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: Latest Star Wars movie excites, but aggravates too

NOTE TO READERS: If you have been living under a rock and haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, don’t read any farther!

The Force Awakens

by G. Robert Frazier

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally played itself out to hordes of fans and left many giddy with excitement and others equally as revolted. I loved the spectacle of the film and the nostalgia of it, but I happen to fall in the latter category overall. Star Wars was a mess and nothing more than a reboot of Episode IV.

For starters, if you have to explain away plot holes in follow-up news articles by the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, as has been the norm over the past couple of days, then the movie didn’t work. A movie should be able to establish time, place, characters, and situations without footnotes and PR flacks coming to the rescue.

I’ve recently read articles trying to explain how the Resistance came to be and how it relates to the new Galactic Senate, as well as an article in which JJ Abrams tries to explain R2’s arc. Whatever.

There are numerous unanswered questions, like who are the Knights of Ren, who are Rey’s parents, who is Lord Snope (Snoke? Snape? Snappy? Snoopy? Voldemort, whatever the hell his name is), how did Luke’s lightsaber wind up in a trunk in Maz Pinata’s cellar, etc., etc. All questions that will likely be answered in the sequels and which we can wait upon.

But aside from the many unanswered questions, the movie was filled with several unsatisfying scenes or lack of scenes altogether.

The biggest fail in the entire movie has to be the reaction to Han Solo’s death by General Leia. Instead of giving the “big walking carpet” Chewbacca a hug, Chewie walks right past Leia and Leia in turn hugs it out with Rey, whom she doesn’t even know and has apparently never met! I nudged my brother while watching that scene and said to him: “That’s just wrong.” Plenty of other folks have responded the same way. My Burbank brother also hated the scene, saying Abrams failed to note the historic significance of Han’s passing and a silent hug between Chewie and Leia would not have left a dry eye in the house.

Another major fail is that Luke, Han and Leia were never reunited on the screen together. That Luke couldn’t share one final adventure with Han, which is what everyone wanted, is a shame and a disgrace on the part of the writers. While the movie is obviously hellbent on introducing new characters for the next generation of movie-goers, it lost points with fans who have been longing for new adventures with old friends.

C-3P0 and R2-D2’s roles were absolutely wasteful. Neither did much of anything in the film and C-3P0 didn’t even sound like him. I don’t know what they did with his voice, but it just didn’t sound right. The stupidest thing he said was when he pointed out to Han that he had a red arm. It didn’t matter one iota to the movie’s plot and no one gave it a second thought. The audience isn’t color blind and I’m sure we all would have noticed without the “on the nose” dialogue from C-3P0. Observant fans will notice that he no longer has a silver leg below his right knee either, but I didn’t hear him telling Han he had replaced his leg with a gold one.

There were so many coincidences in this movie that it felt contrived and forced from the get-go. Rey just happens to rescue BB8; she pilots the Millennium Falcon towards a freighter that just happens to be piloted by Han Solo; they just happen to go to a planet where Luke’s lightsaber is hidden; etc., etc. If events don’t occur organically, that is naturally, then what you are left with is a script where things happen for the sake of plot convenience. It makes the whole thing less believable and, ultimately, less enjoyable.

In case you think I have entirely negative things to say about the movie, that’s not true. I found one gem to highlight: When Kylo Ren froze the blaster fire in midair! Not even Darth Vader froze laser bolts in midair! Now that was cool!

Review: Fourth Doctor romps in wild, fun adventure of The Drosten’s Curse

Thanks to the proliferation of Doctor Who novels on the market, old school fans of early doctors like Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, and Peter Davison are still able to revel in new adventures. The Drosten’s Curse by A.L. Kennedy (Broadway Books, $9.99) captures the zany fun of Tom Baker’s Doctor to perfection.

the Drosten's CurseBaker’s Doctor—he of the floppy fedora, multi-colored be-careful-you-don’t-trip-over-it scarf, and long overcoat whose pockets are stuffed with jelly babies—is often regarded by legions of fans as the best Doctor for his fun, over-the-top adventures. And with The Drosten’s Curse, Kennedy takes readers back to that sense of fun and adventure. The end result is a novel that plays like a four-part Baker episode in your mind.

The adventure begins when golfers at a country club start disappearing, thanks to an unseen beasty that has made its home under the greens and the sandpits. It doesn’t take long before The Doctor, who is attracted to unusual events, happens upon the scene. Along with new companions Byrony Mailer, the golf spa’s junior receptionist, and Putta Pattershaun 5, a rather inept bounty hunter, the Doctor is promptly sucked into the madcap melee besetting the club and surrounding town of Arbroath.

Unlike the more commonplace Daleks, Cybermen, and Sontarans in the Who rogue’s gallery, the beasty responsible for the Doctor’s latest woes is a more difficult to define entity. Eventually exposed as a Bah-Sokhar, the creature thrives on the emotions of its victims, especially fear, hate, and depression. Even the Doctor and his companions are lost, their minds hopelessly adrift in negative emotions when the Bah-Sokhar sucks them into its psychological maelstrom.

The Doctor ultimately recognizes things for what they are and rebounds in his usual hyperactive way, babbling nonstop to anyone who will listen—in particular Byrony, who plays a key role in helping aid in the Doctor’s escape from the Bah-Sokhar’s clutches. Putta, meanwhile, provides the comic relief as he stumbles and trips into one misadventure after another while trying to avoid the Bah-Sokhar’s minions, a pair of spooky twins and a twisted grandma who owns the golf course.

The adventure soars from outright humor to startling peril, and Kennedy’s writing style perfectly captures the chaotic action of any Tom Baker Who episode.

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

Book review: Sci-fi premise of The Fold fizzles into horror movie mayhem

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but The Fold by Peter Clines looked like an interesting read, and it was – though not in the way I expected.

The FoldThe novel details a unique program in which scientists have created a new mode of transportation, dubbed the Albuquerque Door, in which people can cover long distances by simply stepping through the doorway. Unlike a transporter on Star Trek in which a person is disassembled down to the very molecules that make them up and then reassembled on the other end, the door simply folds great distances together, like points on a piece of paper. You step through one door and come out the other, miles away.

Mike Erikson, a teacher with an annoying eidetic memory, is recruited to report on the project’s viability in the face of pending budget cuts. He’s immediately regarded as an outsider and a spy by the scientists working closest to the project and, as a result, begins to suspect they are hiding some big secret about its inner workings. Of course, as the story progresses, he’s proven right.

None of the scientists can actually pinpoint how or why the fold works, they’re just elated that it does. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about how the idea was fueled by some nonsensical equations in an old 1880s text written by a man named Aleksander Koturovic. The scientists were all drunk at the time, but they didn’t let that stop them from running the numbers anyway. Then they turned on the device and, voila, it worked.

“And to this day we don’t know how,” one of the scientists boasts.

So much for a solid sci-fi story. Instead, the reader is suddenly thrust into a realm of pure fantasy make-believe bullshit. And, sadly, the plausibility of the story just goes downhill from there.

To his credit, Clines slowly builds the mystery and intrigue surrounding the doorway. There is a palpable sense of awe and wonder about the ramifications of such a machine could mean, as well as its unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, Clines is unable to sustain the scientific part of the novel, casting away intriguing scientific theory in exchange for big guns, C4 explosives, creepy crab people and Cthulhu’s multi-tentacled flying cousin. It’s an unexpected turn of events, and one that will keep you reading, but it’s an unsatisfying freefall from the scientific possibilities the story first mines.

As a horror fan, I loved the chaotic conclusion, but sci-fi fans will justly groan about the lost opportunities.

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