Dear Kathleen,

When you become a writer and start thinking of yourself as a writer, nobody tells you that the things you care about will change. Yes, you will care about the words–always about the words, careening, laughing, sliding together into fantastical complex, fumbling sentences until they are straightened and punctuation-polished, made presentable to the world.

The words are always great fun.

But other things…like your popularity, and who reviews you, and how many reviews you got on goodreads. These things are less fun to care about. It’s easy to become obsessed with every wave’s dips and peaks in the eternal ocean of Amazon rankings.

As a writer, I learned to care about these things.

And then I witnessed the damage done to my enthusiasm for writing by caring about these things.

I received good advice from published writers to avoid these pitfalls, to not check reviews, to develop a thick skin, to remember that not everyone can love your work. All good advice and yet hard to remember when staring at your first two-star review in which a reviewer says, “This author is terrible.”


But the most damage doesn’t come from tough reviews.

It comes from within.

I look at successful authors friends and think, ‘How do they do it?’ I start comparing gifts I don’t possess to the gifts they obviously do. I push myself to type faster, work harder, write more, all the things that take a delightful passion and transform it into drudgery.

I don’t want to pain too grim a picture here. I like writing stories. I do.

And I have experienced a whole lot of online love! So many online friends shower me with love, laughter, and absolute joy that I can only define the quantity as ‘oodles and scads.’ (And I think we all know how much a scad is.)

But “growing up” into authorship for me has meant trading in some newbie enthusiasm for some world-weary acceptance of ‘how things work’ with publishers, popularity, and sales.

This year, an open letter from a stranger named Kathleen changed my perceptions.

Every year, the M/M Romance Group from the goodreads website sponsors a writing contest, one I found completely baffling. Beginning in January, any member of this group my create a “Dear Author” letter. The letter shares a photo (or two) and supposes a few inferences about the scene depicted:

“This guy is lonely.”

“These two just made up after a fight.”

“He’s moving to a small town in Georgia and saying goodbye to his sister.”

The letters are written to authors, to anyone really, inviting them to adopt the photos and story setup. Beginning in February, authors who are members of this group have the opportunity to pursue these letters and if any of them strike that author’s fancy, he/she chooses it and writes the story suggested.

When I first heard of this strange game between authors and readers, I was astounded and baffled. I felt like the Grinch who stole Christmas watching the Whos in their merriment, puzzling outside in the snow. How is this fun? Why do writers accept such limiting challenges? Don’t these authors have their more SERIOUS works to write? Who has the time?

I stood puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler grew sore.

This year, I thought I’d go discover the big fuss. So on the very first day letters were released, I visited the site and wandered around the petting zoo, looking at photos and letters to authors. I stumbled across a letter from a woman named Kathleen.

Dear Author,

I’m a phoenix (pic 1). Unfortunately, I’m a pretty terrible phoenix. I can’t seem to control my fire. I loose my feathers (I could give you my father’s lecture on that word for word, I’ve heard it so many times). And worst of all, my tears don’t heal. I’ve pretty much been a hermit since my clan kicked me out ten years ago.

The other day this man came to my cave claiming he needed a phoenix to help him with his quest. I was so startled I lit half my clothes on fire and scared him away. I can see him climbing the trail towards my cave again. What in the world does he want?

Pic 2 is the third undersecretary to the royal historian (or some similar underling position within the royal court) and discovered something he shouldn’t have. He can’t tell anyone or he will be killed so he has to fix it all on his own…except maybe for the help of one hermit phoenix.

The description continued for another paragraph, how Kathleen preferred plot to sex, the tropes she hoped the adopting author would avoid, her preferences.

I was hooked. I instantly wanted to write Kathleen’s story.

I panicked someone else would adopt this story prompt first because I already knew how to love this broken and hurt phoenix.

I jumped on it, asking (with controlled restraint) for the story prompt to be made mine.

They let me have it.

I  wrote a story called Broken Phoenix. It’s available as a free download to everyone in the world. The link to the story is at the end of the post. But first, I want to end this letter to Kathleen.

Kathleen, thank you for the opportunity to get excited about new characters. Thank you for reminding me that writing is play and play is goddamn fun. Sometimes I need to be reminded to play, how to play with others, and how to celebrate their gifts (and mine) without feeling rancor or jealousy.

Thank you, Kathleen, for the invitation to play. Your story prompt rekindled some of that lost enthusiasm.

I hope you enjoyed the story.




(At the bottom of this page linked to, you will find a .mobi, .epub, and .pdf version)

Gio image

9 Responses to “Dear Kathleen,”

  1. Erika Says:

    N’awwww that was so sweet!

    Thank you for writing something that helped rekindle my love for fantasy, as well as let me know that there are still great M/M Romance stories waiting to be told out there. I’d lost some of my reading mojo and had become pretty cynical about this genre, but you definitely helped reverse that. I think about this story every day, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face.

    A big thank you also goes to Kathleen for inspiring you.


  2. Edmond Says:

    Kathleen, look at the ripple effect you caused!

  3. Tali Spencer Says:

    No wonder your story resonates with love and joy. :) And I’m so happy Kathleen helped you find the play again. I did a story this year, too, and I did it because I needed to play.

  4. Carly Rose Says:

    Thank you for the awesome post and free story!

  5. Edmond Says:

    You’re so very welcome!

  6. Edmond Says:

    It’s a great feeling to play, isn’t it, Tali?

  7. M. LeAnne Phoenix Says:

    As an author just starting out in this world (and as phoenix), I thank you for saying that it’s okay to think that it’s a wee bit crazy. I sort of feel overwhelmed just sticking my toe in the water at the moment– I’m at the stage where you set up all your social media and I’m like, but… I just want to be a writer! LOL I am going to go read your story now, and I am so overjoyed that you found Miss Kathleen and her broken phoenix.

  8. Aniko Says:

    I am so glad you re-found your sense of play. I have stood on the sidelines of this fantastic event the past couple of years and decided to take the plunge this year, writing my first Dear Author story prompt. The wonderful author who took up that prompt and ran with it is a published author, but this will be the first she will have dipped her toe in the m/m pond. I am so excited to see where she takes my boys and how she makes them her own. Thank you, and all the authors who participate, for donating your time and creative energies with these story prompts. It’s the most unique way I’ve seen of connecting readers and writers on such a personal level with the inherent trust involved in such a collaboration, reader to author and vice versa, that result in some truly special stories.

  9. Tony Says:

    Thank-you for the beautiful story you wrote – HAHA – I jumped for joy at the characters’ sense of their own plan – and now the journey you took to write it!

Leave a Reply