Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Feature:

Together We Write:  The Story of the Authors Behind the Debutante Ball

By Eileen Cook

Every writer dreams of publishing their novel: the mountains of fan mail, autograph hounds and Oprah begging for you to appear on her show.

The reality is quite a bit different. According to Publishers Weekly, the publishing industry’s chief trade journal, nearly 200,000 books are published annually in the U.S. and the average reader is lucky to hear about 0.5% of them. (Publishers Weekly, March 19, 2007, p. 5.) So the challenge for writers, especially debut authors, is not fighting off Oprah but getting any attention at all.

With these kinds of odds, writing has turned into a competitive sport. There’s only so much shelf space, a limited amount of book publicity and a set number of readers available for wooing. It’s writer against writer, sharpened pencils at noon, may the best one survive.

That’s one way to see it.

In the summer of 2006, a group of six debut authors decided to try another approach. We decided to band together and go through our debut year together, and share the responsibility of maintaining a daily group blog, or grog. Under the leadership of Kristy Kiernan, we dubbed ourselves “The Debutante Ball,” and got to work.

Having an on-line presence has become a common, nearly required part of an author’s responsibility for promotion. It’s a way to access new readers, to put themselves and their books on the cyberspace map. Eileen Cook, author of Unpredictable, explains: “It builds a network of both readers and writers, and gives you a chance to explore new venues you might not otherwise find.”

But for many new authors, creating and updating a dynamic site (either traditional website or blog) can seem overwhelming. “I found the idea of having a blog of my own intimidating,” admits Jennifer McMahon, author of Promise Not to Tell. “But a shared blog felt very doable.”

A group blog is an efficient way to share the work and upkeep while allowing us to promote our books and each other. By banding together, we are able to make the process more enjoyable for both the writer and the reader.

“A writer's life is solitary,” says Kiernan, author of Catching Genius. “With The Debutante Ball, we get to interact with other writers, both on and offline, and at the same time, give our readers a fresh new voice every day.”

Kristy Kiernan, Mia King, Eileen Cook, Jennifer McMahon, Tish Cohen, Anna David ... at first glance, we’re an unlikely group to have come together. We write in different styles and different genres, covering the gamut from literary fiction to a ghost story. We live in different countries and different times zones. We’re married, single, parents and party girls. We have different publishers, different word counts, and different stories of how (and why) we came to have our first book published.

What we do have in common is what writers the world over have in common: an enthusiasm for writing and words, not to mention a shared anxiety and innocence of the world of publishing.

“In what other career would anxiety and neuroses be a bonus?” jokes Tish Cohen, author of Town House.

For Anna David, author of Party Girl, coming together in support of one another was a key reason she joined the grog. “We tend to treat other writers’ successes as our own failures, and sadly, there aren't a lot of places you can go to get and give support and encouragement to others in the field,” she says. “But there are plenty of pieces of cake to go around.”

The structure of The Debutante Ball is simple: weekly topics with each “Deb” taking one of the days of the week and leaving Sunday for any general updates or late-breaking news. We started with a free blog from WordPress (see Resources) then had it modified to suit our needs. We relied on each other’s talents, or in some cases, pulled in support from spouses and friends. Through multiple emails discussion we set shared expectations and ground rules about how we would work together.

As the grog developed and grew, we found ways to keep the process dynamic by having guest bloggers and changing weekly topics. Mia King organized contests to promote and celebrate each release which increased readership. We also emailed frequently offline, sharing good news (and bad). We discussed promotion approaches and ideas, shared lists of resources and contacts. We cross-promote whenever possible, honoring our individual promotional efforts while including the grog when it makes sense. Practically speaking, being a part of The Debutante Ball is probably one of the most smartest (and least expensive) things we could have done to promote our books.

But perhaps even more important than the formal promotion and marketing support, has been the emotional support. We email each other to vent or cry over the latest publishing injustice, bad reviews or sudden conviction that we’re lousy at this writing thing. By having five other writers to share the journey with, the trip has become far more interesting and less lonely.

Says Mia King author of Good Things, “The Debutante Ball has made this experience of publication much saner and, at the same, much richer. It’s broadened my perspective of writing, of other authors, and of publication.”

Six debut authors thrown together during their debut year? The result wasn’t competition. It was community.

You’re met the authors, now for the books…

GOOD THINGS by Mia King

Deidre McIntosh became famous teaching women to live simply, and simply live – ironic for a woman who thrives on the chaos of a television career and shares a home with her best friend, the one man she can count on – who happens to be gay.

But when her Seattle cooking-and-lifestyle show gets bumped off the air, and her best guy moves in with his boyfriend, she’s left trying to figure out the next segment. Seizing on a chance encounter with an attractive stranger, Deidre accepts his offer to use his country home. She hopes to get away for a while and learn to practice what she preaches. To appreciate life without voice mail. To gain the courage to start again, and take the first slow, cautious steps toward a new kind of success – and maybe even love

It seems like a simple task. But it may be the hardest thing she’s ever done…

CATCHING GENIUS by Kristy Kiernan

In this hauntingly beautiful, lyrical debut, two estranged sisters struggle to define their relationship, as they confront long-buried childhood memories and family secrets.As children, the Sykes sisters—Connie and Estella—were unassuming, precocious, and very close, until one sister was discovered to be a math prodigy.

Estella, pushed to focus on her gift, fell into her father’s favor, leaving Connie to grow up in her shadow. Connie, the “normal” little sister, became defined by her beauty rather than her intellect. Now years later, at the request of their mother, the sisters are forced to reunite on the Gulf Coast of Florida as they pack up their childhood home and ready it for sale. The reunion comes at a time of crisis, in which both Connie and Estella must come to terms with painful revelations and devastating consequences. And once again, her sister’s genius may change Connie’s life in ways she can not control…

PROMISE NOT TO TELL by Jennifer McMahon

Kate Cypher, a reserved 41-year-old school nurse, has just returned to the small town of New Canaan, VT, to care for her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother. The night she arrives, a young girl is murdered. Slowly, Kate is drawn into the investigation—and deep into the childhood she’s tried to escape—for the killing eerily echoes the death of another young girl: her childhood friend, Del. Poor, misunderstood, Del suffered the taunts of classmates who shunned her and called her “Potato Girl.”

But in Del, 10-year-old Kate found a kindred spirit, until a painful falling out shattered their relationship shortly before Del’s death. As the investigation unfolds, the facets of Kate’s life collide in a terrifying way: her mother is quickly deteriorating, her old friends are never quite what they seem, and the ghosts of her childhood have emerged to haunt her.

TOWN HOUSE by Tish Cohen

Jack Madigan is, by many accounts, blessed. Thanks to his rock superstar father, he lives an enviable existence in a historic Boston town house with his teenage son, Harlan, and can effortlessly turn a pretty head. But there’s one tiny drawback: Jack is agoraphobic. Living on his dad’s (albeit dwindling) royalties, his condition hasn’t been a problem. Until the money runs out…and then all hell breaks loose. Suddenly the bank is foreclosing, Jack’s ex is threatening to take Harlan to California, and, Lucinda, the little girl next door, won’t stay out of his kitchen. Or his life.

To save his sanity, Jack must do the impossible, outwit the bank’s adorably determined real estate agent, win back his house, keep his son at home, and, finally, with Lucinda’s help, find a way back to the world outside his door.

 


UNPREDICTABLE by Eileen Cook

Sophie Kintock isn’t crazy, she just wants her guy back. And posing as a psychic to give his new girlfriend a fake reading designed to break them up isn’t going overboard, is it? Faking psychic powers turns out to be easy and fun, especially after a few lessons from Nick, the cute (if a bit nerdy) skeptic, who knows all the tricks of the trade.

But her readings do a lot more than she could have predicted-and now she’s being offered a job telling fortunes on the radio.

Now she must decide whether to accept her rising stardom in a less-than-honest line of work. And whether the best option is trying to rekindle her old flame-or finding romance with someone new. And, most importantly, she needs to figure out whether the answers lie in the stars-or in herself…

PARTY GIRL by Anna David

Amelia Stone is a quintessential L.A. party girl known for sharing wild stories about her hot (and often hilarious) nightlife. Invited to Hollywood’s most exclusive, star-studded events, she rubs shoulders—and occasionally has trysts—with celebrities, stays out until all hours of the night, and indulges in the ultimate sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle. A writer for celebrity magazine Absolutely Fabulous, Amelia struggles to stand out and is finally offered the chance to prove herself by interviewing several high-profile stars. But as she engages in more and more self-destructive partying, involving increasing amounts of “Alex” (her affectionate term for cocaine), Amelia loses control of both her personal and professional lives.

Almost ruined by her escapades, Amelia makes the drastic decision to end her drug abuse. Finally sober, she meets the man of her dreams and is hired away to an even better magazine to write a column about her steamy adventures. Little does the magazine know that Amelia’s partying days are in the past. Faced with the most exciting opportunity of her career, she must now decide to either save herself or salvage her reputation as the ultimate party girl.