*This is the extended, personalized version of a blog post I created for Quick & Dirty Romance Podcast. Be sure to check out our 1st episode for the rest of the story!*
Authors often get asked about their inspiration. It’s probably the question I’ve fielded most as a debut author: “What inspired you to write?”
The simple answer is, nothing. I wasn’t inspired to write. Writing has always been a part of me. It was a natural extension of voracious reading when I was younger. I tried keeping one of those diaries from Sanrio with the little lock on it. At my most consistent, I probably averaged three entries every six months; shockingly, recording the events of my middle school life just didn’t compel me. Can’t imagine why, as there was so much going on in the drowsy little Nashville suburb for a bookish 12-year-old who knew more about the Beatles than the latest boy band. (Yes, read this with sarcasm!)
But where diaries didn’t work, writing stories did. By 9th grade I was sitting up late at night, penning an epic saga into spiral notebooks while Delilah kept me in soft rock and gently judgmental relationship advice from my bedside clock radio. I got the idea of a huge story about lots of people from special edition Sweet Valley High novels I’d read, but this saga was very much my own.
These notebooks are gone. I threw them away in 2011 when my parents moved to a new house and requested I weed out my old stuff. (I also threw away all my high school photographs and trophies. Some of y’alls jaws have dropped, I know.) While those rambling, juvenile tales no longer exist, what has remained are seeds of ideas. Whispers of characters have grown up and morphed into a cast of friends and family that populate my Anti-Belle series.
Amid all my ideas was one about a girl (a teen when I first conceived it) who moves home to a small town in the South from NYC. She was furious and bitter to be dragged away from her life. When she’s partnered with a boy on a school project, her prickly demeanor is meant to keep him away. He doesn’t care. He isn’t fazed by it, sees more in her than the anger she shows, and his laid-back acceptance of whatever she needs to be helps Celeste take her walls down and embrace something new.
When he first sees her, the book he’s reading falls out of his hand and hits the floor. There’s a scene where she loses her temper and tries to hit him, but he restrains her, building heavy sexual tension.
Sound familiar, Not Suitable for Work fans??
But I digress. Inspiration. Where did I get my inspiration for Not Suitable for Work? Simply put, this story was born from the idea of an empty room with two desks in it. These once-childish characters grew up, their reasons and motives changed, their back stories became way more adult, and there we go. NSFW.
It’s often said that there are no original stories in this world, simply combinations of tropes and archetypes in varying forms. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but I’m very sure that what makes a story shine are the details, the inspiration, that the writer has to make her story unique. Case in point: my podcasting partner Sarah Smith and I have written office place, enemies-to-lovers romance novels. Both feature strong women trying to prove their place on the job. Both have quiet, athletic love interests who are hot ;). We have the tension builds, the steamy scenes, the “black moments,” and the happily ever after. They’re fun, they’re hot, they’ll make you laugh and pull at your heart.
Despite all the parallels, I guarantee these books do not substitute one another. You will not have a “been there, done that” mentality as you read Not Suitable for Work and Faker. (Go read them, then tell me what you think!)
Tropes are simply the building blocks we use to create the plot. Inspiration is the heart, and the details a writer is inspired to include give the book its personality. Sarah wanted a love interest who was the complete opposite of her tall, dark, and handsome brothers; she found inspiration in Finnish fitness pro Eero Westerberg. Her climactic dark moment between Emmie and Tate is sourced from her own personal reactions to a situation (shh, no spoilers!). For me, my hometown of Nashville, TN, was a huge inspiration. When Celeste reminisces about her high school days down on 2nd Avenue, she’s telling my high school stories. And when her colleague Joe tells her to “Watch out for girls who drink whiskey,” her WTF response was precisely how I felt when a coworker of mine said those very words to me!
So many things inspire a writer. To us, the world is details and sparks of stories. So if anyone has ever dissed your favorite genre as “you’ve read one, you’ve read them all,” may I suggest you handle it as southerners do: Smile, tilt your head, and say, “Aww. Bless your heart.”*
Then go and lose yourself in your latest read.
*This phrase means anything you want it to, so I’ll leave it to your imagination how to fill it in!
It's Thanksgiving Eve. I'm in a silent apartment with my beloved Winston, who's very ready to have his mom home for the rest of the week. There's so much to tell you that I'm going to pen a newsletter tonight to share it all, but I had to tell you now, since you're likely traveling and prepping for the holiday:
NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK is only .99 in ebook on amazon this week. I'm including the link below, because I want everyone who can to take advantage of this deal! There is a KEY SCENE at Thanksgiving, making it the perfect escape story for this weekend.
More in the newsletter. Love always.
I'm here on my terrace in Brooklyn, thinking about Nashville (going for a visit in two weeks!) and planning so many details of my book release.
My. Book. Release.
Those words do things to my heart that I can't explain. I wrote NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK https://amzn.to/2m9ZDYv in the fall of 2014, when my life looked incredibly different than it does now. (But Winston the Corgi still sits at my side!) After that, the Anti-Belle series poured out of me at dizzying speed, leaving me a blur of plot lines and reality for the next 2+ years. Then, in the winter of 2018, I finally started to think I was close to the Writers' Dream: publication.
Then, a LOT more life happened.
While I waited and waited to hear the magic words, I went through personal upheaval and self-discovery like I never imagined I could--Like I never imagined I'd need to. All the while, my dream whispered in the background, always just out of reach.
So now here I am, a whole new me, and it's time to make this dream a reality. I truly feel that this couldn't have happened sooner, that the personal work I had to do has only made this moment and my writing stronger.
A week and a day, and I'll get to share my world with you. I hope you fall in love with it; I hope it makes you want to meet all my characters and share their love stories. But mostly I hope it makes your day a little brighter by reading.
So much love,
This was easily the sexiest moment I could remember. I had to focus on details because when I tried for the whole package, I felt like there wasn’t enough room in my body for all the blood and adrenaline surging through me.
Details: the sweet tang of her sweaty skin on my tongue. Details: her damp, hot forehead on my shoulder, her hands gripping my biceps.
But then those big blue eyes locked on me as she smiled, and then it couldn’t be details. I capsized under a wave of lust and love while every single one of my senses drank us in: her body, our scent, the guttural sounds of our pleasure, her essence on my tongue.
I'm a fucking rock star. Any sexual act you could think of, I’ve probably seen at least once. I’ve had models and royalty and countless other women. None of them made me feel like this, so open and stripped bare to the most elemental kind of connection between two people. Nothing had ever stirred this feeling inside of me.
“I need to leave soon,” I repeated once I’d slipped off the stool and followed to find him on the couch. I wandered back to the windows, but reality crashed down on me, dissolving this scene just like Ivy’s voice had done last night.
“I wish you understood...” I trailed off, gazing out again. My perfect winter setting just looked dull and dead. With a sigh, I rubbed my forehead.
“I didn’t ever think I’d see you again.”
“Didn’t think, or didn’t want to?”
My throat was tight, but I flashed a sad smile over my shoulder. “Want to,” I whispered, and he couldn't hide his flinch. “I wanted to be perfect to someone. Just a memory, a wild time, you know? You were perfect—we were perfect, right? I wanted it to stay that way. I wanted a little fairytale of my own—just once. I wish life could’ve given me that." Telling him this broke my heart, partly because of the pained look on his face and partly because, even though it’s true, I know I can’t bear the thought of not seeing him again.
James rose and stood beside me, silent a long time. When I couldn't take it anymore, I continued. “You don’t know me.”
"Oh, really?" he asked with a sarcastic grunt I never imagined hearing from him. Of course you didn't. That's the whole issue. You don't know him.
"I’m serious. You have to see how different I am than the girl you met last year.”
“Sure,” he said, finally turning to eye me. “I see that. What’s your point?”
Note! This is the bit that comes AFTER the bit on Twitter!
I woke in the middle of the night freezing cold on my front. My back was warm where he curled around me, and it took me a minute to get that we were still on top of the sheets of his bed. A flash of panic grabbed me—I couldn't sleep there all night, couldn't wake up and see his embarrassed smile and hear words about why this was a mistake. For me there was no mistake.
I slipped out of his arms and back to my bedroom, leaving my clothes on his floor. Even though the clock read 3am, I stepped into the shower before climbing into the soft sheets. The first guy I really wanted to spend the first night in his arms, and I left because I was afraid. Classic New Megan.
The sun was bright when I woke at last and stumbled out of bed. I cracked the bedroom door carefully to listen, but the place was silent—well, except for the symbolic screaming my gown and--oh, god, kill me now--panties were doing from the hanger on my doorknob. I grabbed them both and tucked them away, then peeked out again to find his door open and the room definitely empty. Matter of fact, the whole house seemed dead. Too antsy to sit around, I jumped into my swimsuit and went to the pool.
The water was cold but I didn't care. Half an hour of strong laps soothed me a little and tired me after my night. I hoisted out and sat with my feet in the water, staring vacantly into the blue. It was just good sex. You needed it. It wasn’t a big deal.
It was so a big deal.
I swear the room spun. “I said we should stop…but I didn’t say I wanted to, did I?”
That opened his eyes.
Will put his feet back on the floor and crooked his finger. “Then come over here and let me show you just what I thought about. Unless, of course, you’re still trying to be good.”
I lifted my chin. “Oh, I’ll be good. I’ll be fucking great.”
He grinned. “No doubt.”
But it was a long walk, those five steps from the couch to the chair. Every second built the anticipation, the desire—and the dark thrill of knowledge that this was a point of no return, that we were about to--
I shivered when he put his hands on my thighs and lifted his gaze. One of my knees rested on the chair’s arm. Will sat back and stroked my skin, his breath short and tight, eyes lust-drunk.
“Wait.” His hand covered my knee and eased me back to stand so he could tug my shorts to the ground and push my over-shirt off. Will kissed my leg just below the hem of my tee and exhaled hard. “These legs. Fuck, come here, Liv.”
I needed no more prompting to straddle his lap, cup his jaw, and seal our mouths.
“Not sure. What happens after the deadline?”
I swallowed hard. He’d never say it, but I knew Nick wanted me to find an angle that would let us be together.
I didn’t want to lie to him.
“I have no idea. Jesse’s tour starts at the end of September. He’s booked across North America through the spring. If things go right, he’ll tour worldwide for at least a year.”
“Which means you’ll be gone for at least a year.”
“I don’t have any other options on the table right now,” I said.
“And what about you? What comes after the album?”
He sighed and rolled to his back. “Another project, and then another. Life will go on.”
Will it? Will life go on when I lose you again? What does it feel like to know there’s someone in this world that you love when you’re not with them? How does life simply go on when you carry someone so deep in your soul?
We didn’t talk more, but sleep didn’t come for either of us easily, either.
I heaved a sigh and pushed off the cushion, shuffling blind down the hall to brush my teeth. It was only 9:00, but exhaustion and the look on my mother’s face haunted me. I crawled into the sheets, where ideas and questions tumbled around in my head in a jumbled mess.
Give me a truth... I’m fine. Once this job sorts itself out, life can begin again. I’m not hiding, I’m... playing to my strengths. I’m better alone. I can focus. Know yourself. Your business is you.
But, as always, my thoughts turned back to That Day—the day I blew it, the day Derrick taught me the hardest truths of my life.
Stop. Don’t. Don’t think about it. Don’t go there again. I gripped my arm tight and braced against the memories I couldn’t control, could never forget. Something new. Think of something, anything else. My nails dug into my skin as I searched my mind and landed on...
Wonder where he is tonight, what he’s doing? Is he drinking Jameson? Is he thinking of me? Definitely not, but still. What if he was? And why are you holding your elbow so damn tight?
My grip slacked, and blood began to flow again. It had been such a nothing move, only a means to stop me from driving home tipsy, but the memory of Benjamin’s hand wrapped around my arm made my skin tingle.
"Give me a truth."
In the dark, alone, the truth was this: I wanted him to touch me again.
A waitress sauntered over. “What are y’all drinkin’?”
Celeste ordered first. “Jameson. Also, could I get an IPA? Thanks.”
Well, damn. I’d figured a “New York gal” like her, with her sharp fashion sense and haughty streak as wide as the Mississippi River, would’ve been all about the Cosmopolitans. “Sounds good. I’ll have the same,” I said to the server.
While we waited, I sat back and watched Celeste do everything she could to avoid eye contact. She studied her hands, the table, and the bar to our left, but her gaze flicked to me every few seconds. I suppressed another smile.
Come on, Celeste. Look at me. We’re at a bar; we can chat a little, right?
I searched for a conversation starter, but nothing seemed safe enough. What’s your story? Why is a woman like you fighting for a position like this? Too invasive. How long have you been in programming? No, might sound like I’m fishing for info.
Did you know how thirsty I was while I stared at your mouth? Do you have any idea how beautiful you are, how often I look at you during the day? Why do you seem so sad?
Is there someone who makes you happy? Is there someone who can make you come so hard that you forget all your troubles?
“What is wrong with you?”
Celeste blinked at my whispered self-reprimand. “Sorry, what?”
Shit! Recover, quick! “What, ah, what’s wrong with—”
“Two Jamesons, two IPAs.”
I could’ve kissed that waitress for her timing.
Skye McDonald is my pen name for the series of novels I’ve written. Each of the books features its own protagonists, and can be read as a standalone novel; however, this seven-book-and-growing series is the world of a group of friends and family, and you will meet your favorite characters again in supporting roles as you progress through the books.