Flexing Creativity: Leveraging the talents of those around you

As some of my loyal readers may know, my long-time friend and partner-in-creativity-crime, Gayle, and I have moved forward after five years on our publishing project, Parisian Phoenix.

Our initial launch will feature my Fashion and Fiends chick lit style horror novels. The first three novels are part of the debut. Gayle is the graphic designer in charge of all things visual whereas I handle the words.

We have ordered the ISBNs and barcodes. I have filed for copyrights. We have begun research on various publishing platforms. Gayle has drafts of all the text.

We needed to get an updated headshot for my author photo. Coincidentally, my good friend Joan is starting a photography portrait class. So I asked her to take my headshot and she asked me if she could use the residents of my menagerie as subjects.

Working together with other local artists generates a sense of community that can be a lot of fun.

These are two of my many favorites that Joan took before the start of her class, traditional and non-traditional compositions:

To see more about Joan and her photography adventures, visit her web site: Joan’s Portfolio.

Lost in a book

Yesterday, the teenagers spent time out of the house— which meant after chores I had some free time. Especially since teenager #1 took her dog.

I sent manuscript #1 of my old Fashion and Fiends series (Manipulations) and sent it to my friend Gayle for design. I last shopped these books to agents and publishers five years ago. At this point, I want my ideas and words recorded and preserved.

I decided to sit down with a slice of coconut cake (from Tic Toc Diner) at Rosie the new MacBook Air.

I wanted to read the second book of the series, Courting Apparitions. I couldn’t put it down. Gayle found it very amusing how much of my own story I had forgotten. But that is the point of putting a story away for a long time. To judge it with new eyes.

I read all 90,000 words— in six hours.

And for the second time this week set a meal on fire. Which, since it was salmon, actually gave it a nice crisp.

One of the main characters of the series, fictional fashion designer Étienne d’Amille, turns 62 this week. In the series, he is 43 and his significant other, investment banker Basilie, is 45. I am currently 45. And Basilie and her sisters represent some of the strongest women I know, so great homage to Women’s History Month.

The series is a feminine version of horror fiction, or a darkly intense psychological version of chick lit. Manipulations focuses on a supermodel who has uncontrollable water magic, which leads to her fashion world success and gives her healing powers, but also attracts supernatural forces.

Because of the industry and her own past, no one sees the danger of her body image issues and lack of self-esteem instead only seeing her as “the girl in the pictures” which allows her to fall into otherworldly domestic violence.

Courting Apparitions is a ghost story. The characters involved have to cope with their own emotions and relationships as a ghost, and the witches who want its power, haunt them. It’s as much a story about recovering from depression and reconnecting/forgiving loved ones as it is about the supernatural.

Author Jonathan Maberry once told me that if I wrote my stories as paranormal romance, or pitched them as such, I would find success. But as funny and poignant and incredibly sexy these stories are, the romance has a gritty reality to it that I can’t tone down.

Gayle always said I like to torture my characters, but I really just want them to overcome terrible things so I can bring out there strength and admire them. They become my heroes in addition to the heroes of their own stories.

Doolittle, the new Mac, a small fire and more life at the Bizzy

I don’t know what’s the better feeling— taking off your socks and shoes after being on your feet all night or removing your bra.

I’m in pain tonight, numerically probably only a six, but the discomfort is debilitating. That does quite make sense to me. I’ve hurt more but felt less uncomfortable.

It’s almost 1 a.m. My S1 joint has been giving me trouble all night so all of those muscles are on fire. I poured the last of the Pink Whitney vodka as I ponder my other aches and pains—my right knee, a pulsing pain in the ankle I broke six years ago. The angle I am sitting at right now hurts. But Fog is curled up against me and I don’t want to move.

But I did walk the dog. That felt good. Stretching all those sore parts.

The dog— her name is Freja but Teenager #1 wants to change in to Bean. I suggested F. Bean Barker. She’s doing well. Went to the bathroom outside for us today and less accidents in the house.

Speaking of accidents, I packed up the homemade ham broth and kept pouring long after the container was full. That made a mess.

Then I tried to fry some eggs and started a small grease fire. I extinguished it, but not before teen #1 yelled, “Mom? Is everything okay? I just saw flames everywhere.”

But back to the Bizzy Hizzy at Stitch Fix. I had a “talk back” meeting with some of my leaders. Again, explaining that QC hurts. Talk of doing 4 hours in QC and 4 hours in pick when they roll out split work centers.

And they want me to hit 130 QC fixes. That’s 3 minutes per fix. Tonight, between meetings and pain I only did 91. I did 104 last night. That is 3.63 minutes per fix. Tonight I ended around 3.8.

In better news, my MacBook Air came. Tomorrow I hopefully can do my local taxes (state and federal are done and filed) and work on Finding Hooyo, the Romance/War/Medical novel I would like to be the second book published by Parisian Phoenix Publishing. Manipulations, the first novel for our little imprint and the first novel of the paranormal/romance/chick lit Fashion and Fiends series should be in design now.

If you want to see me unbox the new Mac, the video is here: Unboxing

Meeting the metric and other full moon ruminations

Today started with a groggy Angel that for the second day in a row got less than six hours sleep. I headed off to my amazing chiropractor, Nicole Jensen, to report that despite the grueling work week somehow I was not in pain.

And she indeed found that my body was moving well and that my main issue was stiffness in my mid-to-upper spine consistent with all the snow shoveling needed in the last few weeks. She also asked about my neck as I store all my stress in my neck and shoulders.

After getting a great adjustment and convincing a staff member there that her mother did not want a large bird that talks, I came home and unsuccessfully tried to nap. One of my favorite Sarah’s convinced me to get another Dunkin Cold Foam Cold Brew which I review in this YouTube video: Vanilla Cold Brew with Cold Foam

I texted her to thank her for the advice as it was dead on. And somehow I QCed 105– yes one hundred and five— fixes which is more than the required metric of 104. I finally did it. A mere three-plus hours before the full moon.

It was a successful night at the Stitch Fix Bizzy Hizzy.

Teenager #1 waited up as a bonding exercise before the full moon. Today in addition to chores and school work, she replaced the screen in her bedroom window and embroidered her face masks for work.

Here are some other contemplations and updates at 2:15 a.m.:

  • I am itching to write fiction again. My friend Gayle has agreed to be my book designer should I decide to publish my books. Gayle and I once had the dream of our own publishing imprint, Parisian Phoenix Publishing.
  • My mortgage refinance is scheduled to close next Saturday. The refi will save me $300 a month, pay off my car, and leave me with several thousand extra dollars. I am dropping from 3.25 to 2.85% interest and adding five years into my mortgage. But it will also drop my actual mortgage to be less than the current 50% of my net pay. My hope is that when things “look better,” I can pay down the principal.
  • So the extra money— do I:
  1. Buy myself a computer and put the rest in savings. It’s been about 3 years since I had a computer and I’m an Apple girl so it’s an investment. Adding the rest to savings would give me about 5-6 months income in the bank as an emergency fund.
  2. Put it all in savings to see what happens in the economy next.
  3. Use it to buy the computer and pay teenager #1’s car insurance should she pass her exam March 9. The bill will be $1500 for 6 months. Mine is $488.
  4. Use it and other savings I have to pay down $5,000 on the new loan’s principal.
  5. Plan a vacation— not going to happen.

And here is today’s kitten picture:

Book review: William Prystauk’s Bloodletting

It has felt like ages that I’ve wanted to read William Prystauk’s Bloodletting—  so I purchased this new edition with great anticipation.

The book description and cover make it quite apparent that Bloodletting merges genres and has its own style: part mystery, part love story, quite erotic, yet all romantic. The character of Denny Bowie and his viewpoint present a man who won’t compromise who he is, brimming with intelligence, counter-culturalism, passion and curiosity. 

Denny’s lifestyle won’t appeal to everyone and his fantasies and desires may make some readers squeamish. In the end, Denny merely wants to find the person(s) who accepts him and loves him for who he is. 

The mystery combines murder, sex and greed. Prystauk artfully and ingeniously uses multiple techniques to weave a first-person narrative that includes information and scenes that Denny did not witness.

The characters throughout the story never fall flat. Every one of them has a flaw or a trait that builds them as real people and not the stereotypes they could be because of their involvement in the BDSM community. 

By the end of the book, I had to know the answer to the mystery and even once that was revealed there was still the emotional denouement of what would happen between Denny and his love interest(s).

Dime Show Review has my ten word story live

Last weekend, I got the news that Dime Show Review will publish my ten word story, “Stoicism.”

While still working in the newsroom, I earned the reputation of “word count goddess” so I thought a ten-word story was a challenge I could enjoy.

It’s now live, so check out Dime Show Review.

https://www.dimeshowreview.com/stoicism-by-angel-ackerman/https://www.dimeshowreview.com/stoicism-by-angel-ackerman/

Birthday Breakfast for the Imaginary

In my free time, I write fiction. My husband says it makes me an easier person with whom to live.

My writing focuses on a Parisian high fashion house inclined to supernatural events. The creative director is Étienne d’Amille and he’s been in my life for decades.

So, he’s my best ever imaginary friend.

He was born during the interwar era in France– March 14, 1959. Every year I try to mark his birthday in some way. When he turned 50, I took a group of my friends (the ones who “knew” him, i.e. read about him) out for dinner and margaritas.

Many of my celebrations are quiet meals at home, where we often discuss what we’d get him for a present or what he might be doing now. 

This year, I made steak au poivre.

For breakfast.

A day late.



I had intended a lovely dinner, perhaps even by candlelight, for this charming imaginary Frenchman whose memories I confuse as legitimately my own. Then I agreed to work for a colleague in the evening and my mom visited taking my daughter away. (She would have been extremely disappointed if we ate the steaks without her.) To further complicate matters, my husband and I used the early afternoon for other activities (or more accurately, one adult activity) that I’m sure Étienne would have also enjoyed.

This particular version of steak au poivre has its own “comedy of errors” moments but let me say, it might have been my best ever. After college, I became a vegetarian. This lasted eight years primarily for two reasons: 1. I don’t approve of modern factory farming and 2. I hate touching meat. Étienne, though, as a Frenchman and a divorcé, likes to cook so I got over my discomfort of dealing with meat “for him.”

Étienne’s Belated Steak Au Poivre

  • 4 small chuck tender steaks, angus beef (I got mine on markdown at Target)
  • black peppercorns
  • Himalayan pink salt
  • half a stick of butter, cut into four equal pieces of on tablespoon each
  • garlic powder (should be shallots but I didn’t have them. I often substitute fresh chives but didn’t have them either)
  • 1/2 cup brandy (I’m a liar. I didn’t have brandy. I had ginger brandy and spices rum, so I mixed them. It worked.)
  •  3/4 cup heavy cream (I’m lying again. I didn’t have cream, so I used half and half)

The process 

(I put photos on Instagram: angelackerman.)

With a heavy-bottomed skillet (mine, of course, is Le Creuset), smash peppercorns. I couldn’t find my grinder, which had my peppercorns in it. I did find a small container of peppercorns and salt that had exploded from the grinder at some point.

Next, pat steaks dry and smash them with a skillet too. Cooking can be great as a form of anger management. I bet Thug Kitchen would agree.

Sprinkle both sides of the steaks with salt and press the peppercorns into the meat. Cook them to desired doneness and place in a warm oven.

Now, the cream sauce.

Take half the butter and cook your shallots or chives or whatever. I added about two teaspoons garlic powder. When it’s appropriately incorporated pour in the alcohol. When that starts to bubble, add the cream and slowly bring it to a boil. Let it slowly thicken, then add remaining butter. When it melts and blends into the sauce and you just can’t take it anymore, smother those steaks and eat!



Good doesn’t matter

Like any human, I have good days and bad. This weekend was hard for me. Blame hormones. A sick cat. Family members who don’t see eye to eye with me. Whatever you like. Reality is… Such is life.

I have been focusing a lot of time and energy on diet and exercise recently, but today (and yesterday) I couldn’t bring myself to lift my weights or go for a walk. Instead, I went to Dunkin Donuts. Had a 250+ calorie iced coffee and not one but two donuts. Some people get drunk, I prefer a sugar high. It didn’t work.

So I talked to some friends. Thanks to them, I felt more myself. My family challenged me to the first day’s training session from the app “Couch to 5K” (C25K). We did it. As a family. Now I can eat something small for dinner and not feel badly.

Looking over some of my notes from today I am reminded once again that the things that make you feel accomplished are those achievements outside your comfort zone: going for a run when you don’t think you have the physical strength, tap dancing when you’re really awful at it…

Or for me, even fashion illustration. And sharing it with the world. My fiction manuscripts are set in the high fashion world (and oddly enough, Francophone Africa). I have always designed dresses and clothes for the characters.

I am not an artist. But, while feeling poorly today, I designed the dress in the photograph. It’s worn by a French woman who marries a half-French, half Issa-Somali Muslim man from Djibouti. She’s a trouble maker who lost her left leg (and some other body parts) to an IED in Afghanistan.

Doughnuts might not be good for me. I might not draw well. I must look like an idiot running around my local park. But today, these things soothed me.IMG_1262.JPG

Review: The Art of Falling

I have waited for Kathryn Craft’s The Art of Falling for almost a decade. I have watched her score rejection after rejection, keep trying, keep editing and keep pitching. Kathryn is the reason I took on a leadership role in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group and she’s also a model of diplomacy and character that I emulate.

Plus, I think we have similar standards for our writing.

So I have patiently waited for Sourcebooks to release her first novel, represented by Katie Shea of the Donald Maass agency.

My husband and daughter attended her Lehigh Valley Launch Party at Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pa. I was home with a cold. But they brought me the book! Signed, pristine and new… And I read it in two sittings.

It was a lighter and easier read than I expected. I’m not sure I ever liked the protagonist/heroine Penelope Sparrow but I felt she was real, her actions, situations and reactions true to what a woman in her place would do. It wasn’t as dynamic as I expected. Changes weren’t huge and scenes weren’t big, but this is also part of the reality.

The connection Kathryn explores between body image and self-esteem is an important one to me. I write about the high fashion industry and I have a supermodel character (Adelaide) slightly younger than Penelope Sparrow who also struggles with these body issues. Although I must say, I applaud Penelope Sparrow for overcoming hers. My character doesn’t fare so well.

I adore Kathryn’s use of secondary characters and how she weaves them into her story to the point where they become inextricable. That, to me, is the gauge of a well-crafted story. Nothing extra or just there.

Oh, and did I mention, the cover is breathtaking?

20140203-092511.jpg

This manuscript made possible by a loving husband

IMG_8727

On Friday, one of my college acquaintances, now an editor of a mystery imprint at a small press (and one I love!), posted a call for manuscripts for the Quirk Books “Looking for Love” contest. The postmark deadline of the contest is today. And despite an overly busy schedule I thought, what the heck I’ll submit.

Quirk Books is a small press that for the last ten years has published, well, quirky books. I’ll refer to their web site to summarize their company: “Quirk Books is an independent book publisher based in Philadelphia. Founded in 2002, Quirk Books publishes 25 strikingly unconventional books every year. Our bestsellers include the pop culture phenomenons Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. We also publish award-winning cookbooks, craft books, children’s books, and nonfiction on a wide range of subjects. Learn more about us and explore our books here on QuirkBooks.com.”

I’ve known that my paranormal fiction set in the high fashion industry doesn’t quite fit the genre norms for paranormal romance, chick lit or women’s fiction. I also know that if Quirk is looking for love, I got love.

I use the supernatural in my fiction to explore what makes a healthy relationship. The supernatural love interest in my manuscript turns out to be a bully, and the ingenue’s experience mirrors that of a domestic violence victim. Meanwhile, the divorced guy… Perhaps this would be a good place to insert the 250-word synopsis I prepared for Quirk.

Weird stuff happens to Adelaide Pitney, house model at couturier Chez d’Amille. It always has. When she meets Galen Sorbach, an aspiring photographer, she thinks he’s cute.

For once, she hopes to have a normal boyfriend. 

Galen recognizes Adelaide for her latent healing powers, magick she’s accidentally used in large quantities. As a fire mage, Galen never mastered water magick so he wants Adelaide’s power to gain immortality.

Galen’s sister Kait has spent 400 years as elemental water guardian. She has been assigned to subdue Adelaide’s magick, but Kait delays. Adelaide is the last mortal from Kait’s family line with healing powers. Kait’s reluctance allows Galen to manipulate Adelaide into believing her magick presents a danger.

 The incident that attracted the attention of the guardians involved Étienne d’Amilles’s ex-wife, Basilie. Adelaide healed Basilie and made it possible for her to conceive Étienne’s child. 

Magick explains so much in Adelaide’s life, like how she seduced Étienne a decade earlier and he never realized it was her. Galen shares this secret, threatening the peace between Étienne and his pregnant ex-wife. The fall-out leads to a car accident that Étienne survives because of Adelaide’s help. 

 These five people– a 400-year-old Irish witch, her adopted brother, the American supermodel, a French fashion designer, and his rich ex-wife– find their lives intertwined as they explore just how far they will go for love and just how much they can forgive. 

So I struggled with this synopsis as only a writer can struggle, and the only day I had to print the manuscript was Sunday. Then I got called into work early.  And my husband, he volunteered to print it for me. I had one manuscript box left.

And yesterday, it went into the mail. It almost didn’t since the money I gave my husband to mail it has somehow disappeared.