John Hart: Why he writes character first

By G. Robert Frazier

It’s a hard business, writing. Author John Hart, who spoke to a crowded room at the Nashville Public Library as part of the 28th annual Southern Festival of Books, knows that all too well.

Hart admitted that even after having written four bestselling books, two of them Edgar Award winners, he struggled to write book five, Redemption Road.

“Writers tend to fall into two categories: those who outline really clearly, like John Grisham or Jeffery Deaver who does 200-page outlines, and those like Stephen King, who are of the grope and hope school,” Hart said.

The latter set of writers “do strange things,” he added, like writing the ending first and then trying to figure out the story that gets them to the ending. “I think John Irving said once he writes the whole thing backwards, which just blows my mind.”

Hart confesses that he is of the grope and hope school. “I’ve discovered that works if I start with character.”

It is a simple lesson, but one that can easily elude the best of authors. Hart learned this lesson after making that rookie mistake of sending his first book, The King of Lies, to agents the day after he typed “The End.”

“After spending a year or so living with a manuscript, you get so close to it all you can see are the images in your head and the story you’re trying to convey,” he said. “But, it’s impossible to understand what story has actually been conveyed. What I see may or may not be what you perceive from the words I’ve written.”

For the next nine months, Hart said he was routinely rejected, becoming one of the most widely known unpublished writers in the great state of North Carolina.

It’s sad, but I don’t think there’s a more insecure creature in the world than the unpublished writer.

“It’s sad, but I don’t think there’s a more insecure creature in the world than the unpublished writer. People who have never done it can’t understand how many sleepless nights and sweat and blood and angst you put into trying to do this thing. It’s not something you do in a week or two. You’re talking about a year, two years, three years … and what you want as that young writer is the validation of someone at a publishing company saying, ‘We want what you’ve got.’

“I was very depressed about it,” he said.

After repeated rejections, Hart realized what he’d done was not very smart. He pulled the manuscript out again and immediately began to see all the problems with it. “I saw the plot holes, I saw the bad dialogue, I saw the trite writing, I saw the overwriting. I saw all the things that first-time writers do. So I fixed it.”

What’s more, Hart realized the importance of character first.

“If the person you know at the end of the book is the same as the character on page one, that book is going to fall flat. That character has to evolve” from beginning to end, he said.

In The King of Lies, His protagonist returns home to contend with the mysterious death of his father and the secrets he left behind.

Hart wrote his second book, Down River, from a different perspective, through the eyes of a man wrongly accused of a crime and “where he gets the strength to deal with this terrible thing I’ve done to him.” The emotional journey resulted in the first of his two Edgar Awards.

Another, for his novel The Last Child, followed.

“By this time, I’m figuring I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this figured out,” Hart said. “Hubris, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t let it get you down, it almost unmade me, I promise you. It’s my tale of woe.”

In writing book five, Redemption Road, “I just thought I could sit down and let it happen. I didn’t understand what I knew implicitly with those first four books. They work because of character, not the story. When I sat down for the fifth book, I had an idea for a story, a modern retelling of the Count of Monte Cristo, about a good man wrongfully imprisoned, bitter and hard through the experience, and what happens when he’s out.”

Hart plowed through the first fifty pages before he paused. It didn’t feel right. But he kept forging ahead, figuring it would work itself out. A year later, 300 pages later, he knew it was still not working in some fundamental way.

“I called my agent and said I’m not going to turn in the story. That’s a bad day, I don’t care who you are. Writers get paid to write, not to throw pages away.”

Looking back on it, Hart said he understands exactly what went wrong.

“I started with story and ended up with a main character that felt like a hundred main characters we’ve all seen before. He’s tough, he’s got scars, but there was nothing remotely interesting about him if you’ve read a dozen thrillers in your life.”

In reviewing the manuscript, Hart noticed something. A minor female character on the sidelines. She was dark, wounded, complex, and willing to walk through fire for the right people. “I figured out it was her story, not his.”

After two more years of rewrites and another year of edits, Redemption Road was finally published this past May to critical acclaim.

If there is one thing to remember from Hart’s “tale of woe,” he said, it is that “truly compelling fiction has to start with truly compelling characters. If the characters aren’t so real and vibrant that the reader cares enough about what happens to them, then it doesn’t matter how good your plot is.”

Southern Festival of Books: Authors sound off on Dylan’s Nobel Prize

by G. Robert Frazier

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan is the first American in two decades to win the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Before the ink was even dry on the announcement earlier this week, camps pro and con began forming. Many have praised his selection as an example of the oral tradition of storytelling, though others say it ignores more deserving authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth. One columnist went so far as to say the Nobel committee’s selection was “boringly predictable.” I asked some authors attending the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville on Friday what they thought:

dscf1231“Who wouldn’t want to win something like that. I find more philosophy in music than in some philosophy. Some of the most impactful lines I’ve ever heard or read are in music, so I get it. But, it does kind of defy the category. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not absolutely life-changing. I mean, some of his songs to me were mind-blowing. But by definition, is it literature? I don’t know. But I do love his stuff.”

Sean Patrick Flanery, actor and author

dscf1107“My only caveat with it is, I don’t think it’s going to help book stores that much. I feel like people are going to go, ‘Oh, I didn’t get his last album,’ and they’re going to go buy the album. I like it when someone like (Wisława) Szymborska wins and everyone goes, ‘Oh, I never read anything by her and I’m going to go buy the book.’”

Erica Wright, author of The Granite Moth

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“I don’t have a strong opinion. I’m not a Dylan fan. I’ve just never been huge into him, so part of me is OK, they get points for creativity for thinking outside the box, but part of me is like books are already a shrinking part of the cultural arts pie, let’s not be giving away one of the few prizes that is dedicated for books.”

Thomas Mullen, author of Darktown

“I love it. Bob Dylan is somebody who actually says something about the world and dscf1096life. Listen to Aaron Neville singing ‘With God On Our Side,’ written by Dylan. To me, that’s such a statement of how we are and who we are. But so much of his music is just beautiful and beautiful poetry. He’s a writer. He deserves it.”

Holly McClure, author of Conjuror

dscf1136“What this means is we are redefining literature to include song lyrics. If what he wrote, if the words he wrote, never had music to them, if they were simply put on the page as poetry, he would not be there. There are hundreds of greater poets. The thing that makes his words powerful in the full is that they are intimately connected to the music. I’m not sure I define literature that way, because the words do not stand on their own. If you just read them on the page, they are wonderful lyrics and there’s wonderful imagery there, but they are not fabulous poems. There are a thousand poets better on the page, so he has to have the music there with it. And that’s fine, that’s not a criticism, to make it a full work of art. But, it’s a redefinition of literature. I’m not putting a value judgment on that, I’m just describing a reality.”

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

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“I remember thinking as a younger man when I used to listen to a lot of Dylan, I thought he was a poet in his heart. I have no idea of his qualifications for that prize. It doesn’t offend me. I have no idea what the conversations were in the committee. The guy is a poet. It is a bit odd, but more power to him.”

John Hart, two-time Edgar Award winner

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“Why are we all so stunned and taken aback by this? We think of it as pop culture instead of something worthy of a Nobel Prize. I was only half kidding when I said, does this mean now that maybe Bruce Springsteen can win for literature?”

Alana White, author of Come Next Spring and The Sign of the Weeping Virgin

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“I have to say, I think he’s a genius and brilliant, but I feel sad for Philip Roth and Don DeLillo. I’m not suggesting he isn’t worthy of that, but I really kind of was hoping it was Philip Roth or a number of other people. I know there are Bob Dylan fanatics and I love Bob Dylan, but, to me, it really should be a writer victor. It’s such an honor for people to get that.”

Megan Abbott, author of You Will Know Me

“I think it’s pretty cool. I think it’s nice that they recognize song lyrics as a form of poetry and I think Bob Dylan has a pretty long history of your deeper than average song lyric.”

Kay Iscah, author of Seventh Night and editor of Tomato Slices

“I guess they’re going to sell a lot more tickets at the Hall of Fame now. He is definitely a street poet. A lot of people consider him to be similar to the French street poets. His longevity can’t be questioned.”

Randy Rudder, author, screenwriter and TV producer

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“I absolutely love it. I can quote so much more of him than I can of Dario Fo or Wole Soyinka. (Dylan) is somebody who has really spoken to people and changed their lives. I think that’s what Mr. Nobel intended. A lot of times the Nobel prizes are given to scold somebody . If China misbehaves, a Chinese dissident gets the Nobel prize. In this one, I couldn’t see very much of a political angle.”

Sharyn McCrumb, author of Prayers the Devil Answers

“I think it’s a legitimate thing. The Nobel Prize over the years has not always gone to the classic people like Faulkner, and it’s often gone to people far less legitimate than Bob Dylan. I speak from two ends. I was for many years a music publisher and now I’m a scribbler. So on one level, I’d say it’s about time.”

Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South and The Orphan Mother

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“I think it’s great. It opens up a whole new avenue for the Nobel Prize and takes it in a whole new direction. (Dylan) has always been a trendsetter and a groundbreaker all through his career. Hopefully, this is just one more avenue that he’s opened up for authors.”

Tom Wood, journalist and author of Vendetta Stone

“He was one of my heroes and I greatly admired him. I couldn’t ever imagine him winning the Nobel Prize, but I’m happy for him.” – Bill Peach, author and columnist

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“There’s no question that he’s one of the greatest writers of our time. He did it in song, but the stories he told were just as real. I think one of the great things about his stories is other people can tell them and reinterpret them. There’s a depth of meaning there to them. He’s a terrific songwriter and storyteller.”

Robert Mangeot, author and president of Sisters in Crime-Middle Tennessee Chapter

lisa-wysocky“Bob Dylan has permeated every bit of our cultural society for decades. I think it’s an excellent choice because he’s such a visual storyteller and such a visual songwriter. We can’t help but immerse ourselves in his words and his songs and his stories. Kudos to the committee that chose him, because it’s a really great selection.”

Lisa Wysocky, author of the Cat Enright equestrian mystery series

“Bob Dylan has certainly given a great body of work and devoted his life to writing songs that are meaningful to people. He’s a great lyricist, so, Go Bob.” – Beth Terrell, author of A Taste of Blood and Ashes and president of the Southeast Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America

ADDITIONAL READING:

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So, what’s your take? Does Bob Dylan deserve the honor of being named the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature? Join the conversation by posting in the comments below.

Author David Bell: Outlining novel is like having a security blanket

by G. Robert Frazier

Writers who insist that “pantsing” is the best way to write their novel probably won’t be afforded that creative luxury with future books, especially if they land a deal with a major publisher, best-selling author David Bell says.

Since She Went AwayThe author of Since She Went Away (New American Library, $16), Bell explained that with the first book he wrote and sold to Penguin, he wrote the way he wanted. But when he got ready to write the second book, the publisher said, “not so fast.”

“The thing about publishers and editors is, and understandably so, they don’t really trust writers,” said Bell, who recently appeared at Parnassus Books in Nashville to promote his new novel. “They think you’re going to blow their deadline. They’re like, hold on, you’re going to write an outline.”

Pantsing, for the uninitiated, is writing “by the seat of your pants.” That is, spilling out words onto a page without having a specific outline to guide you each step of the way. Pantsers argue that the method allows for more creativity and spontaneity than an outline allows, as you can explore new thoughts and ideas as they come to you.

“If you make an outline, you’re going to be able to answer any questions in advance,” said Bell, who is an associate professor and director of the MFA program in creative writing at Western Kentucky University.

Outliners, or plotters, like to know the beats or key moments in a novel, which helps keep them from veering off track or into ideas that don’t serve the main story.

“I really couldn’t imagine doing it any other way, because the time I spend on the outline is almost equal to writing the first draft,” Bell said. “It’s like having a security blanket.”

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Bell’s fifth novel, Since She Went Away, follows the story of Jenna Barton whose lifelong best friend, Celia, has disappeared. Jenna was supposed to meet her but showed up late, and by that time Celia was gone. As a result, Jenna is living with this huge regret and tremendous guilt. When her son’s new girlfriend also disappears, Jenna attempts to discover the truth, revealing long-buried secrets on the way.

Like his previous books, Since You Went Away takes place in a small town.

“I like writing about small towns because it’s manageable,” said Bell, who ironically grew up in the city of Cincinnati. “I think everyone makes assumptions that small towns are like Mayberry, USA. That nothing bad ever happens in a small town, which is not true. Just as much crazy stuff happens in a small town as in a big city. Also, the people tend to be more closely woven; everybody knows everybody, but you really don’t. It’s that kind of disconnect I like to play with in the books.”

Bell’s first idea for the novel didn’t go over so well, which is another important reason why editors want to see an outline beforehand.

“I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea, and the editor acted like I’d just handed her a turd,” Bell said. “So, I had to start all over again.”

Once the outline is in hand, Bell likes to forge ahead without a lot of editing as he goes.

“What works for me is getting the whole draft down. I have to see the whole thing, and then go back and try to fix it,” he said. “It’s like a security blanket for me. I always fear the editor is going to call me and say they need the book two months sooner, and I can say, ah, I have a draft.”

That’s not to say that the outline itself can’t change in certain circumstances.

“There was a different ending to Since She Went Away,” Bell said, “but as I wrote I realized there was a better option for the ending.”

Doing favors for your editor and agent aren’t likely to change their minds either. While in New York for the International Thriller Fest, Bell took his editor and agent to “Hamilton”, thanks to scoring tickets from the choreographer who was a school friend of his.

“The editor in chief of Berkley Books said it was the nicest gift any writer ever got an editor,” he said. But the sentiment didn’t last long. “There was a day where they were like, we love him, but then it was back to business as usual.”

 

Quotable David Bell

  • On indie bookstores: “I think a store like Parnassus is a miracle. This is the real deal here. This is a bookstore that cares about books, that wants to sell books, that wants to build relationships. It can be the heartbeat of the community. I feel lucky to be here, that I live an hour away from Parnassus. I think it’s great to be in a bookstore like this. Buy your books here.”

DSCF0446 (2)On Dean Koontz: “I opened a letter from Dean Koontz once and it said, ‘I was going to give you a blurb for your book, but my dog died.’ In the amount of time he took to wrote that letter, he could have written a blurb. But, just to show there’s no hard feelings between Dean Koontz and I, I had the characters in the book reading Dean Koontz.”

 

  • On book covers: “There is no significance to the red umbrella in Since She Went Away. They do the cover way in advance before the book is even finished. They did a first cover and it really kind of sucked, so they went back and redid the cover, which I think is now really great. In the past, I have gone back and added elements from the cover into my books. For example, in The Hiding Place they had a boy walking beside a pond on the cover. I added the pond into the book.”

 

  • On research: “Research is such a boring word. I don’t think of it as research. If you’re interested in reading about the stuff, It doesn’t’ feel like work. I’m always interested in reading about missing persons cases and crime cases.”

 

 

Stephen King entertains, scares Ryman audience

by G. Robert Frazier

NASHVILLE, TN — Stephen King doesn’t let his scary side out. Instead, when he hits the road to meet and greet fans or to talk about his newest book, End of Watch, it’s Public Steve who shows up.

photo by Shane Leonard

Stephen King / photo by Shane Leonard

Fans typically want to see Scary Steve, the mind behind such classic novels as It, Carrie, and Salem’s Lot. But Scary Steve doesn’t travel. He works three to four hours a day holed up somewhere in the wilds of Maine coming up with ways “to scare the shit out of you.” If you’re Scary Steve, it’s what you do.

Home Steve is just a regular joe, hanging out at the house, watching ballgames on TV, going to the market, or cleaning up after the dog. Home Steve, as you might surmise, stays at home.

Public Steve is far better suited to book signings and lectures. He’s surprisingly entertaining, light-hearted, and fun. As King puts it, “Public Steve does a lot of deflection so that you don’t look for Scary Steve.”

King talked about the “three faces of Steve” while making a stop at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on his End of Watch book tour in June. The venue – known as the church of country music and birthplace of the Grand Ole Opry – was crammed with 2,300-plus of his constant readers on a night when downtown Nashville was abuzz with the annual CMA (Country Music Association) Festival and nearby Manchester was overrun with ‘Roonies (short for Bonnaroo fans), a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the 68-year-old author.

“Everything is happening in Nashville this weekend,” he said, “and look at this place — full of people who read books.”

“If you have a gift, at some point it wakes up and it speaks to you and says this is what you’re supposed to do.”

— Stephen King

King received a standing O as he stepped on stage, remarking, “Well, it’s all downhill from here.”

In actuality, he was just getting started. Given the setting, King fittingly regaled the audience with stories about his own musical talent as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of authors able to play a  limited number of musical chords and sing a few cover songs.

“I’m going to talk about writing, but I’m in the Ryman so cut me some slack,” he joked.

King is a country music lover at heart.

“For me, country music was shit-kicking music,” he said about growing up. “There was nothing on the radio but country music and Rush Limbaugh, so I started listening to country music.”

Thankfully, he didn’t hop on a bus and come to Nashville all those years ago to pursue some dream of being a country music star. Instead, he found his calling in writing horror fiction. In a box. In the attic.

“If you have a gift, at some point it wakes up and it speaks to you and says this is what you’re supposed to do,” King said.

For King, the writing bug inside him awoke upon reading some of his dad’s pulp novels found in that attic, specifically H.P. Lovecraft’s The Thing From the Tomb. “Whatever it was, awoke in me.”

Over the course of 40-plus years since then, King’s writing has resulted in countless bestsellers and sleepless nights for avid readers. He knows what scares you, as the saying goes. The secret, he explained, boils down to two things: One, make readers care about the characters, and two, make it real.

To drive the point home, he let Scary Steve out of the box for just a moment. He noted that many people in the crowd were probably so excited about being there, they’d forgotten to lock the car door. That maybe while they were sitting listening to him, some stranger was trying the door to their car. That some stranger was perhaps slipping into the back seat of the car.

“I guarantee when you go to your car tonight, you’ll look in the back seat first,” he said. In order to scare people, “you have to plant the seed first.”

King admitted he sometimes even scares himself.

“People ask me if I ever scare myself,” he said. “I get scared, but when I’m writing I feel in control. I’m behind the scenes.”

That’s not to say writing is easy.

“The voice I have on most days is, this is great, keep going,” he said. “But you also have days where you feel like you’re wearing gloves and nothing has texture to it. The trick is to keep going. Writing a novel, it’s no job for sissies.”

Quotable Stephen King:

  • On fans: “People sometimes tell me, ‘you’re on my bucket list.’ That’s so goddamn weird.”
  • On critics: “The critics initially hated me. I decided, I’ll just keep writing and pretty soon they’ll all be fucking dead.”
  • On politicians: “Listen, you politicians, you oughtta thank God you can flush after you go to the bathroom.”
  • On TV: “TV is in a place it hasn’t been in in years. They are doing things that movies can’t.”
  • On what you should read next: The Fireman, written by his son Joe Hill
  • On what he’s writing next: King is working on a book with son Owen, Sleeping Beauties, due out in 2017. The book will be published by Scribner.
  • On advice to writers: Secrets to success
  • New short story: “Cookie Jar”
  • More from the tour: An entourage of one

 

Around the Web UPDATE: TN governor vetoes plan to make Bible official state book

By G. Robert Frazier

From time to time, I like to share and/or comment on interesting stories about writing and reading that I come across on the web. Here’s a few such stories to chew on:

UPDATED: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed legislation that would have made the  Bible the official state book. Had the measure been approved, Tennessee would have been the only state in the country to name the Bible as an official symbol. Critics argued the proposal is unconstitutional, since the Constitution calls for a separation of church and state. The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says it is “a thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions” and urged Haslam to veto it. But proponents cited the “historical and cultural significance” and noted the importance of Bible publishing to Nashville and the book’s use as a genealogical record. Harper Collins Christian Publishing is headquartered in Nashville.

The Hollywood Reporter says a long-running feud between John Steinbeck’s heirs and Hollywood has prompted a new court filing. The battle over copyrights may affect Stephen Spielberg’s planned adaptation of Grapes of Wrath.

Best-selling author James Patterson has been selected by AASL President Leslie Preddy as the 2016 Crystal Apple recipient. The honor is awarded to an individual or group that has made a significant impact on school library programs and students. A staunch school library advocate, Patterson has dedicated both time and funds to promote the ways school libraries transform a child’s educational career.

Patterson is launching a new line of short novels that he hopes to sell at supermarket checkout lanes. There’s a growing trend for shorter works, thanks to the attention-starved world we live in now. I’m actually not against the notion. Some of today’s bestsellers that number in the 500- to 600-page range or more are just grossly overwritten.

DBW features a great interview with author Hugh Howey on the state of publishing and the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. While many people still look at traditional publishing as the means to legitimacy, authors like Hugh Howey are proving that self-publishing today is making huge inroads in that regard. More control over your works, the ability to publish quicker and the lure of bigger royalties over traditional publishing are certainly factors to consider. But regardless of which route writers choose, there better be a damn fine book to read in the end. That’s how writers will ultimately make a name for themselves.

Read any good articles lately? Share a link in the comments section.

 

Review: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz a study in do-overs

The Passenger

Have you ever wanted to just run away and start over as someone else? The main character in Lisa Lutz’s new novel does just that — time and time again.

You can read my review now at BookPage.

Review: So, Anyway . . . I’ve got this complaint about this John Cleese book

By G. Robert Frazier

So, Anyway . . . I read this autobiography by Monty Python alum John Cleese, and I laughed. But certainly not as much or as hard as I hoped I might.

So, Anyway ...To be honest, the book is a bit dull at times. It’s not that Cleese’s life isn’t interesting. It is. I mean, the guy is wildly entertaining in his numerous classic sketches and standup routines on Python, and he’s starred in a few modestly funny movies. He can tell a pretty darn funny story.

Translating that humor from the small screen to the written page – or pages in the case of his book, aptly titled So, Anyway . . . (Three Rivers Press, $16) – is another matter. Sure, there are funny anecdotes here and there. And there are references to the brilliantly hilarious Python sketches he is renowned for. But they are few and far between.

I suppose that’s to be expected in an autobiography, where a lifetime of experiences are recounted to provide insight into who this man becomes. It is always interesting to learn more about the people who entertain us, but sometimes all we really need are the juicy bits.

Cleese instead regales us with his life story in a somewhat dry chronological blow-by-blow account that never really gets to the good bits fast enough. In fact, by page 255 of the nearly 376-page tome he still had not joined Python’s Flying Circus or recounted those experiences.

This is one autobiography where, for the sake of the reader, a little nonlinear storytelling would have gone a long way to increasing the readability, and laughability, of the book. I expected more from the man whose comedic genius gave us not only the popular TV series but films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and the sitcom Fawlty Towers.

I guess I’ll just take my complaint over to the Complaints Department.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Around the Web: A roundup of articles on reading and writing

by G. Robert Frazier

As you know, I occasionally like to list a roundup of interesting articles about reading and writing. I’ve been meaning to add a new list for a while but have been busy writing, so the list just kept getting bigger and bigger. Herewith, then, is my latest collection for your reading enjoyment. Feel free to comment about any of the items that strike you or post links to articles you’ve come across. 

President Obama will nominate Carla D. Hayden to be the Librarian of Congress; Hayden would be both the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position.Speaking of diversity, blogger Jenny Bhatt wrote this interesting article on

Speaking of diversity, blogger Jenny Bhatt wrote this interesting article on diversity in publishing. The publishing industry should certainly encourage and promote diverse authors when it can, especially based on the statistics, but what we don’t need is a box on submission forms asking the writer’s color or sexual preference. Let’s let our words speak for us, not the color of our skin.

James_Patterson

The LA Times Book Prizes will honor U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and novelist James Patterson. Additionally, five finalists were announced in 10 categories. Patterson is currently sponsoring a contest in conjunction with his online master writing course in which he pledges to co-author a book with the winner of the contest. The catch is it costs $90 for the course and your chances of winning are probably as good as winning the next Powerball jackpot. Still, could you imagine what it would mean to have your name on a book alongside Patterson’s? Talk about a career highlight! I am very tempted to give it a shot. It’s only money, right? And, at the very least, you do get the benefit of learning in his writing course.

The Horror Writers Association has announced its final ballot for its annual Bram Stoker Awards. I so want to read all of these books. But more importantly, I want to be on this list some day. I’ve got a horror novel in the works that I hope to dust off in the next few months.

While we’re talking about genre, which is more important? Literary or genre fiction. Join the debate here. Personally, I’m a genre writer. I like characters that do things, action and mystery. I feel you can explore plenty about the human soul by putting your characters in unusual and moral situations while still being entertained.

The PassengerNPR talks the latest trend in crime thrillers: The ‘Girl’ in the title. Even more interesting are the comments at the bottom of the article, so be sure to read through. I just finished reading a “Gone Girl” type novel called The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz. See my review at BookPage.

If you missed it when it was first posted, here’s Christopher Walken reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The New Yorker recently cited T.S. Eliot as offering this advice on What Makes Great Detective Fiction.

Here’s a great way to get to know your characters. Interview them and ask these probing questions that CEOs sometimes ask on new hire interviews.

I’ve been saying it all along. There’s just something more to like about an actual print book than a bunch of digital letters flashed on your e-reader. According to a recent study, 92 percent of students agree.

Any sci-fi writers reading this? If so, have you ever wondered what it means to be a science fiction writer in the 21st century? That’s what author Charlie Jane Anders asks in this article over on io9.gizmodo.com.

Author Jo Nesbo has the perfect writing room. He never uses it.

To the sensory cortex in your brain, reading is the same as doing. The words you choose not only have the power to change your readers’ minds. They can also change their brains, according to new neurological research.

Publishers Weekly posted a different sort of list recently: 10 books about loneliness. The cool thing being that in examining loneliness, they also serve as an antidote to it.

Here’s a take on the ever-raging debate of pantsing versus plotting from The Atlantic. It’s from a 2013 article, but still plenty relevant for writers wrestling over how best to approach their craft.

The battle lines have been drawn again against The Huffington Post over its policy of not paying writers for their work. Some interesting reads on the subject (and make sure you read the comments as well to further the debate) at Writer Unboxed, from Chuck Wendig, and Huffington Post UK editor in chief Stephen Hull.  For more on writers getting paid for what they do, check out Kristen Lamb’s blog.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these roundups, and a week since this happened, but it’s fitting that we pay tribute to Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, who both passed away recently. In memoriam, BookBub posted seven timeless quotes from Harper’s book, while Eco left this advice for writers.

Have you come across any interesting reads for writers? Share a link in the comments section.

Review: A Better Goodbye takes look at gritty underside of L.A.

by G. Robert Frazier

A Better GoodbyeYou know how they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of A Better Goodbye (Tyrus Books), this is one instance in which you certainly could. The cover of John Schulian’s debut novel depicts a brilliant yellow and orange sunset over the dark and gritty cityscape of Los Angeles. It’s a perfectly fitting image, as it represents the murky lifestyle Schulian paints beneath the brilliant sparkle and glamour of the movie capital of the world.

It’s in this milieu, right on the fringes of tourist-friendly Hollywood, that we find Schulian’sunforgettable cast of down-and-out characters. They’re not the sort of characters you’d want to associate with, but you can sympathize with their plight. And like any good noir novel, the lives of Schulian’s characters are irrevocably intertwined and destined to come crashing down in a bloody finale.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Around the Web: More websites for writers, advice, and stories to read

By G. Robert Frazier

Regular readers of this blog know I sometimes like to share interesting stories I come across on the web. Some of these are about reading, some about writing. The more you know, as they say…

The Writer’s Life released its 100 Best Websites for Writers on Monday. The list is conveniently broken into seven categories, which is extremely helpful in finding just the site that suits you. Categories include: Blogging, entrepreneurship, creativity and craft, freelancing, marketing, publishing, and writing communities. I’m excited and a bit depressed to see so many different sites here that I have not visited before. Excited because I like discovering new things and reading new voices, especially if it can be helpful to me in anyway. Depressed because I really don’t have time to go exploring a bunch of new websites and keeping up with them. Hey, I’ve got writing to do!

CNBC posted an interesting article last Sunday about three publishers who are changing the comic book industry. And no, none of them is Marvel or DC. The article spotlights Dynamite, IDW and Boom publishers. I still collect comic books – a hobby I started in the late 1970s – but over the last decade my love of Marvel and DC comics has eroded. I no longer pick up books from either publication unless they are reprinted oldies that can fill gaps in my collection. I long ago grew tired of the endless crossovers, the over-proliferation of titles, rising prices, and deteriorating quality of work by the Big Two. My tastes have largely gone to the pulp side of comic books, as I follow new adventures of old favorites like The Shadow, Doc Savage, Tarzan, The Spirit, Conan, and Red Sonja. I also read Mars Attacks, James Bond, and The X-Files. I’ve always dreamed of someday writing comic books but never really attempted it, but thanks to a new Meetup group in town devoted to the comic book medium I’m actually in the process of fleshing out an idea and script for a graphic novel.

If you’re writing a memoir or true-life story, you might want to bookmark this Writer’s Digest guide to defamation and invasion of privacy. Guest blogger and attorney Amy Cook, who has focused on intellectual property and publishing law issues for more than 20 years, offers several constructive tips to help avoid potential lawsuits as a result of your writing that you’ll want to follow.

Texas Monthly featured an in-depth profile of author Joe R. Lansdale in its pages this past week. This was a really well-written story and an interesting look at the author. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series of books is about to debut on the small screen as a TV series March 2 on Sundance.

If you’re a writer, you are probably a procrastinator. Always putting off the writing for some other important project or another, like vacuuming the living room carpet, washing the dishes, reorganizing your book shelf, etc. The Atlantic has an interesting read about why writers are such procrastinators that you should read. Of course, the article was published in 2014 and I am just getting around to it.

Anyone watching the new BBC miniseries adaptation of War and Peace? You might want to read this story from The New Yorker. I’ve got a copy of War and Peace on my bookshelf but I’ve never read it. I’ve got the first couple of episodes of the miniseries on DVR to at least watch later.

Read any interesting articles about reading or writing lately? Share a link in the comments section.