Once upon a time not so long ago, there was a woman who wanted to be a writer. Actually, she was a writer, but she didn’t know what to do with her writing, and since she placed her family’s needs and wants above her own, those writings collected dust in a box in a closet for years. But she passed that love of writing to her children, and one of them—me—took off with it.
When I think back to memories of Mom, it’s always her with a book in hand. She loved to read, but she also jotted down notes about each book or captured quotes that spoke to hear. Even as late as 2017, several years after her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Mom would travel with a book and a pen. At that time, she’d pore over each page, but she’d get nowhere, as her brain couldn’t reconcile the words, images, and concepts in front of her. Story time for her, for us, was gone.
But well before that diagnosis, Mom had shelves, bags, and boxes brimming with books in our home. Each night before bed, she’d pull out a book and read to us, even well after we could read to ourselves. I came to expect finding a new book on the shelf from time to time, and always, at Christmas, Mom chose a special story that Dad would read to us. As I got older, I realized that some of the books she had lying around were romance novels, and I was intrigued. I specifically remember sneaking into the den in one of our houses and Mom’s room in another house, riffling through her banker’s box of romance novels, and pulling out books, one at at time, never taking a book out unless I’d replaced the one I took first. In fact, I read so many Penny Jordan novels as a teen, I was convinced I’d write a romance novel eventually. (I never asked Mom if she knew I snuck those books out of her box; my guess is that she knew but never said anything).
But life moved on in ways I didn’t expect, and it wasn’t until 2014, when I was reading a romance novel whose title I can’t remember now, that I thought to myself, “I can do this. If I can write women’s fiction, I can’t write romance too.” And that October, I wrote up a blurb and a scene. I titled that book Breakfast with the Billionaire and said I’d get to it in time.
Time is relative, isn’t it? Especially when you have children and parents to worry about. But in 2021, only seven years after that post, I decided to tackle Breakfast with the Billionaire as my NaNoWriMo project. I finished the book, and I had a blast writing it. And during a session with my therapist, Valerie, I said, “I wonder if I should write romance as a side gig.”
“Why not?” Valerie said. “Do you think you’ll regret it if you don’t try?”
“I’ll let you know what I think in two weeks,” I said.
At my next appointment, I told Valerie that I would regret not trying. That I thought, perhaps, Mom had regretting not trying to do something with her writing.
“That’s your answer then,” Valerie said. “It never hurts to try.”
So I moved forward with a plan, but I kept my work a secret. I enlisted Josh McCall to design a website and Kim Bailey to help with a cover. I asked authors and friends Christina Berry and Erin Flanagan to help shape the story with their expertise. But I said nothing to anyone else about these plans, save my family and a few very close friends. “I need to keep this under wraps,” I said. For what reasons? Some I’m sure of and some I’m not, but I wasn’t ready to announce the direction I had decided to take some of my work in.
But losing your mother teaches you lessons, only one of which is the age-old “there’s no time like the present,” and I’d like to introduce you to my alter ego, Keely Stephens. She’s me but embodies many of the parts of me that don’t show up very often. She’s also a little bit me in another universe. She has red hair and purple glasses, loves Bob Ross and nature. She prefers warm socks and sweaters and chocolate and mint juleps. She loves Hallmark movies but laughs at their predictability. She’s not afraid to use the proper anatomical terms for body parts, but she also loves slang. And as you’ll find out if you read any portion of her books, she’s more than willing to talk about sex in a positive manner, which means her books (at least some of them) will fall on every side of spicy.
Writing Breakfast with the Billionaire was, hands down, one of the most fun writing projects I’ve taken on to date, including all the women’s fiction titles I have sitting on my desktop. And the second book in this series set in Five Rivers, Ohio? It’s my NaNo project for this year. It’s coming along, and I have an idea for the third in the series in the back of my mind too. Wait, scratch that. I have a few character sketches and a rough—very bare bones—outline in a file somewhere. All of which means that this side gig is moving forward, whether I’m ready or not!
At the heart of these books and any more that Keely writes will always be a love story because I know how much Mom loved those. So though my mother might have been slightly shocked about the content of some of these books (she didn’t even like it when we used the word “nipple” appropriately), at the end of the day, I’d like to think she’d pat me on the back and give me a warm hug for following my passion.
And yes, I told her about this project well before she passed. The butterfly on the home page is in Mom’s honor.
Feel free to connect with me (and Keely) at anytime!
Please note that the release date for Breakfast with the Billionaire is not set yet, but it should be sometime in February 2023 (that’s a strategic move, as Mom was born in February). I’ll have preorder links available as soon as possible. If you feel like keeping up with all things Keely, head to the webpage and scroll to the bottom, where you can enter your email and subscribe to her newsletter. She’ll have one available soon—I promise!
Oh! I should also mention that I don’t have any intention of stopping with my women’s fiction projects. I’ll have news about the next one of those very soon.