Friday, May 27, 2011

Sample reading group questions

I was asked for them….I’ve never written reading group questions before. So, below is draft one. If you haven’t finished the book stop reading now!

1. Captive is about two men who’ve had different options in life and made very different decisions. Character wise, are they similar? Were their lives shaped more by circumstance or by character?

2. The story is told from a woman’s perspective twice: once from the viewpoint of Khalil’s mother, Leila, and the other from George’s wife, Karen. Do their insights add to the story or detract from it? Do you sympathize more for the men after learning something about them from women who love them?

3. Shortly before Khalil turns up at his door, Omar begins to question whether he really wants to die for his jihad. Is this questioning consistent with his character? Why, when pushed, does he ignore his misgivings?

4. Stacy and Jennifer are both smart women who make foolish choices with respect to men. They are minor characters in the book so less fully explored. What about them or their romantic partners provides insights into these disastrous romantic choices?

5. George and Khalil both love to read. George brings Khalil an assortment of books during the captivity. What insights do the book choices add?

6. Captive is essentially about people who are captive in different senses of the word. Is it easier for these characters to break out of their physical or mental captivity? Do any of them truly escape by the end of the book?

7. Is the story line very situation specific or does it have recurring elements from a larger literary or historical perspective?

8. Do George and Khalil ever begin to like each other? Why does Khalil shoot George but not kill him (presumably, he could have ensured George died with another or better placed shot but doesn’t).

9. What happens after the book ends to each of the main characters that perhaps wouldn’t have happened had the Captive events never taken place?

10. George struggles to get information from someone who doesn’t open up easily. Is he effective at his job based on how events occur at the end?

The picture is of the San Francisco Bay and taken by Jonathan Dugan of BitTorrent

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Learning from Hollywood: story telling

Story telling is simply the ability to engage with an audience and draw them into a world of your own creation. It was a central topic of discussion at a recent conference I attended.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center Leadership Forum was at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on May 16 and 17. As a writer, I’m obviously a huge believer in the power of story. What did I learn at the conference on the topic? Or, perhaps to be more precise, what was the message on weaving an effective story?

1. Engage your audience.

2. Make them think differently.

3. Customize or personalize.

4. Touch emotions; no overkill.

5. Keep the characters authentic and believable. None of us is perfect; humanize our characters’ flaws and bless them with some. Certain types of people will dress, think and speak in a predictable way. Portraying them otherwise is false at best, preachy at worst.

6. Context. Always.

7. Respect your audience. Don’t pander or talk down to them.

8. Immerse them in a new world that you create.

9. “Good artists borrow: great artists steal”. Draw story lines from mythology or other common narratives that have crossed history and generations (the Bible, Shakespeare, coming of age...). “A myth is news that’s still news”.

10. Trust the audience’s ability to take on something (a willful suspension of disbelief). Let them decide what they want to take in of what you provide.

11. Artistry and technology work hand in hand.

12. “Good stories are familiar with the content of our unconscious. Bad stories are too turbulent, violent or emotional”.

13. Create a predicament for our character and then provide a solution.

The above draws heavily from a panel of super producers: Don Hahn, Doug Wick and Marcy Carsey.

While a list can’t tell a story a conference is a dense flow of information and hard to summarize in a blog posting. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

But to sum, I view a story based on its outline or structure…then how does that narrative flow? The above rules provide the meat that then sits on those bones and grabs (or doesn’t grab) an audience. I’ll be reading The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim, recommended by Doug Wick.

I also wrote a related posting on my investment banking blog that covers a broader range of topics from the conference.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why not on Nook…asks Barnes and Noble loyalist?


Captive is now!

And I did it myself on Barnes and Noble’s PubIt! site (my main publisher contact is abroad; I retained the rights to Captive; Nook sees going directly through them and going through PubIt! as essentially the same). I was surprised to realize that Captive wasn’t on Nook, and even more shocked to receive an email stating such. For, Captive (hard copy) is on and in some of their stores through my publisher. I’d just assumed it was also on Nook (first rule in life and publishing…assume nothing).

As my publisher (and many others) knows I am pretty proactive about publishing and marketing opportunities. I’m the original “just do it” type which is why I’d partnered with BitTorrent to explore that opportunity.

Unfortunately, I can explain technology better than I can implement it (I’m too literal and start every service call with “tell me what web page you’re on. No, read me the url letter by letter, please.”). But, to my credit, I did set up my home network just because…why not? And, though my son claims it doesn’t work in his room (Linkys…location of his room with respect to the box) it works everywhere else in the house. The PubIt! process is much easier than setting up a network.

So…Captive… I went to the site, downloaded the book (in ePub format though a word file will do), compressed my cover and blew it. As I tend to do. But I figured out my mistake (a kink and PubIt! is fixing it…it would be me) and now my book is on Nook! It took under an hour, easily. One note, I had a cover already so I’d advise pre-planning that part.

I seem to be becoming an expert in publishing options; I wrote a book and have a technology/media/business background so getting creative is natural for me. The publishing world is changing so fast. As with all businesses, especially those evolving quickly, proactively trying new things can and does make the difference between those who succeed and fail. Maybe it’s me, but I thought writing the book was the easy part. Turns out marketing trumps writing any day with respect to complexity.

What most disturbed me about not being on Nook was that the device (and B&N) has a loyal and devoted audience. Captive should be there. A friend (different B&N loyalist; I seem to know many) had his local Manhattan outlet send a copy of Captive across the country to him since his store was sold out. Second rule in life…don’t offend the gorillas in your industry. Okay, sorry for stating the obvious, but B&N is a huge presence for writers.

Slogging through the sequel to Captive (some days it’s sailing through writing the sequel but I’m editing now…go see my cranky tweets on twitter @meganlisajones) I’m also trying to figure out how to best distribute and promote it, using what I’ve learned from Captive.

My BitTorrent related audience is amazingly interconnected. I’m confident that I can find them when the next book is ready. Now I’m building an audience on Barnes and Noble…not a bad step to take this week. And nothing beats direct interaction with your readers.

The publishing options for new writers are great, much as many are complaining about declining sales and less support for new authors. Building an audience has never been easy; the new options are overwhelming but they also provide such opportunity. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are letting new writers develop their audience (if it exists) inexpensively; publishers can watch their efforts and better determine which writers could benefit from their resources for later books.

Please, please buy Captive on the Nook and write a review on Barnes and Noble’s site. They are supporting new writers; I’d like to support them back!

…very glad to be not only on Kindle but now also on Nook (we are currently working on iTunes books…my understanding is that it’s a formatting issue).

Feedback from other authors or questions about PubIt! or anything discussed above are very welcome. Email me at

Dolphin photo from Ana Vitalia (thanks!)