L.J. Greene's Blog

December 27, 2021

4 Books That Redefined Romance for Me

I didn’t grow up reading (or writing!) romance. The romance genre to me was always the books with the muscular, long-haired man on the cover and some maiden being swept away aboard a ship. I never thought of it as real or relevant or, honestly, of much interest. As I look back on my own early attitudes towards romance, I see clear fingerprints of the ever-present snobbery that (sadly) exists against the romance genre. But these four books (or series) not only redefined romance for me, but inspired me in different ways to want to add my own voice to the chorus.

The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley’s retelling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of Morgaine isn’t technically a romance – there are few happy endings to be found in its pages – but it remains for me one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read. It is also the sole reason I came back to reading for pleasure as an adult, in my early twenties. It’s a book of female heroism, something my former self had never conceived of in romance, and of the many, quiet, devastating sacrifices women make for those they love. It is enduringly relevant to the female experience and so beautifully crafted that its 900-page length is a treat worth savoring.

Outlander - I am well aware that Diana Gabaldon would not appreciate me for including her books in a blog about romance. But the fact remains that whatever else her books may be, they are also romances, and there’s no shame in that. For me, the Outlander series is most instructive of the fact that as a writer, you can pen almost any scenario you like, as long as you take the care to write it well. It’s been a good reminder for me in my own work, when storylines have sometimes gone places I wasn’t sure I could or should go. This series tackles everything from violence to intimacy to plural marriages to nose-picking with an equally deft hand. The storytelling is absolutely brilliant. If you’ve only ever experienced Outlander through the television show, you’re missing out. The richness of the books is impossible to translate, even as I readily admit that Sam Heughan is about as perfect a Jamie as any reader of the series could ever hope for… 😊

Beautiful Player - This book, for me, is contemporary romance perfected. This is the book I always wished I had written and honestly still strive to. It’s the book that inspired me to finally put pen to paper. Beautifully developed characters, lots of humor, and full of heart. You’d be hard pressed to find any writer (or writing duo, in this case) who can pen more authentic, layered, and loveable male characters told from the first-person POV than Christina Lauren. And I’ll also say that before they changed their writing style to omit on-page love scenes, they also wrote, in my opinion, the very best love scenes in contemporary romance – supremely crafted, sexy without being gratuitous, and always underpinned with the emotional complexity of real, human experiences. Beautiful Player is the quintessential CLo novel for me, but Dark Wild Night, Wicked Sexy Liar, and Autoboyography are sure bets, as well.

Bad Things - RK Lilley’s trilogy is a master class in character development. It’s been eight years since I read these books and I still haven’t recovered. This was one of the first romance books I ever picked up, and the one that unflinchingly demonstrated just how raw and real and relevant romance could be. Tristan remains for me one of the most beloved, flesh-and-blood characters I’ve ever encountered in the genre. RK Lilley’s bravery in tackling his story arc is remarkable. And the execution of it is something to behold. I have no doubt that this series took its own pound of flesh from the author herself, as books often do. You can feel the way she never shies away from the tough stuff and the result is gut-wrenching. If you’ve somehow missed this series, I recommend you rectify that situation right now. But don’t say I didn’t warn you… 😊
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Published on December 27, 2021 08:13 Tags: best-romance, romance-books, romance-recommendations

December 20, 2021

3 Things I Didn’t Want to Learn But Did, Writing Side Effects

Today the author copies of Side Effects arrived in the mail. Ninety-thousand two-hundred and seventeen words – beautifully formatted, professionally edited, and wrapped in the most gorgeous, perfect cover I could’ve ever hoped for. When you hold a finished book in your hands, it feels effortless. Like the story just appeared somehow, was transcribed by the author, and then sent off to be packaged up for bookshelves everywhere. It feels that way, but anyone who’s ever aspired to write a book knows that it isn’t. Not even close.

The truth is, I never thought I’d hold this particular book in my hands. As I write this, it’s still a bit of a wide-eyed, blinking wonder to see it completed. Side Effects was the book I always wanted to write – an enemies-to-lovers story with a magnificently razor-sharp MC, who you love most when he’s at his worst. That untouchable, slightly damaged, beautiful-in-a-scorpion-sort-of-way, secretly honorable man who steals every scene he’s in.

Our Loki.

Our Loki with a secret, nonetheless. I had big ideas for this book, plot points mapped out, full scenes of dialog written, dragons (!), corporate mayhem and mischief, and more! The first fifty pages whipped by in a blur. I was the dog with her head out the car window, in love with the wind. This was my fourth book, and I was calling on all I knew to make it my best. Thousands more words went down on pages. Chapters upon chapters written from both MCs’ perspectives, because that’s what I knew how to do. That’s how all my books were written. That’s how it’s always worked.

And then.

And then, a year into the writing (!), I realized I had no idea how to tell a story in which one MC has a secret that the other needs to discover – and more importantly, that the reader needs to discover. I’d never written a story like this before. My progress slowed. Words became arduous. Full chapters felt forced and problematic. Though I very much didn’t want to believe it, I was coming to suspect that my first-person dual-POV format was a problem. A big one. I was stuck.

And then.

And then came COVID – that year we’d all like to forget when we were sheltering in place, and scouring the internet for toilet paper, and trying to figure out how to do work and school in an overstuffed house. And it turns out that fearing for the safety of oneself and one’s family, along with worrying whether one’s entire job might disappear can have a rather negative impact on creativity and inspiration. As Virginia Woolf so aptly put it, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

As such, my high hopes of spending the pandemic in a whirlwind of creative output evaporated on the wind. My book and I blinked at each other in a silent stand-off throughout 2020 – both thinking the other was crap. It was clear that one of us was going to have to give. (Me. It was going to have to be me.) If I was going to get this book written – and I was too stubborn not to (See also: writer’s best and worst quality) – I was going to have to learn some things. Painful things.

These things:

1. The story, not the writer, dictates the format. Nearly two years in, I stopped fighting that little nagging voice in my head that, of course, already knew this, because those voices are always right. I put on my big-girl pants and cut more than half of those hard-won chapters. Tens of thousands of words from Marcus’s POV gone from the text. It was heartbreaking, terrifying, dispiriting, and also exactly what the book needed in order for the tension in the story to finally come through. I’d been twisting myself into knots trying to keep Marcus honest as a narrator while not allowing him to give away The Secret. It simply wasn’t possible. The story didn’t work if Marcus co-narrated it. So all but two of his chapters were cut – months and months of agonizing work sent to my Deleted file. But when it was done, an enormous weight had been lifted. The book began to take a new shape, a far better shape because the story could finally be told in the way it was always meant to be told.

2. There are no shortcuts to a strong ending. There’s nothing quite like getting three-quarters of the way through writing a novel and realizing you still have absolutely no clue how it’s going to end. It’s not an uncommon problem. How many books have you read in which the writer just seems to throw in the towel and has the resistant lover suddenly show up on her man’s doorstep and tell him she’s decided to forgive him for everything because *love*? Or when the guy who couldn’t have been anywhere nearby actually did hear that crucial conversation and is now jarringly revealed to be the Big Baddie, after all. No one likes when writers do that. It’s cheating.

But I’ll admit (just between us) that there was more than one moment during the writing of Side Effects when I was tempted to pull the ‘change-of-heart’ ripcord and just be done. (Oh, no, of course I intended that character to be a murderous psychopath all along!) After all, we were in a pandemic, for God’s sake, and this book had already been a monster to write, and I was tired. But when I thought about taking an easier way out, that little voice (there it was again!) told me no. Emphatically no. It may have even used some unsavory words to make the point. Because in my heart, I knew my characters deserved (and readers deserved) a more nuanced ending that was believable, authentic, and engaging. The ending of Side Effects didn’t come easily. There was no lightning strike of creativity. It was a slog every day. I still don’t know how it happened but somehow the story found that small patch of grass in the clearing between the rocks and the hard places. It was a rough landing, but looking back, an intensely gratifying one. The resolution allowed my characters to stay ‘in character’ all the way through – they never do or say anything that would cause a reader to think, they wouldn’t do that – and they arrive at a place that feels deeply satisfying. And a little bit magical, if I’m being honest, because the writing process is a mysterious thing – to no one more than the writer, herself. The moral here is this: Don’t pull the ripcord. Crash if you have to, and then just fix the damned thing.

3. Perseverance is everything. If the above two lessons say anything, it’s this: writing is hard. Sometimes it’s totally unsatisfactory. But the only way to write a book is *apparently* to write it. I wish there was an easier way. I haven’t found one. So even on those days when I felt like a monkey hammering away at the keyboard, when the ideas wouldn’t come, and the dialog was terrible, and COVID was terrible, and nothing came out like I saw it in my head, I just kept going. Too stubborn not to. There were chapters that took weeks to write. They were just wrong until they weren’t, and the only thing to do was to keep working them, every day. Just keep getting the story down and have a little faith that eventually, somehow, I’d get to what I intended (See above: mystery). It was ugly a lot of the time but that’s what I did. Had I not, I wouldn’t be holding Side Effects today. I’m not sure what I’m prouder of – the book itself, or simply that I finished it. Both, really, and I’m not ashamed to admit that.

This lesson of perseverance isn’t terribly insightful, nor is it game-changing or earth shattering in any way. It’s just true. It’s just so overwhelmingly true that we as writers have to learn it over and over and over again. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t think we have it in us. We can never allow ourselves to forget it because the moment we do, we close our laptops, say unkind words to ourselves, and let the hard days win.
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Published on December 20, 2021 06:10 Tags: contemporary-romance, enemies-to-lovers, gaming, new, romance, video-game, videogame

December 13, 2021

I Loathe, I Mean, I Love You: Our Attraction with Enemies-to-Lovers

Side Effects is out TODAY (!!!) and in honor of that, I wanted to write a quick post on the enemies-to-lovers trope. Because what is it about Rey and Kylo Ren, or Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, or Belle and The Beast, for that matter, that we find so addicting? We know we do. It’s why Bridgerton was one of NetFlix’s biggest original series launches of all time. The truth is, there is something ridiculously satisfying about watching two people who cannot stand the sight of one another finally, gloriously, discover that they’re meant for each another, after all.

Side Effects is my first enemies-to-lovers story. In my previous novels, I’ve written acquaintances to lovers (Ripple Effects), strangers to lovers (Sound Effects), and friends to lovers (Aftereffects). All have their unique challenges, but writing an enemies-to-lovers story requires especially meticulous care, which is probably why I worked my way up to it. These are stories that can’t be rushed. There must be a good slow burn with small, believable turns, each of which must feel distinct and satisfying. In a good enemies-to-lovers story there are lots of them. But here are some of my favorites (and some classic enemies-to-lovers moments you may recall):

The Claws-Out moment:

“How can you be so blasé about this?”
“Because I didn’t cause these problems, Miss Knope, your government did.”
― Parks and Recreation

The Claws Out moment has to happen very early on and be downright breathtaking. The more devastating the moment, the more satisfying their eventual love will be. Because these couples are not just starting from zero; we’re in deep negative territory here. Just getting to neutral is a big step. In Side Effects, Marcus accomplishes his Claws Out moment with a single word. Just one word. God, he’s a bastard! 😊

The Two Lizards-in-a-Box moment:

"She did have a terrible singing voice. He hated that he knew that, but he couldn’t resist glancing over his shoulder. Nina’s hood had fallen back, and the thick waves of her hair had escaped her collar.
Why do I keep doing that? He thought in a rush of frustration. It had happened aboard the ship, too.
He’d tell himself to ignore her, and the next thing he knew his eyes would be seeking her out."
― Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

This is my favorite of all moments, I have to say. It’s that moment when our couple finally reaches a very fragile neutrality. They don’t like each other; they certainly don’t trust each other. Maybe they feel stuck together – eyeing each other warily – but they know they have to cooperate in order to achieve some shared purpose. Nina and Matthias have some truly amazing Lizards-in-a-Box moments in Six of Crows. Here’s one more just for fun:

“It's not natural for women to fight."
"It's not natural for someone to be as stupid as he is tall, and yet there you stand.”

The moment Something Changes:

Think: Ryan Reynolds in his bed of comforters on the floor in The Proposal singing “It Takes Two” to Sandra Bullock.

In reality, there are probably a number of small moments in a good enemies-to-lovers story that Change Everything. As a writer, capturing them is pure joy. It’s that first bit of trust, that first real smile, that first moment when one character comes to the defense of another. It’s the moment when one character recognizes the humanity in the other. Each and every one is rewarding and wonderful. In fact, don’t we usually need a trilogy to capture them all?

And, at last, Sweet Surrender:

“You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love—I love—I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”
― Film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

Need I even say more about this one! Deep sigh… The more hideous the beginning, the more satisfying this is. I loved giving Marcus his happily-ever-after because he truly deserved it and he needed it. As we all do, right?

Side Effects is out today!
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Published on December 13, 2021 07:56 Tags: contemporary-romance, enemies-to-lovers, new, romance, video-game

November 30, 2021

Under the Covers: The Ripple Effects Series in Pictures

This idea that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover is total crap. Of course we should. That’s why we have covers. They’re supposed to tell us something about the book we’re picking up – to give us some visual cues about what we’re likely to encounter, to help us find the kinds of books we like and help us avoid things that aren’t our taste. After all, books are expensive.

I, myself, am a baby. A knife covered in blood on the cover? I’ll pass. A handsome man in a cravat? My cat ears swing to full attention. Don’t put a handsome man in a cravat on the cover if you’re going to deliver me descriptions of entrails and people very graphically taking a knife to the eye. I’m just saying. That’s what covers are for. Put the bloody knife in the handsome man’s hand, at least, if that’s your intention.

When I was thinking about the cover for Side Effects, I had the opportunity to go back and redesign my previous three covers in the collection and make them all fit today’s romance cover fashion. (See also: bright colors, friendly looking fonts, vaguely illustrated people doing cute things.) As tempting as it was to want to fit in with the current style, I realized that the covers for Ripple Effects, Sound Effects, and Aftereffects were doing exactly the job they’re supposed to do. They tell the reader what to expect: Adult, contemporary romance with tasteful (not gratuitous) on-page love scenes. If you’re looking for a bloody knife, not going to find it here. Prefer your sexy times behind closed doors? I totally respect that – this series may not be for you.

So…great. But what of Side Effects? This is also an adult contemporary romance, but its cover presented a new challenge for two reasons: first, Marcus, my MC, is a different kind of romance hero, more cerebral and edgy. Think: Loki, as opposed to Thor. So a bare-chested character didn’t quite seem to fit him. Second, and this is both a blessing and curse, I had a very definite, real-life person in mind when I thought about how Marcus looks. This isn’t usually the case. For my first three covers, I was overjoyed to find photos that were a pretty darn good match to the characters I saw in my head – especially Keir in Aftereffects. But in the case of Marcus, no stock photography even came close, and I simply could not accept anything less (because, I mean, what a face!).

Then came a lightning strike of an idea and whole lot of luck. The idea was this: Marcus is a video game designer, and the game at the center of the story is an adventure of magic and mystery (dragons!), where you can’t shoot your way out of trouble, you have to think your way out. And (!) in the book, Marcus has created his own avatar that looks like him. (Of course, he would!) So why not illustrate the cover and feature Marcus’s avatar within the game, so he could be drawn similarly to the picture in my head without attracting ire from the actual flesh-and-blood man whose face was my inspiration?

Bingo. But finding the right artist was another matter, and on this, I got very lucky. Théa Magerand, the genius behind the Side Effects cover, does a lot of her work in the horror and fantasy genres. Her characters are vivid, graphic, and sometimes truly horrifying. When I reached out to her about doing a contemporary romance cover, she thought I’d misfired my request to the wrong artist. LOL. But I’d chosen her because she’s a gamer herself, and many of the characters she’s created look like they could walk right out of the most awesome video game you’d ever want to play.

I sent her pictures of how I imagined Marcus looked; I sent her an idea for his avatar’s clothing; I told her there was a dragon and sent her the written description. And then I just got out of her way. What came back is exactly what you see. She nailed it on the first go. No, more than that. She gave me a work of art, gorgeous in its own right and a perfect fit to the contents of the story.

So how does the Side Effects cover fit the book and how does it relate to the Effects collection?
1. Most importantly, it captures Marcus well. There’s a line in the book that says, “Marcus was handsome. It wasn’t the first thing you noticed about him because you were always dealing with a razor-sharp mind.” Thea’s Marcus is handsome, especially if you zoom in on him. But he’s also commanding a high-stakes surrounding, which is a perfect metaphor for the book.
2. It captures the setting well. Gaming is the story’s backdrop, and the dragon is important in more ways than one.
3. From a heat perspective, there are fewer love scenes in Side Effects than in my previous books (two scenes in total) and they are a bit more subtle, as is fitting for the characters. So within the collection of Effects covers, you would accurately guess that there is less emphasis in Side Effects placed on the main characters’ physical relationship than in my previous books.

But the covers are most definitely linked – that also was a deliberate choice. In addition to sharing a naming convention, the covers all have the same fonts, same focus on the male MC, same basic layout. No bloody knife. If you know the series or look at the collection of covers, you’ll know what you’re getting with Side Effects: an adult, contemporary romance with tasteful (not gratuitous) on-page love scenes. And some gaming. And a dragon. I hope you love it. I do. And I’d be very proud to have you judge it by its cover.

Side Effects is out December 13th.
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Published on November 30, 2021 08:29 Tags: contemporary-romance, enemies-to-lovers, gaming, new, romance, video-game, videogame

October 13, 2021

Announcing . . . Side Effects! Coming December 13th!

I am so excited to announce SIDE EFFECTS. This is the book I always wanted to write – an enemies-to-lovers story (!) centering around one of my favorite side characters, Marcus Abby. It takes place in the world of video game development (thus, the incredible cover by Thea Magerand!) and features the kind of corporate shenanigans for which I’ve had a front row seat in my professional career for more than two decades now.

Here is the description:

Who can you trust?

Ally Michels is fresh out of her MBA program at Cal and has landed her dream job at hot, up-and-coming video game developer, Jet Stream Studios, all thanks to her uncle, Jet’s largest venture capital investor. She’s feeling pretty good about her future until an inadvertent blurt in a company meeting brings down upon her the dangerous attention of Jet’s co-founder and chief developer, Marcus Abby.

Beautiful, brilliant, and vicious, Marcus is every bit the arrogant, deceitful founder her uncle warned her about. But in the power-fueled world of venture capital investing, things aren’t always what they seem. When Ally finds herself caught up in a play for corporate control, she must work with Marcus to save the company and an ideal she believes in, while navigating perilous family loyalties and fighting to hold onto her own integrity.

For Ally, there’s just one rule: never, ever trust Marcus Abby. Because the one man she needs to stop a high-stakes plot is the one man who has every reason to want her gone.

SIDE EFFECTS is a standalone adult contemporary, twisty, underhanded, certainly unscrupulous . . . romance.

The writing of Side Effects was a somewhat humbling experience: both realizing how much I didn’t yet know about how to tell a story of this nature (see also: tens of thousands of words from Marcus’s POV left on the cutting room floor), and coming to terms with the creative paralysis of the pandemic. (It turns out that fearing for one’s safety and that of one’s family, along with worrying whether one’s income might disappear overnight, can have a startlingly negative impact on creativity and inspiration.)

Thus, it has been a two-and-a-half-year endeavor of grit and perseverance but in the end, I’m overjoyed with the result. I love the characters and their journeys toward self-acceptance, which, to me, feels like everyone’s journey, my own included. I have often wondered why some of the kindest people I know are so unkind to themselves. And today, coming out of a year that changed everything, kindness and joy feel very much required.

This book also completes the Ripple Effects collection that began in 2013 as a Bay Area traffic-induced musing about a science teacher. It has been an incredible creative expression for me for the last eight years, allowing me to explore the big themes in my own life, like the power and responsibility of mother-daughter/father-son relationships, what it means to live passionately, the experience of grief and loss, and ultimately self-discovery.

Side Effects comes out December 13. Stay tuned for details on a giveaway!
Side Effects
L.J. Greene
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Published on October 13, 2021 07:51 Tags: contemporary-romance, enemies-to-lovers, new, romance, video-game

December 14, 2018

4 Ways to Leave Your Readers Sweaty, Breathless, and Gasping “Oh, Baby!”

From my guest post on Long and Short Reviews. Enjoy!


In romance writing, we love our oohs and ahs. But it turns out that love scenes are quite tricky, and much harder to craft than one might expect. There’s no right way to do it, no how-to manual. Some writers prefer to simply fade to black; others favor a lot of description. It’s a highly personal decision. (Full disclosure: I fall somewhere in the middle. I love a sexy description, so long as it’s done artfully and with purpose.)

Still, certain things hold true regardless of your particular preferences, and it’s important to keep them in mind. After all, a badly crafted scene involving a bank robbery may be boring to a reader, but a badly crafted love scene can be just plain hilarious. And that’s not usually the goal.

The good news is that as human beings, we’re biologically programmed to be interested in sex. Sex of any kind, really. Cows, horses, grasshoppers – if a creature is doing it, we’re inclined to at least give it a glance. So you can expect the cat ears of your readers will naturally swing forward at the first gasp of desire. As such, love scenes are powerful tools in your arsenal of storytelling. Use them responsibly! When you have a tiger by the tail, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Here are a few things to keep it from turning on you:

1. Context. Context. Context.
The measure of a great love scene is that it could only be written for those two specific characters in that particular moment in time. I can’t stress this enough. Sex is not an exchange of sweat; it’s an exchange of emotion. (And there’s a wide range of emotion available to you; don’t limit yourself to just love or lust.) What happens in a sex scene is far less important than why it happens or how your characters feel about it. Too much description with too little emotional context and you have wandered into “hokey pokey” territory. Readers deserve far more than just being told where the right arm presently is.

2. Words matter.
• Power words like “lick” go a long way towards painting a vivid mental picture, and the human brain is more than willing to fill in the rest. Too much detail can be unnecessary and distracting. If you find yourself describing slurping or slapping, you’ve likely gone too far.

• Resist verbal contortionism. I cringe when I read scenes where an author has gone to extreme measures to avoid using certain words. It’s true that how a writer describes the female body, in particular, is a very personal and stylized thing. But most romance readers are not so delicate that you need to say “tender pink crests.” Just say nipple. No one will mind.

• Leave out the euphemisms. If you find yourself writing “coochie,” perhaps you yourself are not comfortable with the level of description in your scene. Your readers will know it. Further, if “flesh knife” appears in your novel, might I suggest any number of better alternatives?

• “Moist” and “creamy” are best left to describe the excellent cake your lovers will enjoy together afterwards. Enough said.

3. Say something!
One of the things I look for in a great love scene is dialog. Keep in mind that these are two human beings. Interacting. And that interaction should move the story along, not just serve as a sexy digression. Dialog is a highly efficient and interesting way to convey emotional context. As you sit down to craft a love scene, try thinking about it as a dialog scene with physical details to support.

4. Employ at least three senses.
In the throes of writing a sex scene (no pun intended!), it’s easy for us writers to forget that our sense of touch is only one arrow in the quiver. What we see and hear, what we smell, and what we taste play equally important roles. By layering in several senses, you can paint a three-dimensional picture that is far more vivid, compelling, and artfully sexy.

Oh, baby!
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Published on December 14, 2018 07:28 Tags: love-scene, romance, romance-writing, sex-scene, tips-for-love-scene, tips-for-sex-scene, writers, writing

December 13, 2018

A Holiday Epilogue for Aftereffects

For Nance. Because you asked... :)



“Okay, so what’s the emergency?” Dan asked me, sliding into the booth on the opposite side and holding up a finger to signal the waitress. “Wait, did you order?”

Jamie shook his head. “Not yet, mate.”

It was just barely six o’clock on a Thursday evening at The Rose & Crown, and the happy hour crowd was already humming.

“What can I get for you?”

“Two Plinys,” Dan told her, gesturing between us. “Guinness for this guy,” he added pointing to Jamie, “and . . . what?” he asked Marcus. “A Shirley Temple? Extra cherries?”

“You’re a riot, grandpa,” Marcus mumbled. “I’ll have an IPA.”

Dan leaned back with his arm draped across the booth and turned to me again. “All right. So what’s got you stress-eating bar nuts? And by the way, I wouldn’t do that,” he cautioned, pointing at the cashew I’d just picked up. “Marcus licks his fingers and double-dips.”

I tossed the cashew back onto the table, and on a gusty exhale told them, “I need your help. I still haven’t figured out what I’m giving Selene for Christmas.”

I could almost hear the screeching of brakes that ripped through the bar at my admission. Time stopped. Conversation went silent. Somewhere, birds probably fell from the sky. Three pairs of eyebrows shot up and there was a subtle shifting of bodies around our table.

“You do know it’s—” Dan turned his wrist and the screen on his watch lit up with the date. “December 13th?”

“I’m well aware,” I answered, leaning forward and dropping my head into my hands. Apparently, this situation was as bad as I imagined. “I’ve been running through all these ideas but nothing feels right. It’s our first Christmas together, our first real gift-giving occasion. I can’t blow this.”

Like an act of divine holiday magic, our waitress returned with alcohol and lots of it, materializing through the crowd and setting our drinks down on coasters in front of each of us. As we descended into our glasses, there was a general consensus around the table that, yes, I was totally screwed if I blew this.

“Okay, here’s the plan: You need a gift,” Dan said to me. “We’ll just do some research.” He pulled out his phone and opened the Google app. “What. Women. Want. 2018,” he mouthed, typing. “Here,” he said pointing to his phone. “Good Housekeeping’s 37 best gift ideas for the woman in your life. Number one, face cream.” He frowned. “Number two, a life planner.” He paused and looked up. “What the hell is a life planner?”

“Dude,” Marcus said sitting forward and holding up his hands. “Isn’t the correct answer to this problem always jewelry? We’re done here.”

“Are you both mad?” Jamie asked them. “Keir cannot give his fiancé a generic gift on their first Christmas. Keir, my mate, you need to come up with something that demonstrates some thought. Some individuality.”

A sinking feeling took hold in my gut. I knew he was right, of course, which is why I hadn’t slept in a week and my brain was practically melting in my head. “What was the first gift you gave Mel?”

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “I wrote her a song and performed it for her in front of thirteen hundred people at The Fillmore.”

My heart immediately bottomed out. I could only look at the bastard and blink.

“I suppose that’s not much help,” he added quickly and with an apologetic wince.

“Not much,” I affirmed. “What about you?” I glanced over at Dan, who looked up from his phone where he was still scrolling the list for something better than face cream.

“I surprised Sarah with a piano. And above it, I hung a portrait of her I’d taken on our first date. She says she thinks it was the exact moment we fell in love.”

Groaning, I rubbed a palm over my mouth. My stomach felt twisty and gross. I was so screwed.

“You know the funniest part of all of this?” Marcus chimed in next to me, arms resting on the table and a wicked grin on his face. “The girls are probably sitting around right now, having this exact conversation. And what you just heard from these saps,” he said nodding his chin at Dan and Jamie, “that’s your measuring stick.”

“You are such a dick right now,” I told him, laughing despite the fact that I was this close to throttling his scrawny throat.

“Yeah, well, what did you expect?”

“Maybe that your seven-year friendship with my bride-to-be might be of some small use in this situation.”

“I don’t know shit about women.” He said it lightly, but his expression suggested there was something tighter beneath it—and nothing he would ever say to me.

Silence engulfed us again and I glanced around, feeling the weight of every Christmas wreath and blinking light and Ho, Ho, Ho resting heavily on my chest.

“Well . . . I did have one idea.” I was hesitant to even mention it because for all I knew it was just as terrible as giving Selene face cream. “I was thinking I could take her to Vegas.”

My eyes flickered to Dan, measuring his reaction. For several beats, he said nothing. Then slowly I watched his expression go from blank to wide-eyed as my meaning dawned. “Elope?”

I winced. “It’s bad. Right?”

Jamie laughed. “Depends how do you feel about castration at the hands of your mother-in-law?”

“No castration required,” I said holding up my hands. “We’d still do the whole wedding thing exactly as planned. I’m not talking about cancelling that. I’m talking about something private just for us. We wouldn’t even have to tell anyone, if she didn’t want to.”

God, was this a terrible idea? I hadn’t actually said it out loud until just now, and the response around the table was not reassuring.

Selene and I joked often about eloping because the wedding planning was reaching comedic levels of absurdity. But in truth, I think I was only partly joking. Yes, a part of me was excited to proudly holler my love for her in front of a big crowd of everyone we knew. Look! Look what I got! But there was another part of me that only needed her, and that part of me was happy to whisper my commitment between us in this small, quiet space where only we existed because that was the only place that really mattered.

“Being married to Selene is the only thing I want. Just to stand before her and pledge myself to her and promise her a life together with love and respect at its core. Anything else I’d give her wouldn’t do justice to what she means to me.”

I let go of a deep breath and lifted my glass, feeling mildly defeated and, honestly, not even caring if my crew gave me a mountain of shit for being so whipped. I deserved it. Truthfully, I relished the feeling that I’d finally been claimed.

But instead they were conspicuously silent for what felt like an eternity. Dan and Jamie exchanged a brief look. I couldn’t tell what any of them were thinking and it drove me crazy.

“Damn, Stevens,” Marcus finally said, shaking his head. “You certainly do know how to throw down when you want to.”

I sniffed out a laugh. “So, is that a thumbs up or a thumbs down?”

Marcus shrugged. “She already said she’d marry you, so what the hell? I say do it.”

Dan hummed thoughtfully, considering this. He was, himself, a newly wed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think I agree with Marcus. My wedding day was one of the best days of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But you do get pulled in so many directions. It would’ve been nice to have a moment to just let it all sink in and enjoy the significance of what we’d done. So yeah, I get it. I think Selene would, too.”


“Seriously.” He held my gaze and I felt a knot loosen in my chest.

“I agree. It’s brilliant,” Jamie added with a grin. “And if nothing else, you’ll get a whole weekend away together—some great meals, a few shows. What do you have to lose?”

A surge of relief flooded my system and I couldn’t fight the smile that exploded across my face. I felt a little shaky and slightly euphoric at the thought that this crazy idea might not be so crazy after all—that my girl might hear me out and not think I was a total lunatic for wanting the future we envisioned together to start, well, . . . now.

“Thanks,” I told them, and I couldn’t make my cheeks go back to their normal shape. I thought they just might stay like this forever.

“Okay, then,” Jamie said, “the only question remaining is, D’ya need a few witnesses?”
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Published on December 13, 2018 07:32 Tags: aftereffects, christmas, epilogue, holiday, holiday-epilogue, perfect-gift

December 12, 2018

Boo! And Yay! The Ups and Downs of Writing

Today I had the good fortune of visiting The Reading Addict. Below is my guest post. And here is the link to the full entry:


Writing, for me, is like being in an angsty teenage romance. One minute, it’s all sweet, sweet ecstasy and you swear you’ve landed Thor himself (the movie version!), all perfect and beautiful, and muscles on top of muscles. The next minute, you’re kicking him to the curb, drinking boxed chardonnay to the music of Adele and planning your satisfying life with cats.

Because let’s face it, writing is hard. Whenever I hear authors say their books just flew out of them, I fantasize about extending my foot and tripping them as they walk by. (I’ve never actually done that, by the way, but damn if it wouldn’t be tempting.) Writing often gives you those high highs and low lows, with very little in between. It’s something you have to be willing to truly work at. And it should be that way. After all, earning even one reader is a privilege. But at the same time, you also have to be kind to yourself. You have to believe in the value of your words. And most of all, you have to trust that your voice is worthy to join the chorus.

I’ve written three books to date, and I can honestly say that at one point or another in the writing process I have despised them all. My search history will attest to the fact that I actually once googled ‘what to do when you hate your manuscript.’ (Who knew there are actually websites for that!) But the longer I’ve been doing this and the more I interact with other authors, the more I’ve come to realize that we all go through this. It’s normal. Even Bruce Springsteen has said about the song-writing process for some of his most iconic work that he simply failed until he didn’t – that certain songs were crap until they weren’t.

So when we sit alone in front of our keyboards and expect ourselves to be Hemingway the first time through, we should probably keep in mind that even Hemingway scrapped certain scenes, rewrote entire chapters, and compared himself unfavorably to others. It’s just the nature of the angsty romance that every author has with writing. The trick, I think, is to not give up on what you’re doing until that thing you’re writing becomes the thing you intended it to be – to believe you have it in you, and then make it so. Because when that happens, it’s magic.

Of all of my books, Aftereffects was the most arduous to write, probably because it’s my most personal and the bar was set very high to get it just right. It’s a gorgeous friends-to-lovers story with a squeal-worthy HEA and two utterly loveable characters. I adore the book. It might even be my favorite. But it wasn't that way every day. Many days, it was Adele and chardonnay and cats…
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Published on December 12, 2018 06:46 Tags: advice, romance, ups-and-downs, writer-s-block, writers, writing

December 6, 2018

Aftereffects Characters Debate the Merits of the Dual POV in Aftereffects

Today I visited Books to Light Your Fire and provided this guest post - Keir and Selene debating the merits of the dual POV in Aftereffects. So much fun!



Keir: So the question here is what . . . why we didn’t want some third person telling our story for us?

Selene: Yeah, that’s the question.

Keir: Why would we want that?

Selene: I don’t know—because a third person is unbiased, I guess. And they can speak to what other people are thinking, too.

Keir: What other people? The story is pretty much just us.

Selene: Like Justin, for example.

Keir: No one cares what Justin thinks. I don’t even care what Justin thinks.

Selene: (laughs) Nah, I really don’t care, either.

Keir: Besides, Aftereffects isn’t about some bank heist. It’s a love story.

Selene: A friends-to-lovers love story.

Keir: Exactly. It’s kind of personal. To have had some third person telling it would’ve been weird. Don’t you think?

Selene: I agree. Another option, though, is that I could’ve told it.

Keir: By yourself?

Selene: Yes.

Keir: Not happening.

Selene: Why?

Keir: That’s boring.

Selene: What?

Keir: You’d have spent the whole book going ooohhh Keir, he’s so hot, he’s so perfect, he has such a big—

Selene: Keir!

Keir: (laughs) You know you would.

Selene: You’re the most annoying.

Keir: And you, Ms. Georgiou, are my aching, forever love. But you have to admit, Aftereffects is much better because I’m in it. Also, not to bring up a sore subject here, but you didn’t always read the tealeaves correctly when it came to us.

Selene: Ouch.

Keir: It’s true, though.

Selene: It’s kind of true. Much as I hate to admit it to your arrogant, smug face.

Keir: Handsome, did you say?

Selene: I didn’t say that, no.

Keir: (smiles) And don’t forget that I told some great stories in Aftereffects.

Selene: Like what stories?

Keir: Like the Jiffy Pop story in Chapter 21. I gave some valuable insight into my upbringing.

Selene: You mean how ten-year-old you ran around pretending to be a superhero?

Keir: Human Torch, baby. Flame on! (reaches out for a fist bump)

Selene: Flame on!

Keir: You know, one of the reviewers said they loved the way I told the part about when you made me go with you to Bloomingdales.

Selene: I didn’t make you. You were holding up your side of a bargain.

Keir: Yeah, whatever.

Selene: I’m still a little mad at you for that chapter, by the way. Did you really have to tell everyone about . . . you know . . .

Keir: (grins big) I don’t think I do. What are you referring to?

Selene: Hush, you.

Keir: (laughs) You’re blushing! That part was awesome . . . Any guy would agree. And that’s why we needed my POV. We needed a man’s perspective.

Selene: And what would’ve been your perspective on the part where you told me you wanted every side of me in every light of day for as long as we have.

Keir: I don’t remember it like that.

Selene: Which is why we needed my perspective. (smiles big) It’s all right there in Chapter 12.

Keir: I knew I should’ve narrated that chapter. And speaking of which, I need to talk to L.J. about the number of chapters I got. I don’t think it was 50/50.

Selene: She probably didn’t think you could keep a secret.

Keir: What do you mean?

Selene: I think she wanted me to tell the earlier chapters because good storytelling means you let a story out slowly. And you’re kind of . . .

Keir: I’m kind of what?

Selene: Awesome. (smiles)

Keir: No. (laughs) Nice try, Georgiou. What were you going to say? I’m kind of what?

Selene: You’re just very . . . introspective. You analyze everything. Which is a good thing. It’s one of your best qualities, Keir.

Keir: But?

Selene: No but.

Keir: (raises a brow)

Selene: I just think once you got rolling, you would have told the whole thing in one long chapter and not left anything for me.

Keir: So you’re saying I’m too awesome of a storyteller.

Selene: I don’t think that’s what I said at all.

Keir: And a bit of a demigod.

Selene: It’s a good thing I love you.

Keir: It’s a damn good thing you love me.
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Published on December 06, 2018 06:29 Tags: aftereffects, character-debate, contemporary, dual-pov, humor, romance

December 5, 2018

"Oh, Yes Baby!" And Other Things I've Learned About Writing

Good morning! Today, I'm visiting Romance Novel Giveaways with a guest blog. http://romancenovelgiveaways.blogspot...



Suffice it to say, for an author, every book written is a learning experience. Some lessons come in the form of a pleasant surprise–like the discovery of five bucks in the pocket of a jacket you haven’t worn in a while. Who knew you had it in you? But some lessons come like the discovery of a black whisker on your chin. Makes you wonder how long that little lovely has been there, and who might have noticed it before you did. Seriously, don’t dwell on that.

So here are a few things I’ve learned about writing:

1. Writing is like being in an angsty teenage romance.

One minute, it’s all sweet, sweet ecstasy and you swear you’ve landed Thor himself (the movie version!), all perfect and beautiful, and muscles on top of muscles. The next minute, you’re kicking him to the curb, drinking boxed chardonnay to the music of Adele and planning your satisfying life with cats.

Because let’s face it, writing is hard. Whenever I hear authors say their books just flew out of them, I fantasize about extending my foot and tripping them as they walk by. (I’ve never actually done that, by the way, but damn if it wouldn’t be tempting.) Writing often gives you those high highs and low lows, with very little in between. It’s something you have to be willing to truly work at. And it should be that way. After all, earning even one reader is a privilege. But at the same time, you also have to be kind to yourself. You have to believe in the value of your words. And most of all, you have to trust that your voice is worthy to join the chorus.

Of all of my books, Aftereffects was the most arduous to write, probably because it’s my most personal and the bar was set very high to get it just right. It’s a gorgeous friends-to-lovers story with a squeal-worthy HEA and two utterly loveable characters. I adore the book. But it wasn't that way every day. Many days, it was Adele and chardonnay and cats…

2. Not every idea is a good idea.

Oh sure, as an author, you covet all lightening bolts of divine inspiration, but let’s face it – in the light of day, some ideas are just stinkers. To be fair, my first encounter with this bit of wisdom came while writing Ripple Effects. I’m very glad to report that before publication of that novel, I had the good sense to delete a particular scene involving a Butterfinger. Yes, you read that right. A Butterfinger. And trust me on this; you really don't want to know.

But armed with that bit of experience, I came to understand as I wrote Sound Effects and then Aftereffects that knowing which scenes to cut was every bit as important as knowing which scenes to write. In fact, I deleted nearly ten thousand words from the final version of Aftereffects, and its pacing is one of the things of which I’m most proud. This book builds momentum from the start and doesn’t let up until the very last page. No mid-novel sag here! And no Butterfingers. You have my word on that.

3. ‘Oh yes, baby!’ only gets you so far in the writing of great love scene.

Well, sure, we do love our oohs and ahs. But it turns out that love scenes are very tricky, and much harder to craft than one might expect. Too much description with too little emotional context for the scene and you have wandered into “hokey pokey” territory. Readers deserve much more than just being told where the right arm presently is. To me, the measure of a great love scene is that it could only be written for those two specific characters in that particular moment in time.

In fact, I’ll tell you that the first love scene in Aftereffects, told from both Keir and Selene’s perspectives, required at least a dozen re-writes before hitting those critical notes. On more than one occasion, that scene made me want to curl up in a ball and eat cake, but now it’s one of my very favorites.

4. It’s good to break with convention.

I tend to write the stories I need to tell, rather than the stories that are the most commercial at the time. I realize that puts me not exactly in vogue, but I also think there are a lot of us out there who want to see our experiences reflected in real ways, with characters that feel authentic. The most important thing a writer can do is to write something she believes in. The rest will take care of itself.
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Published on December 05, 2018 06:27 Tags: lessons-learned, romance, writers, writing-tips