Pay It Forward Friday is my way of thanking authors who have done something that has helped me either personally or professionally in some way in the past years. Some I’ve only met online, some at conferences, and some have become long-term friends. Others may not even know what they did, or even who I am, but at some point they said or posted something that helped me or inspired me in some way.

They have no idea they are being featured here; I’ve secretly gone to their website and gathered their information. I hope you’ll look up their books and support them by buying a book (or a whole series) because they’re not only great authors but great people too!

On Monday I celebrated the sixth anniversary of PRIVATE PROPERTY’S release — my first published book. I thought it fitting therefore to honor the lady who pushed convinced me to try to get published. Some of you may have heard our story, but here it is again, with a few extra confessions. It’s a long one, so go grab a coffee and settle in a comfy chair…

becky1I first met Becky Burkheart online in an MSN group (remember them?) back in the early 2000s. The group wasn’t about writing; it was a Lord of the Rings fan group where we discussed the movies, and the books and the lore of Tolkien’s realm.

At the time I’d been writing since I was a kid, but I’d never shown anyone my writing. I would write late at night, often opening the document well after 11 o’clock at night, once the kids were finally in bed and I’d finished marking my students’ work  using my writing as a way to destress.  But while I was part of this group,  I discovered several of the other members were writers who were seeking publication. Becky was one of those members.

It was also the first time I admitted to anyone other than one friend and my husband that I wrote.

While I enjoyed writing and creating fictional worlds, I had no intention of ever trying to get published. As I said, writing was a hobby, a way to  have some ‘me time’ and quiet the characters in my head who kept me awake late at night. Becky, however, was serious about getting published. She was working on a historical fantasy manuscript and pitching it to agents and editors. She read some of my work and told me to get myself to a writers’ group and learn more about writing, and that I definitely should try to get published. “Yeah, yeah” I said, and then ignored her. After all, I was having fun writing for myself. Why would I want to put myself up for ridicule or worse, outright rejection?

At some point after I’d been a member a few months, those of us who wrote thought it would be fun to write a round-robin story thread based in Tolkien’s worlds. Each member would assume the identity of a fictional character and we would solve a mystery set up by the thread owner.  One of the rules was we weren’t allowed to use characters from the books, we had to create our own following Tolkien’s canon. To my surprise, most of the other members chose to be female hobbits. (Dare I admit I’m not a fan of the hobbits–I think Frodo was a wuss and Sam was the hero of Lord of the Rings.) I considered being an elf, but there had always been something about Strider, and more specifically the Rangers of the North that had been left out of the movies, and even only hinted at by Tolkien himself in the books. So after a lot of deliberation, I decided to create myself a Ranger. A Male ranger. It was the first time (to my memory) that I wrote from a male character’s point of view.

Becky decided to to make her character a barmaid from Bree.

The moderator would post a set up for the day, and then we’d react to their initial post, waiting for each other’s post so we could respond with our actions/dialogue. We never knew what would be posted or who we’d have to interact with until it was up and then we’d have to formulate a response, staying in character and in the Tolkien realm. There was one particular day when my Ranger had wandered into Becky’s barmaid’s bar seeking a beer and Becky misread my post. Even though the joke is probably just between Becky and me, I couldn’t resist sharing it here. (Now remember, we were to write in Tolkien’s style so it was much more formal and more of the writing style of the 1950s and before (i.e. so young she appeared), and was very different from my current voice. And since there would occasionally be other player’s posts between ours, we’d sometimes summarize what had happened in the post we were responding to…)

Becky’s character: “I mean no offense, Lord,” she stammered, “your whiskers are not unattractive.”

She stood in front of him awaiting an answer.


Leah’s character: He quickly scanned the girl who stood in front of him. He thought he detected a blush on her face also, though it was hard to tell in the dim light of the inn. Perhaps she was closer to his age than he had first thought, so young she appeared. She had always been so timid when she approached him.

Perhaps he had been in the wilds too long, he thought to himself as he ran a hand ruefully over his face, realizing the coarseness of his beard. He tipped his head to catch her gaze, smiling to allay her fears, “I had been desiring another ale, but since you seem to think I need a shave perhaps I need both?”

Except Becky misread “both” and thought my character had said…

Becky’s character: Shock at his words drove her shyness away. A bath! He asked her for a BATH!!!!! and with such a disarming smile. OH!! Her hand flew to her rest on her chest and she took a minute to gather her scattered senses.

“Lord,” she gave a shallow curtsey, “I will have water taken to your room.”

…… then turned and rushed away, her heart pounding.

Anyway, we both had a good laugh at Becky’s mistaking both for bath, but we took it and ran with it. As the story evolved, a romance blossomed between our two characters, and I discovered how much fun writing (not just reading) romances were. (Ha!)

After the round robin story was finished some months later, Becky nagged encouraged me to take my fictional Ranger and write more stories about him, and handed her barmaid character to me to develop.  I would write a chapter a week and send them to Becky to critique before I put them live on various fanfic sites. (Yes, the stories are still out there, and yes I still get fanmail about them–which is unusual because in more fanfic realms, true fans generally frown upon original characters being inserted into their worlds. And no, I won’t link you to the stories.) OMG the red ink my manuscripts came back with that.  I’d cringe, yet strangely became addicted to all those corrections because I knew she was making my writing stronger. Becky taught me about point-of-view slides and “show, don’t tell” and caught my repetitions and…oh, I learned so much from her mentoring me.

It took me about a year or more (I’m thinking two) after writing several of my Ranger stories before I joined a local writers’ group. A year later, I submitted the first page of an original manuscript to an event my local writers’ group hosted called “Turn the Page.” They’d invited an editor from one of the major Canadian publishing houses and an agent to read the first pages of our manuscripts and tell us whether they would “turn the page.” (Lots of manuscripts are not read past the first page, sometimes the first paragraph, before being rejected.) Out of 40 submissions, mine was one of two that they both said they would like to read more.

That was a big “holy crap, what the heck am I doing…sh*t’s getting serious!” moment. So serious, and so freaking scary, that I stopped writing entirely.

For almost a year.

I’d never gone so long without opening a document and letting a character spill his (or her) guts onto a page. But writing meant opening myself up to more criticism, by people who knew what they were talking about.

Still, Becky persisted.

Almost exactly a year later, she emailed me about how she was joining Candace Haven’s Fast Draft course and she (Becky) was putting together a team of friends so we could encourage each other. (Back then Fast Draft was a two week free course Candy was just developing. Now it’s a month-long course combined with two weeks of Revision Hell.) Becky wanted me to get back at my keyboard writing and she figured this was a way to get me out of my “I can’t do this!” mindset. (Becky also invited another lady, Terri, who has become a friend and occasionally beta reads for me. Huh, was just checking my emails from back then and discovered one of the other ladies she invited was Janis Susan May, who is now also a published author, her latest is being published by Entangled Publishing later this year.)

And yup, Becky won.

I caved. I joined her team. And all the characters and storylines that had been bottled up for the year exploded from me. I wrote over 80,000 words in 13 days. Mind you, it was absolutely totally crap writing. I refuse to even look at it again because even I knew back then it was bad writing. But the flood gates had been opened and they couldn’t be closed again.

Around the same time, Cathy Witlox, who at the time was an editor for Harlequin and a member of my local writing group emailed me (again) encouraging me to join the Toronto Romance Writers and submit to Harlequin.  I’d been ignoring her too. Because you know, writing is hard! And it’s got a lot of negativity associated with it. All those rejections from editors, from agents, and if you finally do get published you have to face reviewers and readers who are hard to please. Why would I want to put myself in that type of misery?

But between Becky and Cathy’s efforts, and that “Turn the Page” event, I realized that maybe…just maybe…I should take the chance. So I wandered down to where my husband and son were watching television and said “Am I being stupid? Should I be trying to get published? I mean, I’ve got an editor and an agent who said they’d read more, and another editor who thinks I should be submitting to Harlequin…should I?” My eldest son who was figuring out his own career path, chimed in with a resounding, “Yes! You have always told me to follow my dreams. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.”  It’s hard to argue when your own advice is turned back at you, isn’t it?

So I joined in January 2007, and learned that the RWA annual conference that July was in Dallas — just minutes away from Becky and another friend/critique partner Terri (who Becky had introduced me to as part of Fast Draft.) I still don’t know how it happened, but I found myself signing up for the conference and booking a flight to Dallas. Nope, still don’t know how it happened, but Becky (with Terri backing her up) bullied influenced me.

A few weeks later I found myself signing up for an editor appointment. Which, Becky reminded me, meant I had to have a finished manuscript to pitch. I spent the next couple of months working on an erotic paranormal shifter story set in Banff, Alberta. Again, Terri and Becky tag teamed me to keep me on track. I’d get emails like this:

Terri on writing and Dallas

Becky-B&W-RisckysThe manuscript finished and edited by July, I flew down to Dallas. Terri hosted Becky and I at her house near Dallas. I’ve looked through my photos but I never got one of me and Becky and Terri together! (Terri’s house and where she lived was the inspiration behind Private Property, by the way.)

Each morning we drove into the conference, Becky would grill me about my pitch. And when it was time for my editor’s appointment, she walked me to the hall and stayed with me. Okay, so she had her own pitch appointment too, but she was totally supportive. Though in all honesty I often wonder if she thought I’d back out.

So if Becky hadn’t persisted in nudging me to keep me writing, to make me serious about my writing and seek publication, Sam Watson wouldn’t exist, nor would Ben or Jake Grady. Or Dillon or Brett, Nate or Jackson or any of my favorite characters or stories. Oh, it’s still not easy. I’m far less productive than I was back then because I doubt myself even more than I did when I first met her. But because of Becky, and Terri, and Tabatha and so many others, I’m still putting my butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard and trying…

Oh and that paranormal shifter story that I pitched? I got a request from the editor at the conference and submitted it. But heard nothing back. A year later, I discovered the editor had…well, shall we say, parted ways with the publisher and deleted all the documents so the publisher had no record of any of the manuscripts the editor had looked at or been working on.

I took it as a sign and the shifter story has been tossed in the dust bin, never to see the light of day again. And to be honest, it didn’t bother me because the week I learned about that manuscript’s fate is the same week I received an email from Angela James offering a contract for Private Property with Samhain. I have to confess I phoned Becky about that email before I even told my husband. Because she’d been such a huge part of the journey.

Meet Becky Burkheart

Becky takes frequent flights of fantasy, in real life as well as in her writing.

beriIt’s said that life is stranger than fiction, but Becky’s out to prove it’s possible to integrate it both ways. Whether she’s racing her Arabian horses through the woods, rapid firing her .45 or gargoyling from local rooftops, Becky finds it hard to stay grounded in the real world. Although she has yet to ride in a space ship (she did get to simulate crashing a 727) or to meet a real vampire (that she’s aware of), anachronistic dress, “QaQ poHmey” and pints of brew (yes, it comes in pints) are standard fare on the odd weekend.

Learn more about Becky’s fiction and non-fiction at her website.

Leah here: I will warn my romance readers, though there may be romantic elements to Becky’s books, they are not romances. 


bloodcup_cover v17c webWhat is it to be a priestess and a queen but a life of service to the people and the gods?

Historic legend tells us Hercules stole the Golden Girdle of War from the Amazon Queen, Hippolyte, at the command of King Eurytheus. Once it was taken back to Mycene – the trail grows cold.

In BLOODCUP the young warrior-priestess Aekhosora seizes command in the aftermath of that bloody theft to lead the army of her people on a vengeful journey south to recover the girdle. Plunging into the marshes of the Danube, through Thrace, past Mount Olympus, with only a brief stop at Delphi, they march on Theseus and all but take Athens before they continue south to death and slavery at Megara.

Suffering the whims of slavery, she struggles to stay true to her god, her goal and the man who takes her home, a man who finds himself the master of a queen striving to restore a lost and scattered people.


33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make about Horses

33HorsesAvoid 33 common mistakes writers make about horses that drive riders crazy. This book answers key questions non-horseman don’t know they need to ask, offering clear answers for simple issues and research terms for more complex ones. Each of the 33 Mistakes are explained in clear layman’s terms in this quick and hard hitting 10,000 words. As both a rider and a writer, the author offers real world examples and conflicts rather than simply explaining what’s proper. Whether you write fantasy, historical or contemporary fiction, these simple points can easily add layers and depth, a line at a time, and help hook reading horse-lovers into your stories. (Previously published as Sue L. Huffman)


Pay It Forward Friday – Becky Burkheart