On Preparing to Travel

At long last, a postponed trip to Greece is here. The last throes of planning, list-making, and researching are done. I have tickets for everything I need to have tickets for. I’ve made a copy of my passport, left itineraries for my loved ones, just in case. I even got travel insurance.

I’m travelling to a brand-new place for me, Greece, specifically the island of Crete. I’ll be doing some touristy, sight-seeing things like taking a Cretan cooking class and going to visit the Palace of Knossos, and visiting a Hammam. I’m also (this will sound antithetical) gearing myself up to slow way down. I’ll be turning off my social media, disengaging from my life here in the States. I’m genuinely sorry I will miss a couple of weeks of celebrating your birthdays on Facebook.

I’m a fairly relaxed traveler these days. While I like to do a lot of advance planning (as in, I started using Duolingo to learn Greek a couple of years ago, and I love staring at maps and bus schedules), over the years my desire for a don’t-miss-anything trip has vanished. I’m looking forward to simply wandering the streets of the ancient cities of Chania, Rethymno, and Heraklion. To staying in a stone house built into the side of a fortress and a 15th century Venetian palazzo turned into a hotel.

Old places resonate with me. There’s something about touching stones laid by people hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years ago. Seeing art created by artisans long turned to dust, but what they made, how they saw the world, is still here. It makes me misty. I’m looking forward to wandering twisty streets that evolved from animal trails, poking my head into odd shops, having a beverage in a tiny tavern, or trying a new dish.

The other non-touristy part of this trip will be ultra-active. My friends and I are travelling to the south of the island, to a tiny village called Loutro. It’s only accessible via ferry or walking. No cars. Cash only, too, no ATMs. Side note: I got my Euros, which are different colors and sizes for different denominations. I wish American money was like this.

During the second week, my friends and I will join with some other folks to do a SwimTrek trip. We’ll be swimming in the Mediterranean sea daily, around 2-4 miles a day. There will be boats if we get tired, or just don’t feel like swimming further, so still a vacation, not an Olympic event. There will be villages to explore, castles to climb to, and walks along the coast. The village we are staying in is right on the E4, the long hiking route that traverses Europe. It’s also near where Paul washed ashore in the 1st century as he travelled the known world spreading the gospel. We’ll be swimming off of that beach.

It will be quiet. I will be in my own little room overlooking the sea. There will be coffee, and I will keep a travel journal. This is my idea of heaven.

To prep for the trip, I’ve been swimming, of course. I am a pretty strong swimmer, kind of metronomic as in once I start up, I just sort of… keep going at a measured pace. It’s a different kind of swimming in the ocean. You’re more buoyant, which is nice, but no walls to turn off of, no convenient straight line to follow beneath you. Waves and sea creatures will keep it interesting. I haven’t been able to practice those things. No open water swimming here in Texas that I’ve taken advantage of… there are alligators in all the lakes here, and ehhh… I’d frankly rather swim with sharks, not that there are very many of those where we will be.

I’ve also been walking and laying out, so I have a nice base tan. I know, I’m so old school about that. At least I wasn’t laying out with baby oil, a foil reflector, and my Tab cola sitting next to me. I’ll use reef-safe sunscreen during the swims, and wear a hat, I promise.

As always, I am waiting until the last few hours to pack. I’ve made a list though. I’m going carry-on, and if anything is forgotten, you can just pop into one of those shops and purchase it. My kindle is loaded up, although I am giving hard consideration to toting a hefty paperback (IQ84) as well, just in case it craps out. My sons have assured me I can just use my phone, no real need to get a Greek sim card, and instructed me where to turn roaming on and off so I don’t get a surprise bill later.

I’ve also pre-loaded next week’s blog, in keeping with my promise of writing one a week for at least a year, and I got out a short story to a dark mermaid anthology I’m hoping to be part of. Book 5 of the Darkwood series is still in progress. I’d wanted to have the first draft done before leaving, but didn’t quite make it. It will still be done before the end of the year, I promise.

For now, Kalispera!

On My New Release and Medieval Research

Book 4 of my Darkwood series publishes Sept 29th! I am super excited about this one, “Starcrossed of Darkwood.” As with all the Darkwood books, a fairy tale is twisted. This one is a favorite of mine, Rapunzel. I always felt a little bad for the witch in the story. After all, the husband stole lettuce from her garden… although I suppose demanding a first-born child was excessive for the transgression. Then there’s the part where the witch pushes the prince out of the tower, blinding him on the thorns below… okay, maybe she isn’t that sympathetic after all. But the girl in the tower is, and I thought (as I am wont to do) … what if… she decided going back to the tower was the better choice for her?

This outing in the series follows three women as their fates intertwine. You need to at least read “The Traveller’s Tale” before you read this one. While I do a good job of reminding my wonderful readers about certain plot points, you will miss a lot if you don’t know the backstory of the Travellers and the curse that’s been placed upon them. All my books are only $4.99 in kindle, so you won’t break the bank.

In celebration of this book, which was a bit of a bear to write, I’ve put “The Twins of Darkwood” on sale for .99 cents for the first five days of publication.

I also added a fun bit in this book as an homage to the book series that began my love of fantasy. I specifically placed two references to “The Lord of the Rings” in the book. If you find them, email me at my author address: staceyuptonbracey@eatwriteplay.com I’ll have a little gift for you until supplies run out.

I mentioned this one was a bit of a struggle to write. Not particularly with content, but I was interrupted a lot (by choice) directing back-to-back plays, new play rewrites, and a bit of teaching. I’ve discovered I cannot serve two creative masters. If you’re in my cast, or in my class, you’re getting 100% of me. Same goes for writing when I’m in that groove. I try to put the very best of myself into my books. Starcrossed is also longer than the previous books, coming in at about 109K words as opposed to about 75-80k words (words are writer talk, I know… in pages, 1k words = 4 pages of book.) At the end of my process to get it done on time and out to my Beta readers for their always insightful notes, I was averaging 8k words a day, or 32 pages of book per day, and then still doing the rest of my life. It was a lot. But as I said, I am super happy with the result. My Beta readers said things like, “I couldn’t put it down,” and “Best one yet!” Makes my heart happy. I promise I am a good writer, so if you haven’t ventured into the Darkwood, give “The Traveller’s Tale” a try.

I started book 5 this week. The main part of this series will have been completed and published in 15 months, from the first “what if” to the finish. Five full books and a 30k novella. Not bad for my first foray into series writing.

Book 5 will be my most intensive (by far) for research, as a chunk of it takes place on a medieval Caravel, which was a marvel of a ship created by the Portuguese in 1450, just in time for my novel. It was fast, could tack against the wind, and allowed the Spice Trade to flourish.

I know nothing about ships or sailing (although I watched the entirety of “Black Sails,” which I wholeheartedly recommend.) You just need to get through the gratuitous smut of the first few episodes and let the characters settle. I might watch it again. It takes place a little later than my books, but the basic sailing things are there. Avast mates!

I started writing book five three days ago. Here is a partial list of my look-up history:

Saint who walled herself in on purpose (an anchorite)

Vlad the Impaler

How did letters travel without messengers?

Were messenger birds used in Medieval Times (sources say mostly yes)

Can ships carry a trebuchet (which is by far my favorite Medieval weapon)

Carrack Ships (too big, I went with the smaller Caravel)

Where did sailors sleep on the ship?

How did caravels steer (hint, not a wheel)

Best dates to curse someone

Poisons made from natural things

Can drinking blood prolong life (jury is out)

Various iterations of “Beauty and the Beast” (the retelling I am using for this book)

Medieval healing and surgery

What do nuns eat in Medieval times (mostly vegetarian)

Could Medieval nuns marry (yes)

Legends of the Three Fates

Legends of Sirens and Mermaids

What was Chania harbor like in medieval times

The Spice Route–Land and Sea

As you can tell, lots of exciting things to write about in this next one. It’s mostly outlined, as I’ve known for quite some time where this one was headed and how things end up. For my loose ends, I have 2-3 more novellas I’ll pack into a single collection of a book, and then a duology with my wonderful characters Aisha and Malik in the spring of next year.

So, come on and visit the Darkwood with me. You’ll be glad you did! You can find all the books on Amazon, in both paperback and ebook, and I am in KU as well. Go here to check out the 5-star series–> https://www.amazon.com/Stacey-Upton-Bracey/e/B07NZDGRPJ

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.

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.