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Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Well, hello!

It's been awhile since I've posted here - I've been a bit busy! (Excuse me a moment while I dust off this blog and throw open some windows!)

So. I spent most of last year working on a brand new book, False Idols. (Hence the lack of blogging). And I'm thrilled to announce, it's out today!!!

False Idols tells the story of an FBI linguist named Layla el-Deeb, who is deep undercover posing as an heiress and art collector in Cairo, Egypt. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale. Her trouble past and her feelings for an art dealer's son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives, she must decide where her loyalties truly lie. 

While this is a fast-paced FBI thriller, it's also a character-driven story that asks serious questions about identity and explores the moral repercussions of the illicit art market. 

This project is familiar territory for me in some ways. It's another international mystery. And like my last book, Blue Voyage, it deals with black market antiquities. 

But in many ways it's a departure for me, a creative experiment that I was thrilled to partake in. 

It's an adult novel, for one thing. Older teens could certainly read it, but due to mature themes and language, I might not recommend it for younger teens or tweens.

It's also a completely different type of publication!

Serialized novels are not new - the form is actually quite old. Charles Dickens serialized his novels. So did Arthur Conan Doyle. But we're bringing the form into the twenty-first century. Serial Box produces serialized novels much like TV shows, one chapter or "episode" a week, each one ending with a cliffhanger. You can listen to them week by week, or save them up and binge!

Serial Box also uses a collaborative writing approach, the TV "writer's room" model. Author teams come up with the storyline together, then write individual episodes. This novel was written by myself and two amazing writers, Lisa Klink and Patrick Lohier. You can find more information about our unique writing and publishing process in this short podcast interview with us here, or in this inverse.com article here.

I first found out about Serial Box through my agent, Kirby Kim; I'm really glad he thought of me for this unique writing opportunity and put me in touch with innovative publishers Molly Barton and Julian Yap. The other authors and I signed on for False Idols, and we started the project in the Fall of 2016.

I flew out to Los Angeles for an initial story summit meeting, and met with Lisa, Patrick, and Georgia Jeffries (a consultant / collaborator from the TV world), Molly, and some of the folks at Adaptive Studios. Adaptive had come up with the basic premise for the story and some major characters, and had approached Serial Box about developing it in the form of a serialized novel. Our show runner, Lisa Klink, developed a Story Bible we could work from. We all then spent three days of intense brainstorming, morning till night, at Adaptive Studios. Together we fleshed out the characters, the story arc for the season, and the plot lines of the eleven individual episodes. It was one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences of my life. It's really changed the way I've thought about planning books. I dove into my current work in progress (which is not a collaboration) using some of the same process of blocking out scenes, slotting them into chapters, and tracking character arcs with sticky notes. 

Here are several pics from our story summit. I loved the post it notes taking over a blackboard and then marching up the wall! 

The blackboard of character arcs

Lisa Klink and Patrick Lohier, and the Wall of Episodes! (They make it look so easy, don't they?)
The plot thickens! 

Ideas and more ideas....
Hey, we figured it all out! (for now...)

After the story summit, we went back to our respective homes and wrote our individual episodes, working our way through the story in batches of 3-4 at a time. All those nice, neat post it notes you see above? Yeah, well . . . it wasn't always so neat. This process was an incredibly useful way to get us started, and many of the original ideas and sequences remained through numerous revisions. But as with any novel - which this ultimately is - we ran into plotholes and dug ourselves out of them, changed characters around, moved scenes, cut stuff, and then figured it all out again. 

The real joy of collaborative work, for me, was not feeling isolated as a writer, and knowing we were all helping each other to tell the best story we could. We were all on the same page about characters and motivations, and everyone pitched in with ideas when we felt stuck. We read each other's episodes multiple times, commented on them and discussed them at length. We also had the help of our keen-eyed, brilliant editors, Molly Barton and Lydia Shamah, and our amazing copyeditor, Noa Wheeler, who didn't let us get away with anything. 

Another perk to this project was consulting with Robert Wittman, former head of the FBI Art Crimes Division. His memoir, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures, inspired some of the events and experiences in our book.

I feel as though I've been on a long and fruitful journey over the past year. To Cairo (not literally, but through extensive research) and other exciting locations where Layla's travels take her. And to a different place in my writing. This project challenged me as a writer. I learned so much from my talented co-authors and editors. As a result of researching and writing this story, I'm more informed as a citizen, too. I now know more about how our government works oversees, how the FBI is organized, how art crimes are carried out (and solved), how the money trail to financing terrorist groups can work, what the political situation in Egypt is like, and many more timely and relevant issues. 

I hope you'll check out False Idols - it's easy to do! 

Here's how it works:

This book comes out in serialized form, as an eBook and audio book, on SerialBox.com and the Serial Box appand on third party retailers like iBooks and Kindle. It then comes out as a trade paperback through Serial Box's partner publisher, Adaptive Studios, on April 3The first episode - "Operation Cairo," written by Lisa Klink -- is free on all platforms.

Subsequent episodes (eleven in Season One) each cost less than $2.00 -- that's less than a Starbucks latte!

I wrote Episodes 3, 4, 7, 7, a bit of 9, and 10. I'll update here as the episodes come out, and be sure to check out our weekly Writer's Room Notes at Serial Box for cool behind-the-scenes info about each episode. 

I hope you'll check it out; let me know what you think!

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Mass Books Awards Names BLUE VOYAGE a 2016 "Must-Read"!

Wow - BLUE VOYAGE was selected as a 2016 "Must-Read" for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts! I'm so honored to be in the company of these amazing authors. Congratulations to all Massachusetts Book Awards winners and honorees! Do check out all the great reads across categories on their poster, which will be distributed to libraries throughout the state. (Blue Voyage is listed on the right sidebar, second from the bottom).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Blue Voyage "Virtual Voyage" continues

Continuing my series of actual travel photos that inspired BLUE VOYAGE scenes, here's another!

This is me, in a cave in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This region is honeycombed with caves and tunnels and entire underground cities, of which this is one. Various civilizations took up residence in these caves in ancient times, one civilization eventually replacing another. People lived sometimes eight stories underground, bringing their livestock down with them. This is one of the coolest yet creepiest places I've ever been. At least I had a tour guide and a light, and some air, all those good things. In BLUE VOYAGE, Zan isn't quite so lucky, and she's desperate to find her way out! I was glad I had experienced the cave cities firsthand and journaled about it later; when I wrote the cave scenes with Zan, I was able to recall the way the walls felt when you scraped against them, the distinctive odor, and the immense sense of claustrophobia. (Notice I'm not exactly smiling in this picture!)

And the Blue Voyage blog tour continues with two new guest posts:

They say you can't choose your family . . . or can you? I'm over at A Tattered Copy, talking about why I got rid of a sibling in an early draft of BLUE VOYAGE, and how sibling dynamics can play out in other kinds of relationships. (They also gave the book a glowing review, and they are running a giveaway you can enter, open for just three more days!)

I'm at Janet Rudolph's Mystery Fanfare blog, talking about the occupational hazards of writing travel mysteries! (or why I might be a hard person to take a vacation with . . . )

That's the latest! More soon! 

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Launch Party #2 Recap, and Blue Voyage Giveaway Roundup!

It was a busy weekend, celebrating BLUE VOYAGE's launch! Many thanks to Porter Square Books in Cambridge for hosting the Evening Edition of my two-part release party!

An evil eye cake from Ohlin's Bakery!
And thank you to Ohlin's Bakery in Belmont for a glorious and delicious cake! This cake represents a nazar, an evil eye charm to protect against the evil eye, so hopefully we all internalized a bit of good luck.

I know something was working for me on Friday because I got through the awful Friday traffic and found a parking spot right in front of the store!

I chose to have a nazar cake and to give out small evil eye beads for party favors because the evil eye protector is important in Turkish culture and very important to Zan in the book. (When she breaks a nazar bracelet, things start to get really tough for her!)

We had great turnout at the event, and I'm thrilled that many friends were able to make it -- and also some people I did now know! (And some actual teens! Yay!)

I talked for a bit about some of the stories behind Blue Voyage, including the influence of a Nancy Drew novel about Turkey (The Mysterious Mannequin), my own travels in Turkey, a short story I wrote long ago called "Blue Voyage," and the antiquities smuggling business. In between I read short snippets from the book to give a feel for the different plot lines. I answered some questions, and then we mingled and ate cake! Here are some snapshots!

Me with my YARN co-editors Kip Wilson Rechea and Kerri Majors
My Turkish friends/consultants! These folks helped me a lot!
Me apparently explaining something quite serious?!

Then the next day, Saturday, I headed down to Buttonwood Books in Cohasset, MA to be part of their bookish Oktoberfest. What a fun event! What a fun store! They had many authors rotating through for special events, fresh cider, cookies, and lots of folks coming in to check out great fall reads. I led a writing workshop for teens on Getting Ideas and felt so privileged to get to work with this smart, creative group of girls! (Photo used with permission from Buttonwood Books and participants).
Young writers to watch out for! "Getting Ideas" mini-workshop at Buttonwood Books.
So that was my busy week! Writing a book can be incredibly isolating, and I love emerging after months (or years) of work to connect with readers and writers, especially young ones. I'm very grateful to Porter Square Books, Buttonwood Books, and everyone who's come out to support Blue Voyage! Thank you!!

Finally here's a little round-up on recent Blue Voyage Blog Voyage stops and various giveaways in progress:

An interview at Adventures in YA Publishing

A glowing review, and a giveaway, from No More Grumpy Bookseller (great blog!!)

ICYMI: A guest post at Itching for Books and today is the last day of their giveaway.

Through October 31: enter for a chance to win Blue Voyage at BookLoons.com.

Just 4 days left of the Young Adults Book Central Blue Voyage giveaway.

Just 5 days left of the giveaway at I'd So Rather Be Reading.

Just 6 more days to enter the giveaway at BookingMama. (Nice review there too!)

Just 7 days left of the GoodReads giveaway.

More updates coming soon!

(Thank you Saichek Publicity!)

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Blue Voyage Blog Voyage, continued...

Here's the Blue Voyage Story-Behind-the-Story photo of the day! (Scroll back through this week's previous post to see my daily photos from a trip to Turkey and the scenes they inspired in the novel!)

This is the roof of a small hotel I stayed at in Istanbul. The rooftop garden and patio inspired scenes in a similar (but fictitious) boutique hotel that is run by Zan's Aunt Jackie. Zan spends a lot of her down time on this roof looking at the sea on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other -- and at an intriguing boy on the rooftop next door!


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Launch Party #1 Recap: An Unlikely Story

BLUE VOYAGE launched yesterday, and I had the first of two release parties! This was the Afternoon Edition, held at a new bookstore in Plainville, MA called An Unlikely Story. Plainville is a small town about an hour's drive from Boston, and it's recently been on people's radar because of An Unlikely Story.

I was thrilled to make this road trip because this shiny new bookstore is getting a lot of great buzz. It was created by local author Jeff Kinney (yes, that's the one -- of Wimpy Kid fame!). You can read a great article about the store's inception here -- it's a fascinating account of how a derelict building was repurposed for this outstanding bookstore / community hub, and how a bookstore can potentially transform a community.

My son is a HUGE Wimpy Kid fan, so when I suggested taking him out of school and coming to this after school release party with me, he didn't raise any objections! We had no guarantee that Jeff Kinney would actually be there -- it can be hit or miss, say friends who have done events there -- but I thought even seeing this place Jeff had created would be a great experience for my son.

We pulled up to a beautiful multi-level building with gleaming blue paint and inviting signs. Inside, the cafe on the ground floor was humming. Books (for adults and kids alike) were attractively displayed. My son and I had time to do a little shopping and pre-ordered Jeff Kinney's new Wimpy Kid book.

We then went upstairs to the event space, a grand hall with gleaming hardwood floors, exposed beams (salvaged from other buildings, I'm told), a kitchen space, a stage, a professional lighting and A/V system, and a disco ball!

I had just laid out a table with Turkish Delight candies and cupcakes when the owner himself, Jeff Kinney, came in and introduced himself! He exists! He's human! He's super nice, just a regular guy! He ate some of my Turkish Delights!

My son was awed enough to put aside Minecraft on the iPad and meet him. Jeff posed for a picture with him and signed a book, drawing a couple of special pictures! We watched him draw the circular head of the wimpy kid - I've never seen anyone draw such a perfect circle!

Jeff stayed for my whole talk and asked questions right along with other people during the Q&A session. I had such a fun time talking about the stories behind the book and finding out what interests people about it. My books seem to attract people who love to travel (go figure!) and it was great to hear about other people's travels and dream destinations. Also my dear friend and critique partner Erin Cashman came; it was wonderful to have her there since she was so supportive of me during the writing of Blue Voyage! (That's not her in the picture below, though; that's the events manager  . . . Erin, I'm sorry we neglected to get a picture of us!)
After the event, my son and I went downstairs where I signed some more books. There is now a nice stack of signed stock there, of all three of my books, and the store does ship, so if you want one, contact the store and let them know!

I got to sign this cool guest book for the store, too. It was a guest book made by Peter Reynolds, another author/illustrator/publisher/entrepreneur, who owns the Blue Bunny Bookshop in Dedham, MA. It was fun to see this book -- I'm also a Peter Reynolds fan, having done several events at his fabulous children's bookstore (where I also spent way too much money) and we own many of his books in our house. Other visiting authors at the store have signed this book for Jeff. It was fun to see who else had come!

Then I bought a Wimpy Kid book in Latin, because, well, just because. You gotta have one.

I hope more authors go to this wonderful new store for events; I can't recommend it enough. And if you're in New England, please don't pass up the chance to check out this special store -- I promise it's well worth a road trip!

What I love best about indie bookstores is their community-building spirit. This was a fun place to connect with readers, and I can't wait to come back!

Whew - that's a lot of updating, so I"ll resume my Blue Voyage Photo-a-Day feature tomorrow!

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Blue Voyage Release Day!

Blue Voyage is officially out in the world today!

To celebrate, I'm on the CrimeFiction FM podcast talking with host Steve Campbell about the origins of the books, writing teen travel mysteries, and YA mystery. This is an excellent podcast featuring short (15-20 minutes) chats with mystery and crime writers -- mostly for the adult market, but mystery/crime fans of all ages can enjoy these conversations, and they're a must-listen for anyone writing mystery.

This afternoon I'm super-excited to be having an after-school book release party, 4:00-6:00 pm, at An Unlikely Story in Plainville, MA! This is a new bookstore started up by Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney, and it's the talk of the town in Plainville and surrounding towns! It's about 45-60 minutes from Boston, and very close to Rhode Island, so if you're in those areas come and join us! (And if you miss it, there's an evening edition launch party at Porter Square Books in Cambridge this Friday evening at 7 pm).

Here's a sampler of some of the treats I'll be serving up at this week's launch parties . . .

And now, as promised, here is today's photo from my travels in Turkey and a note on a scene it inspired! (I'll be posting these daily for the next two weeks).

He's a little hard to see in this picture. but this is a man selling Turkish Delight candy, baklava, and other pastries, on a boat. He would come up to the gulet boats on their "blue cruises" and sell these to passengers. It was some of the best baklava I had in my life! He inspired a major plot point in Blue Voyage later, because I got to thinking: what if he were selling other stuff too? . . . .

Stay tuned for more updates on the Blue Voyage Blog Voyage this week and more behind the scenes photos!

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