Well, hello!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here – I’ve been a bit busy! (Excuse me a moment while I dust off this blog and throw open some windows!)

So. I spent most of last year working on a brand new book, False Idols. (Hence the lack of blogging). And I’m thrilled to announce, it’s out today!!!

False Idols tells the story of an FBI linguist named Layla el-Deeb, who is deep undercover posing as an heiress and art collector in Cairo, Egypt. She must infiltrate the highest echelons of society in order to trace priceless relics from their millionaire owners back to illegal digs and the terrorist groups profiting from their sale. Her trouble past and her feelings for an art dealer’s son begin to complicate her judgment, and when she uncovers a terrorist plot that threatens American and Egyptian lives, she must decide where her loyalties truly lie.

While this is a fast-paced FBI thriller, it’s also a character-driven story that asks serious questions about identity and explores the moral repercussions of the illicit art market.
This project is familiar territory for me in some ways. It’s another international mystery. And like my last book, Blue Voyage, it deals with black market antiquities.
But in many ways it’s a departure for me, a creative experiment that I was thrilled to partake in.
It’s an adult novel, for one thing. Older teens could certainly read it, but due to mature themes and language, I might not recommend it for younger teens or tweens.
It’s also a completely different type of publication!
Serialized novels are not new – the form is actually quite old. Charles Dickens serialized his novels. So did Arthur Conan Doyle. But we’re bringing the form into the twenty-first century. Serial Box produces serialized novels much like TV shows, one chapter or “episode” a week, each one ending with a cliffhanger. You can listen to them week by week, or save them up and binge!
Serial Box also uses a collaborative writing approach, the TV “writer’s room” model. Author teams come up with the storyline together, then write individual episodes. This novel was written by myself and two amazing writers, Lisa Klink and Patrick Lohier. You can find more information about our unique writing and publishing process in this short podcast interview with us here, or in this inverse.com article here.

I first found out about Serial Box through my agent, Kirby Kim; I’m really glad he thought of me for this unique writing opportunity and put me in touch with innovative publishers Molly Barton and Julian Yap. The other authors and I signed on for False Idols, and we started the project in the Fall of 2016.

I flew out to Los Angeles for an initial story summit meeting, and met with Lisa, Patrick, and Georgia Jeffries (a consultant / collaborator from the TV world), Molly, and some of the folks at Adaptive Studios. Adaptive had come up with the basic premise for the story and some major characters, and had approached Serial Box about developing it in the form of a serialized novel. Our show runner, Lisa Klink, developed a Story Bible we could work from. We all then spent three days of intense brainstorming, morning till night, at Adaptive Studios. Together we fleshed out the characters, the story arc for the season, and the plot lines of the eleven individual episodes. It was one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences of my life. It’s really changed the way I’ve thought about planning books. I dove into my current work in progress (which is not a collaboration) using some of the same process of blocking out scenes, slotting them into chapters, and tracking character arcs with sticky notes.

Here are several pics from our story summit. I loved the post it notes taking over a blackboard and then marching up the wall!
The blackboard of character arcs
Lisa Klink and Patrick Lohier, and the Wall of Episodes! (They make it look so easy, don’t they?)
The plot thickens! 
Ideas and more ideas….
Hey, we figured it all out! (for now…)
After the story summit, we went back to our respective homes and wrote our individual episodes, working our way through the story in batches of 3-4 at a time. All those nice, neat post it notes you see above? Yeah, well . . . it wasn’t always so neat. This process was an incredibly useful way to get us started, and many of the original ideas and sequences remained through numerous revisions. But as with any novel – which this ultimately is – we ran into plotholes and dug ourselves out of them, changed characters around, moved scenes, cut stuff, and then figured it all out again.
The real joy of collaborative work, for me, was not feeling isolated as a writer, and knowing we were all helping each other to tell the best story we could. We were all on the same page about characters and motivations, and everyone pitched in with ideas when we felt stuck. We read each other’s episodes multiple times, commented on them and discussed them at length. We also had the help of our keen-eyed, brilliant editors, Molly Barton and Lydia Shamah, and our amazing copyeditor, Noa Wheeler, who didn’t let us get away with anything.
Another perk to this project was consulting with Robert Wittman, former head of the FBI Art Crimes Division. His memoir, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, inspired some of the events and experiences in our book.
I feel as though I’ve been on a long and fruitful journey over the past year. To Cairo (not literally, but through extensive research) and other exciting locations where Layla’s travels take her. And to a different place in my writing. This project challenged me as a writer. I learned so much from my talented co-authors and editors. As a result of researching and writing this story, I’m more informed as a citizen, too. I now know more about how our government works oversees, how the FBI is organized, how art crimes are carried out (and solved), how the money trail to financing terrorist groups can work, what the political situation in Egypt is like, and many more timely and relevant issues.
I hope you’ll check out False Idols – it’s easy to do!
Here’s how it works:
This book comes out in serialized form, as an eBook and audio book, on SerialBox.com and the Serial Box appand on third party retailers like iBooks and Kindle. It then comes out as a trade paperback through Serial Box’s partner publisher, Adaptive Studios, on April 3. The first episode – “Operation Cairo,” written by Lisa Klink — is free on all platforms.
Subsequent episodes (eleven in Season One) each cost less than $2.00 — that’s less than a Starbucks latte!
I wrote Episodes 3, 4, 7, 7, a bit of 9, and 10. I’ll update here as the episodes come out, and be sure to check out our weekly Writer’s Room Notes at Serial Box for cool behind-the-scenes info about each episode.
I hope you’ll check it out; let me know what you think!