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November 2012

Gothic Chick Lit 101

OrsoffBeth Orsoff has published five novels, including Honeymoon for One and Disengaged. Her latest book, Vlad All Over, came out last week.

I love chick lit. I love reading it, and I love writing it. But one of the common complaints about the genre is that the reader knows from the start generally what's going to happen and how the book will end. And in many cases, that's true.

If you start reading and the heroine has a potential love interest, odds are she's going to end up with that character at the end. This is not an ironclad rule in chick lit, as it is in romance (heaven help the romance author who doesn't deliver happily ever after!)—and it's not a rule at all in more literary women's fiction—but chick lit straddles the line between those genres and contains elements of each.

Hence the dilemma: Do you meet readers' expectations and risk being predictable, or do you subvert those expectations and risk alienating them? The solution: a new subgenre—gothic chick lit. What the hell is that?, you ask. Sometimes it's easier to define something by what it's not, rather than what it is.

A book is not gothic chick lit if:

  • One or more of the characters is an actual vampire. And if that vampire is an impossibly sexy man who only has eyes (or fangs) for a plain Jane, then you're reading paranormal romance, not gothic chick lit.
  • The story is set in a sunny beach town where everyone drinks colorful cocktails with little umbrellas in them. This could be any number of genres, but it's not gothic chick lit, which requires at least a little dark and stormy weather, preferably at an ominous castle or a forbidding family estate.
  • Bad things never happen. One of the few inflexible rules of gothic chick lit is that it requires drama—the soapier, the better.

So if you find yourself reading a book set in a mysterious land like Transylvania, with a feisty, monetarily challenged heroine and a domineering hero who just happens to be wealthy, handsome, and single, and their romance arises out of lies, betrayal, and some really hot sex in a boathouse (and that's just the beginning of the unseemly behavior), odds are you're reading gothic chick lit.

And if that book just happens to be titled Vlad All Over, I guarantee it.

—Beth Orsoff

Author Theo Lawrence’s Music Inspiration

Author Theo Lawrence shares a collection of songs that inspired him while writing the young adult novel, Mystic City.


A collection of songs that inspired me while I was writing Mystic City and represent some of the struggles and feelings of my main characters, Aria and Hunter, and others:

 “Cold War” by Janelle Monáe: I love the cool tones of Janelle’s voice, plus the funky beat of this song. The line “Do you know what you’re fighting for?” was something I thought about a lot as I wrote Mystic City.

“You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt: The unique sound of James’s voice always gets me (and he’s great in concert!). This is what I imagine Hunter would play on the guitar and sing to Aria if he were a songwriter.

 “Love Is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse: For me, this is Davida’s song. The dark, sultry tone of Amy Winehouse’s voice never grows old. She is able to capture such heartbreak, and this is what Davida feels regarding Hunter, who loves Aria—not her.

 “Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars: Another beautiful and tragic love song. This song is about the push and pull of love, which is very present in Aria and Hunter’s relationship.

 “The Cure” by Jordin Sparks: Jordin is a fantastic singer. I like this song because it’s about the love you give being a cure for previous heartache. It reminds me that, with love, every broken heart can mend.

 “Mexico” by Jump Little Children": I love the simplicity of this song. When someone hurts you, sometimes you want them to get as far away from you as possible and never come back! At times, that’s how Aria feels about her parents.

 “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis: How can you not love this song? Aria and Hunter’s love is forbidden, but he has awakened something special inside of her that she never thought she would feel—and she’s not going to let anyone take that away from her.

 “Stupid for Your Love” by Brendan James: Have you ever liked someone so much that it made you do crazy, stupid things you’d never do otherwise? That’s what this song is about—it’s something I can relate to, and so can most of the characters in Mystic City.

 “Nice to Meet You Anyway” by Gavin DeGraw: This song expresses exactly how Aria feels when Hunter brings her to Java City in the beginning of the book. She’s intrigued by him and wants to get to know him better, but she’s engaged to Thomas . . . plus Hunter is a rebel mystic. And yet there’s something that draws her to him. Thankfully, Aria listens to her gut instead of her parents!

 “Us Against the World” by Coldplay: Toward the end of the novel, this is 100 percent how Aria and Hunter feel. Sometimes it really does come down how much you’re willing to fight for what you want when the odds are stacked against you.

 “L.E.S. Artistes” by Santogold: Aside from having a great beat, this is one of Aria’s theme songs. One of the lines is “I hope it will be worth what I give up.” This is what Aria thinks when she decides to betray her family and support Hunter and the mystic cause. She is doing what she believes is right, but in order to do so, she has to go against everything she knows.

 “Another Country” by Tift Merritt: Love is many things, but sometimes it can be so wonderful that it transports you to a whole new place. That is what Aria and Hunter feel for each other, and that is what this song expresses to me—that love is worth fighting for because it’s truly magical.

 “Kissed It” by Macy Gray: I love how fun this song is. It’s what I imagine Aria might sing to her parents if she ever had the chance!

 “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra: Although this standard was originally performed by Liza Minnelli in the Scorsese film of the same name, the Frank Sinatra version is my favorite. It celebrates the city of Manhattan . . . so it’s the perfect song to encapsulate Mystic City!

Learn more about "Mystic City".

“Crashed” character Junior Bendor Reveals Five Books That Changed His Life

CrashedIn Timothy Hallinan’s Crashed, lead character Junior Bender is a burglar-turned-private investigator; and, as he explains, a pre-burgler’s life includes ample reading. In this essay, the beloved character shares five books that changed his life.


Five Books That Changed My Life, and Not Necessarily for the Better

By Junior Bender

People don't generally think of burglars as big readers, or maybe it's just that people don't think of burglars at all until their jewelry is missing.  But every burglar, at some stage of his or her life, was a pre-burglar, and reading is one of the things pre-burglars do.

I was an apprentice crook who was about to drop out of college when a professor took me aside to recommend a novel: William Gaddis's The Recognitions.  Nine hundred pages of brilliance, a story perfect for the America of the 1950s, which was when it came out and sank like a stone.  It's about the difference between forgery and the real thing, on all levels and pretty well across the breadth of life. The hero, Wyatt Gwyon, is a painter who forges masterpieces, and Gaddis uses that character's life to explore much of the spectrum of Western art and its relationship to the twin gods of religion and commerce.  I used the novel for years as a guide to other reading, everything from Flemish painting to religious history to the Jewish diaspora to the sociology of Greenwich Village. 

The Recognitions really supplanted my college education, and I've read it three times since.  One of my favorite lines is in that book, and I refer to it in the second story Timothy Hallinan wrote about me, Little Elvises. The line is about a character called Otto.  Otto is a fake. He pretends to be a writer but he’s not. He pretends to be an intellectual but he’s not. He’s a counterfeit.  Otto thinks only about forging the next moment, so he’ll continue to be accepted as Otto.

But one sentence haunts him: All of a sudden, somebody asks you to pay in gold, and you can't.

That sentence haunts me as much as it does Otto. 

I spent a lot of time on that book, so here, in brief, are four others that changed this burglar's life.  Anthony Trollope's six-volume masterpiece The Pallisers because it presents a love story that lasts fifty years, beginning with an unaffectionate but financially necessary arranged marriage that grows richer and deeper in sentiment every year, and is persuasive throughout.  Randall Jarrell's Pictures From An Institution and Richard Russo's The Straight Man because they present university life as it is—rich and fraudulent, dry and romantic, a collision between youthful aspiration and mature disillusionment, and often hilariously funny.  Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment because, from a criminal's perspective, it's the ultimate cautionary tale.  If you haven't got an exit plan, don't pick up that ax.

Hallinan asked me to include the writing of Hammett and Chandler because they invented the private-eye genre and James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Ross Thomas, Walter Moseley, and fifty others for taking it so far, because without them I wouldn't be sitting here, writing to you.  He told me to do it, so I did.  It's amazing, when you think about it: characters are so much more interesting than writers, but writers can still push us around.

Browse the Timothy Hallinan store to learn more about "Crashed" (A Junior Bender Mystery).

Edward P. Jones on “Notes of a Native Son”

BlogImage_ForNov21For the first time, audiences can now read the classic Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin on Kindle. Now available as a digital book, we’re excited to share excerpts from the Introduction, written by Edward P. Jones:

I did not know James Baldwin the essayist before my first year of college. I knew only the James Baldwin of novels and short stories and plays, a trusted man who gave me, with his Harlem and his Harlem people, the kind of world I knew so well from growing up in my Washington, D.C. They were all one family, the people in Harlem and the people in Washington, Baldwin told me in that way of all grand and eloquent writers who speak the eternal and universal by telling us, word by hard-won word, of the minutia of the everyday: The church ladies who put heart and soul into every church service as if to let their god know how worthy they were to step through the door into his heaven. The dust of poor folks’ apartments that forever hangs in the air as though to remind the people of their station in life. The streets of a city where the buildings Negroes live in never stand straight up but lean in mourning every which way.


Traveling with Baldwin through NOTES’ “The Harlem Ghetto,” “Journey to Atlanta,” and “Notes of A Native Son,” I was given a grander portrait of the man I had known only through fiction. His fiction certainly had an unprecedented and absolute life of its own, and I might have tried to imagine the man I was dealing with, but those essays afforded me something beyond the postage stamp-sized pictures of him and the few sentences of biography that came with my paperback editions of, say, GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN or ANOTHER COUNTRY. He would have been Baldwin had I never read those essays, but he would not have been real enough to deign to share a moment or two with me.  The fiction offered a person of enormous humanity. The essays offered a man, a neighbor or, yes, an older brother.


One of the wonders of coming back to NOTES after such a long time is how “current” Baldwin is. That might sound like a cliché but in so many instances in our lives we learn that some clichés are built on things solid and familiar and timeless. “Journey to Atlanta” is but one of a hundred examples in NOTES. What also comes across, again, is how optimistic James Baldwin was about himself, his world, black people. Even when he describes the awfulness of being black in American, he presents us with an optimism that is sometimes like subtle background music, and sometimes like an insistent drumbeat. But through it  all, with each word– perhaps as evidence of a man certain of his message – he never shouts.

Browse the James Baldwin store or view "Notes of a Native Son" on Kindle.

"The 4-Hour Chef" by Tim Ferriss: The Education of a Culinary Idiot

FerrissNew from #1 New York Times best-selling author Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Chef isn’t just a cookbook. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure guide to the world of rapid learning.

A lifelong non-cook, Ferriss takes you from Manhattan to Okinawa, Silicon Valley to Calcutta, unearthing the secrets of the world’s fastest learners and greatest chefs. He uses cooking to explain “meta-learning,” a step-by-step process that can be used to master anything, whether you're searing a steak or shooting three-pointers. That is the real “recipe” of The 4-Hour Chef.

Featuring tips and tricks from chess prodigies, world-renowned chefs, professional athletes, master sommeliers, supermodels, and everyone in between, this “cookbook for people who don’t buy cookbooks” is a guide to mastering cooking and life.

Here's an excerpt to give you a taste of what Tim Ferriss is cooking.

1979, AGE TWO
I eat my first handful of crickets à la front yard. Life is good.

As a rat-tailed townie in East Hampton, New York, I work at high-priced restaurants catering to the rich and famous. For every Billy Joel who smiles and tips $20 for coffee, there are 20 wannabes with popped collars asking, “Do you know who I am?” I learn to hate restaurants and, by extension, cooking.

To avoid starvation, I buy my first microwave.

Subsisting on microwavable Lean Cuisines, I start watching the Food Network for one to two hours a night to decompress from my startup. Half-asleep one evening, I overhear Bobby Flay say, “Take risks, and you’ll get the payoffs. Learn from your mistakes until you succeed. It’s that simple.” I type this up and put it on my desk for moral support during moments of self-doubt. There will be many.

The 4-Hour Workweek
is published after being turned down by 26 publishers. I’m still enjoying the Food Network six years later, but I still haven’t made a single dish.

My friend Jesse Jacobs, a former sous-chef, wants to catch up on business and insists we cook dinner at my place. I respond that he’ll cook and I’ll handle wine. Pointing at the large Le Creuset pot he brought, he starts us off:

“Put in the veggies and potatoes. No need to cut them.” Ten seconds later, check.
“Pour in some olive oil and salt and pepper, and mix everything around.” Ten seconds later, check.
“Now put them in the oven.” Check.
“We’re done."

I can’t believe it. “That’s it?” I ask, incredulous.

It’s one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in years. Inspired, I decide to give cooking another chance.

JUNE 2010
Overwhelmed by contradictory advice, poorly organized cookbooks, and unhelpful instructions (e.g., “cook until done”), I throw in the towel yet again.

APRIL 2011
I meet my girlfriend, Natasha, who learned how to cook by imitating her grandmother. She decides to teach me how:

“Smell this. Now smell this. Do they go together?”
“No. Gross.”
“OK, now smell this and this. Do they go together?”
“Great. That’s cooking.”

I commit to writing a book on learning, using cooking as a vehicle. Fun! My girlfriend can help!

Over the course of one week, I ask my girlfriend “Is this basil?” 20 times. I want to punch myself in the face 20 times. Crisis of meaning. Revisit Bobby Flay quote.

In a hotel in Chicago, I replicate a two-Michelin-star entrée (sea bass, Ibérico ham, watercress, butter, and olive oil) in my hotel bathroom sink with next to nothing: scalding-hot tap water, Ziploc bags, and a cheap Polder thermometer. All is not lost.

I hit the inflection point. At the Polaris Grill in Bellevue, Washington, I am suddenly able to see food in HD—as if someone had handed me prescription glasses and corrected lifelong blurred vision. I can clearly “see” paring through taste and smell, I can tell if the steak is 100% grass-fed or grain-finished, I correctly guess the origins of the Dungeness crab and the wine and the cooking methods for the scallops and pork chops. The waiter asks if I’m a chef (answer: no), and the executive chef comes out to introduce himself. It is otherworldly.

NOVEMBER 24, 2011
I cook Thanksgiving dinner for four people. Graduation day. As a lifelong non-cook, I feel on top of the world.

I start eating crickets again, this time roasted. I’ve rediscovered the wonder of food…and the childlike curiosity I thought I’d lost.

—Timothy Ferriss

The 4-Hour Chef is now available on Kindle and in print.

Richard Powers on "Genie"

Guest post by National Book Award winner, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and MacArthur Fellow Richard Powers. Powers is the author of Generosity, The Echo Maker, Gain and the new Kindle Single "Genie", a work of speculative fiction.

GenieThe idea for "Genie" came to me when I was staring down into the abyss—specifically, the Abyss Pool in Yellowstone National Park. Anyone who ever stood above this deep, clear, steaming hot spring with its shocking, psychedelic highlights has experienced the place’s otherworldly pull. The pool’s wild azures and mustards are the traces of ancient hyperthermophilic organisms—creatures that can live at temperatures that until recently were considered way too hot for life. Trying to wrap my head around what I was looking at—a multi-billion-year-old solution to surviving the extreme conditions of the infant Earth—I felt bombarded with messages from another, very different planet.

I was completing a novel at the time, the story of an avant-garde composer looking for a way to spread his unheard music through the world before he died. The genomes of the Abyss’s extremophiles and the scores of my fictional composer twisted around each other in my head—long strings of encoded information, patterns trying to perform themselves and propagate in a hostile place. By the time I finished the long drive from Wyoming back to my home in Illinois, the genie was out of the bottle, and I had my story.

Chaos Theory by Simon Wood

Guest post by author Simon Wood who released six of his mystery and thrillers on Kindle in November including Paying the Piper, Accidents Waiting to Happen, and Terminated. View his full title selection on his author page.

PiperSometimes it takes a friend to tell you what kind of writer you are. Author and friend, Tony Broadbent, was responsible for my enlightenment. We hail from the same hometown back in the UK. We got to chatting and he gave me a pat on the head and told me I was an anarchist.

“You’re like the Gary Oldman of the mystery world,” he said.

I love Gary, but I asked, “Is that a good thing?”

“Yes,” he exclaimed. “There’s a lot of anarchy in your writing.”

How subversive, I thought. I’m a rebel without an agenda. Mum will be delighted.

Well, the little exchange got me thinking about my writing. I don’t think people hit the keyboards with an agenda or a theme tucked under their arm—or if they do, it sort of sticks out. Agendas and themes develop on a subconscious level. Well, they do for me. I don’t go out of my way to put a slant on my stories. I just try to entertain, but inadvertently, I show a little leg now and again. So, I looked for the anarchy. And I think I saw it in the shape of conflict.

TerminatedConflict. Stories require conflict. It’s a driving force. Characters and stories thrive on it. More so in mysteries and thrillers than other genres. The nature of the genre means there are going to be casualties and collateral damage. So I like to inject my stories with a lot of conflict. The problem is that I’m quite a literal person and I think about things in very pure terms. Blame my engineering background. When I think conflict, I think about total annihilation. Everything my lead character holds dear is under attack. I create this person so that I can destroy them. I place them and their world in an ivory tower, then go about stacking as much C4 explosive around the foundation as possible to blast it all apart. It only seems fair, doesn’t it? Conflict by its nature is salt to a wound. Character assassination is key. Only by putting everything in a protagonist’s world at extreme risk can the character grow and thrive. There can’t be a comfort zone for this person. Wouldn’t you want to read about a character in a situation like that?

I flicked through some of my stories to see what I did to my characters and the annihilation is there. Characters have their reputations destroyed, home life obliterated, are framed for things for crimes they didn’t commit, have personal property confiscated or stolen or destroyed. These characters’ lives will never be the same. There will have to be a lot of rebuilding by the end.

So I guess I do have anarchistic bent. Sorry. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just the way I tell ‘em.

Yours destructively,
Simon Wood

New "The Cat in the Hat" holiday books on Kindle

The new release of The Cat in the Hat holiday books on Kindle, is neatly happening in conjunction with the release of a new kid’s learning series on PBS. The new PBS show, The Cat in the Hat Know a Lot About That!, is an animated series which helps kids navigate and explore the natural world. The series premieres on November 21st on PBS.

In this essay, author Kate Klimo shares the evolution of The Cat in the Hat Know a Lot About That!.

See the complete essay by Kate Klimo.

Author David L. Robbins Interviews Air Force Pararescuemen

Author David L. Robbins interviews Air Force Pararescuemen, the inspiration for his new thriller, The Devil’s Waters.

DevilsWatersDavid L. Robbins: Describe the mission of a USAF Guardian Angel (GA) pararescue team.

Lt. Col. John McElroy, USAF Combat Rescue Officer: GA teams deploy all over the world to provide combat rescue and recovery force. We’re trained and equipped to operate in any environment, day or night, hostile or civil, extreme cold to tropical, swift water to mountain, confined space to open ocean. Bottom line, GA teams are ready and willing to rescue or recover US military personnel, civilians, Coalition partners, or anyone else the President of United States deems appropriate, anywhere, anytime. 

DLR: It's said that the parajumpers (PJs) are among the most highly trained of all Special Forces in the U.S. military. True?

Mst. Sgt. Jules Roy, USAF Pararescueman: There’s a lot of mutual admiration among all Special Operators. We view each other like the spokes of a wagon wheel, every one of us supports the center. Like SEALs and ODAs, GA forces get some of the most elite combat training that DoD has to offer. But in addition to that, every PJ is a national registered paramedic, with combat medical skills surpassing any others in the U.S. military. It’s this combination that sets Guardian Angels apart from our Army, USMC, and Navy Special Ops brothers.

DLR: Why don’t you see more PJs in the media? Why are you Combat Search and Rescue guys so quiet?

McElroy: All Special Forces organizations are looking for the same guy. The one who, no matter what obstacle is in front of him, is going to hit it with 100 percent effort. Then hit the next obstacle the same way, over and again. There’s no misconception about what amazing things the thousands of SEALs and ODAs do, but we’ve only got a couple hundred pararescuemen. It’s hard to get the word out with such a small group. Though most people don't think about us when they think Special Ops ground forces, ask any pilot, air crew, wounded or isolated soldier or civilian we’ve rescued what a PJ is. He’ll tell you.

DLR: Explain the different responsibilities between a PJ and a Combat Rescue Officer (CRO). Tell me how a GA team works in the field.

McElroy: Each recovery team consists of a number of PJs and a CRO commander. The CRO is the officer in charge of the ground element, working with other leadership on the scene or with air assets supporting the operation. He’ll make big picture decisions on movement and employment. His PJ team leader, usually the senior ranking PJ, directs the collection or medical treatment for the casualty or isolated persons. 

DLR: What does the motto "That Others May Live" mean to you?

McElroy: Since my training began, I focused on this motto. Every push-up I did or mile I ran, I thought this mile or this push-up could be the one that makes me strong enough or fast enough to help someone some day. This simple motto focuses our entire squadron, and has even become a philosophy that our families must adopt to get through long days, multiple deployments, temporary duties. Everyone involved with pararescue has to understand the importance of sacrifice.    

Roy: To be honest, I joined the PJs for the mountaineering, skydiving, all the different challenges. Then, on my first rescue, I realized that it was my hands keeping this one guy alive. If I stopped, he died. Right then, those words, That Others May Live, became an epiphany and all the other stuff, even my own safety, stopped mattering. Every PJ comes to this realization, a moment of clarity. Just get this guy home alive.

Read more about pararescuers in David L. Robbins’ new thriller, The Devil’s Waters.

Don't Date Anyone You Don't Want to Marry

Guest post by New York Times bestselling author Catherine Bybee on her new book Not Quite Dating.

Not-quite-datingHave you ever had a certain someone in your life that you were kinda seeing, and kinda you were not quite dating? There may have been many reasons you weren't dating this person. For example...the uber hot guy who rides a motorcycle and thumbs his nose at authority might seem like a crazy, sexy idea on the surface. But once you start dating this guy the thumbing-the-nose thing might just manifest into trips to the bail bondsmen and restraining orders. *shakes head* Sexy only goes so far!

Falling in love is a powerful emotion that with any luck everyone reading this will experience. The truth of it is, you can't choose who you fall in love with. Many women know not to date the thirty-year-old guy living in his parent's basement who doesn't have a job. Or the man who's out on parole... But other choices aren't as obvious. I know women who refused to date police officers because they didn't want to worry every day when they sent their husband off to work.

What about a single mom who wants stability for her child...does she date just anyone? Or does she put the men who are still finding themselves at arm's length? Even the sexy-as-sin cowboys who have big dreams and a small pocket book?

In my new book Not Quite Dating, single mom Jessica Mann refuses to date cowboy Jack Moore. Flat out refuses. Yet when her own son sees through her façade, Jessie is forced to realize that she's falling for the wrong guy...

Or is he?

Be very careful of who you date, you never know who you'll fall in love with! --Catherine Bybee

Not Quite Dating is available on Kindle for $3.99.