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Rules for Being Dead

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It’s the late 1960s in small-town McKinney, Texas. At the downtown theater and the local drive-in, movies—James Bond, My Fair Lady, Alfie, and Dr. Zhivago—feed the dreams and obsessions of a ten-year-old Clarke who loves Audrey, Elvis, his family, serial killers, Truman Capote, and the handsome boy in the projector booth. Then Clarke loses his beloved mother, and no one will tell him how she died. No one will tell HER either. She is floating above the trees and movie screens of McKinney, trapped between life and death, searching for a glimpse of her final moments on this earth. The shattering answer haunts Rules for Being Dead, Kim Powers’ darkly humorous, incredibly moving novel, reminiscent of The Lovely Bones and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, with a nod to Larry McMurtry’s iconic The Last Picture Show.

“Kim Powers has created an unforgettable story about discovering the world through movies, engaging with the tougher realities of life, and learning to forgive the people around us and ourselves.”
—Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club

Praise

Family photos that come to life in Rules for Being Dead

Interviews

Largehearted Boy—Kim Powers’ Playlist for His Novel Rules for Being Dead (August 7, 2020)
“When you spend every Saturday afternoon of your childhood watching movies, the soundtrack of your life inevitably comes with full orchestration. A lot of strings. A lot of schmaltz. A lot of shrieks, for the scary stuff. But when your coming-of-age is in the mid-‘60s, there’s also a lot of Beach Blanket bubblegum…not that there’s anything wrong with that”

Writer’s Bone Podcast—Friday Morning Coffee (August 7, 2020)
“Every Saturday afternoon I was stacks deep in the local little library digging up stuff, and that sort of continued all of my life. I always read well, but ‘old school’ creative writing was not something I thought I would do.”

Jungle Red Writers—Are There Bookstores in Heaven? (August 6, 2020)
“Because if there are, I’m screwed. My father (and I don’t mean my Heavenly Father) is possibly not going to like what I’ve written about him in my new novel…”

Crimereads—My Life in True Crime (August 6, 2020)
“It’s hard to know you’re ‘living’ a true crime story when you’re in the middle of it. It might just seem like this is your childhood: it’s yours, you know it’s weird, but is it that weird?”

Salon—Solving the mystery of how my mother died: Was it murder, suicide or death by cosmic joke? (August 4, 2020)
“Everything changed. Again. I didn’t know who or what to believe. I was in my 40s, and I still didn’t know how my mother Creola died.”

The Quivering Pen—The First Time I Told the Truth (Then Lied About It) (August 3, 2020)
“It was third grade. I don’t remember exactly what the assignment was, but I’ll never forget what I wrote for it. All these decades later it remains one of my first truths, first secrets, first confessions, and now it’s found its way into my new novel…”

Reviews

“Every season or so, there’s a book that comes seemingly out of the blue and manages to knock our socks off. Rules for Being Dead is that book….If you threw The Lovely Bones, Cinema Paradiso and Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story into a blender, you’d end up with something like Rules for Being Dead, but even that doesn’t express the bounty of treasures within….”
Kristofer Zygorski/Bolo Books

Watch the rave review from Bolo Books! (skip to 6:56)

“A son and the ghost of his mother share narrative duties as they both try to solve the puzzle of her death in Powers’s evocative coming-of-age tale set in 1960s Texas…. Woven throughout are threads of nostalgia in the form of classic ’60s films and television programs. The story really begins to churn when the characters’ intentions and histories are revealed. Blending late-’60s nostalgia with a supernatural mystery, Powers’s emotionally complex tale gets the job done just right.”
Publishers Weekly

“Looking for your book groups next great read? Grab Kim Powers’s Rules for Being Dead. It reads like an imaginative and intoxicating blend of the best of Shirley Jackson, Alice Sebold and Fannie Flagg. It’s a tender Southern coming-of-age tale and a fascinating mystery that builds to a nail-biting climax. One of the best novels of 2020.”
Shelf-Awareness (starred review)

“Powers expertly characterizes coming-of-age children who have lost their mother and adults buried under mistakes and mistrust. The plot starts off as a slow-moving train that quickly gains momentum and speed, culminating in a powder keg of an ending that no one, including the reader, expects.”
Lone Star Literary

“In a story that’s both cagey and unfailingly entertaining, Powers explores life’s deepest questions and most profound mysteries. Only a writer this in touch with his own humanity could populate a novel with characters who, despite their flaws, failures, and eccentricities, are humane and good.”
—Wally Lamb, author of I Know This Much Is True and She’s Come Undone

“Kim Powers writes a glorious novel about a boy and his journey to feel whole after the mysterious death of his mother. Mr. Powers prose is artful and searing as Clarke’s story unfolds in a Texas town so vivid, the reader is there. Secrets are revealed, hope is lost and found, and redemption awaits in this beautifully rendered tale about love and loss, and the courage to face the truth with an open heart.”
—Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of Tony’s Wife

“A tour de force in voice and structure, this uniquely heartbreaking novel—literary fiction meets boy detective—is somehow adorable and sinister at the same time. A sweetly naive boy, in grief and confusion over the death of his mother, is determined to discover how she died—and so is his mom, who watches over him from above. The brilliantly talented Kim Powers has created a poignant and remarkable story.”
—Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mary Higgins Clark, Anthony and five-time Agatha Award Winner

“Tender-hearted and touching, Rules for Being Dead is imbued with the imagination and emotion of such beloved books as The Lovely Bones and Ellen Foster. The narrative is laced with nostalgic references (from Elvis movies to mentions of Don Knotts and TV shows like Family Affair) that bring to life a forgotten time. All these elements come together to create a vibrant backdrop to the story of one family’s unexpected loss and journey toward healing.”
—John Searles, bestselling author of Help For the Haunted and Strange But True

Rules for Being Dead is a rich and compelling novel about a mother and her sons that is filled with nostalgia, heartbreak, and a love that will never die. Kim Powers has created an unforgettable story about discovering the world through movies, engaging with the tougher realities of life, and learning to forgive the people around us and ourselves.”
—Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living

“It’s time well spent with the Perkins family, though the father should be locked up, one son should be disarmed, and the mother who might fix everything can’t—because unfortunately she’s a ghost. Unorthodox, quirky, funny and heartbreaking, Powers’ love letter to difficult families (and 1960s film classics!) is a blast.”
—Wilton Barnhardt, best-selling author of Lookaway, Lookaway

“We all know a few rules about being alive but who knew that the after-life could command equal attention. Kim Powers’ Rules for Being Dead caught me by surprise with its intrigue, wit and nostalgia around a subject that many of us would rather avoid. His incredibly moving novel takes you back home—no matter where, or when, you grew up. It reminds us that mothers and fathers can never be as perfect as we want them to be, and that childhood secrets can still haunt into adulthood. Get ready to be captivated by a lonely boy who’s lost in the world of ‘60s movies and true crime and employs both of them to try to solve the ultimate mystery: what caused his mother’s mysterious death? And one more thing? Despite its title, this book is about learning how to live, with every breath you take.”
—Deborah Roberts, ABC News Correspondent and author of Been There Done That: Family Wisdom for Modern Times

“I love the wicked humor and unexpected tenderness that memoirist and television writer Kim Powers brings to this small-town Texas novel. It reads like a combination of Siebold’s Lovely Bones and McMurtry’s Last Picture Show with a touch of Childress’s Crazy in Alabama. The young protagonist—clever, gay, and obsessed with movies—searches for the cause of his mother’s death, a mystery that parallels events in Powers’s own life. The results are intriguing and unpredictable.”
—Robin Miura, senior editor, Blair