Kolkata: Noisy Hope + HerStory by Pat Wahler + HBT on Spotify

Author/blogger Pat Wahler.

Kolkata’s Noisy Hope + HerStory by Pat Wahler Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Travel #Writing #Novels #Books What cities inspire your reading and writing? Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. http://buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT — Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/depe9/support

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“Kolkata (Calcutta) … this is a city you ‘feel’ more than simply visit.” lonely planet India, 19th edition.

With jello for equilibriums, my husband and I landed there a few weeks ago (most if not all international flights arrive at a cruel 3am) after 23 sleepless hours thanks to the ceaseless shrieks of one small boy.

Kolkata slumbered. Despite few cars on the night road — why all the honking?

Lonely and disquieted is how I imagine any Kolkatan must feel if they visit my neck of the woods. In Los Angeles, honks can elicit bullets. Kolkata drivers beep-beep-beep minimum once a minute. Be the vehicle a taxi, motorcycle, electric rickshaw, or bicycle, honks there are “honk-tra honk-la honk-las” of “hello,” “I’m here,” “coming through,” “watch out,” and probably, “I love making sound.”

Whatever the intention, the cacophony is constant. Don’t get me started on what the actual driving is like. Suffice to say, I was informed that their driving tests are conducted in parking lots, not amid actual traffic.

From my 6th floor hotel double-paned window, the din rang loud and clear. We were in a Kolkata suburb called New Town that’s thriving with local investor money in housing and air-conditioned malls…

A huge qualm I had before visiting was that Indian poverty would gut me. Sadly, Kolkata poverty is alive and well, part of and inexcusable tragedy that needs to be remedied worldwide. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d return to California thinking what’s going on in the U.S. might be more brutish.

In Kolkata (and I wrote and podcasted a little about the city before), they’ve got actual communities. In my part of the world, the tanking healthcare system and economy force more and more people into tent villages. Ones that, amid dueling compassion and loathing for our unfortunate, are continually raided and uprooted without warning by our police.

Anyway, we both came home with terrible colds. What an odd post-pandemic phenom it is to say, “At least it wasn’t Covid (and whatever happened to the ’19’ part?).” Still, our nightly hacking coughs make healing sleep more than a little elusive.

Ok — my head’s a bit floaty — thank goodness for pharmaceuticals — so the rest of my trip will have to wait.

For more of this journey, click here and here and here and here and here.

Oh, and did I mention we were there for a wedding?…

In the meantime, here’s a more coherent post about how blogger/author Pat Wahler journeys through her books. She writes from Missouri and has garnered many awards for her many novels.

Cover of Pat Wahler's HerStory historical novel, "The Rose of Washington Square."

Writing Herstory by Pat Wahler

If you enjoy reading biographical historical fiction as much as I do, you may recognize some of my favorites of the genre. The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain gives us the story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin tells the story of Anne Lindbergh. The First Actress by C.W. Gortner is the journey of Sarah Bernhardt. I enjoy learning about women from history, or herstory, as I like to call it. True, a reader could find a nonfiction biography and get the facts. But what I love about historical fiction is the way it puts a reader right in the story to experience what the protagonist does in an immersive and entertaining way. 

Based on my love of this genre, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that biographical historical fiction isn’t only my favorite story to read. It’s also my favorite story to write. However, choosing a subject can be a difficult proposition. In my 2018 debut novel, I am Mrs. Jesse James, I was fortunate to find a character who people knew next to nothing about. Writing Zee James also gave me a built-in audience. To this day, people are mesmerized by any topic related to the James family. As a bonus, the family had major ties to Missouri, my home state, which made research much more convenient. So when the time came to work on my second historical novel, I decided to search for a subject within the same type of parameters, hoping to find another woman from Missouri whose experiences were unknown, forgotten, or erased. But I needed a subject who left behind a skeleton of facts rather than a detailed account of every moment of her life, giving me room to flesh out her story in the narrative.

With this in mind, I compiled a list of half a dozen possibilities. Then I did a general search on each woman and considered whether available information on the candidates lent themselves to building a story arc. Several of them did, but one name jumped right to the top of the list—Rose Cecil O’Neill. I didn’t know much about her, although I’d certainly heard of her most famous creation, the Kewpie doll. As I did a deeper dive into her story, I found there was much more to her accomplishments than the iconic Kewpies. During her lifetime, Rose produced a prodigious body of literary and artistic work, something I knew I’d never be able to incorporate into a novel. Besides, other people had spent a fair amount of effort in analyzing her artistic creations, particularly the Kewpies, who at one time consumed the world’s imagination. However, the areas that interested me most about Rose were her personal relationships. How did they guide her journey from nineteen-year-old girl to a determined woman of world fame? This was an approach no one else had used, and it seemed the perfect springboard from which to craft a story. 

After finding my focus, it was back to learning everything I could about Rose O’Neill. I spent more than a year in initial research dipping into family correspondence, books, articles, and newspaper accounts.

Photo of Rose’s beloved home in Walnut Shade.
Pat Wahler spent a day at Rose’s beloved home in Walnut Shade, Missouri asking countless questions.

And then, after I had absorbed every bit of information I could find, I let Rose take over the job of guiding me forward. Odd as it sounds, after immersing myself in the life of a figure from history, it’s as if I take on a new persona, and channel the subject I’ve studied. That’s when I know I’m ready to write the story. (Lest you wonder about my sanity, I’ve heard other authors make similar claims.)

In truth, I consider writing herstory—tales from the lives of women who came before me—to be an honor and a privilege. Yes, historical fiction, especially biographical historical fiction, is definitely a challenge to research and write. It takes a great deal of time and patience (not to mention a good pair of glasses) while poring over old documents. But it’s true we learn from the past; and what could be more gratifying than introducing to the world the untold story of a deserving woman. 

Better yet is discovering her story is one that resonates with readers.

What cities inspire your reading and writing?

Smut + L Marchell: Afterlife + Podcast: N Cotticollan Self-Published

Blog title over photo of blog guest Lori Marchell and a black labrador dog.
Want to listen to an audio version of today’s post? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

Do you believe an afterlife exists? Today holds more than enough for me to agonize over… though sure it would be nice if my dearly departed ones dropped by now and again… if I’m going to consider that, should I dwell on how I’ll be remembered?…

Last week, when I mentioned a “dirty” (what is “dirty”?) book, Bojana (a great writer with a wonderful personal blog — maybe if you ask her nicely in the comments below, she’ll let you in?) enlightened me about James Joyce. The author is so revered that I want to read his tome called Ulysses, but even his own adoring wife wished his books were easier to get through. 

Thanks to Bojana, I now see he also wrote some pretty easy-to-understand stuff. After he and his beloved wife passed away, some of his letters to her were discovered inside of the sleeve of an old coat. They were odes to loving his wife — in the context of explicit sex.

Obviously, they were meant only for her eyes.

Author James Joyce and his wife, Nora Barnacle.
Author James Joyce and his wife, Nora Barnacle.

Years later, the aftershocks continue of publicizing them. To name only a handful of the issues they bring up, there’s everyone sensationalizing them, the public’s far-ranging reactions, the fact that writers can and do experiment with many kinds of writing… questions like whether it’s important or mere avarice to reveal private details of people once they’re dead.. and if it’s okay to do with some, how do we differentiate?… 

Note: proceed at your own discretion.

You can read them

Or you can listen and see some photos of the clothed couple looking staid…

Today’s guest, Lori D. Marchell, is an artist of many talents and lives in Southern California. She also works in the healing arts…

Chert Dog’s Greatest Gift: Quantum Leaps of Faith, a synopsis by Lori D. Marchell

Chert Dog came into my dad’s life after the sudden passing of my mom. In his book entitled “My Father’s Greatest Gift: Life Lessons From A Black English Labrador Retriever,” he conveys his mission and purpose as to bring unconditional love and forgiveness to all he encounters with the main objective in healing my dad’s broken heart. This Black English Labrador Retriever accomplished this in his 14 years life span. 

With Chert’s deep inspiration and connection to Spirit, he came to me in a dream three months after he crossed over and asked me to walk to watershed where the cover photograph of his book was taken. After walking around the park, as I began to leave, I heard a crying sound. When I approached the tall tree where this sound was coming from, I looked up and a yellow and white kitten was crying for help. After over an hour and a half, the kitten finally listened to me asking it to jump to a lower branch where I could reach him and that is where Jaco’s story begins.

Jaco Kitty has five toes on all four paws, with actual thumbs on his two front paws. His healing energy and leaps of faith into all areas of his life have taught me about the importance of listening to your intuition and taking on new adventures. Through his growing-up years he has taught me about standing up for myself and making new friends which brings in Tigger. About a year ago, Tigger, a brown and white tiger cat began visiting Jaco. Through a gradual bonding process, Tigger and Jaco are now best buddies. And added to this, Tigger’s family have become friends as well.

Check out my website, where you’ll find links to my father’s book and videos of Chert Dog’s and Jaco Kitty’s original piano music theme songs, along with various excerpts of their stories on my blog.

Whose life do you think is fair game for public exposure after they die?

Books: Ageless + a Dirty One + K. Rooney Review + Podcast on Hers

Want to listen to an audio version of today’s post? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.
Blog title over pictures of the books discussed in blog post.

Longevity is on my mind as I continue recording the book I’ve yet to publish. Writing takes time and so does getting it to the public. Perhaps you’re like me, who from the time I was very young, never felt like days were long enough?

Here I present to you Fauja Singh, a.k.a. the Sikh Superman. You can read all about him in Turbaned Tornado: The oldest Marathon Runner Fauja Singh, by Khushwant Singh.

Cover of Turbaned Tornado: The Oldest Marathon Runner Fauja Singh, by Khushwant Singh.

Up until he was five-years-old, he could barely walk. Later, in his early 80s, personal tragedies sank him into deep depression. At 85 he took up running. At 89 he started competing and soon ran New York City Marathon. A lifelong vegetarian, he’s even a spokesperson for PETA. Born on April 1, 1911, he continues lacing his sneakers each day.

Early on, when he encountered racist hecklers, his mission really kicked in: he’d showing the world just how amazing people like him are!

His story inspired Simran Jeet Singh, who grew up in Texas, to publish a book for kids, Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon. Runner’s World Magazine offers background on both the Singhs and the book.

Cover of Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon, by Simran Jeet Singh.

You’ll remember today’s guest, author Kathleen Rooney, from when she contributed to Happiness Between Tails here and here. Besides her historical novels, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (which features a lively octogenarian) and Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, that publishes literary work in hybrid genres. In addition, she’s a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a band of poets who haul typewriters wherever readers gather. Then they fill orders for custom poems. Her latest collection Where Are the Snows, winner of the XJ Kennedy Prize, has just been released by Texas Review Press and her next novel, From Dust to Stardust, will be published by Lake Union Press in Fall of 2023.

Here she describes the which and why of one of her fave books, a marvelously dirty one! I just read Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and was pretty impressed, for its time and now! What’s the last dirty book you read? (Note: Kathleen’s review first appeared in The Star Tribune.)

Cover of A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs, by Joyce Elbert.

Kathleen Rooney’s book review: A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs, by Joyce Elbert

NONFICTION: The unjustly neglected Joyce Elbert reminiscences about being a woman novelist in a man’s world. 

A contemporary of Jacqueline Susann, credited by Cosmopolitan magazine with writing “the first really great dirty book,” Joyce Elbert made a splash in 1969 with her novel “The Crazy Ladies,” a slinky, metropolitan, woman-centric romp that sold more than 4 million copies worldwide.

Yet by the time of her death from Lou Gehrig’s disease in Florida in 2009, this brash and brilliant Bronx-born author had long since sunk beneath the waves of obscurity, no longer able to garner interest in what she called her “zany, sexy, campy creations.”

Luckily for contemporary readers, the eight previously unpublished autobiographical essays gathered here in “A Tale of Five Cities and Other Memoirs” brings Elbert’s wit and earthy sophistication back to the surface.

Published by Tough Poets Press, a one-man operation dedicated to “new and rediscovered unconventional and neglected literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction,” and committed, as Publishers Weekly has put it, to “resuscitating forgotten classics,” this collection reintroduces 21st-century audiences to an underappreciated, funny and feminist talent.

With candor, toughness and an indefatigable sense of humor, Elbert regales the reader with details of her bohemian life among the likes of Mark Rothko and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as her romantic (mis)adventures with men who range from the maddeningly casual and unsupportive, to her alcoholic con-man ex-husband, to an outright physical abuser.

Yet the book is never more about them than it is about her quest to become and remain an author, an ambition so deep that after being battered by the aforementioned partner, she notes, “My only consolation was that someday I would be able to use this sordid experience in a book. Yes, even in times of despair the novelist’s brain is forever churning.”

Elbert also chronicles her own later-in-life descent into alcoholism and struggle for sobriety, concluding that, “Like many mind-altering drugs, alcohol had shown me where I needed to go, but alcohol couldn’t get me there.”

The title essay — or really five separate-but-linked essays — globe-trots from Acapulco to Paris to Campello to London to Martha’s Vineyard, but New York and its bygone midcentury milieu remain the most indelible in Elbert’s memory. The book opens with “Movies: 1934,” about attending screenings at “our local movie palace, The Allerton … a ten-minute walk from where we lived in a remote section of the Northeast Bronx” with her mother, of whom she writes, “Nothing in her life had emotionally prepared her for marriage or motherhood and yet there she was, trapped, with no hope in sight.”

Elbert manages, often with daffy panache, to evade those traps. In the confident and unapologetic yet self-aware vein of her fellow writer of glamour and excess Eve Babitz, Elbert documents her own desires and drives against a vivid backdrop of long-gone social settings.

At the end of her life, Elbert left behind at least seven unpublished novels, as well as several novellas and short stories. If the essays in “A Tale of Five Cities” are any indication of their quality, one can only hope that those will be resuscitated soon.

What’s the last dirty book you read?

Nude Talk + Book n Vid Inspo + Abortion + Aithal on Writing

podcasting audiobook audio booth
Recording an audio book at home rocks! And it’s hot…
Happiness Between Tails has a podcast/audio version! Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

Releasing my novel is taking longer than I’d like (understatement). At this stage, I’m recording an audiobook version of the first section, which is truly fun!

The audio booth I fashioned within our petite guest-bedroom walk-in closet is soundproofed with a mishmash of bedding held together with clothespins. Photos of me using it must wait for cooler temps. Without air conditioning, I recorded in my birthday suit, standing on a towel to sop up dripping sweat.

Once voicing and editing of the first chapter are done, the audio will become a promotion tool. The book version (yay! yay! yay! is finished!) needs a cover image and formatting. I’ll try again for a great traditional agent before I self-publish.

All this makes me stress that I’ll never finish — which is why I take great pleasure in discovering people who accomplished great things later in life, whether they’re real life or fiction.

Art goddess Beatrice Wood learned pottery throwing after age 40, then she really hit her stride many years later. A friend of hers was so touched by her that she photographed her for a book of her wisdom as she turned 100 in 1993! By the way, Wood penned her autobiography at 95. My review of the book below for Amazon and Goodreads: “Spectacular & Inspiring — absolutely wonderful in every way!”…

Cover of book: Playing Chess With Heart: Beatrice Wood at 100 Hardcover – February 1, 1994 by Beatrice Wood  (Author), Marlene Wallace (Photographer)

Here’s just one of many wonderful and timely quotes from within its pages, this one about abortion…

“Let us face it, it is not a question of whether the law is right or wrong where abortion is concerned. Any woman desperate enough will go to an abortionist regardless of whether there is a law against it. To speak of saving a fetus is to ignore the dangers facing a woman having an illegal abortion — which could mean the loss of two lives.” from the book, “Beatrice Wood at 100.”

Regarding wisdom gained through experience, I urge you to check out and share blogger Equinoxio21’s (who’s guested here before) post at his site, where he discusses abortion

Continuing on the subject of treating each other decently, I recently much enjoyed Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Raise an Antiracist.” My review of it for Amazon and Goodreads: “Complete candor about a subject that’s scary to talk about. Kendi writes with needed honesty about how difficult raising an antiracist child is, but how essential it is.” …

 

Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Raise an Antiracist."

Dreams are ageless! Art Carney well earned the Oscars he won starring alongside an orange stripey cat in the uber-inspiring and entertaining “Harry and Tonto.”

Today’s guest blog post is by Aithal, who’s guested here before. He’s published six books, the first book set in India. His latest is a USA-to-India thriller. Here’s his advice for novelists…

So You Think You Can Write by Aithal

So you want to be an author, huh? Join the queue. Millions of dreamers want to be one, and they are very talented writers with a repertoire of fancy and obscure words that are seldom used. Their grammar is perfect, and their statement construction is flawless. So it should be a no-brainer for them to write great books everyone wants to read. Right? Wrong.

Many elements make up a good book. The most critical aspect (at least in my opinion) is that the story should come from the heart. When I started to write my first book in January of 2010, it took me less than a week to pour my initial thoughts down. However, to expand on the idea, to read over and over again for typos, tighten the storyline, etc. — took me about fifteen months. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It was a journey down memory lane that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you decide to write a book, don’t hurry. I know you must think, “it’s easy for you to say.” But believe me, it’s worth it. I, too, was very impatient in the beginning as I was very eager to have my “masterpiece” out.

My thinking was straightforward. To make people read my book and let them decide if it was worth their time. Unlike seeing a movie (where one spends only 2–3 hours of their time), reading a book is at least a week of their time. So it better be worth it. Spend time upfront, and you’ll reap the rewards. Enjoy the journey. Don’t be in a hurry to reach your destination.

Kirkus Reviews aren’t free, but are highly effective. I recently got my last book reviewed on Kirkus Reviews. They are well-respected in the publishing industry. Your book will get more eyeballs where they matter…like bookstores, publishers, agents, librarians, etc.

What bolsters your confidence when your goals seem beyond reach?… 

Happy Norooz! + Twinkl + Cats Fable Video + Podcast

Khashayar with me at our Persian New Year haft-seen table.
Khashayar with me at our Persian New Year haft-seen table.
Want to listen to a podcast/audio version of Happiness Between Tails? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

Persian New Year partying is a two-week affair, so we’re still in the midst of it! Here’s the haft-seen table that Khashayar arranged. In another video, I explain the history and the items.

More to celebrate: given that I’m writing soon-to-be-published novels, Twinkl (a resource by teachers, for teachers and homeschoolers in early childhood and elementary settings that featured me before) listed me among authors and bloggers on their To Be Read List 2022: Top Book Picks From Authors and Bloggers!

Now for a story with a moral. The lives of Lucy and Mooshie are Grimm-inspired reminders of how smarts are better to have than good looks (more about Mooshie here)

 

What’s your fave book or fable?

Critter Vids + B. Christopher’s Vet Trip + Podcast: A. Renaud’s Inspo

Photo of Blogger/Educator Brendan Christoper and a chinchilla.
Blogger/Educator Brendan Christoper and a friend.
Want to listen to a podcast/audio version of Happiness Between Tails? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

It started with witnessing utter joy between an orangutan and a hound dog. Youtube videos are pleasant distractions when one is slogging through writing a novel, no? (Here’s a post about the ones I’m working on) As you can guess, my fave videos involve dogs, preferably ones that look like mine. Dogs are absolute experts at befriending anything and everything…

When I mentioned the video to a friend, she replied, “Me too! I love looking at interspecies romances.”

Is that what they’re called? Now short breaks turned into hour-long procrastinations… add in baby goats and owls and… and so it goes with YouTube… That’s why I’m sharing just one more with you — so as not to impose on your busy day, it’s got five not-so-romantic romances rolled into ten minutes…

Cute, weird, adorable, scary… what a diverse world of creatures we inhabit! Here to show us in real-life terms about the benefits of human-animal relations is Brendan Christoper, a blogger out of Derbyshire, United Kingdom. Besides writing, he’s a hands-on educator who introduces his wild menagerie to people of all ages at events, parties, and classes. Read on for how even his pets aren’t thrilled with veterinarian visits…

Photo of Forest, a black and white cat resting on a cat scratching tree, by Bren from Wild4animals.
Forest by Bren from Wild4animals.

I’m Taking My Pet to See the Vet (Wish me luck!) by Brendan Christopher

Forest, my cat, is suspicious, so he slinks behind the sofa. Then, spying from a safe distance, he spots me fumbling with a pet carrier. There’s no turning back now.

As I creep towards Forest, I pretend to act casually. But, in one swift move, I scoop him up, place him into the box and attempt to shut the lid.

Somehow, he always manages to leave at least one paw on the outside. When I push that one in, another pops out like a jack-in-the-box. Eventually, we’re ready, and that’s when the drama begins.

To be fair, Forest is usually compliant when going to the vets — well, except for a couple of issues. One involves the journey.

He hates the motion of travel and lets out the most pathetic meow he can muster. This noise sounds like a baby in distress and is designed to wreck my emotions.

Now I’m racked with guilt as I drive. But mercifully, the journey’s short, so I’m spared any lasting trauma.

On arrival, he’s usually calmed down. However, as we cross the car park, the howling starts again because he doesn’t like the instability.

Logo for Brendan Christoper's animal education work, Wild 4 Animals, an acronym for Welfare, Intrigue, Learning, and Dignity.
Brendan Christoper’s animal education logo.

There’s just another man with a cat in the waiting area and me. I sit opposite, but the two cat boxes happen to face each other. So, naturally, we humans start complimenting each other’s pets.     

Meanwhile, our cats hold a growling contest for no apparent reason. They clearly hate each other even though they’ve just met. I think to myself, ‘it’s a good job they’re on neutral ground and not meeting in a back alley’. (Or perhaps they have – who knows with cats?)

Anyway, as Forest prowls around like a big caged cat, we’re summoned. I place the box on the vet’s table and carefully unleash my feline.

Instantly, Forest makes himself look massive by fluffing up his fur and thickening his tail. However, he fails to intimidate the vet — on the contrary, she finds him cute.

All goes well until its temperature time. At this point, the vet dares to hold his bushy tail whilst inserting a thermometer. Thankfully, Forest is a gentle soul, so he tends not to bite.

Once the ordeal’s over, the vet declares him a ‘good boy’, and I beam like a proud parent.

On the way out, he looks at me as if to say, ‘And I thought I could trust you. Typical human.’

Finally arriving home, I open the carrier, and Forest shoots out. He sniffs the box, glares at me and flicks his tail in disgust — that means I’ve been snubbed. However, as soon as I stroke him (and open a packet of food), he’s back to his loving, purring self.

Well, almost… he gives me that look as if to say, ‘you’re forgiven this time, but NEVER trap me in that cat snare again!’

The only problem is I’m taking Forest for another check-up in six months. Even though I know it’s for his own good, I doubt he appreciates my efforts.

Do you have a favorite animal?

Vids: Let’s Dance + Do Better: S.D.Jones + Podcast: N.Socha Plays Blind

Photo of Shira Destinie Jones: Author, Educator,. Activist.
Shira Destinie Jones: Author/Educator/Activist
Want to listen to a podcast/audio version of Happiness Between Tails? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

This week I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel of writing my first novel (more about it H-E-R-E)! Yay!!!!

To celebrate, let’s get moving! Can you do this?

Sit in a chair, both your feet on the ground. Then lift your right foot a couple of inches off the floor and use it to make a clockwise circular motion. Meantime, with your right hand, write the numeral six.

Gotcha! It’s an unsolved mystery why that’s so hard to do.

Now for our dance party! As you might remember from my posts H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E, I grew up with flamenco (and classical music). For my father, the louder, the better. After all, that way those neighbors yelling and pounding our walls could enjoy it too, no?

José Planas Moreno, a priest in Málaga, Spain, tears up the church floor with his parishioners. The videographer’s site shows how the province celebrates everything with dance, be it blackberry roots, or plain ole’ regional dance. (A quickie swerve off-topic: what’s your opinion and experience regarding hyperlinks, meaning the sorts in this paragraph vs. the prior paragraph?) …

Carmen Amaya is known as the Queen of Flamenco for good reason! Head to toes, she’s music and dance incarnate…

With her extended family of Romany dancers and musicians, Carmen toured the world. Hollywood (including the Hollywood Bowl) fell in love with her. Here she casts her Fandango spell… 

Whew! Dunno about you, but I’m out of breath! It’s time to sit back and meet our guest blogger…

Ever wish you could make the world better a better place for anyone and everyone? Educator/community organizer Shira Destinie Jones blogs, at least for now, from San Diego and is doing just that. As part of her plan, she’s founded, Do Better, to stop child abuse and help those who care for kids.

Volunteers Needed: Shira needs feedback on the book she’s writing about how Do Better works, as well as the project itself. Find out more at h-e-r-e.

On her way to also becoming a historical fiction novelist, she’s already published an academic text, “Stayed on Freedom’s Call: Cooperation Between Jewish And African-American Communities In Washington, DC.”

Read on for a sample of her writing. When the following incident occurred, which she titles “Standing in the Gap,” she was completing PhD studies…

“Standing in The Gap” by Shira Destinie Jones

There it was again. I knew that sound.

“Oy, they’re having a fight down there!”

That was what Mona thought. I knew better. That was an old sound, from a lifetime ago. One I thought I’d finally escaped. I should have known better.

I looked out the window, counting five men holding smart phones up toward the screams. Then my feet moved of their own accord. It was only from hearing a muffled shout as the door slammed behind me that I knew I’d left the flat. The rain had just ended, and the pavement was still wet. My feet pulled me to the source of that sound. Not the shouting, not the screaming, but the one I remembered so deeply that it still hid under the table with my inner child. The sound of a head hitting a wall.

There it was again, but this time, I could see them. Both of them. The woman’s head sounded like a watermelon when she slammed against the wall, sliding down those slimy bricks to finish crumpled on the filthy paving stones. Her eyes were open wide, looking stunned and frightened, as a giant advanced on her from the ten or fifteen feet from where he’d launched her. My stomach churned as the pain of that impact coursed through my own body, as if I had been the one tossed like a sack of rice into that wall.

Looking at the giant, I wanted to flee, abandon this woman to her fate. But my feet had a will of their own, carrying me right into the one spot where I didn’t want to be: about 5 steps between each of them.

I realized that I’d carried an old umbrella with me out the door. At least those Kung Fu lessons had had one result: they kept me from rushing in where angels feared to tread entirely unarmed. Then again, my next thought was that this flimsy brolly was more like a liability against that big drunk guy. I took a second of comfort in hoping that as a foreign PhD student, at least the NHS would cover my hospital stay if I didn’t manage to duck fast enough.

“Move!”

I flinched as the sound wave from the giant’s lips struck me. It felt just like the impact of furniture breaking against the wall that night. When the giant stepped closer to me, my feet moved me back the same step, but my body refused to budge. That brolly, I now realized, was balanced in my left hand behind me, just like a short staff. My stomach had turned into a solid ball, no longer churning. As I saw him look at me, the giant’s eyes suddenly grew wider. If he hits me, it is going to hurt. But then why did he seem to be afraid of me?

“Move!”

“No.”

Who said that? Oh, wait, that was my voice. So why did the giant look confused?

“Thank you.”

I risked a glance backward. That sobbing voice had come from behind me, as the woman I was foolishly blocking wept, her tears mingling with the rain on the wall as she’d stared up at me.

Focusing on the giant as I’d learned to do in so many sparring classes, I drew a deep breath, preparing. But the giant stood frozen himself, staring at me with some odd drunken mixture of contempt and fear. Both were clearly written in his face, as well as the frustration of being denied another chance to strike the woman on the ground behind me. What was he waiting for?

“You prick.”

He was treating me like a man? He really must be drunk. Then I realized that I’d dropped into an automatic fighting stance. He wasn’t that drunk, then.

“Ok, but you should be ashamed of yourself.”

As those words tore themselves from my throat, I began to tremble so violently that I thought I’d begin crying like the woman at my back. The giant looked so confused that I could practically see the gears turning in his drink-addled mind. Then, a tall woman stepped between us, her back to me, placing a hand flat upon the center of the giant’s chest. I found myself letting out the breath I’d not known I was holding, and heard movement behind me.

I turned to see the two young bar girls helping the woman, finally, up off of the pavement, and taking her inside the pub. As I looked back at the giant, he had backed away, the tall woman’s arm guiding him to the curb.

I stood straight, now in tears myself from the relief, and from the shock. I was still four years old, still hiding under the table, while furniture still shattered, as my mother screamed in the other room. But this time, I had not stayed hidden under the table.

This time, I had come out to help.

Lost in these thoughts, I turned down the bar girl’s offer of a drink. As Mona came over, saying something I couldn’t hear, I wondered where she had been during all of this. Recalling her nights of coming home drunk, I realized that she had been standing there, 20 feet away, the entire time. Now I could see her in my mind’s eye, standing off to the side, just watching. As the five men and two bar girls had stood by and just watched.

All standing idly by while… And all but the young bar girls were bigger than me.

What’s a problem you think people need to know more about?

Vid: My Bull-Friend + Austin + Podcast: G. Constans’ Novels are Movies

Photo of da-AL and her new bull-friend on LBJ's ranch.
My new bull-friend and me horsing around.
Want to listen to a podcast/audio version of Happiness Between Tails? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

Hurrah!!!! Spain now recognizes pets as legal family! My hope is that the U.S. will be next…

Every budding novelist (see about my books H-E-R-E) needs a bull-friend for fun between writing days. Mine lives among the herd at LBJ Ranch. Lyndon Baines Johnson served as the United States’ 36th President from 1963 to 1969 (Wiki’s info on him h-e-r-e).

LBJ’s ranch is in Johnson City, Texas, which includes his “Texas White House.” The 300-year old “Cabinet Oak” shades the front, and the view is of the Perdernales (which means “flint” in Spanish) River.

da-AL stands in front of LBJ's Texas White House.
LBJ’s Texas White House.

 

da-AL stands before Perdernales River, which runs near LBJ's Texas White House.
The Perdernales River runs near LBJ’s Texas White House.

Last I visited the United Kingdom (I’ve written a number of posts on that, including H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E), a taxi driver who immigrated from Brazil waxed dreamily of wanting to visit Texas, “To see cowboys.” Definitely he was immune to America’s Anglophilia. (Just today I came across vlogger Michael’s English lessons where he offers t-h-i-s one about real life in England.)

I envied the taxi driver his romantic, cartoon-eye-ed view of the U.S. that blinded him to our political horrors like what’s happening abortion rights-wise in Texas and elsewhere (posts on that H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E).

Austin is truly stunning. Though this visit was about family, we did plenty of sight-seeing. Downtown, there’s a great statue of Barbara Jordan, an African-American woman of many political firsts in Texas and nationally. (Wiki tells about her h-e-r-e.) An Austin Airport terminal is even named for her!

Khashayar and da-AL stand before statue of Barbara Jordan in Austin, Texas.
Khashayar and I were cheered to see Barbara Jordan’s proud statue in downtown Austin.

 

Photo of sign for Barbara Jordan terminal at Austin Airport.
Jordan even has her own terminal at Austin Airport!

On our way home from a sunset hike up Enchanted Rock, we passed through Fredericksburg, where a stand of trees twinkled.

The views at sunset are gorgeous at Enchanted Rock.
The views at sunset are gorgeous at Enchanted Rock.

 

A festive stand of trees at Fredericksburg, Texas.
A festive stand of trees at Fredericksburg, Texas.

 

Trees filled with tiny lights in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Trees kissed by stars in Fredericksburg, Texas.

 

Khashayar and da-AL in front of trees filled with lights.
Khashayar and I happened on these by chance.

It had been way too long since I’ve seen my dear extended family, all the longer due to the Covid pandemic (read about how Khashayar and I got it just before the vaccines came out H-E-R-E).

Thank goodness our dear K-D doggie provided the loving buffer to the crash landing returning home can feel like. (By the way, our Austin friends offer t-h-e-s-e instructions on their audiology site regarding keeping our furry friends’ ears healthy.)

Close up of K-D-doggy's sweet face.
Hopefully our little K-D-doggy was as happy to see us as we were to see her.

Do you think pets should be regarded as legal family, like they now are in Spain?

Vid + Squat 4 Health/Politics + Podcast: J. Diamond Published 100+ Books

Photo of 3 men smiling and doing full squats.
Can you do this and smile? Image by edwindoms610 from Pixabay.
Want to listen to a podcast/audio version of Happiness Between Tails? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

Picture me sitting on my haunches atop a conference table, assigned to perform an entertaining Toastmasters speech titled, “Benefits and Politics of Squatting”…

The subject first piqued my interest years ago, when my mom moved in with us. To make things extra comfy for all (including for when I’ working on my novels H-E-R-E), we had some construction done on our snug home.

Each morning, a crew of men assembled under our backyard gazebo. Aged from early twenties to eighties, they all immigrated to here in the United States from Cambodia.

The way they waited for each other to show up amazed me! In totally relaxed full-squats, the gentlemen sipped coffees, munched pastries, chatted, and smoked. Once all arrived, they stood; none of them groaned or complained of creaky bones.

Lunch involved more of the same. They full-squatted as they passed around freshly steamed rice with fragrant grilled meat and veggies. Afterward, still squatting, they finished with smokes and maybe a bit of candy.

Fast forward to some time later, when I broke my knee twice in the same year. Torn cartilage, fractured bone, stretched tendon, blah, blah, blah. Ouch!!!! and Ohno!!! don’t begin to cover it.

Screenshot from video of da-AL's speech on the benefits of doing full squats.
Squatting for my speech.

Enter, Francisco Rufino, a gifted yoga instructor who pointed out that squatting keeps people in India free of knee, back, and digestive problems.

Thanks to his suggestion that I squat for thirty seconds, five times a day, as I watched TV, my knee is so restored that I never needed the surgery that two doctors beforehand prescribed! Yesterday I went for a long jog and experienced no problems whatsoever!

Full squats align muscles and organs from toes to neck. The aid in…

  • Getting rid of hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and hernias.
  • Preventing heart attacks caused by straining on European-style toilets.
  • Alleviating incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
  • Making pregnancy easier.
  • Guarding reproductive organs, including protecting against prostate cancer.

So why don’t we do it more? When I gave the speech, at least one audience member expressed disgust. My h-a-unch is that we believe we’re too good for it — and that includes politically. This Korean woman, married to an Anglo man, explains his chagrin when she and her family squat while socializing.

Would people you know feel embarrassed if you squatted while you relaxed?

Gender Vid + Beaman’s Memoir Tips + Podcast: Girl Scouts Trans Allies

Writer/blogger/memoirist Marian Beaman.
Writer/blogger/memoirist Marian Beaman.
Want to listen to a podcast/audio version of Happiness Between Tails? Click the Spotify podcast link above. And please give it a follow.

Check out T-H-I-S end-of-the-year round up video that Spotify just sent me about my podcast.

I go by she/her. What pronouns do you go by? It’s as simple as that. Any writer (I’m working on a couple of novels) and reader knows words are important…

Don’t let fear of unintentionally offending others keep you from interacting. Whether that person goes by they/them, he/him, ne/nem, or prefers not to be referred to by gender at all, it’s always appropriate to ask.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library, this video simplifies pronouns:

Ever worry that your voice doesn’t need to be heard or that it’s too late to start your dream? Writing takes imagination — and courage! It helps to meet writers who have been our shoes yet still pushed ahead to success, such as Marian Beaman. (Also, H-E-R-E’s the site where, for free, I separated her face from the background) …

Author blogger Marian Beaman’s childhood was as a Pennsylvania Mennoite, who are also known as “plain people.” She went on to a career as a college professor, and now writes books from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit her blog for more about her, her other social media, and links to her books. Here she invites us to glimpse her writing process and offers seven tips for memoire writing.

Writer Marian Beaman stands in front of a bookshop window featuring her book, "Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl."
Writer Marian Beaman stands in front of a bookshop window featuring her book, “Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl.”

How Writing Memoir is like Riding a Train by Marian Beaman

Trains take me back to grade school, evoking the fondest of memories, like this one.

My friend Wayne and I paused in our play in the woods during summer vacation. We waited for the dusty, black engine to emerge from the heat haze around the feed mill on the edge of our village. The slight curve of the train’s coal cars behind it cut a path beyond the trees. We sprinted to get a closer look and then stopped in our tracks, observing the slow, rhythmic bursts of the steam engine pulling toward us from the east. To us, the Pennsylvania Railroad train was more than a space on the Monopoly board.

Other snapshots of train travel spring from my memory, all in the present tense:

  • My Aunt Ruthie Longenecker takes my sisters and me to Philadelphia, my first recollection of a train trip. I feel the rocking motion of the Pennsylvania Railroad train car we occupy, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, and the prize of the big city zoo at the end of the trip: lions and tigers and elephants, oh my!
  • When I pick plump, red raspberries with Grandma Longenecker, I hear the train’s clatter-clack over segments of track speeding from Lancaster to Harrisburg. With our round aluminum kettles laden with berries and handles that cut into the palms of our hands, we stand just 50 yards from the track, gazing in awe and feeling the vibration of the passing train through our shoes.
  • I travel with Aunt Ruthie to Temple University, taking the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia. We feel the rocking rhythm of the train when it slows and stops as the conductor calls out “Coatesville, Downingtown, Paoli” before we reach our destination at the 30th street station in Philly. 

The train trip from Lancaster to Philadelphia was not an express train. It made 5-6 stops on the 80-mile route from the countryside of Pennsylvania to the big city. By fits and starts, we made the journey in time for our 9:00 a.m. classes at Temple University. Same on the return trip. Slowing down and starting up again got us to and from our destination. All in good time.

It strikes me that writing novels, memoirs or other non-fiction is much like train travel. Lots of pausing, stopping, but sometimes even joyfully going full throttle through the countryside. The most important part of the plan: Staying on track. 

Here’s how I followed my unique route, writing my memoir, “Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl”:

Memoir Lesson 1

Be prepared to spend at least a year, or even five years to complete your book. Simply put: It takes as long as it takes. Writing is certainly rewarding, but learning a new skill (as I did) can be hard. I had done plenty of writing as an academic, but switching to a new genre like memoir required a totally different skillset. I took two family history writing classes to prepare. You? Start somewhere. Doodle or write poetry. Write prose in a journal. Begin a blog. 

Memoir Lesson 2

A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography. Ask yourself some serious questions: What part of your life will you depict–-scenes from your childhood, a traumatic experience, a thrilling adventure like sailing around the world? Can you sketch out this “slice of life” in a series of memorable moments? Write an outline? Scribble random thoughts on colored sticky notes? Draw turning points on a timeline? 

Memoir Lesson 3

What is your theme? If it’s success after a failed first marriage, that controlling idea will be the filter through which you tell your story. Flashbacks can add dimension to writing, but only if these stories connect to your theme. I enjoy cooking, but  I don’t open up the spice cabinet or pull down everything from my dry ingredients’ shelves and dump them into the bowl. I have to be selective. Just so, you can’t tell every story that happened in your life. Select scenes to fit your theme.

Memoir Lesson 4

Memoir writing, like fiction, requires a series of steps. Here are a few: writing multiple drafts, revising, revising (Did I say revising?), and deciding whether you want to pursue traditional publishing or independent publishing. If you self-publish, as I did, I had to find beta readers for early drafts (often author friends with whom I reciprocated the favor), searched for a developmental editor, copyeditor and proofreader. A helpful tip: I looked on the acknowledgements page of authors whose books I admired and found one wonderful editor there.  

Memoir Lesson 5

Super important: Read what you’ve written aloud occasionally. Train trips engage the senses. Invite your readers to be your seat mate on the ride. Help them escape into your world. Slow down the narrative as you let them see the view from the window. Help them feel the rocking motion as the train speeds along. Let them hear the sound of wheels on the rails. Listen to strangers carry on conversations around you: making unobtrusive notes may help you write realistic dialogue later on.

Memoir Lesson 6

Plan for publication. I began blogging six years before my book hit the shelves. It’s never too early to establish yourself as a writer. From the beginning, my blog posts appeared on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram has been also a great place to share fun stuff. Personal relationships too are very important and so rewarding.  I found rekindled friendships and connections to author friends invaluable as I organized my book launch and marketing.

Memoir Lesson 7

Take breaks. The train to Philadelphia made frequent tops. At some of the stops, I got up from my seat, went to the restroom, or walked up and down the aisle. Sometimes en route, I stopped reading my textbook and just gazed out of the train window. I enjoy reading, so sometimes my break was reading an entertaining book. Like the cadence of clack-clack on train tracks, the rhythm of someone else’s words refreshed my mind.

And finally, “Celebrate!”

Be sure to party along the way, not just when you hold that newly minted book in your hands, but other times too: Finishing your first draft, receiving a compliment from an early reader, picking a title, approving your cover design. Enjoy the entire ride!

Do you fear it’s too late to pursue your dreams?