Using an Initial Image in Your Writing

We think of books as being about words, but they’re really about images. At the beginning of a story, a powerful image can create a world in our minds. It can unify the characters and the theme, and it can reinforce those elements as the writer comes back around to variations on that image during the course of the story. Like an alliteration, it makes us sit up and take notice of what the author is trying to convey.

As I’ve often mentioned in my blog, many of my ideas about structure have come from my years as a screenwriter. One important lesson I learned came from Linda Seger’s book, Making a Good Script Great. She talks about beginning a script with a central image, one that sets up the story’s world and ressonates with us emotionally. The example she uses is from the movie Witness.


Witness begins with a group of Amish – men, women, and children – crossing a field of wheat waving in the wind. The image is gorgeous and serene.  Carriages appear on the road, and it soon becomes clear that the community is gathering. It’s not until we go inside a farmhouse that we learn why. A funeral is taking place. People are grieving. A man is speaking to them in Pennsylvania Dutch, so we don’t understand what he’s saying. We don’t know who has died or why, but that’s not important yet. Our focus is on the sense of community.

Community is a central theme of the movie, and it’s set up nicely in this scene. We later see the contrast between the pastoral Amish and the evils of the big city. This polarity is developed throughout the movie until the image of community that was set up at the beginning of the film becomes essential to the climax. Even the setting, the grain in the field, becomes part of the climatic battle between Harrison Ford and the simple Amish, and the evildoers from the city.

In my own book Goddess, I set up an initial scene that showed how central marriage and family is to Julia Nelson’s life. She and her husband are having sex. Even though we don’t see or hear from their children yet, they’re still present because Julia is careful to be quiet so they don’t hear.

And yet, we also see in this scene that domesticity isn’t as blissful as it’s often portrayed. The sex is routine and not satisfying for Julia. It leaves her feeling confused. Even though she doesn’t know it yet, she longs for the inextricable passion that’s symbolized by the tattoo on her ankle.

When you’re writing your novel, take the time to think about how your opening scene can set up the theme you’ll explore. Make it subtle – you shouldn’t hit your readers over the head with your grand ideas. What you’ve planted will echo throughout your story, and make it deeper and more meaningful.

Happy writing!

Best wishes,


Free Review Copies of Goddess

You may have read my post a while back about my struggles to get reviews for Goddess without resorting to asking friends and family. (“Really, Kelee,” said my Aunt Agnes. “Erotic romance? Maybe you should bake a nice apple pie instead.”)

Paying people to post reviews felt as unethical as a soliciting a slew of 5-star reviews from my friends. Then, while looking for places to advertise my next big sale, I came across Reading Deals. They don’t advertise erotica, but they do have a side service called Review Club. For $39 an author can get 10-15 reviews on Amazon, plus tweets promoting your book. Yes, it does cost money, but it doesn’t go to the reviewers and there’s no guarantee they’ll give me good reviews, so I felt like it was ethical. I’ll let you know how it works out.

And if you’d like to join Review Club as a reviewer, you can get a lot of free books, including mine:

Happy reading, everyone!

Best wishes,


Goddess Goes Wide

I’m pleased to report that Goddess is now available on all major book platforms (and some I’ve never heard of) thanks to Smashwords. I was going to do this all myself, but I realized Apple’s IBooks site was too onerous for me to negotiate. On the other hand, Barnes and Noble was easy, which is why I published there on my own.

So, now there’s no excuse for you not to get your copy today. Enjoy!

Best wishes,


Who Was Gouverneur Morris?

Frankly, I’d never heard of Mr. Morris, though he does have a Wikipedia entry. I can assure you that I’m no relation. Unfortunately, Barnes & Noble has decided that we’re one in the same person, and either he wrote a scandalous erotic romance novel in the early 20th Century, or I’ve penned a pulp fiction book called The Goddess.


You’re probably as confused as I was when I checked out my newly published Nook edition of Goddess. Apparently, they’ve confused the two of us and put us on the same page.

Hopefully, I can get this corrected, but in the meantime you can still order a Nook edition of Goddess here. Yes, this means I’m no longer tied to a contract with KDP Select. I’ll soon be publishing Goddess to other platforms via Smashwords.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time because I’m a dedicated Nook user. As for Mr. Morris, he seems like a nice guy from his photo, but he died in 1953. Still, I wish him the best.

Best wishes,


Lucia Berlin: A Master Class in Prose

I like working in Emergency – you meet men there, anyway. Real men, heroes. Firemen and jockeys. They’re always coming into emergency rooms. Jockeys have wonderful X-rays…Their skeletons look like trees, like reconstructed brontosaurs. St. Sebastian’s X-rays…The first jockey I met was Munoz. God. I undress people all the time and it’s no big deal. Takes a few seconds. Munoz lay there, unconscious, a miniature Aztec god. Because his clothes were so complicated, it was as if I were performing an elaborate ritual.

Wow, was my first reaction when I read that passage. If I had read that description in a romance novel, I would be hooked on that author for life.

Lucia Berlin‘s writing is so compelling because it can be passionate and romantic, but it’s also achingly brutal. Berlin’s life was tough, and it’s on full display in her short stories. She was an unrecovered alcoholic for much of her life. She also suffered from scoliosis. She wrote sporadically, publishing seventy-six stories in her three decades of writing, mostly in smaller literary magazines.


I would never nominate Berlin as a template for how a writer should live her life, but I wish more writers had her gift for vibrant imagery and surprising use of language. I very rarely see that in romance and other genre fiction, which is why I sometimes get bored with them. Perhaps most readers don’t want to be challenged, but it’s what I enjoy most. I find unflinching honesty is often be the best way to approach a love story.

Here’s another favorite passage of mine, from Berlin’s story, “Melina.”

Beau had been a sandwich man in San Francisco…One day he had pulled his cart into an insurance office and he saw her. Melina…She was very tiny and thin. But it was her skin, he said. It was like she wasn’t a person at all but some creature made of white silk, of milk glass.

Beau didn’t know what came over him. He left the cart and his customers, went through a little gate over to where she stood. He told her he loved her. I want you, he said. I’ll get the bathroom key. Come on. It will just take five minutes. Melina looked at him and said, I’ll be right there.

I was pretty young then. This was the most romantic thing I had ever heard.

For a fascinating lesson in how to write amazing prose, I’d highly recommend picking up the newly published collection of Berlin’s stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women. It moved me, and I’ve learned a great deal from it. It’s certainly challenged me to reconsider my own style, and how I can touch my own readers in surprising, compelling ways.

Best wishes,