COVID-19: Vids + Plants + Pets + Podcasting

Quick question and get your ears ready for another Happiness Between Tails podcast soon:

Have you checked out the new podcasting integration between WordPress and Anchor? I’m getting ready to try it and wonder if you have thoughts to share regarding it. (Here’s a podcast I published some months ago.) According to WordPress’ recent email, “We’re excited to announce a new feature that automatically converts the text of any page or post into a podcast on Anchor, the world’s largest podcast platform. If you’re already blogging on WordPress.com, there’s a good chance it’s podcast-ready—because our new integration with Anchor means you can now turn your words into audio in a few steps. The blog-to-podcast process is simple, and it opens up your work to new possibilities and listeners.”

COVID-19, staying-at-home included, is plenty hate-worthy. (I’ve griped about it here and here and here.) But not everything, i.e., I’m writing my novel, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” at a far better clip. (I elaborated on some COVID silver linings here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, as did author Alice Renaud here.)

Our doggie sits politely for pumpkin seeds. Anyone got a pumpkin seed?

Nonetheless, there are those among us who love, loooooove, luuuurrrve COVID-19. Indulge me for how tickled I am by the “sound effects” of one such COVID fan…

Our fluffed, furred, feathered, slippery, scaled, and whatever else creature-family who can’t get enough of us — those guys are overjoyed! In their unique ways, they broadcast, “Hurray! Our people are home!”

At the start of quarantine, I heard a radio item about a doggie who needed a vet’s attention because she’d sprained her tail from wagging it so much!

People I know average an extra three hours to their days thanks to working from home. Here in Los Angeles County, “driving’ is a euphemism for “fuming in stand-still traffic.” Think of all the heart attacks fended off if we didn’t have to waste hours fuming behind the wheel. Just the other day, road rage triggered (pardon the sad but irresistible pun) a shooting in Long Beach.

More free time means more gardening. Urban gardening activist Ron Finley of South Central Los Angeles says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

His TED talk describes how his first parkway (what divides sidewalk from street) orchard-ette turned eco-lutionary…

When we moved into our home, my dear husband, Khashayar, applied his engineer’s practicality to our front and backyards. “If we’re going to work it, we’re going to eat it,” he said. Or something to that effect.

Which is why we’ve got several fruit trees crammed onto our bit of green. We (okay, he did the grunt work as our soil is basically clay) spent Sunday laying the groundwork for this year’s tomatoes and herbs.

Our little garden blooms with future fruits and herbs. Our little garden blooms with future fruits and herbs.

Do you know a pet who’s celebrating COVID-19?

Novelist Alice Renaud’s COVID-19 Inspo: Animals + Publishing

Quarantine: I enjoy staying home, but only if it’s by choice.

Yet I must admit, living at a slower pace has offered me more space to work on finishing “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel. Make no mistake, COVID is awful, as I’ve discussed here and here and here. However, silver linings exist such as those I wrote of here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Read on for how staying home and animals inspire fantasy romance author Alice Renaud, a Londoner. She also details how she published her award-winning books!…

Novelist Alice Renaud.
Novelist Alice Renaud.

Our Furry and Not-So-Furry Friends by Alice Renaud

As we begin to emerge from our third lockdown in a year (and boy was this one painful – over four months, and in winter) I’m reflecting on what I learned during this extraordinary year.

One thing I’ve discovered is that animals and nature are even more essential for my well-being than I thought. I’ve always loved the natural world, but during the lockdowns it has proved a lifeline. Admiring fresh flowers, lying on the grass on a sunny day, and watching birds, have injected pleasure into otherwise drab days. I’ve realized that even insects are fascinating. I’ve enjoyed observing the butterflies, ladybirds and bees as they emerge from hibernation and launch themselves into the world (which is a little bit how I feel right now as I learn to go to the shops again and dare to have a coffee at a terrace.)

Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.
Photo of a butterfly by author Alice Renaud.

I’m not the only one. Many people in the UK have discovered the joys of nature during the lockdown. Long may it last! Many have also adopted animals. My favorite pet is the cat, or The Cat as I’m always tempted to write, because The Cat is an animal that would definitely write its name in capitals if it could write (and maybe they can but are hiding it from us). We don’t have a Cat at the moment, since our last pet went to the great basket in the sky, so I content myself with the neighbours and family’s Cats, like Tabitha, my aunt’s tabby, shown here staring at the neighbour’s feline.

Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt's tabby and a neighbor.
Photo by author Alice Renaud of her aunt’s tabby and a neighbor.

Animals and the natural world are a big source of inspiration for me and play a big part in all my stories. My Sea of Love series, which won its category in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award, follows the lives and loves of shape shifting mermen and mermaids. In their aquatic form my merfolk have a tail but not a fish tail. They’re mammals and look quite a bit like dolphins or porpoises. I grew up by the sea and love all marine creatures. I’ll never forget the day I saw a porpoise for the first time. I was amazed by the power and grace of that big animal, and the ease and speed with which it swam through the waters. I’m also fond of seabirds, even seagulls which a lot of people in the UK don’t like. They can make a nuisance of themselves by stealing chips and cakes, but they’re sociable, tough, highly adaptable, and fantastic airborne acrobats.

Cover of Mermaids Marry in Green, a fantasy romance novel by Alice Renaud.

My books feature both real animals and fantastical ones. In my latest release Mermaids Marry in Green (also a winner in the Paranormal Romance Guild Reviewer’s Choice Award) there is a shifter mermaid, a warlock who can change into a cat, and also a mythical Welsh water monster, an afanc. Part beaver, part crocodile, he possesses magical powers and brings the hero and heroine together. Welsh legends are full of marvellous creatures and I enjoy putting them in my stories. As well as the afanc, there is the Ceffyl Dwr, the Water Horse, and the Giant Cat of Anglesey. Now that’s a feline I’d like to meet!

Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping well in these strange times, and I hope that like me you will find comfort in the company of furry (or not so furry) friends and in the beauty of the natural world.

My Publishing Journey

I started writing at the age of 14, but it’s not until many years later that I got my first short story published in a UK mass market magazine. I carried on writing and publishing romantic and family-themed short stories for several years before trying my hand at longer fiction. My first three romantic novels did not find a publisher, then I discovered that witches, mermen and angels were a lot more fun than sheikhs and billionaires. My first paranormal romance novella didn’t find a publisher either, but then I joined a writing group and met my wonderful tutor and editor, Laurie Sanders. She helped me whip another story into shape, and in 2019 A Merman’s Choice was published by an indie publisher, Black Velvet Seductions. Since then I have published two more novellas with them, and have contributed to several collections of short stories. I enjoy working with BVS very much. Ric Savage, my publisher, gives his authors plenty of freedom, I can write the story that I want to write without having to worry about conforming to strict pre-defined criteria. The other BVS authors are a great bunch and very supportive. Our anthologies are a great way to discover the writing of all these talented authors. The latest, Cowboy Desire, is out now in ebook and paperback.

For more about Alice, visit her site here.

How’s your creativity going?

Scams: 8 Steps to Protect Yourself and Others with Videos

Graphic of flames under "Scam Protection and Videos"

“This is Alex, calling you from the refunds department…”

“This is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You must call us back…”

“This is the Internal Revenue Service. You must call us back…”

“Your computer is dead. You must telephone us to fix it and recover your info…”

Ever receive such a message or one pop up on your screen? Have you been scammed or know someone who has?

A computer engineer based out of Ireland who goes by an alias, Jim Browning is a true hero. When he learned someone close to him was swindled out of money, he got curious. The next time scammers called him, warned him that his money and his computer were in danger, he turned the tables on the thugs!

First he got into their computers. Then he took control of their office cameras. He continues to record of their actions, online and physically. When he can, he warns their prey before they lose their life savings.

This post is a departure from my usual bookish, artsy, cooking, travel, pet-loving type. When I read of this information in AARP Bulletin, I wanted you to know about it — and to pass it along to everyone you know who might be vulnerable to scammers or who knows others who could fall victim. Those over 60-years-old are five times more likely to be hit. Here the New York Times also covered these types of crimes in depth.

DIY: Protect Yourself & Others

If anyone calls to say you — or anyone else is — in grave danger unless you mail cash or gift cards (and most likely even instructs you to not discuss it with anyone):

  1. Hang up on them. If they left a message, erase it.
  2. Definitely don’t call them back.
  3. Never, under any circumstance, mail cash or gift cards.
  4. If there’s some remote chance you believe they might be legit, ask them to first mail something to you.
  5. Never deal with people who want your money and prohibit you from telling your bank, your store, or anyone you know.

If your computer flashes alarm lights, locks up, or beeps at you while a message urges you to telephone a number:

  1. Don’t touch your phone!
  2. Instead, turn off your computer, wait a few minutes, then turn it back on.
  3. If it isn’t as good as new, take it to a reputable repair place such as a computer store.

Below, in four video segments, Jim shares what he learned. For more on him and his findings, check out his YouTube channel.

 

 

 

What do you know about scammers? Have you been scammed or know someone who has?

Happy Persian New Year and we just got our 1st COVID-19 vaccines


Happy Persian New Year!

Note: I just got my 1st COVID vaccine, a Moderna, yesterday. I won’t lie — it’s knocked the stuffing out of me so I’ll keep this post brief. Make no mistake, as uncomfortable as I feel (achy, chills, fever, headache, poor sleep, which means my body is building protection, doing what it’s supposed to do), I most certainly will get my 2nd shot and totally recommend everyone get immunized.

Persians like my dear husband celebrate the Iranian New Year on the first day of spring. The celebration is two solid weeks of partying and time off from work, much like our winter holidays. Same as the European New Year, Nowrooz is a secular holiday. However some regard it also as a holy time.

No-rooz mobarak: Happy New Year
Eid-eh shoma mobarak: Happy New Year to you (formal)
No-rooz pirooz: Wishing you a prosperous New Year
Sad saal be in saal-ha: Wishing you 100 more Happy New Years

Here we stand before the “sofre” that Khashayar puts together annually. Items represent a plethora of auspicious things that start with the letter “s” (in Farsi, of course). Here and here when I posted earlier about it, you can find out more. What a delight to see that my local Ralph’s grocery store put out a sofre with detailed explanations.

Khashayar and da-AL standing before their Happy Persian New Year arrangement.
Khashayar and da-AL with their Happy Persian New Year spread.

And what would a holiday be without a cute little dog licking her lips at the sight of those tasty patries?

Our doggie always sits very nicely when she asks for treats!
Our doggie always sits very nicely when she asks for treats!

Have you been immunized against COVID-19 yet? If so, which brand did you get, and how were your first days, and later?…

COVID-19 Art: Connie D.K. Lane’s Light + Darkness

Artist Connie D.K. Lane honors lives lost to COVID-19 with her installation for Glendale Central Public Library.

Tragic times, including this COVID-19 era of death, illness, fear, misconception, and bigotry — can bring out the worst in us — and the best. The shadowed and the illuminated, the ugly and the beautiful, the narrow-minded and the caring…

The devastation of COVID-19 inspired artist Connie D.K. Lane to create an installation where viewers are coaxed to feel and think. Amid the sad emptiness of the quarantined Glendale Central Library, she invited volunteers to help her fill the space with color and movement to honor Los Angeles County residents who’ve passed away from the virus.

The project was funded by the City of Glendale Arts & Culture Commission’s Art Happens Anywhere COVID-19 relief initiative, an organization which also funds an impressive urban art program. They call it, “…both a beautiful and poignant reminder that while numbers of new cases are currently on the decline, daily case counts are still three times higher than they were in October 2020, and County reports have identified new strains of the virus in the community.” The project was unveiled by Supervisor Kathryn Barger and included the help of Glendale Mayor Vrej Agajanian, Arts & Culture Commission Chairperson Caroline Tufenkian, and Director of Library Arts and Culture, Dr. Gary Shaffer.

Connie’s “15,000 and More: A Plethora of Light and Darkness” employs over 15,000 Chinese joss paper ingots. Hanging from the ceiling, the ingots form a constellation evoking the overwhelming number of Angelenos who’ve passed away from COVID-19. Watch multi-media journalist Aziza Shuler report on it for Spectrum News1

Does Connie look familiar? I featured one of her art shows here and a sneak preview to another here that I took part in, and that show here with a video, and a video of another I also participated in here.

Has Covid-19 inspired you in a surprising way?

 

Sci-fi Icon, Octavia E. Butler (and we’re over Covid)

Book-lover/library-lover Octavia at home. (c) Patti Perret/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Please note: From the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for your kind wishes for my husband and me while we were sick with Covid. Fortunately we’re well now and hope you and yours are staying safe. For anyone who thinks Covid is a simple flu, this is absolutely not the case. While it may start off mildly, it can quickly take a terrible turn. Please get vaccinated if you have the opportunity. Our doctor advises us to be as careful as ever as no conclusive evidence confirms that having been ill with it has gives us one iota of immunity, especially against the newer versions arising.

Savaged by self-doubt? Dry spells getting between you and your goals, including ones for writing your novel? You and I have brilliant company!

A first edition of Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, 1979. Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
A first edition of Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, 1979. Huntington Library, (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Octavia E. Butler, the first African-American woman sci-fi writer, wrote herself many pep talks. She suffered through crummy jobs (potato chip quality control, anyone?) and years of crappy pay to attain her writing aspirations.

Octavia cemented her goals inside a notebook cover in 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia cemented her goals inside a notebook cover in 1988. Octavia E. Butler papers. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Copyright Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Talk about paying off! She was the first science fiction author to receive the MacArthur Fellowship’s “Genius Grant”! And she was a multiple Hugo Award and Nebula Award winner!

One of Octavia's many self-reminders, this note regards forging credible characters and worlds. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
One of Octavia’s many self-reminders, this note regards forging credible characters and worlds. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

All that and still she continued to work hard at bolstering herself. Proof is within her donation to The Huntington Library’s Art Collections in Los Angeles, a collection ranging from extensive drafts, notes, and research materials to more than a dozen novels, numerous short stories, essays, correspondence, ephemera, and assorted books.

Detail from Octavia’s notes for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesis trilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
Detail from Octavia’s notes for the Oankali, characters from the Xenogenesis trilogy. (c) Estate of Octavia E. Butler/The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Born in Pasadena, CA, on June 22, 1947, she grew up poor. She watched her single mom endure racism and classism while cleaning homes to raise her daughter. Octavia towered over her classmates and grappled with dyslexia.

Octavia at around 15. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.
Octavia at around 15. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © Estate of Octavia E. Butler.

Her peers bullied her for not being more like them. As an only child most comfortable among adults, she spent her time at the public library, reading, and writing. Later she attended writing classes and workshops. Check out this cool interactive link the Los Angeles Times created regarding her stomping grounds.

In a 2000 interview for the New York Times, she said, “When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”

In 1979, with the publishing of Kindred, she chartered fresh territory for how to relay history. The protagonist is an African American woman who vaporizes from the Los Angeles apartment she shares with her Anglo boyfriend. She careens between the pre-Civil War slave era and back, a harrowing ride to put it mildly. Did Octavia dream of the present, when these days mixed couples are common and now high school teachers assign Kindred to their students?

Photo of Science Fiction novel writer Octavia E. Butler near Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state, 2001. Photographer unknown.
Octavia near Mt. Shuksan, in Washington state, 2001. Photographer unknown.

Octavia was taken from us in 2006, at a far too young 58. She was staving off depression and writer’s block to finish a trilogy that remains incomplete. Her fans continue to grow.

Her advice to writers: Keep writing, no matter how you feel about your work.

Three months before she passed away, here she chatted with investigative journalist Amy Goodman, who heads Democracy Now (a fantastic video and radio news show, by the way) and co-host Juan González.

This fellow blogger’s post features 15 anecdotes about Octavia. Within it, a video link includes an interview with another stellar African-American woman sci-fi and fantasy writer, N. K. Jemisin.

How do you reckon with self-doubt?

COVID, Friendship, Writing, and Books: We’re better

It’s official — as of yesterday, I can smell the cinnamon in my oatmeal and taste hot chocolate — hurrah! Smelling flowers is uplifting — but no longer worrying that I could be snuffed out by toxic air or spoiled food? — mega-hallelujah!

Senses, mwah and mwah! Please don’t ever leave me again! Here’s to hoping that a benefit of COVID will be more research spent to help all who have limited abilities to smell or taste…

Illness is dreadful, but now that I’m securely on the other end of it, I see it provided me some upsides. For one thing, it’s reminded me how beyond-lottery-winner-fortunate I’ve always been in regards to wonderful friends — and that includes you, dear reader. Most strangers are merely people we haven’t yet had the opportunity to become friends with, no?

Besides appreciating the kindness of pals and soon-pals, I wish I could say I completed extensive writing on my “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat” novels, but my writing energy was nowhere to be found.

However, sitting and lying about  enabled me to do some reading. Without revealing plot points, here are my reviews of four books I’ve just finished. When I review books I appreciate, I notify the authors. Occasionally they email me back 🙂

Cover of "Earthlings" by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings: A Novel by Sayaka Murata

Pardon the gray matter, but my brain just exploded. This book is like nothing I’ve ever read before — and I read a lot of books and genres.

Picture Sayaka Murata’s earlier book, “Convenience Store Woman,” as a string of firecrackers that cleverly illuminates how soul-sucking capitalism can be. “Earthlings” is akin to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when 80,000 people vanished in the blink of an eye and 200,000 mostly civilians perished.

Equal parts sci-fi, reality, magical realism, comedy, horror, satire, and gore, she says this is her other-worldly response to a Japanese health minister’s announcement. In 2007, he said, “The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

Granted, there are beaucoup reasons “Earthlings” isn’t for everyone — but I have no time for those who’re simply offended that the story isn’t as cutesy as the iconically Japanese cover. The same goes for reviewers who lament the dearth of “likable” characters. For Murata, no one is all-good or all-bad, and no gender or age has it easy. Surely when Murata named an essential character “Yuu,” she knew the meaning of “you” in English.

Cover of "Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends" by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

Friendshipping: The Art of Finding Friends, Being Friends, and Keeping Friends by Jenn Bane and Trin Garritano

This is a wise and chatty culmination of what the authors learned as co-hosts of their “Friendshipping” podcast. Their mantra: “Friendship is a skill.” Indeed, it’s one that merits continual honing, for which they offer great suggestions.

Cover of "The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention" by Julia Cameron

The Listening Path: the Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s 12-week manual, “The Artist’s Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity,” is ultra groundbreaking to creatives of any ilk. Each non-fiction book Cameron has published since then reiterates much of her original teachings — but for me, the repetition often works. This newest text is a 6-week DIY course that emphasizes the value of listening to each other, our environment, and ourselves.

Cover of "The 90-Day Novel" by Alan Watt

The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within by Alan Watt

Good chance Julia Cameron fans will enjoy this, given that there are a few similarities. If Cameron doesn’t resonate, you still may find this bread-crumbs/inside-to-out writing approach useful.

Are you reading or writing lately?

Our COVID + Carrot Delight Cake Healthier Recipe by Khashayar

Our COVID Healing and Carrot Delight Cake Healthy Recipe by KhashayarEver crave a treat that tastes decadent but is a bit healthier? Get your veggies and good fats with this brownie-like moist loveliness.

Khashayar came up with it just before the two of us came down with COVID-19. (Here he first contracted it and here I got it too and here is how it went after this.)

Thank goodness COVID-19 hasn’t affected my ability to write and read, aside from the days it weakened my sight and energy. We’re much better, wake each morning slightly less raggedy than the one before in terms of feeling totally human.

It has a week since I’ve been able to smell and taste. If I hold my nose to a jar of cinnamon powder or a bottle of lavender oil, absolutely nothing registers. Taste is down to an occasional three notes of flavor. They’re subtle and offer no complexity. If something is super salty, ultra sweet, or blazing hot, they’ll call like old friends from a place so distant I can hardly hear them.

I tried sniffing a bottle of bleach… nearer = nothing… nearer = nothing… short of sticking my nostril right over the spout, a revelation terrified me. How easily I could accidentally truly damage myself without these two senses. How easily anyone could! My heart goes out to all who suffer this.

I try to rev my appetite by conning it that texture and temperature are flavors. My clothes haven’t gotten too baggy yet. I try not to stress over whether things will always be this way.

Ah, yes! There is indeed another note of taste I neglected to tell you about! It’s the most important one; the love Khashayar infuses into all of his cooking rings loud and clear…

Ingredients

2 pounds carrots
2 cups regular white sugar
2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup olive oil

Topping

2 cup greek yogurt
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 farenheit degrees.

2. Mix together all the dry ingredients: carrots, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and milk.

4. Combine all the above with the melted butter and olive oil.

5. Pour the batter into a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.

6. Bake for an hour or until a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean.

7. Let the cake cool.

8. Stir topping ingredients together: yogurt, honey, and almonds.

9. Slice the cake and serve with a dollop of the topping. Garnish with fresh or frozen berries (frozen like they’ve been powdered with sugar as they thaw). It also gets a nice chewy crust when heated. If you prefer it warm, don’t add the topping until it’s out of the oven.

Hungry for more? Khashayar has lots of other recipes such as a great hot soup, a crunchy salad, a fruity dessert, an entree, and this appetizer and this one.

Do you have a favorite healthier dessert?

Now I have COVID-19…

Photo of da-AL and K-D.

Now I, too, have COVID-19. My husband came down with it last week, ahead of me. He’d just tested positive when I wrote of his illness here (and here’s how it progressed and here’s our latest news.)

At the time, he was only somewhat uncomfortable. Quickly thereafter, he got really ill.

Very very very fortunately, just this month he’d found employment that provides excellent health insurance. Moreover, only a couple of days earlier, the health plan started offering monoclonal antibodies treatments to “patients who qualify.” Lucky him, he got sick sick sick enough to qualify.

Three mornings, he spent hours getting to the hospital, having his blood tested, taking medications including steroids, and sitting with an IV drip. The first day he felt the worst of his life, could hardly stand to get out of bed, and could barely eat or drink. By days two and three, he was markedly improved. It’s been a few days since, and he’s not entirely over it, but he’s definitely (knock on wood) out of the woods. Now he wishes the pounds he initially lost on the “COVID diet” weren’t creeping back. Thank goodness his sense of humor is returning.

As for me, the first day he fell sick, I felt crummy too, but mine passed within a couple of hours. I hoped it meant my body had faced down the nasty bug. A few days later, still feeling fine, hi ho hurrah, I tested negative. Then a few days later, woe is me, positive results of a retest came in shortly after I became feverish and headachy and yucky and… (okay, I’ll stick with keeping things polite) and it didn’t go away. I’m still not entirely great, but I hope I’m done with the worst of it.

How fortunate I am to have decent health insurance, a nurturing husband, and the generosity of dear people.

Now indulge me a moment on my soapbox:

Know anyone who’s anti-immigration? Invite them to find a predominantly white hospital and tell them good luck with that. The medical professionals who’ve helped my husband and me were overwhelmingly first and later generation immigrants. I’d rather not contemplate where we’d be without their hard work, dedication, care, bravery, and on and on…

Definitely, if everyone wore masks, neither my husband nor I would have gotten COVID-19. Wishing you and yours excellent health.

Have you ever changed a bigot’s mind? At least I can be one less person who allows them to think it’s okay to spread hate and divisiveness…

Me and COVID plus Imagining a New Place by novelist Chris Hall

‘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.

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

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: Earlier this week, my husband became feverish and unwell. Turns out he has COVID-19. He’s doing his best to get well while I feel healthy and am awaiting my test results. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been super careful. I’m letting you know 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 the follow-up, and here’s after that. and here’s the latest.)

Deciding on setting and histories and all 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. 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?