Anna Mara’s HER PERFECT REVENGE and Making the Reader Happy

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The literary landscape has changed a great deal since I started writing.  So many of the old guard have died, including John Updike, Norman Mailer, and Kurt Vonnegut.  Writers no longer shlep their paper manuscripts to the post office after digging for change to pay for an SASE.  Even the bookstore, that nexus of the universe for story-obsessed teens, has fallen by the wayside in favor of algorithm-fueled online shopping.

Even as the statistics look glum (only half of all Americans read a book for pleasure last year), writers still have great reason to rejoice.  There is a thriving ecosystem of indie writers who self-publish their own work, bypassing the industry’s normal choke points.  On one hand, the quality control mechanism is not as strong on this side of things.  On the other hand, there is great beauty in the idea that anyone can pour their heart onto the page and make the result available to everyone in the world.

I’m working up to doing some self-publishing in earnest, perhaps in largest part because I just want to entertain.  My manuscripts do no good for anyone if they languish on my hard drive.  I learned how to make EPUB files a couple years ago and posted the results in the usual online outlets.  One of my books (the free one) sells at the rate of a semi-respectable trickle.

I say all of this to prepare you to describe my state of mind with respect to Anna Mara’s HER PERFECT REVENGE.  I came across the title during a search through the catalog of The Cover Collection, one of the many graphic design firms happy to create a book cover for you.  I liked the image.  The title sounded fun.  So I found the book on Amazon to look at the synopsis and sales rank.

Oh my god.  Ms. Mara was killing it!  She was selling more units and receiving more reviews than a surprisingly large percentage of traditionally published books.

I bought the book at its very reasonable regular price and dug around to find out about Ms. Mara’s platform.  She doesn’t seem to have a Twitter feed or Facebook account like so many indie authors…it seems as though the book sells for all of the best reasons: a compelling cover image, a fun synopsis, and an enjoyable free sample.

Ms. Mara did have a web site, so I sent her an e-mail through her contact page asking her how she is doing so very well in 2018 with a book she first published in 2014.  My goodness, she actually responded and did so in generous fashion.  This is the kind of generosity I was hoping would surround me when I started writing all those years ago.  Ms. Mara ended her e-mail with an off-the-cuff question of her own, asking me why I thought HER PERFECT REVENGE was such a hit with readers.

This essay is an open letter answer to her question and a way to do her a kindness in return by giving her book a little more attention.

The primary reason that HER PERFECT REVENGE resonates with readers because it is written in a cinematic fashion.  Ms. Mara’s web site points out that the author comes from a screenwriting background, which makes absolute sense to me.  The beginning of the book is a flashback teaser that foregrounds the protagonist’s conflict in the present tense narrative.  There are tons of movies like this.  If memory serves, the Drew Barrymore film Never Been Kissed begins this way.  The deceptively genius 21 Jump Street film begins with a few scenes showing us what Jenko and Schmidt were like in high school, which adds depth to the characters and plot when the film fast-forwards to the protagonists during their time in the police academy.  Speaking of which, Police Academy also uses this tactic.  Many of the cadets get a fun introductory scene, demonstrating why they want to go to the academy in the first place.

Ms. Mara’s teaser is so effective because it means she wasted no time in establishing the two most important things about a story: what the characters want and what is holding them back.  Bill Havenwood is a rich-kid asshole who humiliated Christina in high school.  It’s immediately clear that Christina wants revenge (hence the title) and that Bill has had to de-asshole himself in the sixteen years that have elapsed.  Being that this is a romantic comedy, the reader is reasonably sure that the two will get together.  The reader is also caught up in the big question: how will these two characters get together, given their history?  When we establish the central dilemma and the roadblocks immediately, the reader can simply go along for the ride instead.

The main reason that I believe HER PERFECT REVENGE has been so successful is very simple: it is fun.  Ms. Mara gives us intrigue.  (What will happen to that expensive ring?)  She makes us laugh.  (There’s a grin-inducing food fight.)  Ms. Mara gives us high stakes and memorable scenes that make the book actual fun to read.  (I am afraid that some “literary” authors have forgotten that reading is supposed to be fun.)

Still, Ms. Mara has a message or two that she wants to share.  The critical idea is that she privileges the narrative over the message.  Aesthetics over ideology.  Bill is a recovering alcoholic and what he did screams to the reader, “OMG Don’t drink and drive!  Call a cab!”  But the author is not screaming at you.  Ms. Mara has an environmental message to share.  Cool.  But she never lets her politics get in the way of the story.  In fact, her “messages” have a graceful influence on the narrative.

I wonder if “literary” authors realize how much they can learn from a book like Ms. Mara’s.  HER PERFECT REVENGE is a very satisfying read.  The author fulfills all of the promises she makes to the reader, including the most important promise: that the reader will have fun scrolling through the pages.

Kelly Long’s An Amish Courtship on Ice Mountain and Breaking Boundaries

One of the great joys of genre is that you know pretty much basically kinda exactly what you are going to get.  If you attend an opera, it is a safe bet that you will hear people singing arias with an orchestra.  This is usually a good thing; if you’re in the mood for a Big Mac, you’d be pretty upset if you were given a tofu burrito.

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Other times, however, it can be a lot of fun when a work breaks some of the “rules” of its genre.  An Amish Courtship is such a book.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s an Amish romance.  The characters are Amish, the problems are Amish, there is romance.  Great.  But Ms. Long gives the recipe a twist or two… Continue Reading

What’s The Matter With Carl Sawatski? — Guest Essay by Jon Sindell

1964 Topps - [Base] #24 - Carl Sawatski [NM] - Courtesy of
As a kid I loved baseball cards and the men pictured on them. This oriented my attitude towards race in a positive direction. To me, the black players on my cards, such as Mays, Aaron, Brock, and Banks, were not black at all—just as the white ballplayers weren’t white. They were all simply Giants, Braves, Cardinals, and Cubs. And I loved all players with all my heart. Continue Reading

Bryce Zabel’s ONCE THERE WAS A WAY and a Writer’s Most Important Tool

The Beatles have always been a part of my life, though I was born a certain number of years after they broke up.  There are so many reasons that The Beatles have stood the test of time and will continue to be an important part of human culture.  Beatlemania ushered in the rise of youth culture in the West, the reverberations of which continue to this day.  The Beatles’ music was a beautiful mash-up of classical influences and the lively rock-and-roll (and soul and Motown) that were blossoming when John, Paul, George, and (eventually) Ringo were learning to play and write.

At the heart of it, The Beatles were a partnership of four young men who went from obscurity to vast fame and fortune.  Such partnerships can never last forever, no matter how much we wish that were the case.  Bryce Zabel must have had a lot of fun writing his new book, Once There Was a Way, a work of alternate history in which the author wonders what would have happened had the Fab Four found a way to get back homeward.

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Wanda E. Brunstetter, Jean Brunstetter, and Richelle Brunstetter’s THE BELOVED CHRISTMAS QUILT and Imbuing an Object With Meaning

Three generations of an Amish family.  One precious quilt.   Continue Reading

The Great Writers Steal Podcast: Giano Cromley, author of What We Build Upon the Ruins


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Visit Mr. Cromley’s web site: Continue Reading

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s THE WIFE BETWEEN US and Evoking Empathy for Both the Ex-Wife and Her Replacement

Nellie is a beautiful young teacher who spends her days caring for little children.  Pretty soon, she’ll be caring for her own little ones.  The rich and handsome Richard swept her off her feet.  And what a great guy he is!  Sure, the money is nice, but Richard make sure that she wants for nothing.  There’s only one problem: the ex-wife.

Vanessa is not taking the divorce well.  She lives with her Aunt Charlotte and works at a clothing store…the same kind of clothing store at which she once shopped.  Her old friends sometimes show up to find her in such a lowly state.  And Vanessa won’t stop trying to contact her replacement. Continue Reading

Liam Brown’s BROADCAST and the Slow Reveal of Worlds and Technology

David Callow is exactly the kind of person I love to hate.  There’s absolutely nothing special about him.  He doesn’t sing.  He doesn’t dance.  He has no talent aside from waking up and clicking “record” with his cell phone.

But that doesn’t stop him from being a global media superstar. Continue Reading

Robert Bausch’s IN THE FALL THEY COME BACK and Easing the Reader’s Burden

You know what?  I usually begin these essays with a description of the book in question.  The opening of Robert Bausch’s In the Fall They Come Back, however, demonstrates one of the principles we can learn from the book, so I’ll paste it in right after I tell you where you can buy the book.  (The publisher, your local indie, Amazon.) Continue Reading

Amy Clipston’s A PLACE AT OUR TABLE and Bringing Characters Together

Kayla Dienner is a sweet young woman who works as a waitress at her family’s restaurant.  She was pretty close to a guy named Abram, but he broke up with her shortly after her firefighter brother died while on a call.  (What a jerk, right?)  Jamie is a firefighter who is sweet on Kayla.  See how his vocation is an obstacle to their relationship?  Kayla and Jamie are two great young people…will they be able to make and build a connection? Continue Reading