Kind Words of D. Zeorlin + Podcast 4: J. Barrow’s Writing/Publishing

X me + Publishing: Judith Barrow’s Traditional Happiness Between Tails by da-AL

#Authors #WritingLife #Books #Novels #Labels #LatinX What method do you use to write? And do you have labels you like to go by? Judith Barrow published many books and blogs from West Wales, England. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. Time Stamps (these are approximations due to whether ads play during show): HBT introduction Today’s topic and about today’s guest 1:05 Judith Barrow on How She Publishes and Writes 6:05 My question for you 18:15 HBT outro 18:40 Links at HappinessBetweenTails.com blog post of this episode: The blog post this podcast episode reads from. Judith Barrow’s website and Honno Publishing Company that puts out her books. About my novels. Here’s where I wrote more about podcasting. And here's more about my podcasting experience. Photos at the blog post this podcast episode reads from: Judith Barrow Some of her book covers — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message

Click H E R E & you’ll find my brand new podcast page! It’s on AnchorFM, where the most recent show is the audio rendition of my blog post (the blog version is h-e-r-e), “Xme + Publish: Barrow’s Trad + Podcast 3 Cotticollan’s India Self-Pub.”

H E R E ‘s the Happiness Between Tails podcast page at AnchorFM, and there you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it wherever else you prefer, such as via Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker and Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and Overcast (that you need to access from Overcast’s iOS app, then search for Happiness Between Tails) and an RSS feed (by the way, I keep updating this list here as Anchor adds to it) …

This has been another jam-packed week, juggling the new podcast and all the learning it involves, along with keeping this blog up to speed while squeezing in time to write my novels.

Here are some notes from my week…

Twinkl badge.

Thank you, Sumaiya at her educational site, Twinkl Educational Publishing, for adding my thoughts about “what more can be done to increase mental health awareness?” at her website reachable by clicking her site badge above or h-e-r-e..

As I experiment with AI (Artificial Intelligence) for podcasting, I’m especially intrigued to learn that now there are ones that’ll convert one’s voice into a whole other language! This example of it totally blows my mind!

Amazing as the increasing sophistication of such technology is, I can’t help loving snail-mail too. Here Juergen (and Baxxter, his extremely charming dog) from Loy, Germany, makes a persuasive case and shows examples h-e-r-e of why and how all of us need to dive headlong into postcard nirvana.

Since we’ve touched on dogs, it was while I was walking my dear K-D-doggie that I met a neighbor who’s worked hard to ensure that no one on her block gets forgotten during the pandemic. Besides Zooming and keeping people posted on who needs what, she even handed out copies of a book she loves. “An Invisible Thread,” by Laura Schroff, is the moving story of a woman who reached out to a needy kid and experienced “who rescued who?”

This is how I reviewed it for Amazon and Goodreads: “Unflinchingly honest — and inspiring! Warts and all, Laura demonstrates how even imperfect care of each other can impact us in wonderful ways we’d never predict.”

When I Facebook-ed her the review — whoot! whoot! — she mailed me this autographed bookmark and bookplate!

Autographed bookmark and bookplate that "An Invisible Thread" author Laura Schoff snail-mailed me!

Today’s guest, Dan Zeorlin, might already be familiar to you from his prior posts h-e-r-e and h-e-r-e. His blog is t-h-i-s site, where he invites everyone to read his “Care Giver’s Manual for Men.” (By the way, like how I cut out the background from his photo? I just discovered this site that does it drag-and-drop instantly for free!)

Dan Zerling blog card

“Kind Words: the appearance of Kindness looks like Selfishness to those people who are not Generous” by Dan Zeorlin

Linda charged me to become her caregiver after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Basically I redefined my Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to that of finding hope. I became a kinder person. ”In one word, Hope describes the value of Kindness.”

I want to do more for others as we face losses of support. I begin by sharing a vocabulary of kind words. Then I give examples of their use as I tell our story.

List of Dan Zeorlin's words to consider.

Engineering careers are immensely satisfying. My engineering jobs often ended tumultuously but over time I learned to accept the fact that nothing lasts forever. That is, nothing except love for Linda my wife. She was diagnosed with cancer and I vowed to do everything in my power to make this a happier part of our life-journey together.

I received paychecks for reliably solving the technical issues which barred ways to higher profitability’s for multiple companies in myriad industries. They didn’t want my slant on morality. I was worth more than that and found methods through my own attentiveness to establish accountability. Linda got sick and needed hope; I promised to build more of it. Thus we embarked on a passage from pre-diagnosis to confirmation to finding a cure and to recovery with willingness to improve.

The medical professionals who treated Linda were phenomenal! I have high-regard for them and nothing but appreciation for all the caring individuals who amplified our capacity to love. Whether they were engaged with compassion, concern, or acted out of curiosity each played a vital role in lifting us up. Honestly I didn’t know how things might end but I would do everything possible to honor her requests. This meant to forgive misgivings. She immersed herself in the presence of peace and found relief.

Now I appreciate your patience. This portion of the back story is tolerable only if something better is yet to come – like helpful advice or reading “Ten Easy Steps to Surviving Cancer.” Listen to this: think of all life’s difficulties as a series of doors, some of which are cancers. Each doorway leads to rooms full of potentials. The words filling your vocabulary are essential to understanding. An appropriate key opens a locked room but it doesn’t change what is behind the door. Add more keys to kindness. Eliminate keys which unleash the furies of cancer.

Have you ever met someone who didn’t know a stranger? Now you have! Meet me. One value in diversity is that you never know where the next miracle is going to happen. In all sincerity I tell you that nobody is undeserving of dignity and respect. This doesn’t mean you will want to become friendly with Hitler or generous with Attila the Hun but you might learn a greater depth of responsiveness through empathy. So if I can become a better person by gaining insights on that person whom I don’t wish to be then that’s a pretty fine reason not to shun self-sacrifice. And as I mentioned earlier – almost nothing lasts forever but when it appears doomed then make the best of it and try to move on.

Do not take a dwelling place amongst the bad or dangerous spots in the world. Plan to make room for fellowship. We are all pilgrims. It is important to guide the vulnerable and lead the lost back to safety. This is what caregivers do. Shine a beacon of goodness.

These ideals may be admirable but you might still ask, “How can we make this happen? We have so many negatives!” Well for one, begin earlier; start working on it yesterday already. Time travel not an option? Not my problem…or rather, not a problem which can be mitigated through reverse engineering. But say it is possible to look through a special lens and see into the future (“tomorrow”). Have you exhibited thoughtfulness to make life better for future generations? Say it again: The appearance of Kindness looks like Selfishness to those people who are not Generous. Or to put it another way, the character of Beauty is to find Joy in life and to be Charitable each moment.

Imagine you are the richest person in the world. You travel and must relocate to maintain your wealth, converting it to heavy objects. Partway through your travels you encounter a vicious storm, you are injured and your vehicle begins to fail. The weight of your baggage drags you down. Suddenly you realize that unless you restructure your priorities, your life will soon be over. What are you to do? Are you strong enough to change? Now it’s possible that the quagmire which trapped and holds you fast also contains some mysterious elixir which can stave off the inevitable and “cure” your affliction. Just in case events don’t play out in predictable patterns, better stay as far away as possible from danger and keep on paths which lead to recovery. Devotion to making good choices will change the world one word at a time.

Jumping ahead now – I took a retirement job. I brought with me all the dependability and fidelity of an engineer but also humor, justice, and zero stress. It is not a majestic position but it has stability. In all truthfulness I have fun and get paid for it! My professional career has ended but my desire to share lessons learned is still active. I published my Caregiver’s Manual for Men as evidence that we all exist for the greater purpose of serving each other.

How often do you snail-mail those you care about?

Xme + Publish: Barrow’s Trad + Podcast 3 Cotticollan’s India Self-Pub

Writing & Self-Publishing in South India: Nadira Cotticollan Happiness Between Tails by da-AL

#NovelWriting #SelfPublishing #Authors #India What’s your experience with buying or publishing self-published novels? Got questions, thoughts, and/or experiences to share about writing and publishing? Record them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Extended version of this episode, including photos and links, at: HappinessBetweenTails.com Time Stamps (these are approximations due to whether ads play during show): Happiness Between Tails introduction da-AL discusses today’s topic and tells a bit about today’s guest 1:07 Nadira Cotticollan shares her experience 2:06 This episode’s question with info on how to comment, and learn more about Nadira and da-AL 7:07 — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message

Click H E R E & you’ll find my brand new podcast page! It’s on AnchorFM, where the most recent show is the audio rendition of my blog post (the blog version is HERE), “Self-Publishing in S. India: A Guest Blog Post by Nadira Cotticollan.”

H E R E ‘s the Happiness Between Tails podcast page at AnchorFM, and there you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it wherever else you prefer, such as via Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker and Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and Overcast (that you need to access from Overcast’s iOS app, then search for Happiness Between Tails) and an RSS feed (by the way, I keep updating this list here as Anchor adds to it) …

Photo of author Judith Barrow.
Photo of author Judith Barrow.

This third week of “real podcasting,” I’m still too overwhelmed with learning audio stuff to hardly work on writing my novels. Nonetheless, it’s heartening to learn new pod things. (See more about Podcast #1 h-e-r-e and Podcast #2 h-e-r-e.) This whole endeavor brings me closer to accomplishing my writing goal of eventually making audio show episodes out of my books. Plus, a few days ago I was invited to be a guest on someone else’s podcast!

Now that I’m officially a “podcaster,” I recently entered a Spotify competition that promised training, financial support, travel, publicity, and meetings with movers and shakers. Contests generally aren’t my thing, but this one didn’t charge a fee, and since they didn’t advertise it for long, I though I might have a chance at winning.

How do you feel about labels? Do you have one? Or more?

The competition was for “LatinX” podcasters, a term that’s expansive. If I understand it correctly, “LatinX” goes beyond gender, sexuality, and which country one’s parents are from. I’m ambivalent about labels, worried that they separate and compartmentalize us. On the other hand, there’s strength to be found in labeling when it comes to banding together for social justice.

Here’s how I filled in Spotify’s contest form:

Contest Question #1 was: “What does being LatinX living in the US mean to you?”

I grew up as a Latin/Spanish-speaking X/outsider in all of fifteen homes and schools— the “Latin” and the “X” tamped into one fair-skinned LatinX girl who was bullied for the sin of chubbiness, and who couldn’t fathom why she and her mom were treated so very differently from the family males.

My father was a charismatic Spaniard who doomed me to find a husband from Spain, bear children, stay home, look sexy, and turn a blind eye when my inevitable husband would inevitably stray. Sissy work was off-limits for the boys. Dad groomed them for machismo, to become bullfighters or flamenco guitarists or tennis pros.

At four-years-old, already I pondered nature vs. nurture vs. culture. Males had enough respect to create an ache in child-me, one I was sure I wouldn’t have if I were a boy. If I could have regressed clear to before my father’s spermatozoon collided with the ovum inside my Argentine mom’s womb, I would have switched genders.

When it came to speaking Spanish, as a green-eyed auburn-haired kid, I found it hard to be taken seriously because I didn’t fit what adults thought Latinos ought to look like. At the same time, I wondered lines on maps mattered so much. The politicians the grownups would discuss argued a lot about lines on sand and dirt and blood and gender, but none actually fought in the wars they made.

Contest Question #2 requested an “elevator pitch,” which should be a 50-word proposal for the kind of show I wanted to produce.

Right before I clicked “send,” I read Spotify’s “Terms and Conditions.” If I proposed to do a show based on my novels, would I sign over control to my books? After a night of having decided to not participate, the next morning I offered them a different proposed show. Here’s my revamped “elevator pitch”:

My podcast would fill the crevices where nitty gritty day-to-day exists. Stories un-beribboned with pat answers. Characters who go beyond the archetypical, and are more akin to annoying diverse friends who are there when we need them — or maybe they aren’t, but are later.

For Contest Question #3, I needed to go into more depth regarding that proposed show. I answered by saying:

My serialized fiction podcast intends to bring forth characters as unique and complex as life, who’ll help us exist more harmoniously. So much of what we hear, read, and watch is populated by the symmetrical and the able-bodied, the fertile and the virile. All of them are one-dimensional people who are invariably destined for parenthood and partnering. Where are the “X’s,” LatinX included?

My shows will glory in our convoluted humanity. It’s fine to not be a heroine or a hero, neither a goddess nor a god. It’s ok when we misunderstand ourselves. Even mirrors lie, and even selfies are no more than seized flashes of light, color, and shadow.

Listeners will be enticed to take a second eyeful, at each other. Whereas the self-help industry encourages us to change ourselves, this show would spotlight what’s uniquely wonderful about us.

Fiction nourishes our souls. Fiction is the treasure map “X marks the spot” of celebrating our nuances.

Our veins of gold aren’t found by pretending we’re smarter than we are. Platinum manifests when we voice our vulnerabilities. Revealing “This is me, from the inside out,” gets everyone closer to, “This is us.”

Now, it’s time to introduce you to today’s guest…

Judith Barrow has published eight novels, and writes much more than books. She blogs from her home in West Wales, England. H-e-r-e you can find out about her. Read on for her experience and thoughts on writing…

Cover of "Heart Stone," a novel by Judith Barrow.

Judith Barrow on How She Publishes and Writes

I wrote for years before letting anyone read my work. If I was self-deluded; if it was rubbish, I didn’t want to be told. I enjoyed my “little hobby” (as it was once described by a family member). But then I began to enter my short stories into competitions. Sometimes I was placed, once or twice I even won. Encouraged, I moved on to sending to magazines  I had some luck, was published – once! But I hadn’t dared to send out cny of the fourc full length book manuscripts I’d written (and actually never did, they were awful!) That changed after a long battle with brcast cancer in my forties and, finally finishing a book that I thought might possibly…possibly, be cood enough for someone else to see, other than me, I took a chance.

I grew resigned (well almost) to those A4 self-addressed envelopes plopping through the letterbox. (Yes, it was that long ago!) The weekly wail of ‘I’ve been rejected again,’ was a ritual that my long-suffering husband also (almost) grew resigned to.

There were many snorts of exasperation at my gullibility and stubbornness from the writing group I was a member of at the time. They all had an opinion  I was doing it all wrong. Instead of sending my work to publishers I should have been approaching agents.

‘You’ll get nowhere without an agent,’ one of the members said. She was very smug. Of course, she was already signed up with an agent whose list, she informed me, was full.

‘How could you even think of trying to do it on your own?’ was another horrified response when told what I’d done, ‘With the sharks that are out there, you’ll be eaten alive.’

‘Or sink without a trace.’ Helpful prediction from another so-called friend.

So, after trawling my way through the Writers & Artists Yearbook (an invaluable tome) I bundled up two more copies of my manuscript and sent them out to different agents

Six months later I was approached by one of the agents who, on the strength of my writing, agreed to take me. The praise from her assistant was effusive, the promises gratifying. It was arranged that I meet with the two of them in London to discuss the contract they would send in the post, there would be no difficulty in placing my novel with one of the big publishers; they would make my name into a brand.

There was some editing to do, of course. Even though the manuscript was in its fifth draft, I knew there would be. After all, the agent, a big fish in a big pond, knew what she was doing. Okay, she was a little abrasive (on hindsight I would say rude) but she was a busy person, I was a first-time author.

But I was on my way. Or so I thought.

A week before the meeting I received an email; the agent’s assistant had left the agency and they no longer thought they could act for me. They had misplaced my manuscript but would try to locate it. In the meantime, would I send an SAE for its return when/if ‘it turned up’?

So  back to square one.

For a month I hibernated (my family and friends called it sulking, but I preferred to think of it as re-grouping). I had a brilliant manuscript that no one wanted (at this point, I think it’s important to say that, as an author, if you don’t have self-belief ,how can you persuade anyone else to believe your work is good?) But still, no agent, no publisher.

There were moments, well weeks (okay, if I’m honest  months), of despair, before I took a deep breath and resolved to try again. I printed out a new copy of the novel. In the meantime, I trawled through my list of possible agents. Again.

Then, out of the blue, a phone call from the editorial assistant who’d resigned from that first agency to tell me she’d set up her own, was still interested in my novel and could we meet in London in a week’s time? Could we? Try and stop me, I thought.

 We met. Carried away with her enthusiasm for my writing, her promises to make me into a ‘brand name’ and her assurance that she had many contacts in the publishing world that would ‘snap her hand off for my novel’, I signed on the dotted line.

Six months later. So far, four rejections from publishers. Couched, mind you, in encouraging remarks:

“Believable characters … strong and powerful writing … gripping story … Judith has an exciting flair for plot … evocative descriptions.”

And then the death knell on my hopes.

“Unfortunately … our lists are full … we’ve just accepted a similar book … we are only a small company … I’m sure you’ll find a platform for Judith’s work … etc. etc.”

The self-doubt, the frustration, flooded back.

Then the call from the agent; ‘I think it’s time to re-evaluate the comments we’ve had so far. Parts of the storyline need tweaking. I’ve negotiated a deal with a commercial editor. When she mentioned the sum I had to pay (yes, I had to pay, and yes, I was that naïve) I gasped.’ It’s a realistic charge by today’s standards,’ she said. ’Think about it. In the end we’ll have a book that will take you to the top of your field.’

 I thought about it. Rejected the idea. Listened to advice from my various acquaintances. Thought about it some more. And then I rang the agent. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I felt I had no choice; after all she was the expert. Wasn’t she? What did I know?

 When the manuscript came back from the commercial editor, I didn’t recognise the story at all. ‘This isn’t what I wrote. It’s not my book,’ I told the agent. ‘It’s nothing like it.’ The plot, the characters had been completely changed.

‘You know nothing of the publishing world. If you want me to represent you, you have to listen to me,’ she insisted. ‘Do as I say.’

‘But …’

‘Take it or leave it.’

I consulted our daughter, luckily she’s a lawyer qualified in Intellectual Property.

‘You can cancel the contract within the year. After that, you have problems. There will be all manner of complications…’

I moved quickly. The agent and I parted company.

I took a chance and contacted Honno, the publisher who’d previously accepted two of my short stories for their anthologies. Would they have a look at the manuscript? They would. They did. Yes, it needed more work but…

I’m proud to say I’ve now been with Honno, the longest standing independent women’s press in the UK, for fourteen years, and have had six books published by them. I love their motto “Great writing, great stories, great women “, and I love the friends I’ve made amongst the other women whose work they publish, and the support amongst us for our writing and our books. In normal times we often meet up. I’m hoping those “normal times” will return before too long.

Of course, there has been much editing and discussion with every manuscript. But at least, in the end, the stories are told in my words. With my voice.

Judith’s Writing Process

da-AL asked me to talk about my process of writing and, to be honest, it’s not something I’ve actually thought about before. But I’ve realised, with each of my books, it’s been slightly different. Not the time I write, I’m an early morning writer, always have been. I think waking around five in the morning is something I’ve done since childhood. Then I used to read, now I use the time to write. Usually until around eight or nine o’clock.

The pandemic and lockdowns have altered the pattern somewhat. The last few months have seen me at my desk more or less all day; I’ve managed to write two books. But I still start at five in the morning.

But back to the actual process; the usual question asked of authors is are they a plotter or a pantser. In other words, do they plot the whole book from start to finish, or do they just begin to write, and hope something happens to make an idea into a story  to have a plot in the end. I think I’ve been both in my novels.

Judith Barrow's series of novels.

My Haworth trilogy begins with a place I discovered  Glen Mill. It was the inspiration for the first of my trilogy: Pattern of Shadows. Glen Mill was one of the first two POW camps to be opened in Britain. A disused cotton mill in the North of England, built in 1903 it ceased production in 1938. At a time when all-purpose built camps were being used by the armed forces and there was no money available for POW build, Glen Mill was chosen for various reasons: it wasn’t near any military installations or seaports and it was far from the south and east of Britain, it was large and it was enclosed by a road and two mill reservoirs and, soon after it opened, by a railway line.

My parents worked in the local cotton mill. My mother was a winder (working on a machine that transferred the cotton off large cones onto small reels  bobbins — in order for the weavers to use to make the cloth). Well before the days of Health and Safety I would often go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into a great wooden door. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, the colours of the cotton and cloth — so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease — and in the storage area — the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them in the warehouse, reading until the siren hooted, announcing the end of the shift.

When I was reading about Glen Mill I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there during WW2. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill. I wanted to write a story.

In Pattern of Shadows, and the subsequent two books, Glen mill (or Granville mill, as I renamed it) became the focus, the hub, and the memory of the place, around which the characters lived. The prequel, A Hundred Tint Threads, which I actually wrote after the series, was in answer to the many questions asked to me by readers; what were the parents of the protagonist, Mary Haworth, in the trilogy, like in their youth. With all four of these historical family sagas, I had a fair idea of the endings.

Cover of "The Memory," a novel by Judith Barrow.

Unlike my previous books, The Memory, is more contemporary, and evolved as I wrote. The background stems from a journal I kept at a time when I was carer for my aunt, who lived with us. She developed dementia. Her illness haunted me long after she died, and the idea of the book was a slow burner that took me a long time to write, and I had no idea which way it would take me. It’s been described as a poignant story threaded with humour. I was thrilled when it was shortlisted for The Wales Book of the Year 2021 (The Rhys Davies Trust Fiction Award).

My latest book, The Heart Stone, was also a story that, in a way, wandered towards a denouement. Written during lockdown I allowed it to meander whichever way the characters took me. I was quite surprised by the ending.

All this being said, I realised that I do actually have a process of working. It comes automatically for me, so I haven’t actually thought it was a method. With every book I write, I research the era: what was happening in the world, what was on the newspapers, what work was there? What were the living/working conditions in the UK: the houses, the contents, the fashions, the music, films, radio or television, the toys, and books?

I always graph a family tree, with birthdays and dates of special occasions for each character. And, for each character I write a list: appearance, relationship to other characters, clothes, work, hobbies, habits, personality.  Then I pin them to the noticeboard in front of my desk, so I am able to see everything at a glance.

So, I say to myself now, I do have a process… of sorts. I just don’t know if I’m going to plot an ending, or let things evolve until I begin writing. But I thank da-AL for giving me the chance to reflect on how I work. And I’d love to know what methods other writers use.

What method do you use to write? And do you have labels you like to go by?

Adulting and Videos + Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children

 

 

 

What was the day you became an adult?

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

These images are from that drive…

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

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

Dear reader, what was that transition like for you?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Why I Write For Children by Darlene Foster

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the day you became an adult?

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

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

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

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

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

Blogger/author/teacher K E Garland.

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

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

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

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

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

So, I followed her lead and stifled the pain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this isn’t the case in 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grammar and Books and Toes + “I am a Tulpamancer” by Dr. Bob Newport

Grammar Matters:

“He told him that he loved him.” (Add “only” between the different words in that sentence to see how the meaning changes.)

“We never said I should kill him.” (One at a time, italicize each word to read how the emphasis changes.)

Photo of K-D doggie and da-AL's newly red-painted toes.

Courtesy of the COVID-19 quarantine, I’ve discovered the joy of working on my novels in the virtual company of others. MeetUp is a site that hosts free Shut Up & Write meetings (among other groups, including in-person ones). The sessions provide accountability and camaraderie. Shut Up & Write has many types of challenges and events. I prefer the basic virtuals; authors chat, write, chat some more, then maybe continue writing.

Before you read the essay below by fellow writer Dr. Bob, who I met on MeetUp, here are some new reviews I just wrote for Amazon and Goodreads:

Cover of the novel, "A Spark of Light," by Jodi Picoult.“A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult

When I blogged about anti-choice here, this novel was recommended by JoycesMysteryandFictionBookReviews.blog. Some reviewers at Amazon complain that it’s too pro-choice, to which I argue au contraire. Picoult’s story actually afforded me more compassion for those who are anti-choice.

Cover of the autobiographical book, "The Soul of a Woman," by Isabel Allende.“The Soul of a Woman” by Isabel Allende

Much as I adore some of Allende’s books and enjoy others, this was meh in places. The autobiographical parts were good. However, more vivid recounting could have “shown” rather than “told” and lent needed “soul” to her political musings that sometimes were wasted as preaching to the choir. Overall, though, it was worthwhile.

Cover of the novel, "Antiquities," by Cynthia Oziak.“Antiquities” by Cynthia Ozick

Since when do I try out an author based on their age alone? Since they’re over 90 and after a long career of accomplished publishing, they’re still at it! This finely nuanced book depicts how we can be wonderful and awful and sentimental and crude all rolled up into one.

Cover of "The Comfort Book," by Matt Haig.“The Comfort Book” by Matt Haig

His first book, “The Humans,” is sublime, so I’m amazed when he produces new novels even half as good. This book is altogether different, a non-fiction filled with bits about what comforts him. Thank you, Haig, for continually reminding us to hang on.

Cover of the novel, "Libertie," by Kaitlyn Greenwood.“Libertie” by Kaitlyn Greenridge

What would it be like to be black and live in a black community post-Civil War era, to be a girl whose mom is a black female doctor? Freedom, identity, gender, caste, and plain ole’ relationships stitch together the canvas of this well constructed tale.

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People," by Stephen R. Covey.“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” by Stephen R. Covey

My fave nugget from this was his advice that we, “instead of using a map, use a compass,” when it comes to prioritizing. Unfortunate that right-wing religiousness and politics are deeply factored in.

Oh, and last time I mentioned my hair. I didn’t mean to appear vain, rather I meant to point out that it finally seems like life is sort of really kinda post-COVID19. In the photo at the start of this post, I’ve even painted my toes (thought K-D doggies isn’t that impressed), another first in two years!

Now onto our guest, Dr. Bob Newport. He blogs out of Los Angeles, and his self-published novel is available here for sale.

I don’t know whether I’ve got a magical side. Dr. Bob’s courage to seek his out and speak of her openly is truly admirable!…

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

“I am a Tulpamancer,” by Dr. Bob Newport

Don’t know what that is. Well you are in the vast majority of folks. We are a tiny group, who only have existence because of the internet. Prior to it’s existence, the very concept of tulpa, was known to only a few Tibetan Monks and a French woman, Alexandria David Neel. Ms. Neel lived at the turn of the twentieth century. She was an anthropologist who spent a dozen years in Tibet studying the culture. She became enthralled and took up meditation after becoming acquainted with a number of the luminaries at the time. She (as far as we know) was the first westerner to create a tulpa (a sprul-pa in the Tibetan language). She reports this in her book, Magic and Mysticism in Tibet. I got my copy from the L.A. Public Library. Published in 1919, it didn’t get to the U.S. until the 1940’s and didn’t get read until the internet came around and folks began to be intrigued by the possibility of creating their own magical creatures.

And, now you know what a tulpa is; a magical creature intentionally created by the tulpamancer, also known as a ‘thought-form’. Ms. Neel’s tulpa became so real, that he became a nuisance to her neighbors, and she had to terminate him.

Mine has appeared once in physical reality and only for a few seconds. As no one else was around, I can’t say whether or not, she would have been seen by anyone but me.  But I don’t care. She is real to me when we are able to connect . That is not often. I am not able to hold my concentration steady enough to maintain the contact. That takes practice. I have been at it since Dec. of 2018.

She, her name is Flora, first appeared in everyday consensual reality in March of 2019. She had been appearing in my dreams for some time. However, it was after her March debut that I really became excited by her, and she began to appear during my daily meditations. It was hard to hold my concentration because I became so excited, my heart would pound in my chest. I have worked on this and while I still become excited, I don’t let it distract me.

Shortly after Flora first appeared, I created N’sonowa (her full name; Katlego Kalisha N’sonowa, Il’oi-bonokoh of the black sisterhood) to fill out my desire for coming into direct contact with my ‘feminine current’, that part of my male psyche that in my life became encrusted with childhood traumas.

Cover of novel by Dr. Bob Newport, "Tulpa Tales."

This was my main reason for starting the practice. After discovering what it was about I realized that it could become a tool for repairing the damage I suffered at the hands of my mentally ill mother. I am not there yet. Not fully recovered, though I have made a great deal of improvement, more than decades of psychotherapy. But the difficulties I am having contacting her, suggest that I have more to do. It’s okay though, I have never shied from doing hard work and while I am not happy about having to do this ( neither is she and she lets me know when we do have a little time) I am going to do what it takes to give her a complete life. In the meantime, I do the practice daily and have enough contact to let me know she is still around and shares my goals for her.

Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.
Photo of author Dr. Bob Newport.

She also has taken to writing. I have given her a page on my blog “Flora’s Own”  and this is currently the main way I have of knowing what she is up to. That and through my own writing, I have published one book, Tulpa Tales: Confessions of an Elder Tulpamancer and have two more in development. It might not surprise you to find that many tulpamancers are authors who find that their characters take on lives of their own and become tulpas. I was writing before tulpamancy, but the practice and the fact of my tulpas, have passionately motivated me to put them out in the world.  If this essay has at all interested you in finding out more, I keep a blog with my journal and the people at the Tulpa Community are very helpful.

About Publishing

In a nutshell self-publishing is easy if you can read instructions. Or, rather the instructions are easy to read, executing them is quite another story. I will hire someone to do the formatting in the future. As for the money. Kindle Direct Publishing (this is Amazon) pays about 30 cents of the dollar, for eBooks and the same less the printing cost on paperbacks. As the printing cost is proportional to the length of the book, my 184 page book selling at 9.99 yields about three dollars per sale.

In contrast, my wife gets $0.05 per sale of a $20 book. To be fair, her co-author, gets a nickel too. It costs me nothing to get mine out there, whereas she spent over 3k to have hers produced professionally. (There is something to be said for that  though; she has won awards and has been published in three languages.)

What are you reading? And have you discovered a magical side to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Memoir in a Flash” by Pamela S. Wight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Publishing…

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

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

Visit Pam’s blog for more about her.

How long did your hair get during the quarantine?…

Please Snail-Mail a Recruit + Willow Croft on Writing and Animals

Justice… I’m in the middle of continuing writing, in between working on my novels, about doing jury duty. (Here’s Part 1 and here’s Part 2 and here’s Part 3). In the meantime, it’s triggered lots of thoughts about justice in general. (Btw, check out the podcast audio version of this post HERE.)

Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.
Postcards and letters are much appreciated by Rebekah Hyde, USMC Recruit.

Today’s post begins with hefty justice — a letter to you from Patricia Hyde, my friend whose daughter, Rebekah, is determined to do justice for her country by serving in the Marines. Rebekah needs our encouragement while she mends from injuries sustained during military training so she can jump back in where she left off. The week before she began training, she got married. With luck, she’ll finish and see her husband next February, a year later.

Of all the military branches, Marine boot camp is the longest and probably most rugged. While healing, Rebekah still works, doing less taxing activities. Recruits are restricted from the outside world. They are obliged only snail-mail and one phone call a week. That’s it.

Should you find it in your heart to write to her, I doubt you’ll find anyone as grateful to receive your postcard or letter. 

After Patricia’s letter here to us, continue on for speculative fiction/horror author Willow Croft’s guest post regarding how she came to be published and her love of animals…

Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.
Patricia with her soon-to-be-a-Marine daughter, Rebekah Hyde.

Patricia’s Letter to Us About her Daughter’s Service as a Marine Recruit

Note: info within parenthesis added by da-AL

Dear Reader,

This story is about my daughter, Rebekah Hyde, age 22. She tried out for the US Marine Band after she finished high school. Alas, she wasn’t selected, so she applied again after graduating from California State University Long Beach. After four years of college, paid for by working at Jersey Mike’s (a sandwich chain) and as a piano teacher, she was accepted into the USMC band. However, she must first get through boot camp.

Her adventure began February 8, 2021. After a two-week quarantine, she was shipped with other recruits to Parris Island, South Carolina.

Two months later, I received a fateful call. My daughter was seriously injured while carrying her 65-pound backpack. She suffered a stress fracture of her pelvis, both sides of her groin were pulled, and one of her fingers was broken. Nothing, though, can make her quit her dream.

Presently assigned to a medical platoon, she is coming along, healing and feeling less and less pain. In a few weeks, Rebekah will be placed in an active platoon to finish boot camp where she left off.

I’m concerned for her during “The Crucible,” a test every recruit must pass to become a marine. To graduate, recruits need to be “Forged by the Fire of the Crucible”: 54 hours, 48 miles, 45 pounds of gear, 36 stations, 29 problem-solving exercises, 6-8 hours sleep, and 5 MRE’s (Meals Ready-to-Eat). Of course, I’m concerned about the 45 pounds of gear — whether her pelvis will survive the weight on her small 5-foot, 110-pound body.

Rebekah is my only child. Strong and courageous, she will not give up her dream of joining the “President’s Own” and traveling with the US President.

When Rebekah was eight, she begin her music career playing the piano. In the sixth grade, she picked up the flute and immediately fell in love with it. She participated in marching band all four years of high school and also traveled with independent bands like “Impulse,” competing and showcasing her skills with the flute, cymbals, and synthesizer keyboard. Throughout it all, I was by her side as a “Booster Mom.”

I’d appreciate your letters and postcards to Rebekah, to encourage and motivate her through “The Crucible.” Prayers are also welcome.

Please write to Rebekah at:

RCT HYDE, REBEKAH
4TH RTBN OSCAR CO PLT 4041
BOX 16430
PARRIS ISLAND, SC 29905-6430

God bless you and your family. Thank You!

Sincerely,

Patricia Hyde

Willow Croft's book of poetry, "Quantum Singularity."

Willow Croft writes and blogs from the high desert. Her speculative fiction/horror has appeared in many anthologies and journals. Her blog includes more of her writing, her Amazon page, and her other social media links. When she’s not writing, she cares for three rescued cats…

“Writing, Publishing, and My Love for Animals” by Willow Croft

About Me

I acquired a degree in writing and literature from Goddard College (Vermont) back in 1998-2001 but I didn’t actually start writing in hopes of getting published until about the mid- to late 2010s. When I was growing up, creativity was only something you did on the side (if ever!) once you found a job and were a fully functioning and conformist member of society. Only then was it okay to express your creativity, and only if it never took the place of “real” work. And it was because of my 30-plus quest for “real” work that I not only acquired significant physical limitations, I was in a place of mental and emotional desperation. I was living in increasingly conservative, intolerant Florida, I couldn’t find any sort of work, I had been threatened by one of a group of those rabidly conservative types my home state was notorious for, and I had just gotten my master’s degree in a (futile) hope of expanding my hire-ability, with no luck. Although I had started my own freelance business, I was still having problems earning enough income to be independent, and I was just living under so much fear and sadness and stress that I allowed myself to turn to writing, because I just didn’t know what else to do any more. I mean, it was to the point where I was like “I’m almost middle-aged, and I’m still living way below poverty level, I have nothing to show for my efforts to conform to the system just to ‘get a job’ and I have very limited options, so why not write just to keep yourself sane?” And, amazingly, I started to get published in magazines and in anthologies. Granted, there was an immense amount of hard work and dedication involved, but I was actually seeing a return on that, as opposed to anything else I had attempted to achieve over the span of my lifetime. I could spin out so many cliched terms about what getting published meant (and continues to mean), but they are all sincere: a lifeline, a light in the darkness, a refuge, a sanctuary… the list goes on.

So, that’s my main issue with standardized education (and standardized employment, for you grownups out there!). Why force kids to live up to a standard and regimen that many adults (including me!) would have difficulty managing? (I mean, come on, schools; by the time pencils are sharpened, supplies and materials organized, fidgets and energy calmed, and brains drifting into the task ahead, then  —BAM! — it’s time to go to the next period or switch to the next educational subject area and OMG I’M THE TEACHER and I’ve just gotten into the zone and HOLY COW it’s already time for the SWITCH?!??!?! And all I can hope for at that point is that I’ve at least provided the kids some levity in their otherwise dull, rote-learning educational experience by watching their substitute teacher’s brain implode.)

Photo of Potato, Willow Croft's tabby cat.
Photo of Potato, Willow Croft’s tabby cat.

I mean, come on, what’s wrong with making education dynamic and fun and intuitive and stress/pressure-free and exploration-based? When did we stop making space for kids to be kids (and not mini-adults) in schools?

So, even though I’m not currently teaching, I still daydream about this amazingly interactive, pod-based learning environment for the school system that allows children to immerse themselves for a week or two in diverse and wide-ranging areas of interest of their choice, while teachers and guest teachers can weave in essentials, like reading, math, etc., as seamless parts of each pod. And utilize them to build up skill zones like critical thinking, creative nurturing, curiosity-fueled engagement, and more.

And, in the end, the school system could actually not only prepare kids for the changing world (of which, I firmly believe, the standardized school system is outdated, inefficient, and impractical, and well in need of not just an update, but a complete overhaul.)

And, in the best part of all, give kids a chance to explore all aspects of their potential, while they have a safe, judgement-free, supportive environment to do so, instead of having to play self-discovery catch-up as best you can at an older age. I mean, I look back now, and I know that tendencies of mine that had been criticized and considered a detriment, would have been an asset in the careers I had wanted to explore.

But I’ve tried to make up for lost time. As you can see from my “Tips” list, below, I’ve had the opportunity as an adult to explore things, and causes — namely animals, and the environment — that interest me. I may never be able to be the marine biologist or live the purely artistic lifestyle I dreamed of as a child, but at least I can reconnect with my innate interests and passions as best I can, with the time I have left. Why can’t kids have that, with all the time they have ahead of them? I don’t think it’s fair, to strip them of their potential, while we, as adults, want to make them fit into confining little boxes just because we had to/have to.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box, and into the tips I learned from my explorations as an adult (where nobody could deter me from getting involved in causes like this!).

About My Love of Animals

Anyone who knows my blog knows I love animals. And if you don’t… well, guess what? I am very passionate about animals and animal welfare. And I don’t just blog about animal welfare causes, like in my fixed post, “The Real-Life Horror of Pet Overpopulation.” I have been very involved in animal rescue causes… everything from cleaning out kennels to assisting on a cat hoarding investigation (and the cats’ subsequent relocation) to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. I’ve even attended greyhound racing protests. I often have a wonderful rapport with my animal friends, especially cats, chipmunks, and…skunks!

Photo of super fluffy calico cat, Moon Pie.
Moon Pie was a five-year-old, un-spayed, feral cat that showed up in my portal. Many of her behaviors and her physical state also pointed to her having been abused at some point. She was a tricky combination of feisty calico and feral. But I patiently worked with her for almost a year, and she’s now a happy indoor-only cat (though still very feisty!). Moon Pie is one of a set of feral cats I rescued from the street — all of which are indoor-only now.

So, even when I’m writing horror, I often include animals in my short stories and other written material. I especially like to include shelter animals and also try to give animals the agency and empowerment they often lack in the real world.

Here are a few examples (links) to stories (in anthologies) that include animals:

An attempt to liberate animals from laboratories:

Neon Druid: An Anthology of Urban Celtic Magic

Rescued, Adopted, and Shelter Animals/Animal Shelters:

EconoClash Review #7

The Hollow: Where All Evil Things Lie Vol. 3

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

So, for this guest blog post, I’d thought I’d share some tips learned from my years in animal rescue and wildlife rescue/rehab.

On Wildlife

  • Can be a hard thing to resist. Even I, a former, longtime, wildlife rehabber who absolutely knows better, sometimes feel the compulsion to feed my wild animal friends (which I don’t give into). But it can do more harm than good. Like with dogs, people food is not good for animals. So, the next time you’re tempted to feed ducks, turtles (or, heaven forbid, raccoons!), or any other kind of wild animal, please try not to give in to the urge. It may seem like a small act, but it can be a matter of life or death for the wild creature.
  • It should go without saying, right? If you find an injured wildlife, immediately contact your local wildlife center or wildlife rescue group for advice, and the most current information regarding the proper rescue of the animal. Be hesitant about handling injured wildlife, as to avoid injury to yourself from a scared or stressed animal. Also, wildlife rescue organizations always need volunteers, and that can be the best way to learn how to safely handle wildlife, and perhaps even assist on wildlife rescues and releases out in the field.
  • Instead of an environmentally detrimental turf lawn, consider a landscape design that provides food, shelter, and a more natural ecosystem for animals, birds, insects/bugs, and other critters. If you put out water for wildlife and/or birds, make sure it’s flowing and not stagnant. Standing water cannot only play host to harmful bacteria that can sicken wildlife, it can also be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Consult with the Parks Department or the Extension Service in your area for more expert advice on supporting the local wildlife in your region. Bat houses, birdhouses, and bee houses can be fun additions to your wildlife-friendly zone!

On Adopting Pets

Again, do I even need to say it? Okay, if you insist. “Adopt, Don’t Shop.” Spay/neuter your pets to prevent shelter overcrowding and pet overpopulation. Don’t buy breed or purchase any animals from puppy and cat mills. I worked for a number of years (and plan to, again, when I get settled) in animal rescue and in animal shelters, both as a volunteer and as a paid employee. I even worked on a hoarding case, once. It’s fulfilling work, but also heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for so many different reasons. Mainly, there are too many animals and not enough homes. So, here’s some basics for navigating the pet adoption realm.

  • Give older cats and dogs a chance. For some reason, people seem to think any animal that’s not a kitten or a puppy as “old”. To put this in perspective, my own two cats (both adopted from a shelter) lived to be twenty and twenty-one, respectively. Cats over five years old are a lot more mellow and are often a better companion for families with kids, especially smaller kids. Teach kids (and, yes, even other adults) to be respectful of the cat’s boundaries, and provide spaces for the cat to get away from visitors, household residents, and the like. Adding vertical spaces to your home (cat towers, cat-friendly shelving, etc) can help the cat adjust and minimize stress and behavior issues. I’m not as much as an expert on dogs as I am on cats, but investing in proper training can be a life saver. Literally, in the case of the dog.
  • Keep cats indoors. I admit, I grew up in a household that let cats be indoor/outdoor, and I made the mistake of allowing my first cat be indoor/outdoor, and he developed so many behavior problems as a result. Everybody’s divided on this issue, but I am adamantly, fiercely entrenched on the side of keeping cats strictly indoors. It makes it easy to relocate, plus it saves on having to take the cat to the vet every other week for some abscessed wound after it tangled with a raccoon. Not to mention it’s so much less stress when you’re not worried every time the cat disappears that it’s been run over, or poisoned either accidentally, or on purpose by an angry neighbor because cats consistently ignore property lines. Plus, indoors, they’re not wreaking havoc on an already embattled ecosystem. Cats are opportunistic hunters and have a detrimental impact on local birds and wildlife. Now, here’s the worst parts to letting cats run free, and leaving dogs unattended in the yard: they are vulnerable to theft. And by theft, I don’t mean by people like me who might see a loose animal and think it’s a stray (Joking! Well, sort of.). I mean people who cruise neighbourhoods and steal pets in order to use them for bait animals in dog fighting or to sell them to laboratories for animal testing. Urban myth, right? Nope. Every few months, there would be a flood of lost pet posters in my (former) neighbourhood in Florida. I learned what was most likely happening to the animals from an animal rescue worker who’d been volunteering for about twenty years.
  • “Cute” pets like rabbits do not make good pets for kids. Which is a shame, because rescued rabbits need homes too, as they are often acquired as gifts and then discarded like so many other pet animals once the novelty wears off. I always make the joke “Unless your kid is 4-H experienced…” because rabbits require so much finicky care and handling. If rabbits are held the wrong way, they can kick and break their backs. They need so much specialized care, and unless the parent or guardian is prepared to take on that care, I wouldn’t recommend it. And, hopefully this goes without saying… get the rabbit spayed/neutered! Because rabbits really do breed like, well, rabbits! Or save yourself a lot of headache and stress, and turn the kid onto herpetology (from a licensed breeder that only sells captive bred reptiles, etc.).

Still have questions? Need advice on the weird and wacky things cats do? I’m always willing to talk animals. Visit me on my blog.

Do you know someone who could use a snail-mail letter or postcard? And have you rescued any animals?

Novelist Jacqueline Diamond Published 100+ Books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Cats and Dogs! by Jacqueline Diamond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: Cool Doggie Days + Lillian Brummet’s Leeks Recipe

K-D doggie is a singer.
K-D takes her singing seriously.

Even writers get hungry. When I hit a rough patch as I edit “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” my novel, it’s fortunate I’ve got my workmate who reminds me to break for lunch. Having her beside me as I eat on the steps of our front porch turns sweltering breezes into caresses. If she’s in the mood, she’ll serenade the neighborhood when a siren goes by…

These soft days of late spring we get to see monarch butterflies flutter across our Los Angeles front lawn. They’ve flown all the way from Canada and are headed for Mexico (here’s a wild PBS video of them). How arrogant humans are to use our supposed intelligence as a yard-stick against the know-how of earth’s other life forms, insects included.

Speaking of gorgeous weather and sights, during a recent walk with K-D, I was holding my cellphone to my ear to listen to an audiobook. The novel was the outstanding, “How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House,” by Cherie Jones. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I got home, I found I’d unintentionally snapped several serendipitous photos! They’re of blue skies streaked with clouds and of our shadows across the sidewalk. This morning we even enjoyed a few minutes of rain. It was nowhere near enough to slake Southern California’s ongoing tremendous thirst, but it brightened the air.

Photo of amazing in Los Angeles!
The sky is amazing in Los Angeles!

This photo of my dog's shadow is a bit of accidental art!
This photo of my dog’s shadow is a bit of accidental art!

Author Lillian Brummet, who blogs from Canada, says it’s leek season. In my garden it’s time for their sisters, green onions. Before my husband started planting them, who knew one could grow food from the rooty scraps of store-bought ones. They also produce gorgeous flowers! Khashayar, quite the cook, has contributed recipes for Happiness Between Tails such as a great hot soup, a crunchy salad, a fruity dessert and a carrot cake, an entrée, and this appetizer and this one.

Closeup of flower on a green onion.
The flowers on green onions are fascinating!

Back to Lillian and her leeks. Here’s a recipe for them from one of her many books, “From One Small Garden,” which features 300+ recipes. Visit her site for more about her books and the many endeavors she and her husband, Dave, work together on…

Photo of Lillian and Dave Brummet.
Lillian Brummet writes books and works with her husband, Dave, on many projects.

“Leek N’ Mushroom Bundles” by Lillian Brummet

Tis the season of fresh leek harvests  this beautiful bounty is of the onion family and looks like a giant, flat green onion. Early spring and late fall leek varieties are quite sweet due to the plant concentrating the sugars when the weather turns cool. It is one of the earliest items to come out of the garden, especially if you have spread the seed just before snowfall. They don’t take much room in the garden, and they keep very well in the fridge.

These delicious, crunchy bundles make a wonderful side dish to almost anything, or served as an appetizer to enhance the appetite. The bundles can be frozen when raw; and taken directly out of the freezer and straight into the oven (do not thaw) whenever you are craving a few of these tasty tidbits.

1/3 c. olive oil, divided

2 c. chopped leeks

8 c. chopped mushrooms, dime-sized pieces

3/4 c. milk

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. black pepper

16 oz. package phyllo pastry cut in 4” squares

Sauté the leeks and mushrooms in 1 Tbsp. oil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile combine the milk with salt, nutmeg and pepper, then add to the skillet and cook on low for 20 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated. Grease 2 phyllo squares, and layer one on top of the other offsetting the top one. This creates 8 corners to draw into a bundle. Place 1 Tbsp. filling in the center of the phyllo squares. Grabbing all the corners of the dough in one hand, twist firmly to hold in place and set on a baking sheet. Cover both the unused phyllo and the bundles with a clean damp towel while you work to prevent drying out. When you’ve made this dish a few times you’ll get faster at it and probably will only need one damp towel to cover the phyllo sheets. Bake at 350˚ for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

What are you hungry for these days?

Author Reality + Charles Sterling on Marketing and Author Platform

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

Photo of author Charles Sterling.

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

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

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

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

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

Now for Reality…

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s consider Bloggers.

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

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

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

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

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

Book Marketing & Author Platform by Charles Sterling

Introduction

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

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

How to market your book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Author Platform

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

Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

Website

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

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

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

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

Amazon Page

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

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

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

Reap the Benefits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on selling books?