LIVING & LEISURE
"BALANCE" ROMANCE HAS PLENTY OF SIZZLE
BY LYNN OLCOTT
Why is gorgeous California guy Aidan Pierce back home in Mirror Lake? And why does beautiful lawyer Alexis Greene care? The puzzle plays out in "Balance," a high-energy romance novel that is rich with complex characters and modern desire, written by central New York writer MJ. Woods.
A seemingly straightforward real estate deal brings these two beautiful strangers together, each with a connection to a wise, crusty farmer named Eli Myers. Eli just wants to do right by his family land and his tenant, but a mysterious energy company has a different agenda entirely.
These are contemporary times. People in love run background checks on each other. Relationships and marriages may not be at all what they seem. Still, the power of family sorrows and family secrets is strong and we all long for someone of our own.
Woods has a knack for writing a cohesive story from alternating points of view. She shares her considerable knowledge of law to show how legal contracts have the power to implement both evil and good. The excitement doesn't end with "Balance." The beat goes on in the sequel "Sway" and the third in the series, "Fall."
The author knows the central New York setting well. When not writing under the pen name of M.J Woods, she is Millisa Morrow, paralegal in her family's law office in Homer. She researched the drug problem in Cortland for her book.
Morrow's fourth novel is due out in the spring and follows love again. "Balance" is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon and at other Internet retailers. Easier yet, a copy is waiting for readers at Phillips Free Library in Homer.
Lynn Olcott of Cortland is a voracious reader, English teacher and writer.
LIVING & LEISURE
PARALEGAL ALSO ROMANCE WRITER
BY KATIE KEYSER
Millisa Morrow doesn't have any problem coming up with ideas for her fiction characters. She's worked more than 20 years as a paralegal for her father, David Ames, and uncle, William Ames, now retired Cortland County Court Judge.
"There's all kind of scenarios your mind runs with, when you work in a field like this," she said from the Ames Law Office in Homer. And there's the newspaper, TV and music. Inspiration isn't an issue, she said. "It's finding time to write and elaborate on ideas."
Morrow, 41, a mother of two and wife is also author of three published romance novels - all part of her "Amped" series: "Balance," "Sway" and "Fall," written under her pen name of M.l Woods. "Balance" came out in November 2016, "Sway" in July and "Fall" in November.
"I'm tired." Morrow said. "It is a lot. And I still can't believe I did it." A self-publisher, she used Dog Ear Publishing to distribute "Balance" and "Sway." For "Fall" she created her own publishing label, "Perfect Balance Publishing." She pays an editor to keep her grammar in check. And her husband Jim, a graphic designer, has been a huge help.
Morrow said she reimagines her experiences to get her characters into trouble while they find love.
Her first book, "Balance," took five years from inception to completion - two to three years in active writing.
"There was a couple of years I didn't write anything," she said.
She broached a mom's group in East Syracuse with a manuscript to get comments. They were positive. Now many are her fans.
The series follows the exploits of two characters, Alexis Greene, a lawyer whose husband has died. She returns to her small town to take over her father's law office, after he died, too.
Enter Aidan-bright, intelligent, who Morrow says is "much more mysterious." He, too, is returning to the small town where he spent his first eight years. He has an agenda: addressing the area drug problem.
Morrow said it's ironic that she researched the drug problem in Cortland for the book, and then saw her father lose his building, which housed their practice, from a fire caused by a meth lab blast in 2016.
That situation has not entered any of her novels yet. "It's too raw," she said.
Ronald Bagliere, a writer for more than 30 years and an adjunct instructor for the Downtown Writer's Center in Syracuse, read Morrow's first book and was impressed by the amount of research. He thought it was "a hell of a work considering it was her first endeavor into writing."
"Writing a fiction novel is like telling a lie," Bagliere said. "A very long lie. You are creating people out of your imagination, breathing life into them, giving them a past that readers will hopefully engage with and root for. No easy task and again, she nails it."
"It's fun to get lost in your stories and have things take over," Morrow said. "Once you open those flood gates, it doesn't stop."
Her next book is due out in the spring, a stand-alone romance novel that is a spin off from this series.
"I have always written. I have always wanted to be a writer," Morrow said. "When I was at Cortland State for a short time, I took a journalism class. I toured the Cortland Standard, I took a trip to the morgue. One of my classmates passed out."
She read "Fifty Shades of Gray" before it became a phenomenon. "I thought, 'I could do something like that on my own. '"
But she always struggled with the ending. Then her character, Alexis, came about. She started "Balance" from this character's point of view. She had the book half completed before the hero came along. Then she pursued his point of view. She alternated the two.
"It helped me get through to the end."
The romantic tension builds through "Balance," but Morrow takes her time before the characters get together.
One of her favorite scenes is when Alexis sings in a bar with her best friend's band, and unbeknownst to her, Aidan catches the act.
"I don't know where it came from. What if this? What if that. This would be amazing."
She can get the kids get on the bus and get down to writing, rewriting and proofing and forget to eat. She'll remember to call the law office to see if her father needs anything. Before she knows it, it's 4p.m.
Novel writing is difficult, said Priscilla Berggren-Thomas, a writer and director of the Phillips Free Library in Homer. She will work on a book for two years before she's willing to let anyone look at it.
"It sounds cliche. Writing is really rewriting. Even when you get a first draft. Then it takes a lot of rewriting," Thomas said.
And when a writer self publishes, the work mounts, because the writer must edit, find a cover and market it.
"I think anyone who completes a book is just incredible," Thomas said.
Morrow is a member of the Central New York Romance Writers group and the Romance Writers of America. She learned to start one word at a time. And members say: 'You have to have your butt in the chair.'