This is Why I Need a Professional Editor: the Vomiting

Confession: someone vomits in pretty much every book I’ve written, and will probably ever write. Why?  Because it’s intense! Puking isn’t just for the stomach flu! It’s a sign you’re working out too hard, you’re freaking out, or you suffer from migraines. 

In The Color of Betrayal, I have the requisite up-chuck scene. When I sent it to Joyce (Lamb), my line editor, it was three paragraphs. Here is the original

Since she hadn’t eaten anything in several hours, she was surprised by the volume of vomit. Jolene held her hair back with both hands. Her nostrils burned as the overflow poured out of there too. Most of her throwing up had been done while drunk or hung over, and she hadn’t missed this part of drinking.

She tried to gather her hair into one hand so she could wipe her face and blow her nose with the other, but her stomach wasn’t finished. Cass knelt next to her, and gently pulled her hair back. She gripped the bowl and twice more, her insides spewed. Then her belly clenched and clenched until a thick syrup of bile slid out of her mouth.

Her thoughts tried to run back to what Cass had said, the documents he’d shown her, but she yanked them back, concentrating on the agony in her gut, the rawness of her throat, the sticky heat of the tears swamping her eyes. Maybe death wasn’t such a bad thing.

Cass kept hold of her hair but leaned away from her. He returned close enough to brush her arm. “Here.”

 Lotta good sensory details right there, that’s what I was thinking. Joyce, however, gave me this feedback: 

“Kinda think this is all too much. It’s enough to just tell us she barfed and Cass is holding her hair. Something more like:

Jolene tried to hold her hair back with both hands, but then Cass was kneeling next to her and gently pulling her hair back for her. When she was done and gasping, he leaned away from her, only to return close enough to brush her arm. “Here.

In retrospect, that’s a fair bit of advice. Okay, maybe my audience doesn’t want that much puke detail. Fine, fine. So, this is what ended up in the final draft: 

Since she hadn’t eaten anything in several hours, she was surprised by the volume of vomit. She hadn’t missed this part of drinking.
Cass knelt next to her and gently pulled her hair back. When she finished, he leaned away then close enough to brush her arm with something soft. “Here.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with a three-paragraph description of tossing cookies, but, admittedly, it isn’t exactly sexy, and I’m happier with the revision.

If I’d been left to my own devices, this is evidence that I would have produced a less-professional book. Joyce also whipped the prose into shape by streamlining much of it. It was actually pretty embarrassing, but I’m not going to share examples of that! Not this time, anyway.

My Favorite Part of The Color of Trauma

When I first started writing The Color of Trauma, I anticipated the genre as supernatural suspense. Upon reflection, I think that’s just called urban fantasy, though the novel never fit snugly to that genre, or any genre. I started the story in 2017 as a camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project. As I wrote, I discovered that my favorite bits of the entire novel were the relationship scenes. At one point, I submitted a thirty-page sex scene to my critique group. I hadn’t even realized it was quite that long until one of them pointed it out. 

Eventually, I accepted that I was writing a romance novel. I enjoy writing sex scenes, but even more than that, I like to write about two characters connecting and bonding. When Kiera and Dean step beyond their professional, practical association, they find an intense yet easy connection. At one point, Kiera unearths some information about Dean from an old friend of his, and she shares what she learned. She has the upper hand for mere moments.  

“What’s wrong with the stubble, by the way?” he asked.

She mock-shuddered. “I’ll bet it’s wicked scratchy.”

Dean wiped a hand over his jaw. Then he slanted his eyes to her. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t.” Her face burned.

He grinned at her. “It’s not so bad. Go on, feel it.”

“I’m not going to touch your face.”

“Because you’re weird about touch.”

She gaped at him. “I’m weird? You can’t ask near strangers to touch your face.”

“You brought it up. I think you secretly want to touch my face.”

Kiera spluttered. “With my fist.”

“Tenderly. With much affection. I think I’m growing on you.” He was teasing her, trying to force a reaction, and it worked. Dean Matthson was charm incarnate, and she couldn’t stop blushing.

Banter isn’t always easy to write, but when the muse shows up, I love creating the back and forth that reveals not just a mutual sense of humor but lets the reader also smile with the characters. I feel that sex without an underpinning of mutual respect and affection isn’t as powerful. The playful exchange earlier, I hope, gives the physical attraction and expression a deeper significance. 

Once Dean and Kiera return to Kiera’s place after their day out together, trying to be “normal” people, their attraction blossoms. It starts, as love scenes often do, with a kiss.

Too far away. Dean was too far away, but every time Kiera inched forward, he countered, keeping the exact same distance between them.

Jesus, how long was her hallway?

Just the pads of three fingers touched her face, the contact so light it was like a ghost. Then those fingers, those small patches of cool against her skin, slid down her jaw, drawing a line of shivers. After her jaw, they moved to her neck, the tingling sensation shattering her control. She moved closer until they were almost touching, snaking her arms around his neck. He kissed her harder, and then she felt it.


Scraping over the delicate skin of her face. Kiera pulled away and mock-frowned. “Just as abrasive as I’d imagined.”

He ran his hand over his jaw, never taking his eyes off her. “Got a razor?”

Offering to shave for her comfort sprouted a grapefruit in her throat. She pressed a fist to her mouth, needing a moment to compose her expression. “Can I do it?”

Like a lot of people, I had an aversion to romance, my mind conjuring bodice-rippers of old, where consent was immaterial and jerks were somehow attractive. I finally realized that romance isn’t a monolith and I could make any kind of love story I wanted. This is it. 

Book Panel

Part of the great experience of winning the 2021 Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Contest is that local libraries have reached out to me about events. It’s so exciting. I. Love. Libraries. Seriously: free books to borrow, free internet, knowledgeable librarians.

I was invited to a panel at the New Lenox Library on November 13, 2021 from 1 pm – 3 pm to talk about self-publishing. How fun is that?

There’s this thing writers have called Imposter Syndrome. It’s pretty pervasive and usually chronic with some acute flair ups. I think it’s particularly nasty in self-published authors. We published our own books, so are we really authors?

Yes, Hollie, I remind myself over and over again. I even won a contest and now people want me on panels. This sort of social proof is priceless to the delicate ego of this particular author, at least. I just wish it would last!

It’s tough, even though I did all the work (and some work I didn’t need to do or did repeatedly). Luckily, feeling like an imposter hasn’t stopped my writing or even my talking about my writing. I just sort of wince inwardly and keep going.

Maybe I’ll get to the place of confident professional eventually. In the meantime, I’m a fiction author, so I can totally fake it.

The Most Beautiful Cover in the World

Way back when I won the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author Manuscript Project, part of the prize was a professional cover (and copy editing). I was thrilled with both.

And then I went and made a bunch of changes. I got a developmental editor. More changes. Pretty soon, I realized that it wasn’t a supernatural suspense novel but a paranormal romantic suspense novel. Now my beloved cover didn’t quite represent my new genre.

So, I had to commission a new one.

It wasn’t an easy task, and I had a few setbacks and, possibly (for sure), a crisis. Everything is all good, though, because in the end, I got this beauty . . .

Cover art by: Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations

I couldn’t be happier with the new cover, and I’m so glad I made a change. The old cover was gorgeous, but this better represents my story: dark, sexy, spooky with some urban grit. Big shout out to Sarah Hansen at Okay Creations!


Writing is a solitary act. But being a writer doesn’t have to be. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such an awesome writing community. Here are just some of the groups that made my year:

The Fictioneers

This is my critique group. Susan, Dani, Carolyn, Meg, and Rae. Without these women, my work would be a shadow of what it is now. They always tell me the truth but with kindness and support. It’s hard to make adult friends, let alone friends as kick-ass as these guys. When I feel lost, when I feel like an imposter, when I’m unsure where to go in my writing, these are the first people I approach, and they’re there for me. Love these women!


Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop. Almost every Thursday from September to May, there is a speaker. Some are “famous” like Stuart Dybek and Rebecca Makkai. Some aren’t as well known. Regardless, I learn something every week! It’s a pain in the ass to get up to Winnetka by 9:30 a.m., but I don’t regret the hassle. I’ve gotten great inspiration and notes that I can look back on later and hone my writing craft. And I’m finally at a point where I know quite a few people, and it’s more like family than indifferent colleagues. Large groups are hard for me, but I know enough people now that I’m comfortable. It’s been a great source of socialization and learning. 

Just Write Chicago

Almost every Friday since October of 2013 I’ve met writers at New Wave Cafe for a few hours of independent writing and an hour of discussion. I took about a four month hiatus when my son was little, but other than that, I’ve been a consistent attendant. I’ve been running the Friday meeting for a while now, and I’ve loved the flux and flow of people. My favorite thing is when people become regulars. We’ve got quite a few, and it’s inspiring to see people progress in their projects. It’s been a wonderful support system and a great way to give back and help other writers. I’m often amazed at all the insight members have for one another. No matter how much I struggle alone for the rest of the week, it’s a comfort to have this group every Friday to keep me connected to the community. 

Sisters In Crime

I recently re-joined this group this year. What a great organization! They have so many free events, free classes, and an excellent support system. The Chicagoland chapter is awesome. Their Annual Writers’ Workshop was so informative and fun and free.

Brainstorming/Accountability Group

Susan, Tracy, Lyssa, and Sheri. It was an honor to help weed through the problems and choices in all our stories. And the food was excellent. 


No gratitude post would be complete without my biggest supporter ever, my husband, Randy. I’m beyond lucky to have him in my life, my alpha reader and biggest cheerleader (except for maybe Susan). And my son, Quinlan, who though he is not yet six has informed me that I’m a great writer. Also, a big shout out to our parents and siblings who’ve stepped in on numerous occasions to watch Quinlan so I could do writerly things. My family rocks.

I hope all the other writers out there have found their writing community–even if it’s only via the internet. Writers, in my experience, are very gracious and supportive of one another. Support others and let them support you. Find your tribe!