Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Digital Short Stories

I was intrigued the other day when, looking around the web, I saw that Amazon.com is offering a new feature, Amazon Shorts. These short stories, by both bestselling and new authors alike, are emailed right after the purchase and sell for just .49 cents. After buying a few I spotted two authors, Margaret George and David Blixt, both of whom I have interviewed and am a fan of. I thought I would email them both and get some more information about Amazon Shorts and the stories they had submitted.

"Varnished Faces" by David Blixt, author of
The Master of Verona

Kelly Hewitt: What can you tell us about "Varnished Faces"?

David Blixt: The title comes from a line in Merchant of Venice, referring to masks. But the idea for the story comes, of course, from Romeo & Juliet. At the party where the young lovers meet, Juliet’s father makes a statement about when he last crashed a party wearing a mask. It turns out it was at the wedding of Bianca and Lucentio from Taming of the Shrew. So this story brings characters from those three stories together, as well as a cameo from Much Ado About Nothing.

Also, in the novel, there are two rivalries – Pietro and Carrara, and Mari and Antony. But Antony has just as much reason to hate Carrara. This short allows Antony to get a little of his own back.

Kelly: Was this short something you had already written or was it something that you put together specifically for the Amazon Shorts?

David: I’d had the idea years ago, but hadn’t written it until after talking to Dan at the Shorts program.

Kelly: What drew you to participate in this new Amazon feature?

David: The chance to keep myself in the public eye between books. This is the first of several shorts I’m putting together – the second has to do with the Count of San Bonifacio, the third with Mariotto’s time in France. All of them have impact on future novels, so I’m having fun laying the groundwork here.

Also this allows new readers to sample my writing before making a $25 commitment.

Kelly: And lastly ... when can your readers expect The Master of Verona sequel?

David: Sometime this Fall. Last I heard, there wasn’t a set date. But we do have a title: Voice of the Falconer. It picks up eight years after MV. I’m working on book three at the moment, entitled Fortune's Fool.

Just after David and I finished chatting via email, his second Amazon Short went live. This short story, "San Bonifacio's Curse", brings together the original lost opening to David's debut novel, The Master of Verona and some newer material that delves into the history of the evil
Count of San Bonifacio

"Helen of Troy: The Enigma of Beauty" by Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, Mary Called Magdalene, and Helen of Troy

I asked Margaret why she had participated in the Amazon Shorts and whether or not "Helen of Troy: Enigma of Beauty" was a piece she had already written or something she prepared specifically for Amazon Shorts.

"It was my agent," Margaret wrote, "who suggested I do an Amazon Short because he had another author who had done one and got a big response to it." George wrote to me via email that while this piece was indeed written for Amazon shorts, that "in a sense it was already written in my head long before."

Margaret George, an author who has always been diligent about her historical research, makes it clear the idea for "The Enigma of Beauty" was her idea. She wrote, "I have always thought---long before any of those studies were published confirming it---that beauty confers a sort of royalty on people who have it, opening all sorts of doors and privileges to them. I welcomed an opportunity to expand on the thought. Of course Helen of Troy is the supreme example of this phenomenon. People ask if she was real. Well, it seems that 'once upon a time' there was a woman (somewhere) who was so beautiful people never forgot her.

Perhaps the Helen of myth is an artistic expression of that, although I think the Trojan War was historic and that it certainly could have involved a woman and men's honor in trying to retrieve her. And although modern skeptics could say that it didn't matter what she looked like, if she was a king's wife he would need to get her back or be shamed, I think he would try harder if she was so beautiful---her value would have been much greater than a plain wife's."

As I said, I have always been a fan of Margaret George's historical fiction so I thought that, while I was emailing her, I might as well ask about the book on Queen Elizabeth I she's been working on. Margaret writes, "'Elizabeth I' is coming along quite well! I took a trip to England in November to revisit some sites and gather some information, and that has brought her to new life for me." So it looks like, fellow Margaret George fans, we have something to look forward to.

Margaret also wrote about a particularly important experience while researching in London. She writes: "I just happened to be trying to go to Westminster Abbey when the Queen was celebrating her 60th anniversary there. I got to see all the noble guests leaving, with hats and fancy clothes, although I did not see Her Majesty herself. But the aura of royalty was something I won't forget, when writing about Elizabeth and the reactions she sparked in people."

I think that Amazon is on to something with it's shorts. Readers are able to spend .49 cents to learn a little bit more about a writer's style or read a short story in a new genre. In addition to Margaret George and David Blixt, other authors who have submitted stories include:

Deepak Chopra, David Morrell, David McCullough and include celebrities Nicholas Cage, Guy Ritchie, and John Lithgow.

Because Amazon Shorts is a fairly new feature many of these digital downloads are currently free.

Have fun, check it out. Drop me a reply if you find something interesting.

- Kelly


Marg said...

Susan Higginbotham has one as well I believe!

These are a little bit of a tease for me because I can't get them because they are limited to US and maybe Canada as well. Bugger!

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