A Quiet Blog Means Hard Work is Afoot

I haven’t shared much recently because I’ve been so busy with my writing (as well as the rest of my life). While waiting to get comments back from my beta readers on Goddess, Book 2, I’ve been hard at work outlining a new novel. Don’t you love that feeling of possibility when you’re starting a new work? I know I’ll eventually run into roadblocks and frustrations. But right now, the world feels ripe with excitement and inspiration, like starting a new relationship.

I’ve been using Snowflake Pro to outline the new book. I’ll post a review of the software soon. Meanwhile, back to work!

Happy writing and reading!

Kelee

And… First Draft Finished

It’s been a longer road than I imagined, but I’ve finished the first draft of Goddess, Book 2 and sent it to my first round beta readers. Technically, it’s refined enough to be called a second draft. I wouldn’t share my real first draft with my own mother.

I’m sure all authors experience what I’m feeling now – euphoria at reaching a milestone, optimism that what I’ve written is good, and fear that I’m misleading myself and what I’ve written isn’t good. I’ve gone through these same emotions with every screenplay and book I’ve written. A draft is never as good as I think it is, but I can’t see its flaws until someone points them out to me. That’s why we ask for critiques.

I want to give a shoutout to my fabulous fellow romance writers who are kind enough to read a manuscript that I know isn’t yet ready for publication: Jess Moore, who allowed me to critique her upcoming novel, Fierce Grace; Elodie Colt, who will be releasing her debut novel In Blood We Trust in April; and Danielle Lori, author of A Girl Named Calamity. Thanks, ladies!

Happy reading and writing,

Kelee

New Year, New Book

It’s been much too long, but I finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the second part of Goddess, my erotic romance trilogy. I’ve just printed out the manuscript and will do one final read-through before I send it to my first round beta readers.

I’m so excited and relieved that I’d like to share the first chapter with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I promise not to make my readers wait as long for part 3!

Kelee

GODDESS ASCENDENT (GODDESS, BOOK 2)

CHAPTER 1

I ran my palm along the hard, smooth edge of the lectern. Its dark, masculine finish was worn to a dull white by the countless hands that had rested here before me. Some of the most renowned names in archeology had stood here, confident in their grasp of the past and their ability to convey it to their young disciples.

He had stood here.

I imagined him gazing out at the throng of students lined up in expansive rows of vintage wooden chairs. Even his early Monday morning classes were full. His resonate voice and deep blue eyes commanded the room. His lectures held students spellbound, especially the young women who jockeyed for a seat in the front row.

But he was gone, on the other side of the world, out of touch, if not out of mind. I was the one standing here in his shoes.

Technically, I was standing in Dr. Chang’s shoes, until he returned from his daughter’s wedding in Hong Kong. I was just the lowly teaching assistant. It was highly irregular for me to even be in that position, as Marilyn, our department secretary, liked to remind me. Every other TA in the archeology department was at least a second year PhD student. But Dr. Chang, a visiting professor from Beijing University, either didn’t know or didn’t care about protocol. I had been part of the team that brought the ancient matriarchal civilization of Magoa to the world. Dr. Stewart should be teaching this class, he wrote in an email to me. You’re close to him, so you’re the next best thing.

Dr. Chang didn’t know how close.

“Professor Nelson?” Zoe Glassman waved her hand from the middle of the cavernous auditorium. I had recognized her on the first day of class. She was the redhead I encountered many months ago, telling her friend about a “gentleman caller.” She turned out to be a whip-smart sophomore who changed her major to archeology after reading about Magoa.

“Just Julia,” I corrected her. “It’s going to be a long time before you can call me professor.”

“Sorry.”

“When you’re a middle-aged grad student, it comes with the territory.”

“How did a matriarchal society like Magoa thrive for so long?” Zoe went on. “They weren’t the typical male warrior society that survives by conquering its neighbors.”

“You make it sound like there weren’t any men in Magoa,” a young man with carefully tousled hair interjected. “Somebody had to supply the sperm to make the babies.”

“That’s what it always comes down to,” said a young African woman with fiery eyes and natural curls. “Men and their penises.”

‘Maybe the women were the warriors,” another young woman spoke up, “It’s not just men who can kick ass.”

“Or they were just smarter than the men,” another young woman said. “They knew how to keep them in line.”

“That’s no big challenge,” Zoe said.

I smiled patiently. I’d been getting emails along this line from feminists, wiccans, and pagan worshipers, as well as misogynistic trolls, since Magoa was unveiled. “Dr. Stewart hasn’t found any evidence of weapons or city defenses,” I said, “and he hasn’t learned anything about the role of men in their society. There’s still a lot of research to be done.”

“What if their goddess was so powerful she was able to hold off invaders?” Zoe asked. “She was the reason Magoa was so successful.”

“What, like she shot lightening bolts out of her tits… I mean breasts?” another male student said.

A clamor of female voices immediately rebuked the young man. He slunk down in his seat.

Zoe raised her voice above the clamor. “People don’t laugh at Christians because they think their god is real and all-powerful. Why shouldn’t the Magoans be given the same respect?”

I picked up my phone to check the time and noticed a text from Lily. “I do think we should keep an open mind,” I said, “but you’ll have to continue this discussion in religion class because we are out of time.”

As students gathered up books and papers, the room was still alive with heated discussions. It was an exciting time in archeology and made me feel good about my decision to pursue an academic career.

I read my oldest daughter’s text. Bring chocolate ice cream and green olives! I smiled to myself as I typed out an answer: OK, but no cocktails.

I scanned my email and gathered up my materials as the room emptied out. When I looked up, I was surprised to see one seat still occupied.

He was sitting in the back row. He wore dark, fashionable sunglasses and a ridiculous floppy hat pulled down so tightly over his head that most of his face was obscured. The Chevron mustache under his nose looked like it was pasted on. He had no books or backpack. I didn’t recognize him, and he appeared older than my undergraduates. I’d heard about several campus rapes in the years since we moved here. I gripped my phone tightly, ready to call 911, and stood as tall as my 5’ 6” frame would allow. I tried to sound calm and authoritative. “Class is over.”

“And an excellent class it was.” The man’s deep, polished voice resonated in the empty space. It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before.

“This is a private university. If you’d like a tour, you should go to the visitors center.”

He tilted his head forward to observe me over the top of his sunglasses. His eyes were hazel and seemed to dance in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the tall auditorium windows. “But you’re the reason I’m here and I had no trouble finding you.”

I sensed he enjoyed unsettling me. “But I don’t know who you are, which is why I’m calling the campus police.”

I started to dial. He languidly peeled off his hat and glasses and flashed a charismatic smile women would immediately recognize. Certainly, Lily would. She must have watched The Burning Heart dozens of times, mooning over its drop-dead gorgeous star. “You’re Harlan Cassidy,” I said.

“I see you’re talented at uncovering more than ancient civilizations.”

I was so disconcerted by the sudden appearance of a man who inhabited a world I’d only seen on Entertainment Tonight that it took me a moment to respond. “Dr. Stewart deserves all the credit there.”

Feeling safer, I stepped down from the auditorium stage. “What are you doing here?”

Harlan stood and moved slowly down the empty row. His eyes met mine. “You should be asking why I wasn’t here sooner.”

I swung my bag over my shoulder and approached him. Up close, he was just as dazzling as his screen image. He was probably in his late 20s. His face was tanned and perfectly proportioned. A blonde tress hung sexily across his forehead. He was the quintessential, sun-drenched California heartthrob. “I know you quit acting and opened a spiritual retreat center, so my guess is you’re interested in Magoa like everyone else.”

We met in the aisle. He wasn’t as tall as Ashland. In fact, he was only a few inches taller than me. But he exuded self-assurance. “I don’t believe in guesses,” Harlan said. “I believe in intuition. I use my inner light to guide me.”

“Your inner light needs to read the news more often. You would have found out Dr. Stewart is still in North Korea. I’m afraid you’ve wasting your time coming here.”

He unexpectedly reached out and took my hands in his. I wanted to pull away, but his touch was magnetic, his palms pleasantly cool and smooth. I immediately relaxed, though I didn’t know why. “There was no logic involved in my decision to come. I didn’t understand why my spirit was guiding me here until I stepped into this auditorium and saw you.”

Now I was even more confused. “Me? Why me? I’m just a grad student.”

He offered a radiant smile. It was difficult not to be charmed by Harlan Cassidy, and I suspected he knew that. “I don’t believe that. I knew you were something much deeper and radiant the moment I laid eyes on you.”

###

In my dream, I was a teenager bagger at the IGA, back in my hometown of Bicknell, Indiana. But instead of standing at the end of the conveyor belt, sorting iceberg lettuce from Coco Krispies and Tampex, I was relaxing in a director’s chair next to my station while Cliff, our balding assistant manager, hustled groceries into paper bags. “Ready for your close-up?” Harlan Cassidy called from behind an antique, hand-cranked camera. Wearing a seersucker suit and bowler cap, he was Jay Gatsby without the ennui. A makeup woman hurried forward to pound a voluminous cloud of powder on my nose. Through the white haze, I could see Susan, my childhood best friend, making out in the chips and soda aisle with the boyfriend who eventually got her pregnant.

A cell phone played Beyoncé. A butler in coat and tails brought it to me, offering it up on a silver platter.

I woke with a start to realize that my phone was really ringing. Anna had changed my ringtone last week and I still didn’t recognize it. I fumbled for the device in the dark on the bedside table. There was no number on the screen. “Hello?” I mumbled, still half asleep.

“Sorry to wake you.” The voice was crackly, with an annoying echo.

“Ashland.” I caught myself. “Dr. Stewart. I wasn’t expecting your call.”

“And I wasn’t expecting to be in Pyongyang. We’ve had a lot of rain at the dig, so I decided to come here to chat with some government officials.”

Even the distant sound of his voice was enough to fire an erotic pulse down in my pleasure center. I longed to tell him how much I missed him, how much I wanted him. But I knew the North Koreans were probably listening to every word we said. “How’s it going?” I asked, trying keeping my arousal in check.

“We’ve made some amazing discoveries in the last few weeks. So far, they’ve confirmed all our theories.”

“That’s wonderful.” I pushed away the covers—the steam radiators in my depression-era apartment building always seemed to be going full blast. With no kids around, I had gotten lazy about putting on pajamas, preferring to drop my clothes in a pile on the floor and flop into bed wearing nothing but panties. “You know that all your colleagues here are thinking about you.”

“I hope so,” He shifted his voice subtly to a more intimate timbre. “Please let them know that I’ve been thinking of them too.”

I touched one of my nipples. It was already erect. My index finger circled it slowly. It was a poor substitute for Ashland’s tongue, but it would have to do. “We’ve all missed how long and hard you worked when you were here,” I said.

Over the last five months, we’d learned to disguise our lust for one another behind an elaborate verbal subterfuge. It was too risky to let the North Koreans guess our relationship. They might find a way to use it against Ashland.

My hand moved downward until it rested on the soft curve of my stomach. “It’s been difficult, not being able to assist you with whatever you need,” he said. “I know how gratifying that is for all of us.” Of course, I couldn’t see him, but I could imagine what he might be doing, alone in his hotel room. That is, if he felt certain hidden cameras weren’t observing him.

My fingertips grazed the elastic on my panties. “I feel the same way. I can imagine the enormous work you have in your hands.”

“What about you?” Ashland asked. “Are you still working hard on your own?”

“Definitely,” I murmured. “In fact, I’m in the midst of some hands-on research right now.” I slipped my hand inside my underwear and caressed the soft mound of pubic hair. My fingertip grazed my erect clitoris, sending an amatory wave to the tips of my curled toes. “I’m so sorry it’s been rainy there. It’s turned very wet here too,” I managed to say as I moved a finger slowly down my saturated vulva.

“That’s wonderful. I know from experience how wet weather makes things grow.” I could hear the growl in the back of his throat.

I returned to my clitoris and moved two fingers rapidly across it. My pleasure increased exponentially. “I just read about a strange botanical phenomenon,” I said. “When it’s wet in Chicago, there’s a species of tree in Asia that grows a very large appendage, even though it’s on the other side of the world.”

I smiled at what the North Koreans must be thinking if they were listening to our conversation. “I’ve witnessed that first-hand,” Ashland said. “It grows a broad, firm branch that curves slightly upward, and if you caress it, a thick, milky substance emerges from the tip.” From the clipped intonation in his voice, I knew he was doing just that. Picturing him stroking his member released an uninvited moan from my lips.

I was so in tune with Ashland’s sexual signals that I could hear the subtle shift in his breathing on the other side of the world. I imagined his hand slipping up his hard shaft. He would pause at the top to caress the soft, round head, before letting it travel back down to the base. I pictured myself there, stretched out next to him, our naked bodies pressed together. I was the one pleasuring him with my hand, enjoying the ecstasy on his face.

I spread my legs wider. I could feel my juices drip between my thighs. If I were to look down, I knew my fingers would be a blur. Instead, I closed my eyes as I imagined Ashland’s talented fingers bringing me to climax. “I had no idea you had such intimate knowledge of conifers,” I said, no longer able to keep the heat burning in my groin from affecting my voice.

“When I’m alone on a mountain top, I spend a great deal of time contemplating the wonders of nature.”

I couldn’t keep jealous thoughts from disrupting my desire. “Does Elena share your interest in botany?”

Ashland’s breathing halted. I could almost hear him frowning across 6,500 miles. “Elena and I don’t discuss the local plant life. We’re completely focused on archeology.”

My hand stopped moving. I didn’t want to lose this moment. It had been too long since Ashland and I shared our hunger for one another. But I hated the thought of them together, every day and every night. “If I could see your face,” I said, “I’d know for sure.”

“Then I have good news for you. Elena and I are returning early. In a few weeks.”

I immediately forgot about my imminent orgasm. I sat up in shock. “Why?”

“The first snows will probably cover the mountain in a month or so. There’s a lot of cataloging and research I can do in Chicago.”

“But I thought you were going to stay until the weather got too bad to continue.”

“I’ve decided to change plans. As long as international relations remain reasonably stable, I can return next summer.”

I should have been overjoyed, but Ashland’s news troubled me. “That’s taking a big risk. What if you can’t get back?”

He was silent for a moment, as if gathering his words. “It’s been difficult being away so long, Julia.” His voice betrayed no emotion but I sensed it was there, hidden behind his even tone. “I’ve missed my colleagues. I miss the collaboration we’ve had. I need that to continue my work.”

“Ashland… Dr. Stewart,” I quickly corrected, “this is too important to make any compromises.”

“I thought you’d be pleased by my news.” I could clearly hear the disappointment in his voice.

“I am,” I said quickly, “but Magoa is important to me too.”

“Magoa has been here two thousands years. It will be here when I return.”

“Dr. Stewart, I…” A blaring tone jarred me. We’d been cut off, either accidently, or because the North Koreans thought we’d talked enough.

I set my phone on my nightstand and lay on my back, staring at the white ceiling above me. My clit still throbbed with desire. I wanted him so much. I reached down again. My index and middle finger manipulated my nob, working feverishly. But the orgasm that was once inevitable now seemed as distant as the Korean peninsula. I focused on vivid sensory memories—the warmth of his breath against my neck, his lips caressing my skin, his tongue dancing across my clit, the incredible rush when he entered me.

It was no use. I couldn’t recapture the charge I’d felt just minutes before.

What was wrong with me?

I lay quietly and slowly collected my thoughts.

Ashland was coming home.

Why wasn’t I thrilled?

I tried to wrap my mind around my contradictory feelings. I still loved him. I still wanted to be with him. I also wanted him away from Elena’s constant presence. But in the five months since he’d left, I’d discovered I was still happy. I had come through one of the most difficult periods of my life and had emerged stronger and more confident. Yes, Matt and I were still going through a divorce, and it was difficult spending half my time living separately from my children. But I loved graduate school. I loved getting the chance to TA a class. I loved my colleagues and new friends.

I loved my new life.

But something more was bothering me—my encounter with Harlan Cassidy. I didn’t understand why my spirit was guiding me here until I stepped into this auditorium and saw you. Magoa changed my entire life, but there was an important connection to it that I had never fully explored. I gazed downwards. In the darkness, I could barely discern the tattoo on my ankle, but its outline was as familiar to me as my daughters’ faces.

The Magoan goddess symbol.

Why had it appeared in a dream so many years ago? Why had it led me to Ashland? My own spirit wanted desperately to know.

My eyes drifted back to the ceiling. I imagined the spider I had first seen the night before this adventure began. It was waiting quietly in the corner. I watched for a telltale movement of whispery thread that signaled a change in its static life.

Was my life about to change again too?


 

 

Reading Deals Book Reviews: An Update

Back in April I wrote about Reading Deals book review program. I’ve now received all 10 of my reviews on Amazon for Goddess so I can give other authors who need more Amazon reviews an honest review of their services. Here’s my take:

  1. The reviews take a long time to come in. I placed my order for 10 reviews on February 16. I received an email today that my 10th review has finally been posted. Six months sounds like a long time and was more than I expected, but in retrospect, I don’t think it was unreasonable. The reviewers aren’t paid (which is a good thing), so their only incentive to finish a review is so they can get another free book.
  2. The reviews varied a great deal in quality. I never expected NY Times quality reviews. A few of mine were thoughtful, others were barely more than a sentence. It would be good if Reading Deals required reviewers to write a minimum number of words.
  3. The reviews were almost all positive. I don’t necessarily see this as a plus for the service. I’d prefer a thoughtful negative review to a slapdash positive one. The people who didn’t like the book were turned off by the adultery theme. But they still admired the writing, which is just fine by me. I knew the book would be controversial.
  4. They keep you apprised of the reviews coming in. Each week I received an automated email telling me how many reviewers had downloaded the book and how many reviews I’d received. I really appreciated this.
  5. The price seems reasonable. I don’t remember what I paid but the current price is $79. The $129 for premium placement might speed up how fast the reviews come in. Frankly, I’ve spent more and got back less advertising Goddess, so I thought it was worth it.

The bottom line is, if you need more reviews for your book, I think Reading Deals is worth it. It’s certainly more ethical than paying for positive reviews, and I think it’s also more honest than getting your friends and family to review your book.

If you’re considering this service and want to do more research, here are links to all my Reading Deal reviews:

https://www.amazon.com/review/R6824R97NTNEE/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2NYAVSJWZTH32/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3GGMJUWASAUQN/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

https://www.amazon.com/review/REKD0MGHHLX3K/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

https://www.amazon.com/review/R103U1Z0RQG4SA/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1Z8AR8DPTR10N/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

https://www.amazon.com/review/R1HICLJJZ7R2CY/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

https://www.amazon.com/review/R1BOMBCN672018/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B015JVAF54

https://www.amazon.com/review/R2LFOYWO9PS696/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

https://www.amazon.com/review/R158GIRCS30I6R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Happy writing!

Kelee

How to Fake it Till You Make it as a Writer

I was listening to an interesting story on NPR not long ago. In it, a schlubby nobody wanted to find out what it feels like to be famous. He got some friends and strangers to pose as bodyguards, an assistant, and paparazzi. They walked through midtown Manhattan, treating him like the star he wasn’t, and guess what? People believed it. Gawkers gawked, girls swarmed. They imagined he was someone famous they had seen on TV or in a movie. For a short time, he faked his way into celebrity.

Most writers suffer from self-doubt. Voices scream in our heads, You’re a fake, a loser, a hack. You’ll never be a success, and if you are, the next book will bomb. I firmly believe that’s why Harper Lee never wrote a second book and why many writers turn to drink.

But we can change those negative messages and turn our writing, and our lives around.

I was recently struggling through a period when everything I wrote was terrible. The story, the characters, and the dialogue in my new book felt like bile I was throwing up on the page. I started avoiding writing, distracting myself with unpleasant household chores.

But after hearing the NPR story, I decided that if I couldn’t be a good writer, I could at least pretend to be one. Every morning I woke up, looked in the mirror, and repeated a phrase I had learned from author Julia Cameron: “You are a brilliant and prolific writer.”

It was so simple, but it worked. After giving myself a positive message, I more eager to sit down at my laptop, and the pages started to flow. I felt like Popeye after gulping down a can of spinach. The negative voices were subdued, and I became a “brilliant and prolific writer,” at least for the day.

Faking it till you make it can work in social situations too. Suppose you heard that an agent you thought would be perfect to represent you was going to be at a writing conference. You sign up. Now imagine two scenarios:

Scenario 1: You spot the agent across the room, surrounded by other wannabe authors. You tell yourself, Why would she be interested in me? My stuff isn’t good. I’ve already been rejected by 50 agents. Even if she agreed to read my manuscript, it would probably end up in the trash.

I’m sure you can imagine what you might do after all those negative messages. You’d probably end up at the cash bar, hiding your face in shame.

But what if, instead, you decided to fake it.

Scenario 2: You spot the agent across the room, surrounded by wannabe authors. But that’s not you. You’re already successful. You’ve had 10 books on the best seller list. You already have an agent, but perhaps would be in the market for a new one if she was right for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to lie to the agent. You’d be found out pretty quickly. I’m telling you to lie to yourself. Play the role of the successful author. Approach the agent with confidence. Introduce yourself and make firm eye contact. Invite her to read your latest manuscript. You might just end up at the cash bar sharing a drink with her.

I know this sounds fake. It is. You’re playing a part for yourself. Remember the guy who pretended to be a celebrity? He never told anyone he was famous. He just played the part and they came to their own conclusions.

Many years ago, I read about another way to fake it till you make. I don’t recall the title of the self-help book, but its premise was, Act like it was impossible to fail.

We all know failure is a fact of life for writers. I have the rejection letters to prove it. Again, this isn’t about telling yourself that you can’t fail. You’ll know you’re lying. It means to act like you can’t fail. What would you do if you acted like the novel you were planning couldn’t fail? What if you acted like it was destined to be a Harry Potter-like hit and buy you a French chateau? Would you put it off, or would  you get down to some serious writing?

Try this for a day, a week, a month. Try it the next time you write a query letter or go to a conference. Try it the next time you meet a hot guy at a party.

“What do you do?” he asks.

“I’m a writer,” you reply without apology or hesitation.

Best wishes,

Kelee

 

Killing Your Babies

I loved the opening scene of the new romance novel I’m working on, Anywhere’s Better Than Here. It was funny, with great dialogue, intriguing characters, and page-turning thrills. Best of all, I’d given it what I thought was an interesting twist. We first see our heroine, Julina Trevers, through the eyes of her caddish ex-boyfriend. I was so proud of myself.

There was just one problem.

My first-round readers hated the scene.

If this was a Kindle sample, one wrote, I would never download itI was confused, wrote another. Who’s the protagonist? They went on: Too long. The boyfriend never reappears. Why focus so much on a dislikable character?

I wanted to rail, to tell them they didn’t know what they were talking about. They couldn’t see clever writing if it hit them over the head. But these were all experienced writers and readers, and it wasn’t just two or three of them who didn’t like the scene, as is usually the case. They all hated it equally.

I had invested so much time and energy into this opening. I couldn’t bare to throw it out. Instead, I put aside the manuscript and spent several weeks working on my other book-in-progress. Now I’ve returned to it, and it’s still painful to change, but I’m doing it.

Killing your babies (or darlings for the more sensitive among you) is such an apt metaphor for what a writer has to go through. We’ve birthed these characters, scenes, plot lines, and sometimes, whole books. It’s agony to have to take a butcher knife to them, to slash them apart and resemble them. Sometimes they end up in the compost heap like yesterday’s dinner.

But as writers, we have to remember, compost isn’t trash. It breaks down and becomes something lovely and new that will eventually nourish our creative garden. Those lines of dialogue or the great character we created may someday end up in another book, right where they belonged all the time.

Writers, feel the pain and agony of killing your babies, but remember, they will live again.

Happy writing,

Kelee

Writing in the First Person

When I was a screenwriter, I had no choice but to write in the third person. It’s hard to imagine how one would do anything else. Movies almost always work best as third person experiences.  (Watch the 1947 Robert Montgomery movie Lady in the Lake, which was shot entirely from Phillip Marlowe’s point-of-view, and you’ll see why.)

When I started writing Goddess, my first romance novel, I was excited by the chance to write in the first person. I found in liberating. It was like sitting around a campfire, sharing a story that happened to me personally. I was able to live the story moment by moment as Julia Nelson slowly but inevitably falls for the hot, enigmatic archeologist Ashland Stewart. it was almost as if I was in bed with him, experiencing every touch, every sensation. It made writing an erotic romance seem easy… and exciting.

But I also learned the pitfalls of the first person perspective.

Writing a romance novel in the first person isn’t a popular choice for a reason. A romance is about two people. (Unless it’s autoerotic, which might be interesting.) When we’re first getting to know someone romantically, there’s often a lot of guesswork involved in figuring out the other person’s intentions and nature. But in third person fiction, the reader can be inside both characters’ heads. We can know what that hot guy is thinking. Of course, that does take some of the suspense out of the narrative, but it helps us understand him more.

One of the criticisms I heard about my early drafts of Goddess was that Ashland wasn’t as well developed as Julia, my point-of-view character. This made complete sense. We knew everything Julia was feeling and thinking. We didn’t have that same luxury with Ashland. It took a lot of rewriting to make Ashland more three-dimensional. But I knew he could never be as fully developed as his lover. That’s just one of the compromises a writer has to make when writing in the first person.

My training as a screenwriter did help me avoid one of the pitfalls new writers often fall into when writing in the first person. In a script, a writer shouldn’t put information on the page that the audience watching the finished movie couldn’t possibly know. A screenwriter has to portray a character’s inner thoughts and feelings through outward action and dialogue. Otherwise, it’s considered cheating and is frowned on by script readers.

Too many new writers working in the first person also try to cheat when conveying information they want the reader to know. One of the most popular (and most cliche) way is through the overheard conversation. (Or, in the age of cellphones, the stumbled upon text or voicemail message.)

The other pit writers fall into is getting stuck in their main character’s head. The story becomes a constant recitation of her thoughts and feelings. It’s enough to give the reader a splitting headache.

When writing in the first person, it’s important to remain grounded in time and space. What can your character see, hear, taste, smell, and touch? After all, while we may constantly have thoughts swirling around in our brains, we’re also are focused on the world around us. (Unless you’re a narcissist!)

If you’ve never written in the first person, I would suggest giving it a try. It may just change your own perspective on your story, and on your writing.

Best wishes,

Kelee

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!

Kelee

 

So You Think Your Book is Ready? It Isn’t.

After all the years I’ve spent writing, you’d think I would learned my lesson. But no, I managed to make the same mistake again a few weeks ago. I’d finished a draft of my new novel, Anywhere’s Better Than Here. I felt like it was strong, really strong. After all, it had already gone through many drafts as a screenplay, and this was the second draft of the novel version. I was really just adding to it, making it better; tighter in some place, looser in others. I was sure my beta readers were going to tell me how wonderful it was, how it was just a few short tweaks away from being ready to send out.

Boy, was I wrong.

My beta readers are kind, but they’re tough too. They pointed out all the obvious weaknesses in the draft, things I couldn’t see because I was too close to it. The opening scene that I thought was killer? They hated it. “It’s good for a first draft,” one of them said. Ugh.

What to do? My first reaction when I get criticism is to tell myself I’m a terrible writer and I really should be doing something easier, like brain surgery or running for president. Once I get that out of my system, I give myself more rational messages: At least they’re telling me what my book needs. I wouldn’t get that from an agent. I’ve been through this many times before. I’ll get through it again. I have too many skeletons in my closet to run for president.

The next thing I need to do is step away from the book for a while to give everything a chance to digest. Right now I’m working on the first draft of Goddess, Book 2. In a few weeks, I’ll reread all the notes I’ve been given, re-outline the book, and return to battle. I know I’ll get through this and come out the other side with a better book and as a better writer. I will survive.

Otherwise, vote Kelee Morris in 2020.

Best wishes and happy writing,

Kelee

Getting Amazon Reviews: A Success Story

I’ve written earlier about my struggles to get reviewed on Amazon. I definitely wasn’t going to pay for good reviews (Unethical!) and I decided to avoid asking friends and family to review my book. (I’ve read too many books with rave reviews that turned out to be terrible. We all know where most of those reviews came from.)

Call me crazy, but I wanted to actually earn my good reviews. While doing research on where to advertise my next sale on Goddess, I stumbled across Reading Deals. They advertise book bargains, but they also offer a service to send your book out to people who are interested in reviewing it. Yes, you do pay for the service (I paid $39 for 10-15 reviews.) but the reviewers themselves are unpaid and there’s no promise that the reviews will be positive.

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I’ve now received seven reviews through Reading Deals, and along with the reviews I already had, my book is averaging 4.1 stars. Compared to the many books with 5-star averages, that’s not fantastic. But I suspect most of those 5-star reviews were written by the author’s mom and best friends.

The reviews themselves are mostly well thought out, though far from what an author would get from a professional publication. But on Amazon, I think that’s the best we can expect. Overall, I’m pleased with my experience with Reading Deals. I would definitely recommend them to other authors searching for reviews.

Best Wishes,

Kelee