Teaching in the Brave New World

In August, I returned to my teaching job for the first time since we went into lockdown in March.  The atmosphere is very different from the school culture I left in March.  Our school is now “hybrid,” which means some of our students opted for all virtual learning and others are attending every other day. This combination makes for an interesting school day. 

I teach on camera to students who are at home while I’m also teaching students in front of me.  The kids in class will be at home the next day.  My teaching duties have increased.  I now sanitize desks and spray hands with sanitizer.  I wear a mask.  Some of us wear face shields.  My principal has supplied us with protective gear.  

I wonder if I will ever see some of my virtual kids in the flesh. At lunch, the school looks like a ghost town, and I wonder if students will ever come back. We know people who have had COVID; some have died from it. These are sad times, and I wonder how this time will be remembered in the history books. As of now, no vaccine exists.  Even when one appears, many of us will still feel afraid; some won’t take the vaccine. My husband and I have agreed that many of the changes brought about by COVID will persist even after a vaccine.  The Plexiglas separating us from others will remain.  So will the reluctance to shake hands or to hug.  We may hesitate to attend large gatherings.  

I’d begun a pandemic novel during my school hiatus, but it was too raw at the time (late March). As of yet, there is no resolution to this tragedy.  In any Shakespearean play, the flawed hero meets his sad end, but order is restored. The truly evil one receives a harsh punishment, and the truly noble character—sometimes a foil to the admirable but foiled hero—emerges as leader and victor.  As of yet, we have no resolution.  The final battle cry has not sounded.  Will the bad guy receive his just punishment? Will the good guy survive and marry the girl? And what of the female protagonist? Will she save herself and those around her because of her heroic deeds? The plague has not ended.  There is as of yet no final solution to this sad tale. As we teachers contemplate the future and what our teaching careers will be like, we writers are contemplating how to chronicle this era of uncertainty in our writing. 

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A New State of Mind

With recent upheavals to our daily existence, we have all been forced to come to terms with new ways of identifying “normal.” What is normal? Is the way the world is now going to be the way it stays? Will we be wearing masks and social distancing and living in perpetual fear of “the plague” forever?

I sincerely hope not.

What these changes have done, however, is to force us to reckon with some truths, maybe even do some self-analysis. I know I certainly have. And a recent article I read shed some enlightening new perspectives on this quest for normalcy.

The article is entitled “Scientists Say Your Mind Isn’t Confined to Your Brain, or Even Your Body.

I suppose as a writer, I always knew that. Also as a reader. I can take a trip outside the confines of my physical existence anytime I want to, simply by firing up my Kindle or opening the Word Doc of my latest work-in-progress.

One of the things I found most interesting about this piece, however, was how it compared “the mind” to “the coastline.” How do you define it? Is the coastline the ocean? Or is it the sandy or rocky shore? It is both. So your mind does not exist entirely inside your own head, but also outside of yourself–an “inner and outer process.”

As one who spends entirely too much time inside my own head, this was a revelation.

Another point the article discusses is how the “foundation of mental health” relies on the similarities between how the mind works and mathematics.

…the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result). – Dan Siegel

What does it all mean? Siegel says mental health comes down to “Optimal Self-Organization.”

Flexible: ready and able to adapt to change

Adaptive: able to be modified for a new use or purpose

Coherent: united as or forming a whole

Energized: enthusiastic

Stable: not easily upset or disturbed.

To put an acronym to this, I created F-A-C-E-S.

Yikes. Do you live with optimal self-organization? I know I don’t . . . at least, not always. But it’s certainly is a goal to strive for, isn’t it? Especially when you consider . . .

. . . without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity—a notion that, Siegel says, fits the range of symptoms of mental health disorders.

I know, in the light of recent events, my “mind” has often drifted into chaos (especially at 2 a.m. on a sleepless night) or rigidity (No, I won’t bend on that opinion. It’s mine and I have a right to it). Some of this has to do with the lack of social contact we are all experiencing. Some of it, though, is self-imposed–as a writer, I tend to spend way too much time inside my own head.

The takeaway here? For me, it consists of a reminder tacked to the cork board beside my computer monitor. I may even print it on sticky notes and tack it up on my mirror, the refrigerator, the inside of the front door.

F-A-C-E-S: Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized, and Stable.

My new goal, as the year wanes to autumn, and (hopefully) this damning year of 2020 winds to a close, is to re-align myself with these guidelines–not only for my own peace of mind, but perhaps to re-ignite the spark of creativity within me.

Avoiding the risk of ending up in a mental asylum is also a side-benefit . . .

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In Praise of Reading

An avid reader, I look forward to my daily escape from life’s realities. Eclectic in my tastes, I love to curl up with women’s fiction, historical fiction, cozy mysteries, memoirs, psychological thrillers, and self-help. On average, I read anywhere from 60 to 70 books each year.

Since March of this year, I have been reading at an even faster rate.

The more I read, the less time I spend watching television and surfing on the Internet. To survive and thrive in this time of COVID-19, I need to disengage from the constant barrage of information.

Scheduling three- to four-hour reading blocks helps me relax and achieve a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation.  Studies have shown that regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower depression rates than non-readers.

Women’s fiction and memoirs, in particular, help me imagine the world through the eyes of the characters. I can identify with the longings and frustrations of the characters while following their narrative arcs. This helps increase the ability to empathize with others and work through conflict.

Recent evidence suggests that people who read books—not newspapers or magazines—live an average of almost two years longer than those who do not read. Readers display higher levels of cognitive skills, including memory, critical thinking, and concentration. These abilities provide a survival advantage.

More Interesting Findings…

  • According to a 2001 study published in the National Academy of Sciences Journal, avid readers demonstrate slower memory decline and fewer characteristics of Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Reading Harry Potter can make us more inclusive, tolerant, and open. With a teacher’s help, young children understood that Harry’s frequent support of “mudbloods” was an allegory toward bigotry in real-life society. After three experiments in which the students read passages of the books about discrimination, the students showed changed attitudes about everything from immigrants to gay students. These findings were reported in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
  • Research at the University of Sussex shows that reading is the most effective way to overcome stress. Within six minutes of silent reading, the participants’ heart rates slowed, and tension in their muscles eased up to 68 percent.
  • A 2013 Emory University study compared the brains of people after they read fiction to the brains of people who didn’t read. The readers showed more activity in the left temporal cortex, the part of the brain associated with understanding language.

A Sneak Peak at No More Secrets…

Angelica Delfino takes a special interest in the lives of her three nieces, whom she affectionately calls the daughters of her heart. Sensing that each woman is harboring a troubling, possibly even toxic secret, Angelica decides to share her secrets—secrets she had planned to take to the grave. Spellbound, the nieces listen as Angelica travels back six decades to reveal an incredulous tale of forbidden love, tragic loss, and reinvention. It is the classic immigrant story upended: an Italian widow’s transformative journey amid the most unlikely of circumstances.

Inspired by Angelica’s example, the younger women share their “First World” problems and, in the process, set themselves free.

But one heartbreaking secret remains untold…

Buy Links

 Amazon (Canada) | Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (Australia)


I will be awarding a $10 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter.

Find out more here.

Posted in What's Up With Joanne!, Women's Fiction | 7 Comments


I love books. Yep. I’ve had a love affair with books and reading for as long as I can remember. I could read before I started school. Looking back, I realize that was a blessing in disguise because my first grade teacher (I skipped kindergarten…country kid) was of the old school where embarrassing and ridiculing a child was not only done but acceptable. To say she was strict was a profound understatement. I don’t believe I ever saw her smile. But all her students came out knowing phonics. They didn’t dare not to. I was extremely shy and when I witnessed her bullying techniques as she taught ‘sounding’, I was desperately relieved I was ahead of the game. She’d taught my mother the same way, my older brothers, and me. She retired in her eighties. She’d march into her classroom at the start of the day and bark, “POSITION”. Backs rigid, feet flat on the floor, our hands in position of thumbs together and fingers aligned palm to palm. Somehow even through all this, she installed a love of reading. The Gingerbread Man came alive when our mother’s were asked to bake gingerbread men and women and bring them to school for a treat. Of course I’d already read the story and all the others in the back of our advanced readers. Still I had to sit through Run Jane run. See Dick run.

Libraries were our friends and the librarian wise and wonderful. I checked out as many as allowed on the one day the library was open. They had to last a whole week. I could hardly wait to get home, flop on my bed, open a sack of penny candy and my favorite Nancy Drew mystery. Aaah, bliss.

Now I satisfy my voracious reading habit of a book a day through second hand stores and yard sales. My office has tall bookcases double lined with books. I recently went to a yard sale where the woman had converted her garage into a floor to ceiling library. The walls were lined with shelves of paperback books all arranged by author. My eyes about bugged out of my head. And they were selling for $.25 a book. I bought 100 that day. My husband treated me with the $25.00. Giving me a book as a gift is as if you’ve given me a fortune…better!

I start my day at 5:00am, reading. I read for an hour then start writing my own book. Is it any wonder I love writing? To be able to put on my bookshelves a published book by DeAnn Smallwood, is pretty unbelievable. I vividly remember the call I got from a publisher informing me they wanted to publish my first book. I’d sent it to them a year ago and thought I’d never get a response. I thought it was a joke being played on me by one of my friends that knew how bad I wanted published and how many rejects I’d gotten. “Okay, you guys, quit kidding. This isn’t funny.” I laughed back into the phone. “No, no, it’s no joke. We really do want to publish your book.” I could hear others in the background laughing as she kept protesting and trying to convince me. Finally, I believed and tears replaced the laughter. I still get that thrill every time Debby (my publisher) accepts one of my books. I’m blessed by having her in my corner.

My Yorkie, Eli, has been known to jump on my lap and swat my book, knocking it aside so I pay attention only to him. He’s tired of seeing a book in my face. But when it comes to my writing, he and my other two Yorkies, Stormy and Peyton, are right there beside me.

So when I say I love books I do. I also love reading and writing. Aren’t I the lucky one to spend my days doing what I love? And thanks to my readers, I’ll keep on doing just that. And thanks to all teachers and librarians that bring the world of books to children.

Posted in Soul Mate Publishing | 3 Comments



Want to escape from bad romance?

In my previous four blogs—my first four blogs ever—we discussed how to escape from bad romance in the real world and how that related to my writing. Part 1 (April 29, 2020), Part 2 (June 24, 2020), Part 3 (July 22, 2020), Part 4 (August 19, 2020).  I thought perhaps the success my characters experienced could translate into the real world. (I’m Raz Steel—my degree is in Philosophy, I’ve been writing most of my life, and teaching writing for more than ten years.)

To be clear, I’m talking about actual romance. In these and the next two blog posts, I’ll continue to share an amazing discovery I made constructing a novel.

Storytelling is a tool. As a professional writer, it’s a tool of habit for me. Applied one way, it entertains an audience. But what if I could show you how storytelling applied another way could break you out of a pattern of failing real-world romance?

You don’t have to be a writer to use this tool. You don’t have to write at all. My process could be just as effective for a non-writer. In Part 1, I suggested that what allowed me to create the perfect story-romance in my recently published romantic comedy PASS THE KRYPTONITE was my understanding of not one character but both romantic characters.

This suggested that the success of real-world romance depends on my understanding of myself and my partner.

Changing your thoughts isn’t enough to change your romantic reality. Understand yourself, change your thoughts, and empathize with your partner who is doing the same thing.

Remember, partners worthy of your romantic attention want the same thing you want. So, you have to understand—what do you want?

If you want an emotional risk taker and you’re sitting across the table from someone who clearly isn’t an emotional risk taker, and yet you persist, what can you expect other than the same results you’ve already had?

You may’ve been told to imagine the perfect guy, focus on that, and he’ll appear.

Oh, if only it worked that way, right?

In the first twelve years since divorce, I drifted through any number of unsuccessful—in the long run—relationships. We were happy in the moment, for a year or two, but I never reached the level of emotional intimacy I wanted.

Then I realized I wasn’t taking the lessons my characters were teaching and extending them to my reality. I had failed the self-actualization test—how could I be given what I wasn’t willing to offer?

I transformed my life when I realized I needed to understand what romance means to me . . . not to anyone else.

Your idea of romance won’t necessarily be the same as mine. You need to understand what you mean, what you want. What does your life look like with romance?

Once I understood that lesson, now I could pay effective attention to potential partners; were they sharing a layer of themselves that matched my idea of romance that they weren’t sharing with anyone else?

Were they interested enough in me to listen to my thoughts and empathize with my feelings in areas that related to romance? That’s when I found a partnership that lasted happily for more than six years!

Was it perfect? No. But for a long time, we both experienced the intimacy of love. We parted gracefully because our long term goals couldn’t sync-up. When I began dating again this time, I had a clear idea of who I was and what to look for in a partner.

(Part 6, the last entry in this blog, ESCAPE FROM BAD ROMANCE will appear on October 14, 2020)

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Family Bonds Might Bend But Never Break, by Gail Ingis

Dear Writers,

I hope you are all doing well and keeping safe and healthy. 
We have the same parents. My brother and I. He’s not a new person in my life, he’s my big brother. I didn’t know all the pieces and parts that Jay is made of, but I’m getting to know him now writing his memoirs—and there’s a lot to know. I love this crazy, amazing, dazzling new connection.
We reminence and smile remembering the deep connection we had as kids. Jay was always the one to give me advice. When I was ten he told me to be a good girl. When I was fourteen, he told me to say no to the boys. When I was sixteen he told me to be the young lady that a young man wants to marry and not the kind who says yes to hanky panky.
We always protected each other. When we were kids he didn’t let the Canterville Ghost (from the Charles Laughton movie) that lived in our chimney scare me, and I didn’t let the giant waterbugs that lived in our basement scare him. He always checked on me that I was taking good care of myself, even after I married.
Our hobbies kept us connected. I had tropical fish in a thirty-gallon tank outfitted for cleanliness and prettiness. He got expensive exotic fish and bigger and better tanks. When Jay and his wife Barb went on vacation, he gave his housekeeper instructions on how to feed the fish. They came back from their travels and there were no fish in the tank.

He asked the housekeeper, “What happened?”

She said,  “I don’t know what happened, I fed them all day, but don’t worry, I have all the fish, they’re in the freezer.”

After choking on her answer, he explained if you feed tropical fish all day they’ll die. Fish keep eating anything you give them.
One day we had a disagreement and he didn’t talk to me for fifteen years. Devastated and not understanding what hurt him so deeply, I tried to apologize, but he kept away. I had lost my precious brother. After my granddaughter died and he came to the funeral, we talked and made up. We commiserated about Rebecca’s death, and he understood. He felt my loss and looped my arm through his. I leaned on his shoulder and wept.
Four years ago, Jay mentioned to me that he was working on his memoirs. He’d asked his niece, Judith Zissman, a talented and accomplished journalist, to help, and she agreed. But four years later Jay’s memoirs only had an outline. Then about six months ago, Jay asked me to work with him. He sent me the outline, and Judith sent me all the background research. She is a talented writer and now is working as my editor on this project. 
I write the scenes/chapters and send them to Judith. She edits them and sends them back to me. After I tweak them, I send them to Jay. He does his share of writing. We’ve created a system for his memoirs that’s working well.
My former editor and friend Joanna had been encouraging me to write my memoirs. She’s always telling me what an exciting and inspiring life I’ve lived (still live). I began writing about my life and shared some of those funny childhood stories with Jay. But his memoirs took center stage. I put mine on hold.
I’m learning some of the technical stuff that he pioneered when working for NFL Films. He created first-time projects in electronics, frequency coordination, and coach to quarterback communications.

Here I am reminiscing, me at eighty-four and Jay at eighty-eight.  I’m not working on another historical romance, but there’s history in Jay’s memoirs. Once we get Jay’s finished, I hope to get back to mine.

In other news, I won first prize for my oil painting, Grasses in the Marsh, in the Madison Art Society (Madison, CT) member show. Use this link to find the show online (https://madisonartsocietyct.org).

Remember my historical romances, Indigo Sky and The Unforgettable Miss Baldwin. You can download them for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

No matter what your goals are — never give up your dreams.

This blog is a farewell as of October 15, 2020. It’s been a wonderful journey with a great group of authors in a wonderful publishing company. Thanks to Debby and Char. Thanks for always being there.




Posted in Soul Mate Publishing, TGI-Gail! | 6 Comments

Seven ways to stop Writer’s Procrastination by Catherine Castle


photo from pixabay


In this time of COVID I hear authors talking about being unable to write, myself included.  I’m not having trouble writing my blogs, but getting back to the books–that’s a whole ‘nother issue. So, I thought it might a good time to share these seven ways to stop writer’s procrastination, and maybe inspire myself as well as others who are struggling to get it done.


  1. Set a firm goal. Tell yourself “I WILL, NO MATTER WHAT ____________”(fill in the blank)
  2. Set a reasonable goal. Don’t promise yourself to finish your book in a month, unless you know you can write at that pace. You can always increase a goal with less guilt than you can decrease a goal.
  3. Set a firm time to write. It doesn’t matter when you write, just that you write. If 2:00 a.m. works for you, do it. If twice a week works, then commit to that. Find the time that works for you and commit to it.
  4. Do the writing in chunks. To keep the project fresh, so you’ll want to keep coming back to it, don’t spend the whole day writing. Make 1000 words, 5 pages, or even two pages a day your goal.
  5. Write down the steps you need to finish the job – research, plotting, synopsis, query, number of pages you’ll do a day. Check each one off as you complete it. Keep the checklist and look at it when you feel like you’re getting nowhere. Seeing all those checkmarks will give you a boost.
  6. Be held accountable in order to get the job done. Promise a portion of the book each week or bi-weekly to a critique partner. Tell them not to let you off the hook. Remember when they badger you for the next chapter they are helping you, at your request.
  7. Delegate non-writing related jobs. Let someone else cook, clean, shop, etc. while you devote time to the project. Hire them, bribe them, or do whatever is necessary to convince your family to help. Tell them they won’t have to become “writing widowers” if they’re willing to help with the day-to-day jobs. If they buy it, be sure to pop your head out of the office and keep your end of the bargain.

Hope these tips help you get back in the writing saddle.




About the Author:
Multi-award winning author Catherine Castle loves writing. Before beginning her career as a romance writer she worked part-time as a freelance writer. She has over 600 articles and photographs to her credit, under her real name, in the Christian and secular market. She also lays claim to over 300 internet articles written on a variety of subjects and several hundred poems. In addition to writing she loves reading, traveling, singing, theatre, quilting and gardening. She’s a passionate gardener whose garden won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club. She writes sweet and inspirational romances. You can find her award-winning Soul Mate books The Nun and the Narc and A Groom for Mama, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Follow her on Twitter @AuthorCCastle, FB or her blog.


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A Resolution

Like clockwork on the first of September, the daily temperatures where I live dropped below 100-degrees. Crisp, humid air now cools me when I’m on my morning bike rides, and I don’t need to worry about planning my route so I can fill up my water bottles at the halfway point. There’s nothing better than rolling out in 70-degree breezes and finishing in the mild warmth of the high 80s.

With fall’s arrival in south-central Texas, comes my realization that—it’s fall. A whole week of September has already passed, and I can’t believe it. For months I’ve been saying, “That can wait until fall,” and conveniently putting off routine chores and complex tasks. Now the season has arrived, and my “to do” list is huge. With just under four months until the end of the year, a majority of my annual goals might need to become 2021 goals.

Sure, I could blame this conundrum on 2020. After all, nothing has gone right this year. But if I’m honest with myself, I was just plain lazy. I could have worked a few more hours each day, could have binge-watched one less series, and could have limited my daily naps to only 30-minuts (or not taken them at all). Now my goal list has zero checkmarks on it.

I can’t let 2020 end with nothing to show for the time each day I have been productive. This year will NOT beat me. So, I’ve resolved to ramp up my word count, to revise the two first drafts which have been languishing in the cloud, and to wipe my task list clean. I might not be able to reach all my goals, but I can put a dent in them.

And I’ll start as soon as I finish watching tomorrow’s live broadcast of the Tour de France and napping afterwards.

Posted in Soul Mate Publishing | 1 Comment

Gratitude Will Brighten Your Life by Susan Hanniford Crowley

I have found during this pandemic that I appreciate all the little things that family and friends do for me. Many people don’t know that I’ve had breast cancer, chemotherapy, and surgeries. The whole process for me took over a year, and I’m still recovering. But I am profoundly grateful.

Here’s a mini list not in any order of importance.

  1. I am grateful to God. I love my church which at this time is still closed but I know that God’s love is always with me no matter where I am.
  2. I’m grateful to my husband. He makes me Cream of Wheat every morning as my stomach is still recovering too. (Laughs.) We are in seclusion because of COVID 19. Being together for such a long time has become increasingly wonderful.
  3. I’m grateful for my grown daughters and grandchildren. They are funny and enlightening and still bring adventure to my life, even if it is with masks, social distancing, and often on FaceTime.
  4. I’m very grateful that there is now toilet paper in my supermarket again. Now you can laugh a lot.
  5. I’m grateful that my cats are endlessly entertaining. I think because we are home so much, they think they are obligated. Buffy tried to write on my laptop the other day and added a lot of Zs. I never knew she was a potential novelist.
  6. I’m grateful for my home, which fortunately storms have missed. In my area during the last hurricane, many trees went down and some on houses.
  7. I’m super grateful for air conditioning. Since I can’t go to the beach (my doc says that I’m high risk and there are tons of places I can’t go), I am happy to watch Beach Blanket Bingo with Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon on tv and in the way of air conditioning.
  8. I’m grateful to be writing again.

There are times when we are down in the dumps because of all the negative stuff in the world right now. It helps me to make a gratitude list. You can make yours as long as you want and add to it over time. It brightens my day.

All the best for a fun fall filled with amazing experiences!

Susan Hanniford Crowley

Posted in Soul Mate Publishing, Susan's Snippets! | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Unique Words-How Many Have You Used? by C.D. Hersh


We have a ritual we indulge in when a book is finished. Besides chocolate and whooping and hollering.  By finished, we mean the words are down on the virtual page. Not the final words but close enough that we feel we have some breathing space before the manuscript is due to the editor.

The ritual is called— REVISION! And it starts with discovering unique words–or rather the lack of them.

While Catherine finishes the last part of the first draft, based on our plot and scene outlines, Donald  works on the first draft pages already finished. Since we know our manuscripts have lots of repetitive words (which happens when you just keep writing and don’t agonize over every word choice), we decided to buy a word counting program to help us find those pesky words we use over and over. Donald settled on the MS Word Word Count and Frequency Statistics Software.  We run every manuscript through the program to pare down repetition.

We’re not going to bore you with how many times we use the word pull, or any variety of the word, unless you ask. Nor will we say how many times we use the word the–which, by the way, was the most frequently used word. But then what is a substitute for ‘the’? The computer thesaurus and Roget’s don’t even list synonyms for ‘the.’

What we did find interesting is that out of 123,237 words in  one of our manuscripts, we only used 9,440 unique words to create that book.

Which caused Catherine to wonder:

Is it possible to write something of any size without using words twice? Perhaps we’ll try. Can’t say whether the composition would have merit nor quality, but attempting such might be fun. Pick up our challenge. See how many unique sentences with a common thread you can pen before hitting brick walls. Already, ten expressions needed adjusting while scripting this paragraph. Good luck!

Take up our challenge and let us know how many words you managed to write before you couldn’t insert a unique word. We’d love to know how this little exercise works out for you.



Posted in From the Desk of CD -, Soul Mate Publishing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments