Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tagged: The Next Big Thing

I was recently tagged by my friend, the talented Clark Perry, in a viral blog thread for writers called The Next Big Thing. Below are my answers to TNBT's ten questions -- I'll follow up soon with links to other participating writers' answers, so you can read about their cool upcoming projects.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

It's the second book in my Parish Mail series. Dead Letter Office is the first book, and is available now on Kindle, Nook, and Android devices.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Parish Mail is a series about a contemporary teenager in New Orleans who discovers a cache of centuries-old letters containing clues to crimes happening in the present day.

I’ve always been interested in urban history, cities where the very new and the very old exist side by side. In America we don’t have many of these places, but New Orleans is one, and is unique also in its cultural evolution and everyday acceptance of the supernatural.

I also love the related notion of history repeating itself: the ghosts of not just people but events tracking through time. In the Parish Mail series, when Celia, a thoroughly modern girl, finds these letters – or when they find her – she learns how the past and present can collide and gets a better appreciation for both.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult; a mashup of urban fantasy, mystery, and Southern Gothic.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmm, good question... Post Mortem's characters are mostly teenagers so I'd have to do a little time-traveling to get some of the actors at the right age for a TV or movie version. But here goes:

Celia - Confession time. I actually never describe what Celia looks like, and this is intentional. Because the book is written in the first person, I like giving the reader the chance to see whomever they like, or themselves, as Celia. But imagine someone like Kristen Bell, Rosario Dawson, or Moon Bloodgood. Smart, resourceful, kind, a little tough.
Tilly - Naomie Harris
Donovan - Tom Hardy (Inception not Dark Knight Rises!)
Luc - Alexander Skarsgard
Sloan - Joel Kinnaman
Peyton - Anna Kendrick
Deanna, Celia's mom - Connie Britton, Jada Pinkett-Smith
Jane, Celia's grandmother - Jessica Lange, Phylicia Rashad
Robert, Celia's grandfather - Donald Sutherland, Denzel Washington

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When a new friend goes missing right before Homecoming, Celia must battle a vengeful spirit and her own self-doubt to solve the mystery and its bizarre ties to a Civil War-era murder.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My publisher is the digital company Coliloquy

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It's hard to say, since a lot of the writing was done on nights and weekends. About 4 months?

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There's a whole host of other paranormal YA books out there, of course, too many to list here. But Post Mortem and Parish Mail have even more in common with the TV shows Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

For Post Mortem, I wanted to follow up DLO by taking what Celia thinks she knows -- about herself, her place in the world, even her family -- and throw it all into question.

In DLO, Celia discovers the world of magic and spirits that exists alongside our own. In Post Mortem, I wanted to explore how Celia adjusts both to that world and her new home of New Orleans. Relationships with the boys in her life evolve, animosities at school grow, and Celia suddenly is struggling with self-doubt. She’s successfully solved one murder through a mysterious letter from the past, but her second case ends up being messier in pretty much every way.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

It's interactive: I use Coliloquy's technology platform to give the reader the opportunity to play detective along with Celia and to make emotional choices with her. At a few key points in the book you'll have a decision to make. Which clue should Celia follow as she investigates the mystery? Will she partner with Donovan or Luc to solve the case? Which suspect will she chase, knowing that the other one will get away? 

Think of it as the next generation of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. Every choice has consequences, both for the mystery and for the characters. It's challenging and exciting stuff to write, and I hope you'll check out and enjoy Post Mortem when it's released in January.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Wake

The spatter in the doctor's basin
Casts a pall across the room;
A fevered thought transforms their faces:
Perhaps they sealed the tomb too soon?

(Happy Halloween!)

Victorian Tomb by Slopjockey from Deviantart.com

Happy Halloween!

It's the perfect time of year for spooky reading. If you're in the mood to read about murder, magic, and ghosts, check out book one of the Parish Mail series of interactive e-books, Dead Letter Office.

Do you want to go to a swank costume party with the popular clique, or hang out in the raucous French Quarter with a quirky (and witchy) new friend? It's your choice...

Happy Halloween!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Orange County Children's Book Festival

This Sunday, September 30, I'll be at the Orange County Children's Book Festival with my amazing Coliloquy colleagues Heidi Kling and Jessica Koosed Etting.

We'll be on at panel at 2pm on the Teen/YA Stage: "Ebooks: Keeping it Interactive."

There'll be a Q&A and sneak peek readings from our upcoming books, plus signings and giveaways afterwards at the Coliloquy booth. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Breaking News on Parish Mail Book 2: Title, Release Date, and More

This week I turned in my completed manuscript for the second in the Parish Mail series of interactive YA ebooks, which makes this the perfect time to answer a few questions I've been getting about it.

Enough of this Book 2 vagueness! What's it called?

The official title of my new book is Post Mortem - Parish Mail 2. You read it here first!

I got way too excited when I told Lisa and Waynn from Coliloquy the title at brunch a few months ago: "Post Mortem. See?" I crowed. "It's a pun!" "Yeah, yeah, we got it," they replied with smiles of great patience. I'm such a dork.

In addition to being a mail pun, the title does relate to the central mystery of the book, which contains some of the creepiest scenes I've ever written.

When is it coming out?

Post Mortem is scheduled for release mid-January 2013! Just in time to try out that spiffy new Kindle, Nook, or Android device you may be getting for the holidays. Of course, publishing schedules are flexible things, especially for digital books, and the release date is subject to change. I'll keep you posted.

Do I need to have read Parish Mail Book 1 first?

Post Mortem picks up right where Dead Letter Office ends, but the first chapters contain all you need to get up to speed with Celia, Tilly, Donovan, Luc, and the rest of the Parish Mail characters and world.

That being said, because Parish Mail is a series, there are story threads that carry over between books and the experience will be much richer if you're along for the whole ride. There also are plenty of hints and teases in DLO that pay off in Post Mortem, so if you haven't downloaded a copy yet, I suggest you grab one and check it out.

Did you learn anything from Dead Letter Office that influenced Post Mortem?

Oh boy, did I. I wrote a whole post on what I discovered about the choices readers made in DLO, and how I'm using that learning in PM.

Any chance of a sneak peek?

I'll see if Coliloquy's down with posting an excerpt in advance of the release. If you're a reviewer, ARCs should be available toward the end of this year, and you can contact Coliloquy directly about that.

In the meantime, if you're in Southern California, come to the Orange County Children's Book Festival on Sunday, September 30. Coliloquy's holding a panel at 2pm on the Teen/YA Stage about interactive fiction, and I'll be there with several of my fellow Coliloquy authors. We'll all be reading from our upcoming books, plus doing signings and giveaways. It should be a lot of fun -- hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Parish Mail Book 2 News Coming Soon!

I've got some exciting news to share shortly about the second book in the Parish Mail series, including when it's coming out and how you can get a sneak peek! Stay tuned...

Monday, September 10, 2012

ALPHAS Tonight!

I wrote the episode of ALPHAS, "Gods and Monsters" that airs tonight on Syfy! It'll be on at 8pm/7c, with an encore at 10pm.

Every episode of TV takes a village. My sincere thanks to the cast and crew, including the ep's fantastic director Mairzee Almas, Steve Welke and the rest of our post-production team, Co-Executive Producer Matt Hastings, Executive Producers Todd Sharp and Bruce Miller, and especially my wonderful colleagues on the writing staff. Y'all rock my socks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Your Reading Helps My Writing

Hi Dead Letter Office readers! Thanks so much for checking out the book. Haven't read it yet? You can download a copy for your Kindle, Nook, or Android device right off the interwebs.

Y'all know a fair bit about me. There's that little bio over there in the sidebar, and my longer bio at the end of DLO, and my Twitter feed, and whatnot. Turns out, I know a few things about you too. And they're helping me write the second book of the Parish Mail series.

As described in a number of recent articles, my publisher Coliloquy gathers information (anonymously and in the aggregate. Your privacy is safe.) on how readers select paths through their books, including mine.  Below are a few things I've learned about you, dear DLO readers, and -- sneak peek alert! -- how I'm using that knowledge in PM2.

You Are Surprisingly Polite to Mean Girls

The first decision point of Dead Letter Office gives you the choice of sending the heroine Celia to a swanky Halloween party that queen bee Peyton has invited her to, or having her spend Halloween in the French Quarter with quirky witch Tilly. While both options are fun, and both introduce you to mysterious, moody Luc, I assumed that most readers would want to hang with Tilly in the Quarter and blow off the party. But fully half of you, 50%, elect to go to the party! You are so courteous; Celia's grandmother Jane would most definitely approve.

My takeaway from this: equally attractive options = good. I try to make every decision non-obvious and enjoyable, and I believe that if I see nearly equal percentages in the data, as with this choice point, then I've achieved that goal. Lopsided percentages, as I'm about to explain, could be an indication that something's not working quite as well as it could.

You Dig the Paranormal

Okay, this really should have been obvious to me. Parish Mail is a supernatural mystery series, after all. But I included a decision early in DLO that gives you the choice of having Celia investigate forensically with Donovan, a cop's son, or magically with Tilly. Almost 70% of you choose the paranormal sleuthing.

Me to myself, after seeing this: "Oh. Duh."

What I was trying to to with this choice point was to let the reader decide what kind of book they want to read, conventional mystery or paranormal. But, of course, the reader's already made that choice in buying this book.

Tilly is Celia's BFF, and I love that she has as many fans among you as she does. So she'll be working her magic alongside Celia from here on out. I still like the idea of giving the reader the power to shape their reading experience, though, so in Parish Mail Book 2, you'll get to decide whether it's Luc or Donovan who joins Celia in her investigation. Sparks will fly, trust me, no matter which you choose. Good news: you can always go back and read the other version!

You Are Not Fooled by Clunky Misdirection

The main mystery of Dead Letter Office, the "mission" or "case" of the book, is one area where I feel like I didn't do as good a job as I wanted. In particular there's one investigative choice point that is not well designed: the "right" path is far too obvious despite my trying to tart up the "wrong" option to make it more appealing. You guys aren't falling for it. An overwhelming majority of you choose the the "right" path.

In PM2, I put a lot of effort into not only making the mystery more relevant to Celia personally, but also giving you the reader more compelling investigative choices. It should be harder in PM2 (and thus more fun) to tell what the "right" and "wrong" clues are.  You'll be rewarded with hints to the overall series mystery if you think through the facts and evidence like Celia does.

You Laugh in the Face of Danger

Similar to the above example, there's another choice point where you can charge in after the bad guy or wait for the police. Even though I tried to make this a character choice, having you side with either Luc or Donovan, 66% of you said "Who needs the police? I'm taking this perp down myself!"

Mind you, the waiting-for-the-police route ends up being no less dangerous -- Magic! Machetes! Alligators! -- but of course you can't possibly know that when you make the decision. So in PM2 I'm paying more attention to what the choice point implies.

You Are Intrigued by Bad Boys

There's an opportunity near the end of Dead Letter Office for the reader to choose, literally, the boy of Celia's dreams. While both Luc and Donovan each get a healthy share of the vote, 38% and 48% respectively, Sloan pulls in a respectable 14%.

Entitled and snarky with a good side that he rarely shows, Sloan appears in only a few scenes of DLO. The vote results show me that a fair number of you are interested in the guy, and so he's playing a larger role in PM2 than I was originally planning.

So there you have it -- a snapshot of what I've learned from the DLO data and how you're helping me write Parish Mail Book 2. Hey, mind if you bang out these next few chapters for me while I go to Hawaii? Fantastic!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Coliloquy in the Wall Street Journal

Illustration by John Cuneo, via WSJ.com
The Wall Street Journal has published an article about how "big data" from ebooks is informing the way those books are published, sold, and in my case, written.

I'm disappointed that the article led with the alarmist angle, including the title and graphic -- don't you love Scary Eyes Kindle? -- but I'm not surprised. Fear is always a juicy hook, as those teases for your local TV news prove ("What are the four things under your kitchen sink that could kill you? Channel 6 investigates!"). I would've preferred a greater emphasis on the intriguing positives about this technology, including my publisher Coliloquy's goals of allowing readers to shape their own experiences through interactivity, establishing feedback loops between readers and author, and turning reading into a more social experience.

But Coliloquy does get a nice long profile at the end of the article, including a brief mention of my Parish Mail series and a nifty example from my Coliloquy slate-mate Tawna Fenske on the kind of impact reader data can have on our writing.

What did you think of the article? Is data gathering from ebooks good? Bad? Or is it just data-- until someone uses it for good or bad?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

DLO Q&A, Review, and Giveaway on Literally Jen

Check out this terrific review of DEAD LETTER OFFICE on Literally Jen. A sample quote:  
I had no idea that I would have such a hard time putting it down once I started. Even though I was ridiculously tired, I read well into the wee hours of the night to find out what would happen next. 
Be sure to scroll down the page and enter for your chance to win a free copy of the ebook (U.S. readers only, sorry).

I also did an interview with Literally Jen. Wonder how writing TV is like writing an interactive book? Curious for some scoop on Parish Mail Book 2? Read the Q&A and find out!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Books of Summer

Photo by Hans F. Meier/iStockphoto.com
A warm day, a shady spot, a good book... life doesn't get much better than that, no? Here's a grab bag of summer reading I've enjoyed, past and present. Share your favorites in the comments, below!

Ray Bradbury, who passed away this month, wrote many fine books, but Dandelion Wine is particularly appropriate for summer: it's about summer, a collection of short stories with recurring themes and characters. Nostalgic and bittersweet.

I devoured Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers books when I was a kid. Rollicking good adventures, they're highly entertaining and not in the least stuffy. I actually have not yet read The Count of Monte Cristo (I know, I know, watching Revenge doesn't count), but hope to get to it this year.

One assigned summer reading book during high school made a big impact on me: Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time. A mystery where the detective's stuck in a hospital bed, the book's about how history is written by the winners. Largely due to his depiction in Shakespeare's play, Richard III is remembered as a murderous monster -- a political convenience for the Tudors, the victors of the War of the Roses. But as The Daughter of Time's bedridden investigator finds, there's no evidence to back this up. Will you feel sorry for the guy Shakespeare's Queen Margaret calls an "elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog"? You just might.

I spent one summer working at a theater in a town in central Maine -- literally a one-stoplight town -- whose tiny library was full of Stephen King books (no surprise, since King lives just up the road in Bangor). I hadn't read much King before that year, but I snarfed these down like potato chips. Carrie, Salem's Lot, Misery, The Shining... nothing chills down a muggy Maine July like a good scare.

Looking for more current recommendations? A few newer books I can suggest for those looking for a beach/hammock read: Neal Stephenson's Reamde is a globetrotting action-adventure with a dash of MMO geekery and international terrorism for spice. Laini Taylor's YA novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone is imaginative, romantic, and heartbreaking. Ready Player One is a love letter to Generation X, especially the geek and gamer subspecies -- it's fun to play spot-the-reference in Ernest Cline's past-as-prologue book about a dystopian Earth and the virtual reality game everyone jacks into to escape it. I'm biased, but my publisher Coliloquy's slate of interactive ebooks offers something juicy for everyone, from a starcrossed romance between witch and warlock to the war of good and evil playing out on the unlikely battlefield of two lonely souls lost in time.

And for me, summer means not just reading but writing. I'm busy wrapping up with Season 2 of Alphas on the Syfy Channel -- we premiere Monday, July 23 -- as well as working on the second book of my Parish Mail series of interactive YA mysteries. If you have a Kindle or an Android device, might I suggest you add Parish Mail Book 1, Dead Letter Office, to your summer reading list?

I'd love to hear your bookish memories and recommendations. Any childhood summer reading that stuck with you? What are you reading this summer?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Enter to Win a Copy of DEAD LETTER OFFICE

Kathy over at I Am A Reader, Not a Writer has posted a brief interview with me! Plus, enter to win one of three FREE copies of DEAD LETTER OFFICE.

Friday, May 11, 2012

DLO Now Available for Android Devices

I'm super excited to announce that DEAD LETTER OFFICE and all the Coliloquy titles are now available for your Nook, Kindle Fire, and other Android devices!

Pick up your copy of DLO at all kinds of places:

Amazon App Store

Nook Store on BN.com

Google Play

And of course it's still available on regular e-ink Kindles as well.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Who Doesn't Love a Bargain?

DEAD LETTER OFFICE is now on sale on Amazon for only $1.99! Not sure how long it'll be at that price, so if you were waiting to pick up a copy, now's a great time to do it.

UPDATE: The sale price was for February, and DEAD LETTER OFFICE is now back to its normal price, $4.99. Still a bargain, especially since with the alternate choices it's very nearly two books in one!

Monday, January 23, 2012

5 Stars for DEAD LETTER OFFICE on YA Books Central

DEAD LETTER OFFICE got a five star review from YA Books Central!

A choice tidbit:
I couldn't stop reading this story and the ending leaves you wanting more! Fun, original tale that's Ghost Whisperer meets Veronica Mars with Southern charm. This intriguing story will take you on a fun ride that you help direct!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Novel Source Reviews DEAD LETTER OFFICE

Stacy over at A Novel Source has good things to say about the book!

An excerpt:
"Dead Letter Office would be an entertaining young adult paranormal mystery all by itself. With the added pleasure of choosing options throughout the novel, all I can say is I can't wait to read Parish Mail # 2!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The day has come, cats and kittens! If you have a Kindle or Kindle Touch* and $4.99, you can own a copy of my first book, the Active Fiction young adult novel DEAD LETTER OFFICE, Book 1 of the PARISH MAIL series!

Pick up your copy on Amazon here

What is Active Fiction? It means what it says, a book that you read actively. As you follow Celia, the heroine of PARISH MAIL, through the streets and swamps of mysterious, magical New Orleans, at key points you'll get to make choices for her that drive the story and have real consequences.

And, because the Coliloquy platform gathers this data in the aggregate, I'll get to see what choices readers make and that can inform where I take the story. This kind of author-reader feedback loop is just one of the reasons why I so totally love writing Active Fiction; I'll write a post soon all about that.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy DEAD LETTER OFFICE! Feel free to comment or ask questions here, and you can always find me on Twitter at @sugarjonze.

You can read all about DEAD LETTER OFFICE, including a Q&A with me, on its page on the Coliloquy webiste.

Also, be sure to check out my fellow Coliloquy launch authors' amazing books:

WITCH'S BREW by Heidi R. Kling
GETTING DUMPED by Tawna Fenske
ARCANIA by Liz Maverick

Happy reading!

*The book is not yet available for Kindle Fire or for the Kindle app on other devices, but I'm sure both are future goals for Coliloquy.