When fiction hits a little too close to home

Authors are a notorious bunch of opportunists.  We tend to find plot ideas everywhere we look.  Someone buys you lunch?  They could be a hero in your new book.  That jerk that cut you off this morning?  Instant villain.

I have been guilty of this very thing, myself.  Those who know me can probably see glimmers of myself, my friend Janet and my other friend Stacey in Carson, Zandria and Rachel from my Luna series.  I borrowed Scarlet’s given name, Holly, from another friend.  Joselyn is an author who enjoys green apple hard candies – sounds a little familiar.  Little things that affect us on a daily basis will end up in our writing in some form or another.

I’ve been working on my latest project, Saving Olivia.  It’s going to be the first official book in my Operation Cerberus series about Alpha male SEALs and the women they love and support.  Although Protecting Joselyn is in the same general world, it’s not a part of this series because it’s in Susan Stoker’s kindle world.  At best, it’s a .5 of the series since it does mention the rest of the SEAL team a couple of times.  Oh and River and Joselyn make appearances in this one as well.  But I digress.

I knew from the moment I started to write this one, what the story was going to be.  As Joselyn before her, Olivia’s story flowed like water.  For the first 2/3 of the book, I had no issues. I was merrily typing along and enjoying putting the story down.

Then the big drama hit.

Olivia was on her way home from work one day and just vanished without a trace. She has a  younger brother that depends on her who is left devastated by her loss. Where is she?  Why did she leave?  How could she ever leave him behind?

As I wrote this portion of her story, things became familiar to me and finally it dawned on me why.

When I was in high school, I had a very small group of friends.  Janet and Stacy were the biggest part of that but also another young lady was close to me.  We were both in band together and when we went on trips, we stuck together.  Her name is Jennifer Jackson Floyd.

In 1988, just a few  years after graduating, Jennifer got a phone call while she was at work.  Upset and crying, she left her job.  Most would assume something was wrong with her 1 year old daughter.  She never made it home and  Jennifer was never heard from again.

This year has been 29 years since she disappeared.  Some think she left on her own, that she got tired of her life and just left.  If you ever saw her with her daughter, you would know just how untrue that is.  Jennifer would never, in a billion years, ever leave that baby behind.  Everything she was, everything she did, it was all geared toward giving her baby the best possible life.  She didn’t leave willingly.

So what happened?  We probably will never know.

As I was sending bits and pieces to Janet as a sounding board, she caught the theme immediately.  “You realize this is Jennifer?”

Yes, I realize it.  Though I had only recognized it a couple of days earlier, myself.  Olivia has become Jennifer.  With that realization, I was suddenly bombarded with doubt.  How can I ever portray her correctly?  How can I ever give any of the emotions surrounding something so life altering as a missing loved one any kind of justice.

Every word since then has been hard.  Last night, I laid in bed thinking about it and had come to the decision to rip out all the parts of the story that resembled Jennifer and start over.  I’d make it about something else.  I wouldn’t do her story an injustice.

Then today, it occurred to me.  If I do that, then I would be perpetuating a grave injustice to both Olivia and Jennifer.  This story needs to be told.  Jennifer didn’t have her HEA, but I can do that for Olivia.  I can give her the life she so richly deserves.

So I’ll continue on.  I have no idea when Olivia will be ready. I sincerely don’t know and I think that’s probably why I haven’t announced a publication date.  Now that I understand the story and it’s intensely emotional ties to my personal life, I should be able to finish it.  Maybe.

Sometimes our inspiration is found in the funny things in life.  Other times it’s something that touches something deep inside. I didn’t intend on telling Jennifer’s story through Olivia, but I’m not backing down.  This is what Olivia is.  It’s what I need to do.

Accept the inspiration, no matter where it comes. That is my new mantra. I think in this instance, even if I don’t sell a single copy of Saving Olivia, I’ve already won.  I won for Olivia and I won for Jennifer.


Terrorists, Traffickers and Money Laundering

There is something in writing called “suspension of disbelief”.  It is a term coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and is defined as, “a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment”. In order for a story to be really great, the writer has to make it believable.  That, in itself, is a bit of magic. The reader has to feel what the characters feel, see what they see and take every step along the way with them.  If it’s not done correctly, the reader can’t empathize with them and the story is ruined.  Writers have to work very hard to create this atmosphere of believably.  That means research – TONS of research. Once upon a time, that meant long hours in libraries gathering physical information. Now, we have the entire world online.  Can we say, “Thank you, Google?”

This brings its own set of problems.  Everything on the web is ON THE WEB – not only all the data you could want but also records of what you were looking at. There is a tee-shirt making the rounds that I absolutely love.  It says, “I am a writer, not a serial murderer no matter what my search history says.”  That one phrase sums up a lot of writers, me included.  I write suspense romance.  That one theme runs through all my books – I like for my characters to face and overcome some ‘great evil’.  That means I have to research evil things.  Case in point – recent history for my browser includes things like, terrorist cells, human trafficking, illegal immigration and the effect of electrocution on the human nervous system.  If you didn’t know I was a writer, you may assume I am some sort of terrorist.  In a way, I guess I am but only for my poor characters.  God bless their little hearts, but the more horrific their ordeals, the more relieved the readers will be when everything is done.  If a reader sits back and says, “Whew, thank heavens that’s over” then I know I’ve done my job correctly.

It’s a common joke among writers that we are all on a government watch list.  It would make sense if the CIA or FBI or NSA or some other 3 lettered government group are looking for certain phrases to ferret out potential problems.  Perhaps we are.  It’s a sacrifice we make to entertain others.

A few weeks ago, I made the decision to book a public appearance.  As is norm for me, I began researching what I would need.  I realized one of the big items was a banner to call attention to my booth.  A new banner meant new graphics.  I wanted professional quality that I could be proud of so immediately I decided to not do it myself.  I turned to the very talented Najla Qamber who is the fantastic artist responsible for Reclamation’s cover.

Ya’ll – she knocked it out of the ball park!   I can’t wait for you to see what she put together for me.  I’m speechless and totally love it.  It’s going to be gorgeous on a full size banner.  Sorry – I was gushing there for a moment, but it really is spectacular.

So, anyway, back to the story.  I approved the design.  She sent an invoice.  I went online to pay it through paypal today.


Wait.. what?  Hmmm, I must have done something wrong in my fangirl haste to get my grubby little paws on my new epicness.  Slow down.  Breathe.  You can do this.  Paypal.  Pay invoice.  FCU…. Yep.  Click.

NOPE.  Declined.

That’s when it hit me.  Ms. Qamber lives in the Middle East.  My little FCU in Mississippi isn’t going to allow me to send funds to her without a lot of hassle, paperwork and maybe a few interrogations.  I understand their thinking. They are trying to protect me from scams from another country.  Thank you but I really need to send this.  Daggum it, looks like I’m going to have to *gasp* leave my little cave and go out into ‘the world’ and *gasp* *gasp* INTERACT WITH PEOPLE???

I am not agoraphobic but I am extremely introverted. I really don’t want to leave if I can help it. How can I get out of this predicament?

I had an epiphany.

To make a long story short (I know, too late), I talked with a mutual friend and sent the money to her.  She, in turn, sent it on to Najla.  Bada bing – it’s done!

Right after I hit the send, the ramifications of what I had just done hit me.  I sent money to someone who, in turn, sent it overseas.

I’ve laundered money.

I’m a money launderer.

If I suddenly disappear, I’ve probably been snatched by some covert team (Please, GOD let it be SEALs!) and am being interrogated about my search history and my money laundering.

This is the exciting life of an Author.

Hey, wait… that could be a good plot.. an author captured by a team of SEALs over her search history and $40.00 money laundering…… hot SEALs… hot sexy SEALs….

Excuse me, ya’ll.  I need to go.








Plum Flabbergasted

The crazy train is still going full tilt and I have to admit the ride has been phenomenal and a little overwhelming.  I know I’ve used the term overwhelming quite a lot in the past few weeks but the word is the best way to describe the incredible well of emotions that have been front and center since June 20.

For those of you who may be new to my little world, I’ve been pursuing my dream of becoming an author for a few  years now.  I won’t bore you with the hows and whys – I’ve already blogged about it before.  However, in this pursuit, I’ve written five books within three different genres.  I have a set of three wolf shifter books that I wrote first and published and have since pulled for a revamp.  At the time I was so proud of myself for accomplishing a goal.  The series has a small following and I get questions from time to time on when I will finish out the series with the final offering.  As always, the answer is “soon”.  I do have a final manuscript about half finished but ran into some snags.  I have plans (ha! – Rufus is still lurking out there darn him!) to finish it before the end of the year.

Then along came Reclamation.  I never worked so hard on one manuscript in my life and that includes my time in college.  Reclamation is urban fantasy / YA / Christian fantasy.  At the time I didn’t know exactly why I was writing it but in retrospect, I see it as a way to cope with family issues at that time.  I won’t go into that either – I’ve blogged several times about that dark time in my life.  Through Reclamation, I was able to experience the pleasure and the pain of traditional publishing. That, in turn, caused a huge learning curve in my writing.  Even I could see the improvement in my craft.

So that brings me to the latest offering – Protecting Joselyn.  Once again, I jumped the genre train and went into contemporary / suspense / military romance.  I have made it no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Susan Stoker.  (Again, if you like this genre, I urge you to check her out.   http://www.stokeraces.com) She has a Kindle World and graciously allowed me to write in it. At first, I was going to wait until I finished the final book in my shifter series but the idea wouldn’t leave me.  So, I gave in and wrote the book in 27 days.  It was one of the most fun I have ever had and one of the most nerve wrecking moments of my life.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself nor damage the trust from Susan.

Pardon my Southern coming out here…  Ya’ll, I was plum flabbergasted.

There was a snafu in the publishing making it late to come out on the promised June 20th.  However, Joselyn hit the ground running and when the ratings came out I was completely floored. She hit number FIVE in Kindle World Romance.

I thought that was the best I could hope for – NOPE.  She clawed her way to 4 and then latched on with both claws.  Holy Crapadoodle!

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve watched her stick around the 4-7 marks almost exclusively until July 7th.  With the release of eight new novels in Operation Alpha, I prepared to kiss that top 10 spot goodbye.  It had been one heck of a run and I could be nothing but proud of it.  Unknown to top 5 in any genre in Amazon is stinking amazing to me.

But no!  Joselyn exhibited the same tenacity that got her through her on trails and refused to give up her place.  I have watched as she has dropped and rebound.  Dropped and rebound.  Each time I think, Okay, this is it.  She’s done – whew.


A few days ago, I held my breath as she slipped to the number eighteen spot and I decided this was it.  Goodbye old girl.  It’s been one hell of a ride – time to get Saving Olivia finished and hope for lightening to strike twice.

The dear hubby asked me where she was in the ranking yesterday.  I hadn’t looked  in over 24 hours so I went and checked her out thinking she probably in the hundreds by now.


Wait.. WHAT?  Four.. Is she back in the top 5?  She is! HOLY HANNAH!!

Just under a month since release and my girl is still holding on by her fingernails.  I’m overwhelmed.  OVER. WHELMED.

This past week, Susan Stoker’s book “Claiming Grace” hit the number 1 spot on Amazon. She expressed her amazement on Facebook.  It’s well deserved – her books are awesome.  I may not be in the top ten on  The Big List, but I think I know how she feels.  She’s a big fish in a big pond.  I’m a little fish in a little pond.  I’m happy here.  Not to say I wouldn’t love to take a dip in that bigger one but if it never happens, I can look at Joselyn and be content.

As I write this, Joselyn has slid back to number 9.  I’m not saying she’s on her way out because she loves to prove me wrong.  Either way, it’s been one heck of a ride and one that isn’t possible without my followers.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.  It’s an incredible gift you have given me.

Time to get back to Olivia. She has her own voice and demands to be heard.  So, lets see if we can make magic again.  I’m shooting for an August 22 publication date.

TOOT TOOOT – Crazy train now boarding!  Hang on folks, lets see what Olivia can do!


Sex sells – what are you buying?

Now that I have your attention… Sexy books-  Yes or no?

Some call these “hot romances” or even “erotica”.  I’ve seen the term “smut” thrown about as well.  To me, the last term has a connotation of underhanded, filth and lechery.  That’s not always true.  I will concede there is a ton of erotica out there and not all of it good.

I have a lot of authors that I enjoy reading on a regular basis.  Susan Stoker and T.S. Joyce are two of my favorites.  I also love Celia Kyle, Carrie Ann Ryan and Roxie Riviera.  There are a score of others that I watch for but for the purpose of this blog, I’ll focus on those five.

If you are not aware of these talented ladies, let me introduce you.  Susan writes what I call “man in uniform” books.  SEALs, Delta Force, Police, Firemen.  You get my point.  T.S. Joyce and Celia Kyle are in the shifter worlds.  Carrie Ann Ryan handles mostly tattoo artists (Got to love those Montgomery men!) and shifter as well.  Roxie Riviera has a fantastic series involving the underbelly of Houston – Russian mob, fighters, loan sharks, etc. All of these different stories have two things in common.  Alpha males protecting the women they love and sex.

We live in a society that sexual innuendos and situations have become the norm.  Watch a television show and you get bombarded with sexual references followed by 5 minutes of sexual advertisement.  Movies?  Sex, sex, sex, violence, potty humor and sex.

I’ve often said I was born in the wrong decade.  I prefer movies that told a good story.  The musicals of the 40s and 50s are my favorites.  Give me Gene Kelly dancing across the floor or Ginger Rogers gracefully moving in perfect synchronization with Fred Astaire.  The music had heart.  The comedians knew how to turn a phrase and not one single “f” bomb in existence.  Toilets were non-existent and one didn’t even hint that more than one person may possibly sleep in a bed at a time – except for babies or small children. It was a more innocent time.  A time that will most likely never return.

Entertainment has taken a drastic turn in the years since.  I’ll give you an example.

In 1969, the movie Easy Rider was released. At the time, the blatant sexuality and hardcore subject matter earned it a scathing X rating – AFTER several scenes were cut.  I’ll let that soak in a second… The movie had to be re-edited to qualify for an X rating.  In the mid 80’s, that rating was changed to R.  A few years later, it was downplayed to NC-17.  Currently, there are 2 versions.  One is still NC-17 and the other is PG-13.  If I am correct, the original too hot for the public version is now NC-17 and the one that barely qualified for X is now PG-13.  Of course, I realize that some scenes are cut and some censoring is in place in order to be played on national television, but still the subject is the same.

When I was a teenager, I got my hands on a book that would have gotten me grounded had my mother knew I was reading it.  I can’t remember the name nor the author but it is what is known as a “bodice ripper”.  Regency type novel full of fighting, intrigue and sex.

I discovered something from reading that book.  I liked the story.  It was amazing and I read it several times between 15 and 19 when it finally disappeared.  (Maybe my mother found it?)  However, I didn’t really understand why there was so much graphic sex in it. I was both intrigued and scandalized.  I blushed at every mention of the hero’s “mighty flesh sword” or the woman’s “tender dainty pearl”. It seemed silly to me to throw all that other stuff in.  The story didn’t need it.

Over the years, I got into a habit.  With the first mention of “love buttons” or “steely shaft” I would become embarrassed and skip over the following passages until the story picked up again.  This is something I do today. So, even though I do love my fabulous five ladies, I skip over the juicy parts and concentrate on the story line only.  It’s a personal preference. There is nothing wrong with the hot to trot parts, it’s just not ‘me’.

When I first started writing, I was told to write what I read. So my avoidance of the steamy parts has become reflected in my works. This has lead to something of a controversy lately.

Because I wrote Protecting Joselyn in Susan Stoker’s Operation Alpha Kindle World (still bouncing in the top 10 Romance – YAY!), I believe readers expected to have steamy parts in there.  This belief is somewhat validated by one of my reviews:

Truely one of the best in kindle world. This book has alot of love and family togetherness. I love it. I feel its missing the love making scene. But other than that its awesome. Great job!! Melissa!!

This review has been bothering me since it appeared two weeks ago. Was I doing a disservice to my stories by avoiding the sex?  Then again, since I didn’t really read the sex scenes in other’s books, could I even portray one effectively?  I have been back and forth on the fence about this.  Should I try with Saving Olivia or just keep going with what I know?

Today I got another review:

This is a great little read.
I enjoyed both the main characters, their reactions felt realistic with no to stupid to live moments. This had no sexy time, while unusual, it was not missed. The story is plot and character based and didn’t need anything else to enhance it.
I truly cannot wait for more from this author.

I have asked the question about steamy scenes to many people.  They all say the same thing – be true to what you know and write it the way you would read it.

So, I’ve made the decision to stick to what I know.  That means no steamy sex scenes.  Perhaps I will change my mind at some later date but I relatively confident that won’t happen.  If I haven’t found the need to read hot scenes for the past 35 years, I don’t think that will change in the next 35.

However, if you see something written by Savannah Storm in the erotica section… don’t hold it against me.  If I do try at some future date, I’ll go incognito.

— Melissa