Gender Vid + Beaman’s 7 Memoir Tips + Pod 11: Girl Scouts Trans Allies

Writer/blogger/memoirist Marian Beaman.
Writer/blogger/memoirist Marian Beaman.

Transgender Rights, Coyotes, Girl Scouts, and Gaslighting Happiness Between Tails

#Transgender #Coyotes #Coyotes #GirlScouts #Gaslighting (Thanks for the photo, Magda Ehlers from Pexels) Girl Scouts turned away a $100,000 donation because the money came with a stipulation that the organization wouldn’t be allowed to help anyone who is transgender — better still, they collected $250,000 from people who were overjoyed by their integrity! In this interview, a couple of scouts work hard for their community… Growing up, did you join youth groups? How many homes did you reside in and schools did you attend? Speaking your truth combats gaslighting.  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. Links for this episode: Happiness Between Tails blog post with the links below, plus photos of the telephone pole sign the girl scouts made, and a screenshot of their website. The Coyote Crew Wikipedia’s overview of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Video of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addressing Girl Scouts in 1937. List of vintage Girl Scouts TV commercials on Youtube. Back in 2002, the Girl Scouts aired this ad of a sassy young girl putting her dad in his place. A clever 1976 TV commercial for the Girl Scouts. Time Stamps (where segments begin): 1) Happiness Between Tails intro 2) da-AL chats about today’s topic and a little about today’s guests 2:00 3) Girl Scouts guests, Ava and Jamie 5:30 4) This episode’s question with info on how to comment and learn more about Jamie, Ava, and da-AL 12 — 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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s audio show is the audio version of “Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled People by The Wheelchair Teen,” which you can read the text version of H-E-R-E. (This show has a new graphic to reflect that it’s shortened from an earlier version that included information that’s become outdated. Anchor’s tools make editing easy!) 

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

  • By the way, check out T-H-I-S end-of-the-year round up video that Spotify just sent me about my podcast.

I go by she/her. What pronouns do you go by? It’s as simple as that. Any writer (I’m working on a couple of novels) and reader knows words are important…

Don’t let fear of unintentionally offending others keep you from interacting. Whether that person goes by they/them, he/him, ne/nem, or prefers not to be referred to by gender at all, it’s always appropriate to ask.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library, this video simplifies pronouns:

Ever worry that your voice doesn’t need to be heard or that it’s too late to start your dream? Writing takes imagination — and courage! It helps to meet writers who have been our shoes yet still pushed ahead to success, such as Marian Beaman. (Also, H-E-R-E’s the site where, for free, I separated her face from the background) …

Author blogger Marian Beaman’s childhood was as a Pennsylvania Mennoite, who are also known as “plain people.” She went on to a career as a college professor, and now writes books from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit her blog for more about her, her other social media, and links to her books. Here she invites us to glimpse her writing process and offers seven tips for memoire writing.

Writer Marian Beaman stands in front of a bookshop window featuring her book, "Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl."
Writer Marian Beaman stands in front of a bookshop window featuring her book, “Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl.”

How Writing Memoir is like Riding a Train by Marian Beaman

Trains take me back to grade school, evoking the fondest of memories, like this one.

My friend Wayne and I paused in our play in the woods during summer vacation. We waited for the dusty, black engine to emerge from the heat haze around the feed mill on the edge of our village. The slight curve of the train’s coal cars behind it cut a path beyond the trees. We sprinted to get a closer look and then stopped in our tracks, observing the slow, rhythmic bursts of the steam engine pulling toward us from the east. To us, the Pennsylvania Railroad train was more than a space on the Monopoly board.

Other snapshots of train travel spring from my memory, all in the present tense:

  • My Aunt Ruthie Longenecker takes my sisters and me to Philadelphia, my first recollection of a train trip. I feel the rocking motion of the Pennsylvania Railroad train car we occupy, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, and the prize of the big city zoo at the end of the trip: lions and tigers and elephants, oh my!
  • When I pick plump, red raspberries with Grandma Longenecker, I hear the train’s clatter-clack over segments of track speeding from Lancaster to Harrisburg. With our round aluminum kettles laden with berries and handles that cut into the palms of our hands, we stand just 50 yards from the track, gazing in awe and feeling the vibration of the passing train through our shoes.
  • I travel with Aunt Ruthie to Temple University, taking the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia. We feel the rocking rhythm of the train when it slows and stops as the conductor calls out “Coatesville, Downingtown, Paoli” before we reach our destination at the 30th street station in Philly. 

The train trip from Lancaster to Philadelphia was not an express train. It made 5-6 stops on the 80-mile route from the countryside of Pennsylvania to the big city. By fits and starts, we made the journey in time for our 9:00 a.m. classes at Temple University. Same on the return trip. Slowing down and starting up again got us to and from our destination. All in good time.

It strikes me that writing novels, memoirs or other non-fiction is much like train travel. Lots of pausing, stopping, but sometimes even joyfully going full throttle through the countryside. The most important part of the plan: Staying on track. 

Here’s how I followed my unique route, writing my memoir, “Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl”:

Memoir Lesson 1

Be prepared to spend at least a year, or even five years to complete your book. Simply put: It takes as long as it takes. Writing is certainly rewarding, but learning a new skill (as I did) can be hard. I had done plenty of writing as an academic, but switching to a new genre like memoir required a totally different skillset. I took two family history writing classes to prepare. You? Start somewhere. Doodle or write poetry. Write prose in a journal. Begin a blog. 

Memoir Lesson 2

A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography. Ask yourself some serious questions: What part of your life will you depict–-scenes from your childhood, a traumatic experience, a thrilling adventure like sailing around the world? Can you sketch out this “slice of life” in a series of memorable moments? Write an outline? Scribble random thoughts on colored sticky notes? Draw turning points on a timeline? 

Memoir Lesson 3

What is your theme? If it’s success after a failed first marriage, that controlling idea will be the filter through which you tell your story. Flashbacks can add dimension to writing, but only if these stories connect to your theme. I enjoy cooking, but  I don’t open up the spice cabinet or pull down everything from my dry ingredients’ shelves and dump them into the bowl. I have to be selective. Just so, you can’t tell every story that happened in your life. Select scenes to fit your theme.

Memoir Lesson 4

Memoir writing, like fiction, requires a series of steps. Here are a few: writing multiple drafts, revising, revising (Did I say revising?), and deciding whether you want to pursue traditional publishing or independent publishing. If you self-publish, as I did, I had to find beta readers for early drafts (often author friends with whom I reciprocated the favor), searched for a developmental editor, copyeditor and proofreader. A helpful tip: I looked on the acknowledgements page of authors whose books I admired and found one wonderful editor there.  

Memoir Lesson 5

Super important: Read what you’ve written aloud occasionally. Train trips engage the senses. Invite your readers to be your seat mate on the ride. Help them escape into your world. Slow down the narrative as you let them see the view from the window. Help them feel the rocking motion as the train speeds along. Let them hear the sound of wheels on the rails. Listen to strangers carry on conversations around you: making unobtrusive notes may help you write realistic dialogue later on.

Memoir Lesson 6

Plan for publication. I began blogging six years before my book hit the shelves. It’s never too early to establish yourself as a writer. From the beginning, my blog posts appeared on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram has been also a great place to share fun stuff. Personal relationships too are very important and so rewarding.  I found rekindled friendships and connections to author friends invaluable as I organized my book launch and marketing.

Memoir Lesson 7

Take breaks. The train to Philadelphia made frequent tops. At some of the stops, I got up from my seat, went to the restroom, or walked up and down the aisle. Sometimes en route, I stopped reading my textbook and just gazed out of the train window. I enjoy reading, so sometimes my break was reading an entertaining book. Like the cadence of clack-clack on train tracks, the rhythm of someone else’s words refreshed my mind.

And finally, “Celebrate!”

Be sure to party along the way, not just when you hold that newly minted book in your hands, but other times too: Finishing your first draft, receiving a compliment from an early reader, picking a title, approving your cover design. Enjoy the entire ride!

Do you fear it’s too late to pursue your dreams?

3 Blog and Pod Tricks + Pod 8: Dwayne Sharpe’s Sci-Fi

Photo of K-D-doggie giving da-AL a sloppy kiss.

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

#ShortStories #Podcasting #Novels #WritingLife #Authors #Drama This very first experimental installment premiered during the early days of the first COVID-19 lockdown in Los Angeles. First it discusses podcasting, then Dwayne Sharpe reads his sci-fi short story, “Another Day in the Twilight Zone.” As always, I welcome your insights and questions. Record them at my Anchor site — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Links referred to in this episode: Video version of this episode. Blog post with this episode in text form. This episode first resided here at Podbean, a podcast host. A Happiness Between Tails blog post where I sing public library praises and another one here. A video with my honey and a super cute baby chick in New Zealand, and this amazing cat video I made in Spain. Get Dwayne Sharpe’s books, "Thomas' 100 Cat Tales” and “Blaze Mysteries,” here. He also enjoys geocaching, which you can learn about here and here.) Los Angeles County Library Virtual writing groups offered through Shut Up & Write. Photos available at the blog version of this show: Dwayne Sharpe, the cover of his book, “Thomas’ 100 Cat Tales,” and the cover of another of his books “Blaze Mysteries.” Time Stamps (where segments begin): 1) Happiness Between Tails intro 2) Background info about today’s show 1:09 3) How I started this show and about today’s guest 1:59 4) Dwayne Sharpe's Sci-Fi, "Another Day in the Twilight Zone” 4:49 5) Happiness Between Tails outro 7:53 — 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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s show is the audio version of an earlier post. There’s a video version of it H-E-R-E (and at the end of this post) — and a text version of it H-E-R-E.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

1. Getting the word out about Happiness Between Tails Podcast takes time away from writing my novels. Rather than worry I’ll never get my books done, I remind myself this stretch of learning is an investment for when I’m ready to produce serialized audio drama versions for the novels.

To that end, it occurred to me — duh, after all this time lol — that while Happiness Between Tails is meant to be a play on “tales” as well as “tails,” only the wag-able kind is represented in this site’s photo. A few days ago, I was feeling rather under-the-weather pasty, but hey, my hair was clean and brushed. Time to set aside excuses and dust off the selfie stick. The new masthead and the photo below are the results. The books? There’s a pile of them on my lap, but they kept sliding, so the book stamped onto my shirt must suffice.

2. Do you have business cards? Does anyone use them? I dunno, but it seems like the thing to have “just in case” if one is to be in business, so here’s mine. The two versions are because I discovered sites like t-h-i-s o-n-e that offer free QR codes. Who knew COVID would bring them back in style?

Screenshot of da-AL's business cards.

3. Podcasting and some lingo: It’s one thing to have a hosting site, like AnchorFM, where one’s podcast lives. “Directories” are also needed to get it into listeners’ smartphones and desktops of various operating systems, and such. For weeks I’ve researched “directories,” among them Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Pandora, and so on — they’re the apps and sites that catalog and feature podcasts.

It would be impossible to get onto all the zillions that exist, so I just did my best and now I’m done, at least for now. Take a look at the list, not merely for to know where to listen, but to copy for when you submit your own podcast to directories.

The extended list of directories and other pertinent links are H-E-R-E at Linktree. It’s a site where, among other things, multiple links can be simultaneously funneled into a “master link.” A click of the screenshot below will also take you there…

Screenshot of Happiness Between Tails at LinkTree.
All Happiness Between Tails links are listed and scroll-tap-click-able at LinkTree.

Time-saving Linktree tip: before adding links there, first organize them in another document. Then drop them into Linktree starting with the last one. The last one loaded lands at the top.

Back to today’s podcast — here’s a video version of it…

Dwayne Sharpe submitted the story when Los Angeles was first quarantined, so… 

When you first heard about COVID, how did you think your life would be impacted?

World Building + Pod 7: Imagining a New Place by novelist Chris Hall

‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, "Song of the Sea Goddess." Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.
‘Sunset over the Berg River ©River Tides Guesthouse’ – where author Chris Hall stayed when she began writing her book, “Song of the Sea Goddess.” Owner Mike Harvey is a good friend of hers and the photo is from his website.

Imagining a New Place by novelist Chris Hall + Me and COVID Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Writing #WorldBuilding #SouthAfrica Have you ever created a new world? In this episode, author/blogger Chris Hall describes herself as “a compulsive story-teller, cat slave and hen keeper.” Record your thoughts, experiences, and qustions on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Today’s topics and about today’s guest 1:05 “Imagining a New Place” by novelist Chris Hall My question for you 5:28 HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post that corresponds to this episode. Chris Hall's website. About my works in progress, "Flamenco & the Sitting Cat," and "Tango & the Sitting Cat" Some of the posts about when my husband and I had COVID-19 are here and here. and here. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Photo of the riverside where by Chris Hall began writing her book, "Song of the Sea Goddess.” Photo of Chris Hall. Photo of Chris’s kitty, Luna. Photo of Chris’s book, “Song of the Sea Goddess”vg83yt618kz6sxYKe9w7x3vwvtkox1p4rpaz51 — 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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

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 the blog post below.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Notes on the progress of my new podcast and this blog: People listen to podcasts via so many different sites and devices that it’s important to upload one’s podcast onto as many directories (such as Apple and Spotify) as possible. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent much time making lists of them, uploading, waiting for verifications, etc., and still am not quite finished. By now, the show should be find-able on at least 50 places — yay! As for this site here, it’s got a new look when you click on the tab that gives you a list of past posts.

Connection… collaboration… We affect each other, for good and bad. Please know that your visits, likes, and comments go far in helping me keep writing my novels (about them h-e-r-e) and the rest of my creative endeavors.

Writers get to build whatever world they please — sometimes our novels bend the truth only somewhat — other times they invent entire new galaxies.

My works in progress, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat,” are set in fictitious towns within Los Angeles during 2002 and 2003. Back then, COVID-19 didn’t exist…

Note: When this post was first published in January of 2021, my husband and I found we were in the initial stages of COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, we were super careful. I’m reiterating this as a reminder that one can never be too conscientious about avoiding this severe illness and about working civically to help contain it. (Here’s more about our bout with it h-e-r-e, and h-e-r-e. and h-e-r-e.)

Deciding on settings, histories, and all the rest that goes into storytelling is chancy no matter what an author chooses to create. There will always be fans and foes. To be a novelist requires enough passion to outrun the discouraging thoughts that can torment us.

Chris Hall has been wonderfully prolific over the last few years. She’s published three novels and a short story collection! Originally from the UK, she describes herself as “a compulsive story-teller, cat slave and hen keeper.” To sample her short fiction, fan fiction, mini-series, and poetry, as well as to follow her on her various social media, check out her website.

“Song of the Sea Goddess,” her most recent novel, is set where she lives now, the Western Cape of South Africa. (Listen to a sample of the audiobook version h-e-r-e.) Here she describes why she decided to depict a South Africa different from how it is in real life…

Author Chris Hall.
Author Chris Hall.

“From the Writer’s desk” by Chris Hall

Writing a novel is not just about telling the story. There are other considerations that come into play. I’d like to share with you why I was motivated to write a book set in South Africa. In particular, why I chose to paint an idealised portrait of the place and why I drew on the overarching theme of environmental destruction, rather than dealing with the gritty issues of race and poverty in my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess.

The Setting

When it came to writing this, my fourth novel, I was determined to set it in my adopted country, South Africa. I’d been living near Cape Town for almost ten years and the time had come to give voice to the people around me. I’d also decided it was time to transition from historical fiction. It was time to write in the moment, but at the same time include elements borrowed from the ancient lore of the African continent, which are written on cave walls and embedded in the landscape.

I knew I needed a setting to match the story I was about to tell, although the story hadn’t really even begun. Then, at the beginning of 2019, while staying in a small town on our very beautiful west coast, while I sat by the banks of the Berg River and watched the little boats going past on their way out to sea, I was moved to write a story about a fisherman with a little boat.

Every writer needs a helper as inspiring as Chris Hall's kitty, Luna.
Every writer needs a helper as inspiring as Chris Hall’s kitty, Luna.

The Characters

I’m a lazy novelist. I let my characters emerge and develop and play around in my mind. Even before they are fully formed, they are always desperate to run to centre stage and act out their parts.

But there has to be a starting point.

A few of my key characters are based on people I met when I first came to live in South Africa. People whose backgrounds were unfamiliar to me; people who come from what are euphemistically called ‘formerly disadvantaged communities’ (as if their communities are not still disadvantaged in this country, which has the most polarized society on the planet).

I could have written about some of their struggles, about the conditions in which they live, about the poverty and lack of opportunity that characterizes their communities, of how they’d suffered under apartheid, but as I got to them better, I realised that none of them wants to dwell on any of that.

So I decided I could give them better lives, locate them in a much more pleasant place and put a positive spin on this beautiful country.

I mixed them up a bit, taking a little bit of one and blending it with another, but their voices are true and their characteristics mirror real life in many respects. There’s a nod to some of the darker side of people’s lives with Sam’s flight from the Cape Flats’ gangland and in the history behind Jannie’s tattoos from the notorious ‘28s’ gang.

On the lighter side, several of the comical incidents, like when Auntie Rose loses her false teeth down her pants’ leg, are little events that actually happened. The food that the Aunties make and sell in the novel is based on recipes that I tasted and talked about with people. The love of food and the common ground we found over cookery has cemented several friendships in my new town.

The Theme

Concern for the environment is a theme I continue to return to in the short fiction and poetry, which I write on my blogsite, and while watching a TV documentary about water pollution, an idea began to form in my mind for the backdrop to my novel’s narrative. Water is in short supply in our country anyway, but what if the rivers were threatened? And what would happen if the forces of nature were moved to fight back? Soon my emerging novel would take a new and interesting turn.

My love of the landscape and ancient lore of the country that I now call home will continue to feature in my work. I’m already embroiled in a sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess, where myth and magic will once again be awakened in the little coastal town where the great river flows from the purple mountains into the southern ocean.

Visit Chris' site to order her books, and to find out more about her and the rest of her writings.
Visit Chris’ site to order her books, and to find out more about her and the rest of her writings.

Have you ever created a new world?

Writing Collab by P. Springer + Pod6: COVID + P. Wight Flash Memoir

Photo of da-AL with a fluffy dog who isn't K-D-doggie.
Shhh… don’t tell my K-D-doggie that I spent a quality afternoon with this friend, Charlie.

From Novel to Big Screen: how Gabriel Constans turns books into movies! Happiness Between Tails

  1. From Novel to Big Screen: how Gabriel Constans turns books into movies!
  2. Novelist Jacqueline Diamond Published 100+ Books!

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), “COVID Hair and Writing Life by da-AL + Pamela S. Wight’s Flash Memoir.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Connection… collaboration… We affect each other, for good and bad. Please know that your visits, likes, and comments go far in helping me keep writing my novels (about them h-e-r-e) and the rest of my creative endeavors.

Connection includes your postcards! Rebekah, whose mom, Pat, wrote of her challenge of getting into the Marines h-e-r-e, recently completed the very difficult “The Crucible” culmination of boot camp! Moreover, she didn’t incur further injuries!! Yay!!! Pat says Rebekah, who still isn’t allowed to communicate with the greater outside world, is extremely grateful for your support. Rebekah will soon be in town, so I can’t wait to see her 🙂

This week I’ve slogged more through learning to start a podcast, hence I only got a little novel writing done. With luck, the Happiness Between Tails podcast will appear on least 50 directories (already included are Apple and Spotify). Each directory asked for my RSS feed, bios of varying character counts, different sizes of graphics, email verifications, etc. Halfway through submitting stuff, I discovered I was copying and pasting typos and repeated sentences. Oof! There was even junk to scour from this site’s “Welcome” page.

Next week, my ToDo List includes sorting through the rubble. Meantime, I also found stuff to fix in last week’s podcast version of “Khashayar’s Healthier Carrot Cake Recipe.”

Sheesh, how do people do all this and also promote?! I’m gonna say it now: Twitter, I hate you. I’m forever feeling like I’m hash-tagging you and sharing you and retweeting you all wrong, wrong, wrong. Most people who request to friend me aren’t “friend material” anyway. And Instagram, why, oh why, don’t you make yourself easier to use?! Life would be so much easier if you’d let me share to you from WordPress and from my desktop computer. (Oh, wait, I take back the second half of my rant about Insta thanks to Ashley of Mental Health at Home. She generously commented below that there’s a new way to upload to Instagram from desktops, so here’s a how-to I found on that.)

Today I got my first follower whose link is  a Snapchat. Ms. Sexy Snapchat, I’m not falling into your minefield of clicking on your sleezy-from-a-mile-away link, although I don’t mind that you increase my “followers count.”

Add in “life stuff,” and I wasn’t getting this week’s blog post written until the goddesses came through via Pete Springer. He’s contributed the immensely heartening post you’ll read further down!

Here’s a brief intro to author/blogger Pete Springer. After retiring from decades of teaching second to sixth graders, he published a book for future teachers called They Call Me Mom. He explains, “Every elementary teacher gets the title reference because kids are forever calling the teacher mom. Even though it was said unintentionally, I always took it as a beautiful compliment being compared to a mother.”

Now he’s finished his first middle-grade story, Second Chance Summer, which he’s trying to find a publisher and agent for. Thanks, Pete, for your wise and inspiriting words that follow…

Author Pete Springer.
Author Pete Springer.

The Importance of Collaboration in Writing: 6 Steps by Pete Springer

I’ve reached the age (62) where another birthday isn’t much cause for celebration. On the other hand, I’m still here, or as my mother-in-law used to say, “It’s better than the alternative.” One perk of being older is I’ve had a lifetime of experiences. I want to think I’ve learned a few things over that time. One of those beliefs is that it’s much better to try and fail than not to play the game.

I wish I could say that I’ve always been this fearless guy—the type who wasn’t afraid to try something new and equally comfortable in public speaking situations. The reality is I used to play it safe and took the easy way out. Look where that got me! Instead, now I put on my big boy pants every morning and go after what I want. I like this version of myself better than the old one. I love it when people say things like, “How do you do that?” or “I wish I had your nerve.” 

I have a couple of advantages over most others. I was an elementary school teacher for 31 years, so I got used to speaking to other people and doing things in front of my students that most people would never consider. I’m the one who wore his tidy whities over his dress pants on Backwards Day, the knucklehead who dressed up as one of the Blues Brothers while singing and doing cartwheels on stage, and the crazy guy who took his entire class and their families on biking fields trip across town.

It’s not like I’ve got one foot in the grave, but the hourglass has turned. I don’t have time to dilly around working up my nerve. That’s why I encourage anyone reading my piece to find your inner courage and go after your writing goals. Don’t wait until retirement to start that book you want to write. Get out there and sign up for that writing class you’ve always wanted to take. Above all, don’t be afraid to share your writing with other people because you worry that it doesn’t measure up. We all have to start somewhere, and that time is now.

I’ve done a lot of things to further my writing in the last few years. I’ve taken classes, read many books about writing, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators), started a blog, and networked with other writers. I didn’t consider myself a writer before, but now I do. Seldom does a day go by when I’m not writing something. I take my craft seriously because there is no substitute for practice if we want to improve. While these things have helped me develop better writing skills, the most crucial step was finding a critique group.

Being a retired teacher, I’ve always believed in the collaborative process. Getting regular feedback from others is a critical step in any endeavor. Anyone who has been part of a team understands that we get extra juice from our teammates and don’t want to let them down.

The most critical ingredient in a critique group is trust. I understand that when my partners make recommendations and suggestions, they’re offering their opinions because they’re trying to help. As writers, we need to be open to constructive criticism. Sometimes things that I don’t see right away become apparent when someone else points them out. I’d estimate that 90% of the time, I agree with my critique partners’ recommendations. 

Of course, sometimes there are differences of opinion. We don’t get into prolonged debates trying to prove that we’re right. Getting feedback from others doesn’t mean we always have to agree with it, but we should try to listen and understand their point of view.

Ultimately, writers must be happy with the words they choose. If someone makes a point that I differ on, I either respectfully disagree or don’t say anything and write what my heart tells me is the better choice. When my editor made recommendations and changes, I listened to these thoughtfully. She was usually right, and I trusted her judgment in most situations. On the rare occasion when I didn’t, I explained my reasoning and went with what I believed was better. Working with an editor should be a give-and-take process.

Every critique group must find a process that works for them. Because most of the people in our group are retired, we’re able to meet nearly every week for four hours. Regular feedback is critical as a story develops. I’m sharing our process, knowing that others may have formats that work better for them:

Step 1: We do a brief check-in where each member shares what has been going on in their life.

Step 2: We hold a one-minute meditation to free ourselves from outside distractions and get our minds focused on the task at hand.

Step 3: We have a regular order, so we always know who the first person to share will be. Whoever comes first after the last person who read the previous week begins. They give a brief thirty-second reminder of what was happening in their story and then pass out the new chapter to each of us. We have a limit of up to ten pages per week for each member.

Step 4: Everyone reads the paper silently and makes written notes on the draft. After everyone finishes, we share our thoughts. One of the most crucial parts of the process is that the writer may not immediately respond to any feedback. This part is vital because it forces the writer to listen to each comment critically rather than act defensively. 

Step 5:  After everyone has commented on the paper, we move into the period called “Open Discussion.” At this point, the writer may react to any feedback. Sometimes thoughts are briefly debated, but everyone understands that the writer may accept or reject the suggestions.

Step 6: We continue this format throughout the meeting. If we don’t get to someone by the end of the session, that person has the choice of whether they would like their chapter to be homework or not. Those writers who haven’t had their chapter read will go first at next week’s meeting.

I sat in one week with another group, and the group dynamics felt much different. The one person I knew from that group couldn’t attend that day, so I worked with strangers. Their format was completely different; that threw me off. Each writer read their paper aloud, and the others were making notes on their papers simultaneously. They were in the middle of stories, characters, and plots I was unfamiliar with, and I was pretty much lost. I also found it challenging to write notes while listening to the story at the same time. By the end of the meeting, I knew it wasn’t a good fit, but I didn’t have any regrets about trying.

One final area that I want to address is that of having friends read your work. I did that with my first and second books, but I’ve learned this creates difficult situations. I had friends who told me they were dying to read my story. After I gave them a copy, I didn’t hear back from some for months. I don’t want to make it sound like this was the norm because many friends responded quickly with helpful comments. When I heard nothing, it created some confusion. Did they read it? Maybe they thought it wasn’t good and didn’t want to say anything. Perhaps they were too busy and forgot all about it. I tried to keep the process moving forward, but I also didn’t want to be a pest.

Having experienced this a few times, I was left wondering what to do. If I hadn’t heard anything for several weeks, I reached out again (once) and asked if they had a chance to get to it. A few times, I got the “I forgot all about it” response or “I’ve been super busy, but I’ll get to it soon” answer. I understand that those things can happen, but I’m the type of person who follows through when I make a promise. Knowing how uncomfortable and awkward this scenario felt, I’m no longer putting my friends in that position. Perhaps they didn’t know what they were signing up for when they volunteered. From now on, I will rely on my critique group, fellow writers, and other professionals in the industry. 

While writing is primarily a solitary pursuit, all writers should periodically get feedback. I am the least experienced writer in my group, but I didn’t let that intimidate me. The others made me feel like a valued member right away. I love the camaraderie of working with others, but what I like best is seeing my improvement as a writer. 

I’ve heard of critique groups that function online with Zoom. I can see how that could work. Others don’t meet face-to-face, and instead, people respond by email. I prefer meeting in person, but this method might work better for people who are still working. If we’re serious about improving as writers, then working with a group of equally committed people is an essential step in the process.

Do you find collaborating with other writers helpful?…

Tango Videos + J.Barrow + C.Hall audiobook + Pod 5 Healthy Carrot Cake

Screenshot from video of Khashayar and da-AL dancing Argentine Tango, un-choreographed.
Screenshot from video of Khashayar and da-AL dancing Argentine Tango, un-choreographed.

Carrot Delight Cake: a Healthier Recipe by Khashayar Happiness Between Tails

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 and it includes the full recipe written out), “Our COVID + Carrot Delight Cake Healthier Recipe by Khashayar.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

This week I did more writing on my novels … plus… happiness!… It’s been since forever — gulp! since quarantine! —  that my husband and I haven’t danced. No classes, no practicing on our own, no nuthin’. And as much as we’ve missed it, we’ve missed our dancing friends even more. Every year, pre-Covid, we’d party at a very generous fellow student’s backyard to eat potluck style and perform flamenco, tango, folk, belly dancer, and more for each other.

More notes on my podcasting evolution: since author/blogger Judith Barrow contributed a guest blog post h-e-r-e about how she got published that I podcasted h-e-r-e, this week, using Headliner, I produced a video version of it h-e-r-e.

Gleefully, I present videos of the two tangos we performed when we all finally reunited last weekend. To be safe, the event was outdoors, and only included those who were vaccinated. Over the Covid interim, my hair had grown so long that when Khashayar and I rehearsed, it was getting stuck in his armpit! Hence, that morning I whacked 4” off in time for the show. I was so out of shape and so unaccustomed to wearing heels that the muscles in my calves were cramping. Nonetheless, it was incredibly heartwarming and fun!!!

We began with a classic tango, which was un-choreographed, as is the tradition with authentic Argentine tango…

Lastly we performed an Argentine tango, milonga style, also not pre-choreographed to adhere to convention… 

Do you listen to audiobooks? I’m obsessed with them. It’s amazing how quickly moments of listening during cooking, washing dishes, sweeping, driving, brushing my teeth, and walking my dog add up to a whole book!

Author/blogger Chris, who has been a past guest h-e-r-e, now has an audiobook! Below, within her description of how the process went for her, she’s included a link to a marvelous audio sample of it.

Chris is a compulsive story-teller, cat slave, and hen keeper who hales from England and lives in South Africa with her artist husband. She’s published many books of fiction and is finishing the sequel to her Song of the Sea Goddess. Visit her blog h-e-r-e to sample her flash fiction and poems.

Graphic describing how "Song of the Sea Goddess" is available as an audiobook.

“The Rise of the Audiobook” by Chris Hall

Audiobooks are becoming more mainstream, most growth coming from people using technology to find more time in their day to consume more books”.
Chris Lynch, Simon & Schuster Audio.

Audiobooks have been around for almost a century in one form or another, although it was only in the 1990s that the advent of digitized recording technology saw audiobooks take off. They’re a boon for people with visual impairments and those who have difficulty with holding a book or e-reader. Or those who don’t get on with processing the written word but still love stories. And of course, they’re great for busy people who like to multi-task, all those artists and crafters, bakers, cooks and wielders of needles I know! From my hairdresser to my podiatrist, I’ve found people who love to listen to audiobooks.

There is also the opportunity to reach a brand new, younger audience. The ‘Podcast Generation’, the 18-24 year age group, are increasingly listening to audiobooks, and these are not a traditional book buying group. Plugged into their smartphones, they consume their stories on the go.

Increasingly aware of the appetite for creating audio offerings amongst some of the folk I know here on WP, where more people are converting their posts to podcasts, producing their own podcasts, and generally getting to grips with ‘all things audio’, I decided to dip my toe in the water and make an audiobook.

But which of my novels to choose?

I decided on my most recently published novel, Song of the Sea Goddess. It’s the first book I’ve written set in South Africa, my adopted country, where in my experience, people are less wedded to the written word, but love their listening devices. It’s a book that I hope will appeal to both a local and a global audience.

Song of the Sea Goddess combines fantasy and magical realism, and contains elements of an eco-thriller. Key themes include man’s avarice and arrogance, and the human threat to the environment and to earth’s creatures (both real and imaginary). Written not long after Cape Town almost ran out of drinking water a couple of years ago, it also touches on the thirst for water experienced in many parts of Africa.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. My novel is populated by a small cast of quirky and humorous characters who reside in the charming little coastal town that I created for them, an imaginary place on the beautiful west coast of South Africa. They’re a great bunch to get to know, and very relatable to a local audience.

Author Chris Hall.
Author Chris Hall.

So, to the process of producing an audiobook

A little online research led me to make my first decision: I had to find a good narrator. Even if I had that magical ‘voice for radio’, it’s a mammoth task to read and record an entire novel. Nor do I have the equipment or the skill to make a professional digital recording, and I can only imagine how many times I’d need to stop to silence my very opinionated cat! But, by great good fortune one of the teachers with whom my husband used to work is also a voice actor. I asked him to drop her an email.

Voice actor Terry Lloyd Roberts was happy to take on the project and in turn, she introduced me to Devon Martindale, Director at Audioshelf, a South African company dedicated to the production of audiobooks. From then on making the recording was easy. All I had to do was send them the manuscript and they’d do the rest. Over the next month, I received a chunk of chapters to review each week. Listening to the recordings made by Devon and golden-voiced Terry was an absolute delight. It couldn’t have been easier. You can listen to a sample here.

Armed with the finished recording, finding a platform on which to publish was the next step. Being in South Africa closes off many avenues (don’t get me started) and I was disappointed to find that ‘big names’ like ACX were ‘not available in your geographical location’. However, Devon came to the rescue and recommended Authors Republic who offer audiobook publishing and distribution worldwide.

After signing up, completing a US tax form, and adding my paypal account details, all that remained was to fill in the book details, load up the cover pic and upload the audio files, which had been perfectly prepared by Audioshelf, then finally set the price, although the distributors have the right to amend this to fit their pricing profile.

Just two weeks later, my audiobook was available via all the major audiobook retailers, including the ones unavailable to me in South Africa, like Audible and Chirp. It was also published on Amazon, alongside the e-book and paperback, which I’d been unable to do directly.

Bottom line – cost v sales

Because of the time involved to read and record an entire novel, it is a relatively costly enterprise to engage a narrator and arrange the studio time. It cost me equivalent to a nice holiday! This of course, would have been drastically reduced if I’d done my own recording. 

Sales are paid quarterly by Authors Republic and I’m pleased to report that I earned more royalties from the audiobook than the combined paperback and e-book sales in these first three months since publication. It might take a while (if ever) to make my money back, but it does give me the opportunity to reach a new audience. Having people enjoy what I’ve written is reward enough for me.

Would I do it again?

Oh yes! Terry and Devon are about to start recording my adventure story for all ages, Following the Green Rabbit, which will be out in time for the coming festive holiday.

Do you listen to audiobooks? And is there something you’ve gotten rusty at due to Covid?

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

X me + Publishing: Judith Barrow’s Traditional Happiness Between Tails

#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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

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.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

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

#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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

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), “Self-Publishing in S. India: A Guest Blog Post by Nadira Cotticollan.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

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.”

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

It’s time, readers, to meet Judith Barrow…

Judith 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 (you can also listen to a podcast of it h-e-r-e, and watch a video of it h-e-r-e

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

Judith Barrow on How She Publishes and Writes

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

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?

Podcast 2 w Tips: Adulting n D Foster Writes 4 Kids + @Anchor Hiccups

Graphic for HBT podcast that shows Khashayar walking into a super cold Big Sur stream.

Adulting + Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Compassion #Childhood #Families #Publishing When did you become an adult? And do you read young adult fiction? And why are young adult novels popular with all ages? Here I discuss when I turned 18 and my parents shook my hand and left me. Darlene Foster talks about her books for kids and how she got published. 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 My adulting and about writer Darlene Foster 1:05 Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children 4:50 My question for you 10:00 HBT outro Links: Darlene Foster’s website where you can learn about her and her books. Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. About the novels I'm working on.. Some of the movies filmed at Santa Cruz Boardwalk. About Santa Barbara. About elephant seals, a video I shot of them, and a video of more Pacific Coast Highway scenery. What at least one of Pablo Picasso's grandkids think of him. About Morro Rock and a video I shot of it. Central Avenue Publishing puts out Darlene’s books. Photos available at the original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails: Photos of Darlene Foster and her books. Photos and videos of our drive down Pacific Coast Highway, from San Jose to Los Angeles. Photo of my dear doggie getting a chest rub. — 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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

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 version of my blog post (the blog version is H-E-R-E) of “Adulting and Videos + Why Darlene Foster Writes For Children.”

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Whew! It’s my second week of “real podcasting” (see about Podcast #1 h-e-r-e) and I’m so busy trying to learn that I haven’t time to work on my novels. After all, they’re what brought me to blogging and now the endeavor of converting blog posts into sound episodes.

Any creative person without a superstar agent has to wear many hats to create work while also promoting themselves, yet no one has more than 24 hours in a day.

Those constraints in mind, below is new stuff about podcasting I’ve learned and bits I neglected to mention last time. Maybe what I’ve learned (including what not to do) can help you (or at least help anyone appreciate what goes into these things). If you have advice or anything to add, please let us all know within the comments.

  • Video versions of the podcasts: Youtube versions by different services are in last week’s post. When I have time, I’ll use the remaining freebie credits at the apps to produce videos sized for Twitter, Instagram, and the like.
  • Monetizing Part 1: Thank you, thank you, everyone who watched and subscribed! Mwah! Mwah! Mwah! to each and every one of you because I reached the minimum of 50 views needed for Anchor to submit advertisements that I can start to insert and earn from.
  • Monetizing Part 2: Anchor’s feature that they’ll let you start making money from their ads on your show after you get 50 listens is definitely more doable than other social media platforms (like WordPress and Youtube) that require zillions before you see a penny. However, try as I might, Anchor’s sign-up form keeps bouncing back to me, saying that my account is already being used! I sent Anchor emails, Tweets, Facebook messages, and am still getting the run around. They have online chat, which the first time I tried getting on, I waited an hour, and then got cut off! (Note Since Publishing This Post & Then Hearing Back From Anchor: they fixed it — will let you know when they send me ads to record.)
  • Facebook: I changed my banner on my business page there. Canva does a better job with making text look crisp than when I try adding text via my iMac’s Photos app.
  • Anchor Part 1: hopefully I won’t forget, as I did last week, to tag them (they ask podcasters to do that) when I share this to Twitter. Dunno if good will come if it, but one can dare to dream…
  • Anchor Part 2: why can’t I open some of my drafts on my iMac, which is a million times easier to edit on than my iPad and iPhone?
  • Tagging: which reminds me, I guess I should tag anyone (besides guests here, who I already tag) who I link to or mention in posts? Have you done that?
  • Platforms: yah! Anchor has me on 7 platforms so far — but wait, some of them aren’t working or don’t list Happiness Between Tails in their search list — argh! That’s yet another thing I’ve been experiencing much aggravation with, trying to straighten out via emails. etc. And I’m in Apple Podcasts, so why aren’t I in Overcast? And ooooh, far far worst — one platform is showing my drafts that I’ve yet to finish and publish!!! (Note Since Publishing This Post & Then Hearing Back From Anchor: yah! I’m on Overcast. Am hoping soon the other platform will stop showing my drafts…) 
  • Automated voices: I forgot to mention, if you want to hear each of them, the boy voice reads the address that’s within the last podcast that includes Willow Croft.
  • Podcasting WordPress into Anchor: for how to do that, see my earlier post — I forgot to add that one is allowed only one podcast per blog, which is why I started a separate blog. It’s one that’s only for me to see, even though technically Anchor needs it to be designated “public,” so I can experiment with how podcasts sound before I actually publish them.
  • Sound: besides having the separate blog I noted above, when I’m revising a blog post to make it relevant to listeners, it’s useful to preview it through my word processor’s audio narrator as well. Using trial and error, you can figure out how to improve the pacing, etc., using different punctuation and spelling.
  • Promotion: it’s not easy figuring out who and how to tell people. For me, part of that has to do with this show being my “classroom” for when I do one for my novels. That means that this one isn’t as polished, so I don’t want to invite criticism from people who won’t understand that. The people who “get it” are more often fellow bloggers and writers.

There you go — if you have any questions or answers, I’m all ears (and eyes).

How’s your week been? Listen to any good podcasts or read any good novels?

Tips 2 Podcast + Pod 1: Willow Croft + Backyard Horse Blog’s Podcast!

Photo of Ira Glass recording an episode of his radio show, "This American Life," in his small closet.
Thinking about starting your own podcast but don’t know where you’d record it? Here’s Ira Glass, narrating his ultra successful radio show and podcast, “This American Life,” in his closet…

Willow Croft on Writing and Animals Happiness Between Tails

#Animals #Writing #Authors Poet/blogger/speculative and horror fiction author Willow Croft tells how her writing and love of animals merge. How do animals figure into your love of reading and/or writing? Record your thoughts on my podcast page on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy Me a Coffee. Visit this show’s original blog post for links and photos of Willow Croft’s book and cat. Time Stamps (where segments begin): Happiness Between Tails introduction da-AL discusses today’s guest 2:00 Willow Croft on writing and animals 2:20 A question for you 14:00 — 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 Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E & you’ll find my brand new podcast page! It’s on AnchorFM, where in addition to a teaser and a reading of Willow Croft’s post (her corresponding guest blog post is here), you’ll find my podcast’s links to subscribe, hear, and share it wherever else you prefer, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts and Breaker, to Pocket Casts and RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher, plus many more and an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is H-E-R-E.

Hurrah!!! Picture me jumping up and down with as much glee as panting with relief after laboring over the ins and outs of producing The Happiness Between Tails Podcast. The HBT podcast is really an experiment — a hands-on classroom where I make most of my mistakes before I serialize my novels (“Flamenco & the Sitting Cat,” and “Tango & the Sitting Cat”) into audio fiction series. For the record, the fiction shows won’t use the automated readers. I’ve already posted a bit about podcasting H-E-R-E and H-E-R-E.

My podcast dream was kicked into higher gear when WordPress announced its link with Anchor, one where WordPress bloggers can convert posts into podcasts.

It’s not your imagination that the video transcriptions below for teasers are all the same. What differentiates them is that they’re made using the free features within AnchorFM and Audiogram and Headliner. So far I’ve only made them for my YouTube channel, but they can also be to accommodate the size requirements for other social media.

Anchor did this video of my teaser that’s on my YouTube

Audiogram did this video version at my YouTube

Headliner produced did teaser uploaded to my YouTube

The Backyard Horse Blog

Look how fun The Backyard Horse Blog’s Mary Lynne Carpenter’s first podcast is, which corresponds to the post on her blog HERE! (Btw, she generously guest posted at Happiness Between Tails HERE.) Regarding her experience, she emailed:

“For any bloggers out there who would like to try to use the Anchor program (I found it to be very straightforward, not complicated), I would recommend starting off with a short introduction about your blog that would help set the stage for what you are about to read. I did not do that. I even forgot to read the essay title. It would make the whole thing seem more warm and inviting. The hardest part of the experience for me was reading the essay without making any mistakes. I ended up recording about six times and finally gave up. Not really sure podcasting is my gig, but for those of you who are curious and want to give it a try, I found the Anchor program quite user friendly.”

Curious about experimenting with a podcast of your own?

Given my frazzled state, here’s some un-organized dribs and drabs about what I’ve learned to date. Feel free to add your own or point out any errors I’ve made.

Random hard-won notes regarding setting something up on Anchor:

For the sake of not risking messing up this site, I set up an alternate WordPress blog. That’s because when Anchor’s automated voices (there’s a female and a male version) “audio-ize” posts, they’re not completely tidy. For instance, they don’t read the post’s headline. Also, my posts need massaging to sound good as podcast episodes. My voice as well as both of the automated ones are used in this first full episode.

Don’t like the background on your Anchor page? Change it by typing in a different HEX code. To find codes for colors, google stuff like, “HEX code for light green.”

The tangled road to figuring things out includes how to make money. Sites such as Patreon take a percentage of one’s profits in exchange for taking some of the bother out of setting up incentives for potential sponsors. Somewhere along the way I came across “Buy Me a Coffee,” as in: Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee.

When emailing a question to Anchor, it helps to include your anchor url.

Distribution: Anchor can automatically distribute your show to a bunch of places, such as Spotify, Stitcher, etc. As for their sending it to Apple, I waited and waited and waited for Anchor or Apple to let me know I’d been added to Apple Podcasts — months of agonizing later, I checked Apple myself (duh!), and it was there! This is a h-u-g-e deal, as to get on Apple’s “New and Interesting” list, one must get a lot of listeners within the first couple of weeks.

Falalalala!!! Here’s where you can find my show on Apple Podcasts.

Anchor title pages: they need an intro paragraph and whatever links you’d like to include. They can also have a list of time stamps (a list of where on the show different things happen), and a list of what folks are missing if they don’t check out your corresponding blog post, i.e., links and photos.

Any show needs an intro, and middle, and an outro — and it’s helpful to throw in what you’d like your listener to do, i.e., subscribe to the show, tell others about it, and to visit your site.

Advertising: once 50 people have listened to your show, Anchor lets you start placing ads they submit to you and then they’ll give you some sort of a cut.

Editing: Anchor has an editing feature that isn’t too hard to learn, though it can be a bit clunky. Many podcasters edit with Audacity or Garageband. I like using iMovie, because all I need is something simple and visual.

Music and sound effects: Anchor offers a bunch, which is nice given what a headache it can be to figure out all the legalities of those.

General wisdom advises one start with several shows already in the can, so new listeners can “binge” a bit when they find you.

Also, “they” say it’s good to podcast on a regular basis, same as blogging. For now, I’m not putting that sort of pressure on myself, particularly since I’m still learning and experimenting.

Episode title: Don’t put name of show in each episode, since it automatically appears next to episodes in podcast directories.

Publicize, publicize, publicize: it you’ve blogged for more than a little while, you know the rigmarole on that…

Got an idea for a podcast? Do you listen to them?

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.

(For an audio version of this post, click H-E-R-E.)

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 I 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?…