Better than the book?

Is anyone watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix? It’s a series based off of Jay Asher’s young adult novel of the same name about 17-year-old Hannah Baker who leaves cassette tapes for the people she feels are complicit in her suicide. The Netflix series is very well done, and is reaching a lot of fans, particularly a whole crop of people who never read the book (including my husband). There’s been some controversy in the depiction of suicide, but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, I want to discuss literary adaptations, specifically for television.

How often do people bemoan films not being as good as the books? All the time. The major outlier, in my opinion, being Brokeback Mountain. The film is far superior to the novella its based on. Anyway, movies don’t offer adequate time for rich character development, and certainly never at the expense of interesting plot twists. But, TV… ah, that’s where things can get interesting.

Television series give books a healthy dose of time. A thirteen episode season, as in 13 Reasons Why, allows the writers to explore heavy themes and characterization in greater detail. It’s been ten years since I read the book, so bear with me, but the story is only told through Clay’s first-person narrative. But in the TV series, the audience is privy to the aftermath of Hannah’s death, through peripheral characters, including her grieving parents who must grapple with the mystery that is their daughter (How did they not suspect she was so unhappy?) and the 13 people, who contribute to Hannah’s suicide. While Jay Asher is an incredible writer, the TV series becomes something more layered and nuanced than the book. Also, the show provides for a more suspenseful, almost noir-like tone, which, again, I don’t recall in the book. Eventually, the book and the series become two of a piece, and they’re not really the same.

There are lots of other examples of successful TV literary adaptations. Gossip Girl. The Vampire Diaries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, although the books are excellent. But we don’t get the sexual chemistry between Phryne and Jack in the books that we do in the show.

I just found out my favorite book series, The Raven Boys, will be adapted for television and I am so excited. I’m grateful though, that a pilot is being made, and not a film. A movie would just ruin it.

What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy TV adaptations of books?

Laugh so you don’t cry

I’m relying on a lot of television for escapism lately. Jump on my Twitter feed and you’ll know instantly how I feel about our current political climate, our actual climate, and the refugee crisis. The mercury has shot way up on my depression thermometer. (I’m probably depressing you all now, aren’t I?) Anyway, I self-medicate with TV. As an author, I find television informs my art. It also makes me happy.

In no particular order, here’s Dr. Kim’s (I’m not a real doctor) television prescription for dealing with life’s downturns.

Comedy recommendations!

Schitt’s Creek (Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix): Created by eyebrow-goals Eugene Levy and his dapper, handsome son, Dan Levy, this Canadian import is about a wealthy family who loses everything when their tax accountant embezzles from them, and is forced to move to a rural town that they own called Schitt’s Creek. The episodes are 20-minutes long and super bingeable. My favorite character is David Rose, the stylish, somber son whose explanation of his pansexuality using wine as a metaphor is the best thing I’ve ever heard. This is a comedy about a tight-knit family coming together in a crisis.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW, Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix): Rachel Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, a late 20-something Manhattan lawyer who chucks it all, and follows an old boyfriend to West Covina, California. Rebecca suffers from anxiety and depression, and her delusions are manifested in song! This show is so clever. Feminism, mental illness, cultural identity are all deftly explored. And it’s freaking funny. My favorite tunes in Season 1 are “Jap Battle Rap,” “Sexy Getting Ready Son,” and “I Could If I Wanted To.”


You’re the Worst (FX, Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): There’s something so compelling about watching two selfish, yet damaged, people fall in love in Los Angeles. Gretchen and Jimmy are the worst people and yet, you root for them anyway. Jimmy is a snarky Brit who’s also a novelist! My favorite line that he delivers is about scrambled eggs, “A dish so pedestrian, its name is the recipe.” And Gretchen is a messy, detached publicist who suffers from depression (props to the writers for portraying this so accurately). The ensemble cast makes the show. From Lindsay, Gretchen’s idiot best friend, to Edgar, Jimmy’s veteran roommate who suffers from PTSD to Sam, Gretchen’s client who delivers my other favorite line: “Garbage people do not get iphones” (or something to that effect). Watch it.

The League (Netflix, 7 seasons): If you had asked me if I would want to watch a comedy about fantasy football, I would’ve said, “hard pass” (sports pun!). But, this Seinfeld-esque ensemble show is so freaking funny that I watched seven seasons in about a month. My favorite character is Rodney Ruxin, mainly because he’s obnoxious. And a germophobe with a laundry list of killer catchphrases.

Okay, that’s my list. Take two shows and call me in the morning. What comedies do you recommend? I could use some new ones.

Where the kids are

I was so fortunate to be invited to participate in YA Fest at the Palmer Branch of the Easton  Public Library this past weekend. The event consisted of over 40 young adult authors selling and signing books. Some authors got to do a special meet-and-greet with teens. There was an author Skype session. The organizers raffled off huge stacks of books from various publishing houses. It was truly awesome.

It’s not every day, not every year, I get to meet other authors and gush over their books. Nor is it often I get to hear from readers directly. I was particularly floored to find out that the library’s adult YA book group read Grunge Gods and Graveyards for their book club pick. Since the story is set in 1996, it’s perfect for adult YA readers. Something I yell into the ether often.

I was also excited to simply network with other authors. Even after three books, I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet. My writing process will always be in flux, but the publishing business itself is something I’m completely unfamiliar with. I did get to ask a fellow YA crime fiction writer her thoughts on why the mystery/crime fiction genre doesn’t seem to be as popular in young adult literature as it does in the adult market. And she said, “Teens just read the adult stuff.” Okay, that makes sense. When I was a teen in the 90s, I read adult fiction because there wasn’t the incredible collection of YA books to pick from. But now, YA is a huge market, simply because adults are reading it as well. When I was a teen, my mom wasn’t pilfering books from my Christopher Pike library.

But here’s the thing. YA has a ton of sub genres. Everything from high fantasy to steampunk to contemporary issues to science fiction. There are also adult books in these same genres. But teens stick to the YA offerings because they speak to them. So why the mismatch in crime fiction? Is it simply because adult crime fiction is so well marketed, teens can’t help but pay attention? Gone Girl was such a huge success that if you’re a teen reader who loves crime fiction, why wouldn’t you read the book everyone is talking about? This becomes the gateway book for teen crime fiction readers, except it sends them into the adult sphere, rather than the YA.

Personally, I find YA crime fiction so fun to write. Two years ago, I wrote a post for Writers Digest on how to make a tenacious teen sleuth. You can read it here if you want. But one of the best parts of writing about teenage crime solvers is their ability to be subversive. To break rules because they’re kids, not cops. And because teens are often overlooked. They can eavesdrop. They have access to their peers that adults do not. And the crimes are often as sinister as anything you’d find in an adult read.

So if YA readers are jumping to adult crime fiction instead of reading the books aimed at their age group, then publishers need to see how they can market those titles directly. Take a lesson, perhaps, from the marketing launch of Girl on the Train.

Because there are amazing YA crime fiction books out. Teen readers need to know where to  find them.

Wild ride

March’s theme is: If Only I’d Known. Well, if only I’d known I was signing with an agent this month, I might’ve invested in some Xanax.

I’m not sure how much civilians know about acquiring a literary agent, but it’s a big deal for authors looking to get a traditional publishing deal. In fact, it’s pretty much the only way for a writer to get their book onto a shelf in a bookstore.

Writers, or as least I did, think that writing the book is the hardest part. But then querying agents becomes the hardest part. And then it’s waiting for a publishing house to buy your book that’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. And then once your book is out in the wild, well, you get my drift. You clear a hurdle, there’s another one ahead. This is a tough business and yet, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Self-publishing has its merits, but I find that YA indie authors struggle to get teens to read their ebooks. Despite their attachments to their phones, teens are more likely to read books. Paper bound books. Adults love ebooks. We have credit cards and Amazon accounts. But teens love bookstores and libraries. They love borrowing books from friends. They like to browse actual shelves. They don’t have money and are often gifted books for birthdays and holidays. For that reason, if I want to be a YA author (and I do), and I want teens to read my work (and I do), then I need to reach them where they are — on the shelves. And I need a Big 5 house to make that happen.

It’s been a wild ride. In less than a week, I signed with a wonderful agent and my manuscript is on submission. Perhaps soon, I’ll be able to update this post with good news. Or perhaps not. That’s the thing about publishing. It’s really about timing, a smidge of talent, and a whole lot of luck.

Finding your tribe

I hear a lot of authors online talk about finding one’s tribe — connecting to a like-minded (or genre-minded) group of writers for artistic support, encouragement, and guidance. It’s an incredibly important aspect to the profession, not just because networking can be beneficial to authors’ careers, but because writing is a very isolating job and if we don’t connect with others, we’re going to lose our ever-freaking minds.


I do not currently have a tribe, in that I don’t belong to a group. However, I have liaisons to other tribes. I have my very best writer friend, Katie, who joins me on two-person writing retreats. Who I can contact via Facebook Messenger for a quick peptalk and get an equally quick reply. Who reads my scenes to see if they’re boring. I have my buddy Stephen, a horror writer, who manages a group blog (ahem, a different one) penned by a team of writers from various genres. I have my friend, Melinda, a local YA author who I met last fall. We live ten minutes apart (a miracle since I live in such a rural area) and we meet once a week to hang out and write. In fact, she and I just attended an author reading in town on Friday. And then we went to dinner and we talked…shop! And it was awesome.

*These are photos from our outing to see Manjula Martin read from her latest book, Scratch. It was a packed house!

There is no substitute for talking craft and publishing with another writer who gets what you’re saying. My husband, as smart a guy as he is, doesn’t care about publishing trends in YA or advances (well, maybe he cares about that) or the merits of first-person narration for a hardboiled mystery. But Melinda does. Katie does. Stephen does. And so, while I don’t belong to a local critique group or an online marketing collective like many authors I know, I have formed relationships with various authors, some online, some in-person, that have made writing a less isolating endeavor, and more like a virtual office.

These professional relationships are crucial. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert (like me), writers must connect to other writers, and often. It’s hard to enjoy this business otherwise.

If you’re a writer, do you belong to a tribe? And if you’re a reader, do you belong to a monthly book club? A workout group? A motorcycle gang? Surely, you must.

Sound off below.

It’s a family thing

It’s Super Bowl Sunday! It’s the fourth quarter, and what I thought would be an easy win for Atlanta is now turning into a shaky game. The Giarratanos are Jets fans, which means we root against the Patriots by default. So…I don’t know. I’m nervous. Also, I have an informal bet with my cousin — a bottle of vodka is on the line — and I want to win.

So February’s theme is relationships. One of my favorite themes to explore in my own writing is familial relationships. Sure, I always have a romantic subplot, but I love to analyze complex issues within the family. And not just immediate family, but extended, and multi-generational too. In Grunge Gods and Graveyards, my main character lives with her widowed father, and sister, but relies heavily on the guidance of her great aunt and uncle. In Dead and Breakfast, my female protagonist lives with her great aunt and mother. She doesn’t get along with her mother, but finds that maternal connection with her aunt. The male protagonist lives with his grandfather, who raised him. Even the nemesis has a close relationship with her grandparents. In my latest book, Solitary Boys, both of my male protagonists have shaky relationships with their older sisters. In fact, it’s the disappearance of one of the sisters that drives the mystery. What happened to her? And why?

(Jesus, it’s a tied game!)

There’s a lot authors can do with familial relationships within mysteries, and it’s more than just providing an interesting subplot. Protecting family can be a primary motivator in solving crimes. A sister goes missing. A brother is wrongly accused. A daughter is killed. Characters, like real people, will go to great lengths to save those they love. And let’s not forget about secrets! Oh man. You want to pen a great story, build a mystery around some deep, dark family secret (VC Andrews was a master of this. Creepy, but effective).

(And now, we’re in overtime.)

What’s your favorite family dynamic to explore? For me, it’s sibling relationships. As a mother, I won’t even consider penning a dark mystery where harm might come to children. Marriage is cool too, but I feel like there’s an abundance of marital thrillers.

What’s your favorite familial relationship to read about?


Sweat equity

What up, mystery lovers? I hope the new year is treating you well. Me? Well, I alternate between highs and lows — some of that has to do with the political landscape, some with my writing. But I digress…

Currently, I am putting the finishing touches on Solitary Boys, a YA mystery set in 1995. It’s been a long haul. I started writing this book in May of 2016. I was so gung-ho, I was racking up 5,000 words a day. And good words, too. I thought for sure the book would be drafted before summer’s end. And then I hit a wall. The story wasn’t right. And so, I threw out 75,000 words, re-outlined, and started anew.

I finished the draft in December after pulling long days trudging through the outline. I sent it to trusted critique partners, beta readers, my editor. And now, I’m tweaking in preparation for querying. I cannot tell you how many times I have ignored my kids, my dog, my husband; how often I’ve slacked on laundry and cleaning; how I’ve put off lunch dates or time with friends to work on this manuscript. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve put into this book or the amount of time I’ve spent obsessing over my characters and the plot. It’s not something I’ve quantified. But, the story is finished. And I’m hoping beyond hope that a literary agent will fall in love with the book and represent me.

Here’s the thing regarding writers and their unmoored manuscripts — they are our sweat equity. We invest so much in our art, not just and time, but mental anguish, and there is no law that says it will amount to anything.

We write because we have stories to tell — stories that we cannot hold inside. But those stories might not necessarily get read. We do live in an age of self-publishing (thank God), so no book is truly dead in the water. But when you’ve worked so hard on your art, you want people to read it. You don’t want all that work to be wasted. Sure, some authors are going to write manuscripts they will trunk — those are practice books. But, there are many experienced authors, publishing traditionally or independently, who bleed their souls onto pages. They write, they revise, they suffer, they publish. They get crapped on in reviews. Or worse, they get ignored. And the crazy part is that they come back to do it all over again.

So, thank an author for making art. Buy them a cup of coffee. Better yet, read their book. It took a long time, and a lot of work, to get it done.

And here’s to you, oh author who toils for her art. May the publishing gods smile favorably upon you. And may your stories endure.