Luck and the Successful Writer

In the early 2000s, writer Doug Aitchison was struggling to get his screenplay Akeelah and the Bee produced. It had already won a prestigious Nichol Fellowship in Screenwriting. Producer Sid Ganis discovered it thanks to that award, but he was having little luck in getting studio interest or funding. After all, this was a story about a spelling bee starring a young African American girl – not what you’d call big budget Hollywood entertainment!


Gains did manage to get the script to Lawrence Fishburne through his agent, but he heard nothing back. Fishburne likely had dozens of script piled on his desk, and he had no reason to read one from a writer with no track record.

But then, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, luck was a lady to Doug Aitchison. One day, he was walking his dog in the Hollywood Hills when he saw a familiar face approaching – Lawrence Fishburne, who was walking his own dogs. Aitchison knew this was his moment.

Writer Julia Cameron writes, “I don’t believe in luck. I do believe in synchronicity.” She goes on, “Luck is passive. We trigger synchronicity. We trigger it through risk.” Aitchison took the risk of approaching a major star he had never met before. He politely introduced himself. Fishburne remembered Akeelah and the Bee, and promised to take a closer look at it. He ended up producing and starring in it.

Every writer has luck or synchronicity. Sometimes risk pays off, many times it doesn’t. You send out 50 query letters and one agent asks for your pages. Partly it’s because you wrote a good letter, but you may have also contacted her on a good day with just the kind of story she liked.

If your hobby is skydiving, the consequences of taking a risk may be bad. But if you’re well trained and prepared, the chances of success are much better. If you’re a writer, there’s seldom a serious downside to stepping out of your comfort zone and taking a risk. Perhaps you’ll be walking your dog and meet the person who makes you career take off. If you’ve prepared, if the manuscript in your hand is damned good, you’ve increased your odds that synchronicity will turn into success. Luck my just be a lady tonight.

Try it. What do you have to lose?

Best wishes,


What Are You Reading (On the Train)?

Comedian  Scott Rogowska just released another hilarious video where he rides around on the subway while supposedly reading books with outlandish covers.

When I’m not working on a novel on my laptop, I often have a book in my hand while computing on Chicago’s El. (I have to admit though, that I might switch to my Nook if I’m reading an erotic romance with a particularly hot cover:


But I do usually enjoy it when the book I’m reading gets a reaction from a fellow passenger. I’ve been reading Lawrence Wright’s excellent Thirteen Days in September, an account of Carter, Begin, and Sadat and the Middle East peace agreement they signed. Last week, an attractive young actor (I overheard his phone conversation.) sitting next to me asked me about it, so I gave him a summary of this historic event. You just never know who you’re going to meet on the train or what kind of book they’ll be interested in!

The most reactions I’ve ever received to my reading material was when I was struggling through Umberto Eco’s dense novel, Foucault’s PendulumAdmittedly, it took me a long time to finish it, but still, I can’t count how many times people came up to me and said, “I read that book.” They usually then amended their comment by saying, “Actually, I tried to read it but gave up.”

So, do yourself a favor and bring a book on your next train or bus ride. You’ll expose people to great (and not so great) literature, and you never know whom you might meet.

Happy reading!



And enjoy Scott’s first Fake Book Covers video too:



Raising the Stakes in Your Romance Novel

When you’re a screenwriter, “raise the stakes” is a command you hear often. Put your hero in more danger, make failure more cataclysmic, get your audience on the edge of their seats and compel them to stay there.

Raising the stakes can be difficult in a romance novel. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Girl doesn’t get boy? Most readers and publishers insist on an HEA ending, so that’s probably not going to go over well.

In GoddessI raised the stakes high by making my heroine a married mother of three daughters. She has a lot to lose by getting involved with another man, no matter how incredibly hot he is. Some readers didn’t like the premise, but other reviewers wrote that they couldn’t put the book down. Nobody said high stakes were pretty. They shouldn’t be.

I was thinking about this last weekend after watching the movie Two Days, One Night. It’s a French drama written and directed by the Dardenne brothers. Sandra, the heroine, has the weekend to convince her co-workers to give up their bonus so their company won’t lay her off.

There are some inherent stakes already built into this premise. We learn that Sandra and her husband have escaped public housing thanks to her job. If she gets fired, they’ll have to go back. Still, it’s not like they’ll be out on the street.

But the Dardenne brothers raise the stakes even higher. Sandra has missed a lot of work because she suffers from depression. (That’s the unspoken reason the company wants to get rid of her.) She’s recovering, but still on shaky ground. If she loses her job, it could push her over the edge.

But wait, as the telemarketers say, there’s more. Sandra now has to talk to each of her co-workers and convince them to vote on Monday to give up their bonuses. Some of them say they’re in financial situations as bad as hers. Others just won’t give up their money to help what they consider to be a lazy co-worker.

Obviously, there’s a lot of drama in this simple situation, and yet there’s one more level of stakes built into the story. Sandra has to keep depression and despair at bay while reluctantly talking to sometimes hostile people. She pops Xanax constantly to get through this ordeal. She’s on the verge of losing not just her job, but her husband, her sanity, even her life. Now those are some high stakes!

You can see how, even in premise as simple as the one in Two Days, One Night, or in a romance novel, there are many ways to raise the stakes organically, without resorting to mob hitmen, natural disasters, or terminal illnesses.

It’s something to think about when you’re outlining your next romance novel.

Happy writing!



How Much Should an Ebook Cost? A Tale From Two Perspectives

After my last sale I decided to leave Goddess at $.99. So far, no regrets.

Kelee Morris

You’re a writer. You worked for months, possibly years, to bring your creative dream to fruition. The book’s good, damn good. At least you think so. Now you’re ready to upload it to Kindle. Of course, you want to be payed a fair price for all of your hard work. Perhaps you also have dreams of escaping your soul sucking day job and becoming a professional writer. You earn higher royalties on Amazon if you price your book between $2.99 and $8.99. Many traditional publishers charge the same price for their ebooks as a printed copy.

So, how should you price your book?

You’re a reader. You read traditionally published authors and you’re willing to pay a premium for their books because you know the author and you’ve read the reviews of their latest book in major magazines and newspapers.

But you also like to check out new and up-and-coming writers who publish…

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How to Write More

Many writers dream of having a large block of time to work on their novel. They imagine spending hours writing, knocking out that first draft in a few weeks. This is what it ‘s like to be a “real” writer, they tell themselves.

I’m fortunate to have several hours of writing time available fairly often, and let me tell you something…

It sucks.

The fact is, creative writing is often exhausting. It’s like running a marathon, in the mud, wearing combat boots. I know a successful screenwriter who only works about two to three hours per day, because it’s just too taxing to keep writing.


But I have found a way to use a large chunk of time more efficiently. I can’t guarantee it will work for everybody, but I would highly suggest giving it a shot.

The secret is to write in short, focused bursts, kind of like interval training. I sit down at my computer and set a timer for 15 minutes. (10-20 minutes seems like the ideal.) I turn off my laptop’s wi-fi. (It’s even better if you can unplug your router or modem.) I put MS Word into Focus View to block out everything else on the desktop. Then I write, trying to tap into the wellspring of creativity I know is inside me. To me, it’s a lot like mediation. I can stay focused for a few minutes before unwanted thoughts start creeping in. To attempt more is an exercise in frustration.

When my timer goes off, I stand up and go perform a short, specific task.( It’s best not to do anything that takes more than 5 minutes.) I pour myself a cup of coffee, I put away a few dirty dishes, I do a few yoga poses. The important thing is to put my work aside for a few minutes so my creativity can recharge.

Avoid doing anything that’s too open-ended, like calling up a friend, and if you can, avoid the internet. I know from experience that a quick check of my Twitter feed can easily turn into an hour of wasted time.


After you’ve finished your short break, relocate to another writing spot if you have one. I have three or four places in and outside my home I like to write. Then set your timer for another short interval, and repeat the process over and over again until your creativity is spent or the kids come home from school.

Try this and you might find that, while your total hours at the computer are less, the amount you actually get done is much greater. You’ll feel accomplished and best of all, you’ll feel like you used your creativity to its full potential.

Happy writing!

Best wishes,