Astrology in Novels: Nina Romano’s Inspo


In high school, a classmate who was as passionate about reading as I was sat near me. Best friendship was in our stars!

The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64844306 The carvings with Chinese Zodiac on the ceiling of the gate to Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka (mirror image, to have animals in the correct order). Photo By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Her preferred reading was historical fiction, the ancient sort with mythology and astrology mixed in. Thanks to her, I read a bunch by Mary Renault, an English author who lived much of her life in South Africa. Those books depicted lots of buff gay guys from olden days. Ironically, a) in South Africa Renault could live more peacefully than in the U.K. with her life partner who was also a woman, b) she often portrayed women harshly, and c) she criticized the gay rights movement.

My friend also introduced me to “Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.” (Here’s a rare video interview with Goodman.) For me, Goodman was worthy of extra esteem as she was Aries, the same as me. When it came to Aries, all compliments were correct and unflattering attributes were incorrect. Until, that is, at some point in my so-called maturity when I tossed astrology into the same bundle as my Catholic upbringing. Both harbored too many confounding and disturbing aspects, so best not to fret about either.

Not so much later, though, a new friend entered who was into astrology. Charts, she explained, are how astrology becomes scientific. She introduced me to Angela Louise Gallo, a master at charting the stars. Gallo read and taught from her home in Van Nuys, which is just above Hollywood, hence she garnered a sizable entertainment biz crowd of followers.

Gallo’s monthly talks culminated with “hororary” readings, as in “hour-related” since those forecasts tied her psychic powers to the time of night when she would take questions. From slips of paper handed to her, she’d give quickie predictions. I’d parted ways with my parents as soon as I graduated high school with no plan other than survival. By the time I met Gallo those few years later, I’d collected myself enough to realize that I needed to do better. I asked Gallo whether I should sign up for college. She answered, “Wait a couple of semesters. Soon you’ll be taking a long trip.”

That month my grandmother sent me an airplane-paid invitation to visit her in Argentina! During childhood, my grandmothers and I exchanged many letters. They were fantastic in all the ways that mattered to me: they didn’t sugar-coat life, they wanted the best for me, and they helped foster the writer in me who will eventually publish Flamenco & the Sitting Cat and Tango & the Sitting Cat. I loved them dearly, sight unseen. The one in Spain I first met when I was nine. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I got to hug my Abuela in Buenos Aires.

After that trip, I hired Gallo to do a detailed chart, yet I can’t remember anything about it, including what happened to it. These days, I’d rather not presuppose anyone based on their birthday, and I prefer to bumble along as best I can when it comes to my future.

Yet I still adore stories about astrology!

In this admittedly roundabout way, I present to you, dear reader, today’s poet/novelist guest, Nina Romano, who writes from Florida and Utah. Originally from New York, she’s a world traveler who’s earned degrees and writing awards galore, plus she’s published a slew of books.

Here she generously recounts the way that Chinese astrology figured into her The Secret Language of Women, the first of her Wayfarer Trilogy. Read to the end for an excerpt from it in addition to links for Nina and her writings.

Writer Nina Romano. Writer Nina Romano.

How Chinese Horoscopes Helped Me Develop a Realistic Protagonist by Nina Romano

For The Secret Language of Women, the first book of my Wayfarer Trilogy, I decided my main character Lian’s horoscope would be the Year of the Dog. Knowing her horoscope facilitated my understanding of the protagonist’s psyche for this novel. Since the book is set in China, I used Lian’s Chinese Zodiac sign to learn about her qualities and personality traits intimately so that she appeared genuine yet flawed. She is a warm and caring being, a healer, courageous and intelligent. When a person born under this sign falls in love, they do not ever change.

Loyalty and honesty are two of this horoscope sign’s characteristics. Lian falls in love with Giacomo, an Italian sailor, and remains faithful to that love, despite the fact that she is forced into a loveless marriage. Her quest is a difficult one, but she chooses to follow her path despite menaces, oppositions, troubles, risks, and dangers. She is fierce in her love and faithful to everything she believes concerning it.

Having visited China several times afforded me unique experiences that enabled me to see in person Hong Kong, Beijing, and its fabulous Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and Lian’s enchanting city of Guilin. I was able to envision Lian’s travels and travails in war-torn China, an era suffused in superstition, intrigue, culture, and history. I incorporated the themes and things I care about, such as love, family, food and recipes, art, dragons and horses. Why? Simply because it’s straightforward to write what I know and have feelings for, and all of these ideas translated well even to a novel set in China during the Boxer Rebellion. My own horoscope is the Year of the Horse, so I made sure I had an important role for a horse in this novel, and I’m positive that my horoscope had an incredible influence on my stars being aligned because I signed a contract for a three-book deal for my Wayfarer Trilogy with Turner Publishing during the Year of the Horse.

While writing this novel, I pictured what happens during the Chinese New Year: careful cleaning of the house, the distributing of red envelopes, Lian cooking on a wok, and serving rice to her beloved.

Since this story takes place in China where live fish, most especially carp, are good Fengshui, which according to Wikipedia, is a “philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment.” For this reason, I describe a pool with carp in the Summer Palace in Chapter 1, where Lian meets the love of her life. Do I believe in the influence of horoscopes and how they can help round out a character? Of that, there is little doubt.

Cover of

Excerpt from The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano

The things that test you and are vanquished bring everlasting joy. The differences between traditional written Chinese and Nüshu, the secret language of women, made it difficult for me to learn it. My mother and grandmother could not write Chinese and learned Nüshu when they were young and wanted me to grasp it too. I cannot say they harped on me or were tyrannical, but I will say they were insistent, and for this I am eternally indebted.

My mother said it challenged me because I wrote like a man and didn’t have to rely solely on Nüshu, the way they did to communicate with other women. The ideograms of Chinese correspond to a word or part of one, whereas each of the seven hundred characters of Nüshu represent a syllable— women’s language is phonetic, in Chéngguān dialect 城关土话, adaptable and pliant for singing, poetry and writing with such delicate strokes they appear as lines of feathers.

Though learning was problematical, I mastered it, like I do all things I set my mind to

conquer. At the time, I resented the study of it, yet I knew innately one day I would be grateful to possess the knowledge and skill of this secret language, which would offer me strength and solace for a lifetime. And although I was writing in Nüshu, for some reason, I signed with flourish in Chinese: Wǒ Lián. I am Lian. 

Amazon Author — hardcover, softcover print, and Kindle: The Secret Language of Women & Lemon Blossoms & In America — softcover print and Kindle: The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

Goodreads & Twitter & @ninsthewriter & Facebook & BookBub

Has astrology helped you with storytelling and anything else?

 

5 Writing Inspos by Rachel Tindall w Video: 2 Hot 4 Lizzy


Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill. Liz the lizard sunning herself on my windowsill.

Today is too darned hot to write–neither a full-blown blog post nor the novels I’m writing. Instead, I’ve made you this refreshing video. If you want another, there’s this one too.

When it’s this muggy, I can barely sleep. I got out of bed early to find a new friend on my window sill, enjoying the heat. Watch to the end and let me know if you think it was too warm, even for my extra skinny pal Liz…

For you scribes with air-conditioners, Indiana writer Rachel Tindall offers inspiring tips. She and her blog, Capturing Your Confidence, are devoted to bringing out the best in writers…

Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua). Rachel looks cool with her black cocker spaniel, Maxwell (aka Max), and Charlie, a white Toxirn (a cross between a terrier and a chihuahua).

5 Critical Self-Talk Strategies for Writers by Rachel Tindall of Capturing Your Confidence blog

I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you want to be a writer. Or you are a writer, but maybe you’re stuck. Or you think of yourself as a writer but haven’t yet gotten up the courage to announce it to the world.

Wherever you are, it’s okay! Life is an adventure, and your experience as a writer is an ever-evolving journey.

But how do you take that next step? You know the one: where you tell the world you’re a writer and share your words.

The first step is to have a conversation with yourself about being a writer. That’s right, I want you to actually talk to yourself about being a writer.

Before you resist (I know it sounds kind of crazy), let’s talk about it.

What is Self-Talk? 

Have you heard the term self-talk before? When I started writing again as an adult (after a years-long hiatus), I started hearing all this stuff about self-talk, and I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

Essentially, self-talk is the little voice in our head that’s always giving us advice and considering what’s going on in everyday life. Part of self-talk is the inner critic, which is a whole other conversation, but the majority of self-talk is just our regular thoughts.

It includes things we know we’re thinking, like how good that BBQ restaurant smells when we drive past, and also unconscious things like the belief that if you get food from the BBQ restaurant, you will gain weight.

Self-talk can be good and bad. Overall, it mostly serves to help us figure out what’s going on around us and what we believe about those events.

Self-Talk & Self-Exploration

Self-talk creates an inner dialogue. I don’t know about you, but my self-talk can get kind of noisy – my brain is quite a talker! And I’ll tell you, not all of what she’s saying is important or useful.

One of the best things about self-talk, though, is that it allows us to explore what’s really going on inside our brain. If we take time to listen to our self-talk, it can be incredibly enlightening. We often get so bogged down by external distractions that we either ignore it or pass over it without really listening.

What happens when we listen?

We can do some GREAT self-exploration. We can find out so much about ourselves by simply listening! If/when we don’t listen, we run the risk of thinking we know ourselves (I mean, we’re in our body all the time, how could we not, right?) but really knowing an out-of-date version of ourselves. Doing self-exploration and listening to the dialogue in our mind is kind of like when you empty the Recycle Bin on your computer – it makes everything run more efficiently.

Occasionally we need to spend time cleaning out that old junk and negative self-talk to make way for the future and our great new ideas. We need to explore and listen to make sure we are pursuing what we actually want instead of what we wanted a few years ago, or when we were a kid. While we might have similar dreams, it’s worth double-checking with some good self-exploration.

Why is Knowing Yourself Important to Successful Writing? 

So what does self-exploration have to do with writing?

Well, besides clearing out the junk (if you’re like me, it might kind of be in precarious stacks just waiting to fall over and make a mess all over my current projects), you can also learn a TON from exploring the inner workings of your mind.

You’ll find out information like:

  • Interests – What do you actually like to do? What do you want to do? What piques your curiosity?
  • Passions – What’s most meaningful to you? What sets your soul on fire? What makes you excited to get up in the morning?
  • Habits – What do you do on a regular basis? What regular habits are helpful? What needs to change?
  • Desires – What do you want from your interests and passions? Do you have a new habit you want to try (or one that you want to get rid of)? What would make you excited to work on?
  • Goals – What do you want to achieve from your desires? Where do you want to be as a writer, or even just as a person a year from now? 5 years from now? How will you get there?

There will always be more you can learn from yourself, but you have to be willing to do the work and listen first.

Talk To Yourself in These 5 Ways

I’m hoping that talking to yourself is sounding a little less crazy. Just in case you like to skim to the “good” stuff in articles (me too!), I don’t mean to have a normal “How was your day?” out loud conversation with yourself. I mean the deep, self-exploring, figuring out you conversations.

Here are 5 critical ways to yourself that will help you become (or continue to become) the writer you want to be:

1: Self-Assessment 

First and foremost, take some time and do a self-assessment. Ask yourself the questions above (about your interests, passions, habits, desires, and goals) and thoughtfully take an inventory of what you find. It will be helpful to write this down as you think it through.

You might surprise yourself and realize that your passions and interests have changed over the years. Or that your goals have shifted as you’ve gotten older. Whatever you find, be kind to yourself! Assessing yourself isn’t about judging, it’s about figuring out what you’re all about. It’s hard to make changes or form new habits when you aren’t up to date with what you actually want, you know?

2: Speak About Yourself as a Writer 

When you’ve done your self-assessment and confirmed that you do want to be a writer, the next step is to speak about yourself as a writer. This can be hard when you first start because you might feel doubts like you’re not qualified, or you don’t really know if you’re a writer. Imposter syndrome is a real problem, even for those of us who have been writers for a long time.

This, too, is okay – and common! I was scared when I first started acknowledging myself as a writer, too. Take it slow. Tell yourself first. Write it down, say it to yourself in the mirror, whatever it takes for you to begin to believe. Practice until you feel the truth of it down to your core.

3: Name Yourself as a Writer 

When you’re confident in yourself, it’s time to take a little leap and start telling others. At first, this might just be your parents or your significant other. It might be your best friend. Someone who won’t judge you. Weave it into conversation and keep saying it in the presence of others.

Eventually, you’ll get the courage to share it with others outside of your immediate friends and family. For some of us, this takes a long time, and for others, it’s a quick progression. You might even want to put it on social media or your own website! As a writer, you will see your name out there with your words, so it’s important to get used to naming yourself as a writer.

4: Write Yourself a Reminder 

Not every day is a good one, and some days will be hard to think of yourself as a writer. There will be days where you don’t want to read words, let alone write them. Days where you feel like you’ll never finish your project or get published or be able to write full time (if that’s what you want).

It’s because of these days that it’s critical to write yourself a reminder you know you will see. I have a rainy day note, which is a letter I wrote to myself to remember why what I’m doing is incredibly exciting and worth it. Your reminder doesn’t have to be fancy, though. Even “I am a writer” will do. Whatever you choose to write should remind you that you are a creator, and a bad day doesn’t invalidate your creativity or your writing. Put this reminder where you will see it multiple times and take a breath. As my mom always says, this too shall pass.

5: Actually Write 

The thing about being a writer is that you do actually need to write. This probably sounds simple or cheesy, but you won’t feel like a writer if you don’t do the work of writing. This is because writing is what we writers do. It’s our bread and butter. You can’t be a writer without the hard work of writing.

This doesn’t mean you have to have a new magnum opus project you’re working on at all times, but you do have to write something. What works for me is writing in a journal every morning. I do 3 pages and let my mind go wherever it wants, be it complaints, plans, or excitement, and then go about my normal day. Sometimes even just this 15-20 minutes is enough to kick off my creativity throughout the day.

Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com Photo of Rachel Tindall. She blogs at CapturingYourConfidence.com

What do you think? Can you try these strategies?

You don’t have to answer, but I wanted to congratulate you on wanting to be a writer! It’s hard work, but it is by far the thing I find most satisfying and exciting to do. I would encourage you one last time to talk to yourself. Do some self-exploration to find out what’s really going on in your brain. What you really want – what makes you excited.

Do your self-assessment talk – which doesn’t have to be painful! – and answer the questions on a piece of paper and review them once in a while. Once you’ve figured out what you’re all about, you’ll want to start speaking about yourself as a writer. Start small and make sure you feel comfortable with yourself (at least a little) before you name yourself as a writer to other people. Jot down a quick reminder for the bad days, and then get to writing.

That’s really it!

Writing is a skill, and as long as you are willing to learn and put in the effort, you can be a writer.

Tell us—how are you staying cool?

What’s a writer? Plus Kathryn Bashaar’s Thoughts on “Grace”


We novelists are an eclectic bunch, but you already know that. The best ones are avid readers, and they know that rewriting is when writing magic is truly unloosed.

Many authors I’ve encountered have great respect for their kind. Also, writers can be pretty darned modest when it comes to discussing their own work. Goodness knows that I’m not the greatest about discussing my books in progress, Flamenco & the Sitting Cat, and Tango & the Sitting Cat. Some scribes I know will go so far as to refuse to call themselves writers, yet everyone around them knows that they definitely are.

Kathryn Bashaar, a historical fiction author who operates her blog from Pittsburgh, knows she’s a writer. In addition, she’s a retired bank vice-president, a dancer, a traveler, and a grandmother. Her first novel is The Saint’s Mistress and her upcoming novel is tentatively titled Righteous.

Here are her thoughts on a book she really likes. What did I tell you about writers liking writers?…

Historical fiction author Kathryn Bashaar.
Historical fiction author Kathryn Bashaar. Photo by Techniques Photography, Bethel Park, PA.

Kathryn Bashaar’s thoughts on Grace by Paul Lynch

I’m in love with historical fiction. I am a writer of historical fiction and an avid reader of the genre. The lessons of the past speak most clearly to me in the form of fiction. I’d like to recommend to da-AL’s readers the wonderful book Grace by Paul Lynch. It’s about the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s, but, more deeply, it’s the story of everybody’s life.Cover of Grace, by Paul Lynch.

14-year-old Grace is wakened by her mother in the wee hours one morning. Mam cuts off Grace’s hair, dresses her in boy’s clothes, and sends her out on the road to fend for herself. Mam can no longer manage to feed all of her children, and she doesn’t like the way Grace’s step-father has started looking at her.

The horrors that Grace endures, and her stubborn spirit, make for a story that is hard to put down. Just as the fields have been corrupted by the potato rot, Grace is corrupted by her experiences. The Irish people as a community are also corrupted, as the veneer of civilized behavior is worn away by privation and an every-man-for-himself ethos prevails.

Grace’s salvation comes at the hands of a very flawed group of human beings. Giving a clever double meaning to the book’s title, Grace is the beneficiary of grace, in an unexpected way.

It occurred to me, as I neared the end of the book, that Grace’s basic story is everybody’s life story.

Everyone is ruined in some way. This life is a beautiful miracle, but it can also be brutal–in big, tragic ways or in slow, small ways that accumulate like a weight on your back. Some of us had addicted parents or other traumatic childhood experiences. Your heart is broken by someone you loved. A career setback proves to be unrecoverable. Someone you love dies far too young. You are disabled or stricken with a chronic illness, raped or mugged, or your house burns down. And then there are the everyday injuries of having to make a living: tedious work for 40 years, unreasonable bosses, back-stabbing co-workers, long, miserable commutes, the sheer weariness of getting up at 6 a.m. day after day after day. “Life has a way of breaking everyone,” Hemingway said. We are all broken. Most of us are more tired than we like to admit.

And, like Grace, we are saved by other imperfect human beings. I’m a Christian, so I believe that our salvation is in Jesus–ultimately. But, day by living, breathing day, our salvation is in each other. You are ill or disabled, but your spouse sticks around and takes care of you. Your work is tedious, but your co-workers make you laugh. You are hungry and think you are alone, and a local church group delivers food to your door. A friend betrays you, and the next day a neighbor you barely know shovels your walk, and you invite him in for coffee. That is what happens to my main character, Leona, in my novel The Saint’s Mistress. Leona suffers an unbearable loss and is only healed when an old friend re-enters her life and gives her a glimpse of grace and a reason to go on. In a hard world, we are granted the grace of each other.

Every single person you meet is broken in some way. This week, be the grace in someone’s life.

Do you feel comfortable calling yourself a writer? Do you write?

16 Reasons Pigeons Need Celebrating n Kathleen Rooney’s New Novel!


Doves get loads of love.

Pigeons get nada. Make that less than nothing.

Why?

As an animal lover since birth, the kind who was severely bitten by a dog when I was six yet who still never feared them, pigeon haters have always mystified me.

Hmmm…

Doves: white

Pigeons: colored

Hmmm…

Doves: a little trimmer

Pigeons: a little stouter

Hmmm…

DO NOT TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LINK that elaborates on what I’m getting at if you’re offended by ribald humor with liberal use of the f-word. FOR EVERYONE, THERE’S THIS LINK.

What do a penguin and a pigeon have in common? Sure, they’re both birds, and one might consider what I mentioned about doves vs. pigeons. In their case, however, that’s not what I’m getting to.

Marvelously, Penguin Books is publishing Kathleen Rooney’s most recent novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, about a heroic pigeon!

Kathleen’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, sent me into such complete nirvana that I invited her to guest post on Happiness Between Tails—and she did!!—in this prior post.

Today she’s back to tell us about the inspiration behind Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and 16 reasons pigeons need to be celebrated.

This is a link to buy Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey from your own favorite local bookstore.

Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.
Kathleen Rooney and a friend unbox her latest novel, Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

On the Under-Appreciated Marvelousness of Pigeons by Kathleen Rooney

My novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey—a World War I story narrated in the first-person alternately by a homing pigeon and an American military officer, both of them real-life heroes—has just been released by Penguin. The fact that the publisher for this book is named after a bird delights me because penguins and pigeons seem like an auspicious pairing.

Of course, the story of World War I has been told often but never from the perspective of the courageous messenger pigeon who saved the Lost Battalion and helped to determine the war’s outcome. Cher Ami was so famous in her day that when she died as an indirect result of the injuries she sustained in the conflict, they had her taxidermied and put on display in the Smithsonian. You can still visit her there today in their Price of Freedom exhibit, where she sits in her glass case among other important communication equipment. My hope is that if you love pigeons and decide to give this book a read, then you’re in for a treat, and if you don’t, then you’re about to change your mind.

Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.
Cher Ami, WWI heroine, at the Smithsonian.

Penguin understands that not everyone shares my admiration for pigeons, so as part of their marketing campaign, they asked me to come up with a set of pigeon facts designed to endear the birds to other people as much as pigeons have endeared themselves to me. Thinking fondly of the pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon (as my spouse and I named them) who moved in under the eaves while I was writing my book, I set to work compiling those facts.

Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon couple, Coo d’Etat and Walter Pigeon.

Coo and Walter and their babies Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald have long since moved on with their lives, but the pigeon facts remain, and I hope they’ll inspire you to look more closely at these remarkable birds and also to give my novel a read.

Coo and Walter's babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
Coo and Walter’s babies, Feather Locklear and Molly Wingwald.
  1. The word “pigeon” is a French translation of the English word “dove.” There’s no scientific difference between the two; they’re the same.
  2. The common city pigeon (Columba livia) is a descendant of the rock dove and is one of the first birds ever domesticated by humans, probably dating back to about 4,500 BCE in Mesopotamia.
  3. Humans and pigeons have lived closely together for millennia, thanks in part to the birds’ phenomenal homing skills, which allow them to return to their nests from up to 1,300 miles away.
  4. In addition to being good navigators, pigeons are extremely strong with high endurance and have been known to fly as far as 1,500 miles on a single trip. They can fly as high as 6,000 feet and average a speed of almost 77 miles per hour, with top speeds of almost 93 miles per hour having been attained by some birds.
  5. Because of pigeons’ homing talent, humans have called upon pigeons to carry the news throughout history, ranging from messages on flood levels up and down the Nile in ancient Egypt, to the results of the Olympic Games in Greece in the 8th century. As early as 500 BCE, the emperor of China used pigeons to receive messages in Beijing from outer provinces because a bird could travel in as many hours as it took a horse and rider days. Hannibal used pigeons during his siege of Rome, and Julius Caesar sent them to relay messages from his military campaigns in Gaul. Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai Khan created a pigeon post that spanned a sixth of the world. Besieged Parisians relied on pigeon post in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and, of course, pigeons served as messengers in both WWI and WWII.During World War I, over 100,000 pigeons were used on the battlefield.
  6. Pigeons are included in the Animals in War Memorial in Hyde Park London in honor—as the dedication says—of “all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.” It was unveiled in 2004 on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I.
  7. People didn’t start calling pigeons “rats with wings” until this false idea was popularized in the 1980 movie Stardust Memories; pigeons are actually quite clean and not at all disease-ridden.
  8. Pigeons do not migrate, but rather adapt to one environment and remain there year-round—a lot like humans.
  9. Pigeons are one of a relatively small number of species who pass the mirror test for self-recognition.
  10. Pigeons can distinguish different humans in photographs.
  11. According to a 2016 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pigeons can be trained to recognize dozens of words, with the most accomplished pigeon being able to learn as many as 60.
  12. According to a 1994 study published in The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, pigeons can successfully learn to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.
  13. When pigeons mate, they mate for life.
  14. Male and female pigeons share equal responsibility in raising their chicks. Both take turns sitting on the eggs and both feed the babies pigeon milk—a secretion that both male and female birds produce in their crops.
  15. Pigeons are still kept as pets, bred, and raced around the world; in 2019, a Belgian racing pigeon named Armando sold for $1.4 million. The auction house said that Armando’s athleticism made him, in soccer terms, the Lionel Messi of the avian world.
  16. The brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla fell in love with a white pigeon who visited him at the window of his room in the Hotel St. Regis in New York City: “I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman and she loved me. As long as I had her, there was purpose to my life,” he wrote.

About Kathleen Rooney: she’s a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poems on demand. Her most recent books include the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and The Listening Room: A Novel of Georgette and Loulou Magritte. Her reviews and criticism appear in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Chicago magazine, and her World War I novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey is available now from Penguin.

Do you like pigeons? (It’s ok if you didn’t before this post.)

Books forever! Guest Blog Post: Book Art w Video by Cecilia Levy


What do books mean to you? For me, the very sight of pages bound together conjures adventure, romance, joy. A book suggests an imagined memory of what a heaven-on-earth it would be to occupy the hugest reading room ever! In such a place,  librarians are sure to work at a great library that houses fiction (like my soon-to-be-published “Flamenco and the Sitting Cat” novel) and non-fiction, both revered as sculptures as well as media for knowledge. The magic of books is such that, once published, every book should continue to live endlessly.

Artist Cecilia Levy resides in the small Swedish village of Sigtuna, between Stockholm and the university town of Uppsala. Her art ensures that printed pages are neither discarded nor forgotten. In her hands, they are reincarnated, given three-dimensional lives as exciting as their first ones!…

Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.
Cecilia Levy, artist, working in her studio, Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, 2019. Photographer: Stewen Quigley.

“Paper Art” by Cecilia Levy

Cecilia Levy creates sculptural objects in paper, using old book pages, wheat starch paste, and papier maché technique.

Her work is exhibited internationally and is included in private and permanent collections, including the Swedish National Museum.

In 2017, her public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance to Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS, twenty plinths displaying over twenty-five of her unique paper sculptures.

Her home in Sigtuna, her studio at Ateljéföreningen Hospitalet in Uppsala, she’s a member of Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm, where her pieces are sold.

"Companion," teacup and strainer, 2018.
“Companion,” teacup and strainer, 2018.

I have a background in graphic design and bookbinding, and paper has always been my medium. I make sculptural objects in paper, using book pages. I only use old books, up until the 1960s. They have the paper quality, layout, and typography that I appreciate.

"Longing," mocha set, 2020.
“Longing,” mocha set, 2020.

Old book paper is a fragile and delicate material. It carries several narratives at the same time, both in content and regarding the passage of time. My works reflect this, the fragility of life. The pieces reflect my personal stories and memories. This is a mocha set called “Longing.” It’s a replica of a set given as an engagement gift from my grandfather to my grandmother.

"Chapter One," thistle, 2015.
“Chapter One,” thistle, 2015.

Visible traces from the passage of time, marks from previous owners and readers, paper quality, color and typography, holes in the binding, wrinkles and dog ears, olden expressions and spelling, and the (sometimes) odd content. All of these are all characteristics I value and are what determine my choice of working material. Every single piece of paper is chosen with care.

"Hobo – Homeward Bound," boots, 2012.
“Hobo – Homeward Bound,” boots, 2012.

My different pieces represent different sides of me. I often use everyday objects, those found at home, or in thrift shops. These Hobo Boots are special to me. They are appealing to the eye. They were fun and pleasing to make, yet they also have a serious underlying message about homelessness and poverty.

"Coltsfoot and Artichoke," medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.
“Coltsfoot and Artichoke,” medicinal plants for a public commission, 2017. Photographer: Alvaro Campo.

My 2017 public art commission, “In Fusion – Contemplation Pieces,” was installed in the main entrance of Stockholm’s New Karolinska University Hospital, NKS. In all, twenty plinths held over twenty-five unique paper sculptures. I was inspired by folk medicine, especially plants and herbs that can be used for infusions, in other words, herbal teas.

The title of the commission is a play on words that indicates a fusion between art and folk medicine. “Contemplation” is used, in a sense, to look at/be aware of/be exposed to. It’s an essential term within philosophy and theology. People coming to a hospital are often anxious and worried. My hope is for visitors to halt for a while, and to let their minds wander.

Here’s a video of Cecilia at work.

Reach her at +46 706 54 39 65 – or at her site here – or at her Instagram here – or at her Facebook here – or here.

What do books mean to you?…

Guest Blog Post: Backyard horse heart lessons for writer Mary Lynne Carpenter


Photo by Tatiana from Pexels.

Horses are wonderful!!! Not that I really know much about them, aside from how beautiful they are, the little I’ve learned from TV — and thanks to fellow bloggers. (Certified self-avowed Horse Addict Anne Leueen is one such blogger.) As far as I’m concerned, Mary Lynne Carpenter (creator of The Backyard Horse Blog: Living The Dream and The Reality of Keeping Horses at Home) has won the lottery — she has backyard horses! The very idea sets my mind reeling at how fun that must be. Surely my doggie would love having a companion and accompanying her people outdoors far more than she gets to these days. Not that I’d be picky, but if I had one, perhaps it would be nice if it were not too big… and if it was black… with a little white!… to go with my existing four-legged sweet family.

Whoa Bessie — again, sure I know nothing about horse husbandry. And yes, I’ve left out that we live in the big city in a) a small house with b) a backyard the size of  — what? — more insignificant than an Olympic-sized swimming pool? No worries — I’m living my vicarious whimsy through Mary Lynne. Home for her is somewhere in the United States, among equestrian pals. She writes about their dreamy as well as sometimes challenging times together for various horse publications and sites, plus her own new blog. Here she shares a sliver of the bitter-sweet heaven-on-earth backyard part of backyard horse ownership…

Mary Lynne with her horse, Pumpkin Spice. Photo by her friend, Nancy.

The Circle of Life By Mary Lynne Carpenter

I first saw the nest out of the corner of my eye. It fell to the ground as I rode my lawnmower past a tree branch. The nest’s appearance stopped me cold on that warm Spring day. The nest’s maker selected chestnut-colored horse’s hair as its main ingredient. I keep my horses at home, so it is not unusual for me to find these horse-hair nests. The birds take discarded strands of mane and tail that they find lying in the pasture or snubbed up on a fence post where a horse scratched an itch. I marveled at how resourceful and industrious the birds are. I never built anything in my life except for building a mess.

At the time I found the nest, I didn’t have any chestnut-colored horses. I puzzled over the situation. Then it hit me. My horse, Pumpkin Spice, was chestnut-colored. Spice was euthanized the year before due to an illness. That means that Spice’s hair had been collected from my pasture while he still lived in it. Unbeknown to me, the nest clung to the tree branches for almost a year after Spice’s death.

Pumpkin Spice’s horsehair reincarnated into a bird’s nest. Photo by Mary Lynne Carpenter.

Happening upon the nest was like running unexpectedly into a friend from the past. A reunion tinged with sadness for all that was lost. Yet a welcomed and treasured event nonetheless. Spice was such as kind horse, so relaxing to be around. I enjoyed his company very much. While I still miss him terribly, I see that parts of him live on not only in my heart. In a practical way, his hair helped house the new life of another even after his own death. How fitting that the nest, in the shape of a circle, also symbolizes the circle of life.

What sort of horse might you keep in your backyard?…

Guest Blog Post: More Eats from Less by Angela Bell


Do you adore lyrical, thoughtful novels? I want to meet you! Thank you, blogosphere, for introducing me to blogger Angela Bell who I met through her love of books. Self-described as, “New England-born, Pennsylvania raised, and 100% Italian-American, ” Angela’s posts are filled with intelligence. My favorite line of hers is, “While time marches on, life around you, if you allow it to, also becomes more interesting, more stimulating, and even a tad freer… and age, in fact, matters less and less.”

Here Angela teaches us how everyday forgotten abundance can be diverted from landfills and nourish us…

Blogger Angela Bell.

Making the Most of Stems and Scraps by Angela Bell

My daughter Emily is a Culinary Institute of America graduate with a nutrition certification from a Cornell program. She points out that if this (COVID10) confinement continues, we may have to learn to make better use of what we have. Recognizing that everyone is overwhelmed and probably worried about managing the household food right now, she and I had the following conversation.

Me: Can you give us some ideas for using our kitchen scraps?

Emily: Soup! If you have broccoli or cauliflower stems, dice them, add onion if you have it, and sweat in fat — oil, butter, rendered chicken fat, or bacon fat — over medium heat. When they’re soft, dust with flour and add chicken or vegetable stock. Stir to thicken, season, and puree. You’ve now made a classic French soup from kitchen scraps.

Angela performs alchemy on scraps to achieve epicurean delights.

Me: You taught me to do this with whole broccoli and chicken stock. It’s delicious—a creamy soup without the cream.

Emily: You can make a vegetable stock with any vegetables or vegetable scraps you have on hand, or make a chicken or beef stock with bones leftover from a roast. The longer you simmer the stock, the more collagen you’ll extract. Collagen adds body and may have health benefits. Add vegetable scraps to the pot with the bones, cover with water, simmer for about two hours, strain, and season. Roast chicken or turkey carcasses make great stock, as do bones from beef roasts and fish bones for fish stock. Add that meat “jelly” in the bottom of the roasting pan, too—that’s pure collagen. If you have a pork bone, just throw it in with a pot of beans or a pot of spaghetti sauce, rather than make stock with it.

Me: If I don’t have time to make stock from a roast chicken carcass, I freeze it. All the flavor in the roast chicken, from the herbs or vegetables, roasted it with transfers to the stock. I add water and let the slow cooker do the rest, then strain when it’s done, cool, and use or freeze.

Ice cube trays are handy for freezing pesto and stock.

Me: You mentioned using bacon fat.

Emily: Save rendered bacon fat after cooling and straining, and use in place of olive oil or butter. It adds so much flavor! If you’re making soup or a stew, you can sauté anything that’s going into it in bacon fat first. This is another classical French technique. Refrigerate rendered fat and use within two weeks, or freeze.

Me: What else can we do with stock?

Emily: If we get to a point where we can’t get meat because of supply chain interruptions, we’ll appreciate having stock and rendered fats on hand for flavor. You can cook rice in it, add it to beans, use it to flavor sauce or gravy. I freeze stock in ice cube trays in case I want to deglaze a pan or thin out a sauce.

Me: Some of us have loaded up on fresh vegetables, perhaps more than we can use. How can we prevent waste?

Emily: If you have vegetables ready to expire, blanch, and freeze them. Some, like carrots or green peppers, can be sliced and frozen raw. For best results with vegetables that don’t freeze well, like celery or escarole, prepare a dish and freeze that. You can also make pestos. If you have a bunch of a particular herb, purée it in the blender or food processor, along with the flavorings or ingredients you like, and freeze in ice cube trays. You may want to add a bit of oil to facilitate this. Enjoy over pasta or add to other dishes for flavor.

Vegetable soup is a great way to use up miscellaneous vegetables. The key is not to overcook the vegetables. I sweat them until they’re about half cooked, then add the liquid and simmer just until they’re done. Use water if you don’t have stock—just season it well. You can add shredded leftover meat, rice, pasta, beans, whole grains like farro or bulgur.

When you’re going through the refrigerator or freezer, use a first in/first out mentality. Before buying food, think about using something from the freezer to free up space.

Me: I’ve promised myself I’m going to use up what I have on hand.

Emily: It’s going to take some planning and thought to prevent waste. That might mean taking a look every other day at your fresh fruits and veggies, then deciding to bake some apples or juice some lemons, or make a soup and freeze half of it.

Me: If you’re blessed to be healthy and practice good personal and kitchen hygiene, you can always leave a care package on a neighbor’s doorstep.

Emily: Absolutely, and if you’re experiencing food scarcity for financial reasons or an inability to get to the store, there are programs now to address that. Check with your municipality to see what is available in your area.

Here’s a longer version of this post at Angela’s site.

What are your tips for getting more out of less?

Celebrating Gloria Steinem, Feminist Icon by da-AL


There are many great feminists, but Gloria Marie Steinem (born March 25, 1934, in Ohio) springs first to my mind. She takes risks to expose and educate, to enlighten the world via speeches, publishing, and more. Here’s a glance at her contributions…

Gloria Steinem addresses supporters at the Women Together Arizona Summit, Carpenters Local Union, Phoenix, Arizona, Sept. 17, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore Peoria, AZ.

She’s descended from human rights activists, raised front seat to legal and economic slights against her single mother. As early as 1962, Esquire magazine published a Steinem piece on how women are forced to choose between career and marriage.

In 1963, she made headlines — including about herself — for reporting from undercover as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. “A Bunny’s Tale” reveals how Hugh Heffner sexually exploited waitresses at his nightclub.

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem, reporting incognito, 1972.

In 1969 she attended an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, herself having had one at 22. Spurred into full-time activism, her New York magazine essay that year, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” solidified her a feminist leader.

“It [abortion] is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! I think the person who said: ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament’ was right. Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn’t tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn’t [positive].” Gloria Steinem

“Sex and race, because they are easy and visible differences, have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.” July 10, 1971, part of Steinem’s visionary speech.

Ms. Magazine

Did feminist magazines exist before she co-founded Ms. in 1972? Surely none sounded as loud a gong as Ms. continues to resound today. Did you know that the first Wonder Woman comics endowed the character with grit and superpowers that they later revoked? Thanks to Steinem’s re-empowered Wonder Woman gracing an early Ms. cover, the comic book publishers restored the character’s heroine status!

Thanks to Steinem, Wonder Woman got her powers back!

Steinem crusades for labor rights, people’s rights, reproductive rights and civil equality, against female genital mutilation and male circumcision — and more!…

A breast cancer conqueror, she has neither biological children nor living relatives. At age 66, she married once — to David Bale, father of actor Christian BaleWilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, performed the ceremony! Criticized for having denounced the institution as “the model for slavery law in this country,” Steinam explained…

“I didn’t change. Marriage changed. We spent 30 years in the United States changing the marriage laws. If I had married when I was supposed to get married, I would have lost my name, my legal residence, my credit rating, many of my civil rights. That’s not true anymore. It’s possible to make an equal marriage.”

When it comes to aging…

“At my age, in this still hierarchical time, people often ask me if I’m “passing the torch.” I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much — and I’m using it to light the torches of others.” Gloria Steinem

Who’s your favorite feminist?

Guest Blog Post: Discovery and Connection in Stories by Maria Alfieri


Exciting books — thoughtful stories — across land and time, into ourselves and others, they take us everywhere!

Author/blogger Maria Alfieri, who lives in Sussex, England, is on a mission. She’s out to create peer support and community when it comes to our mental and emotional wellbeing. Her most powerful tools are reading and writing…

“Freedom.” Photo of Maria Alfieri by Flora Westbrook.

How I Rediscovered Myself through Reading and Writing by Maria Alfieri

I came to collate The Silent Scream Anthology based on my own experiences of struggling silently in dealing with my childhood sexual abuse. I developed anorexia aged 11, for which I was eventually hospitalised aged 12-13. Anorexia was a physical demonstration of a trauma I could not vocalise. I spent many years starving myself and self-harming. My anorexia developed into bulimia. All my reckless and self- destructive behaviours were a way of me yelling to the world ‘I am not okay!”

Despite gaining some control over my eating disorders, I still struggled, sometimes daily, with that inner dialogue, which told me that I wasn’t worthy. That I needed to harm myself. My mind would sometimes take me to dark places, and I would have to talk myself back from the edge.

I found a way to heal through reading, as this was the first step on the ladder to connection with others — something I’d run away from for most of my life. I’d self-isolated much of my life, as many of us do when struggling emotionally. Mostly because of a deep sense of shame and a belief that I was unworthy of belonging. But reading stories similar to mine made me realise that I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t ‘the only one’ feeling this way. Through stories, either fiction or non-fiction, we share empathetic connections, reaffirming our humanity. They remind us that we are part of a collective. Through reading, and then writing, I came to understand myself better.

Reading and writing are part of the process of connection; firstly, connection with ourselves, and then connection with others. And connection is vital for healing, growth, and change. Writing about my past, in particular, was an extremely cathartic process. Ultimately for me, reading and writing were the tools through which I recovered the person I want to be.

They brought me into this shared community that we created through The Silent Scream Anthology — a community of courageous and inspirational people who empowered me in many ways and helped me to unravel further the depths of my own unhelpful conditioning. It is my greatest wish that The Silent Scream Anthology is the passing of the torch for its readers — the light which sparks hope in moments of darkness and a stepping stone on the path of connection, healing, growth, and change.

As a collection of raw, honest and inspirational memoirs, anecdotes, poems, and artworks about a variety of mental health topics, The Silent Scream Anthology is aimed at anyone who has ever struggled silently, felt trapped by shame and felt alone in their experiences, no matter what those experiences are.

Cover of “The Silent Scream Anthology,” by Maria Alfieri.

Prior to collating The Silent Scream Anthology, I qualified as a teacher and taught English across secondary schools before having my four children. Stories have always been an important part of my life, and today I make it my mission to promote the power of connection through empathetic literature.

More about Maria Alfieri here. Her “The Silent Scream Anthology” is available in hardback here and here, in paperback here, and in both here.

What book or story has made the most impact on you?

Happy Birthday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice!


Cover of the biography, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik.

Determined and outspoken, “The Notorious R.B.G,” a.k.a. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (born on March 15, 1933), is a genuine living superheroine!

“My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”

Despite challenges since she started off as a non-devout Ukrainian Jewish kid in Brooklyn, New York, she’s achieved things that the rest of us only dream of. A lawyer and a jurist, she’s served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court since President Bill Clinton appointed her in 1993. She’s the second of four women justices. She’s endured the death of her beloved husband, and she’s fought off multiple cancers.

Her mom passed away before Ginsburg was out of high school. She made sure Ginsberg got the best education possible. Already a young wife and mother, Ginsburg entered Harvard law school as a rare female student there. Later at Columbia Law School, she tied for first in her graduating class.

Regardless of her achievements, getting work required a fierce will. In 1960, it was still acceptable to not hire women. Even when she found jobs, employers were within legal rights to pay her less than her male counterparts.

Gender equality became her target when she was inspired while she did research in Sweden. There, women comprised twenty to twenty-five percent of all law students. One judge, still working, was eight months pregnant.

“It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation.”

In the early 1970s, at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project. Her eyes on the long haul, she embarked upon an action plan. Each of her successes at arguing gender discrimination cases was meant to build upon the previous win. From social security and military benefits to drinking ages and the right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy — she showed how discrimination hurts everyone. Her arguments emphasized ‘gender,’ not merely ‘sex.’

Cover of “My Own Words,” by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“My Own Words” is her autobiography (written with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams) and she’s the subject of numerous books by others such as “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik.

Check out Felicity Jones playing her in the movie, “On the Basis of Sex.”

Who’s your living superheroine?