Jennifer Colt hails originally from Texas. But now she lives in Santa Monica, and for several years she has been humorously observing the local Los Angeles area in a series of detective novels starring an unlikely pair called the McAfee Twins. Now her latest book, The Hellraiser of the Hollywood Hills, is one of the top 10 finalists in Amazon.com and Penguin Group USA’s fiction contest, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The winner will receive a $25,000 publishing contract with Penguin.
Speaking with the Mirror about the contest and her experiences, Colt notes that she came out here in the 1980s to work in the entertainment business and wanted to be a screenwriter and a novelist. She thought screenwriting would be easier.
“It’s not,” she adds, laughing.
“It’s really affected my prose style. I don’t know what I would have written like if I hadn’t written screenplays.”
Colt worked at various jobs in the movie industry – video sales, acquisitions, and development. But she found that “when you have a straight job nobody takes you seriously as a writer.” Though she “took some meetings” and received some encouragement, she was not getting her work sold. Eventually, she found a creative outlet in writing detective novels with a mixture of action and humor. And she found a gimmick to make them different.
“I wanted a female protagonist,” Colt says. “And she had to have a sidekick, but it seemed to me that every kind of sidekick has been done. The idea of twins came to me.”
Thus the idea of Terry and Kerry McAfee, twin sister detectives with opposite personalities. Kerry, who narrates the books, is serious, practical, and straight. Terry is a lesbian, a former drug user, dyslexic, and impulsive. “She’s sort of the ‘id.’ The books wouldn’t be fun without Terry.”
Their adventures have been chronicled in four previous books. The Butcher of Beverly Hills (“that was about plastic surgery”), The Vampire of Venice Beach (about Goths), and The Mangler of Malibu Canyon (dealing with rehab and religious cults) were published by a small outfit that did not renew Colt’s contract. With two more completed manuscripts, Colt self-published McAfee Twins Adventure number four, The Con Artist of Catalina Island, hoping to “get a few hundred bucks” from that book and another book that she had on deck – The Hellraiser of the Hollywood Hills.
(The alliterative titles are intentional, Colt says. ”I wanted something catchy and I wanted to convey that these are funny books.”)
“I came across the [Amazon] contest,” she continues. “If you made it to a certain point in the contest, you got a review from Publisher’s Weekly.” Her excerpt indeed made it to this point and the review was positive. “What do you know – I made the next cut – to 100. And then I was really shocked when I made the top 10!”
It now remains to be seen what readers will think of Colt’s excerpt, in which Terry and Kerry are staking out an illicit affair on the streets of Hollywood when they accidentally encounter “Bethany,” a freaked-out teen pop star who bears an uncanny resemblance to a pop star with the same initial. Since Colt wrote the manuscript back in 2004, she denies that Bethany’s misadventures were inspired by the recent Britney Spears headlines.
To come full circle, Colt is hoping that her McAfee Twins will make the move to film – but probably on cable, where she believes there is more creative freedom.
So Santa Monicans wanting to root for the homegirl writer can vote at amazon.com/abna until March 31. Winners will be announced on April 7.