Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Five Favorite Suspense Movies

I love to read (duh) but I also love to watch movies.  A lot.  Sometimes I sneak out on a Friday afternoon to go to the movies by myself (the only guaranteed way to get the seat you want).  I’m prone to chick flicks (“Clueless”), bust-a-gut comedies (“Bridesmaids,” “Anchorman”) searing dramas (i.e. “Mystic River,” “Crash”) the classics (“Some Like it Hot,” and pretty much anything on Turner Classic Movies)  quirky independents (“Memento,” “Next Stop Wonderland”) and foreign films (“Roshomon).  Science fiction, Slashers, Westerns and most action flicks (with a few exceptions) don’t do much for me.

I probably love suspense movies the most (of course, I also like reading and writing suspense books, so I guess this isn’t much of a revelation J).  I thought I would share five of my favorite suspense movies of all time: What’s interesting to note is that while some of them combine elements of the supernatural, horror and crime, sheer unpredictability lay at the center of all of them and there's nothing we, the audience, can do about it.  And that’s just good suspense.

5.   Diabolique
This movie gave me several heart attacks the first time I saw it way, way back in the day and today is no exception.  It is the type of movie that makes you sit up and gasp (if you have any breath left, that is.) 

Fragile Christina (Véra Clouzot) is the owner of and teacher at a B-list boarding school and is married to the tyrannical headmaster, Michel (Paul Meurisse).  Michel also has a mistress, the smoldering Nicole (Simone Signoret), also a teacher at the school.  Michel is a physically and emotionally abusive man, something that seems to bond wife and mistress.


Nicole devises a plan to murder Michel and convinces Christina to go along with it, telling her it is the only way they’ll be free of him.  The murder goes off without a hitch, but the ladies are far from home-free.  What happens next will keep you whittling your fingers down to nubs all the way to the end.

Moody, creepy and shocking, “Diabolique” is a classic of any genre.  I had the misfortune of seeing a TV movie remake years ago and I wouldn’t touch the Sharon Stone remake with a ten, twenty or thirty foot pole.  For an original and stunning thriller, you can’t go wrong with the original “Diabolique.”

4. The Others (2001)   
Granted, this one probably falls more into the horror category, but the twists and turns kept me riveted nonetheless.

Grace (Nicole Kidman), lives with her two young children in an isolated house in the English countryside while waiting for her husband’s return from World War II.  The children suffer from xeroderma pigmentosa, or hypersensitivity to light, necessitating rigid rules in order to shield them from sunlight.

The arrival of three mysterious servants to the estate put an already edgy Grace into a brittle, hyperactive state and it’s left to the viewer to try and untangle the presence of ghosts, portraits of the dead and detached spouses.  The ultimate twist packs a wallop and you’re left more than a little haunted as the end credits roll (pun intended).

3. The Sixth Sense (1999)
This creeper made me like Bruce Willis again and like so many, I found myself watching it again to try and pick up the clues I missed along the way to that “Holy crap!” ending.  Like “The Others” this one probably leans more towards horror/supernatural, but I defy anyone who watches it not to be blown away by the taut suspense and genuine chills.

Little Cole (Hayley Joel Osment) is tormented by his hallucinations of dead people and Willis’ child psychologist, Malcolm, is tapped by mom, Lynn (Toni Collette) to help her son with his anxieties (mom doesn’t know about the whole seeing dead people thing).

Well, we all know what happens next (and if you haven’t seen this movie, seriously go and find a way to get your hands on a copy). 

2.   Red Lights (2004, released as Feux Rouges in France)
Carole Bouquet, who I love mostly because she was the face of Chanel in the 80’s and 90’s, stars as Helene in this menacing French thriller about a married couple who take a road trip to retrieve their children from  summer camp.  It’s a tense journey, beset by heavy traffic and the husband, Antoine’s (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) alcoholism and increasing resentment of his more successful corporate attorney wife. Unable to take his drinking and hence dangerous driving, Helene runs off during one of their stops, leaving a note for her husband she will board a train to their final destination. Now, throw in reports of an escaped murderer.
Watching how these three characters intertwine and the escalating threat they’re all under makes for an intelligent and riveting suspense movie that you won’t soon forget.

1. Psycho (1960)

What list about the best suspense movies would be complete without an entry from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock?  Everyone has their favorite Hitchcock film, of course, but mine would have to be “Psycho.”   

It’s a story we all know oh-so-well by now, given its pervasiveness in pop culture: Marion (Janet Leigh) a Phoenix secretary is caught in a seedy extramarital affair and to make matters worse, she’s stolen $40,000 from her employer’s client.  In a panic, she flees towards California, but has a change of heart along the way, and decides to return to Phoenix and face the music.  That is, until she checks into the Bates Motel for the night and encounters the peculiar, Norman (Anthony Perkins).

It’s been said Janet Leigh never took another shower the rest of her life after meeting her demise in one during this movie and who could blame her?  From the music to the cinematography to the eerie plot and characterizations, Hitchcock ratchets up the suspense with each millimeter of film.  A classic that changed the game forever.

**     Honorable Mention: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
What can be said about this one that hasn’t already been said?  Not much, so I won’t try.  I will say this though: when I first saw this in the theater, I was convinced Hannibal Lecter was on the loose and ready to have me over to dinner.  I think it was a full week before I stopped looking around every corner.  

***    Another Honorable Mention: The Usual Suspects (1995)
Two words: Keyser Söze. ‘Nuff said.

 
  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tapping the U.K. eBook Market: eBookBargains: UK Newsletter Offers New Path to Readers Across the Pond

They say necessity is the mother of invention, thus the creation of eBookbargainsUK, a new daily newsletter designed to bring readers in the U.K. news of bargain eBooks.  I first heard about eBookbargainsUK a few months ago and always being on the lookout for new ways to reach readers, I threw my hat in and listed “Live and Let Die.”  I immediately saw a nice little bump in U.K. sales, so that was kind of cool.

So, I was curious to learn more about the U.K. book industry and eBookbargainsUK founder, Mick, graciously agreed to answer my questions.  Read on to learn more about why he created the newsletter, the differences between the U.S. and U.K. eBook markets and who the Indie stars are across the pond.

Tell me about eBookbargainsuk.com.
At its simplest, eBookbargainsuk, is a daily newsletter for British readers to discover eBook bargains.  It’s a project born of frustration at not being able to access many of the bargains and special offers on the big U.S. eBook sites.

As a voracious reader on a shoe-string budget, I subscribe to just about every eBook newsletter I can.  It’s not just a great way to get bargain titles from my favourite authors; it’s also a great way to discover new books and authors I never knew existed.

But, time and again, I click on a must-read $.99 or free title on BookBub or POI or wherever, only to find the book is unavailable or the offer isn’t valid in the U.K.
Kerry Wilkinson started out as an Indie and became wildly popular in the U.K. (image from kerrywilkinson.com)
It’s great that Amazon, Apple and Kobo and Sony have a site for the US and another site for the U.K., but when we Brits see a bargain on a big American promotion we are (of course) taken to the U.S. site. We then have to navigate to the U.K. site, often just to be disappointed.

It was clear what we Brits needed was a British version of the wonderful BookBub, with links to British sites, in British pounds. It was also clear it wasn’t going to materialise (excuse the spellings – that’s British English!) out of thin air. So, taking advice from a number of British and international authors, eBookbargainsuk was born.

How will the site connect readers with authors?
Through the daily newsletter (subscribe at http://www.ebookbargainsuk.com).
At 9:00 every morning (British time) the newsletter goes out with a range of eBook titles, none of which cost over five pounds, and many of which are under a pound, or free.

Once a reader subscribes, they get the daily newsletter in their email inbox every morning come rain or shine (mostly rain, being the U.K.). Every book included is available from one or more British eBook sites. Every book is priced in British pounds. And every book is of course a bargain.

The newsletter layout is very straightforward: simply scroll down and if a cover or title grabs your eye you can click on the link to an eBook retailer and read more/buy it/have second thoughts and scroll down a bit further.

We are not an affiliate site, so we don’t make any money from the retailer if a reader clicks through or buys. We think this is important. It means J.K. Rowling’s listing is equally as valuable to us as J.K. New-Author. Though if you’re reading this, Jo, and want to list What Harry Did Next when it’s finished, we’d treat you like the royalty you are!

 How are you promoting the site?
At this stage mostly through word-of-mouth and through blogs.  We ran some U.K. targeted Google-Ads in May, but we believe the very existence of a multi-retailer promotional newsletter solely for British readers (but open to authors anywhere) is its own best advertisement.

 What hole in the eBook industry do you aim to fill with the site?
As above, while there are a few retailer-specific promo newsletters in the U.K. (Kindle Daily Cheap Reads, for example) we found there was nothing that recognised the many and growing number of smaller UK retail sites like Waterstone’s, Foyles, ‘txtr (yes, that’s how it’s spelled!), Tesco, Sainsbury, etc.

And while it’s true Amazon does appear to have the best bargains much of the time, a quick glance at our past newsletters will show that’s not always the case.

From Waterstones.com

What are the major differences between the U.S. eBook buyer and the U.K. eBook buyer?
Now that’s a loaded question!

The polite answer is American eBook buyers are comfortable with the concept of e-reading. Although eBooks long pre-date the Kindle, it was Amazon that took the lead in making e-reading an affordable everyday experience. But for a several years it was an Americans-only experience.

When Kindle UK finally took off in mid-2010, the eBook experience was a complete novelty for us. The UK was very slow to get to grips with the idea of eBooks, although things are now changing fast.

While of course everyone loves a bargain, I think it fair to say the Brits are more price-conscious than American eBook buyers, and are less willing to pay top whack for something they can’t physically hold in their hands.

What about the U.K. publishing industry as a whole?  How is it different from the U.S. publishing industry?
Steve Jobs famously said (and missed the boat completely with the Apple iTunes bookstore) that Americans don’t read. Obviously that’s not true, and people are in fact reading more than ever. The convenience and price of eBooks is a major factor in this.

But if it’s true people are reading more in the USA, how much more so in the U.K.!

You may sell more books in America, but that’s because you have a much larger population. Head-for-head, British readers are the most voracious on the planet. And even at this early stage in UK-eBook adoption, the big sellers at the top of the charts sell in serious numbers. If you’re not getting good returns from the U.K. market then rethink your pricing and marketing strategies. The buyers are here!

On this side of the pond, we’ve had such eBook/Indie breakout success stories as Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey.  Who are the breakout authors in the U.K.?
There are a lot more than you’d expect.

Kerry Wilkinson has just signed a second big deal with a major publisher after storming the Kindle UK charts just over a year ago. Mark Edwards and Louise Voss together took the No. 1 and No. 2 slots simultaneously and picked up a huge deal with a trad publisher. The indie partnership, Saffina Desforges outsold them all to become the eleventh best-selling eBook in the UK in 2011. There are countless examples more recently.
Writing team, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss (image from www.vossandedwards.com)

What do you hope to accomplish with the site?
In our dreams, we like to think of ourselves as the British BookBub. In reality, of course, we’re never going to come close to their scale and achievements, because the UK book market simply isn’t that big.  BookBub recently crossed the million-subscriber mark, something we can barely conceive of right now

While we’ve taken our lead from sites like BookBub, we’ve also taken measures to be different. A different layout, different features for listings, no affiliate links... and, of course, seriously affordable prices.

What are your plans for the future?
To be bigger and better.  We want to become THE vehicle for eBook bargain discovery in the UK. At the time of writing this we are less than a month old, so we have a tiny subscriber list, but already authors are reporting good results. Things can only get better from here.

We already have unique elements, like Something ForThe Weekend, Featured Title of the Week, etc., and have plans for several more features that will make the newsletter significantly different from the rest. For the foreseeable future, any revenue that comes in will be reinvested to continue to improve and promote the service.

Anything you’d like to add?
Apart from thanking you and your readers for sticking with me this far?

Just to say eBookbargainsuk is for authors and publishers everywhere. So long as your titles are listed on UK eBook sites we’d love to get them in front of our fast-growing subscriber base of British readers.  Listings are half price through the summer while we build our subscription base, and then very sensible prices thereafter. We’re acutely aware any paid promotion is a risk, and for many authors the sort of prices sites like BookBub charge for listings simply aren’t an option.

Awesome.  Thanks for  the great insights and for your time!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Writing and Selling a Mystery, Lauren Weisberger Does NOT Wear Prada…and Judy Blume! Dispatches from Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2013


Last year, I attended my first Printer’s Row Lit Fest (read my blog about it here) and I had so much fun, I decided I would make the trip again this year.  I can’t really compare last year to this year – it really is an apples and oranges kind of thing.  However, I may give a teeny tiny edge to 2013 because I got to meet the heroine of my adolescent literary dreams, Ms. Judy Blume.  Squee!

But more on that in a bit.

Writing and Selling a Mystery
First up, was a panel discussion presented by members of the Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and the 

Truth be told, I wasn’t familiar with any of the panelists, but I love discovering new authors and soaking up as much information as I can about the publishing business.

There was a robust turnout and the audience was engaged. Except for the incessant cell phones . . . and the one guy who took something like four phone calls in the middle of the presentation. One of the authors finally decided it was someone calling with a question.  

The takeaways:
- Among the technical mistakes the authors copped to with their first books were too many characters, over-describing everything and not keeping character traits straight (say that five times in a row).

- Everyone wished they’d proofread more carefully and been more vigilant in general with their manuscripts.  The assumption was made that the publishers would catch any and all mistakes (lesson here: the buck stops with the author.  Always.).

- When working with beta readers, take your ego out of it. If you hear the same thing more than once, pay attention.

- The prevailing wisdom is that publishing is changing and agents don’t hold the same importance they once did. 

- Best and worst book promo activities? Get the most professional looking website you can afford.  Be more aggressive as a promoter, have a newsletter and get on Facebook (mental note).

- Book signings don’t sell books.  None of them will do straight signings anymore, but will do panels such as this one, instead.

- In the old days, publishers would promote you.  These days, only the top two percent of authors (from a sales standpoint) get those very limited publicity dollars.

-Big, Big BIG Takeaway: “The moment you publish your first book, you are now a small business owner.” (even the traditionally published know this).

Overall, a highly entertaining and informative session.  There was a signing afterwards and I bought Clare O’Donohue’s “Life Without Parole.” I was mostly attracted to the cover (it is gorgeous, no?) and it sounded like it had some psychological suspense leanings, which of course, is my bag.  Clare chatted with me a bit and was absolutely lovely.  Thumbs up!

Image from penguin.com
Lauren Weisberger Does NOT Wear Prada

Like so many, I read “The Devil Wears Prada” back in the day and of course have seen the movie only about a million times (the endless cable airings aside… I own it on DVD).    

There were about 200 people in attendance and I have to admit, I was surprised by the audience.  I was expecting a cadre of clackers, a room filled with latte-swilling Trixies (if you live in Chicago, you know what I mean.  If you don’t, read this.)  All my preconceived notions were completely blown out of the water as folks from all walks of life filed into the Chicago Public Library’s Multi-Purpose Room.  Women as young as twenty-something, all the way up to at least eighty-something, black, white, you name it. 

Weisberger was in town to promote the sequel to “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns.”

Image from SimonandSchuster.com
The takeaways:

- “The Devil Wears Prada” started as a non-fiction piece she wrote in a writing class and is based on Weisberger’s real-life experiences as Anna Wintour’s assistant (Wintour is the editor-in-chief of “Vogue.”  She never had plans to turn it into a book and says if she had, she might have held herself back more.  It was her writing instructor who encouraged her to turn it into a novel.

- She had a brief cameo in the movie as the twins’ nanny as they ride the train reading those pirated “Harry Potter” manuscripts.  She rode the train for 12 hours for that nanosecond of screen time. 

- She wrote “Revenge” because she always wondered what happened to the characters.  She revealed she just finished her final edits in April and was shocked at the quick turnaround in getting it published (it was published on June 4.) because it used to take a lot longer.

- Doesn’t mind the chick-lit label and “understands it.”  She said she personally hates genre naming and is just excited that people want to read her books, especially young girls.

- Much like Andy, she has zero knowledge about the fashion industry and everything she wrote about it came from being an observer and consumer of media (she subscribes to “US Weekly” for the pictures.)  She said “fashion isn’t compelling” to her and has no connection to Prada (“I have no free bags,” she declared to the disappointed audience)

- Ten years ago, she worried that not enough people would know what the brand “Prada” even was, as there weren’t the fashion blogs and shows that there are today – it was definitely out of the mainstream back then.

- Unbeknownst to Weisberger, her publisher “stoked the fires” by sending Advanced Reader Copies (ARC’s) of the book wrapped in plain brown paper to every editorial assistant at Conde Nast and “that’s what got the buzz going.”

Image from Wikipedia
- She considers herself very lucky because her agent sold the book in one week especially since it was a total fluke she even wrote the book, much less found an agent and then landed a publishing contract.  With that said though, she encouraged aspiring writers to be tenacious, detailing an anecdote about a new author her publisher passed on four times before signing him on the fifth.

- The negative reviews/chatter will always come.  You have to learn to tune it out.

- Her favorite 80’s hair band is Bon Jovi. And with that, she is A-ok in my book.

It didn’t occur to me until I was sitting in the presentation that I probably should have brought my copy of “The Devil Wears Prada” to see if Weisberger would sign it.  Ah, well.  Lessons learned.

Day 2 – Judy Blume!

There was a butt in all 385 seats of the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Chicago Public Library.  The audience was what I would expect: predominantly women, including moms who read Judy Blume themselves and were now bringing their daughters.

The presentation was to begin at 2 p.m. and voluntary silence descended on the audience as the magic hour struck.  At about ten minutes past (following an introduction, of course) Ms. Judy Blume took to the stage, apologizing for the touch of laryngitis plaguing her.  A wisp of a woman in slim black pants and black t-shirt with a bright orange half blazer, she seemed overwhelmed, yet humbled by the cheers she elicited.

Without Judy Blume, there would be no "YA" (Image from biography.com)
As I tried to explain to my sister, who’s permanently enamored with Sarah Dessen and inexplicably has only read one Judy Blume book, there would BE no Sara Dessen without Judy Blume.  Note to self – buy her a Judy Blume box set.  That I make myself.

The takeaways:
- As Blume pointed out, when she first came onto the scene in 1969 with “The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo,” there was no “Young Adult” genre (like Lauren Wiesberger, she too hates genres), but is happy for her fellow writer friends who have benefited from being in a “genre.”

- She says she “couldn’t write a ‘Young Adult’ novel if [she] tried.”  She just writes what she likes (sensing a theme here?).

- “Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great” isn’t her favorite book, though Shelia personifies all of her childhood fears and anxieties.  She said it was too hard to name a favorite, but said Sally J. Freedman is most like herself (it’s one of my favorites, too.  Along with “Deenie” and “Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret.”)

- Whenever she’s asked for writing advice it’s “read, read, read, read, read.”

- Her newest novel is set in the 1950’s, and one her husband terms as “historical,” which makes her want to chop his head off (because she hates genres.)

- She writes three drafts before she lets anyone see her work for critique.  She sends the fourth out for edits, then does a final polish.  Although she works on a computer, she still edits like she’s on a typewriter and prints out the drafts and makes her edits by hand.

- A little girl in the audience wanted to know why she made Fudge swallow the turtle in “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” (Fudge was based on her now-grown son).  She read a newspaper article about a little boy who swallowed a turtle, which gave her the idea to include it in the story.

- “Tales” actually started as a picture book and was roundly rejected by publishers.  An editor she knew took her to lunch and suggested she turn it into a chapter book.

- She used to get so many letters from readers pouring their hearts out to her.  It became so overwhelming, she sought therapy herself to try and learn how she could help everyone who reached out to her.  As a result, she published, “Letters to Judy: What Kids Wish They Could Tell You.”

- She turned her novel, “Tiger Eyes,” which I’ve never read, into a movie, which just had a showing here in Chicago.  She loved the experience of producing it and shared that it is available OnDemand, for those who can’t see it at a theater in their town.

This time, I remembered to bring my copies of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” and “Deenie,” to be signed.  Alas, because I didn’t purchase them on site, I was told she would only sign one of them.  I had her sign “Deenie.”  And so it goes

All in all, Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2013 was awesome.  Looking forward to 2014!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Stephen King


What keeps Stephen King writing every day?
I’m not really a Stephen King devotee; I did read “Misery” a million years ago and thought it was terrific.  I read most of “Firestarter,” but honestly, I was 12 and was just wigged out by much of it that I couldn’t finish it (this might be a book I have to re-read now that I’m an adult.  Biologically, anyway.) 

So, while I can’t count myself among his legions of ardent readers, I will forever shout from the rooftops the need for anyone aspiring to write a book, of any genre, to read “On Writing,” King’s instructional book about the craft.  The book is sound, practical and entertaining.  King explores every facet of writing from grammar to dialogue to plot and even every writer’s bugaboo, outlining (he doesn’t do it, dubbing himself a “situational” writer instead) while using examples from his own books to illustrate his points.  It is, in a word, brilliant.

Last week, King granted an interview to “Parade” magazine (read it here) to promote his new novel “Joyland,” wax philosophical about the TV show “Revenge” of all things and of course, share his thoughts on writing, reading and why he still churns out 1,500 words a day. 

Below are some of the gems from the interview.  Definitely click on the link above to read the whole thing, but here are some of my favorite soundbites that all writers, published or hoping to be published, can benefit from:

“You learn to write from reading.”
King talks about how he used to pay his three children to read to him when they were younger, which was how they acquired the habit (coincidentally, his two sons are successful novelists in their own right).  He laments that kids today are too focused on the Kardashians to take reading seriously and it worries him.  In “On Writing,” he talks about how his own nose is always stuck in a book and if “you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

Last summer during my writing class with Joy Fielding, one of the first things she said to us after reading our submissions was, “I had to wonder how many of you had ever even looked at or read a book in your lives.”   

Indeed.

Voracious reading expands your vocabulary, generates new ideas, teaches us what not to do and provides inspiration.   Every writer out there has some other writer they wish they could write like (put Anita Shreve at the top of my list).  If you never read, how do you know what you want to write?
 
If you want to write a book and haven't read, "On Writing," by Stephen King,
step away from your computer right now, download it to your Kindle and get busy reading.
(image from Google)

“Spell-check won’t [help] you if you don’t know through from threw.”
Preach it, Brother King. 

This is also a prime example of why trying to proof your own work is a bad idea and one that should be thrown out the window before it has a chance to take up residence in your house.  I hear stories all the time about indie authors who get dinged for just this sort of thing, with the inevitable refrain from readers wondering why nobody proofed the book.  There may be times when your proofreader might miss something (it happens).  However, if you can’t even define what it is they missed, then you’re screwed.

It’s why music teachers make singers learn scales and why Mr. Miyagi had Daniel-son waxing on and waxing off.   Without the fundamentals, you can’t expect to become a master. 



“The major job is…to entertain people”
King says what drives him to write his 1,500 words/five pages a day is the need to keep his work fresh, because otherwise, “the color will go out of it,” and that all creative types should remember we’re here to “sell fun.”  Preachy, condescending writing that’s overwrought with messages is a turnoff.  There is a way to weave education into the narrative (witness how John Jakes does this with his historical fiction or how John Grisham incorporates the law into his legal thrillers) without making the reader feel like they’re sitting in a stuffy classroom on a hot day.   

Keep it colorful, keep it fresh, keep it entertaining.

“There’s no soft landing with Tabby, and that’s fine.”
“Tabby,” would be King’s wife, Tabatha, and his brutally honest, “IR” or Initial Reader.”  When critiquing his work, she doesn’t sugar coat it and tell him what he wants to hear; she tells him what he needs to hear in order to make his work better.   We all need a “Tabby” to tell us what’s working and what isn’t.  I use my sister, Kathryn, renowned in our family for her biting commentary on well… everything (think Alex on “Modern Family”).  I don’t always want to hear what she has to say, but I need to hear it and it helps. 

Don’t look for fawners…look for Tabbies.

“I just [see] myself as a novelist.”
Above all, King sees himself as a writer.  He tells his stories the way he wants to tell them and doesn’t worry about genres or commercial viability (though I’m sure he wrestles with self-doubt like we all do).  He simply…writes.  Every day.  Without fail.

And so should we all.