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From personal journaling and books to food: dramatic changes to this blog

This wordpress blog is now about 4 1/2 years old.  It started as a book blog and as a place to preserve my favourite articles written for Yahoo Voices (2012 to 2014) before Yahoo dismantled the service.  It also became a place for me to journal in public, as many blogs do.

Hypatia of Alexandria webTimes have changed.  Since starting this blog I have written eight Legendary Women of World History biographies, completed the Peers of Beinan science fiction series, and experienced dramatic social changes in my personal life.  No human in my life when I started this blog is still in my life.  My mother has died and I do not maintain contact (nor ever wish contact) with my surviving blood relatives.

I’ve also grown as a spiritual being, including grown much more private about my life and my experiences. This is in part due to success.  A largely anonymous and unnoticed author can speak in public without being heard.  That, happily, is no longer the case.

The result:  much of the older content on this blog is now deleted.  By my count, about 35-40% of what was here is now gone.  The world doesn’t need to hear the specifics of my past lives nor the slings and arrows of what is today a relatively recent past.  I have close friends now who are finally, at long last, proven trustworthy.

Nine through Thirteen (Image above: in 2005 Doctor Who returned for a whole new generation. From left: Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor [7 October 2018 — present], Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor [2014 — 2017], Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor [2010-2013], David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor [2005 — 2010], Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor [2005] and John Hurt as the Doctor of War [2013])

 

My interests have naturally evolved as well.  Four years ago “Doctor Who” was a vague impression left by browsing for new ornaments at a Hallmark store in November: an odd blue box and an odder thing called a ‘”dalek.”  Today my brand new website created in the winter of 2018 features music from series 8 – 10 of Doctor Who as played by Peter Capaldi.

12 leaves TARDIS

 

(Image left: Peter’s Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor emerges from his TARDIS – Time and Relative Dimension in Space).

 

It’s a welcome change.  I am very proud of the new website.  But the website also means that this blog simply no longer functions as it once did and no longer needs do.

Going forward, expect this blog to focus much more on food and recipes which I like to collect and refer back to here rather than other places.  Though my culinary skills have much to be desired, copying favourite recipes and reposting them here allows me to find what I like best quickly and easily — even if I never acquire the skills needed to actually successfully make any of them.

I hope you like these changes and will enjoy what I find interesting and fun about food.

 

Bon appetit!

 

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Teaching in the SCA: the class that taught me how to write the Legendary Women of World History Series

Many of you know that for over 20 years I was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval recreation group mostly centered in the United States and Canada that focuses on the time period between 600 and 1600 CE.  I was known at first as “Anne de Lyons” when I played as a student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (SCA chapter: Shire/Barony of Mag Mor, Calontir), but quickly shifted to a nuzhen persona once I took Asian history courses at UNL.

sands point demo 2009

As my life took shape I eventually took up my passion for birds and made it part of the SCA in 2006 while living in Brooklyn, New York. Now known as “Biya Saman,” I focused my research on both falconry and aviculture in medieval China, engaging in a four year long research project asking “what happened to the Derbyan parakeet” that were often talked about in some of the great poems of the Tang Dynasty.

In 2010 I completed my research and had the opportunity to present it in Chicago at the November “Royal University Midrealms” event.  Here is that course entitled “Talons and White Crests.”

Talon and White Crest class handout

Why is the class important?  Because ultimately it taught me how to organize my research into a smooth, easy to understand narrative.  It is the beginning of my narrative history approach and the way I approach and write each Legendary Women of World History book.

Not everything from my research made it into that class of course.  There was much I could not do. But the point was to teach students who had no background in Chinese history, language or culture; no background with parrots or the quirks of living with them; and no background in falconry as practiced in either medieval Europe or Asia.

When teaching students with absolutely no experience or background in your subject, I find it helpful to use a narrative method, to make it all about the story which is exactly what you find in the above course and in each Legendary Women of World History biography.

As I came to do with the appendices of my books, I deferred technical information to my class handout.  Open up the handout from the above link and you’ll find I really explain how parrots and birds of prey are different (and yes, people often don’t know even the most basic differences between them).  Deferring the technical stuff allows me to focus on the story and maintain clarity.

 

Talons and White Crests was an important step in learning how to write the Legendary Women of World History.  I hope you will enjoy it.

The Peers of Beinan: A Literary Journey

Castle Fantasy BackdropThere is a lot of science fiction on the market from independent authors published these last five years since I first published “The Great Succession Crisis.”  It is a crowded field where it is easy to get lost in. As with many popular genres, a huge number of books seek to emulate the plot and character elements of mega hits on the assumption of that what works for one highly profitable author must work for them as well. We’ve seen this with “Twilight” style paranormal romances.  We’ve seen this with “Five Shades of Grey” styled erotica.  The list goes on and on.

As moderator of a book promo group on facebook, I get to see the copycats almost ad nauseam. Books all look the same after a while. And while the premise of copying another’s ideas is repulsive to me as both a science fiction author and as a dedicated historian, I do genuinely see some success in these authors following those formulas — if the measure of success is Amazon rankings in any event.

But open these books and the blandness of copycatting shows itself. The writing lacks the sort of literary luster of the books and authors whose work holds the test of time. That is, perhaps, the best distinction one makes between commercial and literary fiction.  Commercial fiction is about today’s sale.  Literary fiction is about creating timeless works of art.  My fiction is literary fiction.

The Peers of Beinan Series is everything I love about the classics. As a free thinker and intellectual with a life-long passion for learning, it has never been my habit to follow the crowd – on anything. Whatever was “hot” or “trendy” was never of interest to me.  I always liked to be different. On occasion what I’ve liked and what the greater society is into have coincided — but never by my conscious design and rarely in precisely the same way.

I started my writing career with the Peers of Beinan because I saw an America becoming more and more socially and politically divided, an America where it was becoming more and more difficult to engage in civil conversations about the stuff that matters. I saw an America that was increasingly creating false equivalences between fact and opinion and where acts of hate against those who are different was going unpunished and ignored. Sound familiar?

I wanted to engage in an honest discussion with people about the subjects that matter to me most. Looking to the great science fiction/fantasy authors I like best — Gene Roddenberry, Dorothy “DC” Fontana, Ray Bradberry, Frank Herbert, Issac Asimov to name just a few — what I noticed is they often tackled some really big social and sometimes political subjects in their books — without offending people in the process.

I wanted to do the same.  I wanted to talk to people and encourage people to really think about things that matter to me. And I wanted people to open their minds to ideas and possibilities that put a different way to them they would never listen to.

And that is, in essence, what the Peers of Beinan Series is. It’s my reaching out across the universe and saying “this is important, please think it about it” from a group of stories that don’t ask that question directly of people.

house-personal-heraldry-collage

In personal interactions I am known for my point-blank directness. I don’t play the stereotypical gender roles game — not any more at least. And so I am “bold” as a woman and a writer. The Peers of Beinan is less point-blank than I usually am. It seeks to provoke thought without being confrontational. And just as important to me personally:  it seeks to bring you hope. For in the greatest darkness and despair, there is always Light. That’s how I overcame the great adversities of my life and how you will too.

 

Death and Taxes: Lessons Learned

Death and Taxes are the two things no one can avoid. While taxes is something we face every year, the death of a parent is something we face only once or twice, depending on our family situation. As I found out with the 2016 death of my mother, our knowledge of how to handle taxes after the death of a parent or other close loved one is very limited.

Despite all the information out there online on both subjects individually, I found it all extremely confusing as I tried to navigate that complexity of what happens with your taxes when someone close to you dies.  Tax law is very complicated and tax guidance is even more complicated. No one wants the liability of telling you anything just in case what they tell you does not apply to you. In most cases, people want you to spend massive amounts of money consulting with attorneys and tax professionals instead of giving you the most basic advice.  It’s akin to a nurse not telling me to run cold water on a burn and sending me to the hospital (at a delay of hours) when my hair caught fire blowing out candles when I was in university. The burn gets worse by not taking immediate action.

The following is what I learned filing my 2016 taxes.  My situation may be different from yours. You may have a more complicated tax situation than I did. What follows is some simple advice from my tax filing as equal beneficiary to my brother who was the executor on her estate.

Taxes to be paid:

  • The executor of the state must file Federal and State income taxes for the deceased. If the deceased has no tax liability, that is fine. But the returns must be filed on behalf of the deceased.
  • If deceased owns her home at time of death and it is to be sold, sell the home as quickly as possible to reduce tax liability and simplify your tax situation. Same for any other property that is usually taxed upon sale.  If you are not keeping the property for the long term, you make your life easier by selling it as soon as possible.
  • If you inherit any annuities or retirement funds, those funds are taxable by the Federal government if they were tax-deferred plans such as 401K, traditional IRA, etc. Pre-pay that tax before you receive any funds if at all possible.  It may not always be possible to pre-pay the taxes so ask the financial institutions involved about it.

The more you pre-pay taxes, the easier filing your return becomes. In this it is no different than when you choose fewer tax deductions as you are working and thus have more taxes taken out of each check as you earn. When the tax season hits, a refund is easier to handle than a big tax bill. Err on the side of caution and pay as much tax as you can before you receive funds from the estate so you don’t over spend and find yourself unable to pay those taxes when the bill arrives.

Now here is the good news:  what is NOT taxable:

  • Cash, savings, checking, and certificate of deposit funds.  That is because the deceased already paid income taxes on those funds.  You do not report these funds to the IRS.  It’s your money.
  • Proceeds from the sale of a home if the executor has paid all applicable taxes up front.  In the common case of a home being sold and its funds being dispersed to multiple beneficiaries, those beneficiaries do not pay taxes on it nor do they claim those funds as income because all taxes have already been paid.  For example:  a home sells for $100,000.  After taxes, attorney fees, and other closing costs the net sale is $80,000.  The Will specifies two beneficiaries which then each receive $40,000. The $40,000 received is not taxable because it’s the net after taxes are paid. The beneficiary does not pay tax on the $40,000; the money stays off the tax return.

 

good-morning-america-18-june-2001-002

My mother and me during a 2001 visit as part of the studio audience for Good Morning America.  This is us with anchor Charles Gibson, one of my mother’s favourite celebrities.

Now of course I’m not a lawyer.  I am not a tax professional. I’m a historian and an author from a humble background.  My mother was not a rich, glamourous person.  She was a teacher before I was born and a factory worker and retail clerk for most of her working life after I was born. She was very average, living paycheck to paycheck and doing creative things to keep us fed and with some sort of roof over our heads.  So her estate was not massive and there were no capital gains taxes that I needed to concern myself with.

Maybe this blog post is useless. But maybe it helps you too.  I stressed out for MONTHS over the tax consequences of my mother’s death. I smartly put 30% of my inheritance into a high yield savings account (I switched to Ally Bank to maximize those earnings) in part because I was terrified that I was going to have to pay nearly everything I inherited back to the government.  I did not. A tax professional explained to me what I just posted and set my mind at ease.  I hope this post does the same for you.

Rest in peace mom. May you find joy in your new incarnation and the love you never found in this life.

Babelcube beware: what authors need to know before signing a Babelcube contract

Boudicca German web

The German edition of Boudicca was beautifully translated by Christina Loew. Thanks to frequent communication and Ms. Loew’s professionalism, the translation process was smooth and easy — exactly what most authors are looking for when joining Babelcube.

If you subscribe to this blog you know that in 2016 I took my books deeper into the global market.  After an exasperating fore into the Chinese market via Fiberead, I had high hopes for Babelcube, a platform for translation that mirrors many of the features familiar to authors who use Amazon’s ACX.com site for audio production.  But as with ACX, successful production and publication requires understanding the system and knowing how — and when — to walk away from something that is not working.

The ability to walk away is important for independent authors because a poorly translated book is damaging to the author’s brand; it reflects on the author as much if not more so than the original editions written by the author in her or his native language.  Therefore an author’s career is at stake each time the author signs a translation contract.  Don’t mess with this, my friends.  As much as you want to be sweet and nice when it comes to dealing with potential translators your life depends on you being picky and walking away when you can from any deal or possible deal that doesn’t uphold your author brand.

The first place you can walk away is when a translator first sends you an offer to translate.  This is the best time to fully vet the candidate.  Don’t skimp on this and do not feel obligated to accept any particular offer. We all want to be nice and we want to give people their break into a new career.  The problem with doing that is you may end up with poor quality work because the person has never been tested in the professional world as a translator.  Before signing anything TALK TO THE TRANSLATOR — don’t just look at the profile and give the person the benefit of the doubt because s/he seems likable.  Remember that this is a form of job interview and treat it as seriously as any job interview you’ve been on.  If anything does not smell right or you aren’t sure of anything at all politely decline.

But let’s say you’ve accepted the contract.  The next place and final place you can walk away is when the translator submits the first ten pages. In evaluating these, don’t just look at the words on the page but the FORMATTING because, as with your own books you self-publish, the formatting and editorial can make or break the book.  If anything seems like you would not submit those ten pages as a stand alone, polished work DECLINE THEM — this is your last and ONLY chance to get out of the contract.  Despite what you may see in the system, this is the actual point of no return for you.  Once those ten pages are accepted you are committed to publishing the book — no matter the quality of the final product you are given.

And this is the part that no one ever mentions to you:  you cannot decline to publish a completed book on Babelcube — even though there is a button in the review process that says “decline this translation.”

What happens if you do hit the “decline” button?  Firstly you are asked to confirm and warned that confirming the decline will open a dispute with Babelcube.  What this means is that they will investigate and make a ruling.  If they rule for you, the translator has to fix the errors.  If they rule against you then you owe the translator an undisclosed amount of money.  But the system doesn’t tell you that.  I found out by asking via email after I reviewed the final document on one of my books and deemed it of such poor quality that I was not comfortable with continuing.

In essence you have to approve the final book.  You can ask for some changes (hit “return” and then send a message to the translator to do so), but you actually DO have to hit “accept translation” and then publish the book. “Reject translation” means you are willing to pay for the translator’s time for a book that you will not publish.

For most people it’s far cheaper to enlist the help of someone outside of Babelcube’s system to help you fix the document so you can publish — which is exactly what I am doing right now.

This is why it is critically important that you wait until each translation is complete before signing another contract with a translator. Even after publishing one or two books all the way through the process (meaning the book is live Amazon, iBooks, Scribd, etc.) with a translator, my experience shows that it is best to only contract one book at a time with a specific translator.  Life happens and schedules change.  Limiting yourself to one contract at a time per translator helps everyone balance time and priorities to the satisfaction of all parties and empower everyone to create the best work possible.

In summary, Babelcube can be an excellent platform for translating books into multiple languages.  But success with it requires the author always beware of its inner workings and courageous enough to walk away from any project that does not meet expectations either before the contract is signed or when receiving the first ten pages.

This is your brand.  Protect it.

Bed bugs and bed foundations: protecting your home

beauty sleep set

A typical American bed: mattress over a foundation.

 

Bed bugs are everywhere.  Live for any length of time in an apartment building of any size (such as my sky rise where I’m on the 15th floor) and sooner or later you will encounter these vermin whose bites are extremely itchy and painful.

For those blessed to have not encountered them yet bed bugs are tiny (less than 5mm) insects resembling ticks when they’ve gorged on your blood. Their bites look like red pin pricks and are usually in groups of two or three in a row spaced  3mm to 13 mm apart.  Bed bug saliva is extremely irritating — worse than even mosquitos — and just as painful.

If you are bitten the first thing to do is thoroughly wash the bites with soap and water before treating with ice for any welts that may form in response to them.  Once the saliva is washed out of the wound, I’ve found that aloe vera with lidocaine (typically used for sunburns) helps with the initial pain and discomfort.  Follow this up with calamine solution (drug store brands work great) to speed healing.

I know all of this of course because over the holidays bed bugs found their way into my home and my life.  Contrary to popular belief, cleanliness does not protect you from bed bugs.  They can attack any home or business at any time and are extremely good at hitching rides in purses, luggage, tote bags, etc. and latching themselves onto your clothes (just as ticks will).  So expect bed bugs to come into your life at some point.  Don’t play denial and think it cannot or will not happen.  It will — but there are things you can do to protect yourself.

Sealy bed foundation

A typical bed foundation sold with mattresses in furniture and bedding stores.

Let’s begin with the bed you purchase.  When the exterminator came to my apartment recently for the first treatment (there will be three and yes, you absolutely need a professional to get rid of them) one of the first things he did was tear away the bottom fabric to my “box spring” (now called “foundations” by bedding stores) so he could treat the insides and spray, revealing something startling to me about my bed:  though we usually call it a “box spring” there are no springs in it — even in name brands like my Sealy set that cost me over $600 for the twin size.

Instead the “box spring” foundation in my bed is a wooden frame made of roughly 1/2″ thick and 4″ wide boards and slates.  Over this is a thin sheet of plywood and covered with a nice fabric. The entire foundation is made of WOOD and if you stepped on it it would quickly fall apart.

The whole thing makes a very appealing environment for all sorts of vermin, even sitting upon the thin metal rails Americans call “frames” which lift bed foundations off the floor.

Cadiz_Metal_Bed_Frame_2

This metal bed from the UK is bed bug resistant while providing excellent mattress support and comfort.

And sadly the metal frame/foundation box/mattress system is typical for beds sold in the United States, even though most furniture stores sell proper beds which support mattresses without needing to use a foundation.

As I’ve found recently, this is not the case elsewhere.

Browsing around a popular UK furniture store online I found that no where on that massive site with its hundreds of mattresses and hundreds of beds was a single foundation available.  Instead, the only choices were proper beds that support mattresses — like the one right here to the left that I personally like that is all metal.

 

All metal is bed bug resistant, especially in this open frame style where the only place to breed in and hide is your mattress itself.

Which brings us to the other critically important preventative that EVERYONE should be doing before the store sets up any new mattress onto your bed:  ENCASEMENTS.

bed bug encasement

Encasements cover all six walls and guard against infestations.  Use one for your mattress and a second one for your foundation if you have one.

Most people know about protective mattress pads designed to keep beds clean from stains and liquid seepage into the bed.  These typically cover five walls — top and the four sides — just like your sheet does.  But vermin love the undersides of furniture, especially beds and these are not kept out by the typical mattress protector.

Encasements are different:  they completely encase the mattress around all six walls to keep insects out.  The better encasements have special features around the zippers and seams to provide additional protection, features absolutely worth the extra money.  Putting an encasement around an infested mattress or foundation traps the insects inside so they cannot reach you on the surface to feed — which is why they are critical to any bed bug treatment plan. But the best time to put one of these encasements onto your mattress (and foundation if you have one) is immediately upon delivery of your bedding pieces.

Do not delay this.  Do not play with this.  Do not convince yourself that you cannot afford the encasements. Exterminating a bed bug problem is more expensive.  Replacing all your bed pieces is more expensive.  Replacing your bed linens, blankets, and pillows is more expensive.  And remember:  you can pick up bed bugs anywhere — including hotel rooms when you travel, your work place, even public places where you usually feel safe from insects.  They can travel through walls and come over from your neighbours.  Absolutely no one is immune, no matter how clean you are or how careful you are.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Save yourself the agony I’m going through and protective yourself right now — before bed bugs take up home where you sleep.

Marketing’s Big Lie: Instant Results

SherlockMost writers want to do just one thing:  write our books.  Few of us come from marketing backgrounds.  Still fewer of us think of ourselves as entrepreneurs and business owners.  In the old ages of traditional publishing, authors rarely had to be any of those things.  We slaved away trying to get a publisher to notice our work and/or securing a literary agent who would pimp our work for us — for a fee — while we went off and kept writing.

Self-publishing and the digital age has changed that for both self-published and traditional publishers.  Just as cigarette machines have gone by the wayside and Sherlock Holmes uses nicotine patches instead of smoking his pipe in response to smoking regulations in London, the days of in-house marketing and advertising for books by publishers are gone.  Today authors must do most of the work themselves.

There are no shortage of marketing firms to delegate to, of course, but as I found out across the winter of 2014 when I hired 180Fusion, marketing firms too often care about getting the business — any way they can.

new-york-times-best-selling-author3

What this means is that marketing firms promise the sun and moon to you — if you hire them.  180Fusion promised to put me on the New York Times bestseller list within 30 days, using my natural optimism to augment their pitch.  I, like most people, want to believe that people are telling me the truth.  I have faith that everything works out.  I have faith in the quality of my work.  I know these books are well-written and reflect a lifetime of scholarship and dedication to my craft.

180Fusion took that and used that very positive quality against me with their pitch about what they can do with advertising on facebook.

Facebook advertising can and does work for some people.  The essence of their work is to study the numbers to make facebook ads profitable, making adjustments until the ads result in sales.  As Jonathan Gebauer points out, this actually is sound — but with one catch that was omitted from the pitch until I was ready to close my account:  it takes time, often months and years for it to work.

This is not something that can be achieved in the 30 days promised to me back in December 2013 when I signed up.  In fact it was only when I made a fuss about not getting results that I was told, quite condescendingly, that what they promised was actually not at all possible.  Then they said I needed to give it more time.  Just give it more time.

This was the truth in the lie.  It takes time.  Except they never told me this upfront, before I signed up.  They told me when I was ready to cancel, when they knew my patience was at an end.

permission to walk awayNow normally I am a very patient person.  If this service had cost me $10 a month, odds are very good I would have stuck it out.  Except it costs a minimum of $300 a month — when my budget was $10 a month!  This was known from the onset.  So they promised me the sun and moon and instant results.  It didn’t matter that their service was many times more than my budget!  Because I would re-coup what I spent with them very quickly.

It was a lie and they knew it!  It was predatory, disrespectful, and sadly not atypical of far too many marketing firms.

Instead, their focus was on getting me to sign up; it didn’t matter that to pay for their service I would have to plop down hundreds to thousands of dollars on a high rate credit card; as long as they were getting paid, they really did not care about me or my books.

Most people have a word for that and it is not nice at all!

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So what can we learn from this?  

Number one:  NO MARKETING STRATEGY GIVES INSTANT RESULTS.  As Jonathan Gebaur puts it, “Marketing never comes with a red button. 90% of the time marketing means: Work… Frustration… Small Improvements. Working out the little details. Improving little things to improve our results just a little bit. Good results take a lot of sweat and tears.”

Number two:  no matter what a pitch says, do not spend what you do not have in cash right now.  Set your budget honestly and hold to it.  If a company tells you that your budget doesn’t matter and you must spend more than that with them, they do not care about you; they care about getting your money.

Number three:  choose carefully.  Know that whatever do in terms of marketing and advertising will take several months to get results from.  Don’t just throw money at things hoping they will work; approach this with a plan and a clear set of perimeters and goals.  Pick one primary approach (like guest posting) and focus on that.  Don’t try to make everything happen all at once from everywhere.  Chaos works against you and ultimately robs you of your ability to focus, concentrate, and respond to your business and reader’s needs.

Marketing firms are out there to help you and should be used by independent authors.  But as with so many things, the rule “buyer beware” applies.  Ask questions, probe firms for answers, and if you see even a whiff of a hard sell or pressured pitch, run do not walk away.  Any business who cannot respect your budget and your goals is not really interested in working for you; rather they just want your money.