Writers and Dogs

white and black english bulldog stands in front of crackers on bowl at daytime
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Last year I posted about Writers and Cats, a combination that seems as natural as pen and paper. But just because cats and writers are inextricably linked in most people’s minds, doesn’t mean that dogs aren’t equally ideal writing partners. Judging from all the books about dogs out there, they’re just as inspiring as cats. Poems have also been written about dogs, including this one by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And no one can dispute that dogs are excellent companions, keeping writers company in their lonely work and getting them out of the house once in a while.

“When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”

Kristan Higgins

Here are a few dog-loving writers and their pups…

eb white
E.B. White
dorothy parker
Dorothy Parker
stephen king
Stephen King (who also made it into my Writers and Cats post)
virginia and vita
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West
harlan coben
Harlan Coben
amy tan
Amy Tan
anton chekov
Anton Chekov
elizabeth barrett browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her muse, Flush (see link above for Browning’s poem about Flush). Art by James E. McConnell.

 

What do you think? Are you a cat person or a dog person? Or do you like both (or neither)? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Read More:

12 Famous Authors at Work With Their Dogs

Top 10 Author-Dog Relationships of All Time

Literary Pets

10 Famous Authors and the Pets that Inspired Their Work

9 Adorable Images of Authors and Their Dogs

How to Get Books Cheap (or Free)

books school stacked closed
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You might remember a few months back when a certain minimalism peddler debuted her show on Netflix and then went ahead and called books clutter, telling people they should get rid of all but a laughably small number in their homes.

Yeah, I wasn’t impressed, either. And neither was writer Anakana Schofield, who tweeted that “every human needs a v extensive library.” You’d think people would rally around that kind of noble sentiment, but before Ms Schofield had finished hitting send on the tweet, people were calling her out as “elitist” for suggesting people needed their own home library.

man in white shirt using macbook pro
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Allow me to gently point out that “needs” an extensive library does not mean “must have” or even “should get.” But whatever your stance on the issue, if you agree that books clutter up your empty space, please feel free to forward them to me (seriously, though, please give them to someone–don’t feed landfills for the sake of a minimalist aesthetic).

For those of us who do know the value of books and a home library, we also know that building a collection can get pricey. But it really doesn’t have to. Here’s how you can get “a v extensive library” for next to nothing.

Before I get to that, though, just a quick note to say that if you can afford to buy books at full price, please do so. Authors (other than a lucky few) make hardly anything from the months and years of hard, gut-wrenching work they put into a book. Authors also make nothing from most of the suggestions I’m about to share. Give the author a reason to keep writing by buying their book(s). If you like an author’s work but really can’t afford it, you can still support them by posting reviews, sharing on social media, and telling your friends about the latest great book you just read. There’s many ways to support authors and we appreciate every bit of it ❤

Now, how can you get books cheap (or free)?

 

yard sale books

Yard/Garage/Rummage Sales

I’ve never stopped by one of these sales and haven’t found books. The selection varies and you won’t always find something good, but if you stop by toward the end of the day, you’ll get great deals (or stop by early for the best selection). You can (usually) haggle too.

Best Bets: Kids books, older bestsellers, books on obscure topics that were clearly unwanted gifts

 

Aspasia S. Bissas website

Estate Sales

These aren’t as common as other sales, but they’re well worth seeking out. Although they sound like something exclusively for the wealthy, that’s not the case, and sales can take place in any neighbourhood with items available at all price points. Not all estate sales will include books, but the ones that do can be like hitting the jackpot. As with yard/garage/rummage sales, go early for selection and late for deals (you can luck into entire boxes full of books for only a few dollars). Tip: Consider moving sales too.

Best Bets: Entire collections, vintage books

 

books file on shelf
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Library Sales

My personal favourite, these happen when libraries need to cull older/less popular books to make room for new additions. My local one also accepts donations from the public and donates the proceeds to an adult literacy program. Tip: bring small bills/change and your own bag(s). Also, look into specialist organizations that have their own libraries. Our local botanical garden has a book sale a couple of times a year featuring gardening books and magazines. If a group specializes in a topic you’re interested in, you can score some fantastic finds, cheap.

Best Bets: Fiction in all genres, large-print books, kids books, a bit of everything the library carries

 

thrift shop books

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores always seem to have more books than they can handle, and prices tend to reflect that. If you’re willing to look through disorganized shelves/piles, you can find some sweet deals.

Best Bets: Obscure older cookbooks, vintage craft books, loads of interesting books donated by people getting rid of “clutter”

 

Munich 24.06.2017 Lisar (reading at Isar) book flea market, just for one summer day in June

Flea Markets/Swap Meets

Flea markets aren’t my favourite places to shop, but you can find some bargains (haggling is also expected). It’s easy to get distracted, so focus on finding books before looking at anything else. Going at the end of the day will also result in the best deals. Swap meets are apparently very similar to flea markets, although some of them actually involve trading items instead of buying and selling–a great idea if you can find one that includes books.

Best Bets: Vintage and collectible books

 

recycling depot

Recycling Depots

I don’t know how other recycling depots work, but there’s one about an hour and a half from where I live that collects not only recyclables like glass and plastic, but also donations of all kinds of items, similar to what you’d find in a thrift store. They’re set up in a warehouse and have an ample collection of really cheap books. I haven’t been in a while but when I lived closer it was a favourite, and I’d almost always find something that was on my wishlist. Tip: bring your own bags or boxes.

Best Bets: Required reading for English classes, general fiction, quality nonfiction, kids books

 

novel books
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Secondhand Bookstores

Although the prices will be higher at a secondhand bookstore than at any of the other places I’ve mentioned, the selection and quality of the books will also be better. Bonus: you’ll be among fellow book lovers who can direct you to awesome books you didn’t even know existed. These stores sometimes have bargain bins (or even free books) to help keep things within budget.

Best Bets: Obscure and quirky books, vintage books, recent bestsellers

 

two people shaking hands
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Trading

At some point you’ll likely end up with books you no longer want. A good way to make room and get new books for nothing is to trade. See if any friends or family members might be interested. Swap meets that still involve swapping are an option. You can even try something like kijiji or craigslist (exercise caution when meeting strangers).

Best Bets: Hit and miss, but anything is possible

 

two man and two woman standing on green grass field
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Just Ask

Sometimes it’s as simple as letting people know you’ll take their unwanted books. Because people know I love books, they’ll often offer me the ones they no longer want. When a history teacher I was friendly with was retiring, he couldn’t take his personal collection home (his wife was decluttering before decluttering was cool). I scored boxes of history, geography and Canadian lit books. If you know someone who’s moving, spring cleaning, or who inherited a collection they don’t want, feel free to speak up. In most cases, the other person will feel like you’re doing them a favour.

Best Bets: Bestsellers, older books

 

pile of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Random Sales

You need to keep an eye out for these ones. I know of at least one bank and a hospital that have permanent book sales set up. The money goes to fundraising/charity and the prices are cheap. Other places you visit might have a table or rack of books available too. Tip: have exact change–these sales tend to be based on the honour system and usually don’t have anyone around to make change.

Best Bets: Mostly older fiction, occasional gems

 

reading reader kindle female
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Ebooks

These books won’t look pretty on a shelf, but you can find a lifetime supply of free and cheap ebooks online (and not the illegally downloaded kind, either, which will curse you with terrible karma anyway). I recommend Smashwords, which has an awesome collection of indie books at reasonable prices (or free), and available in all e-reader formats (even pdf and online reader). If you don’t have a Kindle, but want to read Kindle books, Amazon has a free app you can download for any device (they’re not all evil). You can start with my short story Blood Magic (available free everywhere except Amazon–they’re still a little evil) and my novel Love Lies Bleeding (only $2.99).

 

Where do you like to get cheap or free books? And how do you feel about books as “clutter”? Share in the comments…

-Aspasía S. Bissas

My Notre Dame

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2016
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas

By now you’ve likely heard about the devastating fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, collapsing the roof and spire and destroying much of the interior (but thankfully not killing anyone). If you haven’t, you can read about it here, here, or here.

Notre Dame Cathedral devastation
Photograph: François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Notre Dame is an icon of Paris, and as some locals described it “the heart of France.” It’s also an international icon, a place many people wished to see in their lifetime, and an unparalleled historic monument. What was lost in that fire is far more than just a building. We can take heart in the fact that the bell towers, the rose window, and even the rooster from the top of the spire were saved; that much of the artwork was removed in time; and that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. But it will never be the same.

The first time I saw Notre Dame, I was in a cab heading from Charles de Gaulle airport to my hotel. We approached the Cathedral from the back, alongside the Seine, and as I caught my first glimpse I realized I was looking at Notre Dame. The Notre Dame. The next thing that went through my mind was “I thought I knew Gothic architecture. I had no idea what it was until now.” This wasn’t the neo-Gothic Victoriana I was used to seeing at home in Canada– this was a 900-year-old Gothic masterpiece. You know what else? Flying buttresses are awesome.

When I’d booked it, I didn’t realize my hotel was so close to Notre Dame–just around the corner. I ended up spending time in and around the Cathedral every day while I was there. When I left, I expected I would see it again one day (hopefully when the cherry trees were blooming this time). I’m not sure what will be waiting for me the next time I go, but in honour of what has been lost, I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took on the trip when I got to know Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral, front
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Copper statues in front of the base of Notre Dame’s spire. The statues were removed before the fire as part of the restoration that was taking place. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyle
Gargoyle, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Notre Dame gargoyles
Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Side entrace, Notre Dame, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (side facing the Seine). Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
My photos don’t do the windows justice. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass detail, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass rose window, Notre Dame, Paris
Rose window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass and woodwork, Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. The fire extinguisher at the bottom right of the photo takes on new significance now. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Inside Notre Dame, Paris
Interior, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Painted column, Notre Dame, Paris
Beautiful painted column inside Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Vivid colours, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.
Stained glass window, Notre Dame, Paris
Stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral taken from my hotel roof. Photo by Aspasía S. Bissas.

 

Did you get a chance to see Notre Dame? Do you have any special memories of it? Please share in the comments.

 

 

Vampire’s Garden: St. John’s Wort

st johns wort

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is fourth in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself or anyone else.

Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum

Common Names: St. John’s Wort, Tipton’s weed, goatweed, common St. John’s Wort, perforate St. John’s Wort, Balsamo (Greece)

History: Native to temperate Europe and Asia, St. John’s Wort is now considered an invasive/noxious weed in more than 20 countries (it’s also toxic to livestock). Its use goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, where is was used for snakebites, burns, wounds, sciatica, and to treat recurring fevers, among other things. It was also believed to protect against witches’ spells. Later, it was associated with the Norse God of Light and Summer, Baldr, thanks to the plant’s bright yellow flowers and tendency to bloom around the summer solstice (21 June). Eventually 24 June became St. John’s feast day and the plant was renamed. The flowering shoots were hung over doors and stalls to ward off evil spirits, and to protect both people and animals from harm and illness. In Greece it would be hung in homes over religious icons of St. John, which led to its botanical name (hyper, meaning “above” and eikon, meaning “picture” or “icon.”)

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Animosity

Cultivation: Perennial (Zones 5-7). Produces creeping rhizomes and seeds–can be invasive (check with your local authorities before growing St. John’s Wort). Can be easily grown in any reasonable, well-drained soil; tolerates dry conditions. Prefers sun (will tolerate part shade). Start seed indoors and transplant to a permanent outdoor location after all danger of frost is past. Harvest flowering shoots and dry to use later, or preserve fresh flowers and buds in oil (see below). Because it spreads so easily, it can be readily found growing wild in fields, near creeks, and by the sides of roads.

Uses:

Medicinal: Taken internally, St. John’s Wort has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate depression and symptoms of menopause. Be aware that supplements are not regulated and can vary widely in quality, reliability, and efficacy.

Externally, the oily extract is used to heal wounds, bruises, and various skin conditions. It can also be rubbed on sore muscles. Research has found that hypericin, one of the plant’s chemical compounds, has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Make your own extract by filling a sterilized glass jar with flower buds and flowers. Cover completely with olive oil (or other vegetable oil). Cover the jar and leave on a sunny windowsill for about a month. Wipe away any condensation that forms inside the jar. Oil should turn a deep red colour. Strain to remove flowers. Store extract in a cool, dry place. If mold develops while oil is steeping (usually because the plant material isn’t fully covered or there’s too much moisture in the jar) discard and start over.

You can also make a tea with fresh or dried flowers. Cool and apply the tea to skin with a clean cloth or cotton pad. Use for wounds, bruises, skin conditions, and burns. You can also drink the tea (hot or cold) for its medicinal benefits, although beneficial effects will be milder than from a supplement.

Caution: If you’re taking prescriptions (including anti-depressants, heart medicine, and birth control pills), avoid using St. John’s Wort internally, as it can interfere with absorption and cause interactions. It can also cause photosensitivity–avoid sun exposure entirely or cover up and wear sunscreen if you’re using St. John’s Wort in any form. Don’t use St. John’s Wort if pregnant or nursing.

Caution 2: If you’re taking St. John’s Wort for depression and decide to stop, make sure to wean off it slowly by gradually decreasing the dose. Stopping abruptly can have adverse effects.

Possible Side Effects: Restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach upset, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, skin rash and tingling. It can also cause vivid dreams.

Crafts: Alcohol extracts of the plant produce a deep red dye. Used with different mordants, it can produce various shades on wool, silk, and other fibres.

Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Hypericum as a plant worth studying for her blood substitute. It would also be part of her apothecary business, added to tinctures and extracts for other vampires to give their bloodletters (both to combat depression and to heal wounds), as well as for to human customers.

Further Reading:

St. John’s Wort Oil: Benefits & How to Make

How to Use St. John’s Wort

Natural Dyeing with Hypericum Perforatum

Wild Colours Natural Dyes

Briargate Botanicals

Monterey Bay Spice Company

WebMD

Encyclopedia.com

Wikipedia

IWD: The Sexism That Writers Endure

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses
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From the start, women writers have had to endure an unending slew of sexist attitudes and commentary. Pick a writer and she’ll tell you about comments claiming women aren’t serious writers, that they don’t write “important” works, and aren’t worthy of awards or acclaim. Women writers can tell you about how there is a constant assumption that they must write romance or “chick lit,” that they don’t write anything a man would want to read, that they can’t write certain genres, or that women’s fiction is fluffy and sentimental. We can tell you about how we’re questioned in a way male authors never are about work-life balance, how we can possibly work and take care of our children and homes and partners. The list goes on. And when we dare complain about any of it, we’re accused of being “whiny” and “privileged.”

On this International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a few of the sexist remarks said to, or of, women authors:

Sci-fi author Gérard Klein about Ursula K. Le Guin: ” … her art is the product of ‘a happily resolved childhood, an active feminine genitality, and her intellectual indebtedness to her historian husband.'”

 

Audience member at a reading, to Julia Fierro: “Who is taking care of your children?”

 

A reader, commenting about The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris: “The novel is ‘capitalising on the fandom of Tom Hiddleston.'”

 

Author David Gilmour, on not teaching women authors in his class at the University of Toronto: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”

 

Author V.S. Naipaul about Diana Athill: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not… My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

 

Interviewer to Victoria A. Brownworth: “I don’t think women should be writing about this kind of violence.”

 

A lecture attendee to Joanne Freeman: “How does your husband handle your wit?”

 

A one-time boss of hers, about Clarice Lispector: “She was ‘a smart girl, an excellent reporter, and, in contrast to almost all women, actually knows how to write.'”

 

Random people, to Lis Harris: “Oh, you’re a serious writer? But you’re so pretty!”

 

N.S. Willis, to his sister, Fanny Fern: “[…he stated that] her writing was ‘too vulgar’ and she should continue with her needlework instead.”

 

To these I’ll add a quote from Charlotte Brontë, which she wrote in response to harsh reviews. This is (or should be) the unofficial motto of women writers everywhere:

“It would take a great deal to crush me.”

person using green typewriter on brown wooden surface
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

The problem of sexism in publishing is improving–the fact that it’s finally being acknowledged is an important first step. Will it be solved anytime soon? As with other forms of inequality, probably not in my lifetime (although I live in hope). But there are things everyone can do to help get us there:

  • Read books by women (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comic books, essays, articles…)
  • Review books by women (whether on a book site, store site, social media, or your own blog)
  • Buy books by women (let publishers know what you want to read)

If you want to start right now, you can download my free story Blood Magic. One reviewer wrote about it: “A sign of the times, this short story should be folded up, put inside an envelope, and slid inside the goody bags ready for the male attendees of the next Golden Globe Awards.”

Happy International Women’s Day. Show your support by reading more women.

Find Out More:

‘How to Suppress Women’s Writing’: 3 Decades Old and Still Sadly Relevant

Women Writers Are Over Hearing These Sexist Comments

Women’s Fiction Is a Sign of a Sexist Book Industry

Canadian Author David Gilmour Sparks Furore Over Women Writers

7 Breathtakingly Sexist Quotes by Famous and Respected Male Authors

A Woman’s Place

Sexism in Publishing: My Novel Wasn’t the Problem

Female Authors Are Speaking Out About the Everyday Sexism They Experience

The True Glamour of Clarice Lispector

I talked to 39 Women Who Write Nonfiction, and Here’s What I’ve Learned

The Evolution of Female Writers

5 Things Sexism Deniers Say to Woman Writers