On Visits Back and Good Friends

This past week I got to go back to a place that holds a special place in my heart. Johnson City, Tennessee. It’s where my husband and I lived for ten years, raised our kids, and found our rescue dog, who later rescued us.

It’s where we made great friends. The kind that you can pick up conversations with even though a long interim—over five years — has passed, it doesn’t seem to matter a bit.

A wonderful theatre company is producing my latest play there in September. JCCT is the longest-running theatre in Tennessee, and I am part of their 137th production year. My play was sponsored by Bravissima! It’s a group of philanthropic women who make a yearly commitment to support the arts in that community. I got to be in on the auditions, and workshop “Death By Design,” my funny, snarky murder-mystery send-up of Agatha Christie set in a modern-day Appalachian B&B. It’s got lightning, thunder, a variety of surprise deaths, twists and turns, and a real ghost. I think you’ll enjoy it.

We have a great cast and crew, and it’s helmed by a friend of mine, Melanie Yodkins. We had a lot of fun this past week, so I didn’t mind the work or the long hours. I got to teach three acting classes, meet new actor friends, and work with some extremely talented people. The play goes up next month, y’all should go see it if you’re in the JC neighborhood.

Going back to Johnson City was emotion-filled. Our family was very happy there, and there are so many memories. It’s a small town, but a growing one, so my memories of places didn’t exactly match up to current reality. I didn’t get lost as I drove around in my rental Prius (loved it! 57 miles to the gallon!), but there were times when I was slightly confused, old buildings replaced by new constructs. I was struck by what I’d forgotten. The hilliness. The green that is so vibrant it makes your eyes hurt. I made sure to get out and walk or hike daily. I didn’t get to swim in Lake Watauga or do the Laurel Falls hike that intersects with the Appalachian trail or swim with my old master’s swim group this visit. Maybe that was for the best, as this trip wore me out. And did I mention it is very hilly there? Like I think they added extra hills or something.

While the theatre kept me busy, I had time to visit too. Mom friends, Swim friends, dear friends. I had lunches and dinners and walks with as many as I could. In serendipitous timing, I even got to attend a fiftieth wedding anniversary party. Talking with old friends is so easy. You not only revisit memories but get to find out what is new, whose kids are married or have babies. You can talk for hours with ease. It made me misty and very grateful.

Friends put me up for most of my visit, too. I had cats for companions for my first five nights. Here is a picture of one of them, Doom.

I visited old haunts, walked the streets of Jonesborough, and drove out to Mountain View foods for a tasty handmade sandwich and whoopie pie. The overlay between my memories of those places, and their current reality wasn’t jarring, but it was there. A new park, a whole new development of houses, a tree missing.

What hadn’t changed was the love and friendship of the people I left behind. It was so good to reconnect, and to realize they are never really gone, and that new memories are just waiting to be made. #luckygal, indeed.

Ready to Write and Publish a Book?

This week brings you a wonderful entry by my friend and guest blogger, J.T. Bishop.

I am often told by people when they learn I’m a writer how they’ve always wanted to write a book. How they have a book in them but don’t have the time to write it. Or how they’ve started but never finished. I always encourage them, but few follow through.

As the author of now nineteen books, I used to be one of those people. I’d had numerous false starts and plenty of unfinished work sitting on a file on my laptop, but that nagging feeling never left me. One day back in 2012, I sat and started writing (again), only this time I kept going. When the doubts cropped up, I ignored them. I just wanted to finish. And six months later, I did. Since then, I’ve learned a lot. My journey is not impossible. If you’re one of those people who feels your literary masterpiece is only a few typewritten words away, then this is for you.

My first piece of advice would be to know your goals. Is this just for fun? Do you want to make some money from your book? Do you want to make a career out of writing? If so, do you want to traditionally publish or go indie? Your answers will lead you in various directions and may even affect what you choose to write, so do a little research first.

Once you start to write, don’t stop. This is critical. Don’t overthink the words. Trust your story and trust your gut. You know the tale you want to tell, but all too frequently for most, the inner critic surfaces and tells you how crappy your story is. DON’T BELIEVE IT. Just keep going. Get your butt in the chair and continue typing. When I wrote my first book, I fell into the same trap. Frustrated, I told myself that no one has to see it. If it’s terrible, it will never make the light of day, but at least I could say I finished. And once you finish, you’ll realize it’s not as bad as you think. In fact, it might even be pretty good.

Characters have a mind of their own. They’ll take your story to places you never anticipated, and it can be a little annoying. I like to give them free rein, though, and see where they take me. They rarely disappoint and will usually come up with a better story line than I had planned. Moral? Go with the flow. You might be surprised where it leads. Some of your best stuff won’t show up until you start to write. Once you show the universe you’re serious, it will back you up a hundred percent. Start showing up.

Let go of assumptions. You do you. Once you dive in, you’re going to hear an amazing amount of advice. From craft, to what to write, how fast to write it and how often you should put words to paper. If choose to publish, you’ll learn how often you should publish, what courses will help, how and where to advertise, and that’s just the beginning. It never ends. I used to get hung up on the write every day rule. I finally realized that, for me, it’s not true. I pick up the pen almost every day, but when I’m not feeling it, I take a break. And when I’m in between books, I need a reset. Learn what works for you and trust it.

And once you successfully complete your masterpiece, you’ll soon realize that writing your book is the easy part. Assuming you’re doing this to make some money, this is absolutely true. Once you finish, there’s a myriad of things to accomplish next. Editing, proofing, a book cover and blurb, reviews, a newsletter, social media, budgeting, and marketing are just a few of things you’ll need to embrace. The writing piece is small potatoes compared to this. If you want to make a serious living from your work, you’ll have to become an expert in all of the above (even if you’re traditionally published).

And all of the above is impossible without mindset. This is the big one. If you don’t believe you can write a book, if you continue to come up with reasons why you can’t, then you’re correct. It will never get done. You have to find a way to confront this problem and banish it. There’s nothing special about me, other than I told myself I had a great story and I wanted to write it, and then I got busy. Now I have nineteen books with two more on the way. This is doable. If you’re passionate and determined, nothing will stop you.

There’s lots more I could mention, but this is plenty to start with. Any writer you talk to will have their own suggestions and advice, all of it valuable. If you give this a serious go, I think you’ll find that what you need to know will show up when you need it. The amount of work is eye-opening but also fun. If you’re like me and you love crafting a story, bringing it to the public and helping a reader escape from the real world for a few hours or more a day, then all of the effort is worth it. Especially when you see people enjoying your work. There’s no better feeling.

So, the next time you find yourself saying you could write a book if it weren’t for…add your reasons here, just remember that there’s nothing stopping you other than you. And keep in mind the advice above. Do your homework, make a plan, get started, and let go of the reins. You might be surprised at where it may lead.

J.T. Bishop is an award-winning author who writes mystery thrillers with a supernatural edge. Growing up, she read books by Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, and Dean Koontz, devoured every episode of the X-files, and watched plenty of TV shows with great partnerships that left her wanting more. She loves tangled relationships, unexpected twists and turns, heart-stopping love stories and the complications that come with all the above. Throw in a little supernatural fun and she’s hooked. Her evil plan is to hook you, too.

She’s the author of The Red-Line Trilogy and its sister series, The Fletcher Family Saga, which features touches of urban fantasy, light sci-fi, and paranormal romance. She’s also happily writing mystery thrillers featuring two charismatic detectives who may occasionally encounter a supernatural villain or two, and a crossover series which follows the exploits of a gifted, but troubled, paranormal P.I. and his spunky sister.

All the above keeps her busy, but in her spare time, she loves a good movie, tasty food, an unfortunate sugar addiction, and traveling.

Get caught up with J.T. and her writing adventures at www.jtbishopauthor.com. And while you’re there, get a short story prelude to her first book for free, plus a novella and a few other offerings. You can find her on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/J.-T.-Bishop/e/B00P2O61IE

On Shepard’s Pie and Dino Porn

Yes, I didn’t know there was such a thing either. And I ain’t talkin’ about the Shepard’s Pie, which you’ll get a recipe for below.

You might be asking yourself (I certainly would be) how this topic ever came up. Well, a few weeks ago a writer friend and I were discussing how we’ve learned there are quite a few authors who make boatloads, scads, literal buckets of money writing niche smut. Disclaimer here… I have no judgement about these writers or their readers. You do you. It’s nothing I am interested in doing, you understand. I’m just fascinated that Dino erotica exists. I didn’t believe it at first, I thought my friend was pulling my leg.

Go ahead, google it, I’ll wait. You can go incognito if you’re feeling shy.

Looking through the book blurbs, I determined there are a lot of scantily clad women back in the prehistoric era who get a workout. Most of the books are super-short, some 20 pages or less for your $2.99 spend. Maybe there’s only so much you can describe about dinosaurs and their sex drive. (And do their tiny little arms get in the way?) (I just don’t see dinosaurs as being cuddly afterwards either. They’re just so… reptilian.) (And you know, extinct.)

Now, about that page count. I write in a genre (YA/NA Dark Fantasy, might be edging over into Magical Realism) that usually needs a lot more pages than that to be taken seriously by fans of the genre. My books are all at least 275 pages in 10-point font. My current work in progress is 360 pages, looks like we are heading over the top of 400. Don’t worry, my characters are just gabbing away at the moment, as happens as you get to the end of draft one. I’ll fix it in draft two.

So, given all that extra time and effort crafting words and creating memorable characters… I have to ask myself as a writer who wants to make this her third career, the one she can retire comfortably on, maybe travel a bit… would I be smarter to write something, you know… less time-consuming? It takes me at least 2 months to write one, plus another month of rewrites, Beta readers and proofreads to make it better. Because my books are also technically Historical Fantasy set in Medieval Times, I spend hours researching facts so that no one gives me a 1-star rating on Goodreads and snarks that everyone knows they didn’t have lace-up boots with eight grommets in Medieval France in 1450. Anybody who’s serious knows they all only had six grommets until 1452.

Oh, I’m not kidding. I learned about the relentlessness of smart geeks when I worked on Star Trek Voyager years ago. All the writers knew there were plenty of fans who knew the ins and outs of the ship and warp drive far better than they did. Any time we got to a place where tech was needed, we’d just insert “Tech Speak Here,” and let the science advisors take it on.

So my sincere question of the week is: Would you write Dino Porn (or something else niche smut) for the money? Love to hear your take on this.

Now, on to Shepard’s Pie, which was on the menu for my folks this week. We’ve been dropping off extra meals now that Mom is back at home. Dad has only a small repertoire of dishes he can make for them. I really like Shepard’s Pie. I don’t make mine with lamb, as (clearly) was called for in the original recipe, because all the shepherds I know herd sheep, not turkeys or cows. This recipe serves 4, along with a nice salad. I recommend oatmeal-raisin cookies for dessert. You know, the ones off the Quaker Oats lid. Add a bit more oats than is called for if you like a firmer cookie.

Or if your favorite dinosaur bed partner does.

SHEPARDS PIE

½ large onion minced

1 T olive oil

1 pound ground turkey or beef

1 cup Frozen peas

6-8 Yukon small gold potatoes (or a couple of chonky Idaho’s are fine if that’s all you’ve got on hand.)

Worcestershire Sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

2 Tablespoons of butter, chopped into bits

Dash of milk

Peel your potatoes and boil. Mince onion and brown in the olive oil on medium. Set aside, and brown your meat in the same pan, pouring off grease as it cooks. Add back the onion when meat is done, and turn off heat. Add the peas straight from frozen, the residual heat will cook them perfectly. Season with a good dollop of Worcestershire and salt and pepper.

Drain potatoes and mash with the milk (I actually use a bit of the potato water too.)

Put the meat mixture into an 8×8 baking dish, and “ice” with the mashed potatoes. Dot the top with bits of butter. Put in the oven on broil until the tops of the potatoes brown and that butter sizzles. Serve hot.

Hot like your Dino friends.

On Italian Salad and Birthday Resolutions

May is our month for multiple birthdays. My father, me, my husband, and one of my best friends all have birthdays within a week. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day get kind of rolled up in the bunch too. My mother’s is the last day of April, so we often add it in. I like baking the pies and cakes we eat to celebrate.

I don’t mind birthdays some years, others I do. I really hated the year last year’s celebrated. And yes, I am fully aware there are many people who wish they could be so old. A ridiculous number of friends died this past year that will never hit 61. I try very hard to be grateful.

I just fall short sometimes.

The theme around many of my birthdays is the desire to make big changes for the year to come—or at least a small one—on my birthday. Last year’s pit of despair led to me taking a writing class and now it looks like writing books is my 3rd act in what I hope is a lengthy lifespan. I’m giving it ten years, and my goal is to have 40-60 books on the book/library shelves by the time I’m done. And be in at least 20 anthologies. So, as bitter-tasting as that birthday was, it yielded some good stuff.

So far I’m at 1 publishing company established, and 3 complete novel-length books, 1 long novella, and 1 anthology completed this past year. On target! The hard part hasn’t been writing the words, it’s been learning the publication side of things. Next mountain is getting a handle on advertising and growing my newsletter and IG account.

This year finds me focused on health. Like many of us, Covid helped me add pounds I didn’t need, and as an *ahem* older adult, it’s proving to be harder and harder to get the pounds off. Losing our dog last July didn’t help either. All those walks not taken. I really miss her. No, we’re not ready to get another dog.

I know advertising on both IG and FB works because I occasionally cave to one. There’s a walking app called “The Conqueror Challenges” that has been dangling their medals and postcards and intriguing copy in front of me for years.

Resistance was futile when they offered not a walk along Hadrian’s wall, or a Swim across the English Channel, but Frodo and Sam’s journey to Mordor.

My inner geek squealed. My finger punched more info. I caved and signed up. I am just now through South Farthing in the Shire, 28.5 miles of walking* in my first 6 days. The moment when Sam realizes if he takes one more step, he’ll be further from home than he’s ever been before.

So, I guess joining the “group” the app provides is working for me. Are you like me? Do you make “birthday resolutions?” If so, let me know some of yours.

Next up is regulating my food choices. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe I promised you last week for a most excellent Italian salad. Find someone who likes chopping or get some music going as you prep this.

The smaller the chop, the tastier the salad. I use Trader Joe’s Romano Italian dressing, just enough to coat. Any Italian dressing will do. If you’re a vegetarian, you can eat around the meat bits. Or just don’t add them. It’s an easygoing recipe.

You can make this big or little. The amount listed below fed 6 people for a main course with leftovers. We had a side of sourdough bread and rhubarb pie** for dessert.

ITALIAN SALAD

Chop:

5 Persian Cucumbers or 1 large English cucumber

1 red pepper

1 box cherry tomatoes

½ of a red onion

Half a can of black olives

Add: 10 oz cubed low-fat mozzarella cheese, half of a cubed summer sausage (I used turkey summer sausage), cubed cooked chicken breast and a can of garbanzo beans drained and rinsed. Toss lightly with dressing. You can also add baby spinach if you wish.

*the app also counts my swimming and converts it into steps.

** see my rhubarb pie post for recipe. It’s probably the best pie you’ll ever eat, and I CANNOT BELIEVE how many people don’t know what rhubarb is.