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.
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.
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!”
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!
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“When’s the last time you read something unapologetically pro-choice — and that’s as empowering as it is romantic? Me? Never. I’m eager to read Joshi’s follow-up novel! I wish there were more novels that discuss pro-choice issues head-on. Joshi’s enchanting story is set in 1950s India, told from a woman’s point of view, about the choices we’re given, and how much we can make with them. In addition, the audiobook version’s narrator, Sneha Mathan, is marvelous!”
~ My review of The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for Amazon and Goodreads
I absolutely adore books (after all, I’m writing two)! Whenever I finish reading an exceptional novel, I review it on Goodreads and Amazon. Sure, not all stories resonate with me. As a tender-hearted author, I know too well the blood, sweat, and tears that even a crappy book demands, so I let other people review those.
Afterward, I email the novelist to thank them for making my life more thoughtful and maybe even fun. Ditto for any audiobook performer involved. Some thank me back, and on the days my stars are aligned, they agree to contribute to Happiness Between Tails.
Anyone who doesn’t read The Henna Artist is missing out. Clearly it’s written by a generous spirit. Just glance through Alka’s website and Youtube channel, where she lauds other authors to the extent that she poses with their books! Here she is, holding Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic as she says how grateful she is for it. Btw, I love that book too, so she’s got good taste to her credit as well lol 🙂
Allow me to digress a moment: Henna, oh, henna, you magical green powder! You enhance my hair, and you make lovely temporary tattoos!…
They’re far more forgiving than the permanent ink ones, and brides aren’t allowed to do housework until they’ve worn off…
Dusting off my photos to show you these provided an excuse to reconnect with Chris Miller, the super-talented photographer (check out her Instagram too) who was beyond kind to gift them to my sweetie and me. Back when she shot them, we both worked for the Beach Reporter, a Manhattan Beach community weekly. I reported on Hermosa Beach while she worked as a private event photog and as the publication’s photojournalist.
Back to our esteemed guest: Alka was born in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. At the age of nine, she moved to the United States. Eventually she graduated from Stanford University and worked in advertising, public relations, and owned a marketing consultancy. Moreover, she has a Creative Writing MFA from Cal Arts San Francisco. The Henna Artist is her first book. In less than a year, it’s a huge success! The sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is set for July, plus the third book in the trilogy will come out in 2022. Above and beyond that, she’s an executive producer for the novel’s upcoming Miramax TV series!
What follows are her thoughts on women in India. Note that when she speaks of how women, in this case architects, are often undermined, India is not the only country that restricts us. Unfortunately, I’ve met women architects in the United States who encounter discrimination here too…
In January 2019, the Architecture faculty at Ansal University in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, received an email from the registrar to attend a convocation.
It requested formal dress: “trouser, coat and tie for men” and “saris for women.”
This sparked a lively, funny, albeit very polite, conversation on WhatsApp among the female faculty, who normally wear trousers, Western blouses/tops, or salwar kameez (long tunics with legging-like bottoms) most days.
“I may not wear a sari…I don’t even own one!”
“I do not even know how to wear a sari.”
“[I’m] not against saris. But at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I’m not used to it is definitely a challenge.”
“Can’t tie one at 7am and drive…and get through the day!”
“No sari. Impossible to wear and report at 7:30 in the morning.”
“Why a sari at all?”
“If the women must wear a sari, wouldn’t a *dhoti be more in sync for the men?”
*(Now mostly worn by village men, a dhoti is a white cloth from five to seven yards in length, wrapped loosely around the legs and tied in a knot at the waist. While dhotis have gone out of fashion, saris are still a mainstay of female couture for weddings, special occasions and family gatherings.)
“We are all sensible enough to know what to wear. Most of us might even have worn saris to the event without being asked. But when you tell us exactly what to wear, we are going to have something to say,” laughs Monisha Sharma, associate professor. “Our Dean, who is female, told us to just look as smart as we do every day, so that’s what we’ll do.”
In addition to teaching in the Architecture school, these women are working architects. At construction sites they are often greeted with curious expressions: Can women really be architects? Are these women here to tell us what to do?
One professor told me that she had organized a site visit to a factory for her students. When they got to the site, the founder only responded to the junior male faculty who had accompanied her, choosing not to acknowledge her at all.
Similarly, a female architect who was managing a project for her father’s structural engineering firm was not being consulted by the construction team until her father ordered them to talk only to her. She was, after all, the project manager and the only one who could answer their questions.
To someone like me, who’s been raised in the West since the age of nine, it’s surprising that the women’s reaction is not anger (that would have been my response, along with bewilderment and confusion).
Instead, the Indian women laugh it off. “We have already made our mark in our profession,” they say. “We don’t need to hit them over the head with it.”
At the convocation, the female faculty wore Western trouser suits. Not a sari in sight.
There’s more than one way to make a statement.
Are dress codes unbiased where you work?…
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My inner jerks specialize in novel writing. Inner criticizing is just the beginning — they’re outer and everywhere.
A tongue-twisting ditty to be sung to whatever tune strikes your fancy:
“Here a critic… There a critic… Everywhere a crit, critty, critical critic…”
Moreover, mine barge in with droves of friends.
Have you got any? If not, how the heck do you pull that off?
I could list mine for days and days: Why you takin’ so long with them books you keep talkin’ ‘bout? Ya really gotta do that instead of this or those things or them stuff right now? Lookie here, there’s this to do that’s way more pressing and tons more fun! You’re wasting your time, so scrap that durned project already, just quit it. What in tarnation gave you the notion you could write anything of interest to anyone but you? People are just being polite when they compliment your work, don’t you know that? Who in their right mind will want to read your novels, much less spend hard-earned cash-ola on them? Seriously, if they do, they won’t finish them. And if they finish them, they won’t talk about them. For sure, if they talk about them, they won’t say anything nice. And promotion — you gotta be kidding me! — what do you know about that?
Some days, those are the nicer things I tell myself.
Read on, and you’ll see how Annie, a blogger from the United States east coast, makes perfect sense when she encourages us to name our inner critics.
Like my own name of da-AL, mine has a hyphenated moniker. “Them” goes by “A-Holes.”
How about you? What’s your inner demon(s) named? Maybe yours and mine could meet for drinks, get really plastered together, and meantime leave us alone for a spell?
More about today’s guest: Annie is a writer of many things, including poetry. In the past, she has even earned some real money from her writing! Here’s her advice — and a question for which I have no answer but send her lots of good wishes in solving it — for all of us. She blogs about whatever she pleases, including stuff that makes her and maybe us laugh…
“My Attempts to Play Nice With My Inner Critic” by Annie
Whether or not you practice mindfulness meditation, as I have for several years, you are probably familiar with the voice known as the Inner Critic. It’s that part of us that says: “I’m such a dope!” “I’ll never be what I hope to be.” “How could I have done that?” “I just don’t measure up!” “My father/mother was right/wrong about me.” “Sure, I’m doing fine, but that’s because people really don’t know that I’m winging it.” “I’m not bright enough, attractive enough, witty enough, kind enough, tall enough, thin enough, tough enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, thoughtful enough…”
You get the picture. That negative voice has long been with us, often from childhood, from societal messages, maybe from a single cruel teacher, and on and on. I was raised by two loving parents. My mother felt I could do no wrong, but I still recall my father casting a questioning eye on my report card and asking: “What’s this A-minus?”
The origins of the Inner Critic form a complex topic that I’m barely touching on here. But I know that I’m still the A student who goes nuts when autocorrect incorrectly changes “well” to “we’ll”—and I fail to catch it! Is that worth an iota of energy or distress? Of course not.
The Inner Critic certainly interferes with the goal of mindfulness coined by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Nonjudgmentally, indeed!
Several years ago, I wrote an article about mindfulness for an online women’s magazine. One of my interviewees was Sharon Salzberg, a renowned mindfulness educator and author who cofounded the highly regarded Insight Meditation Society at Barre, Massachusetts with two other giants in the field.
Salzberg’s special area of interest is lovingkindness, which begins with one’s self and then extends outward in ever larger circles to loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and the entire world.
Salzberg, who has written that her childhood troubles started her on a path that led to Buddhism in India decades ago, said she is constantly aware of her Inner Critic. How to deal with this negativity? She suggests giving your Inner Critic a name.
She named hers Lucy, after the famous Charles Schulz comic character who tells her hapless friend: “The problem with you, Charlie Brown, is that you’re you.” I asked her if I could adopt Lucy, and she agreed.
But I soon realized that borrowing someone else’s inner critic doesn’t work. I needed my own. I named her “Flibberty,” which is short for “flibbertigibbet.” That’s a Middle English term for a flighty, excessively talkative person, a gossip.
One of the reasons I’m happy with Flibberty is that although she’s a pain in the gut (that’s where I experience stress), her name includes the word “liberty.” I know I must free myself from the heavy burdens that Flibberty sometimes bestows upon me.
Mindfulness practitioners learn that you never try to fight with these negative forces; doing so simply enlarges their impact. Rather, you seek peaceful coexistence. When Flibberty rears her officious head, I say, “Oh, there you are, Flibberty. How ya doing?” That’s generally enough to move my mind into a better place.
Lately, however, perhaps because I’m essentially housebound due to COVID-19, Flibberty has been flitting about in my vicinity quite a bit. I’d call her a “FlitBit” who’s gauging my absence of activity, rather than the reverse, but then I’d be exposing my propensity for bad puns. I’d never want to do that!
Flibberty covets my desk. She tells me I’m being ridiculous, working in such a messy space. She laughs knowingly when my TV remote won’t work because the old New Yorker magazines are piled so high on the table in front of my couch that they block the signal.
Now here’s the tricky part, and I welcome your suggestions. I often write blog posts that require research, and I type them on my computer before cutting and pasting them into my blog. I then add the printouts of my collected newspaper and magazine articles—and my printed out computer entries—to the piles of previous papers that surround me.
The piles are increasing in both numbers and height. Some are approaching the tottering stage.
Have you heard of the Collyer brothers, who hoarded books, newspapers, and other items to such an extent that when their bodies were found, they were surrounded by 140 tons of stuff?
I haven’t reached that level, but I do wonder whether my Inner Critic’s reminders about what I’m failing to do with my papers might actually be positive after all. So I say, “OK, Flibberty, let’s attack this pile.”
I pick up a bunch of papers, look through them, wonder what to do with them, and set them aside. And then I tell Flibberty that I appreciate her concern, I really do, and I will get to them in good time.
I feel so much better. Flibberty is quiet.
But the piles are flourishing—testimony to my diligent work. And still…
If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I might hire an organizer to help me through this mini-crisis. If I were bolder, I could just throw all the papers into the shredder and move on. (Never mind, Flibberty; forget what I said about being bolder.)
And thereby hangs my dilemma. Can you, kind readers, presumably some of whom are better organized than I, provide some common-sense suggestions concerning what I do and do not need to keep for posterity? I want to ensure that the contents of my blog are intact as a legacy for my family.
Or will you encourage me to just say, “Screw it, Flibberty. We’re doing fine. We can both relax.”
In other words, am I using Flibberty as a balm—or an excuse?
Flibberty and disorder notwithstanding, my wish is that you, we, and the entire world be filled with lovingkindness…
What’s a novelist, writer, creative, any kind of person, to do amid COVID-19? Preface: I know I’m super lucky that to date, and fingers crossed that it stays that way, my circle has been relatively unscathed by any coronavirus. That said, I invite you to join me in whining…
There’s only so much writing and reading I can do during this pandemic sheltering-in-place without feeling stir-crazy… lonely… and just plain hot. We’re into the dog days, the part of summer when there’s no evading stickiness and the persistent “fragrance” of each other……
These days, masking up, talking to people from afar through the muffling, and daring the germs feels like endeavoring a safari, albeit not a blood-letting one. (Dear reader, my condolences if you’re plagued by maskne.)
Nevertheless, we decided to make a foray — to the shore — dog beach, to be exact. Mid-week and mid-morning, we calculated, would be sparse. Once we got there, no lifeguards shooed us away, so the three of us were tight.
Masks on… it was time for our dear little K-D doggie to learn to swim!
After all, my lovely girl has water-loving labrador-ish-ness twined into her DNA. Unfortunately, her older lab-ish sibs taught her to be suspicious of water. The sorely missed Lola and Pierre would tremble through warm showers. Their hearts, nonetheless, were huge, their love of their hu-Man great. That water-fearing duo steeled themselves to wade into a shallow lake when they thought their hu-Man was drowning, never suspecting that he was play-acting.
K-D is defined by two loves: playing and eating, in that order.
Joy! She found something to play with; a stick.
With gentle persistence, my dear Khashayar enticed her deeper.
It took time for play-mode to kick in — that plus her aversion to getting left behind by her fave hu-Man.
At some point, she set down her toy to pursue other activities — but when another critter showed interest in it, she told ’em off. Three sessions of that, and she’d had enough. Dang it, she was going to play with it with her hu-Man… maybe…
Khashayar had confidence enough for both of them!…
… and Khashayar has patience…
O-m-g!!! We should’ve brought a surfboard for her to hang ten!
Patience and love work well in all situations, no?
Turn up your speakers and sit back for a cooling video of one of her many subsequent swims that day. Bliss out to wet ears flapping against a happy dog’s face, one who’s fresh from a doggie paddle frolic and free of the day’s worries…