Editor – Barbara Tsipouras

Barbara was my first beta reader.  I posted on Goodreads (my very first) and she responded almost immediately.  She’s always given me excellent feedback and even acted as alpha reader for DoaCK‘s 2, 3 and short stories.

Barbara is German and does German to English translations professionally.  She proofed my first 50 pages when I cheekily submitted to Tor/Forge, without realizing how raw and unread my story was (she did point this out, but I was counting on the publisher cleaning things up; they will, but it’s best if your work is nearly spotless when you’re a debut author).  I highly recommend her.

Her web site: https://reading-experience.blogspot.de/

Beta reading

Every writer needs beta readers.  Just like every writer needs editors.  Don’t be a Keith and think you can go and query just because a couple of friends read your work and had only nice things to say.  After I queried without any success, I decided to see if my work could be improved with the help of input from people who didn’t know me.

Yep, they had lots of good input!  I learned a lot more than I was blind to a lot of stupid editing issues (if you haven’t noticed by now, I cherish run on sentences), I learned how stuff in my head often didn’t make it onto the page/screen.  Of the three novels I’ve finished, I’ve had a total of 62 readers.  One of the things I learned, which was just as important: blurbs matter.  I was overselling the romance aspect (having cheekily decided mine was, without having read any to that point) and wound up with a number of disappointed readers, some militantly so.

I also paid a number of readers.  My notes say I paid 24, ranging from $22US to $150 with a mean of $40 and an average of $18.75. (The novels were all between 75-80K; size does matter.) My opinions are the paid readers provided about the same quality of feedback, on average, as the free ones, though please note the variation was substantial in both pools.

I’ve also done beta reading (for free) and feel I’ve learned at least as much doing my own beta reading as I did from those who read for me.  There’s nothing like seeing your bad habits in other people’s writing to drive home the feedback your own readers have given you.  My notes say over the last year I’ve read all or part of over 100 novels or short stories for 90 different authors.  Those authors ranged from jaw dropping jealousy inducing stories and prose to… not so much.  I try to be gentle when I give feedback, but I also feel I do no one any favors by sugar coating it.  I won’t say “you suck!” but I will let you know if I think you’re making systemic mistakes and need a lot of work.

I don’t charge when I read because I feel it gives me the flexibility to say, thanks but no thanks, if I don’t feel I’m a fit.  Sometimes I’m not grabbed by a story even if the prose and imagery is excellent.  Sometimes the story, as written, is hard to read due to prose issues.  Plus, I’m paid well in my day job and a lot of authors are working on shoe-string budgets (or less), so I feel reading for free is a way to give back to the community.  And to top it off, I got to read some amazing stories, for free.  Hard to beat that when a book can easily cost $7-10 today!

So, get input from people who don’t know you and have no reason to tell you pleasing things.  And get professional editorial input.  And, if you’re going to self publish, all that and proofing as well.

Interviewing a Dominatrix

I tried quite a while to find a dominatrix I could interview for my novel idea “The Dominatrix Wore Red,” but was having lots of problems finding one that would work within my budget (that would be zero, in this case).  I wasn’t able to connect with the woman who created the ad, unfortunately, and all the others that responded wanted some amount of money.  I got very lucky and connected with a local dominatrix who agreed to meet me in her dungeon, in mid Sept ’17, and answer my questions.  She asked me not to use her name.  Here are my notes from our conversation:

The Mistress works out of a high-end condo, in a high-end DC neighborhood, but very ‘cozy,’ at 750 sqft (and a grand a square foot). She had heavy curtains over the windows, completely blocking out any of the light, and the lights were dim. She had some jazz-type music going, a bit louder than I’d like, requiring me to speak louder than I would normally. The windows faced south, so probably would make the place quite warm without them. When I was there, her AC unit seemed to be on the fritz, though it had only warmed to 75.

Very clean, smelled fine (meaning, no smell), ambiance was neutral, beyond the restraints, of course. The kitchen peninsula (seating area to one side, with dark granite counter tops) had a couple of nook-type cabinets, some holding things like dildoes, other holding whips and chains. Very organized. She said she cleans everything with a germicidal compound after every session and even autoclaved some of the tools/toys.

Nominally, the place is two bedrooms, though one was the size of a medium-sized walk-in closet. The other would fit a king-sized bed, though little else. The larger had its own bathroom. The living/dining area, maybe 12×12, had several restraint systems around the periphery. The center of the room with what was basically a massage table.

The smaller bedroom was made up to be like a doctor’s office, complete with skeleton. I guess some people are into being restrained on the exam table.

The larger bedroom was the most normal. She said it was her consulting room, though she often would have her subs sit on the floor. It had a futon, where I sat for the interview, and was her personal space, meaning she didn’t let her clients there without her being present. Her small walk-in closet was full of costumes, she showed me a couple. She had a number of corsets, some of which cost several hundred dollars. And lots of leather and latex. She had a number of spiked high heels, one pair of leather boots she said cost several hundred. Clearly she had a whole lot invested in this, beyond the expensive condo.

She said she had a suspension rig she could put together quickly, and when I wondered about how much effort it would take to put it to use, she insisted it was easy to set up and didn’t take up much floor space.

She said that the US made restraint furniture wasn’t worth the price, and usually bought from European suppliers.

The payment is referred to as ‘tribute,’ which amused me. And she often gets extravagant gifts. Indeed, a friend of hers was so intrigued by the gifts, the friend became a sugar baby.

While most of her clients are wealthy, not all are. She does, though, rarely give any sort of discount. She minimizes any sort of fluid exchange, and feels a number of her clients chose her for that reason.

The Mistress has trademarked her professional name, and has been aggressive about going after infringers. She’s been married to her high-school sweetheart for, I believe she said, 34 years, which I calculate puts her at 51 (she said they met when she was 17). Her husband is completely comfortable with her work. They live in Virginia, and she commutes around 90 minutes one-way.

While she kept the place dark, I was able to see her face ‘had some miles on it,’ but I still feel she’s attractive. Her body still looks good. She was wearing blonde hair, and, based on her eyebrows, I commented I figured she was a natural. She replied that she was more of a dirty-blonde (no pun intended) now, and lightened her hair with highlights.

Most (92-93%) of her clients are men, 5% are couples, and 2-3% are women. Sometimes the couples are both subs, but often one or the other is being trained as a dom for the other partner. She charges $300 an hour (but discounts two hours to $500) and has only raised her rates $50/hr since she bought the condo in ’05. I suggested she was leaving money on the table. She didn’t dispute that, but said something along the line of maximizing income was a balancing act. Higher hourly rate resulted in fewer hours, and she’s been happy with the rate she’s been charging.

She’s a major force in the DC area ‘prodom’ scene, and commented when she raised her rate, many other doms followed suit. She rarely travels for work any longer, but used to do that when she was younger.

She has done professional modeling and her images have been used on book covers.

She’s been in the ‘pro dom’ business (as opposed to the ‘lifestyle’ doms, who do it just for fun) since 1998, but doing it full-time for 17 years. Her early careers were in computers and graphics.

Except for some minor physical differences (she is blonde and not quite as ‘hippy’ as I envision my character), I feel she’s intellectually a perfect match for the character I envisioned. While ‘my’ dom has a PhD, she said that wasn’t unheard of at all, and she knows several. She also knows several who have anthropology background. One woman she knows, but not as a dom, was a stripper for her PhD thesis, then later wrote a book about the experiences.

As far as my novel is concerned, I feel she completely validated everything I’ve written.

The Dominatrix Wore Red

Mid May of ’17 I was at a doctor’s office and browsed through a local magazine. For whatever reason, I tend to start at the back and look at the ads and classifieds. I read an interesting personals ad for a dominatrix, but what really caught my mind was the line “provides erudite, loving conversation.” My mind latched onto the idea of a dominatrix beating the hell out of a guy, while having deep philosophical conversations. Somehow, my mind migrated to the idea of her being interviewed by a detective about a murder, and how she might very well seem guilty and hiding information simply because of the way she talked.

By the time I got home, I convinced myself I wanted to write a murder mystery with a dominatrix as the main suspect. Before my mind could organize itself to record ideas, it wanted to get a copy of the ad, for posterity, but I couldn’t find it online anywhere I searched. I first tried a book store (one of the few bricks-and-mortar ones left), but the ad wasn’t in the latest edition of the magazine. We went to the local library, but it was shut down for renovations. We went to another library, when I’m sure I saw on the web site it was open until 9 PM, but it closed at 6. We happened upon another, small one, but it was for kids only. Finally, the next day, we went back to the one that was closed. The ad wasn’t in any of the ones in the box they handed us, but we noted it was missing May. We asked about May, but the guy didn’t have any idea where it would be. Oh wait! Here it is, next to where it belongs. Finally I got a copy of the ad, and saw how much I had romanticized it in my memory. Nonetheless, here’s what got “The Dominatrix Wore Red” started:

Yes, my website is boring!

Yes, I understand that my website is dull and lifeless.  I’m a content-oriented person and absolutely hate any form of animation, music, etc. when I reach a web page.  I may have (only possibly) over reacted when I created my website and went with the less is more school of thought.

I’m also a very old-school, manual HTML sort of guy, having learned it 20+ years ago when wysiwyg editors simply didn’t exist.  Thus, I stick with what I know and you’ll find little beyond HTML 1.0 here.  No need to lecture me.  If you want bells and whistles, the closest you’ll get is at my blog, where WordPress insists on some minimal decorum.


I’ve been writing my screenplays in the markup language Fountain because I find the tedium of learning to use software other people wrote to be painful and demoralizing.  What I like about Fountain is I can write in any text program, then run the formatter on it.

I do all my work on Linux, so needed something that would run there.  I wanted something to run from the command line, which is one of the reasons I switched to Linux in the first place.  After much research, I got the program for conversion off GitHub, then followed the instructions on StackExchange to install and use.  I’ve been very happy with the results.  Now I can write in Google docs without any need to do more than adhere to a few stylistic elements, then run the conversion script and have a nice (if a bit large, the ‘magic’ seems to be done with a plethora of spaces; it compresses nicely, though) PDF file beautifully formatted.

As a BTW, I found, once I felt I was done editing the text version, that if I reviewed the formated version I could pick up a lot more typos, etc., not to mention catching the places I didn’t to the markup correctly.

Diary of a Contract Killer Query

When I first finished DoaCK (as I like to shorten it), I was very full of myself.  I had a couple of friends read it and say it wasn’t too bad, so I decided I’d let the publisher clean things up and decided to query (nothing like ignorance, eh?).

My first attempt was pretty bad.  I considered it a romance, not realizing I violated most of the tropes, and my blurb emphasized this.  I’ve since learned it’s just as important to screen out prospective readers that won’t like it as it is to attract interested ones.  The query and blurb below represent lots of thinking and false starts, along with input from the good people on Goodreads.


Hello <personalized>,

Because of <personalized> I think you’ll enjoy “Diary of a Contract Killer”, ~78K. An unconventional love story between trained killers. Adult contemporary fiction, with elements of spy, crime and espionage, tied together with the love story.


Enter the mind of an international contract killer.

Analytical, patient, and methodical, Seacay works alone since leaving the special forces; he sees any dependency as weakness. Seacay works when he wants, charges what he likes, and moves around the world anonymously. Picking up women – the more, the better – Seacay enjoys spending his money and building his secure mansion in the mountains.

Seacay’s life is perfect…until a gorgeous Brazilian spy complicates a routine mission. More intelligent than she is beautiful, Isabel has lightning-fast, deadly reflexes. Almost involuntarily, Seacay collaborates with Isabel and her team to complete his mission.

After they go their separate ways, Seacay’s left with feelings he’s never experienced and doesn’t understand. He throws himself into work just to clear out the cobwebs.

In the ensuing years, fate, and Isabel’s girlfriend, Tessa – a matchmaking fellow spy – conspire to bring Seacay and Isabel back together. But Seacay fights fate – and Tessa – until Isabel suddenly vanishes.

Can Seacay find Isabel? Should he?

Negotiating unfamiliar feelings, Seacay throws himself into this new rescue mission.

But will it be too late to save Isabel?


Seacay is an anti-James Bond, except when it comes to women. The story is like Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse,” with less revenge and more love story. Similar to the original Mission Impossible TV series, with episodes tied together by the love story. It has parallels with the TV show “Burn Notice” where the MC explains why he does certain things or provides background for tools and techniques. Viewers who enjoyed the movies “Payback” or “Kill Bill” or the TV show “Covert Affairs” may like this. The novel is written in intense first-person (mostly present-tense) from a man’s POV. However, he interacts as equals with very strong, independent women.

Isabel and Tessa are bisexual characters who know what they want and are diligent about getting it. The genesis of the tragedy is not due to stupidity on anyone’s part, it naturally flows from who the characters are. There are prominent secondary characters that are gay and an older female arms dealer who sometimes requires Seacay to provide extra ‘service’ in addition to his cash payment. The violence and sex are non-graphical.

I’m a first-time author with a non-traditional background:

“Keith has had a wide range of careers from newspaper boy, fast food hamburger jockey, pizza delivery driver to plant manager, biochemistry laboratory specialist, MBA, inventor and programmer. He’s been a member of his country’s military and intelligence community. With an interest in research, he is co-author on several papers in biochemistry and operations research and has a hobby of writing business proposals.”

I’m working on building a social media presence and have the domain keithalanwriter.com where I blog and have excerpts, short stories and background for my writing and characters.

Though this book is stand-alone, I have already written follow-on work for a series.

Musings on Diary of a Contract Killer, Book 1

I have a commute of 30 minutes each way. Thankfully, I rarely have any traffic and the route is mostly interstate-like so I can let my mind wander. After I felt I had some success being able to write a science fiction short story, I started to think about other topics. I decided I wanted to write something from the viewpoint of the ‘bad guy’ feeling that that market was being underserved. Plus I find moral ambiguities more interesting than the typical black and white seen so often. At first I thought of writing a story from the perspective of a serial killer, called, wait for it, “Diary of a Serial Killer”. In the beginning I thought this was great, but realized that to be true to my character I would basically have to write torture porn. While there is no doubt a market for that (look at the dark underbelly of the Internet if you don’t believe me), I wasn’t sure it would be one that would sell books in big box stores. After some tooling down the road I thought of some other types of killers that might be more acceptable to readers (or, rather, less unacceptable), then came up with an idea for contract killer.

From the first the ideas came fast and furious and my mind was abuzz. I actually had problems getting to sleep that night the idea was so interesting. I began to make notes so I would have a chance of remembering some of my ideas. I started writing in first person as if I were the contract killer narrating his biography. My notes for my first story, “The Starfarer’s Journal” were a couple of paragraphs, my ‘notes’ for DoaCK (as I have come to shorten it) ran to over 6,500 words! I was very proud of my idea and wanted to show it around. The couple of people who read it, though, thought it wasn’t a very good story, it lacked anything in the way of plot or character development. Well, of course, it was a character sketch, not a story!

So I started to write a story. I intended to write a series of short stories and try and publish them, then maybe aggregate them into a book later if I wound up with enough material. I sat down and started to hammer out the first story, “Seacay meets Isabel” and that thing ballooned to more than 12K words in next to no time. The problem? Short stories have a sweet spot around 7,500 words and I’d blown past this. There are some magazines that will accept stories up to 12-15K words, but not very many, and the interesting thing is the payment per word drops off as the word count increases. Basically the author is penalized for writing long stories!

At this point I wasn’t sure I could effectively market what I’d written as a short story and started to think about the prospects of producing a novel instead. It looks orders of magnitude harder to get a book published than a short story (which is already really hard), but if I was proving to have problems writing short stories maybe I should consider trying my hand at the novel publishing lottery. I wrote some more and found out I did have a novel’s worth (around 70K words is considered a good length for a debut novel).

As I worked on my first novel I found myself with ideas for follow-on work, so started making notes for two more books. To a large extent this stuff just flowed, though it was always in fits and starts. I might go a week or two without any writing, then pop out 10-15K in a couple of days. Sometimes I would get an idea for a particular scene even though I had no idea how to fit it in, so would just jot it down and worry about that later. It’s a lot easier to edit existing content than write it, so I tend to do editing when I run out of ‘juice’ for content.

–>Spoiler Alert!<–

I’m going to talk about my characters, what motivated me to write about them, the backstory I created for them, etc. If you haven’t read the books yet and want to learn slowly as this and other information is revealed, stop now. This is really intended for people who really like the characters and want backstory on their development, not for people making up their minds if they want to read the books.

I like the idea of a true professional at the top of his game. Really experienced people make their career look effortless, they have such a thorough grasp of their industry that they practically move on instinct. At least that’s how it appears to outsiders. I wanted to write about a professional contract killer but quickly realized, with the feedback on my character sketch, that most people want more than what is basically a recitation of facts. Most readers want their characters to grow, one reason I’m sure why ‘coming of age’ stories are so popular. I didn’t want to write a story like that, I wanted to start after the character had become an expert.

So, what possible areas of growth could there be for someone who has invested every moment of their lives to become a consummate professional? How about love? If they were so damn busy focusing on their career, isn’t it plausible they would have no idea about love? OK, my character can grow by falling in love. Also, a quick Google revealed, romance literature represents more than half of all books sold so I had a huge and ready market for my killer falling in love. Later I learned that my killer would have to reform in order to satisfy the tropes of romance, but, as I mentioned elsewhere, I never let ignorance keep me from charging forward, so I started writing what I felt was a romance.

How to bring my protagonist together with the woman would would change his life? Since he was used to one-night-stands there needed to be something dramatic, but also work related. I scratched my head for a while before I settled on competing contracts. That naturally meant the love interest had to be involved in some sort of industry where it’s plausible she would interact with a contract killer, so what could that be? While I like the movie “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (a couple who marry, not realizing they’re both contract killers) I didn’t find it realistic that they would find it so hard to kill one another. I wanted to come up with a way that they would be forced together yet there would be a window they could come to see each other as potential lovers.

A spy! I’ll make the love interest a spy. Spies will plausibly interact with contract killers from time to time and vice versa. OK, how to bring them together? The competing contract again. Let’s make her agency a little dysfunctional (this is easy, it’s government after all) and accidentally hires the contract killer to protectively kidnap someone under protective watch by the spy future love interest. What agency? That requires some thought. The CIA/KGB/MI5 is a hackneyed trope, I want something different. Since I’m writing this for my personal amusement with the idea of trying to sell it later (it can easily take years before a book idea goes from concept to bookshelf, if you don’t love writing you would never last until (if) money came in) I decide to have a love interest that I would find attractive. Using my beautiful wife as a starting point, I decide on a big beautiful butt, modest chest, long dark silky hair and natural tan skin. In thinking about that image, Brazilian women immediately pop into mind, so my spy becomes Brazilian. I don’t even know if Brazil has a spy agency, but since it’s a government surely it has something. No matter, this is fiction after all, and if it turns out no one has heard of this agency I can always say that’s because they’re so good at their job they haven’t become public.

She’s gorgeous, of course. While my main protagonist’s face is average, he has a great body, who wants to read about fat ugly people? However, she needs some background to explain why she’s in this position. Well, if she’s a really hot spy, how about a sex lure? Well, there isn’t any point in having a sex lure for a protection assignment. Maybe that was how she got her start in the spy business and has worked hard to put that aspect behind her? What type of partners would she work with if she’s that hot? How about gay guys? They wouldn’t be interested in her physical charms so she could interact with them on an intellectual level. So, now I’ve assembled the team against whom my contract killer will operate. I want my spies to be competent as well, but my main protagonist needs to be just enough better that he can get the upper hand.

Because my protagonist happens to be an expert in adapting to new cultures and moving about as if a native, he has exceptionally honed skills at hiding in plain site. That means he’s really good at spotting tails, shaking them off and doing his own tailing. That allows him to quickly detect when the competing team gets onto him and allows him to turn the tables. Then, using the same skills, he’s able to breach their perimeter and go on the offensive. Though he largely treats women as disposable playthings, he nonetheless is interested in women who have similar skills, so when he busts down the door and finds that her reflexes are almost good enough to get a shot off, that impresses him. Though he’s capable of managing his sex drive, that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate beauty, so he takes a detailed accounting of her physical assets. He’s already impressed with her reflexes and beauty, then when he finds out she’s smart, really smart, likely smarter than he is, he finds himself dangerously intrigued by her. This sets up the dynamic where he wants to be away, yet finds it hard to leave.

I knew I had to bring my lovers together again through their work but couldn’t think of how at first. Both are too professional to fall in love no matter how great the sex was, so there would be no plausible reason for them to contact one another. I decided to make the next encounter an accident. Fate usually has to step in at some point, though in many stories fate rides shotgun. I figured just a little fate would be OK, and would be a good way to bring them together again. At that time the woman working with my female protagonist was just to be different from the two guys from the earlier story, I had no idea how large a factor she would wind up being. She was only short-haired blonde because it was contrast to Isabel’s long black hair. It’s amusing to me that so much of what I write I ‘discover’ as I type. I’ve heard authors mention that they didn’t know what was going to be on the other side of that door as the protagonist creeps up the stairs and always thought they were full of crap. Instead, I find myself doing exactly the same thing. Sometimes it happens at the keyboard, sometimes it happens in the car commuting and sometimes it happens as I lie in bed ready for sleep.

To reinforce my lovers love, and encourage them to think longer term, I decide that they need to spend some quality time together so I invent the excuse of a low budget leading to ‘payment’ being made in a week-long lovemaking. However, I remained convinced that the professionalism of the lovers would still keep them apart so needed a means to keep them aware of each other: a friend in common. Though this section’s secondary character started out as just being someone different from the two guys in the first section, she morphs into a key co-protagonist because I needed a way to bring my main protagonists together in the future. What started as a throw-away line of them talking about movies and books in their drive to the countryside wound up being a major character element. I certainly didn’t plan that when I initially wrote it, another one of those spontaneous events.

Though I was writing from my contract killer’s point of view, I wanted the evolution of my female protagonist to be realistic as well. She is beautiful, but also intelligent and really good at her job. Though lacking the detailed expertise that makes my contract killer such an expert at his job, she nonetheless is an expert at hers and rapidly moves up in her agency. As might be reasonably extrapolated, she makes enemies as she achieves her rapid success, all the more so because of her beauty. I wanted to lay the groundwork for a plausible need to rescue a damsel in distress, but hate the trope of the stupid beautiful woman as a danger magnet, so wanted something I felt allowed my spy to be an expert at her job yet nonetheless be vulnerable enough she would need rescuing.

To lay the groundwork for that I arrange for her enemies to maneuver her into an ‘impossible’ job where she’s expected to fail and thus begin the downfall in her agency. Of course she’s smart enough to realize this, but is also interested in the challenge and knows that success will lead to greater things, so willingly takes on the challenge. When her own ideas fail to achieve the goal, she’s reminded of her lover, the contract killer, and eagerly uses this as an excuse to see him again. Of course they’re successful working together, it wouldn’t be much of a story if they failed and she wound up being ejected from her agency as a result. Her success, though, lays the groundwork for her later downfall and the subsequent need to be rescued by our main protagonist.

Now I need to show the shifting mental world view of my contract killer. He’s way too practical to simply decide that he should change his deeply ingrained habits for sex, no matter how great it was. What would cause him to think about such a change? That’s where my blonde protagonist becomes critical, she acts as the interface. So, my throwaway line about them talking about movies morphs into a critical plot element. Just like real life, it’s so hard to predict which elements become major factors to success in retrospect.

At this point my female protagonists weren’t lovers, just good friends. My brunette spy had sex on a regular basis, just didn’t have as much fun as with my contract killer. All this other stuff evolved out of my desire to make their backstory what I felt was more realistic. If Isabel was a really good sex lure doesn’t that imply she doesn’t let herself get emotional with her targets? If she lacks emotion isn’t it plausible that she feels nothing at all during sex? She’s a consummate professional and uses her intelligence to be excellent at her job, but doesn’t that imply emotional detachment? Just like my contract killer has to be emotionless at his job, doesn’t she need to be emotionless at hers? OK, but if she doesn’t care for sex, why would she have bothered having sex with my killer to begin with? All the sudden my somewhat accidental decision to have her have the ability to ‘flash’ her sex appeal becomes a major plot point.

If you were really good at something, had invested a lot of time and energy becoming one of the best in your field, wouldn’t you be intrigued by something that violates your expectations? That’s why Isabel decides to come onto Seacay, she wants to understand why she was being unsuccessful with her attempts at controlling him with her sex appeal. Our killer, as described very early on, has the ability to switch off his sex drive as he finds those thoughts distracting during a job. He needs his focus to be 100% on the job in order to be ensured of success. This inadvertently wound up being the reason they work so hard to sexually impress each other, which accidentally lead to them ‘imprinting’ each other. Though Isabel finds she can capture Seacay’s interest when he’s off the job, because he turns out to be the kind of lover that is sincerely interested in pleasuring his partner, she winds up having unexpectedly rewarding sex. That encourages her to experiment more with her sexual lure techniques which incentivizes Seacay to be even more diligent and round and round they go until they become hopelessly fixated on one another.

Now Seacay can’t see any other woman but Isabel and for the first time Isabel is actually interested in a man. Of course I still need to bring them together over and over, to be true to my characters they need to be too professional to allow any overt change in their behavior. Now, if Isabel really didn’t like sex at all it doesn’t seem that plausible to me that she would be that interested in overcoming Seacay’s resistance to her charms, particularly given she’s worked so hard to get out of the lure business. That means she has to get some sex she enjoys, where would that come from? How about other women? Based on my reading, women are generally much better average lovers for other women than men (men being lousy lovers is a trope I flagellate rather severely), OK, she gets physical pleasure from other women. But who? All the sudden Tessa jumps up again as an even larger figure, she can be Isabel’s primary lover.

That begs the question, though, on why the heck would Tessa spend so much energy trying to set Seacay up with her lover Isabel? I scratched my head on that for a while and eventually come up with her love for Isabel being selfless to the point she wants Isabel to be happy even if it means losing her as a physical lover. A little stretch, though in doing so I choose to make Tessa rather promiscuous so it became less of a physical thing and more of an emotional thing.

So now I’ve assembled all my parts for the damsel in distress and subsequent rescue. I’m able to keep my characters true to the way I envisioned them, Seacay takes close to a decade to realize he’s fallen in love with Isabel, Isabel accepts that she has fallen in love with Seacay (though both sort of ignore what’s going on with Tessa), but both are too professional to give up their careers. The damsel in distress is what brings them together.

This is when Tessa evolved into the expert in hand-to-hand combat. I wanted her to be excellent at something that would make her a good spy, but not necessarily any form of competition for Seacay or Isabel. Plus I thought it would be interesting to see Seacay not be _the_ master at something he claimed mastery on. I like some imperfection along with my moral ambiguity. That’s also why I wrote the ‘Inspector Clouseau’ part, I wanted to show that bad luck happens and, despite that, the protagonist can win in the end.

After Isabel was rescued from the clutches of her enemies I wanted to show some of the ‘what happens later’ so wanted to cover the exfiltration portion. Then, as Seacay says, “my understanding is we’re in the ‘happily ever after’ stage that no one ever seems to document.” I wanted to document some of that aspect. I also wanted to show some of the fruits of Seacay’s success as well as his paranoia.

A word about the sex… When I was first starting to write DoaCK I intended it to be a romance novel. Though I don’t read in genre, everything I had read about it told me that there was steamy sex in it. I had a great time writing the sex scenes, though I’ve been told I’m too mechanical. Then, later on, I got some lesbian action going further eroding the romance tropes, so after some pointed comments from some beta readers, I gave up on targeting the romance genre. After thinking about it, though, I felt that the sex scenes were important to the character development and if I completely removed them I would shortchanging them and the reader. A few of my readers concurred with my assessment (that the story would be different if the sex was entirely removed), so I cut out much of the detail and ‘fluids’ but left in the overall arc of each encounter.

Why the lesbian bondage bit? Well, I felt that it would be a useful insight into Isabel’s psyche as well as give some insights into Tessa’s personality. The dramatic, instant transformation from a disinterested sex lure doing her job to a person massively turned on is meant to be related to the ‘coregasm’ concept. I’ve read that a number of women report having orgasms when they do a flexed arm hang. So far as I know there’s no good explanation for that, but the number of anecdotal reports seems to be so large that there has to be something to it. My idea, then, was that Isabel experienced a coregasm as her arms were stretched above her head during the beginning of the bondage. Not used to that, it disturbs her equilibrium to the point where she begins to react sexually to all the other stimulations the dominatrix begins applying. Afterwards, even though she had a great time doing it and enjoys remembering/watching it, she has no interest in attempting a repeat because she feels it requires her to be completely vulnerable, something she has no interest in. I felt it would be interesting to see Isabel vulnerable and out of control, something I tried to convey regarding Seacay when he first found out about her incarceration. Tessa, though, never seems to be vulnerable. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but she just doesn’t seem to fit with that concept. She has other interesting personality quirks (at least I think they’re interesting), though you need to read book 2 to see a lot of them.

One of the reasons I so often mention Seacay’s interest/addiction to Isabel’s natural smell is to convey an idea I’ve read about a number of times. The more genetically identical two people are the more their natural smells tend to turn each other off. The opposite is generally true: the more genetically distinct people are the more their natural smells tend to be acceptable. By having Isabel’s smell be so attractive to Seacay I’m attempting to demonstrate their genetic compatibility. The idea, from an evolutionary point of view, is the more similar your immune system is to a potential mate the lower overall fitness of any offspring. The more _dis_ similar the immune system the better overall offspring fitness, hence the evolutionary drive to find more different people attractive.

Yes, I have a hair fetish… My wife has nice hair and sometimes will let it down so I can play with it, but most of the time she has it up in a bun. She recently cut 6-8 inches off and it now looks a lot more frizzy on those few occasions when she lets it down. Since I’m initially writing this for my own amusement I wanted to envision someone who had the same sort of beautiful hair, but kept it down and in display. Yes, it is a pain in the ass to manage that much hair and I intellectually appreciate that my wife gets tired of it, but in my novel I can keep the hair down and long the way I like it.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse behind my thought process, I’m also going to do one for the next two books in the series…

Intense First Person

Why does so much of my writing lack detail? Well there are a couple of reasons. One element is that I’m experimenting with a style of writing that I really like reading. Borrowing from science fiction and fantasy author C. J. Cherryh’s description of ‘intense third person’:

Cherryh uses a writing technique she has variously labeled “very tight limited third person”, “intense third person”, and “intense internal” voice. In this approach, the only things the writer narrates are those that the viewpoint character specifically notices or thinks about. If a starship captain arrives at a space station, for example, the narration may not mention important features of the station with which the captain is already familiar, even though these things might be of interest to the reader, because the captain does not notice them or think about them due to their familiarity. This technique can offer a similar experience to that of reading the viewpoint character’s mind—sometimes at great length—and thus it can resemble stream of consciousness narrative.


I’ve gone with the idea of ‘intense first person’. As a reader I like the idea of letting my imagination fill in the blanks and don’t feel I need to have detailed description poured all over the page. This approach may not appeal to everyone (or anyone), but since I might be writing only for myself I decided to go with what I enjoyed most. As a consequence, when my character does something or experiences something, I feel they would only mention the elements that stand out to them at the time. Also, since my first completed work was “Diary of a Contract Killer” I was thinking of the idea that the character is writing in such a way that they want to minimize the sort of detailed information that could allow someone to recreate their activities, since the bulk of said activities are illegal. Finally, they would focus on the sorts of things they think are interesting and wouldn’t necessarily provide detail on things they consider mundane, though naturally that is from their rarified point of view. I imagined the characters would be writing their ‘diary’ with the intent of letting others read it so would make some efforts to provide suspense rather than simply list their thoughts.

Since they’re writing their thoughts down after the fact, as a consequence they would have additional filters and biases (I tried to show that in the second “Diary of a Contract Killer” book where I wrote from three points of view).

About Keith Alan

Keith Alan is a nom de plume. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because my last name is too long to sign over and over and over again. Even though it has a cool ‘x’ in it, I decided, when fantasizing about success, that I would rather sign a shorter name.

I started writing fiction when I was but a boy. My first work is titled “A Peanut on Pluto” and I’m pretty sure my mom has it saved somewhere. I wrote some more in high school and took a class on creative writing in college, but I believe all that work is lost (I’ve lived in well over a dozen houses in my lifetime, each move results in some permanent lossage of history). As a teenager, I thought I wanted to write an epic fantasy and spent a great deal of time working on the titles and the font for the title. I wrote a few paragraphs, but that was it. I got daunted with the effort to produce the 1,000 pages I thought was necessary and, after all, was young and stupid (as opposed to being old and stupid today).

I like to write – my friends and family often complain that I write novel for emails – but I don’t ‘need’ to write. I had a really good friend, sadly no longer with us, who had a compulsion to write. He alternated between wanting to just dump all his writing into the public domain (I created a web page with some of his stuff) and paranoia that people would steal it. He made only half hearted attempts to publish, he could never really be happy with anything he wrote and always felt it wasn’t finished. I, on the other hand, am all about the ‘Benjamins’. I attempted to get several nonfiction works published, though the level of effort to find publishers wasn’t that high.

My first attempt was to market a proposal to write an information security book targeted toward middle managers (I have a strong ‘infosec’ background, doanchano). The book would give these middle managers the tools and information to cost-justify the addition of security to IT projects. Even though I had a really nice sound byte from a senior Microsoft security engineer, I wasn’t able to get interest from either of the publishers I approached (yes, I know that people get rejected all the time, but I can easily live without being a published author, so don’t care for it).

My second ‘attempt’ (I never actually submitted it) was to write a book on the topic alternative energy and why the heck it’s so hard for it to be successful. I wrote a summary I intended to submit to publishers(you can read it here if you are curious). I planned to write a 100-200 page book that would essentially expand each section into a chapter. This time I felt I would make use of a literary agent, thinking that’d help solve my problem about getting published, but it seems that getting an agent is at least as much work as getting a book published in the first place! Add to all this the fact that a well received non-fiction book sells 10-20K copies (in total!) and the average payment to the author is $1-3 per book, and you can see how there isn’t a lot of economic payback.

My third ‘attempt’ (again, never submitted) was a collaboration with a friend on a topic we initially called “The Engineer’s Guide to Marriage”. A co-worker and I had very wide ranging discussions over a large number of topics and at some point covered marriage and dealing with spouses. He regaled me with his experiences learning the tricks of the pickup community and applying those elements he thought valuable to making his marriage a happier one. Because I found the topic interesting and amusing, I suggested we collaborate on a book and try to make a few bucks. Well, long story short, he moved on to another job and, after I made one half-hearted attempt to find an agent, we agreed to allow the project to die. This I also posted on-line.

I blog from time to time though almost no one reads it. I have other collected non-fiction works here if you haven’t already got exhausted reading my blather.

Professionally I’ve held a wide variety of jobs. My author blurb speaks to a few. In the amateur realm, I’ve been involved in a wide assortment of projects.  As a youth I intended on starting a business building space stations and moon bases. With the confidence, arrogance and ignorance of a teenager, I blithely stated I would be a millionaire by 25, billionaire by 30 and have my corporate headquarters in orbit by 40. Well, I’m 53 as I write this, you can judge how well things worked out. I never let ignorance keep me from starting a project. Indeed, ignorance built a house in the country as well as an indoor pool/greenhouse. It took 3 years and a lot more money than intended to build the house, then nearly 5 years and an even bigger pile of money to build the pool/greenhouse. Had I known how long or how expensive either project was going to be, I never would’ve started. Indeed, there was a summer while working on the house where if it weren’t for my wife picking me up from work and driving directly to our construction effort I might have walked away in frustration (I spent most of that summer standing on my feet running wire throughout the house; I never had any idea how much effort that was!).

In February of 2015, I reluctantly accepted that I wasn’t going to get the computer game I was working on finished. I’m just too tired after 8 hours of programming to come home and spend more time doing the same. I really wanted this game, not the least to play together with my son, but even though I had bits and pieces of it working, the prospects of going further ranged from grim to none. I’d already been blogging for years, though I only get a few hits a day. I’d already written a number of other nonfiction things, though no one was reading those either. So what prompted me to invest the time and energy into novels and screenplays?

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame. He was offering to host some additional bloggers on his blog, as a way to pay back to society some of his success, and asked for some examples. I sent him a selection of what I felt were my most interesting posts and was surprised that he got back to me. Below is his email:

Oct 29, 2014

Hi Keith,

Thanks for pitching! I like the areas you write about, and you definitely have an agile mind. But I think your writing is just below commercial grade, which is a compliment that doesn’t sound like it.

I think you need to work on focus. Your writing takes my mind too many directions and tires me out, even though I like every one of the directions. It is interesting but exhausting simultaneously. Simplicity in sentence structure, more brutality in staying with a point, and perhaps brevity would elevate your writing.

I see a lot I like but I think you need to hone the writing. I once took a “business writing” class that showed me how to be concise. It changed my life in two days. I recommend looking into one.


I really appreciated his considered reply and thought a lot about it. Since I basically had no one reading my blog and had no faith that I could ever monetize that work, I replied that doing what he suggested would rob the pleasure from my blogging effort. I didn’t see the value in losing the pleasure with such slim prospects of a financial reward.

A couple of times earlier I interacted with some professional writers and they basically said it was necessary to love writing, because the prospects of financial reward was so small there’s no economic justification in doing it as a career. So, with that, any prospects of writing nonfiction for more than personal pleasure went out the window. However, I like to write, so started to think about reviving my old interest in fiction. Initially I was thinking about writing short stories. I did some research and found a few locations where I could reasonably expect 5 cents a word or more for accepted work (one place would pay up to 25 cents a word!). I took typing back in high school (thanks for insisting on that, mom!) and can blaze away at 60+ words per minute when I get going. The most naive calculation then came up with 60 wpm * 25 cents/word = $900/hr.

Of course, editing and head scratching would eat into that quite a bit. I’ve been keeping track, and my ‘finished’ wpm runs between 10 and 15 once I’m done reviewing my editor’s changes. That drops the naive rate down to 10 wpm * 25 cents/word = $150/hr. On the other hand, going with the lowest rate of a nickel a word, the hourly rate is $30/hr. For me, getting paid as a professional programmer, that low isn’t worth the effort. However, the range was such that I started to think about writing and decided to try my hand at it to see if it were possible for me to write, after sitting in a chair in front of a computer for 8 hours.

I surprised myself by being able to write fairly consistently a couple of hours a week and turned out my first short story, “The Starfarer’s Journal” in very little time. I liked the writing process and, while not effortless, it was certainly an order of magnitude easier than trying to do the programming I have largely not done over the last half dozen years. I began to think about other topics I could write about which lead to my “Diary of a Contract Killer” which was my first novel. I rapidly followed that with a sequel and got a strong start on a third to make a trilogy (I even have ideas for a fourth). It’s been a whole lot of fun so I got what everyone talked about: joy in writing, so that if I never get published at least I lost nothing.

I like to read books where I get to use my imagination, so I decided fairly early on that I would write with sparse descriptions. I also have a bad time thinking of names so would largely keep the number of important characters to a minimum. I also decided to write in ‘intense first person’ [I’ll try and remember to add the relevant link later], at least initially, as that is what flowed most easily for me.

So there you go, in nauseating detail, about me as a writer.  There should be plenty more posts, hopefully with more useful information regarding the writing process.