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 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.