American Hero: Remembering John Lewis

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Congressman John Lewis, 1940-2020

Note: With the loss of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis on Friday, I thought it would be appropriate to honor with him with an article I wrote for BookPage in 2016.

By G. Robert Frazier

It is appropriate as we enter Thanksgiving week to express our gratitude to the people who have influenced our lives in one way or another or who have made sacrifices on our behalf so that we may live better.

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to be among hundreds of Nashville-area residents able to give thanks to an American icon, Georgia Congressman John Lewis. (More than a hundred others were unable to get into the packed auditorium at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School.)

A graduate of American Baptist College and Fisk University, both in Nashville, Rep. Lewis was a leader in the Nashville student-led, nonviolent sit-in movement and the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s. He was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington and helped lead the Selma to Montgomery March as part of the voting rights movement in 1965.

His account of the events make up the pages of a historical comic book trilogy, March, co-written by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. March: Book One is the citywide Nashville Reads pick for 2017. The third volume in the series just won the National Book Award for young people’s literature and garnered him honors as the Nashville Public Library Foundation’s Literary Award winner for 2016.

Regardless of age, it is a story everyone should read.

“When people tell me nothing has changed, I say come and walk in my shoes,” he told the racially diverse crowd, which greeted him with a standing ovation. “Martin Luther King would be very proud of this audience. You look like the makings of a beloved community.”

Lewis recounted the challenges and incidents of the civil rights movement, including many of his 45 arrests for civil disobedience along the way.

“I didn’t like segregation,” Lewis said. “I didn’t like racial discrimination. I didn’t like riding the broken-down buses to school.”

As a child, he grew up listening to the message of civil rights pioneers like Rosa Parks and King, whom he would eventually meet. “They inspired me to find a way to get in the way, and I got in the way. . . . By sitting down, we were standing up,” he said.

Lewis still sits down when necessary. This past summer he inspired a sit-in on the floor of Congress itself.

“We still have a distance to travel,” he said.

He implored today’s youth to carry on the fight for equality and justice when needed.

“When you see something that is not right, not just, you have a moral obligation to stand up,” he said.

But most importantly, he said, “We must come together as one people. Not just as an American house, but as a world house. . . .  Just love everybody. Love is a better way. Be kind. Never hate. Keep the faith. Never, ever give up.”

He stressed a need to set a path to citizenship, adding that “Pope Francis said we are all immigrants. We all come from some other place.”

Following his lecture, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry presented him with a collection of recently discovered photos and images of his first arrest records in Nashville from 1961, 1962 and 1963.

“I hope these photos remind you of what you have done and the legacy you have left us,” Barry told him, adding, “I thank you for your message of peace, I thank you for your message of love, but most of all I thank you for your message of kindness.”

The photos will go on display in the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library.

“It’s here in this wonderful city where I really grew up,” Lewis said of his return to Nashville. “The first time I got arrested in this city, I felt free. I owe it all to this city. I feel more than lucky—I feel honored and blessed. I came to say thank you.”

No, sir, it is we who are honored and blessed. It is we who say, “Thank you.”

Stories drive MidTN Sisters in Crime president Robert Mangeot

By G. Robert Frazier

“Damn good writing is damn good writing no matter who wrote it, and the attention and paycheck it earns should be gender-blind,” says author Robert Mangeot, the male president of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Like other male members of the group – of which there are a few – he’s known as a Mister Sister. As such, he wholeheartedly embraces the group’s mission to promote equitable treatment and fair pay for women authors, both at the local chapter level and on a national scale. “I’ve worked hard for diversity and equity in my corporate work. It only makes sense to do the same in my writing life,” he explains.

The Nashville-based author has had work appear in Mystery Writers of America Presents Ice Cold, Bouchercon’s Murder Under the Oaks, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, among other outlets. His stories have won writing contests run by the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild, On the Premises, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

“I badly needed a community of more experienced crime writers to help me connect and grow,” and  Sisters in Crime (SinC) filled that niche, he said.

Mangeot shared his thoughts about his personal journey as a writer, the importance of finding a tribe of like-minded writers regardless of gender, and his goals for the group.

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Did you have any reservations about joining a group primarily for and about women writers?

I joined back in 2012. … I’d met enough SinC members to know they were about the same things I am: inclusivity, growth as writers, and love of the written word. It was clear that Mister Sisters are part of the group’s fabric. There are a fair few of us. Becoming an officer was another matter. Two years ago (former chapter president and author) Beth (Jaden) Terrell asked me to consider replacing our chapter VP who was stepping down. I totally balked. “I’m a guy,” I said, but she explained how our chapter has had Mister Sisters serve as officers before, some of them in foundational ways. I still felt like the role should go to a woman and, had one volunteered, I would have gladly served in other ways. I would now, too.

Were you worried about how the mostly female-oriented group would feel about being led by a male?

It’s not like I’m a stranger. Being VP for a couple years now has given our chapter a chance to get comfortable with me and the strengths and quiet energy I hope to bring to the role. Chester Campbell was our chapter president for many years. In fact, in July we honored his great work building much of our chapter’s foundation. That makes my transition easier, in the sense a guy prez has been done before, and to good results. On the other hand, between his and Beth’s legacies, that also means I’ve got big shoes to fill.

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The national group recently broadened its mission statement in its Report for Change on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the publishing landscape. Where do you think the group mission stands now?

In thirty years, SinC has grown from a Bouchercon huddle to an international force for progress in publishing. It’s become a thriving biosphere of giving people and diverse chapters. I’m really looking forward to connecting with our national resources and other chapter leads and figuring what ideas I can (ahem) steal. Leveling the playing field for women authors remains important and unfinished work. That will always be intrinsic to the mission, but SinC has also broadened into teaching great crime writing no matter who’s writing or reading it. Over 3,600 writers have joined us for a reason.

As chapter president, how will you advocate on behalf of women writers and more diverse writers?

The best thing I can do for any talented writer is to put them in front of readers. Last year we tried our first Author Showcase event, where a panel of our members held forth and had some Q&A with readers. I’d like to do more stuff like that and make them open to more of our members. We’re thinking about chapter publications like anthologies and author samplers. How much of anything is the tricky part. We’re a small chapter, and that makes any ask on budget and member spare time a precious request. Success means focusing on membership value for our authors. That’ll bring in more writers, and we can put them in front of more readers. This is a process. Whatever is working, we’ll do more of it.

What do you hope to accomplish in your role as chapter president?

I have a threshold test for challenges encountered: Leave them better than when they were entrusted to me. Hopefully a lot better. This won’t be easy with SinC Middle Tennessee, because we’re a terrific group with a growing set of traditions. I’d like us to bump up our member count. I don’t mean growth for growth’s sake. But a smallish chapter only has so many active members, and we need active members if we’re going to do things like showcases, craft workshops or even anthologies. New members matter beyond the headcount math: they’re new friends, our joy and our fuel, our support network sometimes, the folks who will continue to build that community long after I’m out to pasture.

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“This is an organization with a huge heart, a lot of big brains, and all of it aimed at growing the craft of our members.”

Why is now a good time, regardless of gender, for someone to join SinC or one of its many chapters?

SinC is focusing on how it can raise the game for crime writing. In the last few years, they’ve expanded their teaching offerings, and the support and publication opportunities its Guppies program gives new writers is simply amazing. This is an organization with a huge heart, a lot of big brains, and all of it aimed at growing the craft of our members.

SinC announced last year it would be focusing on and celebrating the short story. You have had success as a short story author. What advice do you have regarding short story writing for aspiring writers?

Read a lot of them. Find which themes and voices speak to you, and read a lot more of those. It doesn’t matter what genre, so long as they sing to you. Inspire you. Stories are their own animal, and it takes putting in the reading time to grasp what makes them powerful and free. It takes more time still to harness that onto the page.

What has being in this group meant to you on a personal and professional level?

I’m a Louisville boy who twenty years ago found a new home in Tennessee. I was born telling stories, but it’s only been in the last few years I’ve pursued writing them down with much seriousness. Being around accomplished writers has helped me see myself as a writer, not just a guy glued to his laptop. It’s been a needed confidence boost across all parts of my life. Lots of giving and talented writers dedicate a chunk of precious time to SinC. It’s rewarding to get to meet such folks, learn from what they’re doing in their work. And in organizing and working at events like the Southern Festival (of Books, held each fall in Nashville), I get a glimpse of publishing from lots of perspectives, not least what it takes to be an entertaining and successful author. From time to time you’ll catch me talking about craft or moderating panels. Talking fiction can be so much more fun than the process grind of actual fiction.

My writing life: 16 highlights from 2016

by G. Robert Frazier

So, we’re two days into 2017 and I’ve had some time to reflect on 16 highlights from the past year.  But don’t worry, I’m not counting anything politics related.

  • I co-wrote a short script, “Blind Sighted,” with fellow Tennessee screenwriter Dustin Alexander III, which he later produced and directed as a short film. I hung around the set a couple of days and even got to be the clapper one day. Looking forward to viewing a premiere for cast and crew later this month. This was the first time I’d collaborated with anyone on a script and it was an eye-opening experience. We didn’t agree on every aspect of the script, but we learned to compromise and work together. That experience alone was worth the time spent as the art of the screenplay and making movies or TV episodes is all about give and take. We also learned a lot about the legal aspects of scriptwriting, such as writing agreements and copyright protection.

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  • I read and rated 250 scripts combined for the Nashville Film Festival and Austin Film Festival screenwriting competitions. If you want to learn how to write a great screenplay, there’s nothing like reading and learning from other screenplays. Story structure, characterization, description and dialogue and so much more can be learned from reading and studying scripts. I plan to read a lot more Hollywood scripts in 2017, beginning with The Dark Knight Trilogy: The Complete Screenplays (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises), which I received for Christmas.
  • My concert-going days are all but over, but I did manage to see The B-52’s, Jeff Beck with Buddy Guy, and the Hendrix Experience (featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Buddy Guy, Billy Cox, Noah Hunt, Dweezil Zappa, Rich Robinson, and more). What’s this got to do with writing, you ask? Hey, writers need to let loose once in a while and concerts are an excellent way to let out some of that pent up energy. I used to go to concerts all the time, but not many of my bands come around much anymore and I’m not into a lot of the newer music these days (guess I’m getting old!). Ticket costs have also gotten a bit out of hand.
  • I attended the Imaginarium Convention, which is devoted to writers and fans of science fiction, horror and fantasy literature, in Louisville, Ky. I was thrilled to meet authors Brian Keene, Tim Waggoner, Jason Sizemore, Jim C. Hines, Scott Sandridge, Michael Knoxt, Tony Acree, and many others.
  • I served on my first-ever panel as a book reviewer at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference. I’ve been reviewing books for several outlets over the last few years and helped Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford read and rate novels entered in the conference’s annual Silver Falchion Awards competition. I guess that makes me something of an expert and I’m honored that Clay saw fit to include me on one of his conference panels. In addition to the excellent panels and educational workshops, Killer Nashville is an excellent venue for networking with other authors, like Baron R. Birtcher, R.G. Belsky, Jaden Terrell, and Daniel Hooberry, to name a few.

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  • I saw Stephen King at the Ryman Auditorium and was one of a select few to receive an autographed copy of End of Watch. If  you’ve never seen King on a book tour, do so. He is as entertaining in person as he is on the written page.
  • I saw numerous other authors on their book tours in Nashville or as part of their appearances at the Southern Festival of Books. Authors like: Steve Berry, Brad Thor, David Bell, Colson Whitehead, Ann Patchett, John Lewis, Michael Chabon, David Hart, Robert Olen Butler, Neal Patrick Flannery and others. I blogged about some of their visits for BookPage and for this blog, took notes about their story tips, and even scored some autographs.
  • I began co-writing a crime feature script with friend Jay Wright. Jay asked for my help when he got stuck on a story idea and that led to a partnership. We’re more than halfway through our first draft and racing to the finish. Then the rewrites begin.
  • I saw KISS Rocks Vegas at Opry Mills with my brother Bruce. Again, not a writing event, but it’s KISS, so there.
  • I enjoyed a brief but awesome visit from my California brother, Wayne! I make an effort every week to listen to Wayne’s Hollywood Close-Up podcast, where he and co-host Natalie Lipka interview up and coming actors, screenwriters, and film industry professionals each week about breaking into the business, persisting, and more. It’s valuable, educational information for anyone interested in writing, acting, directing, or any other aspect of the film and TV industry. Give it a listen.

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  • Saw Rogue One, twice! I hope I can get a copy of the screenplay to study.
  • Installed new kitchen counter, backsplash and floor. It’s not writing-related, but since my writing desk occupies a corner of the kitchen it’s significant.
  • Wrote 26 book reviews for various sites, including BookPage, Blogging for Books, Killer Nashville and US Review of Books. I even posted a couple over on GoodReads.
  • Attended the Writers Homicide School in Knoxville, where I learned about blood spatter, police procedure, and other forensics.
  • Organized my stories, notes, and file cabinets. Hey, writers are notoriously messy, so this was a big thing for me.
  • Wrote a handful of short stories and submitted them, but had no luck placing them with a market. Outlined a pair of family-oriented scripts, continued edits/revisions to another feature script, and brainstormed several other projects to write in the coming year.

Wow. How did you guys do? 

Imagination has no boundaries on National Science Fiction Day

by G. Robert Frazier

Back in the day, writers could “invent” any idea and make it happen with little regard for scientific accuracy or plausibility. If they could dream it up, they would write about it.

Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver comes to mind. What can’t it do, for instance? It seems like the Doctor, whenever he’s in a crutch, has only to pull it out and adjust a setting and “bingo,” it somehow helps bail him and the universe out of certain doom. No explanations offered or needed.

communicator-840x637Gadgets like the communicators on Star Trek  may have seemed far-fetched at the time, but are no longer science fiction. Just look at that smart phone in your pocket.

Heck, they even have hoverboards now.

Today is National Science Fiction Day, created to honor the great Isaac Asimov on his birthday. Asimov created some of the most thought-provoking fiction with such classics as the iRobot and Foundation series.

frankensteinThe best science fiction tales can make you wonder about your place in the universe. 2001: A Space Odyssey and the new movie Arrival both work by creating a sense of awe and wonder. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may be regarded as a horror story by many, but has long explored the issue of creationism.

Science fiction also offers writers an opportunity to convey social warnings and commentary in the guise of fiction. Just how far should man push the envelope?

But it’s also a fun medium. Where else can you thrill to epic space battles ala Star Wars or Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or the previously mentioned crazy antics of that beloved Gallifrean timelord?

In celebration of National Science Fiction Day, I’ve compiled some of my favorite movies, authors and more.

Favorite science fiction movies:

  • 2001 A Space Odyssey
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • ET the Extraterrestrial
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact and Arrival
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Alien
  • Frankenstein
  • War of the Worlds
  • The Matrix trilogy
  • Superman and Superman II

Favorite SciFi TV

  • Star Trek
  • The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits
  • Babylon 5
  • Doctor Who
  • SyFy Channel – The Expanse (renowned for things like Sharknado)
  • UFO
  • The X-Files
  • Stargate

Favorite Sci-Fi Authors

  • H.G. Wells
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Alan Dean Foster
  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • Rod Serling
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune
  • Ben Bova
  • HP Lovecraft

Science Fiction Magazines

  • Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
  • Clarkesworld
  • Apex Magazine
  • Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Other cool Sci-Fi links:

Don’t see your favorites? Add them to the Comments box below!

Chabon: Embarrass yourself by asking parents, grandparents their stories

mediumWhen you’re sitting around the Christmas tree with family this year, especially if you are lucky enough to still be in the presence of your grandparents or parents, you might want to take the opportunity to get to know more about them. And no, not just their political take on Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or global warming or the Dakota Access pipeline. Rather, really get to know them: who they were growing up, what their hopes and dreams were, how they spent their time, how they dressed, who their friends were.

“If your grandparents are still alive, embarrass them and yourself. Try to think about the things you really want to know about and ask them,” said Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose newest book, Moonglow, is a novel about his grandfather’s life told as a memoir.

Chabon talked about the book and his career as a novelist with fellow novelist Ann Patchett before a packed theater of fans at the Nashville Public Library in Downtown Nashville on Sunday.

Read my full blog now at BookPage.

Bloody or Creepy: Imaginarium panel debates when to write the gross-out

By G. ROBERT FRAZIER

One of the panels at the 2016 Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, Ky., earlier this month featured a fascinating discussion on the use of gore in fiction. Given all the attention the season seven premiere of The Walking Dead has received, and the fact that it is Halloween, I thought I’d share some highlights from the panelists. 

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ASHER ELLIS (moderator): Stephen King wrote, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion … and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” How do we all feel about the use of gore in fiction?

Andrew Cooper: I think some may resort to gore for a lack of direction in the story, but it can be a useful tool. I don’t think a story can rely solely on gore.

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Elizabeth Donaldson

Elizabeth Donaldson: There are two different styles of horror. For some people it’s all about the gross-out. If you’ve ever read anything by Bryan Smith, then you know that gulping eyeballs is something he tends to do a lot. … There are people who absolutely can’t stand gore and there are people who absolutely love it, and it scares them. I think it’s a matter of taste for the reader as well as the writer.

Jimmy Gillente: It also depends on what type of book it is, what style the writer has, what market he’s tryng to go for. Bryan Smith, his fans love the really dark gory stuff, so that’s what he writes. It’s just another tool. I do feel it can be misused and overdone.

Andrew: Writing primarily for gore is an art. People have been doing it for hundreds of years, since way before film existed. As an art it’s one I appreciate. It’s one that a lot of people have no interest in whatsoever, but it’s also an art that requires thought, practice and talent, like every other art. … Chances are it’s going to be pretty crappy until said person studies it and gets better at it, because that’s what most art requires.

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Asher Ellis, Tommy B. Smith, L. Andrew Cooper

Asher: In “Splat Goes the Hero,” an essay by Jack Ketchum in On Writing Horror, he says his secrete is you shouldn’t shy away from writing gore, but if you’re going to have it, you’ve got to get to your character and what this actually means for them. It is a tool and it can be used pretty well or pretty poorly, but how do we know the difference?

Jimmy: For me, one of the guys who really uses gore effectively is Clive Barker. Sometimes he gets very dark and very visceral and very violent in his books, but he writes it so well. His book, Cabal, it actually gets very downright disgusting, but I still love the story.

Tommy B. Smith: Clive can write about ugliness in a very beautiful way.

Elizabeth: Off Season by Jack Ketchum uses gore, but he exercises compassion. If your gore is based solely on what’s the most disgusting thing we can do to this random human being we don’t care about, that’s what I would consider Stephen King’s gross-out level. If you, however, are caring a great deal about this person, being able to make this person someone for whom you can have compassion, then the gore is going to be that much heightened and your horror level will be much higher.

Tim Waggoner: Barker invites us to find his beautiful. Ketchum invites us to see the honesty of what brutality and violence does to humanity.

Elizabeth: (Imaginarium Guest of Honor) Brian Keene’s book Ghoul is not an easy read for anyone with a light stomach, but it is brilliant work.

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Asher: Bryan Smith has a solid fan base who would be disappointed if he didn’t give them the Smith style of gore. Do you guys consider your audience when you get to that sort of stuff or is it more off the cuff, whatever happens happens?

Elizabeth: That’s marketing. When I write, I do what’s interesting me right now, then I think about who the hell am I going to sell this to, starting with whichever publisher first and how are we going to market this. They look at me funny and we try to come up with a plan.

Tommy: I appreciate having the freedom to explore whatever concepts interest me at the time.

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Asher: As novelists, we have that freedom you’re talking about. If you look at other mediums of writing, screenwriting or TV or movies, they have a rating system. If I’m going to write something for ABC, it’s not going to be something I write for HBO. Even if you’re a musical artist, we slap parental advisory labels on CDs. If there was a rating system for novels, would that suck?

Tim: It could be good thing for readers, but on the other hand it would be difficult because novels are so much more complex. There’s so much else in there.

Andrew: Amazon does put age recommendations on its products. A lot of my books have 18+ recommendations. (Holds up his book, Peritoneum) If you’re offended by this cover, if this grosses you out, you don’t want to read this because it gets worse. I would not put my stuff in the hands of a 10-year-old. I have told people not to buy my book before.

Elizabeth: One of the most violent books I wrote was given a YA cover with young cartoony characters heading off into a haunted swamp where one of them is going to be eaten by one of the undead cannibal elves. You don’t want to ever have to say to someone, no don’t buy my book. If you ask, is your book appropriate for my 15-year-old, I would ask, well, how stable is your 15-year-old? You know your kid better than I do. Let me tell you what’s in it, then you decide.

Jimmy: I feel it should be up to the parent and the reader. It all depends on the individual.

Tim: Part of it is just practical. I think as (mid-list and indie) writers, we just don’t draw as

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Tim Waggoner

much attention. If every parent found one of our books in their hands, there might be an outcry for a rating system.

Elizabeth: I know there’s a push for trigger warnings in some books, where you just put a line on the inside front cover that says, “Warning, this book contains scenes of graphic sexual violence.” That’s a warning to somebody that might be really uncomfortable reading it so they know in advance, is this something that’s going to be too difficult for me to read? That leaves the decision in the hand of the reader as opposed to some sort of censorship device, which we certainly don’t want.

Tim: We can try to help, but I don’t think we can really avoid the things that could trigger an event, because you don’t know what might be a triggering event.

Andrew: Sometimes I am writing to overwhelm. I write extreme horror. If the cover of this book isn’t a trigger warning, I don’t know what is. I don’t expect this book to be mainstream, but I think that some art is meant to cross lines.

Asher: Gerald’s Game by Stephen King is a great example of that. It’s very cerebral. The story takes place in main character’s head, but at the end there is one of the most visceral scenes, that great moment when you have to throw a book down and actually shudder, when the character to escape her bonds must deglove herself. She slices her hand and pulls her skin off. It is so unlike everything else you’ve read before that of just psychological battles with his character, then, all of a sudden, boom, you are degloving a human hand.

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Tim Waggoner and Jimmy D. Gillentine

Jimmy: That’s a good example of a scene used to convey shock, and it’s a good plot device. She had to do it to get away.

Tim: It’s good symbolism, too, because she’s bound and caught up in this stuff that’s going on, and it shows her removing her outer layer. Nobody is going to think about that when they read it, but on a subconscious level I think it does all those things really well. That’s when gore is a masterful technique, when it hits all those notes.

Elizabeth: I don’t think a good editor would say, “No you’ve crossed a line here.” A good editor would hopefully say, “this feels out of place…like you’ve thrown this in here just because it’s been X amount of pages since our last horribly gory death. We need to find a better way to make this integral to the story.”

Andrew: There is a moral dimension of not cutting away. For example, the old westerns used to be bloodless until Sam Peckinpah came along and had “squibs” (of blood) exploding. This was happening at same time as the Vietnam War, because the media started to show violence instead of cutting away. Bringing people into confrontation with gore isn’t necessarily the immoral choice. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Tim: You could consider it irresponsible or immoral if you don’t show the reality of it.

Asher: We live in a culture now where it’s not even shocking.

Tim: The Universal Monsters movies always struck me as odd in that these monsters are really supposed to be doing these horrible things to people, but there’s no blood. In that sense, there is a certain level of dishonesty in that, especially if we teach a kid that violence is clean, it’s easy to do and there are no horrible consequences. It’s like cartoon violence. You’re just rubber; you can walk off screen and come back and you’re fine.

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ABOUT THE PANELISTS

Asher Ellis is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, he has written award winning short stories, plays, and films. He teaches creative writing and English professor at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H.

Tommy B. Smith  is a writer of dark fiction and the author of Poisonous and Pieces of Chaos. His work has appeared in numerous publications over the years, including Every Day Fiction, Night to Dawn, Blood Moon Rising, and a variety of other magazines and anthologies. He has previously worked with Morpheus Tales as editor of the magazine’s Dark Sorcery and Urban Horror special issues. His presence infests Fort Smith, Ark., where he resides with his wife and cats.  www.tommybsmith.com

L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the ‘70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. landrewcooper.com

Tim Waggoner’s first novel came out in 2001, and he’s published over thirty novels and three collections of short stories since. He writes original fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins. His novels include Like Death, considered a modern classic in the genre, and the popular Nekropolis series of urban fantasy novels. He’s written tie-in fiction for Supernatural, Grimm, the X-Files, Doctor Who, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Transformers, among others. His articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Journal, and Writer’s Workshop of Horror. He’s been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award, and his fiction has received numerous Honorable Mentions in volumes of Best Horror of the Year. In addition to being an adjunct faculty member in Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, he’s a full-time tenured professor teaching creative writing and composition at Sinclair College.

Jimmy Gillentine grew up with a fondness for horror, science fiction and fantasy flavored with the southern tang of his native Memphis. His debut novella, “Of Blood and the Moon,” was first published in 2009 and was the first runner-up for the Darrell Award. Other publications include the short “Fifteen-Minute Break” in the annual anthology Cover of Darkness and the novella “A Night at Death’s Door.” His novel The Beast Within begins the bittersweet story of Andrew and Angela, which continues in Crossroads, published by Inkstained Succubus Press. Look for its conclusion in Blood of the Father, to be released in 2016. Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English literature and creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Jimmy is a member of the Literary Underworld, Imagicopter and the Eville Writers, and is married to author Elizabeth Donald.

Elizabeth Donald is a writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturnal Urges vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning newspaper reporter and lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. elizabethdonald.com

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Getting a head start on NaNoWriMo

By G. Robert Frazier

I’m starting National Novel Writing Month a day early.

Unlike the official NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words in 30 days at 1,666 words per day, I’m targeting 100,000 words at 5,000 per day over 21 days. My weekends are set aside for other projects.

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Image courtesty of surasakiStock at FreeDigitalImages.net

I know, it seems like a lot, especially given the fact that I have been spending most of my writing time working on screenplays. Novels are a whole different animal, so it’ll be interesting to see if I can make the mental switch from writing tightly crafted scenes to more expansive scenes. Though, I can get long-winded at times, so there is that.

Another advantage, or perhaps cheat, is that I won’t exactly be starting cold on my novel.

This is a novel I started a couple years ago but put aside to work on other projects. I’m more than 30,000 words into the novel already and I have already outlined it from beginning to end, so there won’t be a lot of brainstorming involved.  I feel like NaNoWriMo is the perfect opportunity to dust it off and push to the finish.

If I manage just half of my goal, I will still hit NoNo’s 50,000 word goal and reach 80,000 for my WIP overall. So, I’m setting the bar high. The biggest challenge will be embracing the novel as is and not falling into the potential trap of rewriting what I’ve already written, which could wreak havoc on the word count.

I’ve tried NaNoWriMo a time or two previously, but never saw it all the way to the end. I intend to change that this time around.

I’ll be updating my word count at the end of each day here on this blog. I even posted a NaNoWriMo icon and word counter on my home page to mark my progress.

As the month progresses, I hope to chronicle challenges and successes I encounter along the way. But my priority will be on the novel itself, not on blog posts—so it may be next month before I post a recap. It’ll give you something to look forward to.

In the meantime, I challenge and welcome you fellow writers and readers to get in on the action.

NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks

There’s no fantasy in The Dead of Winter

by Jean Rabe

If you search for my titles on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you’ll discover I’ve written roughly three dozen fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00072]I’ve been in the game a while, and it felt like now was a good time to acquire a new writing wardrobe.

So I traded in my wizard’s robe for a sheriff’s badge and moved my fiction from a magical realm to ultra-rural Spencer County, Indiana. Seriously. Ultra. Rural. It’s a great place to set uncozy-cozies.

Switching to writing mysteries was the perfect choice for me—I read mysteries. I have always read mysteries. My bookshelves are overcrowded with mysteries and thrillers. And I delight in mystery movies. About time I started writing mysteries, dontcha think?

I’d attended a few Bouchercon festivals back when I was writing about wizards and dragons (I love writing about wizards and dragons, by the way, and likely won’t entirely abandon it). I always made it a point to go to writing conventions outside of my genre—hence my trips to the World Horror Con and World Mystery Con. I figured there was an element of mystery and horror to fantasy and science fiction, and I sat in the front row during seminars at those conventions to soak in those elements.

And I attended Killer Nashville. I entered that convention’s Claymore competition in 2015 with my first mystery novel: Christmas Card Killer, and I took second place.

“I can write mysteries,” I announced at the Killer Nashville awards banquet.

“You sure can,” Deni Dietz answered. She judged the finalists, and so read my entry in its entirety. She pressed her business card into my hand before I left the convention and asked me to contact her, as she was interested in buying Christmas Card Killer for Five Star. The publisher, however, phased out its mystery line, and instead Deni blurbed my book for Imajin, which accepted the manuscript. The book releases November 1, and its title has changed to The Dead of Winter, the publisher wisely pointing out I would have a longer time to market the book if I took Christmas off the cover of the book.

THE DEAD OF WINTER was a blast—lots of fun to read! Jean Rabe’s characters come to life through the written word, and it takes a real writing talent to accomplish this feat.

Denise Dietz, USA Today bestselling author

Switching writing genres wasn’t as easy as I expected. Not that I couldn’t write mysteries…I once had an editor at Tor Books tell me I could write in “whatever damn genre” I wanted to. But I had trouble connecting to professionals in the mystery field; all my contacts were in fantasy and science fiction. When I met with agents at Killer Nashville 2015 regarding my manuscript, some of them asked me why I just didn’t stick with fantasy, since that’s where my audience and history was. I pointed out that I might get the inkling in the future to write another fantasy, but that right now I wanted to craft mysteries, specifically murder mysteries. Two agents told me they wouldn’t represent an author who dabbled in more than one genre. Killer Nashville Author Guest Donald Bain, who writes marvelous Murder She Wrote tie-in novels as well as his own material, told me to stay away from those lazy agents. He also told me I could write mysteries if I wanted to.

Some folks said I would need to change my author name to write mysteries since Jean Rabe

jean-rabe-and-wrink

Jean Rabe and Wrink

was a fantasy and science fiction author. So I was prepared to do that, settling on J.E. Mooney. But the Imajin publisher didn’t want The Dead of Winter by J.E. Mooney. She wanted The Dead of Winter by Jean Rabe, and said that Jean Rabe could write mysteries if she wanted to. She suggested that some of the readers of my fantasy and science fiction novels might also try my mystery books. My fingers are crossed that she’s right.

 

I find the mystery genre more difficult to write in, which is some of the appeal to me. I can’t use magic spells to get my characters out of a fix, and I can’t craft the landscape and creatures any which way I please. Setting something in the real world, present-day, means I have to follow maps, be up on area politics and demographics, and know the community’s history. It takes more studying and research than crafting from whole cloth…at least it does for me. And because I am a technological dinosaur, shunning the latest iPhone and tablet whoseywhatzits in favor of spiral binders, I have to immerse myself in electronics stores, browse Best Buy advertisements, and query my tech-savvy friends. Fortunately, several of my friends are addicted to iPhones and all the whoseywhatzits they can acquire; they are a great resource.

Maybe I’ll eventually find an agent who will represent me no matter what I write. I met with two agents at the 2016 Killer Nashville who were at least open to the notion. I’ll send them my current work-in-progress when it’s finished and see what they think. It’s a mystery.

So maybe the agent thing will happen.

Maybe it won’t.

Maybe I don’t need an agent. I’ve managed to sell more than two dozen novels on my own, a few hitting the USA Today Bestsellers list.

And I sold my first mystery…The Dead of Winter. My wonderful publisher has asked for a sequel, and I’m plotting that now, tentatively titled The Dead of Night. Hmmm…dead is the running theme here.

I really can write mysteries…as Jean Rabe.

_____

Find The Dead of Winter on Amazon by clicking here. There’s a pre-order special price of 99-cents for the ebook of The Dead of Winter. The price goes up sometime after the November 1 release.

Follow Jean’s blog here. Subscribe to Jean’s newsletter.

 

 

Southern Festival of Books a slice of heaven for book lovers, writers

By G. Robert Frazier

One of the biggest challenges presented by events like this weekend’s 28th Annual Southern Festival of Books in Nashville is determining which panels or sessions to attend. It’s a good problem to have.

2016-sfb-poster-1Presented by Humanities Tennessee, more than 150 authors—from literary giants like Winston Groom to up and coming stars like Yaa Gyasi—will descend on Nashville’s Legislative Plaza for the three-day event, beginning Friday.

Author readings and panels run nonstop from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. As many as 12 discussions can be going on at once across the various venues, from the meetings rooms below the plaza to the nearby War Memorial Auditorium to the Nashville Public Library.

As soon as one panel ends, another begins. Some even overlap with the panel next door by a half hour.

If you’re a book lover or a writer, it can be heaven or hell. Hell in that no matter what you do, you won’t get to see every author you want to see. Heaven in that no matter what you do, you are guaranteed to see critically acclaimed authors no matter where you look.

I’ve spent several hours—yes, hours! —studying the lineup of authors and sessions in an effort to map out my days. More than once I’ve revisited my selections and picked a different session altogether. I know I can’t go wrong, but at the same time I don’t want any regrets.

I basically wound up picking events and authors who most reflect my own personal interests, namely, crime fiction or thrillers and history. But, I also included some big names among literary circles because, well, they’re big names.

Authors on my must-see list include Robert Olen Butler, John Hart, Winston Groom, Megan Abbott and Sean Patrick Flanery. I’m also looking forward to seeing a few Nashville writer friends again, like Erica Wright, Jaden Terrell, Jennie Bentley, Phyllis Gobbell, Lisa Wysocky, Dana Chamblee Carpenter, and Linda Sands.

I’m particularly excited about meeting author Thomas Mullen, who I will be interviewing for an article in BookPage. Mullen is the author of Darktown, a crime thriller about the first black police officers in Atlanta.

Another session that looks particularly interesting is Brian Allison’s talk about crimes and mayhem in Nashville’s past.

An interesting aspect of this year’s fest is several sessions follow a pair of tracks: one concerning the Pulitzer Prize in literature and the other on race and ethnicity in America. Fortunately, a number of the latter sessions will be broadcast on Book TV (C-Span2) Saturday. I’ve set my DVR accordingly to watch the sessions later in the week.

With dozens of book vendors, entertainment, and fellowship with friends, new and old, the Southern Festival of Books really is like being in book heaven.

Book TV on C-Span 2:

Saturday (10 a.m.-5 p.m. CT; re-airs at 11 p.m. CT Saturday)
* National Book Award finalist Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
* Beth Macy, True Vine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest – A True Story of Jim Crow
* Adam Hochschild, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War
* Patrick Phillips, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

Sunday (noon-4 p.m. CT; re-airs beginning at midnight Monday)
* Joseph Beck, My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer’s Fight for Justice in 1930’s Alabama
* Kelly Oliver, Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from Hunger Games to Campus Rape
* Andrew Maraniss, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South
* Marjory Wentworth, Herb Frazier, and Bernard Powers, We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emmanuel Thomas

 

 

 

The Festival has always been a free event that offers readers and writers an opportunity to interact, to create a public community around a festival that promotes and celebrates the joy of reading and of lifelong learning. Each year the Festival brings to Nashville approximately 200 of the nation’s and region’s most prominent authors, from legendary mystery writers to critically acclaimed debut novelists, from poets to biographers, from chefs to children’s authors. Every author on the program takes part in a session, either a solo reading or a panel discussion, followed by a book signing in our Author Signing Colonnade. Books by all the participating authors are available for sale at Festival book sales area where proceeds support the Festival.

In addition, the Festival hosts popular book exhibitors and programs three performance stages throughout the event. The Artober Performance Stage highlights readings and other dramatic literary performances. The Music Stage features music by some of the area’s most talented songwriters and poets. Special events for children take place on the Youth Stage including appearances by favorite characters, musicians, artists, and storytellers.

 

Killer Nashville: They said it …

by G. Robert Frazier

The first two days of this year’s Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference are, pardon the pun, already in the books. In addition to meeting and greeting like-minded authors, the more than 300 attendees have had the opportunity to listen to their peers and industry experts share words of wisdom on this craft called writing. I’ll be posting more in-depth conference coverage later (I’ve got to get some sleep before the next day-long session begins!), but for now, here are just a few of the memorable quotes to take to heart.

On Writing:

Anne Perry“If you outline, you will not get writer’s block. I have never had writer’s block. … You’re not blocked, you’re just not in the mood today.” – Anne Perry

On Good vs. Bad Characters:

“I like it when things are gray and not black and white.” – Anne Perry

On Strong Female Characters:

Erica Wright

Erica Wright, left, with Carolyn Mulford

“I love that we’re living in this time when we have so many strong, complex female characters.” – Erica Wright

On Networking:

Bryan Robinson

Bryan Robinson with Kay Kendall

“The best way to promote your own work is to promote someone else’s.” – Bryan Robinson

On Building Your Personal Brand:

Tim Grahl“You want people to be fans of you first rather than any one book or series.” – Tim Grahl

On Being An Author:

Kevin O'Brien“To be an author, you’ve got to have the right amount of humility. … Everything’s not going to be gold.” – Kevin O’Brien

KN attendees: What’s your favorite quote from the conference so far? Post your comments below!

Remember to follow me on Twitter at @grfrazier23 and LIKE my new author Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/grobertfrazier/ for more Killer Nashville coverage.