Deadline on a Dream

Dream the Plan / Plan the Dream

Three years ago, when I made the decision to Think like a Pro, the approaching deadline for one of life’s major transitions drove me to consider it.

Life’s transitions include job changes, marriage or divorce, moving, children, taking on the fulltime care of a parent, and retirement.  Making a commitment to live a worthy life, changing diets to gluten-free or vegan, deciding to avoid all plastics, turning a dream into reality:  these are also life transitions. 

Often, very often, these last three are the hardest changes.  They require a re-commitment every day, every minute, every second.  They are individual changes, perhaps prompted by family and friends but dependent on the sole self to maintain the commitment.  And they require re-thinking constant aspects of life that most people never even consider.

Deadline: Junction on the Journey

Transitions are like junctions in our life’s journey.

The question we ask ourselves is this~ Where do I want to go when I reach that junction?

Creating my own Nest: a little dream from 2011

Two years before the Think like a Pro decision (now that’s five years ago), I had moved.  That move began changing my life.  I was happier with less stress.  I was creating my own little nest rather than living (and dealing with) a house that was never really mine.

In moving, I had to consider HOW and WHERE I wanted to live and WHY I wanted to live that way.

When I saw that major life transition approaching, I decided that I no longer wanted to drift.  I wanted to consider my life choices instead of unthinkingly going through life, doing the next thing.  WHEN that change came, I needed to have my personal change already in motion.

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“What I tell you three times is true.” ~~ Alice with Humpty, colorized from the original in Through the Looking Class

Knowing me, if I didn’t get ready for it, the time for the change would approach then pass by without me really noticing it.

Here’s WHAT I wanted ~

  • one: to become healthier via diet and exercise.
  • two: to become minimalist–although I was already halfway to this one.
  • three: to become a published writer.

This blog is about that third change.

Deadline:  Become a Published Writer

For many, many, many years (“What I tell you three times is true”) I tried the traditional publishing route and collected a thick file of rejections from editors and agents.  I also accumulated several completed manuscripts.

Looking back now, I admit those manuscripts were badly written and horribly constructed.  No grammar errors.  Engaging characters.  Interesting plots.  But they didn’t really “work”.  Truly, madly, deeply didn’t work.

I gave up and decided I needed to learn more about writing and genres.

In the intervening years, while I dealt with other life changes, I did learn even as I kept writing–but the writing was more like dabbling.

Here are the best three books that guided my learning:

  • Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, from 1965 and still relevant.  A small portion of the book is about Scenes and Sequels.  Books are made up of Scenes and Sequels.
    • Scenes require goal, conflict and disaster.
    • Sequels require reaction, dilemma, and decision.
  • Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict gave me an epiphany:  All primary characters and most secondary characters need their own GMC.
  • Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, explaining both character and plot, led me on a circuitous route back to Carl Jung’s character archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s archetypal monomyth.

Deadline: Dabbling at the Dream

And then I reached 2013–with that life transition looming ahead.  Four years away.  More than enough time.

Or so I thought.

I resolved, as I normally resolved, to become published.

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Sputtering Dreams

That resolution went the way of other resolutions:  I had a major push which gradually sputtered and nearly stopped.

By summer, I was angry with myself.  “Here, you resolved this!  What have you done?  Nothing!  Nothing!  and Nothing!”

What I told myself three times was true.

By the first of November, after dabbling away at my dream and still without a plan, I was even angrier.

Advent (no, this is not a non sequitur) is a special season of the year for me.  Raised in a stripped-down church that barely recognized the liturgical year, my first introduction to Advent was eye-opening.  The miraculous four-week season before Christmas remains as glorious as that first occasion years before.

Knowing Advent was coming, I decided that my writing needed to have its own New Advent.

I needed Writing Goals.

I would need a Website once I was published.

So, Advent 2013, I set my goals.  I was so eager, I didn’t wait for the first Sunday of Advent.

By the Saturday before the second Sunday of Advent, I realized my first problem.

I still wasn’t writing, not enough, not consistently enough, to produce words that would lead to my goal: TO BECOME A PUBLISHED WRITER.

Just Dreaming the Dream and Dreaming about the Plan for the Dream wasn’t Accomplishing the Dream.

Deadline: Dreaming the Plan

That Saturday before second Sunday of Advent, I realized that I needed a plan.  I needed to stick to the plan.

I growled about publishers and agents who had rejected me in the past.

And then a box arrived from Amazon.  It contained my first Kindle.  A Kindle Fire.

I fired up the Kindle and bought my first book.  And read it.  Finished it Sunday morning.  Did my personal Advent service in my own little nest.

And had another epiphany.  (I know:  I don’t get them very often.)

That Kindle book was by an author I didn’t know but had been at an extremely reasonable price to try.  It was Steampunk Fantasy, which I knew was currently “BIG” in the writing marketplace.  I had also bought a Jane Austen, Winnie the Pooh for the illustrations, a cookbook (which I asked Amazon to take back because it didn’t load properly–and Amazon did!), and a couple of cozy mysteries.  But the unknown author was the one I read first:  Lindsey Buroker, The Emperor’s Edge.

As I finished my Advent readings, I realized a couple of major things:  Buroker had uploaded her own book.  She didn’t have a “Traditional Publisher”.

Which meant I COULD DO THE SAME.

I had research before me.  How did she format her manuscript?  How did she develop her cover?

I scrolled through the Amazon Kindle store and realized very quickly:  Several books were self-published (Indie!).  Many covers were crap.  Some covers were very, very good.  I wanted a very, very good cover.

I was going to have to research a cover designer.  (That search took 18 months.  I thought it would take 3.)

I knew I would need a strong start because I am such a slow writer:  so I planned to put three books out over the course of three months.  It would take maybe a year.  I gave myself a little leeway and said, “August 2015 I will publish my first book.”

Which meant I had to stop dabbling away at four different manuscripts (yes, I had that many MSs in the works).

Deadline:  Planning the Dream

Three Books for the Back-to-Back

By the third Sunday of Advent I had selected a manuscript to finish first.  It was a story that I wrote during the worst three years of my life.

New Cover, by Deranged Doctor Design! Available on Amazon Kindle

I decided how long its revision would take.  Smugglers and Spies became Secrets at the Hawthorn Inn became A Game of Secrets.  I know:  Revision is difficult.  It took longer than I anticipated.

I had a half-finished manuscript idea for its “sequel”, and I thought I would give myself six months to work on that book.  A Game of Spies took nine months.

The third book that would tie-in with the first two became A Game of Hearts.

August 2015 was the month I set for my first Indie publication:  this would be the practice run.  October and November and December 2015 for my second, third and fourth Indie publication.

By the fourth Sunday of Advent I diagnosed my first two problems:  

  1. Not sticking to my deadline.
  2. Not writing every day.

Later on, I diagnosed additional problems:  These became the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro:  A New Advent for Writers, first a blog series on this website and then the handy little manual you can buy on Amazon Kindle.

Deadline for The Practice Run

With August 2015 looming close, I pulled out a manuscript that I thought would be a good practice run.  It was a different genre from the back-to-back books.  A fantasy would need a pseudonym:  Edie Roones was born.

I selected my second oldest completed manuscript (I have older book starts, but only one manuscript completed before this one).  This book began life as The Sword of Treasach then became Castle Warder then became Steel and Blood and finally developed into Summer Sieges.  (I know!  Revision is HARD.  This book had FOUR revisions, each one a nearly complete gut.)

I put the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro into action during the revision of Summer Sieges.  Those lessons worked!  Especially the third lesson about PLOT.

Barely, barely before August, as I slaved through the revision of this old, old manuscript, I found a cover designer I thought would work, based on a Lindsey Buroker cover.  (I owe Ms. Buroker a LOT!).  Deranged Doctor Design:  I love those people!

At the very beginning, for A Game of Secrets, we had one major glitch, my fault since I didn’t tell them enough about what I wanted and didn’t want, but they rolled with my requested change.  They have delivered BEAUTY every time since.

August hit.

DDD delivered the cover:  exactly what I wanted. (BTW, they talked about branding.  I had more research to do.)

I finished Summer Sieges.  Edited it.  Corrected it. (If you found any errors, please tell me!) Uploaded it.

I made that deadline.

Deadline: Accomplishing the Dream

Since August 2015, using the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro, I have published these:

Summer Sieges / Edie Roones: drastically revised manuscript / 2015

October:  A Game of Secrets / M.A. Lee: revised manuscript / 2015 

November:  A Game of Spies / M.A. Lee: revised then finished manuscript / 2015 

December:  A Game of Hearts / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2015 (my third favorite book, thus far) 

“A Matter of Trust” / Edie Roones: previously published short story / my first ever published work / 2016

Digging into Death / M.A. Lee: revised manuscript / 2016 (my second favorite book, thus far)

Autumn Spells / Edie Roones: drastically revised manuscript:  began life as The Tower of Lannoge, became Green Wielder then Green Magic, White Sword. / the first book I ever completed / 2016

January:  The Dangers of Secrets / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017 (my most favorite book, thus far)

February:  The Dangers for Spies / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017  

March:  The Dangers to Hearts / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017 

Weave a Wizardry Web / Remi Black (a new pseudonym for a different fantasy genre): a drastically revised manuscript / 2017

Dream a Deadly Dream / Remi Black: revised manuscript (fourth favorite)

Christmas with Death / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017

The Key to Secrets / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2018 (I had fun writing this one: 5th fav)

I’m currently working on another extremely drastic revision:  Winter Sorcery / Edie Roones followed by Sing a Graveyard Song / Remi Black then the next M.A. Lee / The Key for Spies.

With more ideas and revisions still to come.

Deadline’s First Step: Decide your Dream

Whatever you want to do, the first thing you have to do is Decide what you WANT.

What is the dream you can reach out and almost, almost grasp?

How badly do you want it?

When are you going to take hold of that dream and start turning it into reality?

Do you know what you need to do once you have hold of that dream?

Should writing be your dream, then the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro will surely help you.

~~ M.A. Lee


First Off:  a new cover for A Game of Spies,

the second book in the Hearts in Hazard series

by M.A. Lee. 

Originally published in November 2015, the cover needed updating after M.A. Lee’s HnH books 4, 5, and 6 came out in Spring 2017.  Here’s a first look at the new cover.

Giles Hargreaves is hunting a French spy who somehow manages to steal government documents.  Josette amuses herself playing whist at salons hosted by her sister-in-law.  When Giles and Josette met, they are attracted immediately. 

But he believes she is connected to the French spy.

And she thinks he will break her heart.

Giles and Josette have their first serious conversation on a settee under a stairway in the Sourantine house.  The cover models perfectly capture that scene from the book.

The cover designer at Deranged Doctor Design combined the old cover with the new in a clever way.  The playing cards and the sealed letters from the old cover along with the dominant color image transfer from the old to the new while the focus is on the couple.

Here’s the former cover image.  I still love it, but I love the new one more.

A Game of Spies by M. A. Lee
After Publishing, What’s Next?

For a writer, it’s freaky hard to go to a site that has THE BOOK for sale, type in the name of the author, and nothing comes up for three or four pages.

A writer with part of my name shows up first in the Amazon Kindle store.  And then, oh the ignominy, the other writer with exactly my name shows up before my books do . . . and this after I did research before my first published book to ensure that no other Amazon writer was using my name.

Oh well.

Okay, all is not lost.  We can do a search for the title.

Digging into Death . . . Bam!  Got it in one.

A Game of Secrets . . . not on the first three pages.

A Game of Spies . . . 2nd page!  Yippee!

A Game of Hearts . . . Wow! 1st page.

The Danger of Secrets . . . 1st page.  Yippee!  Yippee!

The Danger for Spies . . . Success!  1st page, second one listed.  Wait, the first book doesn’t even have The Danger for Spies as a title.  🙁

The Danger to Hearts . . . 1st page, first one listed.  2nd Coming of Happiness!  Bliss Again!

But my author page doesn’t come up quickly unless you find one of my books and then click on my name.

And you can find the Hearts in Hazard series just by typing “Hearts in Hazard”.

Indie Challenges

Indie Writers face many challenges long after they have a story they believe is ready for print.

We want to present the best manuscript, one that is polished and as error free as possible.  100% perfection is not possible . . . so we strive for the highest level that is.

Then we can make a cover for ourselves or find someone who can do it at a cost we can afford.

I knew I couldn’t make a good cover.  I am artistically creative as well as verbally so, but a professional designer knows to look for things and add things in and use balance and proportion in ways that I never thought.

Plus, a professional designer knows the photoshop program they are using.  I would have a huge learning curve.  Shouldn’t I spend my time writing?

It took me 18 months to find a cover designer that fit my aesthetic.  I found Deranged Doctor Design by sheer luck . . . for a “God wink”.  They are life savers, believe me.  During my 18-month search, I worked on other books, which enabled me to put out three books back to back, October and November and December in 2015: my first three books, the first three in the Hearts in Hazard trilogy, a one-two-three punch.

DDD is the BEST!  I love working with them.  Their covers are lovely, no matter in which genre they are working.  They provide options and previews, and they are willing to switch things around.  They are clear in what they can and cannot do.  DDD works within a time frame that I understand.  They have a great template that pulls from the author the information they need to work with.  DDD is brave for working with Indie Writers.


After the writing and the editing and the cover designer, the job of an Indie Writer is not over.  Marketing comes next.  I am still working on this one.

Discoverability is now on my ToBeRead list.  By Kristine Kathryn Rusch, it discusses what a writer needs to know about getting their works to the audience in the current state of the reading marketplace.

Getting the book out there, getting the name out there, attracting attention with the right cover and the right blurb and the right audience, these are the five essentials for all Indie Writers.

But I’ll keep writing, and hopefully the “God wink” will happen soon. 😉

I did drink the water in Greenville, MS!

~ M.A. Lee


In Spring 2017 M.A. Lee released the second three books in the Hearts in Hazard series, The Danger of Secrets,

the first cover: While we loved it, we love the new one more.

The Danger for Spies, and The Danger to Hearts. 

The first three books in HnH are ~ A Game of Secrets, A Game of Spies, and A Game of Hearts.

All of the books are loosely connected with some characters repeating.  However, the plot is completed within the book rather than carried into the next one.  Readers can finish one suspenseful without having to wait for the publication of the next one to discover the end to the mystery . . . and the romance.

The designers at Deranged Doctor Design developed wonderful covers for the three new books.  At M.A. Lee’s request, they used different models for each one.  Response to these new covers was wonderful.

However . . . .

The new covers didn’t keep the branded look for the first three HnH novels.

So, new covers for the first 3 are a must.

Here’s the first look at the new cover for the first Hearts in Hazard book, the first book published by M.A. Lee. (3 Firsts!)

A Game of Secrets

Hearts in Hazard, 1

M.A. Lee
New Cover, by Deranged Doctor Design! Available on Amazon Kindle.

Tony Farraday and Kate Charteris collide on a street.  Kate continues her flight from a nefarious cousin while Tony stays to receive his orders to find a French spy.

They meet again, without a collision, at the seaside inn where Kate has found a job and he has discovered smugglers who may be working with the French spy.

Soon they are deep into stolen government documents and smugglers’ suspicions as they fall in love.

In the first cover, the designer found an image of a period pistol as well as closely written papers and a feather quill.  The deep crimson background represented the dangerous game both Tony and Kate found themselves in, pretending to be innocent when they were deep in an investigation into smugglers and spies.

The designer used the same images and color for the second cover, bringing in the elements we loved with the models for Tony and Kate. (Isn’t he handsome?)

We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE how the designer incorporated the old cover with the new one.

As always, all Writers Ink Books are available on Amazon Kindle.  Click here to purchase.


Now released is the fifth Hearts in Hazard book.  The Dangers for Spies, on Amazon Kindle, has the special introductory price of a penny less than a dollar.

The sixth book in the Hearts in Hazard series ~ The Dangers to Hearts ~ will publish in April.

D4Spies brings back the character of Toby Kennitt from A Game of Spies while D2Hearts brings back Jess Carter from A Game of Secrets.


The Dangers for Spies

Released March 10, 2017

Past actions cause present dangers.

The French spy, a double Agent

Eugenie DesChamps thinks she is safe, hidden in the English village of Little Houghton.  She paints landscapes to supplement her income.  She embarks on a flirtation with Charles Audley.  To her the world seems radiant, so very different from eight years ago.

No one knows that she once was a toast of Paris, a pretense she used to acquire information to pass on to English spies.  Eugenie hated the corrupt French government that had caused the deaths of her family.  Then a French agent discovered her double game.  She barely escaped with her life.

The English Spy, Undercover

Eight years ago, Tobias Kennit worked with Eugenie, stealing information about Napoleon’s troop movements.  Then their operation crashed.  He fled, believing that Eugenie was executed as a traitor to her home country.  Toby abandoned his undercover spying and became a gamester and a rake.

Yet now the English spycatcher Roger Nazenby has approached Toby once more.  He wants him to protect a cryptographer living in the village of Little Houghton.  French spies have infiltrated England to capture Charles Audley and return with him to France.  Toby agrees to the assignment only because the woman he wants to marry (Melly Ratcliffe) lives in that village.

The Master Cryptographer

Charles Audley returned to his home village for peace and quiet after stressful years in London developing a series of ciphers for English agents.  His latest ciphers led to English victories in the Peninsular War. 

In Little Houghton, he is charmed by Eugenie DesChamps, a mysterious French artist.  Their flirtation distracts him from his cryptography, but he feels no guilt whenever he is in her company.

Lives Collide

When Toby sees Eugenie, he is shocked.  Eugenie is not dead, and he wants answers from a woman he thought was a double agent.  Is she in Little Houghton to help kidnap the cryptographer?  She convinces him that she is not—but who is the threat to Charles Audley?  And can they protect Audley when they do not know when or where the attack will strike?

And Danger Returns

French agent Didier Poulaine has spent eight years weaving together the snippets of threads to help him locate the only two spies who ever escaped him:  Eugenie de la Croix and an Englishman masquerading as a French military officer.  He tracks them to Little Houghton, the location of the cryptographer he came to England to kidnap—or kill.

Poulaine’s threads have woven together.  Three lives intersect again and involve a fourth.  Blood will be shed before the past is purged.  Whose blood?

Investigate more: Click here.

The Dangers for Spies is a romantic historical suspense set in Regency England, part of the Hearts in Hazard series.  While this novel and The Game of Spies have interconnected characters, D4Spies is a complete work on its own.  However, readers will have a richer experience if they have also read The Game of Spies

Approximately 49,000 words.


M. A. Lee has released the next book in the Hearts in Hazard series.  The Dangers of Secrets just published on Amazon Kindle.  On sale for the introductory price of a penny less than a dollar.

The fifth and sixth books in the Hearts in Hazard series ~ The Dangers for Spies and The Dangers to Hearts ~ will published in March and April.

D4Spies brings back the character of Toby Kennitt from A Game of Spies while D2Hearts brings back Jess Carter from A Game of Secrets.

Secrets of family.  Secrets of hearts.  Secrets of blood and pain.

Secrets can kill.

Maddy Whittaker, on the shelf for years, never expects the man of her dreams will be the one she once called a stick in the mud.

Banished from a country party so she won’t ruin her sisters’ chances in snaring husbands, Maddy is sent to visit a cousin named Simon Jespers, who is hosting his own Valentine’s party.  She expects three weeks of boredom.

Gordon, Lord Musgrove, expects he will propose to a biddable lady and live unhappily ever after.

He escapes his mother’s country party (where the dowager Musgrove expects her only son to snare a wife) for one last bid at freedom.  He decides to retreat to his friend Simon Jespers.  Gordon never expects that his friend will be hosting a Valentine’s party.  He does expect days and days of boredom.

Secrets of Hearts

On arrival at Jespers’ country manor, Maddy and Gordon meet for the first time.  A quick flirtation finds them well matched in mind and soul, and the flirtation changes into romance.

Yet a secret from Maddy’s past threatens their future.

And a serial murderer threatens Maddy’s life.

Can Gordon overcome past secrets and present dangers to marry his perfect match?

The Dangers of Secrets is a romantic Regency suspense of approximately 56,000 words.

A Game of Spies, published in the fall of 2015, introduced the character of Gordon, Lord Musgrove.

Warning: While the romance is sweet, the murders have been described as sordid.  Unwanted memories of abuse may be triggered.  Please be cautious.