On Keeping Resolutions and Those Trader Joes Bagged Salads

We are only a few days into 2023, and it feels like Christmas was a hundred years ago. My husband and I took down the tree two days after Christmas and packed everything back into storage. We were both ready to start a new year.

I mentioned before that I’ve decided on a couple of big goals for this year. One is to get my pen name (Stacey Christine) up and moving with a fun sweet sports romance trilogy. I took a nice long break after keeping my promise and getting all of the Tales of Darkwood books published in a year. Here’s the latest one, it clocked in at 107,000 words. I am very proud of it.

I started back writing on January 1st, and now ten days later, I’m nearly done with the set-up prequel, so if any of you are romance readers, let me know. I’ll need 2-3 beta readers checking my work for gaps in the story, or if something doesn’t work next week. The novella will be around 30k words, or 120 pages. I’ll also be starting a newsletter specifically for Romance next month, so let me know if you’d like to get on it. I’ll have deals for Romance books in it, a link to get this first novella, and good recommendations along with snippets from the trilogy as it progresses. Will Megs fall in love with Zach the buff triathlete, or with Jeb, her high school sweetheart, who she hasn’t spoken to in ten years because of a terrible mistake?

I have to say writing a contemporary romance is… easier than writing the dark fantasy. Mostly because I can say someone pulls up to a stoplight, and you all know what I’m talking about. As opposed to say, the rabbit holes I’d disappear down when mentioning something as innocent as a bakery in a medieval town. In order to describe it properly, so you’d feel that you were there, and wanting to be as historically accurate as possible, I’d find myself googling what the interior of a 1450s bakery really looked like, and how the oven worked, what sort of tools they used, how long did it take the bread to bake and were the ovens inside or outside, and if they sold the things on the premises, or did they have delivery boys, and did they keep their own goats and chickens or were those things purchased… you see how it can get a bit more… involved.

The other reason I’m finding the words flowing easily is that a Romance genre by definition must end happily, so it becomes rather fun to write. I mean… every one of the five books in the Darkwood series ends on a “happily for now” note. But it is medieval times, and the source material is Grimms, so really, how happy could it be?

I will say my Darkwood characters, Gert in particular, are SCREAMING at me about this. Gert wants her own story, and the quicker the better. She’s a pill, that one. And I will get back to the Darkwood after I finish the trilogy of Sweet Sports Romance. The Darkwood turned out to be a place rich with stories. I plan on twisting The Three Little Pigs, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Let me cut you off as you shake a finger at me and say that those are NOT Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Yes, I am aware that Little Mermaid is a Hans Christian Andersen story, and that Aladdin comes from a far older, really wild Middle Eastern tale. In fact, I just learned by reading a book for book club that it was actually the British explorer Sir Richard Burton who translated the Arabian Nights into English. As a person, Burton left much (much!) to be desired, and he never found the source of the Nile, but he did know 29 languages, and a did a great job in bringing us the Arabian Nights. He also brought us the Kama Sutra in case that’s more to your taste.

My other big goal is going into training for a half Ironman. Which, you know, involves running, which I haven’t done in a long time (roughly 30 years) and biking, which I did for a brief time about twelve years ago. In other words, yours truly has been doing things outside her comfort zone. I did a five-mile walk/run today. It went okay. I will maintain high hopes while I ignore my disgruntled feet.

I’ve also been watching what I eat now that we’ve started a new year. It is much easier to run if you weigh less, just saying. I have to put a plug in for Trader Joes’s bagged salads. There are a couple that I’ve been eating for a long time, but two new ones have recently cropped up and I cannot get enough of them. The first is the Dill-icious one, which, I kid you not, is a riff on Dill Pickles, and has potato chips for the crunch in it. I love a good dill pickle, and when my son recommended it, I had to give it a try. High marks. The other one is even better, the Elote Chopped salad. It is SO GOOD. It has little cornbread crumbles, and a little bit of Cotija cheese to go with all the chopped veggies and the tasty dressing.

I am a bit fussed about how much plastic they use to package up these salads but grab them when you can. My understanding is that they are a seasonal item.

How are your resolutions going? Let me know in the comments and let me know if you’d be willing to be a Beta reader for my initial foray into Sweet Sports Romance. I’ll be choosing those folks by the end of this week.

On Free Books and Poison

First off, I’m thrilled to let you know that my YA dark fantasy adventure novella is featured in a wonderful collection of New Fantasy and Sci-Fi books—all of them are FREE through the end of January. Pick any/all you wish to download in any format. You can also enter to win an additional 52 books as well. You are signing up for people’s email lists when you do so, but you can unsubscribe at any time. I’ve snagged several for myself. Click here for a wonderful choice of free books: https://books.bookfunnel.com/alwaysfantasy/izy7xzaivd

It’s a nice validation, and I’m thrilled. Writing is by definition a solitary act unless you’re in the writer’s room on a television show. Other than that, it’s just you, yourself, and you. I don’t know about your brain, but mine has a few dark corners and downright bad neighborhoods. It’s not good to walk them alone… you may have encountered this on nights when you can’t sleep. It’s worse when you’re awake and on your third cup of coffee and you know what you want to say but are utterly unable to put a sentence together that isn’t utter shite. That’s when my inner mean girl pops out with a bludgeon and her judge-y voice. I have to take that voice and shove it… back down.

Have I mentioned I love writing?

Most of the time.

My current series takes place in 15th century medieval Europe. For a handy reference, that’s about 100 years after the black plague decimated the population. King Edward the IV had scandalized everyone by marrying a commoner. That nasty old murderer Richard the III reigned in this time frame, too. It’s an in-between sort of space where really anything could happen as civilization clawed its way towards the Renaissance. My books will head towards Constantinople and Damascus and the Spice Islands in the series soon, but for now, I’ve been learning about the Black Forest area of Germany (Grimm’s Fairy Tales land) and the port city of Marseille.

I’ve also been researching the foods people ate, what they drank, and a myriad of ways to kill people using poison. Yeah. Don’t cross me. Kidding. I wonder what the FBI would make of my look-up history. There should be a disclaimer for writers. I can only guess what the google history of folks who write apocalyptic fiction looks like. Or people who write murder mysteries, cozy or otherwise. You really have to watch out for them.

From my research, there are two things I’d like to share with you. The first is that in Europe at that time they didn’t have potatoes. Can you imagine? The dark ages would have been much easier to endure with potatoes on the menu. Of course, I learned this fact after my first book was mostly finished and had to go back and remove all the instances I’d mentioned potatoes being eaten or stored. I subbed in turnips instead, but you and I both know that turnips are a poor substitute for a nice carb-heavy potato.

In researching the best way to kill people using agrarian methods, I’ve come to understand that it’s remarkable that any of our great-great-great etc. grandparents lived to sire progeny at all. There were just so many things back then that could kill you aside from the usual pestilence, war, or wild animal.

Rhubarb (I’ve talked about this in a former post about Rhubarb Pie), and a lot of mushrooms, especially the red and white ones that look like fairies should sit on them are tops in “natural” poisons. Oleander (there are several horror stories of scouts using the sticks to cook hotdogs over fires and the whole lot of them dying, but I don’t know if those were true or just cautionary), Water Hemlock, Belladonna/Nightshade, Yew trees, Foxglove, Castor beans, Rhododendron, Jimson Weed, Rosary Pea, Lily of the Valley… I could go on. My favorite deadly plant that I couldn’t use in my stories is a tree that grows in tropical places like Florida called the Manchineel. That one is so bad it’s called the Tree of Death. Every bit is poisonous. You can’t even stand under them when it’s raining, as the dripping water can transfer toxins onto your skin, causing it to bubble and blister. Helpful locals will paint a bright red band around it warning you off… unless, of course, they want to kill you.

On the flip side, I’ve learned a few tasty recipes for alcoholic beverages, as no one really trusted the water in the cities, and rightly so, as the water system was also the sewage system. Ale and beer were their equivalent of Gatorade. Mead was popular with anyone who kept bees. It’s fermented honey, high in alcohol and sweet. You can try that one at a Ren Fair.

Mulsum is spiced honey wine and sounds absolutely delicious. It’s considered to be the oldest alcoholic drink in the world. I know it’s January, and we’ve all given up such things for at least three more weeks, but here’s a recipe for it from the website of http://www.KitchenLoveStories.com

3 cups lukewarm water

1 cup red wine (you can sub in non-alcoholic wine if you’re off booze)

1 cinnamon sitck

1 whole nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

4 Tbsp honey

Slice of orange or lemon in each glass.

Put everything together, mix it up, and put in the fridge for a day. Reheat it if it’s wintertime, don’t if it’s hot out. Remove the spices and serve. This recipe makes four servings, or one if you’re in despair.

On Pets and People

As we reach the turn of one year into another, leaving behind the eating season, I’m reviewing 2021. While the year has had its share of ups and downs, midway through it, I hit some serious choppy water and stopped writing my weekly blog. There were a couple of reasons. Three, really. The first two I’ll get to in a moment, the third is a happier one, so we can start there.

Books; were my reliable friends during an often lonely childhood. When I was young, my favorite place was the library. I started with Nancy Drew and crew and The Phantom Tollbooth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, then moved on to longer series like Lord of the Rings, and The Dark is Rising. Our weekly Saturday morning jaunt to the Wichita Public Library was a highlight of my week. Back then, I’d check out six or seven books per week. My pace has slowed, but I still go through two or three books a week in a broad range of genres.

All of which is warmup to say; I’ve always admired writers and wanted to be one since I was a wee tot. The idea of being a “real writer” was too intimidating, though. I wrote plays and screenplays instead, to some degree of success, while I kept books in their safe place, competently completed by others. Perhaps a bit of complacence there, but mostly I just didn’t believe I could.

That status held until The Fire, the thing that consumed all of our material possessions as well as a good degree of self-confidence as the maraschino topper. The Fire changed everything, as disasters are inclined to do. The only way I was able to cope with the enormity of it was to fight through my fear, write a non-fiction book about our stumbling recovery from that disaster, and publish it. People liked it and gave it great reviews. I gave away half of the profits to animal shelters and rescues. That felt pretty good, and I proved to myself that I could indeed, write a decent book.


I still yearned to write books like the ones I loved as a kid. Fiction books. Magic and Monsters and Other Realms. So just before my latest big birthday (not a coincidence) I took a class, read books about writing by authors I admire, (Thank you @emilycollin, @neilgaiman, @danbrown, @annelamott, and @stephenking) joined a fabulous community of writers online (looking at you, my 20booksto50k friends), and then dove in. Sink or swim.

Eight months into the process of writing “real” books, I’m hopeful that being a “real” writer is going to become my rousing third act. Even though it scares the pants off me some days. It’s a harder road than I expected. The process has involved gnashing of teeth and crying jags. Now I know why babies who are learning to walk and chew solid food cry a lot.

Since May of this year, I’ve written two and a half dark fantasy/twisted fairytale/adventure YA books, two flash fiction pieces that got short listed in a contest, and a tie-in dark fantasy novella that is available right now for free, it’s linked below. If you read it and like it, you’ll like the Darkwood series I’m writing. The learning curve came with the need to find an illustrator and a proofreader and Beta readers, purchase editing and formatting software and learn how to use them, create an author newsletter, update my website, code an onboarding sequence for said newsletter, purchase ISBN numbers from Bowker, and register and launch my own publishing company, EWP Publications. I copyrighted the crap out of everything.

So, my blog went to the wayside for a bit as I waded through all the above. It took up a lot of bandwidth. That was reason number three for the absence of a weekly blog. A nice reason, all told. Except for the crying and gnashing of teeth bits.

The real reason I stopped writing this blog was the loss of two beautiful souls. They were not the only loved ones that passed this year, but they were the two that cut deepest for me. Sally Nemeth and our dog Keisha are my reasons one and two. Both gone in July. It’s taken me this long to write about their passing. I thought about writing this very blog multiple times, then just had to put it to the side as being too painful to the touch. There are no right timeframes for grieving. Maybe it never really stops. Maybe we just grow around it, like an oyster does with grain of sand creating a pearl, or a tree with an irritation, generating more wood around the weak spot.

I find my pearl to be misshapen and my extra wood ungainly. The journey is accepting both as being just the way it is. Being patient as I grew my wood and made my pearl. Now at the end of the year, I feel ready to share what they meant to me.

Sally was a couple of years ahead of me in college. She was part of the in-crowd, cool theatre kids. I was perpetually cool-kid group adjacent. Sally was always friendly, and I admired her immensely, especially as a playwright. Facebook brought us back together, and I grew to like Sally even more as I saw how she lived her life. We had a lot of similarities. Both swimmers, writers, dog lovers, teachers, gardeners. Just like in college, she operated at higher levels than me. Sally was an award-winning writer, avid dog-rescuer, prolific mask sewer, searing political activist, Japanese drummer, and went swimming with whale sharks. She planted milkweed for monarchs and raised nice hens.

Sally was sick for quite a while. Nonetheless, she kept living her life in a beautiful, out-loud sort of way. And then she was gone. I’d hoped to go swim with her and the whale sharks. I’ll still go on that adventure one day, and I’ll think of Sally the whole time. I’ll also plant milkweed, rescue animals, and be politically active. Not doing the drumming though, I’m not musical that way. Not the hens either. I can only hope that someday my writing is as good as Sally’s.

I’m so glad Sally contributed to my first book “On Rescue Dogs.” It makes it even more special to me.

Keisha, our beloved rescue dog, was with us for many years. She famously rescued us from The Fire. She made us laugh and go on long walks every single day until the last weeks of her life. She had a wonderful growling laugh and would play fetch for hours at a time. Keisha showed us (as all dogs do) what unconditional love looks like. I still miss her every time I walk in our front door. Or when I see squirrels, which were in Keisha’s opinion, the worst things ever to inhabit the earth.

We were there at the end for her. Our whole family crowded into the vet’s tiny room. We gave her whipped cream, her favorite. Told her we loved her and petted her and held her to that very last minute. So she wouldn’t be scared and alone. I miss my dog.

It’s true, you know. They rescue us.

I believe both Sally and Keisha are happy and pain-free now. Joyous. It’s just taking me a while to get to that point myself. It takes a long time to grow a pearl, to overcome a wound. And yet, we do.

Half of all proceeds from your purchase of “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything” goes to Rescues and animal shelters. You can get a copy here: https://read.amazon.com/kp/embed?asin=B07P1GHW7L&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_TDTTAA0BN61KQX2N415P

Grab your free copy of my dark fantasy adventure YA novella “Witch of Darkwood” and sign up for my 1x a month newsletter, I offer great tips and ways to get more free books: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/cnwtflchg3