Adulting and Videos + Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children

 

 

 

What was the day you became an adult?

(Podcast of this post and behind-the-scenes look at how it was made H-E-R-E.)

Young Adult (aka YA) is a major category when it comes to selling fiction, especially because people of all ages enjoy reading it. If I could swing it, I’d aim for that, rather than the harder sell of literary fiction, which the genre of the novels I’m working on.

 

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing a couple of young people leave home to start college. In one case, friends were driving their son to begin university classes in San Jose, 400 miles north of Los Angeles. My husband and I flew to meet up with the parents and then the four of us enjoyed a leisurely drive back south.

Khashayar takes our photo as José and Alina look over his right shoulder. Our southbound cruise along Pacific Coast Highway included Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Granted, it was a weekday, but it was still eerily quiet for peak summer season. Note the aerial ride is vacant, aside from a mannequin. Us, Dangerous Minds, Sudden Impact, Harold and Maude, and The Lost Boys, are some of the movies filmed there.
Khashayar takes our photo as José and Alina look over his right shoulder. Our southbound cruise along Pacific Coast Highway included Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Granted, it was a weekday, but it was still eerily quiet for peak summer season. Note the aerial ride is vacant, aside from a mannequin. Us, Dangerous Minds, Sudden Impact, Harold and Maude, and The Lost Boys, are some of the movies filmed there.

Along the way, we also visited a young cousin from Spain who that very week relocated to attend college in Santa Barbara, a stunning affluent beach town.

 

These images are from that drive…

Khashayar walking into a super cold Big Sur stream.
Khashayar was steely enough to brave a super cold Big Sur stream.

Seeing these teens on the precipice of adulthood got me thinking of when I was their age and how I set out on my own.

Dear reader, what was that transition like for you?

The way I was raised, girls absolutely must not aspire to anything beyond the role of ultra meek wife, and mother. That was my father’s indoctrination, and my mom supported it, although she was also the family’s breadwinner.

 

By age seventeen, I resided in at least fourteen different apartments and attended about ten schools. That year, my parents and I lived in Miami, Florida.

Video Note: Piedras Blancas is the beach of choice for many elephant seals. Average males grow to 16 feet and 5,000 pounds, so babies risk getting smothered by them. Learn more about them here.

My sole plan was to make it out with my sanity intact and to never return, even if it meant resorting to prostitution. I set to earning good grades and a high school diploma. To save money, I worked at the local mall’s pet store and earring kiosk. My parents didn’t charge me for rent and food, and I saved my earnings, carefully spending only for needed doctor and dentist visits, and clothing.

 

My father greatly admired Pablo Picasso, a fellow Spaniard. Everything I’ve read about the famed artist paints him as a complete horror of a family man, so much so that even his grandkids still fume about him. My dad was fond of paraphrasing one of Picasso’s milder sentiments, which was that offspring should be given the boot the moment they reach eighteen, and they should never get financial help or guidance.

Video Note: The entire length of Pacific Coast Highway is phenomenal.

It was generous that my parents waited the extra couple of months between my birthday and graduation to move to Spain.

I want to kid myself and believe that’s when I left home. A little before they departed, my mother asked if I’d like to join them. The relief in her posture when I shook my head no was enough to deduce this was one move where an insubordinate wasn’t welcome. That’s when I realized it was me who was being abandoned.

My father’s farewell was more honest than hers. He shook my hand and said, “Look us up if you’re ever in Spain.”

 

They saved me feeling guilty and ambivalent. A whole new life was plenty enough to contend with.

Video Note: Morro Bay is famed for Morro Rock. The historical site was formed about 23 million years ago from the plugs of long-extinct volcanoes. While we visited, Otters were doing log-rolls and lounging tummy-up in the water, but they were too far off to snap a good photo.

The necessity for compassion is a running theme in my blog posts. Often I urge people to keep in mind our interdependency extends far beyond our families of origin. 

 

Lucky for me, a friend took me in. Her parents had completed a mean divorce and she lived with her dad. He spent his days smoking and drinking and lamenting his loss of work because of his drinking. He’d been a long-time executive at a major airline and now he was passing time until he could draw his pension. As un-promising as that may sound, he was kind and patient in a way I hadn’t experienced a man to be. He and his spirited daughter provided a good family to me. They gave me confidence and taught me the basics of adulthood.

K-D doggie was overjoyed when her people returned home and she loved getting her chest rubbed.
K-D doggie was overjoyed when her people returned home and she was in nirvana when Khashayar gave her an overdue chest rub.

As for young people, author/blogger Darlene Foster has written eight books for them (and everyone else) in ten years! She writes full-time from Spain, and also writes and does some editing for other writers. She says, “I also travel whenever I get the chance and consider it part of my research. It’s a good life.”

When I asked her to let us know how she went about getting published, she emailed back:

“It took me three years to write my first book and five years to find a publisher. I sent out query letters to many publishers around the world, received many polite rejection letters and eventually found a publisher in my own neighbourhood. Go figure! Central Avenue Publishing is an independent traditional publisher and I am very happy with the professionalism and dedication of my publisher. The lesson here is, never give up!”

 

Learn more about Darlene, her books, where to get them, and all her social media links, at her blog.

Photo of author Darlene Foster.
Photo of author Darlene Foster.

Why I Write For Children by Darlene Foster

 

One of my favourite memories from my childhood is sitting on a large rock in the middle of a prairie field making up stories in my head. I had a wonderful childhood, although I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. I found it lonely, as I like being around people, and often wished I lived in a big, busy city. But it gave me plenty of time to daydream and create characters and adventures that later fuelled my desire to write. In grade three, I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me to write down my stories. She also taught us about other countries in such a fun, interesting way that made me want to travel the world and meet interesting people. I owe her a lot and have since found her and thanked her for making a difference in my life. When I was twelve, one of my stories was published in the local newspaper. I decided then that I wanted to be a published writer one day.

Why did I choose to write children’s adventure books? I love writing for children, they are like sponges and eager to learn. They enjoy adventures and characters who can get themselves out of a tight spot. I can better express the excitement of travelling to new places when I write from the point of view of a child. 

Interestingly, many adults read my books and enjoy them as well. Kids’ books aren’t just for kids!

The stories in the Amanda Travels series are inspired by my real-life travel experiences.

When I visit an interesting place, I get a strong desire to share my experience with the rest of the world. The best way for me to do this is to write about it. I am always thinking of how I can work a setting or situation into a story. I take notes and many pictures during my travels and think about what would interest a young person. 

I have travelled to all the places Amanda has been. However, I do not have all the adventures Amanda has. She has more fun, excitement and scary experiences in her travels than I do. For instance, I took a riverboat cruise down the Danube with my best friend and our husbands a few years ago, on a boat called, The Sounds of Music. It was a trip of a lifetime, with stops in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. I knew immediately it would be the perfect setting for an Amanda and Leah adventure. Including music in the story was a no-brainer. This is how Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music was conceived. 

On another occasion, I travelled to Taos, New Mexico with my aunt, who is also one of my best friends. We had such an amazing time. Besides being steeped in history, the place has a very paranormal feel about it. We even visited a haunted hotel in Cimarron. Everywhere we went, I kept saying, “Amanda would love it here.” When I returned home, I immediately started making notes which eventually became, Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind.

I love to read and so does Amanda. Books are important to both of us. When a vintage novel goes missing, Amanda feels compelled to find it. I love visiting the many used bookstores in England so I wanted to include one in the novel. I found a quintessential bookstore on the Isle of Wight which was perfect for the story, including a resident Main Coon cat. Rupert, the cat, plays an important role in Amanda in England: The Missing Novel.

 

My latest book in the series, Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady was a result of a trip I took with my hubby a couple of years ago. I loved the history and culture of Malta and felt it would be an ideal setting for an Amanda Travels book. I tossed in some endangered birds, a missing artefact and a friend in danger. Amanda would do anything to help her friend. One reviewer said, “I love the author’s ability to bring the settings alive, from the Blue Grotto to a beautiful cathedral in Valletta, all while keeping the suspense high.”

Covers of some of the many books Darlene Foster has published.
Covers of some of the many books Darlene Foster has published.

It took me three years to write the first book, Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask. It was a steep learning curve as I had so much to learn. I am still learning, but I can write a book in a year now. Keeping things fresh in a series is a challenge. I keep up with today´s young people, hang out with them and listen to their conversations. I introduce new characters in every book to keep it interesting. The character of Caleb, a classmate and good friend of Amanda’s was introduced in the New Mexico book. He was so well received he appears again in Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady.

Publishing eight books in ten years is a huge accomplishment for me. I have also won prizes for my short stories and have had stories published in several anthologies. A milestone for me was visiting my former school in rural Alberta and reading from my books to the current students. Seeing my books available online, and on shelves at bookstores and libraries is the most incredible feeling. Having readers tell me they enjoy the stories and hope I write more is like a dream come true. 

If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up!

Amanda is the twelve-year-old I would have liked to be. It is so much easier for kids to travel these days, but I didn’t travel on an airplane until I was in my mid-twenties. I would have so loved to see the world as a child. I am doing it now through my writing!  

That’s why I love writing for kids. (And grown-up kids)

What was the day you became an adult?

Pro-Choice: what being it actually means by K E Garland

“Everybody’s a teacher if you listen.” — Doris Roberts; actress, author, and philanthropist.

When I posted, “My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2,” I neglected to tell you something important; were it not for Kathy Garland’s courageous and honest blog post that you’ll find below, I might not have published it. (Her account first appeared at PULPMag on Feb. 13, 2020.) Perhaps you remember Kathy from when she was a prior guest at Happiness Between Tails? (And by the way, here’s another excellent post about the subject contributed by Infidel753.)

Below, she mentions Planned Parenthood. Funding for the organization was signed into law by President Richard Nixon who decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” Planned Parenthood provides far more than abortions. The agency is committed to giving affordable reproductive health care to all genders, all ages,  all over the world. They offer sex education, cervical cancer screenings, contraception including vasectomies, and help with sexually transmitted infections.

Kathy has taught English for 25 years, which makes perfect sense, given how she inspires all who read her posts. A wife and mother, she lives in Jacksonville, Florida. Her award-winning work is featured in anthologies and many other places. For info about the three books she’s published and to contact her, check out her personal blog. In addition, she hosts a site to normalize conversations about menopause

Blogger/author/teacher K E Garland.

“What it Actually Means to be Pro-Choice” by Kathy Garland

My father taught me about sex when I started my period. We sat on the loveseat, where he explained how menstruation worked, a banana balanced on his thigh. I suspected this was my mother’s idea, although she and I never discussed sex or women’s bodies. 

My father explained bleeding meant I could now get pregnant, if I ever had sex, and that it was my responsibility to avoid such circumstances. A condom would do the trick. He pulled one out of his pocket, ripped open the small package, and showed me how to put it on the banana, a mock penis. I suppose he thought it appropriate to cram three separate topics — sex, safe-sex, and periods — into one conversation, because we never revisited either again. But at ten years old, I couldn’t comprehend what fake penises and condoms had to do with the pain in my lower abdomen or the blood that soaked the pad I’d just learned to wear. I wanted the conversation to end so I could finish playing with my dolls.Cover of "Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships" by Dr. K E Garland.

Six years later, my mother suddenly died from kidney disease. My maternal grandmother was an expert at pushing emotions aside and had advised me to do the same.

“Don’t cry,” she said, “you’ve had your Mama for a long time. Sixteen years is a long time.”

So, I followed her lead and stifled the pain.

 My father physically moved on by dating a new woman a week after my mother’s burial. He spent my junior year, courting his newfound love and ignoring me. Taking care of a teenage daughter seemed to be too much for him. The following year, he sent me to live with my grandparents in a small Michigan town called Covert. I was angry. There were more students in my former Chicago high school than in the entire township. I was saddened by how quickly my father discarded me and our relationship. But I’d learned to suppress and ignore all negative emotions. My plan was to keep to myself, graduate, and apply to colleges.

School began the day after Labor Day. It was hard not to be noticed in a class of sixteen seniors, but I tried. Even when I knew the answer, I remained as quiet as possible in English IV, hoping no one would speak to me. In typing class, I hid my nervousness behind intermittent pops of pink Bubble Yum; maybe my aloofness would repel others. Conversations were sparse until I went to computer class. That’s where I met him. He was a junior. He cracked my feigned exterior by making me laugh. He helped me bury my mother’s death. He helped me forget why I was living in Covert in the first place. His name was Eddie.

Our long phone conversations turned into afternoons at Eddie’s home where we sat on his family’s brown sectional and watched movies on their floor model TV. His mother was rarely home. Watching movies turned into tongue kissing and sex, sometimes on the couch or floor, other times in his room.

We became a couple and I’d forgotten about the talk my father and I had seven years prior. I’m not sure what Eddie’s safe sex lessons entailed. By the first day of fall, my period hadn’t come, so I asked his mother what she thought that meant.

She inhaled a long drag of her cigarette, blew a thin, cloudy stream out of the corner of her mouth, looked at me, and said, “Either you late, or you pregnant. And if you pregnant, you need to talk to Eddie.”

I was pregnant.Cover of "The Unhappy Wife" by Dr. K E Garland.

I knew I could trust my senior English teacher, a brown, petite, no-nonsense lady. Her church dresses and high heels felt like home. The day I confided in her, she asked if I could tell my grandmother. I assured her I could not. Expectations were high in my family, especially my mother’s side. My grandfather had been president of the school board for several years. My grandmother was an important figure at the local civic center. A seventeen-year-old pregnant granddaughter was outside of their equation.

My English teacher neatly wrote the name, Planned Parenthood on a sheet of paper and underneath it, a phone number.

For my initial visit to the clinic, I called into my work-study job and made the 36-mile-drive alone in the car my grandparents had lent me. The appointment was scheduled to ensure I was, indeed, pregnant. Once confirmed, I’d have to return on a separate day for the actual procedure. A nurse told me what I should bring: a change of clothes, socks, pads, and a person to drive me there and back. I also had to commit to a form of birth control. I opted for the pill.

Eddie drove us to the clinic in his mother’s blue Chevy. We sat in the waiting room and watched daytime television with other women of varied ages, until they called my name.

After recovering, we returned to Eddie’s house. His mother had allowed me to hide my car in her garage, so that passersby wouldn’t know I was there. I lay on the brown sofa for several hours, fading in and out of sleep. His mother encouraged me to eat her homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy. The meal warmed and comforted my spirit.

When it was time to leave their home, I hid the paper bag full of antibiotics and pain meds in my backpack and left around eight at night just in time to arrive at my grandparents’ house, as if I’d been working all evening.

Though physically painful, the days following my abortion were liberating. I not only escaped shame, but also teen motherhood. I didn’t want to be a part of the statistically low numbers of adolescent mothers, who never attended or finished college. An abortion ensured I never was.

Thirty years ago, having an abortion offered me a real choice, with no restrictions, followed by a birth control option.

But this isn’t the case in 2020.

In some states, women are currently faced with the strictest abortion regulations to date. Fetal heartbeat laws restrict abortions after six weeks, which is typically the timeframe for confirming a pregnancy and the earliest that abortions can be completed. My teenage self would’ve had no choice but to prepare for birth. Furthermore, states like Missouri that have one abortion clinic, limit access and add stress to an already stressful situation. Also, as it stands now, the national dialogue is centered on extreme cases. Questions like what if a woman is raped or what if the woman might die tend to exaggerate and cloud the idea of choice. While I agree that these are valid reasons for having an abortion, any situation is reasonable. 

When we focus on the need to prove rape or death, we create a hierarchy of reasons. When we begin ranking rationale, we also implicitly say, you don’t have the right to choose. The state will choose for you. And that is not pro-choice. That is punishment sanctioned by someone else’s idea of morality.

When I reflect on my senior year in Covert, I know it was best not to bring a baby into my world of anger and resentment. Furthermore, Eddie and I said we’d be together forever, but like many teenage relationships, ours didn’t last. We broke up by the beginning of my second year of college. Although conditions are never perfect, raising a baby with a sixteen-year-old boy in a high-poverty environment, while delaying my education wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t time.Cover of "Kwoted" by K E Garland.

But politicians dismiss stories like mine. Even though a study showed that women who have abortions do so because it would “interfere with their education, work or ability to care for their dependents, or they could not afford a baby at the time,” the current political climate ignores these as valid reasons to terminate a pregnancy.

Governments have successfully reframed the pro-choice narrative to only include situations like rape, incest, or a mother’s impending death. These are not pro-choice examples. These are abortion bans intended to punish women and teenage girls for not having protected sex.  

I’m grateful I was able to drive a safe distance to a Planned Parenthood within the state and I’m thankful I didn’t have to involve my grandparents by having them sign an informed consent form, which is current Michigan law. I’m glad I was able to make a choice that was best for me. This procedure allowed me to complete high school, and subsequently college with ease, which in part have contributed to the life I live today as a wife, mother, and professional with a terminal degree. I want the same choice offered for other women, who, for different reasons may become pregnant, but not want to birth a baby. I want our country to return to a true definition of pro-choice, one where women can safely decide the outcome of their situations, without their state’s interference.

To contact K E Garland and for more of her writing, visit her personal blog, or her site that normalizes conversations about menopause.

When were you challenged to make a pivotal decision only you ought to have decided?

COVID Hair and Writing Life by da-AL + Pamela S. Wight’s New Memoir

K-D doggie with da-AL, who just tried to dye her hair turquoise.
Was nature set on whimsey when she fashioned dog noses?

“What do writers do when they’re not writing?” That question flabbergasted me when I saw it on Quora, an interactive “ask and answer site.” In my case as a novelist, I wish I was outside-the-box enough to warrant such an inquiry. When I’m not writing, I’m fretting about not writing. When I’m not fretting, I’m reading or listening to audiobooks, spending time with loved friends and family, walking my doggie, eating, sleeping, gardening, and ruminating way too much on my hair, as you’ll read later.

Note regarding Happiness Between Tails podcast: Apple Podcasts is taking longer than usual to process submissions, so will continue to keep you posted.

Regarding friends, look at the cool pen my dear pal, Patricia, gave me! (Btw, here’s a letter she wrote to you and me about her United States Marines recruit daughter, Rebekah Hyde, who’d love to get our postcards.) Patricia planned to gift me a mega-bling pen, but I snatched this instead. She appeared somewhat crestfallen, so I asked if she wanted it back, but she answered that she’d hoped to give me something pretty. Ah, I told her, thank you very much. However, how often do you come across a USMC Marine band pen? With a  revolving clicker that displays their website, phone number, and such?

The "President's Own" is the Marine band that accompanies the president everywhere.
The “President’s Own” is the Marine band that accompanies the president everywhere.

As for gardening, figs are coming in, kumquats are winding down, and so are tomatoes (here’s one of several posts they’ve figured into). “Wildlife” devoured the grapes. Despite K-D doggie’s best attempts, she has yet to de-populate our modest back yard of possums, rats, birds, and the figeater beetles who work their tiny gossamer wings very hard to fling their enormous green bodies into the soft fruits of our labors. (Btw, have you read “Miss Benson’s Beetle” by Rachel Joyce? So fun and so girl-power that it’s changed how I see beetles forever. Check out other books I like at my Goodreads page.)

It's fun to grow food.
It’s fun to grow food.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall,” here’s my hair short, before the COVID-19 quarantine hit. Sheesh, back then I had no inkling what the future would bring…

BC: Before COVID-19.
BC: Before COVID-19.

No one I know is happy about COVID-19, though my husband likes my newly long hair that resulted from not being able to get it cut during quarantine. It took a while to learn how to condition my hair to where it’s not a dried-out snarl. The photo at the very start of this post is an unveiling of sorts. It’s my hair yesterday, the day after I marinated it in temporary turquoise coloring. Admittedly, it now only looks a little darker.

All the aforementioned distractions and more are why I am especially impressed with writers who actually produce, and boy, does Pamela Wight produce! She’s an inspiration to me and I hope she’ll be one for you too. Here she was a Happiness Between Tails guest before. As you’ll read below, she’s a blogger (find all her social media links here, including for her books) who posts from Boston (though she’s from San Francisco), teaches, gives presentations, and publishes books for kids as well as adults. Also, she loves animals and values life’s simple moments. Read to the very end of her guest blog post to learn of her publishing journey…

Author Pamela Wight with her furry family, Charlie and Charlotte.
Author Pamela Wight with her furry family, Charlie and Charlotte.

“Memoir in a Flash” by Pamela S. Wight

As a writer of several genres — romantic suspense and children’s books — I thought that memoir was one genre I would never attempt.

Memoir is the stuff of hardship and life challenges. Memoirs often follow an individual who battles abuse/addiction/racial and sexual inequities/tribulations that eventually lead to triumph.

But ordinary me? What would I ever write about that made for an interesting “me” book?

But then, several of my blog followers began to suggest that I use my blog posts to create a fun memoir.

What? When I think of memoir, I don’t think of fun. I think of tragedy and hopelessness until the denouement, when hope and love are reestablished.

Cover of "Flashes of Life," by Pamela S. Wight.

Whoever heard of a light and easy memoir? A memoir of ordinary snippets about ordinary life? So I continued posting my fun everyday stories of a dog who barks longingly for pumpkin in his kibble, of an “elderly” grandmother who rollerblades with her eyes closed, of a fear of pedicures and of a scam gone wrong. Readers seem to delight in my honest discovery of the joys — and horrors — of babysitting grandbabies and of being horribly late for a brother’s wedding.

More blog readers and friends/strangers suggested I should compile these stories — those posted and those still filed away — into a book. 

Silly, I decided. Until I mentioned the silly idea to my publisher who immediately exclaimed: “A FLASH memoir! Perfect idea.”

I thought she had made up this genre on-the-spot — a flash memoir? But then my research revealed this new genre called micro-writing, which is also called the short short story. In his preface to In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction (edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Paumier Jones), Bernard Cooper writes in the Preface: “To write short nonfiction requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.”

Well, yes, that’s exactly what I try to do in my flash stories. To show how extraordinary the ordinary is. To show how the amazing lightness of being can be available from one day to the next. The flash in “flash memoir” indicates brevity, yes, but even more importantly, it suggests a “flash” of insight into the human experience.

So, I listened to my publisher and to the beta readers who read my compilation of fun fast stories of everyday life. I hired an editor who wrote: “this is a really sweet, funny, readable, heartwarming collection of anecdotes from your life. I smile when I think about parts I’ve just read, and I’m sure readers will feel like that when they put the book down just for a short time before they find themselves smiling and picking it up again! Even the sad parts of the book are well done, drawing the reader in with empathy for your characters. The humility and humor are what make this a beautiful book. I love it.” (Thank you, Anneli Purchase.)

So yes, there are a few sad parts in here. This is about life, after all. But the sad is infused with joy.

I include eight sections in my flash memoir, with headings like “Fun Family Drama,” “For the Dogs,” and “Relationships.”  I wanted to keep this light memoir light, literally as well as metaphorically. So the page count is a modest 140. My publisher designed it brilliantly as a square book with black and white waterlogued photos of real people in my life — photos from the 1940s to current day.

I must admit, I’m glad I’m now a triple-genre author. And one of the genres is memoir.

On Publishing…

The first book I wrote was Twin Desires with co-author, Ashley Brandt. My co-writer and I were a great team. Ashley had been a student for several years in my creative writing classes, and at some courageous point we decided to write a romantic suspense novel together. We had a great time, because we set aside our egos, outlined a plot after writing about 1,000 words individually, sharing these pages, and then delegating chapters. Then we switched and edited each other’s chapters. After hiring an editor and making a few changes, we got an agent within a month of “putting it out there.” This is rather miraculous, as most writers know. The agent was marvelous and shopped the book to many publishing companies, and we got terrific feedback (all positive). That said, no one wanted to buy the book. We received comments like: “already published too many books with twins,” “don’t want a book with a bomb in it,” “well-written and page-turner but doesn’t fit in with our needs now.”

That’s when I decided to research Indie publishing. After doing so, I’ve never looked back. Both of my novels are self-published (Twin Desires and The Right Wrong Man). For my two children’s books (Birds of Paradise and Molly Finds Her Purr) and my “flash memoir,” I decided to go with hybrid publishing. For a fee, the publisher (Borgo Publishing) designed the books and organized the printing and getting them into Amazon and Barnes & Noble.. I receive 100% of the royalties. Each of these books needed specialized designs, and Borgo did an incredible job with all three.

Visit Pam’s blog for more about her.

How long did your hair get during the quarantine?…

Menendez Bros + My Jury Duty Pt 3 + a Podcast Note

Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.
Photo of Menendez brothers with their father, Jose, whom they murdered.

Justice — trials, how our system works, lawyers, juries… all these topics have been on my mind since I recently completed doing jury duty. Since the week before I started it (here are Part 1 and Part 2 about it), I’ve wondered about the Mendez brothers. You know, those rich guys who killed their parents back in the late 1980s. This video I checked out from my happy place, a.k.a. any public library, explains their story.

The brothers somewhat physically resemble my two older brothers, plus we three were raised “tennis-y.” Our household wasn’t hellish in the way of Lyle and Eric’s, but controlling and cruelty and looking the other way existed.

Please don’t get me wrong: a) my brothers aren’t killers and they’re nothing like the Menendez — and b) I believe murder is despicable.

Unlike the Menendezes, we didn’t suffer rich-people burdens. Here’s one man’s take on growing up “in tennis” for some players at the nosebleed rungs. Our dad wasn’t a powerful movie mogul, and we weren’t indoctrinated to keep up with the Beverly Hills set. There are benefits to being an apartment-dwelling plebeian. Tennis earned my brothers college scholarships. As for me, I set out on my own the moment I graduated high school, determined to sooner resort to prostitution than go back.

As a writer, I began as a journalist, then later attended a course on fiction. A classmate, Vonda Pelto, wanted to learn story telling for a recount of her former career as a psychiatrist at the downtown Los Angeles jail. Her primary function was to prevent serial killers from dying by suicide. How’s that for irony? (Here’s an enlightening article about discussing suicide.) Her patients ranged from Charles Manson and porn star John Holmes, to “Hillside Strangler” Ken Bianchi and “Freeway Killer” William Bonin.

Clearly, those killers fall into a different category than the Menendez brothers.

Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.
Almost every day in Los Angeles is sky perfection.

Back to jury duty…

For a thumbnail of what I posted about jury duty so far, picture “Car Problems” as my middle name. Was it mere coincidence that the morning my mom lent me her car, in front of the courthouse was a man in a t-shirt with a “check engine” logo?

Every trip to and from downtown was a winding tour of Siri workarounds to Los Angeles traffic. Siri kindly even warned me of traffic cameras. The Spring Street Courthouse is snuggled among the Toy District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building of “Bladerunner” movie renown, and more. Slogging along freeways to get there and back would have been unbearable without my beloved audiobooks.

It’s years since I’ve visited the area. Sadly, the number of people who live on the sidewalks has exploded. Flimsy domed homes shelter people along corners, alleys, freeway overpasses and underpasses. I don’t know an end-all remedy, only that “them” is “us.” Whenever I left my juror chair, I kept my little backpack near. How is anyone mobile enough to find a job, see a doctor, take a leak, do anything, when their worldly goods are housed within a nylon tent parked in the middle of a city?

The trial I worked on involved an RV park, privately run yet publicly owned, endeavoring to evict a couple.

On one hand, one of the two renters had recorded park employees, those not wearing mandated Covid19-preventative masks. They used the evidence to report them to the health department. On the other hand, staff accused the renters of impeding their work and bothering fellow tenants by failing to consistently leash their dog.

Sculpture of "Young Lincoln" by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Young Lincoln” by James Hansen, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

Management had a slicker lawyer and employees willing to smooth over their sloppy record keeping. The tenants brought neighbors (via an extremely problematic videoconferencing setup) who stated they loved the dog and the couple.

Ah, the dog! Mike was old, pudgy, and wore a vest that suggested he was an emotional service provider (any dog is, no?). I first noticed him when he snored from the opposite end of the vast courtroom. Basically, he slept and sometimes slurped water.

Hearing testimonies is nothing akin to dynamic TV shows and high drama movies. Questions get reframed in endless ways so lawyers can reveal details otherwise not allowed. Did I say it was boring? Many jurors were there only because they heard rumors that not showing up can result in a $1,500 fine.

This case ran four days, not counting the Friday of jury selection. Monday was a holiday. Tuesday through Thursday were for evidence disclosure, a process rendered mind-numbingly. The last Friday morning was for the lawyers’s closing speeches. Here again, imagine what money buys in terms of lawyers.

Management’s was organized and smooth.

The residents’s insisted on using an overhead projector that blinked his pages onto the screen so annoyingly that I half-closed my eyes. To his credit, he opened with a salient point; each side had recorded, antagonized, and vilified each other. Amen.

Then it was time for a shortened lunch. Then deciding whether the tenants ought to be evicted.

Hand on any religious tome you prefer I swear on, I had every intention to review evidence and turn over every rock.

Sculpture of "Law" by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.
Sculpture of “Law” by Archibald Garner, 1939, located at Los Angeles Spring Street Courthouse.

Twelve jurors: roughly fifteen questions to vote on. The list was one of those affairs of, “if you vote this, answer this or skip this…” Each question required only nine votes to pass.

Within some questions, the word “substantial” was used. Was the residents’s rule-breaking and annoying of neighbors “substantial”? Four months earlier, after they were served a seven-day notice to clean up their acts, did they? Substantially? Definitely, but fellow jurors noted that management had spied near-catatonic Mike off-leash once or twice.

A juror reminded us that the residents bothered neighbors over the past year when twice they called the cops. First, when one renter was assaulted by a stranger, then later when she spotted the assaulter lurking.

I asked the juror, “If a sick neighbor needed to summon an ambulance twice over the last year, would you evict them?”

She nodded her head.

Except for mine, the votes were unanimous. They voted so quickly, and with so little discussion and consideration of evidence, as if they’d made snap judgements, I wonder if justice was truly served.

So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.
So very many people in Los Angeles live in tents or in cardboard boxes.

I’m told the renters can appeal and it was their choice whether to have their trial judged by a judge or a jury. It was an honor to serve, and I learned a lot, though not what I’d expected.

Maybe in the end, like with the Menendez brothers, it boiled down to looking into faces and choosing whether they deserved another chance. TV’s Columbo only needed to solve crimes, not decide whether they were redeemable…

What do you think of our trial system? Would you choose a jury or a judge to decide your case? Do you think the Menendez brothers have served long enough?

Me, leaving the courthouse.
Me, leaving the courthouse.

Wait — a non-jury thing — I’ve already converted several blog posts into podcasts via the WordPress-to-Anchor function. Once Apple’s podcast app accepts them into its feed, you’ll be the first to know!

My Abortion Story + Jury Service Pt 2

Your comments to Part 1 of this post on my jury duty have lent me courage.

On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.
On Olvera Street, you can buy stuff like these Calaveras-style (skeleton) caricatures and plush versions of Mexican pastries. Photo by da-AL.

In posts and comments here and elsewhere, I often mention the importance of blogging, how delighted I am that social media and our freely commenting allow us to become closer to each other. The simpler it is for people to express themselves into the ethers, the smaller our the world becomes. When we speak from our hearts and personal experience, we see we all need each other and that every single one of us linked in doing our best to get by each day.

All that, and still I left out a vital bit of my own story last time. In that post, “My Jury Duty Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose,” guest blogger Infidel753 told of his experience as a volunteer for an abortion clinic. As a “pro-choice escort,” he navigated women past the intimidation efforts of anti-choicers. As a result, some readers were inspired shared their views on abortion rights. (By the way, My Jury Duty Pt 3 is here.)

Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles' historic Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Pico House, across from downtown Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street, was built in 1870. Photo by da-AL.

My Story

When I was in my mid-20s, I terminated two pregnancies. Within the same year, I got pregnant twice, each time using different forms of birth control. At the time, I’d been living with a boyfriend since I was 18, a sweet, intelligent man I loved dearly.

We were surviving on sporadic work, earning hardly above minimum wage. For that and many more reasons, I didn’t feel like I could give a child the kind of start on life that I would have wanted.

The procedures were expensive and weren’t covered by my health insurance. Each was horribly painful. Afterward, I ran fevers of 104 and was forced to take days off from work, which I could barely afford.

The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
The picturesque old church across from Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Fortunately…

I had a kind lover to help me through. Never have I regretted my decisions.

In addition, in my 30s, I was sexually assaulted. Good luck, as if the term can apply to any part of such a trauma, is the only reason I didn’t get pregnant.

Throughout, I’ve enjoyed sheer fortune. What I mean is, the freedom to choose is easy for lucky women, regardless of laws. Those to whom life offers stepping stones and opportunities, circumstances that allow them respectable status and money — they can always spend enough to choose when and if they have children.

Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.
Part of the fun of jury duty was walking the local sights, like these stalls of Olvera Street. Photo by da-AL.

Choice

When people are eager to control others, they often interject comments about the for people to “be held accountable.” Their fingers continually point, and always away from themselves.

When we kid ourselves that we know what’s better for our neighbor, it’s easy to view the world as “them” vs. “us.” It’s not so very long ago when United States medical officials decided it was ok to pretend to treat black people for syphilis when really they were studying the full progression of the disease. (Check out that real life horror out here.)

If a woman is resource-poor, network impoverished, lacking in status, uneducated, plain ol’ poor and any of the rest of the often insurmountable challenges life can present — the option to decide whether she bears children is often beyond reach.

What if you’re very young and your family is the opposite of a Hallmark card? What if you’re not emplyed? Or your job doesn’t provide insurance and sick days? What if the rape was more than you could bear? And you don’t want the added burdens of facing the police, defending your reputation as well as your case, can’t afford a good lawyer, and don’t want to confront whoever assaulted you in court?

It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico's greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many years. Photo by da-AL.
It was closed when I strolled by, but here’s where you can go up to see a David Alfaro Siqueiros (one of Mexico’s greatest muralists) mural that was hidden for many decades. Photo by da-AL.  

Accountability and Responsibility

What if, what if, what if? No, it’s no one’s business why or how many times any woman has an abortion.

When statistics tally how many people consider abortion acceptable, they sidestep the real question. What begs to be asked is whether government is entitled to rule the female body.

It is neither your right nor mine to decide who gets abortions, to force anyone to get sterilized, or to force them to bear a child.

What is your business and mine is this: it’s their body. End of story.

Is it still legal to get an abortion?

How sad that anyone needs to ask. Mercifully, the answer in the United States is yes, in good measure due to the work of Planned Parenthood.

The organization offers all kinds of affordable health care, mostly but not all concerning reproductive health, to all genders, all ages, all over the world. Interestingly, in 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law funding for family planning services, Planned Parenthood included. According to Wikipedia, Nixon decreed, “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Remember, however, it’s not enough to win our rights — we must continually work to retain them. Unfortunately, the right to choose is continually endangered by anti-choicers.

Need proof we can’t rest on our laurels? According to Wikipedia, here’s what happened elsewhere: “Poland is one of the few countries in the world to largely outlaw abortion after decades of permissive legislation during Polish People’s Republic. About 10-15% of Polish women seek abortion in neighbouring countries due to the strict restraints in their own country. Poland’s abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe, along with a group of other traditionally Roman Catholic countries of the region (Malta, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Vatican, Monaco and Andorra).”

In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.
In non-Covid-19 times, the plaza at the mouth of Olvera Street is filled with performers and audiences. Photo by da-AL.

What about Pt 2 of my jury duty?

It was a holiday weekend, so we all stayed home that Monday.

Since my car was in the shop, on Tuesday my husband lent me his car. Ten minutes away from home, his “check engine” light blinked on.

Fortunately (a word I don’t use lightly, as explained several headings ago), I had another car I could borrow. My mom lives with us and she was away visiting my brothers who live in different states. Can one take a vacation when one is retired? Regardless, her generosity allowed me to continue jury duty, albeit half an hour tardy that day.

Today’s post was an emotional one and it took a lot out of me so I’ll leave off here and fill you in on the rest of my jury service next time…

Here's one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.
Here’s one entrance to the Olvera Street outdoor mall. Photo by da-AL.

In the meantime, since the courthouse was in the Los Angeles Historic District, these photos are of Olvera Street. I walked there during our lunch break. According to Wikipedia, it’s “been the main square of the city since the early 1820s, when California was still part of Mexico, and was the center of community life[ until the town expanded in the 1870s.”

How much control do you want your government to have over your body?

My Jury Service Pt 1 + Infidel753 Works for Justice and Freedom to Choose

Photo of Spring Stree Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, By Los Angeles - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759
Photo of Spring Street Courthouse, Los Angeles, California, by Los Angeles – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4070759

Consider me two weeks behind in everything, including the story I’ll begin with below. I’ve just finished jury duty, so in terms of everything from blogging and novel writing to general life stuff plus venturing into a podcast version of Happiness Between Tails.

Thank you Infidel753 for generously guest posting here today! Before we get to him, indulge me in a recount of Part 1 of my recent civic experience. Find Pt 2 here and find Pt 3 here.

Jury duty. Duty. Justice.

Justice, doing one’s duty can be inconvenient. Same with voting, giving blood, and such. How far we’ll put ourselves out to work for the greater good is no body else’s business. I only hope we’re all thoughtful and kind about our choices, soul-searchingly aware that our only hope is if we know we’re all in this together. Each of us is a potential everyday hero for each other, all of us breathing the same air, if you get what I mean.

Friday before last, I started my service. Is jury duty the same all over the United States? All I know is California. Strike that. All I only know Los Angeles County.

A cousin in the UK reports jurors there rioted over crummy sandwiches they got for lunch. Lunch?! Believe me, here we’d be overjoyed to be offered anything other than tap water from the building’s fountains. The cafe in the basement charges for food. And it closed daily at 12:30 (maybe because of COVID restrictions?) even though lunch breaks were usually noon to 1:30.

Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall By jjron - Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299
Photo of Walt Disney Concert Hall by jjron – Own work; stitched panorama from seven original images, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19436299

Parking where I served, the Spring Street Courthouse, was a little over half a mile away and included a shuttle ride. Loving exercise, I didn’t mind jogging instead. The garage was beneath the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is quite something to see as it’s one of Frank Gehry’s architectural marvels.

Let me rewind to before I got there.

The way jury duty works here, for a week, every night one calls to see if they’ll be needed the following day. I’d heard that if you’re not needed by Thursday morning, you’re home free.

Not so, Nay, nay, nay. Thursday night, they instructed me to go in — to a location much further than originally promised.

Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, By Dicklyon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668
Photo of 701 Freeway, Los Angeles, California, by Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76153668

Along the drive there, on the 710, a busy freeway favored by semi-trucks, my engine blew, stalled, went caput. After $2,000 and another week, I’m hoping I’ll be able to drive it again. It happened on the lane second from the fastest as vehicles wizzed by. Mercifully, on that section of road, there was a safety shoulder to coast onto. After several deep breaths to calm myself and to count my lucky stars, I called AAA for a tow. They told me to sit tight for an hour. Then I phoned the courthouse, expecting they’d excuse me, but they wanted me to call them back later.

Within ten minutes, a Metro angel tow truck pulled up behind and rescued me!

If you ever break down on a Los Angeles freeway, call 511. For no charge, they’ll come out faster than anyone else can and help you get your car running (i.e., jump start, tire change, gallon of gas, radiator water, etc.) or tow you to the nearest exit.

From there, AAA took me to my mechanic, where my husband met me (whew! he was working from home that day). It was 12:15 when I arrived home. When I phoned the courthouse, they asked me to get there ASAP.

I inhaled lunch and darted through confusing one-way streets of downtown in search of jury for parking. No one said it would be far from the actual site… Fortunately, I didn’t run anyone over as I dialed the jury room…

At 2:15, soaked from running downhill and uphill as well as roaming the courthouse, I got there. An hour later, I became a juror for the first time.

Now for today’s guest, Infidel753. He’s blogged here before, when he amazed everyone by his compassionate veganism, which is despite his not being into cuddling up with furry and feathered and scaly folk.

Wait! Surely you’re curious about how the trial went? Check back soon for that tale, dear readers. In the meantime, here’s a photo of how our tomatoes (first introduced here) are coming along…

Close up of 3 huge tomatoes from my garden.
The best tomatoes are home grown!

Back to Infidel753, whose courage and conviction amaze me. Definitely check out his site. His Sunday posts are especially popular. That’s when he offers tons of funny and sober links. Here’s a picture from one of his links that still makes me laugh, particularly since this guy resembles my dear K-D doggie (who surely regrets being cared for by me who doesn’t eat meat).

Photo of a dog with a huge bone wearing a sneaker in it's mouth.

Here Infidel753 recounts the period of time when he stuck his neck out as a “pro-choice escort”…

A small contribution to the fight for freedom by Infidel753

For about a year, starting in late 2003, I volunteered as a “pro-choice escort” at an abortion clinic here in Portland.  The anti-choice protesters gathered there every Saturday morning to harass the clinic’s clients, so Saturday mornings were when I and the other escorts had to be there.

Most of the volunteers came as often as they could — on any given morning there were three to six of us there.  The only ones who were there every Saturday were S and W, the informal leaders of the team.  We were always careful to avoid mentioning full names or identifying information — in at least one case, the anti-choicers had managed to identify one escort and started sending him threats through the mail.  S was a woman, W a man.  The escorts generally were about 50-50 male and female.

Theoretically, the escorts’ main job was to be on the alert for protesters harassing the clinic’s clients on their way to and from the building, and intervene to shield them.  In practice, such cases seldom arose.  Most clients parked in a lot at the back to which the protesters had no access, and even when some did use the front door, the protesters rarely approached them.  But if there had been no escorts present and ready to intervene, I’m quite sure the anti-choicers would have approached and harassed them much more often than they did.  Our presence served as a deterrent.

Aside from that, both sides were engaged in more of a kind of psychological warfare.  The enemy’s goal was intimidation — making the clinic’s staff and clients feel isolated and surrounded by hostile forces.  Our purpose as escorts was to provide a positive presence to counter this negativity, so that clients would not feel they were in completely hostile territory.

Most of the protesters were regulars, and we knew their habits.  Some just stood around holding signs.  Some engaged in ostentatious religious chanting and praying.  Some stood as close to the clinic as the law allowed and performed long, bellowing diatribes which always seemed to be more about God and the Bible than about abortion as such.  There was one protester who always wore a gun, which I was told he had a permit for.  Due to some previous incident, there was a standing court order prohibiting him from being on our side of the street, so he stood across the street and scowled at us.  Another protester had a personal fixation on S; he had once said to her, “Women like you deserve to be raped”.  I once heard a protester shout at a man who was accompanying a woman into the clinic, “Why are you letting that woman kill your baby?  Be dominant, sir!  Be a man!”  Yes, he really said that.

I never saw any actual violence, but the situation was often tense, especially when there was a new person among the protesters, since anyone new to us was by definition unpredictable.  We all knew about cases in other parts of the country where clinics had been bombed or doctors murdered by the fanatics, and in at least one case an escort had been killed.  So we were always alert for any sign of danger.

The escorts had varied motives for being there.  I hold individual freedom to be among the highest values, and if someone else can infringe on your absolute freedom to decide what happens inside your own body, then what freedom can you securely lay claim to?  S had strong feminist convictions, and W was a libertarian who opposed the anti-choicers’ goal of forcing others to abide by their own religious taboos.  Most of the other escorts, as best I could tell, had some combination of similar motives.

Confronting religious fanaticism face-to-face is very different from reading about it in books.  Ever since that year, I’ve had a much deeper sense of what these people’s mentality is really like.  They will not be satisfied until the lives of the rest of us are dictated by the taboos of their own religion, backed up by the force of law, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia.

The clinic was in a residential neighborhood, and local people would often stop and chat with the escorts, bringing us hot drinks on cold mornings or otherwise offering encouragement.  On one occasion an elderly woman approached me and said, “I don’t agree with abortion, but I’m glad to see a man standing up for women’s right to make their own decisions.”  And that’s what it was really about — the right of all of us to make our own decisions, not have them made for us by somebody else’s religion.

Read a longer version of the above at Infidel753’s site here.

What is duty like for you?

Novelist Jacqueline Diamond Published 100+ Books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Cats and Dogs! by Jacqueline Diamond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Reality + Charles Sterling on Marketing and Author Platform

Marketing, building a platform as a writer… There’s more to being a novelist than most people think.

Photo of author Charles Sterling.

I’m no expert on how to market fiction writing. Although I’ve produced video documentaries, radio news, published non-fiction articles and a short story or two, I’m still editing my novels. However, what I know for certain is I’m having fun here — meeting you! Who knew I’d encounter so many friendly people from all over the world, who would open my ridiculously sheltered eyes?

In my hugely romanticized imaginings, I picture an Author with a capital “A.” On virtue of their talent, they only need to work a little hard to attract a super-star literary agent and publisher. For this reason, they never lift a finger to sell their books. The Author sits at an incredible desk in a gorgeous office with a spectacular view. After a walk with their dog, a shower, and a scrumptious breakfast, they begin their day writing. Until they get hungry, that is. That’s when they enjoy a tea or a hot chocolate or an espresso with sweets such as the madeleines writer Marcel Proust used as analyze memory.

Next, said Author does some more writing, takes a stroll for inspiration, writes a tad, then shares dinner with famed thinkers and creatives. The Author’s day ends with a blissful night of rest. The next day, the Author joyfully wakes to do it all over again. Oh, no — I forgot to mention their lunch — well, you get the picture…

Alas, that daydream is akin to figuring that all the amazing painters of bygone days did was simply dab at their canvases between tasting the displays of sumptuous meals they depicted, and doing whatever with their human models. They might chat brilliantly with their clothed subjects who were always famed and genius, or they could indulge in a tryst with their naked and willing gorgeous ones.

In my fantasies, nowhere does marketing rear its head. Certainly, in my dreams, the fame of great Authors never involves any of them setting aside part of their day to develop an author platform.

Now for Reality…

Most Authors, even ultra-talented ones, work hard — and that work includes getting people to know about them. 

The novels I’m writing are in the form of letters to a deceased grandmother, so I’m delighted that many stellar authors began their careers by serializing their books. For instance, Charles Dickens, who wrote “A Christmas Carol,” and “Oliver Twist,” was a master of episodic, a.k.a. serial, storytelling. His chapters, which were featured in newspapers, garnered so much attention that he bound them into the popular novels we know did quite well!

Another successful writer who worked that way is Helen Fielding. Her colossal hit, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” was first serialized in newspapers.

Armistead Maupin did the same with his “Tales of the City.” He’d get home from wild 1970s San Francisco parties, use them as inspiration for his serialized newspaper column, and voila! He was rewarded with success, fame, fortune, movies, and I hope more.

Now, let’s consider Bloggers.

The blog posts of E. L. James, who’s known for her “Fifty Shades of Grey,” mushroomed into a money-making atom bomb that included books, movies, and who knows what else.

Also, Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” blog eventually made her lots of money as a book and a movie.

My idea is to eventually podcast bits of my novel and then get it into print. First, I started with this blog. Here I continue to do my best to create a larger and larger circle of friends interested in novels and arts, and who might be so kind as to spread the word about my writing.

Author Charles Sterling, who blogs from Russia, is here to show us that the marketing/platforming side of writing may not be all that awful after all. He published his first novel when he was fifteen! Since then he’s put out at least eight novels and a bunch more sorts of writing. He’s also a digital artist. Read on for his book-selling experience…

Photo of author Charles Sterling.
Photo of author Charles Sterling.

Book Marketing & Author Platform by Charles Sterling

Introduction

One day at age fifteen I walk into my father’s room and I ask him; ‘how difficult is it to write a book?’ He replies, ‘son, it’s the easiest thing in the world!’ Now, whether he was right or wrong, I believed him, and that belief allowed me to write my first ever 75k book at that young age.

Had I asked him ‘how difficult is it to sell a book?’ perhaps the answer would have been different. Selling a book is a whole other world. When you’re writing, you’re an artist. When you’re marketing, you’re in the business sphere. That’s where book marketing and the author platform comes in!

How to market your book

Having been marketing since 2011, when I made my first thousand dollars I used methods that would never work anymore! As times change, so does marketing. But luckily I adapted my approach and saw a steady improvement and increase in sales. The wonderful thing is, it’s like a snowball that goes down a hill and keeps getting bigger. The more books you sell, the more Amazon recommends your books!

Here’s what I did for my past few books.

  1. Set your book for free and do some promotion stacking through “free book promotion” websites. This will give you thousands of downloads and some much needed reviews.
  2. Pin your book with an inviting image to the top of your Twitter.
  3. Promote it in forums like Reddit and GoodReads.
  4. Have an incredible book cover.

We eat with our eyes first! And we do judge books by their covers. I guarantee you that if you had the best book cover in the world, your need for marketing would be zero. The book cover would do the job for you all the way to the New York Times Best Seller list.

Often enough as writers, after we’re done writing and we get onto promoting we start looking for ways to get more viewers. We forget about what we’ve been working on so hard and begin relying websites and methods to get us where we want to be. I wish to reiterate on this extremely important point, a good book cover sells your books first! And the reviews sell your book second, so make sure your book is wonderful too.

Personally, I design my covers myself because I’ve been graphic designing as long as I’ve been writing. Essentially one must look at the top selling book covers in your niche create something thematically similar. The reason being that, readers out there already know what they’re looking for, so it’s your book cover’s job to accurately portray that.

Now, I chose to market my ebooks exclusively through Amazon for its KDP program allowing you to set discount prices as well as put your book out for free. The free book part is important to get some reviews going early on. Amazon is also a good focus point because by putting all your effort into your book, the algorithm helps push your book forward by placing it in the “Recommended Books” section of your potential readers, which is what allows you to sell books even when you haven’t marketed for months.

I’ve tried publishing in Barnes & Nobles and SmashWords, but so far really enjoyed focusing on purely Amazon.

The Author Platform

It’s super easy, but super important to have! Once you have an author platform you’ll be proud of yourself and even feel a little famous when you appear in Google searches.

Twitter

I believe Twitter is perfect for a few reasons; most authors and readers are either on Twitter or Facebook. Instagram is an image based platform, I tried it for a while and didn’t quite like it.

On Twitter the hashtag game is a lot stronger than on Facebook, making it easier to fit into a specific niche and target specific groups of people. The retweet function is nifty as well, as others retweet your stuff for more people to see!

So if you do decide on Twitter, get a photogenic picture of yourself and write a short and sweet bio. No need to be too long. Pin your book to the top of your page, and spend the rest of your social media rants about yourself, things you find funny and your opinions on things. If your Twitter is filled with nothing but your book, people will turn away.

Your book will already be pinned on top, so every single person that comes onto your profile is forced to see it before they see the rest. “The rest” should be inviting things and things that people can relate to and understand you better as a person. You want them to say “wow, I like this person. I’ll follow them and take a look at their book.”

To get followers is really easy; go around your niche and comment and put likes on people’s stuff. Thirty minutes of twittering a day and you’ll have a thousand followers in two weeks. I did just that with no complications!

Website

Get either a Wix or a WordPress website going, use a free template to make it look nice, and fill it up with your stuff. Have a page for your books, have a page for your author bio, a page for your short stories or poetry, or even a page for pictures of your pet.

Images you use on your website will appear in Google Images, so make sure to keyword them with your name.

Words that you use in “Heading” format will appear in Google Search, so make sure they’re your book titles or your name. Then add your website to your Twitter and you’re basically set! A website might seem like the hardest part, but once you did it, you no longer need to worry about it.

My own website charlesimagines.com is as easy as that, yet has all my work neatly laid out for people to see, and it took me just about two days to fully complete.

Amazon Page

Aha! An Amazon page is an author platform too! Make sure all your books are listed in your Author Central. If you have a blog, you can link it to your Author Central as well. Then in your GoodReads account make sure all your books are linked to your Amazon page, because often people write reviews and comment there.

This part is not difficult, and if you have some problems (like I did) just write them an email and they fix everything for you.

It’s a good time to mention that, Amazon has over 3000 different categories for your books, but you only get to see around 250 when you’re actually publishing. If there’s a specific category that you need (like mine was Young & Adult Pirate Adventure eBooks) then you’ll have to contact Amazon and they change it for you.

Reap the Benefits!

As a few final thoughts, I’ve only started using Twitter and adding things onto my website about five or six months ago and the benefits that came with it were enormous.  I was discovered by authors and readers, invited to do podcasts, got free book reviews on other people’s websites and most importantly… I emerged from the shadows and began connecting with people!

Book marketing is usually a slow and steady process that gets faster and faster the more you do it. I started off with numbers like 2, 5, 13 and some months later they turned into 900, 1500, 3000, and are still on their way up.

At first things might seem like they’re not working out, or you’ll get tired or you might feel like it’s a waste of time, but the longer you go on, the more the puzzle pieces start fitting together, and the more the grind seemed worth it.

My final tiny advice that I wish to share applies to anything and is based around the principal of ‘compound effect’. Much like going to the gym or eating healthy, it’s about doing something small every day. This gets multiplied by hundreds of days, and the effects become massive.

This was the case with me; my first books back in 2011-2012 kept bringing me paychecks (despite the books being clearly written by a teenager) and then the books that followed were stranded in a desert with no activity. I was left wondering what was going on and what I had to do to make it work again, and ended up committing a huge portion of my time to learning on promoting and marketing.

I had to change my old fashioned book covers, market in different places, create better keywords, and I started seeing my numbers grow again. As of recently, the author platform I built has greatly helped!

What are your thoughts on selling books?

Author/Blogger/Artist Sharon Bonin-Pratt is now a playwright too!

Art by Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt
Self-portrait by Sharon Lynne Bonin-Pratt

Time’s running out quick, so run, don’t walk, to catch Sharon’s stage play! Have you ever written a play? Sharon’s been a guest at Happiness Between Tails here and here

Sharon Bonin-Pratt's Ink Flare

Based on the true story of when I couldn’t sing a song about Jesus out loud during a school performance

You read that title correctly, yes you did.

The Braid is producing my story.

The Braid is an award winning live theatre that presents the diverse voices of Jewish people in performances that touch our hearts.

I submitted a short story, “Hawaiian Songbird,” for their consideration. It describes an incident that happened when I was an eleven-year-old newcomer to Hawaii’s famous Punahou School.

“Hawaiian Songbird” was accepted to be the opening segment of their May production, The Rest is History. Nine other wonderful, funny, poignant stories will complete the program.

The show focuses on moments that altered the course of our lives, proving that, unique as they are, these stories are universal in their appeal.

No matter your age or background, you’ll be moved by the life-changing moments described…

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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?