Erotic Romance Author

NEW RELEASE! Order "Caveman Creek 4: Hometown Spirits" - Now At Siren Publishing!

North of Highway 8

Where is "Up North" Wisconsin?

Ya hey dere! Thanks for popping in. I’m Pia Manning and I write erotic romances, but you knew that. I also dabble in horror - you can read some of those stories in the Just for Fun section.

I live up north in the great state of Wisconsin. What makes Wisconsin great? Life here is filled with cheese curds, beer, brats, the Packers, Friday night fish fries, miles of trails and thousands of lakes. Opinions differ as to where ‘up north’ really begins. For some, ‘up north’ starts past Madison or the Dells. For others, it’s a state of mind. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel polled their readers, and North of HWY 8 was the clear winner.

Those of us who live North of 8 are considered an odd bunch by people who don’t know us. There might be some truth to the stories told by campfire light -there often is a kernel of truth in a legend. So, I thought we might explore life North of HWY 8 together. I’ll share the good, the bad and the ridiculous. I hope you enjoy the journey!

The Opener

Nothing kills a hunting trip, literally, like falling out of your stand and breaking your neck ...

by Pia Manning

Author Pia Manning's Real Life short story "The Opener", deer in a forest imageNovember means Thanksgiving for most, a gateway to Christmas for some. But here in Wisconsin, November is deer hunting season. The anticipation builds for weeks. Big ‘Welcome Hunters’ banners, stained and faded from years of use, stretch across the front of every bar and convenience store. Neon orange overalls, coats and hats flap in the cold autumn winds for days.

Deer camp preparations shift into overdrive. Tree stands and safety straps undergo rigorous inspections. Nothing kills a hunting trip, literally, like falling out of your stand and breaking your neck. Gunshots echo off the rocky bluffs as venison loving hopefuls sight in their rifles.

When we moved to Wisconsin some twenty years ago, we bought an 85-acre parcel in a part of the state known as a deer hunting mecca. My spousal unit, along with our son were eager to try their hand. 

Enter Ben, his wife Jenna and their son Rick. Their property adjoined ours, and like good neighbors they stopped by to introduce themselves. They described themselves as avid hunters. Why even Jenna, blind in one eye, hunted with a .357 magnum. Over the next three hours we learned about everything deer: their feeding habits, rutting practices, trails, home butchering, dehydrators, jerky guns (not to be confused with real guns, no, no). Are your eyes glazing over? Mine did. We were new in the community, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I smiled and nodded like a dashboard bobblehead speeding down a gravel road.

Besides, they really were nice folks who didn’t have to bother with us. Rick offered to drop off some orange hunting duds he no longer used. Jenna promised to teach me how to make venison jerky and sausage sticks. Well, alrighty! The guys left to tour our farm and determine the best shooting sites. By the time they’d finished, my husband had compiled a very long list of crap to buy.

That first year, I hosted the opening-morning-breakfast. (Yes, it’s a thang.) Sending the intrepid hunters out into the cold with stomachs full of eggs, pancakes, bacon and coffee was the absolute least I could do. Never mind that we ate at 3:30 in the am.

And so began a successful hunting partnership. For several years thereafter, we gathered just before the season to check gear, talk about which way the deer were moving and share new ways to prepare venison. Of course, I made opening morning breakfast for everyone.

Then Ben suffered a stroke. As a recovering stroke victim, he held a special deer license that allowed him to hunt from his car. Boulders lay scattered over his land, with oak and pines splashed across much that remained. Sheered and cracked granite topped the surrounding bluffs. This left very little land accessible to Ben via his truck. He called and asked if he could hunt on our land. How could we say no?

I’d just wrapped my hands around a hot cup of coffee on that particular opening morning when the phone rang. It was Jenna calling from her tree. “You have to find him!” she screamed in my ear. “He can’t get out!”

Jenna ranted on while I tried to figure out what had her so upset. When she stopped to breathe, I jumped on in. “Something’s happened to Ben?” I started with the obvious.

“I don’t know,” she sniffled.

Well hell, I thought he was dying.

“I can’t see him. We’re trying to get down off the bluff, but I don’t know where he’s at.”

“How do you know something’s wrong?” I asked trying to suck down more coffee without slurping in her ear. “He’s up in the field, right?”

“No, he called and said he got himself stuck. He didn’t see any deer in the field, so he went somewhere else.”

“He isn’t here at the house. Did he go back to your field access?” I closed my eyes hoping he’d given up or had fallen asleep in his car. We only had one tillable field. Boulders, trees and swamps covered the remainder of our property too. There wasn’t a ‘somewhere else’ accessible by truck.

“No, Rick can see his own Jeep, but not Ben’s truck. Ouch! Damn it! I hate these sticker brambles!”

“All right Jenna. I’ll go look and let you know if I find him. I’ll call you when I know something.”

Knowing I risked divorce and public shunning, I drove out to our field. The truck thumped, bumped and rattled across the rows of corn stubble. Reaching the middle of the field, I parked and blared the horn. It didn’t take long before my irate spouse clambered out of his ‘best spot’ and made his way toward me.

“What??!” he hissed, exasperated.

Making sure I kept the truck between me and my pissed off hunting husband, I explained. Sighing, looking like he’d lost his last friend, he went in search of Ben. And he found him, stuck in the swamp. Ben wanted out of his truck, and his truck out of the muck.

By now, we’d attracted a crowd. Horns blaring four minutes after sunrise on opening day will do that. This was a good thing cuz Ben was not light, and owing to the stickiness of the muck and all, it took a crowd to free him. The men managed to haul Ben to his feet. Forming a human chain, and despite the loss of several socks to the mud, they pushed and pulled him to solid ground.

That’s when the sheriff’s deputy pulled up. “Do you want to press charges?” he called to me.

“Cuz Ben got stuck in the mud?” I questioned, confused. “No.”

“I called you Deputy,” Rick appeared at my side, grinning evilly. “I saw them Milwaukee peckerhead nephews of ole man Maurice’s cross their fence line.” Rick pointed at my husband and me.

The Deputy sighed. “Fine. I’ll go talk to ole man Maurice about his nephews. Do you need any help here? Everyone’s ok?”

“Thanks, that’ll do it. Naw, Dad’s fine. He just got stuck in the swamp.”

“How the hell did he not know he was driving into a swamp? Ok, never mind.” The deputy left to apprise the peckerheads that they couldn’t trespass anymore.

That just left the truck. It sat, slanted, with one side buried almost to the footers. No, our truck couldn’t handle that kind of muck either. The neighborhood advisors caucused and reached a consensus. No one wanted in on this one. Ben, adamant about not paying for a tow truck, then called AAA. Yes, a tow truck was available, but no, they would not cover the invoice. They did not pay for tows when the owner deliberately drove his vehicle into a swamp. Ben looked crestfallen- he had to pay for the tow.

By now, every deer within miles knew enough to hunker down and hide until sunset.

Neither Ben or Rick returned to hunt. They both passed away later that year. And Jenna, well she’d only been out ‘hunting’ to keep an eye on Ben. The property and the memories it held brought tears to her eyes rather than a smile to her face. She sold the place and moved on.

We moved on too. Bought a different place north of HWY 8. Our kids grew up and found places of their own. Every now and then I think of Jenna. I hope she’s doing okay. Oh, my husband still hunts. Every opener he climbs into his tree stand and braves the icy breezes of northern Wisconsin in November while he waits for ‘the big one’ to come walking by.

~    ~

Autumn Vegetable Marathon

Whatever the reason, the call to dig in the dirt and plant stuff is both strong and unmistakable.

by Pia Manning

Author Pia Manning's Real Life short story "Autumn Vegetable Marathon", vegetable garden image

Weather north of Hwy 8 is a cruel mistress. Summer, by that I mean the growing season, is spectacular and short. We often see frost in August and I’ve had my face exfoliated by September sleet at my son’s football games. Still, most folks I know maintain vegetable gardens. For some, it’s a link to the past, a remnant of pioneer days when settlers needed to grow their own food or starve. For others, homegrown vegies extend their food budgets.

Whatever the reason, the call to dig in the dirt and plant stuff is both strong and unmistakable. My husband always answers that call with backbreaking labor and great enthusiasm. The land our garden occupies was once a farm field. You’d think that would make the prep work easier, but it hasn’t. He stripped the sod by hand and carted off enough rocks to build a wall. He’s rototilled, weed wacked and fenced. And yet more work remains.

I’m not a gardener. I love the concept, just not the labor. I’m the harvester and preparer. Not that I’m expecting the zombie apocalypse, but here nothing goes to waste. Creating consumables is, I think, my way of honoring my husband’s hard work.

But right about now I’d welcome a hard frost. The garden patch that my spouse carved out of the ground has shifted into overdrive. I’m not ungrateful mind you (except maybe for the kale), but this veggie thing has now morphed into a lot of work.

My kitchen counter is playing host to 70 ears of corn, a dozen shiny eggplants, kale leaves, and a ginormous bowl of tomatoes. I won’t even go there about the zucchini. Leeks, squash and pumpkins are up next. All calling my name ...

I’m not sure why we have a large garden as there’s only two us these days. Things like tomato sauce are not purchased with platinum or your first-born child. Walmart sells Green Giant Nibblets in February too. Sleep well vegans, your lifestyle is safe.

But in keeping with the spirit of things, I’ll keep chopping, peeling and blanching all the while praying for the big one-that kill frost.

Pssst! Anyone have any great zucchini recipes?

~    ~

The Ice Did Sing

The furnace stuttered about 1 am . . .

by Pia Manning

Author Pia Manning's Real Life short story "Autumn Vegetable Marathon", vegetable garden image

I watched the crawler on the nightly weather report and shivered. Didn’t matter that I had long underwear on beneath my jammies and lay snuggled in bed under a blanket and two quilts - my nose, fingers and toes were still cold.

Living in NW Wisconsin – north of HWY 8 – means I’m no stranger to cold weather. One poll I noticed recently ranked Wisconsin fifth in the worst winter weather in the country sweepstakes. Hey! We beat out Alaska! (Hey. Maybe I shouldn’t brag about that.)

Many a morning I’ve climbed into my car when the dash thermometer read in the 20-degree below zero range. Schools remain open, cars run and people go to work. In short, life goes on. This is normal up here.

But this night was different. A polar vortex roared down from Canada dropping our actual outdoor temperature to -38. A lethal wind accompanied the cold, lowering windchills to -52.

The wind howled; our house rocked and boomed as everything contracted and shook in the bitter cold. I swore my hair moved whenever the wind sent drafts ricocheting around the room. The sharp gunshot crackling continued as the temperature fell. One particularly loud pop scared the dog so badly she crawled underneath the covers, whimpering. I whimpered too.

The furnace stuttered about 1 am. I heard the ‘click’ of the thermostat engaging, then the furnace ran for a few moments before shutting off. Click. Run two minutes. Off. This abnormal pattern continued. I flung the covers back and shivered, dreading the upcoming confrontation with the beast in the basement.

Once downstairs, I looked at the furnace. The furnace looked at me. I shut it down, and then flipped the switch and restarted it. I hoped that resetting it meant fixing it. No such luck. My gut clenched and the I-don’t-need-the-pipes-to-freeze, battle continued. Every half hour throughout the night I trudged downstairs and restarted the furnace. That, at least, kept the house in the 55-degree range.

Near dawn the small lake I live on began its icy serenade. The ice moaned. The alienesque tones sometimes mimicked whales ‘singing.’ Other times it sounded like saw blades warbling. I listened to its music, haunting and lethally beautiful, until the sun rose and warmed the air ending the concert.

I learned later that even though the ice appeared undisturbed - no visible heaving or cracks - the ice underneath the surface had shifted, causing vibrations that moved through the ice at different frequencies. I heard the vibration as 'music'.

The outside temp rose - thermometers still read below zero – but not abnormally so, and our furnace recovered its mojo. I admit that although I won’t forget the lake’s icy serenade, I can do without a repeat performance.

~    ~


My favorite Venison Recipes

by Pia Manning

Okay all you deer hunting folks! Let’s talk venison!

Those of you who process your own venison have happy freezers. Some of us, however, depend on butcher shops and meat lockers to handle that chore. I’m looking forward to the ‘Your venison’s ready!’ phone call.

So, whilst I wait, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite venison recipes with you.
I love soup. I love making soup. I love a bowl of hot soup on a cold day most of all. One of my absolute favs is venison barley. (No worries my non hunting friends, you can substitute beef for the venison in this recipe.)

Start with 8 to 10 Cups of broth. You can purchase beef broth - boxed, canned, or bullion cube. I usually buy beef bones and boil them for several hours, along with salt, black pepper, onion, garlic. (all to taste -start small - one medium onion, couple cloves of garlic, and one teaspoon of pepper). Add anything you like to your stock. I know some folks like carrots and celery in theirs. You can leave these vegies in, blend them in, or strain them out. Strain out any beef foam from the bones. Remove the bones. (Consider blending the marrow in the soup. It adds a rich depth of flavor.)

Once your stock is ready sauté an onion in butter. Add to the soup.

Add carrots

Add a (cut up) baked potato or two (Baking potatoes helps them maintain their consistency. Otherwise, they tend to turn to mush and disintegrate)

Add barley – it swells. IF you want more of a stoup (stew/soup) add a cup or so. If not, add less.

Add venison – at least a pound.

(Optional) Add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite brandy or whiskey.

(Optional) Mushrooms

Salt, black pepper, rosemary, thyme, garlic-all to taste. Let cook until the carrots are soft and the venison is done.

For you ketonites - skip the carrots, potato and barley. Add other veggies that are keto friendly such as cauliflower.


Also known as backstrap, this is probably the tenderest part of the venison, and is often overcooked.

I melt a combination of olive oil and real butter in a frying pan until anything added will sizzle. Add your seasonings by rubbing them into the meat. You can add them to the butter/olive oil in the pan too. I use salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, and cinnamon. (Yes, cinnamon. Many use chili powder, juniper or another strong tasting spice. If this is your usual, go ahead, but let your brave inner chef try some cinnamon along with it.)

Okay, into the pan with the tenderloin. (The meat should sizzle. You don’t want to burn the oil, but you do want to have it hot enough to sear the meat.) Cook about 4 mins on each side for medium rare. (Some intrepid venison veteran cooks can tell ‘doneness’ by poking the meat. When it starts to feel firm, it’s medium rare. Yeah, ‘firm’ is a relative term.) Baste while cooking – helps to seal the ends. Remove from the pan the let it rest for 8 to 10 minutes. Slice and serve!

There you have it! My top two venison recipes. What about you? Have any good recipes you’d like to share. Email me – you can use the contact form or email me directly at pia.manning@yahoo.com. I will share them in one of the next posts.

~    ~

Is it Spring Yet?

It’s spring ...

by Pia Manning

How do I know this? Well, the calendar says so, and it was Easter. People are hauling their Christmas decorations down now that the lights aren’t frozen to the trees and houses. The maple sap producers are busy stirring their bubbling caldrons. But early spring and late winter look remarkably alike north of HWY 8. Feels that way too.

And while I promised myself that I wouldn’t do a million weather posts…I received a camera for Christmas, and we had an ice storm and I couldn’t help myself. The storm itself lasted about three days. The first day, ice and rain fell from the sky, mingled and coated every surface. The second day, it snowed. The snow landed on the ice and stubbornly refused to fall off. This created a lacy effect on trees, shrubs and everything else.

Day 3 - finally. The sun broke the cloud lock and turned my world into a crystal palace. Of course, I had to wade through the knee-deep snow and start snapping pics. That all said, I give you – Ta Da - The history of an ice storm!

I thought I’d leave you with a couple of ‘ice out’ on the lake pictures too. Hopefully we won’t see anymore ‘ice in’ until next winter!

Click the photos below for a larger view.  Enjoy!

~    ~

Burning Down the House

Death Most Horrible

by Pia Manning


I thumped my pillow in an attempt to keep the day at bay.

“I think so! YES!”

I stumbled down the hallway and met him halfway to the living room.

“Their house is on fire!” He flapped his hand in the direction of our neighbor’s house.

The window over the kitchen sink framed the bright yellow and orange flames that danced above the treetops. Burning bits and pieces of ash rose into the air, swirling and twisting before drifting downward.

I fumbled with my clothes and finally managed to pull on a shirt and pair of shorts. I ran across the field and pushed through some brush. I expected to find Mary standing outside, barefoot and in her nightie, crying, upset, scared – yes, all of that – but alive.

All I found were two terrified dogs. They crouched, too frightened to bark, and stared at me like they were waiting for orders.

And Mary’s car.

I live not quite in the middle of nowhere, but pretty close to nothing. No one walks to the grocery store, the library, or to visit a friend. Out here you drive. You have to. That parked car meant that my neighbor, a senior in her seventies, was still in her burning house.

By now, the fire had consumed most of the structure. Support beams remained, but the walls had all but disappeared. Radiating heat had withered the surrounding trees and shrubs, leaving only charred sticks and branches.

The first of the volunteer firefighters, a young guy in a pickup truck, arrived thirty seconds after I did. He approached the house but jumped back when the front door and a section of the wall collapsed, spewing sparks and flames in all directions.

“Anybody in there?” He managed.

Sickened, I nodded and pointed to the car. He understood.

We managed to corral the two dogs, and I took them to my place for safekeeping.

A confusing barrage of people began streaming down the driveway. First responders, police, fire inspectors, grief-stricken family members, and concerned neighbors. A whirl. A parade. Smoke, ash, and questions. It didn’t matter.

About ten the ambulance left with Mary. No lights. No sirens.

As the nearest and the closest congregated, compared notes, and answered questions a disturbing picture emerged.

Mary stopped to chat one morning, her beaming face framed by the driver’s side window. She explained that her loving daughter was concerned about her living alone this far away from everything, so her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend planned on moving in with her. 

The boyfriend, I discovered, was listed on the sex offender’s registry. Mary didn’t like him, didn’t trust him, and believed he abused her daughter. She wanted him gone. The daughter, meanwhile, had talked Mary into purchasing a life insurance policy - for a quarter-million dollars. Mary struggled financially. Some folks had loaned her money, and she’d stopped over to use our phone when her service had been cut off. She could ill afford that purchase, but she wanted to please her daughter.

At three the morning of the fire, something rattled our dogs. Yes, they’ll bark at deer, squirrels, and coyotes. Most critters run off and the dogs settle. Not that morning. They hurled themselves at the backyard fence growling, snarling, and barking. We were afraid they’d wake Mary, so my husband went outside and retrieved them.

At five my spouse, always an early riser, heard gravel crunching as the couple rolled down the driveway on their way to work. Forty-five minutes later, the fire had engulfed the place.

Mary’s grandson, a quiet kid who would leave for college in August, stayed at his dad’s that night. And the two dogs? They belonged to the daughter. Mary had a dog. It died with her. Coincidences? 

And the Cause of Death? Carbon monoxide poisoning. Time of death: 11 AM the day before the fire. Mary had been dead for nineteen hours before it started.

How does one die of CO poisoning on a warm June day with all the windows open and fans perched on the sills? See, Mary’s AC unit had failed and she didn’t have the money to fix it.

If you lived with your elderly mother and she didn’t turn up for dinner, later that evening, or the next morning, wouldn’t you look for her? Or if, you returned home and found her dead, why hesitate to call 911? Surely the coroner would find she’d died of natural causes.

The neighborhood consensus: “This ain’t right.” We traded stories and memories while hugging ourselves as the creepiness and sheer horror of it all settled into our bones. Mary, like most of us, lived with complications. Failed relationships and financial problems existed alongside loyalty, caring, and love of family.

I don’t claim to know everything about Mary. I do know she didn’t deserve this. Neither did the rest of us.

* * * *

This story is true; the pics of the fire and how things look today. I’ve changed the victim’s name to protect her innocent family members. The police and fire marshals did their best, but... Not everything north of HWY 8 is blue skies, crystal lakes, or friendly people.

~    ~

In Search of Monarchs

Monarch Mom

by Pia Manning

Got monarchs? Anyone? You know, those beautiful orange and black butterflies that lay their eggs on milkweed. These fragile creatures migrate thousands of miles every year, moving from Mexico and Florida northward to lay their eggs in the spring, and then return south in the fall. Adults sip the nectar of various flowers and are valued as pollinators.

Besides all that, they’re pretty, and fun to watch as they flutter from flower to flower.

Last year I discovered more than sixty green and black caterpillars feeding on the milkweed that grows in abundance on our property. You literally could not walk through some of these areas without seeing a few. I collected the caterpillars and placed them in an unused aquarium with a screened lid. Harvesting milkweed leaves for them proved an easy task; like I said, we have plenty of plants.

Watching a chrysalis form for the first time scared the hell out of me. The caterpillars crawled to the top of the aquarium, wove little silk pads, and then hung in a J shape from the pad. Well, okay – now what? But then they lost their heads. Literally. Little black lumps with wilted antennas littered the bottom of their enclosure. Or maybe their butts dropped off. Either way, I thought I’d killed them. But no, beautiful iridescent green chrysalises formed and provided a safe environment for them to metamorphose into monarchs. I heaved a relieved sigh, grateful that I hadn’t done something stupid.

About ten days later a butterfly was born. Beautiful. Miraculous. Boy, I was proud. I released my monarchs and wished them well, fully expecting to welcome them back this year.

Something terrible happened somewhere. I’m not sure what exactly, but this summer, I’ve only discovered ten caterpillars. Of course, they’ve been lovingly tended and released. But still, that’s a dramatic drop in numbers.

I’ve heard from folks in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota. They all tell the same story. The decline in monarch numbers is a big topic on the forums. Climate change, pesticides, and habitat destruction are all probable culprits. Perhaps a catastrophic storm or other weather event occurred when they migrated. No one knows for sure.

I only hope that more of the fragile creatures make it back next spring.

~    ~

Serenity and 2023

and the End of 2022

by Pia Manning

A ton of snow fell just before Christmas and the temps plummeted to below zero. Great soup-making weather! 2023 began with at least two feet on the ground. Bare branches clicked together when the wind blew and tattered gray clouds scuttled across the sky. Raccoons, bears, and squirrels – at least the smart ones - are all sleeping peacefully until spring.

North of 8’s casual businesses have closed until April, and most folks are settling in for the long winter ahead. I noticed that pickup trucks and SUVs are now sporting plow blades on their front grills and there’s less traffic cruising Hwy 8. We live outside of town, so not seeing another human for days this time of year isn’t uncommon. Yes, my world has a ‘last man on earth’ quality to it, but I enjoy it. And that’s not to say that January is joyless-our family has a slew of birthdays and an anniversary to celebrate.

While I enjoy the peace and serenity the solitude affords me, I am struck by the passage of time. Maybe because the ends and beginnings come in pairs: autumn ends, winter begins; one year ends as another begins, I reevaluate what has passed and what is to come. It isn’t that I’m planning ahead or making activity schedules – not that I wouldn’t benefit from organizing – this is a quiet, reflective exercise held in my own head. A taking stock if you will.

I won’t go so far as to say I’m making New Year’s Resolutions. What seems shiny and new in January loses its luster by July. So, I guess these are more like ‘I’ll tries.’ Volunteer more-our local animal rescue always needs help; the library-they always need ‘friends,’ and so on. Aaand as always – I’ll write faster this year!

I’ll leave you with my ‘serenity’ pictures. (Santa left a wide-angled lens underneath the tree for me, and I had to go outside and play.) I hope you enjoy them!

~    ~

Buy Pia Manning's Books at these online stores!

Looking to purchase my books?  You can find them at the following online stores!

NEW RELEASE! Order "Caveman Creek 4: Hometown Spirits" - Now At Siren Publishing!