted over these past six weeks do not think so either. Even when states, counties, and cities are trying to re-open, many people are reluctant to go skipping out to the nearest sports bar and hoot and holler while gulping down beer after beer. It turns out that a good number of cautious and wary citizens (I count myself in that number) had rather stay at home and finish that wonderful novel, the one I purchased last year, and never got around to reading. One friend of mine tells me that she’s gotten absolutely hooked on coloring books for grown-ups. She went on to say she bought a large set of colored pencils and has become fascinated with the way different colors work together. I’m beginning to think that’s not such a bad idea. But what about those moments when you have absolutely nothing to do? Or you’re just “tired” of doing things.

One of our first rose blooms this spring. Photo by Paul A. Broome.
One of our first rose blooms this spring. Photo by Paul A. Broome.

Here’s something I enjoy.

I love sitting outside and watching the birds at the feeder: red birds, blue birds, goldfinches, brown sparrows. It’s an endless show of color. And then the squirrels sneak up, and Cody, our black lab, wakes from his nap and chases them back into the trees. The trees that are now thick with leaves, green leaves, so many shades of green that flip and shift in color when the wind blows, and the treetops lean gracefully like ballerinas, and there’s a hawk, wings spread, held aloft on currents of warm air, serene and full of mystery, like those soft, white clouds beneath the deep, blue sky, coming out of the east, drifting quietly to the west.

And when it starts to turn dark? I watch it turn dark. It’s really quite beautiful.

I truly hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of my world. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I’d like to send a warm thank you to da-AL for allowing me to be a guest blogger on her site.

How about for you? Is sheltering in place giving you more time to pursue some of your favorite activities?

DIY Fondant Peonies by Robbie Cheadle

Click here for an audio version of the blog post that follows.

Staying home makes me hungry, whether it’s to keep safe from disease, the weather, or working on my novels-in-progress! How about you? And when I get hungry, my first thoughts are of sweets! Cute ones are all the more enticing…

Robbie Cheadle is a writing dynamo! Go to her main page for the extensive catalog of books, stories, and videos she’s published out of Johannesburg, South Africa. She writes for all ages; there are her “Sir Chocolate” children’s books (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), her middle-grade “Silly Willy” series, her preteen/young adult fictionalized bio about her mom’s World War II childhood in England, her supernatural and horror stories for adults and young adults, and her poetry!

Photo of author Robbie Cheadle and her fondant peonies.
Photo of author Robbie Cheadle and her fondant peonies.

How to make fondant (sugar dough/paste) peonies, by Robbie Cheadle

My husband’s birthday is approaching, and I wanted to make something special to mark the day, especially as we are likely to still be in some form of COVID-19 lockdown. I decided to make peonies in a dark pink and dust the outer petals with edible gold.

Making the peonies was quite a challenge, as I wanted to get the shape right. Peony petals curl inwards, which means that each layer must be allowed to dry completely inside a correctly sized bowl-shaped container. I made these containers out of tin foil, which I pleated and folded to fit the four different stages of the petals.

You will need…

  • Fondant coloured dark pink
  • A large fondant rose cutter
  • A large and a small ball tool
  • Edible sugar glue
  • Peony petal cutters in three sizes (standard pack)
  • Edible dark pink food colouring powder
  • Edible gold dust
  • Two medium-sized paintbrushes
  • A flower veining tool or toothpick

Process

Mix a quantity of dark pink fondant and place it in a lock zip plastic bag. Take a small amount and roll it out as thinly as possible. Use a thin layer of cornflour on the surface of the fondant when you roll it out to prevent it from sticking. Cut out two rose shapes using your large rose cutter.A rose-shaped layer of fondant.
Use a ball took or toothpick to frill and flute the edges of the two rose shapes and use the flower veining tool or toothpick to texture the petals. Place in a small silver foil container pleated to round the petals. Allow to dry to the texture of leather.A silver foil container pleated to round the petals.

Roll a bud from fondant with a fatter base and narrower tip. Use a bit of sugar glue to attach it to one of the rose shapes. Paint a small blob of sugar glue on the bottom part of each petal on both sides and wrap the petals around the bud. Use a toothpick to separate the petals and create a rosebud shape. Use sugar glue to attach the enlarged bud to the other rose shape.Building the layers of a fondant peony.

Wrap the other shape around the enlarged bud. Leave to dry overnight.The other shape wraps around the bud.

Roll out more dark pink fondant and cut out six peony petals using your smallest peony petal cutter. Frill and flute the edges using a small ball tool or a toothpick. Use the toothpick for flower veining tool to texture the petals.Toothpicks help frill and flute edges.

Place them upside down in a sliver foil container and allow them to dry to the texture of leather.Outer petals take shape.

Dab sugar glue along the bottom half of both edges of the petals and place them around the bud, pressing them firmly into place with your fingers. When all six petals have been placed around the bud, place the flower into a piece of silver foil shaped into a cup. Leave overnight to dry. Your flower will look like this…Taking shape after several days.

The following day cut out six middle-sized peony petals and repeat the steps above. Place in a slightly larger silver foil cup and leave to dry overnight.Foil helps the shapes to hold while they dry.

Repeat the above process on days three and four, using the large peony petal cutter and slightly larger silver foil cups.Fondant peony, almost done!

Once the peony is completely dry, use a medium-sized paintbrush dipped into dark pink food colouring power, and smudge it into the centre of the peony. Dip a medium-sized paintbrush into edible gold shimmer dust and paint over the outermost petals until they shimmer and shine.
Your peony flower is now complete.

Photo of Robbie Cheadle's finished fondant peonie.
Robbie Cheadle’s finished fondant peonie.

For step-by-step instruction on how to make more of our fondant artworks, for recipes, and for free audible readings of our free Sir Chocolate books, please visit our YouTube site.

Our YouTube site is a community service project that my two sons and I have started to bring readings of our free Sir Chocolate books and simple recipes to children and their parents to help keep children entertained during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our step-by-step creature videos can be made with children using playdough or fondant.

These are trying times worldwide — perhaps my other posts here and here and here and here and here and here and here will lift your spirits a bit?

Has your eating changed since COVID19?