Novel Writing, Furious Creative Kolkata, and Tagore by da-AL


Tagore (c. 1925), by unknown author, State Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47866012
Tagore (c. 1925), by unknown author, State Archive, Public Domain

How’s your novel coming along? If you’re writing one, did you outline it first? Or is it evolving?

“I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” Rabindranath Tagore

In the case of the two books I’m working on, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” I outlined it, wrote a bunch, thought I was about done — and then a new character introduced himself!

“Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.” Tagore

Blogging has brought me the unexpected joy of meeting many new online friends from India, thereby stoking my curiosity about the country. It was only natural that my books include someone at least partly from there.

“Depth of friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance.” Tagore

Niks is a minor player. It’s the year of 2002. He lives in Southern California, the best place to surf and earn a living as a model and actor. He’s a gay man in his 40s. His parents were studying business when they met at UC Berkeley’s International House, a social club intended to help foreign students feel less alone. Pasta is the dish he makes best because his Italian mom taught him how to cook. His love of great Indian literature is thanks to his dad, who grew up in Kolkata.

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.” Tagore

Are you from India? If so, feel free to correct me and/or add to what’s here…

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” Tagore

Kolkata has been called the “City of Furious, Creative Energy” as well as the “cultural [or literary] capital of India.”

“If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present.” Tagore

Tagore performing the title role inValmiki Pratibha (1881) with his niece Indira Devi as the goddess Lakshmi, by unknown author - Indira Devi Chowdhurani. Rabindra Smriti — Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1974., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16150280
Tagore performing the title role in Valmiki Pratibha (1881) with his niece Indira Devi as the goddess Lakshmi, by unknown author – Indira Devi Chowdhurani. Rabindra Smriti — Kolkata: Visva-Bharati, 1974., Public Domain

Did you know that the world’s largest non-trade annual book fair takes place in Kolkata?

“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Tagore

The region is home to India’s major publishers. So are many great thinkers, such as Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941), India’s equivalent to Shakespeare.

“The most important lesson that man can learn from life, is not that there is pain in this world, but that it is possible for him to transmute it into joy.” Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath with Einstein in 1930, vy UNESCO - UNESCO Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27489646
Rabindranath with Einstein in 1930, by UNESCO – UNESCO Gallery, Public Domain

To my mind, Tagore as much a sort of Leonardo da Vinci. He was a revolutionary politically and artistically. At eight years old, he was already a poet and went on to be a musician, artist, Ayurveda researcher, actor, playwright, and more.

“Love’s gift cannot be given, it waits to be accepted.” Tagore

Quite the globe-trotter, he introduced the world to India’s creative treasures.

“Love is an endless mystery, because there is no reasonable cause that could explain it.” Tagore

In 1913, he became the first non-European Nobel-prize laureate.

Rabindranath Tagore Cherishsantosh / WikiCommons
Rabindranath Tagore Cherishsantosh / WikiCommons

More quotes by Tagore…

“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”

“A lamp can only light another lamp when it continues to burn in its own flame.”

“Love gives beauty to everything it touches.”

“Dark clouds become heaven’s flowers when kissed by light.

“Music fills the infinite between two souls.”

What’s your creative writing style?

How do you define a great novel? plus writer Ian Craine’s 6 picks


Is a great novel the one you had the most fun reading? One that transported you to a whole new situation, a new land, a new time? Or did that story unlock new insights? How about one that allowed you to feel understood and less alone? What about the books of childhood, which stripped away all the anguish of being small and vulnerable? Is your favorite one that’s compelled you to read it more than once?

The desire to read

I was born ready, jumping out of my diapers with eagerness to comprehend how written language worked.

My reading list from the start

All printed words that came my way. Food wrappers, cereal boxes, and street signs were intermingled with picture books.

School days

Fourth-grade outings with my best friend were bike rides to the library. There I would tick off readings from the Newberry Medal list (the highest esteemed American children’s books). Kids’ magazines with fiction, grown-up mags that featured stories, books lying about the house, I was starved for reading no matter how much I learned. That included Playboy Magazines, The Godfather, Marquis de Sade. That last one fascinated eleven-year-old me not for the sex (it went over my head), but for how sadomasochism mirrored the day-to-day I saw. Later in high school, Shakespeare taught me how stories can tap numerous levels beyond surface and deep.

Lately

My idea of “best” has more to do with whatever I’ve recently read that left an impression. Since embarking upon novel-writing, much of my fiction is via audiobooks. Minutes spent sitting is time I could be writing. The books I select are for enjoyment as well as for learning. Since the books I’m writing, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are epistolary (correspondence or diary), I’m apt to download books of that style. That includes the historically latent “Frankenstein” and “Dracula,” the contemporary “Queenie,” the fizzy “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and “The Roxy Letters.” Non-epistolary includes anything by authors like Anne Patchett, and Anne Tyler, who’s endings are complex. Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent protagonist encourages us to never regret losing our virginity. Now I’m dizzy with memories of beautiful reads, too many to note here but irresistible to type: “Little,” “A Tale for the Time Being,” “Kindred”… I can’t wait to read Kathleen Rooney’s latest (she was so very kind to be a Happiness Between Tails guest here).

Ian Craine, writer Ian Craine, writer

With that, dear readers, let’s meet Ian Craine — he often blogs on his wife’s site (Roberta Franklin is a writer of romantic fiction). He’s a Brit currently living in London who hopes to move to Wales and has worked as a lawyer, a book indexer, and a writer. He enjoys history, books, writing, walking, travel, horse racing, cinema, and music.

About writing, he notes, “…to write, one first of all, has to be able to read. Our life experiences, as Borges once said, include both the things we have done and the books we have read. Reading needs to be a balance between fiction and non-fiction, both from the reader’s and the writer’s point of view.”

Ian has written screenplays in various genres, novellas, stage plays, articles, short stories, flash and poetry. As for novels, he says, “…I confess I have always signally failed there. Somehow I just cannot write that many words. Perhaps I just haven’t got enough to say. But I admire anybody who can from Miguel Cervantes to my own wife.”

A lover of good novels, here are the ones he regards as the best six…

Six Great Novels: Ian Craine’s picks (in chronological order)

Painting of Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa by Honore DaumierDon Quixote and Sancho Pansa by Honore Daumier
  1. Don Quixote” by Miguel Cervantes: This is where the novel began, this is the template. It may never have been bettered since. It’s wonderfully layered, whose story are we hearing? This is a world that contains all worlds- those of dream, of memory and of imagination, of bawdy and elegy, the fantastical and the prosaic. This satire of romance now bears its own warm romantic glow. It has inspired many of the world’s greatest writers — Diderot, Mark Twain, Borges, Graham Greene, Nabokov, Carlos Fuentes — as it was inspired by Homer’s majestic Odyssey.
  2. The Black Arrow” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Stevenson was a man for all seasons from the early spring of childhood with tales like Treasure Island to winter’s disillusionment of old age in South Seas Island novellas such as Ebb Tide. My choice is in the earlier category, a stirring tale of derring-do from “The Wars of the Roses.” I am sure it was as fun to write as it is to read.
  3. The Alexandrian Quartet” by Laurence Durrell: These are four linked tales, the first three told contemporaneously but from different points of view; the fourth is subsequent to the earlier events. To me, nobody has combined a sense of place with a sense of the human condition as perfectly as Durrell. Alexandria is described on every page as the essential witness to all the characters do — their affairs, relationships, journeys, and desires. Beautiful descriptive writing effortlessly merges with a keen post-Freudian feel for humanity. It’s an object lesson too, in the primacy of the novel in describing human behaviour. This is rich beyond anything Freud himself ever wrote.
  4. Downriver” by Iain Sinclair: As Durrell wrote of a city, so Sinclair wrote of a river. The river is the Thames. The starting point is Thatcher’s London, the “revival” of the dockland with bijou apartments for bracered brokers, and it takes place largely downriver of the City, where such folk “earned” their commissions. The book, told in ten chapters, brings us an incredibly rich mix of deeply eccentric characters and allusions to episodes in London’s history over the centuries. Sinclair was a walker (till age put paid to his excursions) with a sharp eye for the topography and architecture of London, and the effects of crushing change on those left behind by the sudden hysteria orchestrated by “The Widow.”
  5. “The Blind Man’s Garden” by Nadeem Aslam: It’s 2001 and 9/11 has come and gone. But this is not about its effect on the West. This is what happened afterwards in Afghanistan. A beautifully evoked Pakistani family, each with their problems and preoccupations, are torn apart when the son decides to go to Afghanistan as a medic. An adopted “cousin” goes along for the ride. But they are too naive (perhaps a modern version of our old friends, the Quixote and Sancho Panza) and those they think are helping are out for their own cut- they are sold to the Taliban. Now they have to tread with care amidst their new “owners” while the other enemy, the Americans, fill their skies with terror and destruction. But like all serious novels about conflict, this is about trying to find common ground, mutual respect and reconciliation amid the chaos. Only “Sancho” survives because only he would have been equipped to survive. And this tremendous book, beautifully written, a tale of redemption amid horror, is his Odyssey. New ways of telling old tales.
  6. “The Professor and the Bird” by Roberta Franklin: This is a beautiful story, again with a strong sense of place, and like The Quartet set in the Mediterranean by a writer deeply conversant with the rhythms of life of Greeks and Turks and the Levant generally. She tells a lovely tale of May and November. A sparky young Irish girl on a motorbike meets an ageing Greek archaeologist. They would appear to have little in common at first, but a love of history, the sort buried deep beneath the sands and sea of the Med, begins to bring them together. She is friendly and open, he kind but academic and diffident. Their burgeoning relationship is told with warmth and humour, and the supporting crew on the dig all have their own stories to tell.

Videos plus Happy Un-Father’s Day! by da-AL


Screenshot of Josh's video from No Dad? No Problem! shoutout for me!No Dad? No Problem!‘s” shoutout for me — get yours too!

Whenever a holiday looms, my first reaction is to gag at all the goopy generalities that pop up more vigorously than do the weeds in my lawn. At least those I can pull up. But what do I do with celebrations that dictate only one way to feel?

Take, for instance, Father’s Day. Everywhere, right about this time of year, are messages of how wonderful dads are. Okay, let’s say that some fathers are. And a bunch aren’t, right? The same goes for Mother’s Day and “blessed is the family” designated events such as Xmas, Thanksgiving (and don’t get me started on other sundry celebrations).

Back to Father’s Day. No matter how relentlessly someone tries to gaslight me into their parallel universe, the fact remains tht mine wasn’t “nice,” to use a shorthand for all the ways he was relentlessly “awful” (an understatement). Writers who go into detail about stuff like that deserve the utmost respect. But if I elaborate further now, my loved ones will be stuck with a glum me for the rest of the day.

Besides, my purpose here is to, a) remind you that it’s okay to not get warm fuzzies over any kin-dedicated day — and, b) to let you know about a way to enjoy an avatar father! A do-over of the very best kind!

Some people are scared of strangers. From childhood on, they were most comforted “in the bosom of family” (a term that for me conjures only snarky innuendos). My growing up was the other way around. I love strangers. Some could be dangerous, but ditto for relatives. Better still, with strangers, there are no expectations. Moreover, they don’t have to be in my home.

Any nicety from a new person warms my heart better than finding treasure on the sands of a long-deserted beach. Ta dah! Enter Virtual Dad!

During my ongoing education that’s poised toward a future podcast of my novels, I googled some things about microphones. After bumbling upon Josh’s Youtube channel and thanking him for the info, I saw his offer to record personalized fatherly praise.

Cynic that I can be, I almost didn’t ask, figured nothing (or worse) would come of it. Then, to prove my own point to myself, I typed in a request…

Waddya know?! — within a matter of days, he answered with this. Basically, all I’d said was that I was working to publish my first podcast episode. Clearly, he researched my blog so he could get the shoutout just right. Plus he pronounced my name perfectly…

…and wouldn’t you know it, I surprised myself by how it bowled me over! He doesn’t ask for cash, he doesn’t proselytize, and thank goddess he’s neither racist nor bigoted — he’s just — dare I type this? — a decent person.

His Youtube “about” page tells how he — wait for it — basically wants to be a good father to his own four kids and to help others along the way. He describes everything from how to shave and how to avoid scammers, to the three best ways for young people to succeed in life and how to whip up easy eats like a grilled cheese sandwich golden and crispy enough to smell through the screen.

To be clear, dear readers, I’m not into guns whatsoever. In your interest, I watched his episode on them. Hallelujah, he wasn’t promoting gun ownership and he prefaced his talk with extensive stats on how truly dangerous they are and seriously they must be taken. Having served in the United States Air Force for twenty years, some of his duty in Afghanistan, and losing many friends, his weapons experience is vastly different from mine.

In addition, despite that I’m a vegetarian, for your sakes I sat through his chicken grilling DIY. His interspersed recount of a near-killing incident was in no way self-aggrandizing, was totally sober and compassionate. He’s obviously from a different culture than I was raised in and definitely overly young to be a real dad to me — but that’s just fine. I don’t ache for a father, not in the least. That said, the aforementioned sincere kindness of strangers has always served me well.

Essense of dad? Eau de dad? Dad-ness? It’s all good. Maybe it will be for you too?

If you’re not into father stuff, but appreciate something vaguely in the same vast range, here’s this…

There you go, friend. For anyone anywhere yearning for kind words from a father-ish nice adult any time of the year, and for whom Opie’s dad character on the Andy Griffith TV shows isn’t interactive enough, consider a virtual alternative.

Have you ever felt Happy Un-Father’s Day-ish? If you know of anyone or want someone to understand, please share this post. Maybe they’ll find comfort in that Un-Father’s Day, any day of the year, is okay.

Elephants in India: 3 easy tips for how we can help by Chelsea


Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks By jinterwas - [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22849407 Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks, by jinterwas – [1], CC BY 2.0

It’s simple to be cynical. When I travel, it’s easy to regard those different from me derisively. When I point at others, as the old saw goes however, the majority of my fingers point back at me.Living in the prosperous United States as I do, it’s tempting to ignore how our politics hurt ourselves and other countries. If it was ever possible to do — now amid our police brutality of innocent people, during these perilous times of COVID19 — how can anyone overlook how intertwined and interdependent everyone everywhere is?

Blogging has gifted me the unexpected delight of a number of followers from India, a huge country I’ve yet to visit, but obviously multi-faceted and amazing in countless ways. For one thing, they’re home to the amazingly evolved creatures called elephants!

Globetrotter Chelsea, a native of Northern England, is based out of Barcelona, Spain. On Chelsea’s blog, along with epicurean insights, she offers her unique take on various lands. Here’s a slice of her visit to NW India and her insights about how we can all become part of the solution when it comes to helping animals. The main organization she discusses, Wildlife SOS, is an award-winning charity founded by and administered by Indians…

Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India. Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India.

Elephants in India: 3 simple ways to help by Chelsea

It was my love of nature and animals that led me to Wildlife SOS India. Today I’d like to tell you all about the encouraging work of this fantastic conservation non-profit, particularly with regard to elephants, how COVID-19 has affected wildlife, what you can do to help, including other organizations.

What’s Wildlife SOS?

It’s a conservation non-profit set up in 1995 to protect and conserve India’s natural heritage, forest, and biodiversity. It is currently one of the largest Wildlife Organisations in South Asia. Its main missions are:

  • Conservation and protection of wild populations and habitat.
  • Rescue of injured and displaced wildlife, and to look after the welfare of captive populations.
  • Research into better protecting and caring for wildlife.

WSOS leads a massive variety of projects: battling illegal animal trading and poaching, advocating for wildlife within the legal and legislative systems, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and organising awareness workshops, to name just a few.

And the projects are just as diverse as the huge variety of animals they rescue every year ranging from snakes illegally captured by snake ‘charmers’, peacocks poisoned by pesticide, sloth bears forced to ‘dance’ for entertainment, and elephants enduring a life of cruelty in the tourism industry.

Love elephants? Read on!

Although WSOS is internationally known for its pivotal role in eradicating the practice of dancing bears, they are becoming increasingly well-known for their rescue and rehabilitation of elephants.

Their Elephant Conservation and Care Centre was created in 2010 to rehabilitate severely abused and exploited elephants, and nowadays houses over 25, many of which were rescued from a lifetime in captivity where they were forced to beg on behalf of their abusive owners, work as temple elephants, perform in circuses and give rides to tourists, among countless other atrocities.

Elephants in captivity face a life of cruelty and abuse, starting with being poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, and beaten until they can be coerced to do anything. (Note from da-AL: the video link that follows is truly upsetting.) The taming’ method for an elephant usually goes like this: baby elephants are kept in a small cage similar to those used in intensive pig farming, and they are tied up with ropes so they can’t move. The elephant will then be subject to repeated beatings with nails, sticks, chains, and bullhooks. In a process lasting several weeks, the animal is starved of food and water while enduring sleep-deprivation, until they submit to their owners, who can then use them for financial gain.

This cruel practice is aptly called phajaan or “breaking of the spirit”.

All captive elephants will go through at least some form of this vicious ritual. Next time you see an elephant used to give rides or appearing in a film, the signs of abuse will be easy to spot. Shredded ears where they have been torn by bullhooks, nasty skin conditions, lacerations all over their body, and tears in their eyes are all indications of abuse. It’s simple really — no wild elephant would voluntarily paint pictures, perform in the circus or let people ride them.

Only a creature that has had its spirit crushed through abject torture would submit to such unnatural behaviour. While in Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to still find a circus with real elephants, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,700 captive elephants all around Asia that are still actively subjected to some form of exploitation.

Such abuse is particularly sad when we consider that elephants are among the most intelligent of all land mammals. Elephants exhibit renowned cognitive skills and share many behavioural traits with humans. These sensitive souls exhibit grief, altruism, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness and have excellent memories. They remember other elephants and humans they had met briefly decades previously, and they will certainly never forget the anguish they endured all their captive lives.

As visitors to the Agra Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, it was heartwarming to see elephants which had endured a lifetime of cruelty finally be able to spend their days in peace, enjoying long relaxing mud baths, receiving a nutritious diet and veterinary care, as well as enjoying a daily stroll in the open fields with their friends.

Some phony ‘sanctuaries’ are more like petting zoos and little other than dressed-up tourist traps where the mistreatment of animals is commonplace (here’s how to spot one). In total contrast, at Wildlife SOS’s rescue centre in Agra, only small groups of visitors are allowed to come on a prearranged visit, and no touching of or direct interaction with the elephants is permitted. Elephants are in no way made to perform for visitors, and riding is, of course, banned. Although these elephants would not be able to survive in the wild again following decades of captivity, they are well cared for and live as natural a life as possible in the centre.

Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park , by Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24916395 Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park, by Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

How to visit Wildlife SOS

I was deeply impacted by the life-changing work Wildlife SOS is carrying out and would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Agra should carve out a firm place in their itinerary to visit both WSOS centres in Agra to see the projects first-hand. We hired a driver and visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and Elephant Conservation Centre all in one day, with time to get the 5pm train back to Delhi, so it’s definitely possible to have this eye-opening experience on a day trip!

For more information, check out Wildlife SOS’s website to find out more about how to visit the Elephant Conservation and Care Center. Make sure to get in touch in advance by sending an email to visit@wildlifesos.org to organise a customised visit. It’ll be the highlight of your trip to Agra!

Refuse to Ride Elephants sign by Chelsea. Photo by Chelsea.

How has COVID-19 affected Wildlife?

The current COVID-19 crisis is making its effects felt universally and is forcing us to reexamine our relationship with wildlife and nature.

Now confined to their homes, people are increasingly realising the benefits and importance of spending time in nature, notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi are enjoying some of their first blue-sky days in a long time, and wild animals have been venturing into urban city centres now devoid of the usual throngs of people and heaving traffic. Wild boars have even been spotted taking a stroll around the metropolis of Barcelona!

Another silver lining of the current pandemic is that it has shone the spotlight on the illegal global wildlife trade. There is more awareness than ever of the risks that exotic animal markets pose to human health and increasing pressure to close them down for good.

At the same time, wildlife tourism is being severely impacted by restricted international travel. On the one hand, this is good news – the lack of tourists will be a relief to elephants who are otherwise forced to give rides all day. On the other hand, rescue centres like Wildlife SOS will not be able to welcome visitors whose entrance fees go towards the animals’ upkeep.

Ultimately, whether it comes as a blessing or a curse, COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call, and one thing is certain: we need to seriously rethink how we treat the natural and animal world around us.

3 Easy Ways Everyone can help — Wildlife SOS and beyond… 

  1. Visit the WSOS site for everything from how to spread awareness, fundraise, volunteer, and sponsor an animal, to opportunities to assist children in Kalandar. In addition to learning more about their groundbreaking conservation work, visit their bear and elephant facilities in Agra, if you’re in Bangalore, South India.
  2. Here’s a WSOS link if you’d like to sign a petition to ban riding elephants, to ban the use of animals for medicine and food, this one to protect India’s wildlife from open wells, and this one to outlaw the use of elephants for tourists to ride.
  3. Donate elsewhere: every little helps, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis with food shortages looming.

My visit to the elephant centre left me emotional, and a lot of tears went into writing this article. The way humans treat their fellow living creatures is disheartening, to say the least. We call people ‘animals’ when they act aggressively, brutishly, and uncivilised, but really, animals don’t hold a candle to the depths of fiendishness us humans are capable of on a regular basis. In fact, it’s animals who time and time again surprise us with their altruism and affection towards humans. Here are examples of our wonderful dolphin friends!

But I’m also optimistic. Yes, there is still an enormous amount of needless animal cruelty going on today all over the world in the name of entertainment, medicine, food, or whatever other reason you can find a justification for, but there are also beacons of hope like Wildlife SOS.

As more people shun the use of animals for their own perceived gain, I like to think we can stride in the direction of a world with a little less suffering, and a lot more love and compassion.

Sending you sunshine and positivity, Chelsea!

Dear readers, please weigh in…  

A Novelist Takes Control: writer Colleen Tews owns a publishing house!


Writing a novel isn’t easy, but compared to — attracting a powerful agent, getting one’s novel published, and reaching a sizable audience of readers who want to buy it — it sure is!

There’s traditional publishing, and there’s self-publishing. As if either of those isn’t asking for enough trouble — then there’s becoming the publisher of not merely one’s own books. Here blogger/novelist/publisher Colleen Tews of Akron, Ohio, shares what it’s like to open a publishing house of her own…

Author/Blogger/Publisher Colleen Tews.
Author/Blogger/Publisher Colleen Tews.

Running an Indie Publishing House in 2020 by Colleen Tews

Let me start by saying that I cannot speak for the big companies or even the decent-sized companies. Delphian Hope Publishing, or DHP, is what you might call a Mom and Pop Publishing company for the 21st century. We don’t put a catalog together and ship it off to brick and mortar bookstores. Not that we have much of one. There are only my books — for now. Everything we do is done either electronically or print on demand. We’re eco-friendly.

Our biggest sellers are from my Shadow Faith Series. The style in which these books are written could be described as if Stephen King, Taika Waititi, and Laurell K. Hamilton combined their forces for a big vampire fantasy. It’s that horror thrill ride meets sexy espionage meets strong female heroine meets “Wait, what did she just say?” laugh out loud movie in your mind.

I love reading and writing paranormal because anything is possible. The boundaries are our imagination. We get to ask ourselves: How far can I push reality and still make it believable? It’s grounding the awesome wonders of our universe into an understandable scope. One that the characters can relate to, the readers can resonate with, and one that can maybe open someone’s eyes a little. Making the impossible plausible is… fun.

Cover of "Between the Shadows," by Colleen Tews.

So, when it comes time to publish, we are all over paranormal, horror, mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy, and thrillers. We are looking for books with something to say. Not gore for the sake of gore. You can stream that on Shudder. We want a reason behind every decision. Smart dark fiction. Something that shows light in the darkest of times.

Right now, we are preparing to publish, “Between the Shadows,” which is set to come out June 11, 2020. It’s a collection of five short stories that take place between Shadow Faith series book one, “Birth Of A Vixen,” and book two, “Virus Within.” The events in these stories will shape the future of many books to come. It’s going to be huge.

Plus, I’m working on book three in the Shadow Faith series, “Vindication.” It’s going to be epic. Veronica will be leaving Kent, Ohio, for sunny Miami, Florida. True, she won’t be able to enjoy the toasty beaches, but she will get to revel in the romantic moonlit ones.

Like Tigger, I bounce everywhere. I rely a lot on my husband, Ken, and youngest daughter, Danelle. They keep me down-to-earth by listening to my ideas and ramblings. I work from a home office. Chores are evenly split. Just because I work from home doesn’t mean I sit around all day streaming Amazon Prime on my laptop.

Cover of "Birth of a Vixen," by Colleen Tews.

DHP has two new editors to help me. They are a godsend. Everyone gets a piece of the pie, so no one goes stir crazy. We recently purchased recording equipment. All of our books will be available on Audible just as fast as I can read them without slurring my words.

Self-publishing and wanting to help other authors publish is not easy, but it’s worth it. It is made ten times harder when readers fear taking a chance on unknown authors when money is tight.

Which is why we are offering the first ebook in the Shadow Faith series for just 99 cents through Kindle. I guarantee you’ll love it as much as we do. As an added bonus, because authors live and die by word of mouth, by leaving a review, you’ll be entered into a contest to win a signed paperback of “Virus Within.” When the book reaches 100 reviews, a lottery will be drawn, and three lucky winners will get book two sent to them by me personally.

What’s your dream publishing company look like?

Sheltering in Place Thoughts 4 Writers: mine w author Paul Broome’s


FOMO: fear of missing out

COVID19 has nixed all that for me, replaced it with guilt for how great mine and I have it. No one I know directly is sick. Early on, a couple of brilliant friends were ailing from it, but after a stint at home, I’m relieved to report that they’re well and back to work… The weather’s been marvelous this entire quarantine… Working from home is no prob… Bills are paid…

Social distancing is hardly the equivalent of isolation. Being sequestered pales in light of flagging economies… people whose lives are overturned by illness and debt and worse…

da-AL social distancing with K-D doggie.
Social distancing isn’t so bad when you have a friend…

Again with the guilt… Because as a soon-to-be-published author (and podcaster here!) — fewer errands and less commuting is lending me more time to think — and to write, write, write!

Authors fork over wads of money, more than I can afford, to attend retreats. I’ve often drooled over websites that advertise sojourns in the woods, luxury cabins populated with fellow scribes who share s’mores smokey firepits. The beautiful escapes provide meals and laundry and cleaning and errands — e-v-e-r-y single thing that hinders writing is whisked clean away. All I’d need to do (besides the money part) is to write and to talk about writing and to listen about writing! Sorta like being cared for as lovingly as if I were a baby — a writer one, of course — sans the diapers — no?

Writing retreat in mind, that’s why I’ve resolved to make use of the sequestering. I’ve knuckled down, slammed away at the keyboard. And it’s going pretty well! Other posts I’ve written about the pandemic are here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Fellow author/blogger Paul A. Broome is a retired English professor. He recently completed his first novel!!!! Yeah!!!! It’s named “Girls Who Don’t Believe.” Now he’s working on another!

He and his wife, Sadako, live in North Alabama with their two pets, Cody, a black lab, and Tora, who he affectionately describes as, “a crazy tabby.” Here’s a slice of his “sheltering-in-place” life…

Paul A. Broome with Cody.
Paul A. Broome with Cody.

What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do by Paul A. Broome

We Americans are people who truly enjoy looking at things — any and all things. I personally do not see this visual obsession of ours as a problem. Looking at things can be understood as one of evolution’s magnificent gifts to humankind. Early on, we had to look carefully at the world around us in order to eat green leafy things that wouldn’t poison us and to avoid big furry things that would eat us. Now we happily look at things to satisfy our aesthetic demands, or more prosaically, to figure out whether or not we want to shell out the bucks to buy it!

Red bird about to fly to the feeder. Photo by Paul A. Broome
Red bird about to fly to the feeder. Photo by Paul A. Broome

At any rate, here we are, all of us, whether we agree with it or not, sheltering in place to avoid a virus, that can, for a short amount of time, float in the air, after someone sneezes, coughs, or shouts to their spouse at the other end of the pet food aisle to get two packs of Kitty Treats for Angel. “The one with tuna!”

Sheltering. In. Home. Is it really so bad?

I don’t think so, and many folks with whom I’ve chatted over these past six weeks do not think so either. Even when states, counties, and cities are trying to re-open, many people are reluctant to go skipping out to the nearest sports bar and hoot and holler while gulping down beer after beer. It turns out that a good number of cautious and wary citizens (I count myself in that number) had rather stay at home and finish that wonderful novel, the one I purchased last year, and never got around to reading. One friend of mine tells me that she’s gotten absolutely hooked on coloring books for grown-ups. She went on to say she bought a large set of colored pencils and has become fascinated with the way different colors work together. I’m beginning to think that’s not such a bad idea. But what about those moments when you have absolutely nothing to do? Or you’re just “tired” of doing things.

One of our first rose blooms this spring. Photo by Paul A. Broome.
One of our first rose blooms this spring. Photo by Paul A. Broome.

Here’s something I enjoy.

I love sitting outside and watching the birds at the feeder: red birds, blue birds, goldfinches, brown sparrows. It’s an endless show of color. And then the squirrels sneak up, and Cody, our black lab, wakes from his nap and chases them back into the trees. The trees that are now thick with leaves, green leaves, so many shades of green that flip and shift in color when the wind blows, and the treetops lean gracefully like ballerinas, and there’s a hawk, wings spread, held aloft on currents of warm air, serene and full of mystery, like those soft, white clouds beneath the deep, blue sky, coming out of the east, drifting quietly to the west.

And when it starts to turn dark? I watch it turn dark. It’s really quite beautiful.

I truly hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of my world. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I’d like to send a warm thank you to da-AL for allowing me to be a guest blogger on her site.

How about for you? Is sheltering in place giving you more time to pursue some of your favorite activities?

Sheltering = cute food time! Guest Post: R. Cheadle’s Fondant Peonies


Staying home makes me hungry! How about you? And when I get hungry, my first thoughts are of sweets! Cute ones are all the more enticing…

South African author Robbie Cheadle hosts a blog, has an author page on Goodreads, and Tweets from Johannesburg. For all ages, she writes books and contributes to anthologies. There are her “Sir Chocolate” children’s books (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), and her middle-grade “Silly Willy” series. And there is her preteen/young adult fictionalized bio about her mom’s World War II childhood in England, along with a book of poetry co-authored with Kim Blades. As Roberta Eaton Cheadle, she’s venturing into supernatural and horror stories for adults and young adults, the first titled, “Through the Nethergate.”

Robbie (Roberta) Cheadle writes, blogs, and videos for all ages from South Africa.
Robbie (Roberta) Cheadle writes, blogs, and videos for all ages from South Africa.

“How to make fondant (sugar dough/paste) peonies” by Robbie Cheadle

My husband’s birthday is approaching, and I wanted to make something special to mark the day, especially as we are likely to still be in some form of COVID-19 lockdown. I decided to make peonies in a dark pink and dust the outer petals with edible gold.

Making the peonies was quite a challenge, as I wanted to get the shape right. Peony petals curl inwards, which means that each layer must be allowed to dry completely inside a correctly sized bowl-shaped container. I made these containers out of tin foil, which I pleated and folded to fit the four different stages of the petals.

A fondant peony for Robbie's husband.
A fondant peony for Robbie’s husband.

You will need…

  • Fondant coloured dark pink
  • A large fondant rose cutter
  • A large and a small ball tool
  • Edible sugar glue
  • Peony petal cutters in three sizes (standard pack)
  • Edible dark pink food colouring powder
  • Edible gold dust
  • Two medium-sized paintbrushes
  • A flower veining tool or toothpick

Process

Mix a quantity of dark pink fondant and place it in a lock zip plastic bag. Take a small amount and roll it out as thinly as possible. Use a thin layer of cornflour on the surface of the fondant when you roll it out to prevent it from sticking. Cut out two rose shapes using your large rose cutter.A rose-shaped layer of fondant.
Use a ball took or toothpick to frill and flute the edges of the two rose shapes and use the flower veining tool or toothpick to texture the petals. Place in a small silver foil container pleated to round the petals. Allow to dry to the texture of leather.A silver foil container pleated to round the petals.

Roll a bud from fondant with a fatter base and narrower tip. Use a bit of sugar glue to attach it to one of the rose shapes. Paint a small blob of sugar glue on the bottom part of each petal on both sides and wrap the petals around the bud. Use a toothpick to separate the petals and create a rosebud shape. Use sugar glue to attach the enlarged bud to the other rose shape.Building the layers of a fondant peony.

Wrap the other shape around the enlarged bud. Leave to dry overnight.The other shape wraps around the bud.

Roll out more dark pink fondant and cut out six peony petals using your smallest peony petal cutter. Frill and flute the edges using a small ball tool or a toothpick. Use the toothpick for flower veining tool to texture the petals.Toothpicks help frill and flute edges.

Place them upside down in a sliver foil container and allow them to dry to the texture of leather.Outer petals take shape.

Dab sugar glue along the bottom half of both edges of the petals and place them around the bud, pressing them firmly into place with your fingers. When all six petals have been placed around the bud, place the flower into a piece of silver foil shaped into a cup. Leave overnight to dry. Your flower will look like this…Taking shape after several days.

The following day cut out six middle-sized peony petals and repeat the steps above. Place in a slightly larger silver foil cup and leave to dry overnight.Foil helps the shapes to hold while they dry.

Repeat the above process on days three and four, using the large peony petal cutter and slightly larger silver foil cups.Fondant peony, almost done!

Once the peony is completely dry, use a medium-sized paintbrush dipped into dark pink food colouring power, and smudge it into the centre of the peony. Dip a medium-sized paintbrush into edible gold shimmer dust and paint over the outermost petals until they shimmer and shine.
Your peony flower is now complete.

For step-by-step instruction on how to make more of our fondant artworks, for recipes, and for free audible readings of our free Sir Chocolate books, please visit our YouTube site.

Our YouTube site is a community service project that my two sons and I have started to bring readings of our free Sir Chocolate books and simple recipes to children and their parents to help keep children entertained during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our step-by-step creature videos can be made with children using playdough or fondant.

These are trying times worldwide — perhaps my other posts here and here and here and here and here and here will lift your spirits a bit?

Has your eating changed since COVID19?

1st podcast!! + D. Sharpe’s Sci-Fi “Another Day in the Twilight Zone”


This is an exciting post for me because — hurrah! — today you’ll listen to my first ever podcast!

Please help make it a success by subscribing to it, sharing it, commenting on it, and liking it.

Tale-telling has been around for eons, yet we can never get enough of stories. Drawings to hieroglyphs, scribes to printing presses, photography to film to radio to TV… am I leaving anything out?

Enter podcasts! Do you listen to any that are dedicated to novels? If you do, how did you learn of them chose, and how do you listen to them?

I’m asking because eventually, hopefully, sooner than later, I’ll podcast my novels, starting with “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat.” With that as my plan, I’ve spent the last several weeks of my ‘sheltering in place time’ taking an internet class on podcasting. It’s offered online with a professional Gale Courses teacher at the other end — for free! Thank you, Los Angeles County Library, for which I’ve sung the praises of numerous times, most prominently here and here.

Perhaps you have a podcast of your own? If you do, share your hands-on insights: your do’s, your don’ts, your money-making tips, your platforms, and what has worked best for you, especially when it comes to getting people to listen.

The class I took recommending starting with Podbean as a podcast host. In addition to that, I’ve uploaded this first-ever of mine to Youtube. I’ve already got an account there for the shorts I’ve featured already like this baby chick one and this amazing cat one. Plus, Youtube commands a heck of a lot of traffic.

My first podcast guest is Dwayne Sharpe. He’s the generous member of a local library writing group. I’d only just discovered it in real life — but— that was right before the COVID19 crisis knocked us sideways. First, we bumbled about with convoluted email lists. Recently, fingers crossed that we haven’t already lost all our members — we’re experimenting with Facebook.

"Thomas' 100 Cat Tales" by Dwayne Sharpe cover.

All that aside — back to Dwayne. As far as I’m concerned, prolific is his middle name. He’s written scores of tales, and he’s published two books. One is called “Thomas’ 100 Cat Tales,” and the other is “Blaze Mysteries,” both available at Amazon.

"Blaze" by Dwayne Sharpe cover.

Listen to Dwayne perform his chilling short story, “Another Day in the Twilight Zone,” for the podcast. Here’s a player for just the audio. Below it, you can also read the tale…

Dwayne Sharpe
Dwayne Sharpe

“Another Day in the Twilight Zone,” a short story by Dwayne Sharpe

Wow! The sun is shining, and a few cumulus clouds drift around the morning sky. Dressed in a light sweater, I venture out. The need to stretch the legs fills me with energy to bound down the steps and take a deep breath. The concrete walkways entice my exploration traits as I trudge north, then west in a zig-zag pattern of streets and alleyways. Time has no meaning while the feet are moving, now east, and again north.

Where is everyone? My journey passed many homes and a few businesses, but no one in sight. Nary a vehicle is heard, only a few birds. I begin a closer inspection of the houses I pass, seeking movement behind curtains and blinds. Surely a child’s scream of laughter will break the silence. A breeze causes a few leaves to bristle, nothing substantial.

A pocket park lies ahead. Surely there will be kids playing on the swings or giggling down a slide. Alas, the park is empty, not even a dog walker. The picnic table sits empty, with an inviting BBQ standing next to it. I take the path where a sign reads, “Quarter-mile fitness walk.” Pine trees stand guard along the narrow gravel path. A pine cone lies in wait for me, and a swift kick sends it along.

The sun has moved behind darkening clouds, and a chilly wind has begun to blow. I travel south, then east, a different thoroughfare than before, hope fills my mind of seeing someone, anyone. Cars parked alongside the curb, abandoned, gasoline no longer available. Leaves piled up around the wheels. Weeds have grown tall, replacing the lush green grass of years past.

Today’s expedition ends as I approach the only house on the block, free of tall weeds. A weathered sign in my yard reads, “We are all in this together.” I inspect the sign and look up and down my block. There is no one left to speak these words to. I pull the picket sign and toss it into the growing pile of debris. Not even the sanitation engineers will come. Am I the last person alive?

About Dwayne Sharpe: In addition to his books listed above, he’s written over 50 short stories in subjects including Love, Crime, Adventure, and Fantasy. His hobbies include genealogy and geocaching. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, California. (Learn about geocaching here and here.)

Please support my 1st podcast ever by sharing, subscribing, liking, and commenting… And tell us about your experiences with podcasts for fiction books…

COVID19 Gratitude?! Plus I’m working on my 1st podcast ever! by da-AL


Podcast photo of da-AL with K-D for Happiness Between Tails.
We’re hard at work on an upcoming podcast for you to enjoy!…

“Stay safe.” How many times a day do you hear that? During this COVID19 era, whether the conversation is for business or pleasure, the majority of mine end with someone telling me, “Stay safe.” Then I ask them to do the same.

Here in Los Angeles, weeks have turn into months. No complaints from me, proud of the liberal blueness of my state as I am. Assuming folks remind me to ‘stay safe’ at home with super-clean hands, for my part, I mean something different. Stay safe, dear reader — stay safely happy as well as healthy.

Now that we’re on the subject, how are you managing that? Me, I do my usual keeping busy. Let me preface that with: it’s easy for me. I am most definitely lucky, lucky, lucky. I’ve got food, shelter, and all my people are sound inside and out. That includes my four-legged furry little girl. And I live in an area where Spring has sprung amid a fabulously mild climate.

Recently I heard that sheltering has affected dogs (surely the menagerie of other beloved pets too) — in a good way! It turns out that at least one doggie needed vet-prescribed relaxation to recover from wagging their tail so much. Ah, the sheer bliss of having one’s person(s) home ‘round the clock, ‘round the week!

My heart goes out to everyone who struggles as a result of the pandemic. Thank you, all who are working away from home. You are my heroes.

But I feel guilty. You too? Because for as terrible as the situation is…

These are some of the gifts that I will miss when sheltering is over…

  1. I live within walking distance from a commuter airport, and my home has single-paned windows. Fewer flights mean I’ve been sleeping better and now I hear more birds in the daytime.
  2. Though I didn’t eat out much even before the sheltering, stocking up for two weeks at a time takes rethinking errands and cooking. That’s not so bad — I’m finding that shopping far less often leaves me more time to write, to walk, to do all kinds of things.
  3. Nature too is getting a ‘reboot.’ Fewer drivers result in cleaner air, more birds singing this spring-time, and less road-kill. It’s nice to look up to a night sky of more twinkling stars, fewer airplanes.
  4. It’s lovely to see neighbors I never knew. They ride their bikes past my window, their kids following like ducklings.
  5. More pets are out with their owners. On my strolls, dog in tow or not, it’s a relief to not worry about rush-hour traffic mowing us down.
  6. People are adopting more pets!
  7. My expenses are down. Since this started, I haven’t needed to put gas in my car.
  8. I have less laundry and buy fewer clothes I haven’t gotten my hair styled, and I definitely use fewer cosmetics.
  9. My rare drives are a breeze in the reduced traffic.
  10. Definitely, it would be great to see my friends and family in person soon. On the other hand, with all this extra time, we’re keeping in closer contact thanks to Zoom and FaceTiming. Moreover, visual visits require us to really pay attention to each other.
  11. When I had my annual physical, speaking with my doctor didn’t cost me a co-pay, as it was a phone visit.
  12. Without the commute to parties and my beloved yoga studio, I’m keeping fitter with fewer days of over-indulgence and the daily zoom workouts.
  13. My husband is whiling away his extra time by assuming much of the grocery shopping and cooking duties.
  14. For all anyone knows, I’ve got a mustache and mask-tan lines on face — but I won’t tell!

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I asked my Facebook friends, they had plenty they appreciated. I forgot to ask permission to name them, so I’ll paraphrase. Some are exercising to videos and glad for more time to cook, garden, create art, and to watch old and new favorite TV shows. Personally, I’m totally on the same page as the friend who’s binging on “Monk” shows. Even my local newspaper, The Long Beach Post News’ columnist Tim Grobaty, reports some good fallout from all the pollution slow-down.

Need some self-soothing boosts? Here are three f-r-e-e apps that help me — this one from Australia, this one through a company that also features free mind games, and this one that utilizes tapping.

People are grateful for…

  1. Time to enjoy flowers.
  2. Along a beach on Lake Huron, Canada, the sky is breathtaking… clean, clear days and inky nights with exuberant stars.
  3. I’m using less gas, and I love how gasoline prices have dropped.
  4. Less traffic is excellent for motorcycling.
  5. Now I have time to practice meditation.
  6. Now there are a lot of swans at my park.
  7. I’ve got more time to garden. The clean air and bright sun are lovely on my walks with my dogs.
  8. I’ve taught myself new line dances as I practice in my kitchen!
  9. As a baking enthusiast, I’m taking cakes to friends stuck at home.
  10. I don’t like that I still have to go to work, but it’s nice to see others spending more time with their children.
  11. This is giving everyone a chance to reevaluate their priorities.
  12. My cat has more time to sit on me.
  13. My blood pressure is way down.
  14. I’m feeling more relaxed and healthier than I have in years.

What’ll you miss once the pandemic is over? Are there any gifts you’re determined to maintain?

More of Happiness Between Tails posts regarding the current crisis are here and here and here and here and here and here.

Now about my first podcast — I’m hard at work on it! It’ll be ready for your listening pleasure soon!

Writing a book? Go for it! a Guest Blog Post by Mr E


Soon-to-be-self-published novelist that I am, I’m always looking to see what other authors are doing. You too?

Or maybe you’d like a bit of inspiration to complete your book and to self-publish it? Mr E has done just that — twice. His most poignant advice for me is that he did it because he wanted to lighten the days of as many people as he could!

In his own words, here’s what the experience of writing and publishing The Stories of 1542: Mini prequel too 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 2)” and “The Stories of 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 1)” was like for him…

Mr E's signature for his books started with his original iPad artwork.
Mr E’s signature for his books started with his original iPad artwork.

“My Experience Writing Books, for Future Authors,” by Mr E

Myself

Hello, there. My name is Mr E. Now obviously, that’s just my pen name, as many authors tend to go by. I come from a little beach town in England where I write from on my good old MacBook. Originally not intending to become an author, I studied being a computer technician, obtaining a few degrees in my late teenage years.

Let’s Get Started

May I start off by saying that if you’re interested in writing your own books, go for it. You have absolutely nothing to lose but so much to gain. Let your passion run wide.

Even if you decide being an author isn’t for you, the amount you learn will stay with you forever."The Stories of 1642," by Mr E

Experience

I started off by making up silly short stories in my head and telling people about them, just to bring some smiles and laughs to our day-to-day lives. After a while, I ended up writing them down on the notes app on my iPhone. Accumulating quite a few, I wanted to share them with as many people as I could, remembering that one way of getting yourself out there is to release ebooks.

After learning about setting up my own publisher account on Amazon, I found my way forward. However, there are many more options out there, such as Apple Books, Google Play Books, and so on. All are relatively easy to get started with.

I thought with all these short stories, how could I put them all together? My answer was to create a narrative behind them, not only to make each story flow to the next but also to give them more personality.

Advice

Writing your first book will take quite a bit of time, but as you go through the motions, eventually, you will get the hang of it and form your own style.

Take this picture, for example. I simply made this on my iPad by continually adding more and more detail to it by using a free drawing app. This particular design ended up being a background for my signature on the fronts of my books.

Mr E's art before it became his signature.
Mr E’s art before it became his signature.

You want to write about things you enjoy in life. That could be horror, romance, comedy, and so on. If you’re solely going for the money, you’re in the wrong place. You won’t make a great book if your heart isn’t in it. But for the people whose hearts are, the amount of enjoyment that comes will be more worth it than any monetary gain.

You don’t have to be a master at photoshop to design a great front cover. Here’s the cover of my second book, “The Stories of 1542.” I believe it to be simple but effective.

Mr E's self-designed cover to his, "The Stories of 1542: Mini prequel to 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 2)"
Mr E’s self-designed cover to his, “The Stories of 1542: Mini prequel to 1642 (Stories of Trilogy Book 2)”

Thanks

A special thanks to da-AL For letting me guest blog on her site.

Writing community

If you have any questions or just would like some advice on writing, my Twitter DMs are open at @AuthorMrE where we have an amazing writing community.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple This quote I share from someone who’s not with us anymore. Thank you for reading.

Are you writing a book?