On Endings and Beginnings

In this odd week between the hoopla of the holidays and the modern-day demarcation between one year and the next, I’m given to both reflecting on the past year and planning for what I’d like the next one to contain. I also like to watch apocalyptic movies like “The Day After Tomorrow”* as I valiantly do my part to clear the cupboard of bread and cheese before the new year begins.

I approach the planning part of the equation much more gingerly than I did pre-fire and pre-pandemic. All the hope-filled planning in the world cannot account for an epic blaze or lockdowns that last months. Sometimes those cataclysmic events can serve a purpose, however. Just like the fire steered me to first write this weekly blog, and then later to write my first book, the pandemic steered me away from a focus on directing plays and being a VP in Arbonne to becoming a full-time writer. My third career, as I’m calling it.

I’m still messing around with what being a full-time writer entails. I joke that it’s the wardrobe of stretchy pants, warm sweaters, and fuzzy socks that are the true draw, but the truth is I just love spinning the stories and allowing the characters who belong to me to find their voice. I also believe if I don’t give them that agency, they will go to another writer who pays attention when they knock on the window and peer in. Finding my personal writing practice has been a big plus this year. Even if it means that I get up at a silly hour of the morning, damnit.

For the coming year, I plan to add a few more stories in my dark fantasy realm of Darkwood, but I’m more focused on a big launch of my Romance pen name (Stacey Christine). I did one paranormal romance short story under that pen name this year, adding to a collection that served as a fundraiser for homeless cats and kittens. I’m taking a deep breath and plunging into Sports Romance trilogy + novella with a bit of spice to start, and am seriously considering doing some Later in Life Small Town Romance as well later in the year. I know, there are so many little niches to discover. It took me by surprise, too. Like I didn’t know Sports Romance was actually a thing, but it’s all I’ve been reading this past week (with side dollops of non-fiction for my DAM book club, “River of the Gods,” by Candice Millard, and a fun re-read of “Christmas at the Cupcake Café,” by the always engaging Jenny Colgan.) Sports romance tends to be pretty racy. All those sweaty bodies in peak condition. Sports Romance is also written in first person present tense, two-character viewpoint for the most part. I prefer writing in third person past tense with multiple character viewpoints, so that’s going to be the first hurdle. I foresee I may need to pay a line editor as well as a proofreader to catch all the slips into past tense as I transition.

After spending a year and a half building out the Darkwood** characters and world, I’m ready for a change. There are a few of the characters from that series (mainly Gert) who are complaining about this break from their stories. I know that anthropomorphizing my make-believe people makes me sound as mad as a hatter,*** but that’s just a fiction writer’s mind for you. On some level, it’s always writing. I’ve come to accept it and go for long walks to soothe the turmoil having other little voices in my head creates.

My other big goal for the coming year is to train for a (oh my goodness, it feels scary to write this) half Iron Man that I plan to do in early fall 2024. The swimming is easy-peasy for me… but I don’t like running very much, and I’ve never biked a long distance. There’s just something in me that needs big goals, though. They get me going. I’ll start small, adding baby runs into my walks, and hopping on a stationary bike at the gym. They say you have to sort of build up your butt to withstand the miles… I don’t think spin classes are in my future, but never say never, right?

So, what do you have planned for the next year?

*This movie still holds up, except for the CGI wolves. And whatever happened to Emmy Rossum?

**The first book in my series, “The Traveller’s Tale,” will be FREE on Amazon in both the US and the UK on the 30th, 31st, and 1st. The 2nd book, “The Twins of Darkwood,” will be 99 cents during that time as well… so if you haven’t picked them up yet, now’s your chance!

***Mad as a Hatter is a saying from Victorian England. The hat-making trade used mercury to turn the fur of small animals, like rabbits, into felt for hats. The prolonged exposure caused the hatters to develop tremors, speech problems, emotional instability, and hallucinations.

Original Alice in Wonderland art is by John Tenniel

On Drive-Thru Carwashes and Completion Blues

White soap suds streaming down the side of the windows, preventing any view of the outside world. The sinister slap of long cloths sliding over the hood of the car like a giant squid trying to devour it. Brushes attacking the sides of the car. Jets of water streaming all around, your car turned into a submersible. Gusts of air blasting down onto your vehicle, and then finally, daylight ahead.

Ah, the drive-thru car wash.

While it is fun being driven through a car wash as a passenger, I discovered this week that it’s like a visit to the tower of terror when I’m the one trying to line up my car wheels with the track that will pull me through. Sullen men wave you forward (honestly, I don’t blame them, it looks like a steamy, horrible job) and then their hand flies up for you to stop. Then you have to put your car in neutral.

I didn’t know how to get to neutral right away, so I nearly killed the guy guiding me in. I completely deserved the nasty look he gave me. Then, at the end of it, I wasn’t sure when to put the car in drive again, so the car tracking behind me came perilously close to ripping off the back bumper of my car.

Is a clean car really worth all the aggravation?

I used to enjoy going to the car dealership (Sewell in Dallas) where they offer free car washes for as long as you own a car purchased from them. They have a nice waiting area with one of those coffee machines that can produce hot chocolate as well, and if you time it right, fresh cookies. I got out of the habit during Covid lockdown, and it’s a bit of a drive.

So I gird my courage to the sticking point* and brave the dreaded drive-thru thing, instead. It’s a part of adulting I could do without.

In other news, after four 12-hour days in a row of final edits, I finished the 4th book in my “Tales of Darkwood” dark fantasy/twisted fairy tale series yesterday, on schedule thank you very much, and passed it off to my wonderful proofreader. It’s a chonky book, clocking in at 109,000 words, give or take. My other books have been around 80,000. These characters (it’s a spin on Rapunzel) had a lot to say. I am happy with the book, and love my cover. It’s taken a lot longer to write this one than the others in the series, as I directed two plays, resumed my role as a theatre critic, saw Mom and Dad through a long hospital stay, and published a fun little Mermaid Paranormal Romance short as well as did a polish on my play during the space of writing it. So instead of my normal two to three month writing process, this one took me four and a half months. That’s a long time to be immersed in another world, even one as interesting as 1450s Stuttgart, Germany, where magic still floats on the edge of reality.

Rather than elation at completing another book, which you’d expect, I felt glum. I missed my quirky, difficult characters this morning. I’d planned to start straightaway on book 5 today.. instead, I walked around the mall for exercise and people watching (too hot for a long walk outside), talked to friends, checked in on others, and ate a giant bowl of popcorn while watching a silly movie. That sent me into a carb coma, from which I awoke on the couch two hours later, with the movie long finished, with creases on the side of my face.

It’s my form of going on a bender, I suppose. It might have been self-care, but my choice of food was a little… not in the self-care category. The popcorn was loaded with salt, paprika, and parmesan cheese.

Not so bad, all told, I suppose. Right?

I’ll start the next book tomorrow. Lord knows what carb-laden mourning I’ll do when I finish that one, which should wrap up the entire series. Pasta Carbonara, perhaps, with a side of fresh Italian bread, slathered in butter… well, now that I’m writing that down, it sounds pretty good. Motivating, even.

What is your go-to when you need a break from your work?

*bonus points for anyone who knows what this quote is from.

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