Holiday Happiness Starts With Change by Bever-leigh Banfield

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It’s no secret that Santa likes good boys and girls, however there is quite a lesser known fact – that the key to holiday happiness is willingness to change. Uncle Harry may make off-color jokes at the holiday table every year, but this year, he doesn’t have to. You may have received granny panties from your grandmother since you were ten years old, but what if she flipped the script this time and gave you an Amazon card instead? Maybe your brothers and sisters bicker relentlessly causing you searing pain every time you jet home for the holidays. And maybe that pain has caused you to act in a manner you aren’t so proud of but you nevertheless undertake year to year.

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. When difficulties rear their heads – from obstacles at work to tricky romantic entanglements you may encounter – all you have to do is change. And changing is often must easier and faster a process than you might think. When you change your thoughts, you change your feelings, and subsequently your behavior will change. You are the Thinker thinking your thoughts. You have total and utter sovereignty over everything filtering through your mind. You are The Changer and you are The Change. Change can occur in the blink of an eye, and when you change, you change your world.

We are emitting vibrations with every thought, word and deed we bring into your environments, whether we know it or not. Whether we accept that fact or take responsibility for the repercussions we may cause depends on who we want to be and if we decide to think, feel and believe from our highest evolving self.

You can turn on a dime from whatever isn’t working for you and those you touch and decide to switch up into what does work, even if you are not sure what that is. You can banish a negative thought in an instant, replacing it with a lofty one. You can chase away any unwanted emotion by feeling a loving one instead. You change like everything else in the cosmos. Even the reaches of outer space are expanding by birthing new stars and planets into the burgeoning billions of galaxies beyond our comprehension.

You were born to change the world, and you’re meant to do that from the inside out. Change, my friend, is an inside job. You’re doing it all the time, in fact, so it’s best to do it consciously. Once you decide to be a beneficent force, you are unstoppable. Try it this holiday, and you’ll see. You have a magical mojo within you, capable of transforming yourself, your life, and everything that exists. And here is how to start:

  • Decide you want to change, that you’re willing and ready, and this is your time.

  • Identify things you need to change. Call them out. Nail them down, whatever they are. Meditate on it if you don’t know what they are. Change can set you free.

  • Commit to immediately implementing change so you can be healthier, happier, stronger, more at peace. Commit to being a benefit to others and serving the greater good. You’re vital, you matter, you have an effect.

  • Dream a humongous ginormous dream that will make the world a better place. Set goals that can bring about lasting change for everybody everywhere. Your dream already exists somewhere, and it’s ready for you to call it forth.

  • Make a plan and act on it. Brainstorm the steps you need to take. Jot down the ideas that pop into your mind. You may only be able to see the first step when you start. Keep going. Your plan will take shape.

  • Determine the tasks you’ll undertake to execute your master plan. Be sure to set priorities and do what’s most important first. Inspire a team to help you build.

  • Persevere no matter what twists and turns may appear along your winding path. No matter what people say or do, be brave, consistent, flexible, and inventive. Believe you’re the one for the job. Learn everything you need to know, and keep going until your dream comes true.

There’s someone you are meant to be and something you are meant to do. Go out and change the world!

Why Sentinels of the Night’s Scott Fleming is My Favorite Character by Author Anita Dickason

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Sentinels of the Night is the debut novel for the Trackers Unit, a paranormal FBI team. I wanted each character to have a different ability. For many years, I have been fascinated by myths and legends of the Native American Indians along with Irish and Scottish folklore. It is from those ancient tales that I draw my paranormal ability.

Cat Morgan is the lead character in Sentinels of the Night. Her fellow agents believe she has a built-in homing device to find the bodies of murdered victims. They are mystified by her inexplicable ability and have dubbed her the Witchy Woman.

Nicki Allison is the research guru for the unit. She excels in logistics and research with an ability that defies logic. Ryan Barr is the unit profiler. If Nicki’s brain is hard-wired to a computer, Ryan’s has a direct link to the killer’s mind. Adrian Dillard has a singular talent for reading a crime scene and connecting the dots along with an uncanny sense when someone is lying. Blake Kenner joins the team in Going Gone!, the second Tracker novel. His spit and shine military background doesn’t seem to be a fit with the quirky abilities of the rest of the team.

Buy on Amazon

Buy on Amazon

My favorite character, though, is Scott Fleming, the head of the unit. He is the mysterious power behind the team. He has been given an extraordinary level of freedom by his superiors. When he seeks out the agents for his team, he has a surreptitious list of qualifications. Case files of field agents are searched as he looks for anomalies in the agent’s investigation. Many qualified agents are passed over and not offered a position. His actions light a fire in the Bureau rumor mill. What is Fleming up too? Even the agents he selects are unaware he knows what they hide.

Excerpt from Sentinels of the Night

“Everyone at this table has a secret, including me. It would take time to earn their trust. He was a patient man.”

For more information on Sentinels of the Night and the second Tracker novel, Going Gone!, please visit Anita’s website, her Amazon Author Page and her book trailers: Sentinels of the Night

How to Enjoy London Like a Georgian by Gina Conkle

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The Georgian era was a fascinating shift from pastoral to urban living. The economic boom brought scientific advances. Much of the populace elevated themselves to a better place in life—especially the merchant class. Entertainments abounded. Life’s little luxuries were affordable. People enjoyed a diversity of products pouring into London on a regular basis.

In researching the Midnight Meetings series, I came across many surprises. You could call this list 5 things for an interesting life in London:

1. The British Museum. Seeds for the world-renowned institution were planted in 1753 with the death of physician Hans Sloane. A naturalist with a love for all things exotic, Sloane had purchased the house next door to warehouse his unique collections. People traveled far and wide to visit the house in Bloomsbury, finding a hodgepodge of international oddities.

Trustees of Sloan’s estate didn’t know what to do with Sloane’s things. They tried to give the collection King George II, but he didn’t want it. Parliament acquired the collection and by 1759 the official British Museum opened its doors to the public.

2. Hot air balloon-mania hit England in the 1780s. It’s been reported that 200,000 people (royalty included in that number) showed up at the Artillery Ground of Moorfields to see a demonstration by Vincenzo Lunardi. He ascended without incident (other than his cat, which he took along for the ride, getting sick). The charming Italian was quite popular. Hawkers sold Lunardi fans, garters, and bonnets.

3. Pets ranged from the regular to the exotic. Unusual pet ownership spread amongst all classes with animals like a mongoose, ring-tailed lemurs, and marmosets. The Tower of London had a zoo open to the public, featuring jackals, lions, monkeys, baboons, and even an Indian elephant. Great beasts from around the world were housed in the Tower as far back as the 13th century.

4. Fine furniture became egalitarian with Chippendale’s innovations to the industry. In the past, fashionable homeowners clamored for furniture fashionable made by high-end designers. Those men signed each furniture piece they made the way painters sign a painting. Then along came Chippendale. He published his Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director (a design book) which changed how the English bought and made furniture.

Design books weren’t new, but Chippendale’s approach was revolutionary. He presented the furniture as part of interior design: think presenting whole sets for a drawing room rather than an individual piece on a page. Chippendale hired men to make furniture for him, but his book not only changed ensemble decorating, it fostered a Do-It-Yourself approach to fine furniture-making. Humble gentry purchased Chippendale’s books and crafted their own fine furniture (such as my character, Mr. Samuel Beckworth in The Lord Meets His Lady).

5. The resourceful woman created her own future. The nobility watched over their daughters lest those young women go astray, but other classes of London enjoyed a kind of bare-knuckle freedom. Life was harsh on the fair-sex. Yet, many women refused to be victims of the times. Some forged a good life in commerce. Publisher Elizabeth Nutt is one such example. She ran a cluster of shops near the Royal Exchange where she sold respectable publications.  She was also listed as “Mercury Woman”, a printer of seditious and sometimes salacious material on Grubb Street. She ran the business with her daughters.

London, no matter the era, was and is a place of opportunity for those who seek adventure on its streets. ~Gina

Anne Elizabeth’s favorite holiday traditions: Ornaments and Remembrances

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Opening holiday storage boxes is an emotional experience. We carefully unwrap childhood trinkets, handmade ornaments, craft projects, old pictures, weathered stockings, and scented candles. Even as the wood in the fireplace snaps and crackles, emitting small plumes of smoke, we carefully fill the surfaces of the living room, every table, chair, and couch with our mementoes. Putting together an old recycled Christmas tree and placing the cool-lights around, we place the ornaments together.

For my husband and me, this has become a time of heartbreaking sorrows and soul-touching moments, remembering those who have passed or those who have become physically or mentally more fragile. We honor these precious souls by decorating ornaments with their names, quotes, or pictures to honor each spirit with a unique creation and then we place it on the tree. It does not erase the pain, but it helps us celebrate treasured souls and share experiences about what these individuals have meant to us.

As we dim the lights and plug in the tree, we are grateful for each opportunity to love. Every day is a gift, whether it is for a brief moment or a lifetime, it adds to life's journey. From our home to yours: May your holiday season be blessed with health, happiness, and delight, and may peace and joy flourish.

Do you have handmade ornaments? Do you treasure them? And, how do you remember those who have passed?

TIME

During the holidays, music fills the house. Some of our favorite singers are Eartha Kitt and Nat King Cole. The holiday classics make us nostalgic, and I love those times when my husband pulls me into his arms and dances with me. Oh, to dwell in those romantic moments, as we cuddle close and move slowly to the rhythm. This harmonious connection chases away every thought, except for one--being together. As my husband nuzzles my neck, I smile musing on the fact that this is my all-time favorite part of the holidays. Being together. Connection and music, whether it comes from the stereo or from our hearts, this time is the best gift of all.

Is there something special you do with your mate, a friend, or family member?

HOLIDAY SENSATIONS

On Christmas Eve, it's a tradition in our home to make hot cider. I'll pull out the chipped crockpot with the broken handle. After rinsing the detachable bowl and top, I'll add fresh cider, granny smith apple slices (leaving the skin on), the peel of half of a lemon and the entire peel of a whole orange. Then I'll add three cinnamon sticks, a dash of allspice, and anise, and as soon as it heats to a boil I'll add a tablespoon of maple syrup. After stirring in the syrup for a full minute, I turn the heat down to warm and prepare to serve it about twenty minutes later. The scent of mulled-goodness fills the room as I make popcorn with real butter and a dash of pink salt. It might not be the most gourmet approach, but for us, the taste sensations are delicious. Have a blessed holiday season!

Are there any special recipes that you make during the holiday season?

RAISE YOUR VOICE

Holiday songs remind me of my childhood. Attending church with my parents and brother, and listening to the exuberance with which the congregation sang inspired intense warmth and comfort. Voices lifted in song varied from out-of-key to perfectly pitched tones, and it was wondrous! Each individual contributed to the joy as we created these beautiful sounds together.

After services, most of the congregation was full of cheer and would hurry outside for hot cocoa or tea. With cups in hand, we walked as a group down to the live action crèche. It was here that we sang the last Christmas song of the night, Away In The Manger. Of course, the goats bleated and donkeys brayed along with the clucking chickens and mooing cow; and all the sounds blended together. To this day, I still wonder if the animals were commenting or singing along.

Do you have a special holiday song, and why is it a favorite?

SNOWFLAKES

Living in Southern California, snow is a rarity. In Julian, we see snowstorms now and then, but nothing can compare to the snow seen in the rest of the United States. Yet, we are full of glee the moment a flake drops from the sky. I always rush outside and turn my face upward in hope of tasting the first snowflake. When I was little, I believed that each snowflake tasted differently, because my brother said that this was so. Even though, I'm all grown-up now, in my imagination I still pretend that there are sorts of unique flavors out there, and I'll keep catching snowflakes in remembrance of him.

Are you ever tempted to catch snowflakes on your tongue? What's your favorite childhood winter memory?

Q&A with M. Lachi, The Ivory Staff

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Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?

I’d considered its adaptation to film as I’m sure many fiction writers do. I definitely feel having an audio rendition is the next best thing.

Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

As a legally blind author, often when I say I ‘read’ a book, I mean I listened to it. With an audiobook, when you have a great narrator, it can be just as engaging as watching an action film. Some great examples are the Harry Potter books, the Dresden File books or my new favorite series The Ember War.

What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?

Books are about consuming information. Does the consumption method really matter? I don’t care if you jump backwards into your pants or put them on one leg at a time; I just care that you’re wearing pants before you leave the house. But as a consumer of both mediums, there is something to be said about reading a book in your own head, ascribing your own voice, pausing for your own emphases, re-reading certain steamy or horrific parts.

What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?

Actually, a lot of the time, reading helps get me out of a writing slump…….

In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?

Having written a stand-alone as well as the first novel of a series, I can say that, each have their benefits. In a standalone, we get to realize the full transformation of each character………………….

Have any of your characters ever appeared in your dreams?

Not that I can recall; but they, more often that not, completely usurped my daydreams.

What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I say, write the story. Get it out of you and into the greater universe.

Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?

If you have a narrative with colorful scenery and dialogue and you are able to create an audio rendition of your work at a reasonable rate, I say go for it!

What’s next for you?

I have completed a sci-fi thriller and have secured a literary agent to shop it to major imprints and independent presses.

Q&A with narrator Edward Mittelstedt, The Warrior

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How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?

About a year ago I was in this online boardgaming community and played against a gentleman named Christopher Meyer.  At one point during an online game, he casually mentioned that he should have been editing his audio book that he was narrating instead of playing games.  My ears immediately went into prairie dog mode, and started asking him a bajillion questions about it.  It took me a few months after that to set up some rudimentary recording equipment and narrate my first book.  It was terrible and I will claim it unless you force me.

Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

I am a rabid audiobook listener.  I have a two-hour commute each day in the car, so that provides a lot of dead time.  I focus on listening to books with narrators that fit my style and voice, and try to pick out small things that each narrator does wrong or does right.  This makes me hyperfocus on my own performance and reading style, and allows me to pick up new things that I think are really cool that the narrator has done.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of narrating an audiobook?

By far my favorite aspect is recording.  This is the easiest part of the process, and the most fun.  I dread editing, where you have to listen to every sentence and get the timing between them just right, listen for errant breaths, etc.    It’s tedious, boring, long, did I say boring?  Many established narrators farm out this work to editors, thereby allowing them to concentrate on simply the recording.  Someday I’ll be in that position, and when that happens I’ll know I have hit my stride.

What would you say are your strongest narration abilities?

Character voices.  I can do a multitude of voices, from Gizmo the Gremlin to Kermit the Frog, to a lot of things in between.  I think being able to do character voices add a level of complexity to the listen, as you can create memorable secondary characters to support the plot..

What about this title compelled you to audition as narrator?

The audition script blew me away.  I had just finished narrating a dark fantasy romance under a pseudonym and I was still in a “romance narrator” mode.  So I started looking for other romance titles that caught my eye.  The premise of Soul Bound itself is fascinating - I lived in a haunted house for about 5 years so anything paranormal or supernatural catches my eye.  So after reading the audition script and seeing how dark and broody the main character was, I had to audition for it.

Have there been any characters that you really connected with?

I really connected with Jace.  We’ve been through similar situations (I won’t tell what aspects) so I really felt for the guy, and felt I could read his story with all the suppressed emotions that I have to give.

What type of the review comments do you find most constructive?

I read all of my reviews.  I like the positive ones of course, but I really look for the negative reviews that provide constructive criticism.  The ones that say, “Narrator sucked” sucks as reviews.  Why did I suck?  What did I do that caused you to hate it?  Let me try to improve it for the next time.  I have one review where the writer literally compared my voice to Tattoo of Fantasy Island.  While I disagree with that to some degree, there’s not much I can do about it.  Those types of reviews bother me.  Was it a compliment or an insult?

Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?

Stephen King.  I grew up with his books.  I bought “It” the week it was released in hardback and read it from cover to cover in 5 days.  Also, Joe Abercrombie.  His “The Blade Itself” series is an amazing read.  I love his writing style.

If you could narrate one book from your youth what would it be and why?

The Gunslinger by Stephen King.  It’s already been done by the amazing George Guidall, but that book blew me away when I read it in my first year of college.  That opening line: “The man in black fled across the desert, and The Gunslinger followed.”  Such a brilliant statement.  So much packed in there.

What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?

I can see some people thinking that way, but for those of with long commutes and therefore long periods of pointless non-productive dead time, audiobooks are a godsend.  When you drive, you enter a trance-like state anyway.  Getting sucked into the story being read to you in this state, you are like a sponge to the story, the action, the emotions.  I love it.

Q&A with Shelly Hickman, Believe

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Buy on Amazon

Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.

As of now, I only have one other audiobook and the narration was done by someone else - an honest to goodness actress. That process was a learning experience for me, but when I decided to narrate this book myself, it required an even steeper learning curve. I had to familiarize myself with Audacity software and its basic editing features, as well as get to know the studio grade microphone I purchased. I’m a teacher and have recorded many a video tutorial for my students, but the precise reading required was understandably much more demanding.

Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?

Believe is my first book, so definitely no. In fact, when I first started writing it I didn’t even have any concrete plans to publish - it was simply therapy after losing my daughter. Publishing the story sort of came about by chance through a publisher friend of my niece before I eventually self-published.

What made you decide to narrate this yourself?

As I mentioned, because the writing of this story was a therapeutic process I was very much in need of after the loss of my daughter, it didn’t feel right to have someone else read it. My only hope is that the personal, heartfelt story will make up for the fact that I’m not a professional who is equipped with unique character voices and pitches. It’s just me, folks - hopefully portraying enough emotion to keep your attention.

Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?

This novella is semi-autobiographical. Rachel is a loose version of me after I lost Sydney, and most of the scenes involving Rachel and her daughter are based on my own experiences. I was also a heavy reader of anything with a spiritual/religious/”power of thought” subject matter at that time, and Rachel’s skepticism and confusion about such topics are very much me. However, the relationship between Rachel and Jack is entirely fictional.

Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

I have become such an audiobook lover in the last few months and I tend to gravitate toward comedy. I’m reluctant to try novels, because if I don’t care for the narrator it can really put a damper on the story itself - which is why I’m extremely nervous about doing the audio for my own book and pray my delivery doesn’t ruin the story for anyone.

I recently listened to an Emily Giffin book. I had never read anything by her before and while I really enjoyed the story itself, I felt the narrator was not a good fit for the character telling it and it did somewhat take away from the book.

I just finished listening to A Man Called Ove, and I adored the audio version. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, I absolutely fell in love with the story and its characters.

Audiobook format appeals to me most because I can listen during my commute or at the gym, and it makes the time go by so much faster.

Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?

There is a pivotal scene between Rachel and Jack when he is taken off guard by a verbal attack from her. For the first time he sees that she isn’t the same person he knew years ago, and doesn’t hesitate to tell her so. The naivete of his assessment further stirs her anger, and she responds with, “Of course I’m not the same person!” And well, hopefully you’ll listen to the book to hear her entire rant. But the audio is particularly resonating because once you lose a child, you are never the same again. You can never go back to who you were. Sure, you may make an effort to be the same on the outside, but you’re not. It’s simply impossible.  

If this title were being made into a TV series or movie, who would you cast to play the  primary roles?

I’ve never given this a whole lot of thought for this particular book because it’s literally about me, though I’d like to think I’m not abrasive the way Rachel can be. I think Anna Kendrick would be a great choice for Rachel - she’s got the snarkiness. Jack is the reformed charmer, and though he’s a bit old for the role, Ryan Reynolds would be a good fit.

What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Not that I’m a bestselling novelist with pearls of wisdom to cast, but I think honesty in writing is most important. Skill will come the more you write, but you should always follow your voice. Don’t try a writing style that feels awkward or unnatural to you because it will come across clunky to the reader. I could never write mystery, erotica, or a work of literary fiction because it just isn’t me. Find your voice and refine it over time

Q&A with Shannon A. Thompson, Bad Bloods

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Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.

My favorite (and first) part about turning Bad Bloods into an audiobook was discussing my book with the narrator, Jonathan Johns. I let him know some exclusive behind-the-scenes info that
never made it into the book but was essential to understanding the characters. He was really receptive to it, and he truly understood what each person and scene represented. After he recorded, I listened to each scene and provided more notes. Then he recorded more, and now, we have an audiobook!

Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?

Yes, I think it’s absolutely possible—not to mention that there are readers who NEED audiobooks in order to access novels and other pieces of text, so audiobooks are extremely important.

Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?

Yes and no. I always loved the idea of an audiobook, but I didn’t let it change my writing style. However, I always read all of my books out loud in the last editing phase to check the sound and overall flow, so that’s very similar. Sound is important.

How did you select your narrator?

My publisher sent me a few auditions, but Jonathan Johns stuck out the moment I heard his voice. He captured both the dark essence of the story and the characters’ individual voices. From the beginning, I felt as if he understood it more than anyone else, and he truly brought it to life.

How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?

Yes! I provided pronounciation for any words or names that might be difficult, but I definitely gave him insight into each character. Bad Bloods is very character heavy (and a character-driven story), and it was important to me that they were distinguishable and matched what I pictured when writing. He learned facts that will never even make it into the series. Why? Because those details often shape characters, but they might also be unseen details. I needed to know those details to create the prose, so I thought Jonathan would need to know them in order to create the audio. He absolutely nailed it!

Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?

I think there is truth in all types of writing, including fantasy. For me, I originally wrote this book shortly after my mother died very suddenly. I was eleven, so I had a lot of anger and depression and confusion about how terrible things can happen to very young people. Those feelings are scattered throughout Bad Bloods, and to this day, Bad Bloods still feels like the closest books to my heart—probably because writing these books saved me when I was young.

Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

Actually (eek), I’m not. I have a difficult time remembering anything when it’s in audio format. Even when I was a kid, I struggled to learn from lectures. I’ve always taught myself by reading materials. (Maybe my dad was right when he said I was a bad listener. Ha!) But I’m so glad it exists for those who need and love audiobooks.

What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?

That’s just silly! Would anyone say the same thing to those who read brail? Or those who read a text in a different language aside from the original language the text was written in? Absolutely not. Audio books are another format that allow readers to access books. Reading is reading, no matter the format.

Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?

Definitely communicate with your narrator. You have the same goal—to turn your book into the best audiobook it can be—so work together to reach that goal.

What’s next for you?

Hopefully the audiobook for Bad Bloods: November Snow, then Bad Bloods: July Thunder and Bad Bloods: July Lightning! I’m currently working on the third duology in the series, but I also have lots of other projects in the works. I’m looking forward to seeing the unknown future unfold!

Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees: A Travelogue of Vietnam, by C. L. Hoang

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By nature I am a slow planner, especially when it comes to long trips away from home. So imagine my surprise when in late 2016 I was presented with an opportunity to join a group tour to Southeast Asia, with the main focus on Vietnam, and I heard myself spontaneously blurt out, “Sign me up!”

It turned out to be one heck of a trip. Seventeen days in total, beginning and ending with a twenty-hour flight over an eight-thousand-mile stretch of ocean, across fifteen time zones and the International Date Line and a wide scale of climate changes. Most significant to me, it marked my first time traveling back to the ancestral homeland I hadn’t seen in over four decades.

This travelogue retraces the major segment of the tour—the final ten days—which took us on an itinerary of discovery through the length of Vietnam: from Saigon, my former hometown in the south where I grew up during the war, to Hoi-An, the best preserved medieval seaport in Southeast Asia; Hue, the ancient capital of imperial Vietnam, on the central coast; Halong Bay, a world-renowned natural wonder on the Gulf of Tonkin; and our final destination, Hanoi, the country’s thousand-year-old capital, in the north.

I tried not only to recapture the highlights of this whirlwind journey—with their historical background and mythical lore—but also to explore a few special sites that I wish we could have squeezed into our packed schedule. At times the travelogue may read like a journal because it is sprinkled throughout with all kinds of resurrected memories—of my own childhood, in a time and place long since gone.

The book contains many pictures, forty-three in all. Most were taken by me on this trip—so please kindly overlook imperfections—and the rest were generously contributed by family and friends who had visited there before. Color printing technology being where it is today, I was forced to limit the total number of pictures and pages to reduce the setup and printing fees. This is so the book can be reasonably priced for a wide audience, even though my personal inclination was to share every relevant and worthwhile photograph I have.

I also decided to include many historic names in Vietnamese, along with their English translations, of course. As it was in our age-old tradition, names were never merely names; they carried great meaning and were often used to promulgate noble aspirations. Over the millennia, many of these ancient names also took on an extra aura, as they became associated with momentous events that still resonate with the Vietnamese people to this day. By incorporating them into the travelogue in their original spellings, I strived to convey an intangible aspect of our heritage, one that extends beyond pictures and descriptive words.

To people who have read my Vietnam novel, Once upon a Mulberry Field (Willow Stream Publishing, 2014), this travelogue offers a glimpse of the story’s setting as it appears half a century later. For others, I hope it kindles your passion for travel and discovery and also provides you with a different view of this once ravaged land—and perhaps the inspiration to visit there some day. As the French writer Marcel Proust once reminded us, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

This journey across the Pacific Ocean accomplished both for me.

About the Author: C. L. Hoang was born and raised in Vietnam during the war and came to the United States in the 1970s. He graduated with degrees in electrical engineering from Ohio University and the University of California, Berkeley, and earns his living as an electronic engineer, with eleven patents to his name. Books, history, and travel are his hobbies. His first book, Once upon a Mulberry Field, is an award-winning novel set at the height of the Vietnam War. It is followed by Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees, the travelogue of his recent return trip to the ancestral homeland.

Visit him at his website: www.mulberryfieldsforever.com or find him on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter @CLHoang

If I Knew Then What I Know Now About Writing by Charles Curtis

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I’ve spent most of my career as a sportswriter for magazines and, later, blogs. While there was some advanced planning involved if I was writing a longer feature, most of the time I had to react on the fly to what was happening at events or games and to write about it quickly. 

That was relevant when I sat down to write The Accidental Quarterback – I had one scene in mind that I just needed to put on paper (fun fact: It turned out to be the final chapter of the book, not the first!) right away. After that? I wrote the rest of the book from what I envisioned in my brain. I always saw the novel cinematically, as scenes in a movie inside my head that I would convert into chapters. 

But when I wrote myself into a corner or had no idea what to do next? That’s where an outline really could have come in handy. It took me weeks to dig myself out or to find a solution.

And that’s the big lesson here: Plan ahead! You’ll save time and mental energy if you work your plot out ahead of time. There’s also just something about seeing words on paper after you’ve rolled your ideas around in your mind for months. Maybe that chapter you had in mind that went off in a weird direction suddenly looks out of place in the context of your outline. It’s a lesson I only learned after finishing the second book of the Weirdo Academy series, The Impossible Pitcher.

If you like the thrill of flying by the seat of your pants, by all means, go for it. But I wish I’d known to plan my books before I wrote a single word of them.