Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kindle Worlds: Playing in Somebody Else's Sandbox

Back in early March, I was contacted by someone from Amazon.com about the possibility of writing a licensed fan fiction story for the new Kindle Worlds program. I'm always game for a new challenge, and the idea sounded pretty exciting (as well as a way to fulfill my longtime fantasy of writing for a TV series, in a sense) so I was immediately on board.

At that time, there weren't a great many fictional universes available, but I quickly settled on the mysterious, sexy and seriously-addictive world of the ABC Family hit show, Pretty Little Liars. As I watched episode after episode, catching up on a great thing, I realized I'd begun to ship, or hope for, a relationship to develop between the beautiful, artsy Aria Montgomery and her long-time friend (with a potentially-tragic heart condition) the handsome Holden Strauss.

Playing in someone else's sandbox means you get to make the world over (to a point) the way you've always imagined that it should be. Though you didn't originally invent the characters, you get to appropriate them through dialogue and exciting new scenarios, including a frightening new mystery featuring that creepy little kid, Seth, from the doll shop back in Season Two. (I couldn't get enough of that kid!) The TV episodes themselves gave me a basic framework for the story I called Pretty Little Liars: The Jersey Devil Made Me Do It (Kindle Worlds Short Story) , in the form of multiple points of view and story lines converging to a deadly climax. As I wrote, I could actually see the actors and actresses in their roles, could hear the characters' voices and envision their story on the small screen.

To make my story, extra-fun (and limit it to a manageable cast of characters so it wouldn't balloon to novel length) I took the four protagonists, along with some uninvited secondary characters, out of their usual Rosewood hometown and sent them on vacation in a fictional Jersey Shore community based on the wonderful boardwalk town of Wildwood, very near to where I grew up. I also picked a specific point in the series' timeline to set the story--in my case, the week prior to the opening of Season Three, when the girls were about to begin their senior years. This allowed me to go back and check where each couple was, relationship-wise, and where each character was at that moment, as far as past traumas and events in the show went, so I could keep from clashing with the source material and pulling readers out of the story I was telling.

Those early decisions, 1. limiting the story-space and cast and 2. choosing an appropriate point in the series timeline, proved crucial and allowed me to write the entire novella, about 36,000 words in total, in a very abbreviated timeframe.

The story also gave me an opportunity to incorporate another facet from my personal background, the fascinating, if somewhat creepy, legend of the Jersey Devil, into my tale, putting an exciting new spin on what could have been no more than a knock-off and making it my own.

The result was more than a good time; it breathed fresh life into the other contracted work I'm writing and gave me the courage to take more chances there. It reminded me of a time when I wrote simply for the joy of it and not to make a living. It felt like play, though I worked very hard to bring the story in by deadline.

If you would like to try your hand at playing in someone else's sandbox for the Kindle Worlds program, please stop by Kindle Worlds for Authors to learn more about submitting and see the current list of available fictional universes. To check out the Kindle Worlds store, please click the link and explore.

And if you're a fan of the show Pretty Little Liars, I hope you'll check out my story and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Attention Tami Hoag fans: Colleen Thompson's SALT MAIDEN = plot-bombing hotness




Colleen Thompson's backlist novels are out of the vault and burning up the charts on Amazon. My favorite: The Salt Maiden is about a woman who braves the heat, snakes and scorpions in a particularly desolate stretch of Texas to find her wayward sister and stumbles into a local mystery - and a complicated relationship with a beautiful but damaged man. Well-drawn characters, dramatic atmosphere, simmering sexual tension and startling plot twists.

Shoutout to my fellow "Longmire" fans: You should read Thompson's Sheriff Justine Wofford books, Beneath Bone Lake and Touch of Evil.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Real housewives of outer space: Lily Koppel's THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB: A True Story




Lily Koppel takes us back to a watershed moment in American culture with The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story, the untold story of the women behind the Mercury 7. It's a fascinating bit of biography, but it's also a compassionate look at the dark side of the moon, if you will: how these families were affected when the spotlight dimmed and some of the astronauts were killed. Divorce, alcoholism and other real life tragedies inevitably came along, and as the Wives lives unfold, we see their real strength of character.

Note to Bravo: These are the REAL real housewives. Smart, independent, intelligent and kind. When do we get to see that on TV?

Highly recommending.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Suzanne Rindell's riveting psychodrama THE OTHER TYPIST = Gatsby flare + Hitchcock twist




I really want Suzanne Rindell's The Other Typist to be the hottest read of the summer for the selfish reason that I can't wait to talk about the ending with someone!

Uptight Rose Baker is a police precinct typist in the 1920s, dutifully transcribing the confessions of rapists, murderers and thieves. Her new coworker, Odalie, draws her out of her shell and into her speakeasy Jazz Age lifestyle, but it's soon apparent that there is something sinister about this free-spirited stranger. Highly recommended!



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AMERICAN GHOUL: Teen Angst + Dead for Dinner = Campy 1970s Horror





As the mom of a teenage dude, I spent a lot of time cajoling my son to read. Walt Morton's American Ghoul would have made it a lot easier. This is a well-written tale about a 17-year-old guy whose mortifying family secret (they eat human corpses) comes to light with terrible consequences.

This is well-written YA horror with a campy 1970s setting that makes it fun for the not-so-YA readers too.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dawn Raffel's scrumtrulescent story collection IN THE YEAR OF LONG DIVISION is out of the vault!

For the second time this year, a book I love has been resurrected and is breathing new life. I had to drop all the plates I was spinning on this ridiculously busy day - just stop and sit still and read for a while - because it's just so damn good.

Dawn Raffel's In the Year of Long Division is a collection of vivid, imagistic vignettes that flow like poetry and stun like an Edward Albee micro-act. Originally published by Knopf in the mid '90s, it's been rereleased as an ebook by the visionaries at Dzanc.

In 1995, the San Francisco Chronicle called it "dreamlike"; Minneapolis City pages said it was "tremendously innovative". I still agree with both (and all the other kudos Raffel got back then), but as I read these stories again today - in an entirely different skin, different millenium, different world - it struck me how perfectly her style plays in the new medium. This book wears its fresh incarnation particularly well. (I really can't say that for the other resurrected book, as much as I loved it.)

I used to have this book on the "shelf of yesness" in my office; that's where I kept books that challenged me as a reader and inspired me as a writer. I'm a huge fan of fearlessness, and Raffel can always be counted on to jump the turnstiles of literary convention, but somehow, amidst the strangeness, she manages to drive these needles of *yes* directly into your heart like a a ninja poet acupuncturist.

Anyhoo, several years ago, in a fit of heatstroke-driven post-Hurricane altruism, I turned my yellow VW bug into a guerrilla book mobile and gave all my books away. I've been trying to rebuild that *yes* section of my library on Kindle and Nook ever since. So a huge thank you to Dzanc for loving this book as much as I did. I'm thrilled to have it back in my hands.

Buy In the Year of Long Division on Kindle.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grab Lily Koppel's THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB at your local indie bookstore today!

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel should be on bookshelf at your local indie bookstore today. If you're reading on Kindle, I hope you'll click here and buy it right now. I scored an advance copy, read it last weekend and loved it. A completely fresh (and refreshingly feminist) take on a fascinating slice of American history.

Video review forthcoming. Watch this space. (I have to do my roots first, okay? Don't judge me!) Meanwhile, check out the trailer...

 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Whuh-BAM! Ingrid Ricks' memoir HIPPIE BOY hits the NYT bestseller list!

Delighted to see Hippie Boy: A Girl's Story, a soaring coming-of-age memoir by Ingrid Ricks, hit the New York Times bestselling ebook list this week! I loved this book when it first came out almost two years ago, subsequently got to know Ingrid and was blown away by her vivacious spirit. She's definitely the grown woman version of the book's bright, ballsy kid who manages to survive adolescence with a well-meaning mother, tyrannical Mormon step-father and peripatetic tool salesman dad.

Below is my review of Hippie Boy: A Girl's Story, originally posted last year. (My very first video review, in fact, so I'm claiming a technology learning curve.) Toward the end, I mention looking forward to Ingrid's forthcoming FOCUS, which centers on the loss of her eyesight to Retinitis Pigmentosa. It came out a few months later, and I immediately bought and snarfed it up. Excellent, as I suspected it would be. On her Determined to See blog, Ingrid continues to chronicle the fight to save what little remains of her eyesight.

So how does a two-year-old release from a legally blind self-published author make it big, you wonder? Well, for starters, it's a terrific book by a talented author. Beyond that, I can only say that every once in a while, the universe gets it right.

 

Monday, June 03, 2013

PW announces upcoming Swoosie Kurtz memoir PART SWAN, PART GOOSE

From todays Deal News in Publisher's Weekly:
Swoosie Gets Personal at Perigee 
Actress Swoosie Kurtz (who currently appears on the CBS sitcom Mike and Molly) sold her memoir, Part Swan, Part Goose, to Penguin’s Perigee imprint. Ian Kleinert at Objective Entertainment sold world rights to the book to Perigee’s John Duff. The book, scheduled for spring 2014, is subtitled An Uncommon Memoir of Womanhood, Work, and Family; Perigee said it will feature “just the right combination of personal misadventure, showbiz lore, and touching family history.” Kurtz is writing the book with Joni Rodgers.
Ten years ago, my agent had me make a wish list of people with whom I'd love to collaborate; Swoosie Kurtz was high on my list. I've loved her since she rocked Broadway in "Uncommon Women and Others". She's had an amazing career, but the focus of the memoir is her extraordinary relationship with her 98-year-old mother, author Margo Kurtz, and her late father, Col. Frank Kurtz, the most decorated fighter pilot of WWII.

Truly a dream gig for me: the research is fascinating, Swoosie's brilliantly funny and an absolute joy to work with, and our terrific editor at Perigee digs doing something more than the de rigueur celeb memoir. Can't wait to share this extraordinary book with smart readers!

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