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

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

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

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

Vanished by Mark Bierman cover.

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

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

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

Here’s a quick synopsis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the true spirit of Vanished.

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

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

8 Tips 2 Get Better Customer Service & Better Health Care by da-AL

Happy
blakeverdoornphoto.com for unsplash.com

Are you a creative person, writer, novelist, or anyone who feels like our precious time is being wasted ironing out issues with companies? I firmly believe when one consumer fights for fairness, they help all of us. With that in mind, here’s some of what works for me, especially when I’ve experienced horribly challenging times with health insurance such as the time I dealt with going through the terribleness of cancer and also when I injured my knee.

What are your tips for how to get decent service from big companies?

If your health coverage is through your employer, chances are the personnel department mediates things for you.

The rest of us like me must slug it out on our own. Before listing some of the tactics I’ve gathered which can be used anywhere and with any type of business, I owe great thanks to Obamacare.

Here in California it’s implemented as Covered California (Obamacare’s official name is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short.) Thanks to ObamaCare, it is illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against gender and pre-existing conditions other than tobacco use. Moreover, it ensures everyone is covered.

Note to Californians: Most know Covered California subsidizes health insurance for individuals with low incomes. (Medi-Cal helps those with zero income.) Few are aware it can broker for anyone. They’re a formidable mediator with excellent customer service! Thanks to them, it was a heck of a lot easier to work out my insurance problems.

 

  1. Above all else, stay solution-oriented and tenacious.
  2. Be emphatic about what you need and why. Make sure they know how important this is to you. Don’t settle for their doing what’s easiest for them, not you.
  3. Telephoning in addition to emailing can give more immediate and thorough results. Phone when they’re least busy: early on weekdays. Barring that, after 7pm. Forget about weekends. Even if they’re open, they’re likely super busy and their decision-makers are off-duty.
  4. Don’t waste time. Again, telephoning and not leaving things to all to email is the most effective. When using the phone, the moment they start to give you the runaround, ask to speak to their supervisor. If they’re totally obtuse, hang up and redial so you might encournter someone different to speak with. Later, be sure to fill out an online grievance form.
  5. If a grievance is not rectified within 30 days, it’s easy to file a lawsuit with the state. To find out how to do this without having to pay a private lawyer, google “how to file a consumer lawsuit.” In the case of health insurance, your broker can advise you.
  6. Don’t take things personally. Stay focused. For everyone but you, it’s just business.
  7. Refuse “No.”
  8. Keep notes regarding: A) who you spoke with, B) number you dialed, date, and time of day, C) a transaction case ID number or whatever identifier they might use, i.e., a “ticket number.”

Good luck! I’m rooting for you for all our sakes! Please add your tips below…

unsplash.com blakeverdoorn.com
Thank you unsplash.com blakeverdoorn.com

27 Blog Tips, Word Fun, & More by da-AL

Are you sprouting something new under your mask?

Are you sprouting something new under your mask?
Are you sprouting something new under your mask?
  1. Grooming or the lack of it under our anti-COVID masks.
  2. Words so special to a country that we borrow theirs, such as “Schadenfreude.”
  3. Blogging tips.

What do they have in common? They’re among the activities that have unexpectedly cropped up since we’ve been sheltering-in-place.

  • Hair: Some friends are letting theirs grow. Others have shaved their scalps. A bunch are letting their color and texture go natural.
This friend's working-from-home mustache looks so cool! I had to grow one my own!
This friend’s working-from-home mustache looks so cool! I had to grow one my own!
  • Authors are digging into writing and stats show that readers are reading for fun again. That’s how I discovered “Schadenfreude.” It’s an English noun borrowed from two German words, Schaden ‘harm’ and Freude ‘joy.’ Combined, they refer to pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.

On my Facebook page, I invited friends to riff on “Schadenfreude”…

Pam Christmas: I enjoy singing it to the tune of Danke Schoen. Schadenfreude, darling, schadenfreude. A favorite word and feeling.

Angela L Brown: Holy crap! Did that dude who keeps yelling about my dogs just get bit by his own?! Schadenfreude, sucka!

Stella B. Katz: Here’s a GREAT example of what Yuman is feeling. My Yuman will be experiencing Schadenfreude when Drumpf loses in November.

Chrys Mumma: I hope when I experience schadenfreude, that I recognize it as hateful.

Robb Fulcher: Carl Jung surpassing his former mentor gave me Sigmund Schadenfreude.

Tao Walker: I cannot help but have this feeling of schadenfreude over the Jerry Falwell Jr. scandal.

Bonnie Noble Pacego: Lily felt schadenfreude when she secretly found the loot the robber dropped as he fled the bank!

Beth Pottiger Gorman: The schadenfreude on Johnny’s face was obvious when he found the baseball someone else left lay.

Corky Anderson: Rump = Schadenfreude “joy at the misfortune of another.”

John Saffery’s link here.

Carol Snyder Jarvela: I prefer the southern belle term “mean bitch thrill.” It’s easier to spell and is self-explanatory.

Peter Basson: Me and my friend, Sigmund, were very hot so we stood in the schadenfreude.

Susan Sobon: Trump is a master of schadenfreude.

  • Lastly, people are doing more blogging, vlogging, and podcasting!

I listed some of what I’ve learned about blogging in a prior post. In no particular order, here are more tips I’ve gathered while working on my own blog and visiting other sites. Feel free to add your own insights in the comments section.

  1. Nothing detracts from a post as much as poor writing. The software that comes with a word processor isn’t enough. Fortunately, lots of useful apps like Grammarly have decent free versions.
  2. Reading aloud helps tremendously. Sometimes I even have my word processor read to me. That way, I can hear how my writing sounds without my own inflections.
  3. Finding an empty ‘about’ page feels like maybe there isn’t a real person managing the site. And when there’s no photo, I hope the blogger isn’t worried that their looks will frighten people.
  4. It doesn’t take much to keep a site’s background theme from looking cookie-cutter by adding photos and changing colors.
  5. Composing a post: sometimes WordPress leaves important messages in the right column.
  6. Ideas are precious. I capture mine by texting myself or jotting them into the notes section of my smartphone.
  7. Before publishing a post, I check how it looks on a smartphone, desktop, and tablet. Sometimes I need to replace a photo and break up my text more.
  8. Dimensions for photos: this is a fabulous link.
  9. Featured photos: a) make sure to select one, and b) lately, I’ve noticed that people who’re successful on social media add text to their main pictures. Canva’s free version does an adequate job.
  10. My workspace: desk clutter saps my creativity and efficiency. I try to keep only what I’m working on in front of me, and every night I tidy up.
  11. Sound: A fan, such as the one inside my compact space heater, is impressive at muting noise pollution.
  12. SEO, a.k.a. “search engine optimization”: to help get at the top of internet searches, use keywords in post headings and first sentences.
  13. Heading: again for SEO, keep them 70 characters or shorter.
  14. Categories: select less than ten.
  15. Tags: five is plenty.
  16. Visitors enjoy interacting with their fave bloggers. Ask readers to subscribe and share. End posts with something they can comment on.
  17. Invite visitors to look around your site by linking posts to other posts.
  18. Images: only use ones you have legal rights for (royalty-free is fab) and always credit where you got them from.
  19. Befriend other sites like yours — visit, comment, link, and meet their fans.
  20. Reblogs are lovely—and even nicer when introduced with comments of your own. Add your thoughts when you click “reblog” or later within your site’s editor.
  21. Composing Posts: Begin them with a sense of where you’re going, and conclude them with a quick review.
  22. It takes time and care (a.k.a. love) to compose a blog post that’s worth reading.
  23. Good writing is all about rewriting. Let a post sit, then review it a couple of hours later or the next day.
  24. Continually study how to use social media more effectively.
  25. Hosting: Self-hosting works for some. In my case, I use WordPress dot com and find that having them host my site is inexpensive and easy. Also, most of my followers come to me via the WordPress Reader, which I don’t think is available on self-hosted.
  26. It’s never too early to start collecting an email list — ugh! — in my case, I’m learning this far too late, so I’m now researching how best to start mine.
  27. WordPress Editor: Frustrated by WordPress’ block editor? I still mostly use Classic and here I explain how.

Let me know how you like my first attempt at adding a poll…

 

What tips have you learned? If you’re using self-hosted WordPress dot org, do you have a way to get your posts listed on the WordPress Reader?

WordPress Classic vs. Block Editor Blog How-To by da-AL

Photo of da-AL asking whether you prefer WordPress Classic or Block Editor.

Readers and writers alike, happy blogging! If you publish your blog from your phone, I hold you in the highest esteem — you’re one heck of a dedicated blogger!

As for me, I have the luxury of blogging from a desktop computer, a 2013 iMac. Which is to say that it’s super easy for me to stick with WordPress Classic editor because yes, I most definitely prefer it. In a recent blogging class I attended, even the teacher recommended a workaround for students to use Classic! Given how many folks read blogs from their phones, Guttenberg’s block-fanciness is worse than useless. When I read anything on my 5s iPhone, the simpler the layout, the better.

This is how I use WordPress Classic Editor on my desktop: in the admin page, I pull up a list of my posts. Then I hover my mouse pointer over a post title. Below that, a selection appears, which includes the choice to use Classic Editor.

See how on the bottom left is the option to use Classic Editor? Using a desktop computer, just hover your mouse under your blog post title on your admin page. See how on the bottom left is the option to use Classic Editor? Using a desktop computer, just hover your mouse under your blog post title on your admin page.

If I wanted to write a post from my iPad, WordPress offers an abbreviated version Classic. To switch over to it, tap on the three dots in the screen’s upper right corner.

Clicking on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of your tablet gives you the option to use Classic. Clicking on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of your tablet gives you the option to use Classic.

Using an iPhone works similar to an iPad.

Here's when I clicked on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of my phone. Here’s when I clicked on the 3 dots in the upper right corner of my phone.

For a more detailed explanation, but that doesn’t include the way I described that I do it from my desktop computer, WordPress has this link.

In another post with blogging tips (and here’s more of my blogging tips), the mention of WordPress’ newer editing system got people talking, so here I’m offering you a chance to comment below. Vent? Praise? Either way, when I let WordPress know about this post with your comments on it, maybe they’ll actually listen to us.

Again wishing you joy — and ease — whether you’re blogging, reading, writing — or are you traveling online?

How do you deal with computer annoyances?

Guest Blog Post: Paranormal Geezer-Lit Mysteries by Mike Befeler

Anytime, especially n-o-w, is an excellent time to start something! In 2001, when Mike Befeler was 56, he set out to become a novelist. Since then, he’s authored 17!!!! books, including mysteries, a thriller, and a biography of a World War II veteran!

In this post for Happiness Between Tails, Mike discussed geezer-lit. Here he explains the ones he’s written that interlace the paranormal…

Photo of Mike Befeler
Geezer-lit author Mike Befeler

“Writing Paranormal Geezer-Lit Mysteries” by Mike Befeler

Most of my published books are geezer-lit mysteries, featuring older characters. A number of years ago, my agent suggested I consider writing a paranormal mystery. I read several and decided I would give it a shot. The result was The V V Agency, a paranormal private investigator mystery that introduced a new type of shape-shifter called a transvictus.

Then I decided to blend a paranormal mystery with older characters, and The Back Wing was born…

A normal person ends up in the back wing of a retirement home with aging witches, vampires, werewolves, and shape-shifters. And don’t believe the myth that vampires don’t age. They get older, move into retirement homes, lose their teeth, and gum people on the throat.

Needless to say, I enjoy writing humor with quirky characters. The sequel, The Front Wing, will be published this month.

 I love stories where older characters aren’t merely life-savants who are sentenced to die by the end of the tale. What do you think about how older characters are usually treated in fiction?

Mark Bierman’s Experience with Self-Publishing

Human trafficking occurs in every country, including Canada and the U.S. In light of this, Ontario novelist/blogger Mark Bierman dedicates 50% of profits from his book, “Vanished,” to organizations that help victims of this terrible crime. He’s also been a guest on Happiness Between Tails here and here. Read on for what he’s learned about self-publishing…

Novelist/blogger Mark Bierman.

“Self-Publishing” by Mark Bierman

It’s 5a.m. as I climb out of bed and begin to brew the cognition ignition potion, or coffee if you wish to go by its scientific classification. The percolation underway, I pad off to my writer’s den, or the “spare bedroom,” as some in this house call it. The computer is poked awake and generates particles of light that spread across the mahogany desk until they reach the ‘bills to pay’ file box. A tiny shadow figure climbs into the box, and peers malevolently up at me.

“Karl Jackson, if you wish to pay my bills, that’s fine, just be sure to hop back into the story when you’re done.”

If anyone can afford to liberate us from debt, it’s the villainous King of the Klondike. I keep my voice calm to hide my concern. Oh, he goes on these forays almost daily but has never before managed to enter our world until the file marked, ‘trimmedprodigalson,’ has been opened. Hmmm . . . I must look into upgrading the firewall. The filename is not the title for the new book but rather denotes the concept. The ‘trimmed’ portion is the result of my cantankerous nitpicking of the original manuscript. I can’t speak for every author, but for me, a book is never really finished. I’ve yet to reread my first novel, Vanished, for sanity’s sake.

It’s a Wednesday, and I’m off from my survival job as a Correctional Officer. That means I have a full two hours of novel writing before the rest of the house is awake and the nineteenth-century morphs back into the twenty-first. When the clock chimes seven, my role as an author ceases, and I put my parenting hat on. There are kids to feed and drive to school, after that, chores, a workout, and whatever else the day brings. I try to squeeze in marketing between it all and combine it with other tasks. Instagram is often dealt with while riding the stationary bike, what else am I going to do, count the tiles in the basement ceiling? Twitter, best posted on between the hours of nine am to three pm, can be done at lunch, Facebook too. I’m careful not to crow about myself, too often. The rule of thumb is to focus 80% on others and 20% on yourself. So far, that formula has worked well for me.

Photo by Sasin Tipchai for Pixabay. (Side note: see this for how even this great photog was robbed.)
Blogs are the hardest and most time-consuming. I commit the sin of failing to post regularly, I know better. To truly grow your audience, you need to be consistent. Many bloggers post daily and have themed days. It’s something I’m working on, but time is not my ally here.

So, how did this all begin? How did someone in my profession decide to become an Indie Author? To tell you the truth, my job is precisely the reason. The pay is great, and with twenty years in, I have plenty of vacation days and a pension at the end of it all. Sounds great, right? Well, those perks come at a cost. The toll on your mental health can be overwhelming. Five years ago, I decided to find a positive outlet for my creative side, a place to share and bond with people who are focused on a dream and appreciate the work you do. The one positive thing I will say about my years in law enforcement is my vast collection of story and character fodder. Oh yes, there’s plenty of that in the good old Big House.

So why Indie? Are you not good enough to find a publisher? The truth is, I tried, but only twice. I waited six months to be rejected by both. I’m too impatient for that. Plus, I’ve heard stories of publishers changing parts of storylines or characters, nope, I wanted to control my own material. Of course, this may not apply to all publishers. Please don’t get me wrong, if you wish to pursue the traditional route, go for it! It’s a personal choice.

Photo by S. Hermann & F. Richter for Pixabay.

Whichever path you choose, I highly recommend using Beta-Readers and professional proofreaders. No one wants to get those Amazon Reviews that call in to question the author’s level of grammar comprehension. Some of the best reads I’ve come across are Indie, others, not so much. However, I can say the same about traditionally published works. Remember, tastes vary, and some will cry for more chocolate while others prefer vanilla. Don’t expect a romance junkie to read your thriller through the same lens. You can’t write for everyone, find your niche, and build your fan base.

One last thing, before I go, find your ‘people.’ By that, I mean your support crew. Be it fellow authors, bloggers, reviewers, those in the industry, and in the know. They will help you become a better writer, offer constructive criticism, encourage and open doors for you.

I love this gig but writing and marketing a novel is a herculean task. This may sound silly, but I liken it to pushing a giant boulder that resembles a half-moon. The flat side remains motionless until heaved onto the rounded side. There may be a brief reprieve as you watch it roll for a short distance, but then it lands on the flat side again. If you leave the stone too long, moss grows on it. Yes, you can keep hoisting that stone in solo fashion, hoping that the flatness wears into a curve, but you’ll probably end up overworked and discouraged. Wouldn’t it be nice to have loyal and encouraging people to help keep that sucker moving? You will, of course, do likewise for them. I’ve been fortunate to find such a community. This includes da-AL and the members of Rave Reviews Book Club. Rave Reviews, founded by author Nonnie Jules, is an online community of both Indie and Traditionally Published writers, of all genres, all walks of life, and from around the world. I’ve been part of this family, because that’s what it feels like to me, for several years.

I found them by accident one day, as I was searching for more book clubs to join. I had been a member of several at this point, but something drew me to Rave Reviews, they are genuine and committed to helping. Currently, it is the only book club I’m involved with. They have helped me grow as a writer. Yes, there is an expectation of paying it forward. While that does take you away from your own project for a brief time, just remember, others are doing the same for you.

The cost to join is only thirty-five dollars (U.S) per year. There is a catalogue that includes books written by members. Everyone is encouraged to pitch in and do their best to support their fellow members by answering questions about writing, providing feedback about works in progress (Beta Reading), as well as advice and support on social media platforms. They have great programs such as, ‘Books of the Month,’ which feature member’s and their works, podcasts that allow a member to discuss their work, and even emotional support. I’ve personally been a ‘Book of the Month’ author and have also been featured on several podcasts. I once had a question about a book I was working on, whether or not to publish it as a series or as a single book. The problem was I had too much story for a single book, but not enough for a third. I was unsure and posed the concern to the group. Within a half-hour, I received advice that two-book series are acceptable. What a relief!

I highly recommend joining. You can find out more about Rave Reviews here.

Thank you, da-AL, for having me as a guest on your wonderful blog! I also want to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to visit this post. I wish you all the best in your writing career, or whatever you choose to do in life. Follow your passions, and take heart that setbacks are usually temporary and often the greatest teachers. Now if you’ll please excuse me, Karl Jackson is drinking my coffee and using my tablet to play Minecraft. It’s time to write him home.

Find out more about Mark and his writing at his website here and his blog here.

What’s your publishing game-plan?

Guest Blog Post: Best novel writing secret ever! by Bryan J. Fagan

Have you written — or tried to — write a novel? Take if from my experience as a soon-to-be self-published author, epic internal persistence is needed to take on the adventure that has no guarantee of success.

A native of Washington, Bryan J. Fagan blogs from Oregon. He just released a romantic comedy, “Dempsey’s Grill,” and is hard at work on a second book. Here’s his time-tested advice for completing a novel…

“The Secret to Writing a Novel” by Bryan J. Fagan

I was trying to think of a subject to write about for Happiness Between Tails. I always have something brewing in this head of mine. Believe me, there’s a lot of stuff up there. But there was one thing that kept rising to the surface that just wouldn’t go away, and it had to do with quitting.

Or I should say – not (yes — n-o-t) quitting!

For those of us who set out to write a novel, we always have a handful of ideas. Sometimes we pick one and quickly discard it. Other times we pick two and combine them. Unfortunately for many of us, the novel fizzles.

It usually comes around the halfway mark of draft one. We’ve created far too many characters, or the plot is weak, or we’re bored. So we put the story away, we forgot about it, and we promised ourselves that someday we’ll try again. But for some of us, that day will never come.

Would you like to know the secret to writing a novel? Resist the urge to quit!

When I wrote “Dempsey’s Grill,” I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to walk away. There were plot holes, plot changes, and subplots that were ridiculous. But I knew I had something. I also knew I owed it to the people I created to tell their story.

Writing a novel is hard, really hard. But walking away is easy and who wants easy when doing something hard is much more fun.

All of us who have published our work has had to fight the urge to quit. But we knew better. We knew that in time the story would open up, the characters would come alive, and that in time, these people that we created would be telling the story instead of us.

Writing “Dempsey’s Grill” was one of the hardest things I ever did. It is also one of the most rewarding. So fight off the urge to quit and write your book. You owe it to those amazing people you created.

What do you do when you feel like giving up on your dream?…

Guest Blog Post: How to use atmosphere by Joseph Carrabis

Writing is dear to my soon-to-be self-published heart! As a skill as well as a talent, writing benefits from frequent regular practice and ongoing education. Author Joseph Carrabis shares his thoughts about the craft…

Joseph Carrabis, author.

“How to Use Atmosphere in Your Writing” by Joseph Carrabis

Writers are told to use atmosphere in their stories. What is atmosphere?

Writing texts define atmosphere as …the presenting of physical details so as to create an emotional reaction in the reader. Emotional reaction is what allows the reader to identify and empathize with characters in the story.

Consider the line “Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees” from a horror story I’m working on.

The details relevant to Atmosphere are “stopped” and “a copse of ancient, dark boled trees.” The word “stopped” tells us Eric doesn’t want to do something and what he doesn’t want to do is follow Julia into “a copse of ancient, dark boled trees.”

I hope readers experience some tension, some foreboding, and at the same time want to read more to learn 1) why Eric stops and 2) what happens to Julia in the copse.

Creating reader emotional reaction is important because you want the reader involved, engaged. The line Eric stopped as Julia entered a copse of ancient, dark boled trees should make the reader sympathize more with Eric than Julia because Eric is showing caution while Julia is entering that copse of ancient, dark boled trees and people (in their heart of hearts) tend to favor caution.

That sense of confinement, foreboding, discomfort, ill-at-easeness comes from the words copse (a dense growth of trees), ancient (anything ancient’s going to either be very, very good or very, very bad), dark (it’s going to be bad), and boled (even if you don’t know what the word means it just sounds like something that’ll hurt you) to create a malevolent atmosphere.

A longer version of this piece is available at Atmosphere is….

About me: I’m boring and dull. Hopefully, my fiction isn’t. Learn more about me here and get my fiction here.

Does atmosphere enhance your writing?

Guest Blog Post: Traditionally Published Author Suzanne Craig-Whytock

I’ve featured several self-published novelists here at Happiness Between Tails. Now it’s time to hear what it’s like to be published the old fashioned way!

BookLand Press conducts most of Canadian writer Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s publicity, i.e., taking her book to conferences like From Page To Screen (where Ontario film producers find books) and distributing it to all major outlets. On her own, Suzanne arranges book signings and local TV appearances.

Contrary to how publishers have been described to me, hers give her much control every step of the way. Her first book’s cover, Smile, was publisher-designed, yet she designed the cover for her upcoming book, The Dome. For both books, the publisher went with her titles. They would have deep-edited her books, but given how print-ready she handed them over, their revisions were minimal.

For more about Suzanne — and when you want or need to laugh — visit Suzanne’s humor blog, mydangblog. In her own words, here’s how she became a traditionally published author…

For author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock (and Titus), “A supportive dog is a writer’s best friend.”

* * Everyone Needs A Carol * by Suzanne Craig-Whytock * *

I’ve been writing all my life. Poetry, short stories—you name it, ever since I can remember. I still have them in a drawer—and that’s where the manuscript for my first novel was hiding for a long time. It was a Young Adult novel that I’d submitted to a couple of different publishers and got immediately rejected, as one does. So I shrugged my shoulders and put it away. It wasn’t until I changed jobs 5 years ago and met a colleague who was a literary editor that my publishing journey really began. We were talking about writing one day, and I said, “Oh yeah, I have a manuscript sitting in a drawer at home.” She replied, “Oh, I’d love to read it!” She was excited; I was terrified. My family loved the book, but she was a professional editor with a Ph.D.—what was she going to say about my little YA novel?! But she gave me excellent feedback and said, “You need to get this back out there.” So I did some much-needed revisions based on her suggestions and took a chance. I didn’t know anything about agents or “querying”; I just sent it to a reputable Canadian publisher that considered unsolicited manuscripts. Shockingly, they accepted it. I ran down the aisle at work with the email on my phone, looking for my colleague to show it to her before anyone else. When my author copies arrived and I held Smile in my hands for the first time, I cried. 50 years old and finally a published author. Now, my second novel The Dome will be out this October with the same publisher, and the third book is underway. Thanks, Carol.

Cover for soon-to-be-released “The Dome,” by Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

About the author: Suzanne Craig-Whytock is a Canadian writer published by Bookland Press. Her first novel, Smile, was released in 2017, and her new novel, The Dome, will be released this October. Both books are available on Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and with most other online booksellers.

You can read all about her weird sense of humor on her website mydangblog or find her on Twitter @scraigwhytock

Guest Blog Post: Self-Published Author Nadira Cotticollan

Traditional publishing, the kind that engages literary agents and monolithic publishing companies, has always been a challenge for writers. In my quest to find either for my soon-to-be-released novels, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” it feels akin to winning the lottery. Fortunately, self-publishing is rapidly becoming a mainstream empowering alternative. What’s your experience with either buying or publishing self-published novels?

A blogger from India, Nadira Cotticollan, shares her recent venture into releasing her fiction on her own…

When she’s not writing novels, Nadira Cotticollon loves being a grandmother.

“The Winnowing Waves” and Self-Publishing by Nadira Cotticollan

I belong to a  Muslim community from the coastal state of Kerala in South India. We are said to have been winnowed out from the rest of the Kerala populace by the inter-marriages that took place between the Arab traders and the local women. Most of the cultural aspects continued to be picked up from the customs prevalent in Kerala, with some changes to create a distinct identity.  But there was a marked Arab influence as well.

During the years I grew up, there were many changes that were happening which were, in fact, slowly erasing the differences in dress and lingo and the social mores of confining women indoors, etc. A female like me, therefore, got the benefit of education, which was a rare thing during my mother’s generation and almost non-existent before that.

Then, there was a  turn towards more strict observance of the religious customs although there was no going back on the education, fortunately.  In part, this had to do with the political changes that saw an upsurge of right-wing sentiments and the political events that they ushered in, as also with the influx of the Wahabian influence brought in by those who had found a livelihood in the Gulf countries. These attempts at aggressively establishing religious, political, and cultural identities between the Hindus and the Muslims, is now gradually bringing in a subtle divide and disturbing the harmony that had existed for thousands of years.

My novel has been woven through this backdrop, but it is in no way discourse on any of those aspects. It creeps in through the different characters, of course, but not stridently so.

The story is told from a woman’s perspective for the most part.

I am sixty-two now, and I have always cherished the idea of getting something that I wrote published. After finishing this novel, I did tentatively explore the regular publishing route. I realized that it would take a very long time and that there was no certainty of any of the established publishers taking it up. So I decided to look for self-publishing platforms. My children offered to bear the cost.

Notionpress, who I approached, came across as very professional, with a good team who managed the different aspects of the publication process. I chose the minimum package which would take care of the formatting, the cover design, the copyrights, and the online listing on their online store as well as on Flipkart and Amazon India. The editing is a facility available with a higher package. So I did the editing myself. They did allow for post-publication correction of the grammatical and spelling errors and a couple of errors in the names, etc. The whole process was completed in two weeks.

They do not do any promotion with this package, nor will the books be available in the bookshops.

But I’m happy.

My friends were the ones who read the book first and gave me feedback. They have liked it and assure me that they can relate to it, that the flow is smooth, that it speaks to them of what I had wanted to convey and so on.

With the money I earned in the last two months, I decided to upgrade the package, which would make the book available outside India on Amazon.com

The pricing they suggested appeared to be almost the same as that of many well-established authors, and I expressed my doubts to them about that. I was told that my book would be printed only as per demand, which would hike up the production costs, as compared to the mass production of the books of established authors.

The royalty I get on the sale of one copy after they deduct the production costs and half of the profits (that was the agreement) is only about 2/5th of the MRP if purchased through the Notionpress store and much less (about 1/8th) if sold through Amazon and Flipkart.

But what’s more important to me is that more people get to read the book.

da-AL’s kind offer to let me put up a blog post here about it is therefore very much appreciated.

I do hope some of you will pick it up from Amazon.com and give me your feedback after you’ve read it. Go to Notionpress here. Go to Amazon here.

Thank you all very much for reading this ☺

What’s your experience with buying or publishing self-published novels?