I am a writer.

I am probably the only one who thinks of myself that way.

No, that isn't true. I know that my fellow writers in my critique group think of me as a writer. But no-one in my family, not my husband Rick, not my mother, not my sister. (My kids are too small to be part of the decision.)

Because I have never had anything published, I'm not a real writer.

That attitude really galls me. A writer writes. That's the only definition that matters. If I submit a manuscript and an editor loves it, that somehow affects me, and during a period when I may be fast asleep, thinking about taking a vacation or dressing the kids, somehow her perception magically becomes my reality and I'm suddenly a writer?

I don't think so.

The problem is, until I hit that moment when I become a writer in their minds, I get no support, no encouragement. It's a hobby. Ugh.

I will see "Janet Merrill" on the cover of a book, but I do not need it to know who I am. And that in itself will annoy Rick, since Merrill is my maiden name.

On the other hand, why do I beat myself up looking for their support? When I am published, they're going to hate my book. It isn't a spy story (for Rick) or a romance or mystery (for my sister and mother respectively), it's a drama, about a concert pianist with a busy, international schedule, who falls in love with a poor single mother, and the pain they go through when neither can quite fit in the other's world.

Hell, it could be on the best-seller list, and they'd still hate it.

But not my critique group. They loved the idea, and the writing. To a point, which of course is why we have such a group. The problem that they had with my writing was a lack of involvement. They liked the description, the tension, in both the pianist's life and the young woman's, they liked the scenes with the kids, but the one thing that wasn't working was when the couple was together. The writing was flat. Not just lacking romance, lacking feeling, as if I just couldn't visualize them together.

The critique group that I joined was diverse. Very good, great people, but large, with many varied projects. I still meet with them weekly, and they're very helpful. There is a lot to be gained from writers with such different perspectives.

But there's also a lot to be gained from writers with similar interests, who can perhaps get more intimate with your characters, who are working on books which are more like yours. So five of us from the larger group who were working on romantic fiction decided we'd set up our own critique group as a supplement. I offered my house for weekly meetings.


The road to hell, and perhaps to heaven, is paved with good intentions. Our five became four before we were even a group, and two others dropped out almost immediately, leaving Andrew and me.

I knew that was asking for trouble. Not because of what might happen between us, though in hindsight... No, because of what could happen to our writing. Because two is too small; instead of dispassionate evaluation, you tend to get caught up in the writer's response to her story, and experience it as she does. So you can certainly help to put passion into the story, but you're too close to see its faults.

But then, that's why we had the main group, so we decided we?d go ahead, and perhaps we'd find that the passion we could develop when each was involved in the other's work would help bring our stories to life, as both of us had similar failings.

In that sense, our group of two worked wonderfully.


Andrew's story was an updated version of the hard-boiled detective and the attractive-but-unavailable client. But for the nineties, his detective was in her thirties, and her client, who had originally hired her to follow his philandering wife, was very available. Then the wife is killed, and the detective and her lover are the obvious suspects...

As a mystery, it was great. As a romance, the characters were wonderful until they were in the same room together. Very much my problem, really.

Inspiration struck. Andrew and I started acting out - verbally only - the scenes between them. Trying to develop a feel for each of the characters. Sometimes he would be Keller, the client, and I would be Joanne, the detective. More often, he would be Joanne... strange as it seems, the role-reversal helped us both deal with getting into the character's head.

We did the same with Ralph and Sarah, my protagonists. They were different people, and the role-reversal wasn't quite as useful, but occasionally we would switch.

After about a month of this, both of us were writing much more exciting, emotional prose. Our critique group noticed, and praised the development of our stories.

Intimacy between Andrew and me was a necessary part of what we were doing. Not physical intimacy, not even emotional intimacy - that we acknowledged - but a freedom to share ideas, which can be an exciting experience. And which can, and occasionally did, lead to feelings of intimacy of a different kind.

Such as when Andrew - as Joanne - described being kissed, the feeling of Keller sucking "her" lip.

"Which lip?" I asked.

"Which? Does it matter?"


"Which? The bottom lip, I guess."


"Top, then. Why?"

"A woman's upper lip goes straight to her libido. It can really turn her on. The lower lip doesn't have the same effect."

"Really?" he asked. "Does it work?"

That question took the discussion from the theoretical to the personal, and should have been off-limits. Had we ever set rules, that is.

I blushed. "Would you believe I read it somewhere?"

Andrew grinned. "Is there an equivalent for a man?"

Still blushing, I answered, "Not directly, but suck on his tongue and he'll know you want him." I paused. "Symbolic, I guess."

I was feeling exhilarated when we got back to our role play. We took Keller and Joanne through a steamy encounter, though a visit from the fictional police kept them from consummating what we had set up.

In contrast, Ralph and Sarah, who had already slept together, seemed unemotional, and we agreed to think about their relationship for the next week.

The following week saw a revitalization of the relationship between Sarah and Ralph, as we backtracked to the beginning, setting up conflicts which brought them closer, letting affection develop before sex.

As we played out our parts, I felt myself getting turned on. I flubbed some thoughts, as did he. We found ourselves holding each others' gaze for too long.

"I think that's enough," I said, finally. "I've got plenty of material to rework by next week. If we take this much further, I won't be able to remember all of it."

If we took it much further, I would probably remember none of it.

"Let's do yours for a while," I continued.

We did, though it didn't help much. After last week's aborted encounter, we took Keller and Joanne through a few near-misses. Andrew's story was not without humor, and that helped to make light of the erotic content.

Which didn't stop me from becoming very aroused by what we were doing.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Andrew left. It had been a stressful morning. Enjoyable, but stressful, and I had a lot of residual horniness to work out, alone.


I spent a few days reworking the scenes we had acted out, then tweaked the story to suit the new emotions. I was pleased with the changes, and disappointed that Rick was so uninterested in my progress.

Then, on Sunday, my world fell apart. I was thinking about the direction the story was going to take. What I had initially thought would be the ending looked weak compared to what we had built up in the early stages. So I rethought what could happen, and that's when it hit me.

Again, of course, Rick wasn't interested, and I spent days in a depression so deep I was numb as I went about my business. I didn't write anything. I barely functioned as I got the kids ready for school, cooked meals, cleaned up. I did everything Rick expected of me, but I did it silently, resentfully, not expecting acceptance of my calling, but wanting at least some measure of sympathy. But as he could not accept me as a writer, he naturally could not comprehend that pain that comes with too close an identification with a character.


If I could find no empathy in Rick, Andrew, on his next visit, abounded in it.

"Janet, what's wrong?"

"Oh, Andrew!" I screwed my eyes closed to hold back the tears. He took my hand and led me to the couch.

"What is it?" he asked again.

I wiped my eyes to clear the blurring. "The story changed, Andrew. I didn't want it to happen."

"Tell me," he said.

"We set up the conflicts with Sarah's kids, so that their love would have so much to overcome. And we made her unable to understand his traveling, so they could fight about that."

"Right." He didn't understand where I was going. Well, why should he, it had taken me days to realize what we had set up.

"So, through the book, the kids grow to accept him, and she learns to love him, and towards the end they're married." I was still staying calm, but I didn't think it could last. "He offers to cut back on his touring, but she doesn't want to hold him back..."

Here came the tears. Damn, I tried so hard to keep from crying. "So she travels with him, but she's not used to the pace, and the big city, and the different traffic rules... She steps into the street..."

I couldn't go on. Tears were streaming down my face. Andrew put his arms around me, and held me against his shoulder as I cried.

When my sobbing had lessened enough for me to speak, I continued, "And we did this, last week, because after she's gone, he still has her kids..." That was too much for me, and I wept. I buried my head in his neck, crying into his shirt, my arms wrapped around his waist. He would sympathize. He knew what it meant to become emotionally involved with your characters.

He didn't say anything. There wasn't anything to say, this was my story, and I'd have to live with it. Perhaps he could make suggestions, later, but ultimately it was my problem. My creations, my attachment to them, my choice whether they lived or died. And I would have chosen life for her, for my Sarah, but not at the expense of hurting what now had the potential to be a very moving novel.

So I cried quietly into his shoulder while he stroked my hair.

"I understand, Janet," he whispered.

I knew he did, but it helped so much to hear. I kissed his neck. "Thank you."

He squeezed my shoulders and the back of my neck. It felt so good I kissed him again, then tightened my arms around his waist and kissed his earlobe.

He responded by pressing his lips to my chin and stroking my hair. I nuzzled against his jaw then kissed his cheek. Gradually my kisses landed towards the front of his face, and his on mine, until my lips brushed his. I shivered and disconnected, burying my chin against his shoulder again.

But the raw emotion which had been freed by my tears would not so easily be put aside. This man could share pain and joy. Between my breasts, my chest burned with a need to transform these tears into something more. I lifted my head again.

"Hey," I said, and as he turned I kissed him lightly on the lips. Then again. Then brushed my open lips against his, touching and releasing, touching, almost, almost ready to join them to his. I squeezed his back, we searched each other's eyes, mouths ready to touch. Gentle pressure on the back of my head drew me close; I didn't resist as our lips met, not just grazing this time.

I sighed as his lips moved against mine. Slowly, at first, then with increasing fervor as the melancholy passion within me became something wilder. Soon we were rocking our faces against each other, locked tightly at the mouth. My hands slipped under his shirt to stroke his back, and my tongue sought his.

Drawing my hands back, I set them alongside his rib cage, then pulled my mouth from his, kissing him briefly a couple of times to tantalize him.

"Don't forget," I whispered.

"Forget what?" he asked.

"The top one," I said, and parted my lips for him.

He took the opportunity, sucking and playing with my upper lip, turning my arousal into something sharp, tangible. I fastened on to his lower lip as we fought to turn each other on, and as I found his tongue and sucked it into my mouth, I started unfastening his shirt.

I ran my hands over his chest as we kissed. He held my waist, barely even squeezing, his lips and tongue all that he needed to set me alight.

I released his mouth and kissed his chest, licking his nipples and pulling off his shirt. When I kissed his neck he ran his hands over my back, but my dress opened at the front.

I opened my mouth wide over his, and as our tongues slid together, I put my hand to my buttons.

Once I was unfastened, he needed no encouragement, pulling the dress back over my arms and running his hands over my back and down my sides. He ran his fingers over the edge of my bra, gentle pressure against my breasts, then back, fumbling with the catch...

Then stopped, and pulled away from me.

"What is it?" I asked, willing him to want to keep going.

"Are we Joanne and Keller, or Sarah and Ralph?" he asked, a mischievous look in his eyes.


"Because if we're Keller and Joanne, something always goes wrong, right about now..."

I grinned. "I can't believe you stopped to ask that. You are planning to get Joanne in bed with Keller, aren't you?"

"Damn right, I am."

"Then let's skip ahead a few chapters."

We kissed again. He worked on the fastener again, and my breasts bobbed free. Not for long, as his strong hands circled them, squeezing, caressing.

He nibbled and sucked my top lip again. Telling him about the effect that has may have been a mistake, because every time he did it I became a little bit more desperate to have him.

He pushed me away by pressing back on my breasts. Without releasing them, he glanced down at what his hands held. "I take it this time you're Joanne and I'm Keller?"

I slid my hand between his legs, feeling his eager erection. "You're not Joanne," I said, and, taking his tongue between my teeth, I unfastened his belt.

Opening his pants, I touched his shaft through his underwear, then, drawing back, I stood and stepped out of my dress. He did the same with his pants and shoes, then reached for me.

"Not here," I said, taking his hand. Not that I wouldn't have been happy to take him right there, but the condoms were in my bedroom.

Sitting on the bed, he watched me rummaging for the condoms. Rick and I don't use them, but I knew I had an unopened box. Andrew was transfixed by the sight of my boobs, weaving around as I worked.

I found the box, placed it on the nightstand and stood before him. He stroked my breasts, then took the right one into his mouth, squeezing with his hands as he sucked. I held his head against me, then pulled away and presented my left breast to him.

As I stood before him, he pulled my panties down and cupped my pussy. When he slid his fingers inside, I closed my eyes in pleasure as I felt my body preparing itself for the outworking of lust.

I let him take me close to my peak. He didn't want to stop. I was breathing heavily, desire a smoldering volcano threatening to erupt from my sex, when I took his hand and pulled it away from me.

Pushing him back onto the bed, I stepped out of my panties and freed him of his underwear. I opened a condom.

They had been an accidental purchase; unlubricated, which I hate. But they were what I had to work with, so...

Opening the package, I licked his shaft, then covered him with my mouth, bobbing my head up and down. He gasped, and touched my hair. I slurped him a few times. He became tangibly harder, and tasted salty.

I drew back and unrolled the condom onto him. Then, with it in place, I resumed the bobbing and licking, lubricating him with my saliva. His breathing was as heavy as mine had been when I released him.

Climbing onto the bed, I sat on his stomach while he caressed my breasts. I lowered myself, brushing his face with my left breast, which he took and sucked eagerly. I felt his shaft against me as I pressed myself into his stomach. Then I lifted myself, without taking my breast from his lips, and sank down around him, feeling his warmth penetrating deep within me.

Instead of starting to move, I pressed myself firmly down into him, feeling him slide ever deeper, feeling his shaft push against my clit. My breast slipped from his mouth, but I covered his lips with my own. His hands dragged at my butt as he recognized my need. He became so much a part of me, so deeply embedded in me that I shuddered with pleasure.

He pushed against me, stimulating me without withdrawing, and I pushed back as he relaxed. In this way he amplified the arousal in me until I was consumed by it, gasping into his mouth.

Panting, I willed myself to release him and speak. "Oh... Andrew, are you ready?"

He shook his head. "Let yourself go, Janet, I'll join you next time."

I locked my mouth to his, pressed down against him, but didn't relax, just held myself there as the pressure built to a peak, slowing, slowing... and as the glorious shudder of orgasm overtook me I whimpered, seeking his tongue with mine.

Still pressing into me, he slid his fingers around my thighs, squeezing me against his wide, hard shaft. With small movements he had me ready again, and I pushed my face into his shoulder, feeling my breasts squashed against him as I climaxed again, kissing his neck with abandon.

The next time I was almost there, I asked again, "Are you ready?"

"Next time, Janet."

I let myself go, losing myself in my pleasure.

"Aren't you going to come?" I asked.

"Soon," he answered. "Aren't you enjoying this?"

"Oh, God, yes," I said, as he took me up again. "Yes!"

Then he started moving against me, softly at first, then with increasing power. As good as I had felt before, this was what making love is about, as I felt the fire growing in his body, his desire feeding my own.

"Are you ready?" he whispered.

"Oh, God. Yes." Then I added, "Suck on my breast."

He fastened his mouth to my nipple as our hips thrust against each other. I held his head against me, squashing my breast into his face. He groaned as I reached my peak, and as I crashed into orgasm, I felt him throbbing inside me. His mouth was still pushing arousal through my breast, but closeness now was sexier than stimulation - and his pulsing shaft was giving me plenty of that anyway - so I pulled my breast from him and wrapped my lips around his. Our tongues drew out our mutual gratification, and even when he started to soften inside me, my body was still occasionally spasming in remembered pleasure.

I slipped carefully off him while he held the condom, and when he returned from disposing of it, I was lying on my back, feeling warm throughout my body.

"If you can write that, you have a best-seller on your hands, Andrew," I said, hoarsely. "And this was supposed to be their first time?"

"I think I slipped modes in there, somewhere," he said. "Instead of Keller lusting after Joanne, I was Andrew, lusting after Janet."

I rolled over to face him and smiled. "Good," I said, "I'm glad. I'd hate to think all that passion was wasted on a fictional character."

He laughed. "I just had an evil thought. My girlfriend doesn't understand how much I'm involved with my characters. I think she'd be less threatened by this than she would be by my making love to Joanne."

"Naturally," I said, drily, "she won't be threatened, because she won't know about either."

"Nope," he agreed.

"God," I said, "I still have to face months of writing about Sarah, knowing I'm going to kill her off. I still don't think I can face it."

"Why not do this?" he suggested. "Write an alternative ending. It doesn't matter if it's very good. Just write it, and make yourself believe that it will all work out happily. You will be able to continue, and when you're at the end, you'll be able to decide whether to do the nasty."

"Yeah..." I thought about the idea.

"The best thing is that if you're working towards two different finales, your readers won't be able to predict how it will end. Keep them guessing; keep them interested."

Which is what I did. After we gathered our clothes and dressed, I kissed him goodbye, and went back to work. I had a convincing and happy ending by the end of the day. It was a little weak, but with work, it would fit.


Of course, I didn't use it. When the book was finished, the impact of Sarah's death gave it a power and poignancy that it hadn't had in my first thoughts. Knowing that, I went back and modified a few parts to give even more depth to the outcome, and the resulting work had my editor (she says) in tears. And in a hurry to get it into print.


I am a writer. Perhaps when "Sarah's World" reaches the shelves, which should be soon, Rick will acknowledge the fact. But I don't know that I really care, because my life with my family is not my life as a writer. I'm happy with the former, don't get me wrong, but it is not the source of the passion in my book. That came from inside of me.

Now my agent is pushing me to delve again within my soul to find the material for another book, and I have a germ of an idea...

But it's going to take my very private critique group of Andrew and me to give it birth.