From thrillers to autobiographies, there’s something for everyone

By G. Robert Frazier

My latest reviews for BookPage include several novels and a cache of audiobooks, from thrillers to autobiographies. I even posed questions to author Chris Pavone for an engrossing interview.

There’s something here for just about everyone, so dive in!

In Chris Pavone’s suspenseful new novel, Two Nights in Lisbon, recently married couple Ariel Price and John Wright have shirked their former identities for new lives unfettered by past encumbrances. Or so they think.

To enjoy James Patterson and Dolly Parton’s Run, Rose, Run (10.5 hours) to the fullest, you must listen to the audiobook. Not only is it a necessary companion to Parton’s album of the same title (featuring songs inspired by the novel), but the cultural icon also voices one of the main characters, veteran country music star and bar owner Ruthanna Ryder.

Bestselling author John Darnielle’s most bizarre novel to date, Devil House (11.5 hours), is an odd amalgam of crime fiction, buried memories and investigative journalism.

The success of Amazon Prime Video’s adaptation of the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is enticement enough to revisit his epic fantasy novels, which debuted in 1990. But even more exciting is listening to the new audiobook of book one in the series, The Eye of the World (33 hours), narrated by Golden Globe- and Emmy Award-winning British actor Rosamund Pike.

In his raspy, unmistakable voice, comedien Mel Brooks reveals his enduring passion for such comedy classics as Young FrankensteinSpaceballs and History of the World, Part I, as well as his respect for his relationships with showbiz luminaries Sid Caesar, Gene Wilder, Anne Bancroft and more in the audio version of his new memoir, All About Me.

The Nineties provides a fascinating, granular look at a defining period of history, and author Chuck Klosterman narrates in an almost tongue-in-cheek fashion.

In The Boys (13 hours), Happy Days actor-turned-director Ron Howard takes turns with his brother, Clint, also a child actor in “Gentle Ben,” to reminisce about their memories of being icons to millions of adoring viewers in the 1960s and ’70s.

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl’s memoir, The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music (10.5 hours), is as raw and unfiltered as his music.

I’ve also reviewed three books for Chapter 16 so far this year, including Mark Greaney’s latest Grey Man novel Sierra Six, Don Winslow’s mob epic City on Fire, and Valerie Nieman’s suspense thriller In the Lonely Backwater.

As always, I’m grateful to the fine editors at BookPage and Chapter 16 for the opportunity to read or listen to these books and offer my insights.

Keep watching both sites and this space for additional reviews, including an audiobook review of John Grisham’s new collection of novellas, Sparring Partners.

Until next time, happy reading!

Supernatural elements feature in top books read in 2021

By G. ROBERT FRAZIER

It’s hard to pick a favorite. Or even several favorites. But here goes.

Of all the books I read and reviewed in 2021 – 41, counting the dozen audiobooks I also listened to – I’ve narrowed my list of best books to five, plus my top three audiobooks.

Looking over the list, my novel selections (except one) have a supernatural element or otherworldly force in them. That’s not all that surprising as my two favorite genres are mysteries/crime and horror (Stephen King being one of my favorite authors). You can’t go wrong with a gritty crime thriller or noirish detective tale combined with ghostly chills or otherworldly mayhem.

Top 5 Fiction

Clay Chapman’s Whisper Down the Lane stands out as one of my most memorable reads this past year.

Inspired in part by the real-life McMartin preschool trial—in which members of the McMartin family who operated a preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, were charged with sexual abuse of children, which in turn gave rise to a national panic over satanic ritual abuse—the novel follows similar circumstances, although in a highly fictionalized way.

Chapman alternates chapters from the perspectives of Sean, a kindergartener in 1983 Greenfield, Virginia, and Richard, a teacher living 30 years later in Danvers, Virginia, where he and his wife are raising his stepson, Elijah. As you might expect, their stories are inextricably linked, and everything starts when Sean, influenced by his mother’s paranoia, tells a lie that will change his entire world.

Part of the novel’s chilling effectiveness comes from its portrayal of the detectives assigned to Sean’s case and how their leading questions ultimately result in Sean saying what they want him to say, resulting in the unfair and undeserved persecution of Sean’s teacher on suspected sexual offenses. Chapman pulls no punches, revealing how the simplest of misrepresentations can result in a sort of mass hysteria against someone, just as it did in the real-life McMartin era.

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The six women in Lynnette Tarkington’s therapy group are fiercely independent and strong-willed but also tragically haunted by their past experiences. All of them survived random mass killings that later became the bases for Hollywood slasher franchises that were popular among moviegoers in the 1980s and ’90s. 

But then “America’s first final girl” and keystone support group member Adrienne Butler is killed in a massacre of camp counselors at Camp Red Lake. Hendrix puts Lynette and her fellow survivors through all the typical horror tropes as they are forced to once again face a mysterious killer.

The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig

Chuck Wendig’s new horror/dark fantasy novel The Book of Accidents (Del Rey Books, 0399181136, $28.99) is a chilling romp through dark dimensions in the best Stephen King tradition.

The book starts out in typical horror fashion as our protagonists – husband and wife Nathan and Maddie Graves and their fifteen-year-old son, Oliver — uproot their lives to move to Nathan’s rural Pennsylvania family home following the death of his father.  As is typically the case in a horror novel, though, strange occurrences soon follow and grow exponentially more bizarre as the story rockets along.

The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonassen

The advertisement is simple and honest: “Teacher wanted at the edge of the world.” And for Una, the main character of Ragnar Jonasson’s The Girl Who Died, it is the perfect enticement to leave her drab life behind and start a new chapter.

The “edge of the world” is actually the isolated fishing village of Skálar, located on the northeastern tip of Iceland.

At first, the idyllic community of just 10 people, including two young girls whom Una is hired to tutor for the year, seems like something out of a storybook. It’s not long, however, before the remoteness of the community and the tight-lipped nature of its residents begin to weigh on her, forcing her to question if she’s made a serious mistake.

City on Fire by Don Winslow

The only book without a touch of the supernatural on my list is Don Wilson’s City on Fire, which I read for Chapter 16. But as the book’s publication date was postponed until spring because of the Delta Covid outbreak, my review has yet to be published. I’ll let you know when it’s up, but for now you’ll just have to take my word that it is not to be missed. (Hmm, I wonder if I should count it as a 2021 best book or a 2022 best book?).

Top 3 Audiobooks

Until this past year, audiobooks were not a thing for me. But BookPage editor Cat Acree asked if I’d be interested in taking on reviews and I was eager for the challenge. I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer reading my books to listening to them, but maybe this audio thing will grow on me in time.

Certainly, the audio experience is vastly different from physical reading and takes some getting used to. It does require a different skillset, namely, listening. With audiobooks, you can’t allow yourself to become distracted by other tasks or …

Most of my audio selections were nonfiction-oriented, but I also managed to listen to a few novels.

Topping my list of best audiobooks is Carry On by John Lewis. Written by the late, great civil rights icon and representative from Georgia, the book is made up of inspirational essays from Lewis on such topics as teamwork, friendship, success and justice. It’s like those motivational posters on the walls of your workplace, only better, because his aphorisms are punchy yet never cliched, and you can take his inspirational words with you and play them anytime you need a lift.

One of the most important books, or audiobooks, you should listen to is Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe.

In jaw-dropping detail, the New Yorker staff writer Keefe recounts the greed, deception, and corruption at the heart of the Sackler family’s multigenerational quest for wealth and social status through their company, Purdue Pharma, and the rise of the OxyContin painkiller epidemic.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

In a series of first-person interviews conducted by journalist S. Sunny Shelton, the fictional oral history recounts the story of a 1970s rock collaboration between glam Black American singer Opal Jewel and white British singer-songwriter Nev Charles. Walton skillfully blends in real-life events such as Vietnam War protests to firmly establish the narrative’s tone and time period, layering the duo’s rise to rock stardom with social, economic, racial and sexual undercurrents.

Click the links in any of the above articles to read the full reviews.

Review: The 1619 Project is vital, thought-provoking reading

One of the most thought-provoking books you could read this year, or perhaps any year for that matter, is The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (One World, 978-0593230572, $38), created and edited by Nicole Hannah-Jones.

An in-depth collection of essays expanding on the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Magazine series, the book offers a critical examination of race in the United States from the introduction of slavery in 1619 to the push for voting rights in the present day.

The project makes the argument that America’s uneasy relationship with Black Americans has permeated every facet of society today – from race to politics, from citizenship to capitalism, from healthcare to music – and extends back to the first arrival of slaves in America in 1619, well before the country’s more publicly acknowledged “birthdate” of 1776.

The authors pull no punches as they highlight some of the biggest lowlights in this country’s history. The affronts to the Black community through history are numerous and, oftentimes, horrifying.

This is not some glossed over middle grade or high school textbook, but an unflinching and stark account of America’s darkest, most vile act of slavery of a race the authors argue became the backbone of the economy and the nation itself.

Detractors argue the book’s authors are biased and their arguments attempt to rewrite history. As such it has inextricably been tied to discussions of critical race theory, which they argue shames or humiliates whites.

More to the point, it reveals aspects of history all too often overlooked for a more palatable narrative.

This is not a rewrite of history, but a more thorough reckoning of our country’s origin.

Context matters.

Some of the arguments and essays may stretch the authors’ point, but there is certainly merit behind much of it.

Either way, it is information worth reading, discussing, debating, and learning from. If the country is ever to move past its racial divide, understanding comes from knowledge, not misrepresentations.

This book attempts to do that and deserves to be on everyone’s reading list.

Review: The Book of Accidents King-like in scope, sheer terror

by G. Robert Frazier

Make no mistake, Chuck Wendig’s new horror/dark fantasy novel The Book of Accidents (Del Rey Books, 0399181136, $28.99) is a chilling romp through dark dimensions in the best Stephen King tradition.

The book starts out in typical horror fashion as our protagonists – husband and wife Nathan and Maddie Graves and their fifteen-year-old son, Oliver — uproot their lives to move to Nathan’s rural Pennsylvania family home following the death of his father.

Nathan is more reluctant about the move than any of the trio because of his traumatic past with his abusive father. But after Oliver experiences an emotional breakdown at school during an active shooter drill, they agree this may be the fresh start they all need.

At first, things seem to go well. Oliver makes a few friends in his new school, Maddie takes up a new hobby, and Nathan takes on a new role as a park ranger. As is typically the case in a horror novel, though, strange occurrences soon follow and grow exponentially more bizarre as the story rockets along.

Oliver falls into a feud with a new school bully and is rescued by a mysterious scarred youth who seems oddly familiar; Maddie’s hobby with wood sculptures results in a bizarre obsession; and Nathan sees a strange figure on his lawn in the middle of the night. It seems the town is haunted by the spirit of a serial killer who did most of his slayings under a bridge in the local park, which sits over a series of coal mines.

Oliver’s overly sensitive personality ultimately collides with a malevolent version of himself as the action ramps up toward a fierce, violent showdown.

Wendig skillfully alternates perspectives between the three family members over the course of the 500-page tome, allowing readers to become more invested in each character. While Oliver eventually takes center stage, the author roots the action in the family’s unique bond for each other, making each spell-binding chapter emotionally impactful and altogether terrifying.

This is horror at its grandest, darkest level: viscerally stunning and spooky good.

+Horror Library+ Vol. 1 is edgy, cringe-worthy, glorious fiction

What does horror mean to you? Is it the loss of a son or a daughter or loved one to some tragedy? The stranger on the street? The person you thought you could trust, only to learn they’ve betrayed you? The deal you cannot rescind? Is it the monster under the bed? The dark unknown?

Not everyone is afraid of the same thing.

Horror is subjective, our fears deeply personal. Sometimes even irrational.

Eric Guignard

Naturally, you may not be terrified of all the stories served up in the +Horror Library+ series, but you’re virtually guaranteed to cringe from some of the selections. First published by Cutting Block Books and editor R.J. Cavender, the seven-volume series has been re-edited, redesigned, reformatted and reissued under the Dark Moon imprint from two-time Bram Stoker Award winner Eric J. Guignard, who promises to keep the best contemporary indie horror alive with a forthcoming volume.

He was kind enough to send me e-books of each volume in the series to date to review, so let’s dive in!

Volume One

First, know that none of the authors here are household names.

That doesn’t mean they are not talented wordsmiths with vivid, and sometimes twisted imaginations that will make you quiver, gasp, or flinch in fear. A search on Amazon reveals some have gone on to publish additional works and, if you pick up enough horror literature, you are bound to see their names crop up every once in a while on the table of contents pages.

You never know what you’re going to get in a non-themed collection like this – there are thirty stories alone in Volume One — whether it’s a bizarre alien encounter with sluglike beasts or a grisly story of dismemberment and torture.

Fair warning: Some works are exceedingly graphic and tackle any number of taboos from sex to torture, incest to child abuse, and more.

Cavender makes an unusual decision in leading off the book with one of its grisliest, unnerving selections, “Palo Mayombe in Matamoros” by Boyd E. Harris. The story offers one possible, terrifying scenario accounting for the 1,100 random deaths of taxi drivers throughout the world over ten years beginning in 1997 in what’s touted as a piece of creative nonfiction. Harris, who goes on to co-edit a later volume in the +Horror Library+ series, pulls no punches as he graphically depicts the torture and dismemberment of the story’s main character. With no plot to speak of and no escape for the main character, it’s a torture to read.

In fact, if you were not a stalwart reader of horror, you’d close the book here. But in doing so, you would miss much more interesting and haunting stories – and authors — deserving of your time.

As odd as it may be to admit, that’s part of the fun of a collection like this: reading an adventure that challenges your sensibilities or morals, forces you to confront your fears, and dares you to look upon the darker side of humanity.

Just remember, if you don’t like one story, skip on ahead to the next.

The Highlights

Like many anthologies, some stories naturally stand out more than others.

Take, for instance, “Oren’s Axe” by Jed Verity, in which the titular character discovers a grotesque oddity at his doorstep in the dead of night. Wracked by disgust and fear at the sight of the thing, Oren is moved by its plight and surprises the reader by showing his compassion for the thing, first by snipping away a set of sutures over its lips, and second by giving it fresh water to slake its thirst. But as noble as his intentions are, as often happens in the case of horror stories, he is shocked by the thing’s sudden, unexplained outburst of violence toward him.

Or, consider “Little Black Box” by Eric Stark, in which the seemingly innocent appearance of a small black box in place of the daily newspaper heralds a mysterious, inescapable invasion. The fear comes not so much from the boxes themselves – they don’t do anything other than grow in number – but in the unknown origin of the cubes and the stark realization that there is nothing anyone can do to escape them. “Who’s afraid of a little black box?” his lead character asks. Who indeed?

A simple mosquito bite leads to another unforgettable calamity in John Rowlands’ entry, “One Small Bite.” The ensuing outbreak is eerily reminiscent of the current pandemic’s spread. It hits a little too close to home during these harrowed times, but that’s what makes it so powerful.

“The Mattress” by John Peters is another story that will linger long after reaching the end. It’s a modern-day update on an age-old story of a succubus whose unyielding sexual assaults makes a long-lasting impression upon her victims. At the very least, you’ll think twice about ever buying a “slightly” used mattress again.

“Flamenco Amputee” by Paul J. Gitschner offers up a strange audition by prisoners willing to risk life and limb to impress a panel of judges to earn their freedom.

A shadow-like spider skulking around a mother recently risen from the dead is an eerie Creepshow-like tale of love and family sacrifice in Mark E. Deloy’s “Momma’s Shadow.”

Marcus Grimm entertains readers with a cautionary tale when making the deal of a lifetime in “A Hell of a Deal,” while eerie wishmaster Heman Black solves problems in a unique way in “Dark and Stormy Wishes” by Bailey Hunter. And in “The Exterminators,” Sara Joan Berniker reminds readers to read the fine print on their contracts.

A Boy Scout learns sometimes virtuous deeds are not worth that little badge in Curt Mahr’s shocker, “Helping Hand.”

The main character in Kevin Filan’s “The Remembering Country” is forced to recall an incredible secret about the beast within him.

And, in one of my favorites, M. Louise Dixon leaves readers in awe with a tale of giant worms in “Las Brujas Del Rio Verde.”

Sleep with the lights on

Oftentimes, there is little in the way of explanation for what transpires in each story, which is what makes short horror like this so incredibly weird and exciting. The answers are left to the readers’ own imagination.

By the same token, most stories end on a shocking or tragic note. These are not tales where the final girl prevails in the end, nor should they be.

These are tales that will make you go to sleep with the lights on, if you dare sleep at all.

Next time: +Horror Library+ Vol. 2

Screenwriting Twitter is a thing

Screenwriting Twitter is a thing that can be educational, empowering, and oftentimes amusing.

For those uninitiated, screenwriting Twitter is where all the would-be, hopeful, and think-they-are-expert screenwriters, along with a few actual industry folks, hang out when they’re not writing because, well, writing is procrastinating for most and Twitter is the epitome of procrastination.

In any event, on any given day you are likely to find robust debates on all things screenwriting, from copyrighting your work to whether you should share loglines with the rest of the world to how to format your sluglines (bold!). Keep in mind there is a camp of writers who contend there are no rules of screenwriting, that you can do as you like because no one, including Hollywood (which some say isn’t a thing), knows what they want or can agree on how they want it. There are “guidelines” and “conventions” and patterns, but if you trust books like Save the Cat you should be shunned and shamed. That’s because it follows a proven formula of how movies have been made and, heaven forbid, if your story should follow an existing pattern or formula and not think outside of the box (but that’s fodder for another article altogether).

Bottom line, you must take everything you read or hear and ultimately make up your own mind because no one in this industry really knows anything.

Screenwriting Twitter (#screenwriting) is also great for networking and building relationships with other like-minded screenwriters. I’ve followed a few Twitter “regulars” and interacted with some of their tweets, but I haven’t really developed any “friendships” or “connections” yet. These things take time. I did draw the attention of Stage 32 (an online screenwriting site that provides script services, webinars, and pitch meetings with execs – for a fee, of course!) who sent me a nice message saying they’d seen me on Twitter and invited me to contact them to help further my career.  I haven’t taken them up on the “offer” yet. It seems there is money involved and, well, I don’t have any.

I also enjoy Twitter for its occasional fun tweets. You can often find threads about favorite movies, movie tropes, and jokes about screenwriting. It’s somehow comforting to know that others are going through the same feelings of doubt and insecurities about writing as you are and that you can laugh about it.

Additional reading: The power of Twitter for screenwriters

Most of the time, the screenwriting community is supportive and encouraging. Members routinely chime in to help celebrate even the smallest of individual accomplishments, whether that is finishing a first draft of a script, placing in a contest, or, better yet, landing a manager, agent, job in a TV writers’ room, or a spec sale! I’m in this camp because I firmly believe in supporting creatives regardless of where they are in their careers.

That can’t be said of many in the Facebook screenwriting community who can be downright rude, insensitive, and condescending. This group would much rather malign you for your incomplete loglines, your pesky questions about the craft, or your requests for feedback on your work. It’s gotten so bad in a couple of the screenwriting Facebook groups that I’ve quit the groups and have had to block some users. I just don’t have time or patience to put up with haters and “better-than-you-alls.”

That’s not to say that all Facebook screenwriting groups behave that way. The Tennessee Screenwriting Association, of which I am a page administrator, strives to be supportive and always encouraging. We know screenwriters are at various levels of their career and if we can help them out or point them in the right direction to furthering their craft, we’ll happily do that.

I guess what I’m saying is, pick and choose your friends and groups carefully. No one likes a hater, no one likes a know-it-all.

So, enough about that. Time to recap the week:

Writing update

So, last week I had a goal of finishing a spec script based on the TV show What We Do in the Shadows (the new season starts next week on FX!). I’m still not there yet, but I’m closer. Maybe this week will see me cross the finish line.

I also had planned to outline a new comedy pilot, which is a spinoff to my 2019 Austin Film Festival finalist screenplay ZARS: Zombie Apprehension & Relocation Service. I’ve already got the teaser or cold open written (that’s generally what is known as the first scene of the script that serves as a tease to the episode ahead). I also have a couple scenes mapped out, but I still need to come up with the connective tissue that will hold everything together.

Both of those projects will be at the top of my to do list for this week. Then it’s on to my feature script Jerry Lonely and planning/outlining/character work for a mystery novel I’ve got up my sleeve.

Reading update

I finished reading The Good Death by S.D. Sykes and Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger and wrote a book review for BookPage. I’ll let you know when it gets published. In the meantime, my review of Small Favors by Erin A. Craig has been posted on Chapter 16’s website.

Next up is City on Fire by Don Wilson (it doesn’t go on sale until April but I’ve got an ARC!) and Horror Library Vol. 1, a collection of horror short stories newly republished by Dark Moon Books.

And on the comic book front, I’m reading Batman: The Adventures Continue, Season One, which reprints the first eight issues of the comic book series continuation of the Batman animated TV series.

That’s it for this time out. Tune in again next week as I ramble on about something else.

Skipping Killer Nashville conference a difficult choice

Some devious and cunning minds will gather in Franklin (TN) this week for the Killer Nashville writing conference. I wish I could be with them, but this whole Covid pandemic thing has convinced me otherwise.

I’m fully vaccinated (although apparently a third shot is in the cards), and KN organizer Clay Stafford promises the conference and hotel are taking precautions, but I’m not comfortable taking any chances. Heck, I’m still masking up everywhere I go and I’m still using Walmart’s pickup service for my groceries until this all blows over.

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford poses with guests Joyce Carol Oates and David Morrell.

Killer Nashville is one of my favorite events every year, which makes missing out so difficult.

The four-day event held each August (this is its 15th gathering after skipping last year because of the pandemic) attracts some of the best authors from across the globe for informative, educational, and entertaining panels on writing mystery, crime, and thrillers across a variety of mediums, including novels, short stories, and screenplays.

Anne Perry

The event is typically headlined by a few best-selling authors. Past guests have included Jeffery Deaver, William Kent Krueger, Joyce Carol Oates, Otto Penzler, Max Allen Collins, Anne Perry, and Janet Evanovich, to name just a few. This year’s conference honors guests Walter Mosley, Lisa Black, and Tennessee’s own J.T. Ellison.

In addition to a nonstop slate of panels presented by attending authors and other guests, the event features an awards banquet for best published and unpublished novel in numerous categories, a mock crime scene to test your deductive skills, and pitch meetings with agents and editors.

But perhaps one of the best aspects of the conference is just meeting and networking with folks. I’ve met numerous authors and am fortunate to call them friends. The writing community at Killer Nashville is just that – a community of writers who genuinely support and encourage each other in all phases of their writing journey.

Clay Stafford

The event, of course, wouldn’t be the success it is without the vision of KN founder Clay Stafford (there’s a great interview with him here) and dedication of his staff. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside each of them over recent years as a book reviewer, Claymore contest reviewer, and volunteer. I even served on a panel one year, which still blows my mind.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing Week in Review

My co-writer Jay Wright and I finished some revisions to our crime feature script Kings of Mississippi and submitted it to the Finish Line Screenplay Contest. We got some excellent feedback on our first read through from one of their readers that strengthened some of the emotional elements of the script. Now we wait and see if the revised script makes the quarterfinals cut.

I also tweaked a short horror script I wrote called Kurupira and entered it in the Fresh Blood Selects contest.

My other short horror script Skin, which just narrowly missed the Finals stage in the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition, failed to even make it to the quarterfinals in The Script Lab’s Free Screenwriting Competition. Sigh. Of course, there were 13,000 entries overall and only the top 1,000 made the first round of cuts. I’m sure Skin must have been right there knocking on the door, though, probably at No. 1001. Yeah.

And I made a little more progress on my spec script episode of What We Do in the Shadows. If you’re familiar with the FX show, you know it’s about a trio of vampires living in Staten Island. In my episode, Nandor and his familiar Guillermo attend a “Vampires Anonymous” meeting, while Laszlo and Nadja go to a Little League baseball game. To coin a phrase, hilarity ensues.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had planned to start on my feature script Jerry Lonely, but I’m still outlining it. Hopefully, I’ll have all the major plot points worked out and be ready to do the actual writing in September. The title has piqued the interest of several readers who want to know more, but all I will say about it at this point is that I’ve been watching The Godfather movies as prep work.

Which brings me to: My writing calendar.

Every couple of months or so I revise and prioritize my list of ongoing writing projects. I have a list of screenplays (shorts, TV pilots, and features) and other writing projects (shorts stories and novels) that I try to juggle. I try to match it up with upcoming contest or submission deadlines and then go from there.

Often, my plans go to hell, and I find myself having to reconfigure them a couple months later. But at least I’m trying.

I plan to use these weekly blog posts in part to help hold myself accountable to my writing plans by posting updates on my progress each week. My goal in the week ahead is to finish the first draft of the What We Do in the Shadows script and outline a TV pilot script. Check back here next week and I’ll let you know how I did.

What I’m Reading

Last week, I posted about the importance of reading and I’ve been making progress on my to be read pile.

I read the pilot script for the Emmy-nominated Hacks and listened to a streaming panel with the creators and actors, courtesy of Deadline’s Contenders series. There are more than a dozen other panels with the creators and stars of other Emmy-nominated shows on the platform, all free to view online.

I also finished reading a screenplay from one of my fellow Tennessee Screenwriting members and will be sending him some notes after I post this.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger, which I should finish by the weekend. I’ll then start on The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. I’m reviewing both books for BookPage.

Until next time…

Read everything, read always

Welcome to another weekly installment of my blog.

Since I updated you on my writing efforts last week, I thought I’d take this week’s space to write about my other passion: reading.

They really go hand in hand, of course. If you’re going to be a great writer, whether it’s a novelist, screenwriter, playwright, or journalist, you need to be well-read. You need to not only keep up on your respective industry’s news and highlights, but you also need to read what others are writing. And, more importantly, you need to study.

“People like to say that the best advice they can give to writers is to read a lot. And that’s true, of course. But you shouldn’t just read literature. You should read life. Read movies, and art, and people. Read everything around you, very critically. Then build your method out of that process.”

— Anthony Veasna So

I know, it sounds like work. But if you’re passionate about it, like I am, then reading is a pleasure.

When I first ventured into screenwriting, I really didn’t know much about the craft at all. I bought a few books about screenwriting to learn about the basics: character arcs, story structure, format, and so on. (The folks over at Script Reader Pro have put together a great list of the 12 Best Screenwriting Books to Read in 2021, if you’re interested. And as if that isn’t enough, they also have a nifty list of the 8 Best Non-Screenwriting Books That Will Help You Become a Better Screenwriter, focusing on such topics as fear of failure, productivity, creativity, motivation, the ego, stress, sleep, inspiration and more.)

Of course, there’s only so much you can get from a book on the craft. To really experience the nuances and intricacies of screenwriting, you must read screenplays. The more you read, the easier it is to recognize how other writers…write. What they do well, how they do what they do.

When I first ventured into the screenwriting game, I enlisted as a script reader for the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition in 2014. After an introductory session on what to look for in a good screenplay, I was off and running. I think I read over a hundred scripts in my first year! I even got to serve as a judge one year.

The folks at Nashville appreciated me so much, they recommended me as a reader for the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. I’ve read for them for several years now, although I haven’t read nearly as much over the last two years. For one thing, I’ve been writing more so I’ve had to limit my reading output. And, secondly, I’ve focused more intently on reading screenplays from produced shows and movies. Instead of reading with a mindset of looking for what not to do, I’m reading with an eye toward what screenwriters did to make their scripts sing.

Scott Myers, who writes the daily Go Into the Story blog, has compiled this list of 30 screenplays to read. And if that’s not enough, there’s more here. He even has a seven-part series on How to Read a Screenplay for structure, characters, themes, style, and more.

Reading the scripts for Academy Award nominees and Emmy-nominated scripts has been a new priority for me. These are supposed to be the best of the best scripts, so I try to give each of them a thorough read. Fortunately, there are numerous sites online that make the award-nominated scripts available. Every time I see one listed, I immediately download and save it to my cloud server. (Scripts tend to disappear from the internet after a while, so it’s best to save them when you can.).

I’m currently reading this year’s crop of Emmy-nominated scripts (including the pilot episodes for Ted Lasso, The Queen’s Gambit, Lovecraft Country,  The Crown, and many others) ahead of the awards show in September. I admit, I haven’t seen a lot of the episodes – I’m limited to what’s on Amazon Prime and DirecTV – as there are too many streamers out there. But reading the scripts can be equally as educating and entertaining.

The Script Lab has a great library of screenplays of produced movies you can download and read. And if you want to read what some of the best unproduced screenwriters are writing, you can check out some of the top winning scripts from The Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship.

I’m also always happy to read screenplays from screenwriting peers and provide feedback. The Tennessee Screenwriting Association meets each week to read and critique scripts from members.  I recently read fellow member Elvis Wilson’s Driving Top Down, which is a semifinalist in the Vail Film Festival screenwriting competition, and Bob Giordano’s new script, Southern Draw.

I also recently had the pleasure of reading the hilariously entertaining How to Make it in Hollywood by Christopher O’Bryant and Shia LeBeouf Won the Wrong Mutherf*ckin’ Screenwriting Competition by Kevin Nelson, both of whom I came across on Twitter (I’ll write about networking, another important aspect of the screenwriting game, another time).

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

— Dr. Seuss

If I’m not reading screenplays, I’ve more than likely got my nose in a book. I read and review books regularly for BookPage and Chapter 16 (click the links to see my reviews). I used to get a lot of ARCs (advance reader copies) of books before they hit the shelves, but since the pandemic started the books have largely migrated to electronic versions (which I don’t prefer, although I do have a Kindle and tablet). I favor physical copies, but I make do as best I can. I’ve even been “reading” some audio books for BookPage (another topic for another day).

I’m currently reading a pair of mystery/crime thrillers, Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger and The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. And waiting in the wings, Don Winslow’s City on Fire. (Sadly, Winslow just announced he’s delaying the release of the book until early 2022 because he’s canceling his book appearances this fall due to the pandemic. He was slated to be at this year’s Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but will hopefully reschedule for next year’s event.)

I’m also making my way through the recently re-issued seven-volume Horror Library series of books from Dark Moon Books, which I’ll be reviewing on this and other sites.

And finally, I scour the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and my e-mail for tips on the craft of writing as well as industry-related news. I’ll pass along links to some of the more interesting and useful articles in future blogs (something I used to do here quite often).

But I’ve rambled long enough. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments!

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.”

The Last Scoop’s reporter tenacious, razor-sharp

By G. Robert Frazier

I’d love to see Clare Carlson in the White House Briefing Room.

The main character in R.G. Belsky’s new novel, The Last Scoop, she’s tenacious, razor-sharp, asks tough questions, and doesn’t back down from anyone. President Trump would likely try to silence her by claiming she’s “fake news,” but Clare isn’t the type who would take it sitting down. She’d snap back until, a) she loses her White House press credentials or b) sends Trump running back to the Oval Office with his tail between his legs.

The Last Scoop by R.G. Belsky
Oceanview, $26.95, 9781608093571

That’s not to say that Clare doesn’t have more than a few faults.

Her brash style makes more enemies than friends. She’s no good when it comes to sustaining a romantic relationship (she’s been married and divorced numerous times). She can be deceitful when it comes to getting what she wants. And she isn’t above lying to her long-lost daughter, though with good reason.

Journalists are, by nature, supposed to be impartial observers, dedicated to detailing the day’s news in matter of fact, unbiased fashion. But Clare’s first-person narration easily draws readers into her world while showing her real feelings and emotional reactions to events.

In other words, she’s human.

In The Last Scoop, all of the above comes into play as Clare gets caught up in an investigation left unfinished after the death of her mentor, Martin Barlow. Clare feels somewhat guilty about turning her back on Martin since her move to the big city of New York where she is now a TV news editor and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.

To make amends, at least in her own mind, she takes up Martin’s last story: uncovering a serial killer who has left bodies in his wake for decades. Her nose for news and relentless pursuit of the truth soon finds her butting heads with her boss, the local district attorney, and the FBI.

Belsky, who marks his third novel with Clare as protagonist and fourteenth novel overall, has crafted another a fast-paced mystery. As a former metro editor with the New York Post and managing editor at NBC News, Belsky knows the news biz and it shows clearly.

While I was a bit disappointed to learn the identity of the serial killer – I’ll only say that I feel it’s become a bit of a cliché in the mystery genre in the interest of giving away spoilers — one thing you can be certain of, Clare Carlson is anything but fake news. Here’s hoping Belsky has another scoop or two for Clare to expose in future novels.