There’s something magical about reading fiction. A story is basically just a series of symbols arranged in a particular order on a page (or screen). And yet, your mind translates those symbols into images, events, and people that feel real. It puts you into the minds of characters and lets you see through their eyes. You hold your breath when they’re in danger, you cringe sympathetically when they’ve done something awkward. Reading fiction puts you in another world and brings that world to life. I can’t think of anything more truly magical than that.
But it isn’t only magic. Science is finding all kinds of ways that reading fiction in particular can benefit you. Here are three:
Reading fiction relieves stress: Reading is enjoyable– it makes you feel good and forces you to take a break from regular life. While reading helps you forget your problems, it can also help you understand them and cope with them better. And reading fiction has been found to relieve stress more than other relaxing forms of media, like music or TV.
Reading fiction helps with cognitive and social skills: Reading challenges your brain. Among other things, it teaches new perspectives and viewpoints. As you read about other people and places, you learn to empathize, to understand different points of view, and to get along in diverse situations. In essence, reading fiction trains you for the real world.
Reading fiction can help you live longer: Studies have shown that reading helps prevent cognitive decline, which is associated with decreased life expectancy. Aside from that, according to at least one study (see “Further Reading”), people who read more fiction live longer, on average.
Bonus: Because reading fiction can mimic what we feel during real-life interactions with other people, it’s been found to satisfy the need for human connection. If lockdowns and distancing have been getting to you, reading a good book can help you through it.
Reading fiction makes you happier and less stressed, teaches you about the world and other people, helps you feel more connected, improves your mind, and can even help you live longer. What more could you ask?
Want to get all those benefits of reading fiction right now? Download my books….
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Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is eleventh 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.
Botanical Name:Crataegus monogyna (and other species of Crataegus)
Common Names: thornapple, May tree, whitethorn, hawberry, mayhaw, fairy thorn, quickthorn, Bread and Cheese Tree
History: Native to temperate areas around the world, hawthorn is part of the Rosaceae (Rose) family (you can see the resemblance in the berries, which are similar looking to rosehips). Folklore about Hawthorn abounds, and these are only a few examples: In Ancient Greece, branches decorated altars of Hymenaios (God of marriage), and were carried during wedding processions. It is believed that Jesus’ crown of thorns was made of hawthorn (in parts of France it was claimed that the plant would groan and cry on Good Friday). The Celts thought it could heal a broken heart. Before the calendar was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian system, hawthorn bloomed on 1 May, and May Day/Beltane celebrations included gathering the flowering branches (the only time it was allowed). In Great Britain and Ireland it was believed that uprooting or cutting down a hawthorn brought bad luck (with some attributing the failure of the DeLorean Motor Company to their cutting down a hawthorn in order to build a factory). Hawthorns have strong associations with fairies, and lone trees were thought to be especially powerful and most beloved of the fair folk.
Vampires: Starting in Serbia and spreading throughout the Balkan region, it was believed that only stakes made of hawthorn or ash could kill a vampire. In Bosnia, people would wear hawthorn twigs to funerals, dropping them as they left the cemetery; if the deceased rose as a vampire, they would have to stop to pick up the twigs, allowing the living to return home safely. The thorns were also placed in a recently deceased person’s clothing to “pin” them to the coffin and keep them from rising.
Language of Flowers Meaning: Hope
Cultivation: There’s a hawthorn for almost any hardiness zone, from Zones 4 to 11 according to the USDA, and as far north as Zone 1 (just below the tundra) in Canada. Hawthorn will grow in full sun or part shade. They’ll tolerate most types of soil, although they prefer rich, well-drained soil. They’re also drought tolerant. Growing hawthorn from seed is difficult and time-consuming– it’s easier to transplant a sucker or seedling. It’s possible to graft one type of hawthorn onto the seedling of another type. You can also use hawthorn as rootstock to graft other plants, mainly medlar and pear. Flowers generally bloom from May to June. Hawthorn is used as a hedge plant and as ornamentals– just be mindful of the thorns. Once established, hawthorns need little attention, other than fertilizer in spring, and some water during prolonged dry periods. It is also resistant to road salt and air pollution, making it ideal for urban areas.
Medicinal: The flowers, leaves, and berries of Crataegus laevigata and other species have been used since the first century CE to treat heart disease. Science is starting to back up hawthorn’s use for treating a variety of cardiovascular issues, although more studies need to be done to confirm results and determine things like dosage. The dried fruits of Chinese (C. pinnatifida, shān zhā in Chinese) and Japanese (C. cuneata, called sanzashi in Japanese) hawthorn species are used in traditional medicine as a digestive aid.
Caution: Taking too much hawthorn can cause cardiac arrhythmia and low blood pressure. Some people may also experience headache, a racing heart, and nausea. Do not use if you are taking digoxin. It’s best to be safe and avoid hawthorn if pregnant or breast feeding.
Culinary: The “haws” (berries) can be used to make jam, jelly, sauces, or wine (although since they’re an important winter food for wildlife, you might prefer to leave them on the plants. The young spring leaves and flower buds can also be eaten cooked or raw. In Mexico, the fruit of a local hawthorn species is made into candy called rielitos.
Wildlife: Hawthorn is a source of food and shelter (especially in winter) for birds and mammals, as well as an important source of nectar for insects. It also provides food for the larvae of many butterflies and moths.
Bonsai: Many species of hawthorn can be used for bonsai, including common hawthorn (C. monogyna), Japanese hawthorn (C. cuneata), thornless hawthorn (C. nitida), and ornamental varieties like Crataegus lavigata ‘Paul’s scarlet’.
Other Uses: First Nations people of Western Canada used the thorns as fish hooks and for minor surgeries.
Mara’s Uses: Although Mara would likely use hawthorn in tonics for her clients, its traditional use against vampires might leave her a little reluctant.
If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥
Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday with pagan roots is tomorrow. While it’s a sweet day for some, it can also be a painful reminder of loneliness and heartbreak. But then, love itself isn’t always sunshine and roses (there’s a reason Cupid uses a bow and arrow instead of blowing kisses). Whether you think romance is a pleasure or a pain, here are 5 real-life love stories that might convince you otherwise…
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal
Prince Kurram (the future Shah Jahan), son of the Mughal Emperor, and Arjumand Banu Begum, daughter of a Persian noble and niece of Empress Nur Jahan, fell in love in 1607 and married a few years later. He had other wives, but Arjumand was the only love match and his enduring favourite. He nicknamed her “Mumtaz Mahal,” or “the jewel (or exalted one) of the palace.” He relied on her political advice and she was his constant companion and confidant. Unfortunately, Mumtaz Mahal died at age 38, due to complications from giving birth to her 14th child. Heartbroken, her husband spent the next two decades building her a beautiful mausoleum, and nearly 400 years later, people are still awed by the Taj Mahal.
Infante Pedro and Ines de Castro
When the heir to the Portuguese throne fell in love with his wife’s older, widowed Lady-in-Waiting, the couple wasn’t exactly embraced by the family. Pedro’s father, King Alfonso IV, had Ines banished to Spain in an attempt to dissuade his son, but Pedro found a way to send letters and visit her as often as he could. After his wife died, Pedro brought Ines back and lived with her openly, even having three children together. When he asked his father to accept Ines as his new wife, the King had her brutally executed instead. In retaliation Pedro started a Civil War in an attempt to overthrow his father. The war ended after two years when the Queen, Pedro’s mother, arranged a truce, but he never forgave his father. When he eventually became King, he had Ines’s assassins executed by tearing their hearts out. It’s also rumoured that he had Ines’s body exhumed and placed on the throne, where he forced the court to swear allegiance to the new Queen.
Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning
Elizabeth Barrett was an accomplished poet in 1844 when Robert Browning wrote an admiring letter, telling her “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett.” Perhaps unsurprisingly they continued writing each other, and eventually met and fell in love. Knowing her father would disapprove, Elizabeth kept the relationship secret and she and Robert eloped (her father refused to reconcile with her and eventually disinherited her). The Brownings lived mainly in Italy, and spent their time among writers and artists. One of Elizabeth’s most well-known and beloved works, “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” consists of love poems she wrote for Robert, which he insisted she had to publish because they were “the finest sonnets written in any language since Shakespeare’s.” Their hundreds of letters to each other also attest to the incredible love between them. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s lifelong poor health, which had improved for a while, started to deteriorate after only a few years together. She died in her husband’s arms in 1861, at age 55. Browning returned to England and never remarried.
Henry II and Rosamund Clifford
Legend has it that King Henry II of England built a complicated maze, at the centre of which he hid his lover Rosamund, in order to keep the affair hidden from his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The Queen, however, solved the maze and found Rosamund, giving her the option of death by dagger or poison. Rosamund supposedly chose the latter. Another version has Eleanor stabbing Rosamund while she bathed. Although these stories are false, there is, according to historian Mike Ibeji, ” … no doubt that the great love of his [Henry’s] life was Rosamund Clifford.” It’s unknown when Henry and Rosamund’s relationship started, but it became common knowledge in 1174, after his relationship with the Queen soured due to her rebelling against him, along with their sons. While Queen Eleanor was imprisoned, Rosamund moved into the royal palace of Woodstock. It’s said that Henry was so enamoured of Rosamund that he lost interest in all his other mistresses (of which there were many). Although it’s unknown if Rosamund returned Henry’s feelings (you don’t say no to the King), she was blamed for being a temptress and an adulteress, and her character was attacked long after her death. This may be why she ended the affair with the King in 1175 or 1176, withdrawing to Godstow Abbey, where she died shortly afterwards. Henry paid for a lavish tomb for Rosamund, arranging for nuns to leave daily floral tributes to her, as well as paying to keep the site maintained. Although the tomb was eventually destroyed, the story of “Fair Rosamund” has inspired countless poets and artists through the centuries, giving immortality to Henry and Rosamund’s brief time together.
Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict
Although married three times to men, Margaret Mead’s “most intense and enduring relationship” was with her mentor Ruth Benedict. Mead’s letters, spanning a quarter of a century until Benedict’s sudden death in 1948, are filled with terms of endearment and plaintive longing. Margaret claims that Ruth’s love gives her strength and laments that they can’t be together. The two, worried about how a public relationship would affect their careers (already difficult for women at the time), worked hard to keep their feelings secret, and even made sure never to be photographed together. It’s only relatively recently that Margaret’s daughter has hinted at the sexual nature of Mead and Benedict’s relationship, and that Mead’s letters have been released for publication. Had it not been for the hostile social climate and legal system that existed back then, Margaret and Ruth could have had a life together. Instead they squeezed in moments with each other around marriages, family life, and work. Margaret and Ruth loved each other as fully as they could, while being deprived of what could have been.
No matter what your plans are, or who you’re spending it with, I hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day ♥ What’s your favourite bittersweet love story? Share in the comments.
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If you prefer a paperback to an ebook, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥
A while back I read an article about the connection between literature and perfume, which also included suggestions for ideal perfumes for book lovers. As someone who has a slight perfume obsession (reigning favourite: Vanilla Extreme by Comptoir Sud Pacifique), I was intrigued. I especially liked the idea behind the Imaginary Authors perfume company, whose scents are based on the fictional exploits of made-up authors. But if perfume can be designed for fictional authors, why not design a few for Love Lies Bleeding’s characters?
Since main character Mara works with herbs and plants, she’s essentially steeped in their scents without needing to wear perfume. But if I were to create a perfume for her, it would have strong notes of sweet woodruff (which smells like vanilla and hay), clover, and lavender flowers, with hints of smoky peat and black tea.
For human Lee, I envision something fresh and “green.” His scent would be based on cedar, with some kind of complementary citrus (yuzu, or maybe tangerine), and the subtlest undertones of honey and lavender leaves.
Lastly, I think a scent heavy on whisky and tobacco notes, with something spicy like ginger or cloves, would suit vampire nemesis Dominic. It would be the kind of scent that’s overwhelming in the wrong hands, but Dominic probably wouldn’t wear it anyway, as it’s one of those luxuries he doesn’t think vampires should indulge in.
What do you think– would you wear any of these scents? What perfume would you design for your favourite character or author? Share in the comments…
Want to find out more about Mara, Lee, and Dominic? Get my books!
If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥
Like so many people (especially those of us in creative fields), I struggle with anxiety and depression. Usually it’s manageable (I’ve actually found that some mild anxiety helps me write). Every so often, though, for reasons that aren’t always clear, the scale tips from manageable to overwhelming. If you’ve ever had severe anxiety or depression you know the feeling of deep despair that leaves you searching for a reason to get up in the morning. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (and also please don’t give advice on something you don’t understand– it’s never helpful).
The last while has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. It’s no secret that Covid is having a negative effect on many people’s mental health. Just the anxiety of going through a pandemic is enough to cause widespread distress. Add to that economic insecurity; the stresses of quarantine and isolation (or going to work or school when you don’t feel safe); people spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories while displaying zero empathy or intelligence; certain so-called leaders and governments content to let the virus run rampant; and countless other things that are making life scarier and more difficult than it needs to be– and the stage is set for more people than ever struggling mentally and emotionally.
I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it when I can and trying to work around it the rest of the time (with varying levels of success). If you’re suffering from any kind of mental illness or distress, the first thing you should do is see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed– there is help, from support groups to therapeutic techniques to medications, and more.
If you’re in crisis, you can get help right now (always keep your local hotline number nearby).
If you’re not in crisis but are having a hard time and need something to help you through it, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Read a Book: I know, I suggest this a lot. But a book can help distract you, and provides a feeling of accomplishment when you finish it. Make sure to pick one that interests you, preferably something lighthearted or uplifting. If you’re feeling up to it, try a book designed to help people cope with mental illness (there are many to choose from, but Mind Over Mood is one that’s highly praised by mental health professionals.)
Shower and Get Dressed: It might not seem like much but it can make a noticeable difference to your mood. And if nothing else, you can say you got up and faced the day. On bad days, that’s a major accomplishment.
Leave the House: Many people (myself included) withdraw when they’re depressed, which isn’t helpful. If you’re isolating due to COVID (or feel like you can’t deal with other humans at the moment), go for a walk on your own. Somewhere green and peaceful is ideal.
Get Something Done: Pick a task to complete, no matter how small, and do it. It can be anything that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. To avoid being overwhelmed, keep a short and easy to-do list handy for times like these.
Indulge Yourself: Do something you enjoy (as long as it’s nothing harmful). If you have a tendency to feel guilty about “doing nothing,” then try interspersing the fun with simple, but productive, tasks (see above).
Spend Time with Pets: You’ll both feel better. If you don’t have a pet, try hugging a plushie. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of a soft doll or pillow.
Avoid Things (and People) that Make You Feel Worse: This won’t work long term, but for a day when you’re already feeling crappy, it’s a necessity.
Write a Letter: Sit down with pen and paper and write a letter to someone you like but haven’t spoken to in a while. Think of some positive things you can share (they can be as simple as a great movie you saw or your thriving houseplant). Or, if you prefer talking to writing, give them a call.
Find the Humour: Being depressed, down, or anxious doesn’t exactly lend itself to laughter, but a bit of dark humour can actually help lighten the mood. Try looking up memes about anxiety or depression, or chatting with a funny friend who gets it. Darkly humorous shows and movies can also be good (I like the 1964 Addams Family TV series, as well as the movies from the early 1990s, and the “Adult Wednesday Addams” series on YouTube.)
Create Coping Cards: This is an idea I got from Unf#ck Your Brain. When you find a technique that works for you, write it down on an index card. When you’re struggling, you’ll have a handy set of coping techniques ready to go. You can even put the cards on a key-ring and keep them with you.
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re having a hard time? Share in the comments…
Aspasía S. Bissas
PS: Apologies for the spacing issues–they’re thanks to WordPress’s fabulous new editor that no one asked for. Hopefully such issues will be ironed out over time.