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.

Around the Web: Advice and trends for the writer

by G. Robert Frazier

I peruse a lot of online articles about writing and reading every day in order to further educate myself on the craft as well as stay up on recent trends. Some of the articles also provide entertaining reads. Because I’m such a swell guy, I occasionally like to share what I’ve come across in this blog. Herewith are some writing-related missives to fill your head:

I came across this interesting blog from Annie Neugebauer, who attended last year’s World Horror Con and asked some of the biggest horror authors in the game what scares them.  I have to agree with Jack Ketchum that Alzheimer’s is a scary disease to contemplate, both for the person experiencing the disease and for family members. But from a writing standpoint, losing all my stories to some computer virus or hard drive crash would rank right up there. Thank God for the Cloud!

Speaking of horror, the Horror Writers Association released its 2015 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot this week, with its members voting through February. Should be interesting to see which books rise to the top and eventually make their way to my never-ending reading list. Naturally Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams made the list, as did Clive Barker’s latest Hellraiser opus, The Scarlet Gospels, two books I am looking forward to reading.

If horror’s not your thing, the 2016 Edgar Award nominations were also announced this week. Winners will be announced at the 70th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 28.

Electric Lit featured this look at the debate about including cultural pop references in your novel versus trying to set your novel in the eternal present.

Any short story writers reading this? Here are some inspiring quotes about the art of the short story to fuel your head.

One of the most common pieces of writing advice you’ll come across is to write every day. But in this article, author Daniel Jose Older takes issue with that advice and believes that what stops more people from writing than anything else is shame. “That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be’, ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.” Older believes that “no one can tell you how to manage you’re writing process.” Everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

The Washington Post recently published an article about how used book stores are making a comeback. But author/blogger Kristen Lamb argues in a recent post that buying used essentially “robs” authors from getting paid. Salon responded that Lamb isn’t seeing the bigger picture of used book sales. As a writer, I can definitely see Lamb’s point. Writers don’t make much money as it is and for their work to be resold through used outlets with no remuneration doesn’t seem fair. But Salon’s point is also valid in that it could potentially lead someone to purchase other books in your canon. Personally, I buy new print books whenever I can as they are more presentable on my bookshelves, they don’t smell bad, and the pages are germ-free. But, from time to time, I will buy used, especially if a book is out of print or otherwise impossible to come by. I occasionally resell some books I’ve read at discounted prices on eBay, but I always try to sell them in a like new condition rather than one with bent covers, creases in the spine, or marked pages. The author might not be getting any kickback from the resale, but I don’t mind a few extra bucks going in my pocket here and there.

Finally, you know what they say about how writers should just type and not let their internal editor get in the way of their writing? That the best thing to do is just get your words down on paper as fast as you can? That a shitty first draft is to be expected? Well, here’s something else to consider: According to a research study at the University of Waterloo, if you want to improve the quality of your writing, type slower.

They may have a point, but I haven’t got time to type slower. I’ve got far too many ideas in my head that I’m trying to get down on paper. I’ll worry about prettifying my prose when I do my rewrites.

Garth Risk Hallberg, on the other hand, who wrote the giant 1,000-page City On Fire, maybe should have taken their advice to heart. If he had, maybe he could have avoided these truly cringe-worthy sentences that you just have to read to believe.

Review: The Gap of Time updates Shakespeare for a modern audience

by G. Robert Frazier

It takes a top-notch writer to be able to capture the essence of a classic William Shakespeare play and present it in an entertaining way for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson pulls off that feat with her new book, The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), an update of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

The Gap of TimeWinterson is aptly able to spin a parallel tale of love, jealousy and forgiveness with a cast of characters stretching from London to the United States and back again. Her writing is at times lyrical while also whimsy, realizing the absurdity of the tale needs a bit of self-conscious ribbing in order to not be taken too seriously.

For the uninitiated, The Winter’s Tale presents the story of a king fueled by jealousy who believes his best friend and his wife have had an affair, leading to his daughter’s banishment and his wife’s death. By a series of coincidences, they are ultimately reunited. Winterson faithfully follows the script of Shakespeare’s play as she presents each act of her novel, beginning with the jealous rage of her main character Leo and following it up with his daughter Perdita’s discovery of her true identity in Act 2. She brings them together in the final act where they are able to forgive each other, as the gap of time since his initial outburst has given Leo time to reflect and Perdita a chance to grow on her own.

If that sounds a bit complicated and contrived, so be it. That’s Shakespeare. But, it works in an entertaining way.

Winterson weaves in enough humor, emotional angst, and unique characters to give the tale a fascinating life of its own. Nor are we confined to just one limited point of view, as Winterson gets into the heads of all the major characters to give us their perspective as the complicated plot unravels.

The story, as in the play, ends on a happy note as Leo is reunited with his daughter and she forgives him for abandoning her. As a modern day reader, however, I was longing for a more classic tragic outcome as Shakespeare popularized in his earlier plays. The happy ending in this story seemed almost as contrived as the coincidental nature of the plot.

Jeanette Winterson has written ten novels, children’s books, nonfiction works and screenplays. Perhaps it was fate that led her to craft The Gap o f Time.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

G. Robert Frazier is a writer living in La Vergne, TN. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23. 

Review: Steven James peels back twists in Every Crooked Path

by G. Robert Frazier

Every Crooked PathReading Every Crooked Path, the new novel by national bestselling author Steven James, is like peeling an onion: each layer of mystery pulled back reveals something more foul and evil than the last.

What starts as an investigation into a fatal stabbing takes a twisted turn when James’ recurring hero, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, uncovers a child exploitation ring on the Dark Web, a cyber world hidden away from the regular internet, where anonymous clients barter and trade in sexually explicit photographs of minors for their perverted pleasure and the profit of a mysterious cadre of webmasters.

James hooks readers right from the start, as within the first few pages Bowers is attacked at the crime scene in a Manhattan high-rise. Bowers manages to fend off his attacker, but before he can get anything out of him, the man jumps off the balcony to his death, leaving behind a key and a cryptic clue to an even larger conspiracy.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: Herman Koch’s The Dinner a tasty good read

by G. Robert Frazier

The main course of Herman Koch’s The Dinner  is deliciously twisted, and so too is the dessert. After reading this compulsively addictive novel, you’ll want to make it the topic of conversation at your next dinner with family and, perhaps, for many meals to come.

The DinnerOriginally published in the Netherlands in 2009, Hogarth – an imprint of Crown Publishing – has served up a new Extra Libris printing of the New York Times bestseller for connoisseurs of fine reading, with a reader’s guide as well as a behind-the-scenes essay and conversation with Koch. And it’s worth every juicy morsel.

The Dinner introduces readers to a pair of brother-and-wife couples during the course of an evening meal at a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. But as the night wears on, the conversation – like the dinner itself – takes on a meatier tone. Masked beneath the gentle dab of a napkin and the fussy attentions of the restaurant’s manager (and his obtrusive pinky finger) is a family secret that threatens to spoil the couples’ friendship, their reputations, and very livelihoods.

Koch masterfully draws readers into the conversation, spoon-feeding tasty nuggets of information to us as if we were sitting at a nearby table eavesdropping for gossip. Much of the story takes place during a single evening, but Koch weaves in numerous flashbacks to deepen and enrich the characters’ feelings and relationships to each other like appetizers before the main meal.

The further we dig into the story the more we also learn of the narrator’s own secrets and the less trustworthy he becomes, adding a bit of spice and bitterness to the tale in the same sort of vein as Gone Girl’s unreliable narrators.

Ultimately, readers are left to chew on one insatiable question where it concerns not only the story’s main characters but in their own lives, and that is: how far would you go to protect your loved ones?

Koch is the author of eight novels and three short story collections. The Dinner has been published in twenty-five countries. Just desserts indeed.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.

Review: Questions posed in Powerless linger well after novel is finished

by G. Robert Frazier

If you’ve never given a thought as to what to do in a disaster, you’ll probably change your mind after reading Tim Washburn’s terrifying debut novel Powerless (Pinnacle Books).

PowerlessAt the very least, you’ll find yourself taking an extra long look at those survivor magazines at the grocery store checkout lane, or setting your DVR to record those doomsday prepper shows. You may even feel compelled to go a step farther by purchasing a gas generator for your home, nonperishable foods by the pallet, and cases of bottled water. You might want to get a gun or two as well–one for hunting and one for self-defense.

Because when the power goes out–for good–you’ll need all of it sooner rather than later.

The characters in Washburn’s debut novel learn that lesson the hard way when a massive solar flare wipes out electricity across the northern hemisphere, plunging the entire US into complete chaos.

Read the rest of this review on Killer Nashville

Book review: White Leopard a gritty, graphic PI novel

by G. Robert Frazier

Whether it’s shooting thugs in the kneecaps, punching them in the solar plexus, or chopping off their hands at the wrist, author Laurent Guillaume doesn’t pull any punches in his gritty and graphic English-language debut, White Leopard (Le French Book, $16.95).

White LeopardGuillaume’s anti-hero Souleymane (Solo) Camera is a tough-as-nails private investigator making his living in arid Bamako, Mali, in West Africa after running from a dark past in France, where he was a former drug force detective. Solo’s cases typically involve chasing down and photographing cheating husbands in divorce cases, although he has handled a few higher profile criminal cases, netting him the title’s nickname from police. (He’s part French, part Malian, and reviled by both.)

A simple case—“buying” the freedom of a woman arrested on drug charges by offering a bribe to the local magistrate (apparently an all-too common occurrence in corruption-rife Mali)—takes an unexpected turn when the woman is brutally murdered upon her release. The sister of the victim, who hired Solo in the first place, boasts that he will bring the killers to justice, which only serves to make Solo the next target for the thugs.

Read the rest of this review at KillerNashville.com.

Around the Web: Bond, Star Trek franchises endure with new movies, books, series

by G. Robert Frazier

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles about writing, reading, and other fascinating stories. I occasionally share those in this space, just because I’m such a cool guy. Today’s roundup consists of two movie franchises with huge fan bases, and no, I’m not talking about Star Wars. Both are fascinating looks at the past, present, and future of characters that have endured no matter the medium. As a bonus, I’ve included an article about a superhero now appearing on your not-so-small home television screen. Enjoy.

Spectre movie poster (886x1280)There was an interesting article on Variety this week about several Bond films that never made it to the screen, including one from Alfred Hitchcock. The new James Bond movie Spectre hits theaters this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited. Bond was one of my mom’s favorite movie series. Even though she had every Bond movie on DVD, she’d still watch Bond whenever it came on TBS. I’ll be thinking of her when the lights go down and the Bond theme song cues up. I know she’ll be watching with me in spirit. I recently read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming as a way to psych myself up for this new Bond movie, and I have to say I am suitably psyched up.  Here’s a review of Spectre to help get you excited. As Rich Gold pointed out in his 1962 review of Dr. No, “As a screen hero, James Bond is clearly here to stay. He will win no Oscars but a heck of a lot of enthusiastic followers.” There’s even a new Bond novel out there, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz, that drags Bond firmly into 2015 with a live-in girlfriend, Pussy Galore, and a gay friend. And, finally, a long lost Bond novel, Colonel Sun by Kingsley Ames in 1968, is finally being reprinted as a paperback in January.

In case you might have been sleeping under a rock and haven’t heard, CBS All-Access will showcase an all-new Star Trek series beginning in January 2017. In a bold move, perfectly fitting for a series that goes where no one has ever gone before, the digital on demand subscription platform makes perfect sense. Rather than airing the show on broadcast TV and praying for a particular set of ratings each week, the show will have an opportunity to thrive online instead. The series will be executive produced by Alex Kurtzman and will introduce new characters seeking new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring dramatic contemporary themes. Believe it or not, there’s actually a campaign to cancel the Star Trek series before it begins. The folks behind the campaign apparently fear, and with good reason based on the latest movies, that CBS will only screw up the franchise even further. I’m excited to hear about the new series and am hopeful of the new stories yet to be told. Let’s boldly go forward. The exciting news for writers, meanwhile, is the return of Star Trek’s Strange New Worlds writing contest. I’m hoping to enter, but so far I’m drawing a blank on what, or rather, whose story to write.

supergirl-01

Is anyone watching the new Supergirl TV series? It’s clearly targeted towards teens and young adults, but as a comic book fanboy I’ve watched the first two episodes and will likely watch more. The special effects are a little on the cheesy side, but so far the story has been entertaining. I do hope she doesn’t have to keep contending with former Krypton criminals and Phantom Zone menaces, however. Let’s explore something other than the usual, huh? For those of you wanting to know about Superman’s cousin, bamsmackpow.com has put together A Beginner’s Guide to Supergirl. Check it out.

Superheroes on the small screen are all the rage right now. Gotham, which tells the story of Gotham City Police Detective Jim Gordon and a young, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, has really ramped up the action and intensity this season. The Flash and Arrow are both going strong over at The CW, and NBC has rebooted Heroes Reborn. I’m even enjoying iZombie.