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.

Killer Nashville writers’ conference full of inspiration, fun

Best-selling authors M. William Phelps, left, and John Gilstrap, right, and someday best-selling author G. Robert Frazier, center, seen at the 2015 Killer Nashville writers's conference.

Best-selling authors M. William Phelps, left, and John Gilstrap, right, and someday best-selling author G. Robert Frazier, center, seen at the 2015 Killer Nashville writers’s conference.

by G. Robert Frazier

The Killer Nashville writers’ conference has come and gone, I’ve had a day or two to decompress, and now it’s time to share some takeaways.

Overall, the conference was an enjoyable and educational experience. Kudos go to conference founder Clay Stafford, Jaden (Beth) Terrell, staff and volunteers. Everyone was especially friendly and helpful. The conference included three days of panels (as many as five panels running simultaneously every hour or so), breakout sessions, roundtable pitch sessions with agents and editors, guest lectures, autograph signings, and social gatherings. There were a few last-minute changes of rooms and panel lineups, and even a few technical glitches with the in-room audio systems, but somehow they managed to pull it off without too much confusion or frustration to the attendees.

killer nashville bookA highlight of the event was the book launch for the first-ever Killer Nashville anthology, Cold-Blooded. I managed to get autographs from most of the authors who attended. (Somehow I missed you Paula Benson!) Can’t wait to read all the stories and setting my sights on being a part of next year’s anthology!

I met a lot of other writers in attendance, “friended” their Facebook sites, and followed their Twitter accounts. (If you’re reading this and I didn’t get to you, just like me on Facebook and follow me @grfrazier23 and I’ll return the favor.) I encourage everyone to stay in touch. Writing is a lonely business and we can all use each other’s support and encouragement.

The conference’s guests of honor -– best-sellers John Gilstrap, M. William Phelps, and Robert K. Tanenbaum — were each fantastic. Clay Stafford did a great job interviewing each of them and getting them to share wonderful stories about the business of writing.

M. William Phelps

M. William Phelps

Phelps opened the conference with the talk: “Crime Pays: Books, Television and Film – The Explosion of the (Serial) Killer Genre,” sharing insights into the true nature of serial killers contrasted with the entertainment world’s depiction of such killers. He also provided attendees with the true story behind his hair (it’s about branding and marketing, ways to make you stand out in a crowd)!

Gilstrap provided the most moving and uplifting speech of the weekend with his “Dare to Dream” segment. He said the secret to finding writing success is to persevere. Keep believing in yourself even when others don’t.

Gilstrap also had the best, most memorable quotes from the weekend:

  • “The smartest conversations you will ever have is with writers.”
  • “I’m of the belief that we don’t value dreaming enough.”
  • On Hollywood: “You count your fingers after you shake hands.”
  • “Every success is preceded by rejection and failure.”
  • On writing: “The act of stopping is the act of surrendering.”
Murder She Wrote authors Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain sign a copy of their latest book in memory of my mother, one of their biggest fans.

Murder She Wrote authors Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain sign a copy of their latest book in memory of my mother, one of their biggest fans.

The award for friendliest authors has to go to Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain, co-authors of the best-selling Murder She Wrote series. My mother was a huge fan of the Murder She Wrote series and loved the books. The Bains signed a copy of their newest book in her memory and I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with them about the series.

Robert K. Tanenbaum was by far the best-dressed author. Believe it or not, this was his first-ever conference appearance!

Best-hair belonged to M. William Phelps.

Following are some other highlights and observations, as well as my personal rankings on the panels and events I attended (one star being fair, two stars being good, three stars being very good and four stars being excellent):

  • Get A Literary Agent**** with literary agent/best-selling author Sheree Bykofsky. A great kickoff to the event on Thursday, Bykofsky provided practical advice on how to write a query letter and how to make a verbal pitch to agents. She was knowledgeable, encouraging, funny, and, perhaps above all, approachable. Plus, I won a free book from her for my “elevator” pitch.
  • Pacing Your Novel*** — The panelists here had a lively discussion about tips and tricks to keep your thriller novel moving. As panelist Don Helin pointed out, “Emotion is what drives real suspense.” Panelist Ken Vanderpool said he ranks each chapter he writes by the amount of tension it creates on a 1 to 10 scale, so that when you then look at a series of chapters together they should resemble a heartbeat graph with ups and downs along the way. And hey, they even had handouts! I love handouts.

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  • Crime Scene/Dupin Detective Award*** — Dan Royse, assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, created a mock crime scene for participants to solve, complete with evidence to log and process, video interviews with “witnesses,” and a floorplan/grid on which to outline the murder scene and evidence found. The sheer amount of clues and information to be processed was remarkable in itself and gave me a new respect for the true men and women of law enforcement. All those TV shows fail to capture the true details that go into solving crimes.
  • Getting it All Done: Time Management for Writers**** — Another great panel, focusing on how to keep procrastination at bay and how to shut off your internal editor as you write. Author/panelist Jonni Rich suggested always ending each writing session on an upbeat note so that you’re excited when you get back to it. Lynn Cahoon suggested using apps like Freedom and Self Control to keep you off the internet until your writing session is over. “It takes courage to open that word document,” she said. “Your book has to take priority.” This panel proved to be time well spent.
  • How to Write A Thriller*** — Author David Bell described the thriller as stories of “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.” “It should engage the heart as much as your head,” he said. Bell is a proponent of outlining because it gives no excuse for writer’s block. Recommended reading from the group: any John Sandford novel or early Robert Ludlum. For young adult genre writers, visit the Better Novel Project for a breakdown on how to write YA.
  • How to Write Effective Scenes*** — Philip Cioffari did a great job of breaking down scenes into their core elements and showing how writers can craft the best scenes possible. One trick: be aware of what’s going on in both the foreground and background of your scenes. It’s stuff most writers have encountered before, but served as good refresher material and good introductory material for writers just starting out. I was disappointed to have to leave the session early because of an agent roundtable I had scheduled.
  • How to Write Speculative Fiction** — This panel never really found its footing. I was eager to hear from writer about writing in the horror, sci-fi, paranormal genres, but they spent the first half of the session addressing more routine matters, such as outlining or “pantsing.” At that point I left to find a panel that was more on topic.

One astounding fact was that nearly everyone in attendance was already published. Whether with a traditional publisher, indie publisher or self-published, they all had books for sale or to talk about and they all managed to get onto a panel. It was discouraging in a way for anyone unpublished, but also encouraging in that if all these people can get published, there’s no reason anyone just starting out can’t too. The Killer Nashville folks recorded all the sessions and plan to make them available to attendees. I’m eager to see and hear what I missed.

Neither of the ticketed bonus sessions I attended were worth the extra money. (Lesson learned for the next time I attend.) The final event, in fact, was a big disappointment. It was supposed to bring together six of the agents attending the conference for a panel on what agents really want, but only half of them showed up. The others went home early. Not good when you’ve paid extra money for that session and you only get half of what was promised.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the venue. The Omni Hotel in Nashville was spacious (maybe just a bit too large) and clean, convenient to downtown, and elegant (and a bit cold). There were plenty of spaces to relax outside of the panel rooms to catch up with other authors or to just sit and unwind. The art adorning the walls was spectacular to look at, as were the views from the large windows. Even the patterns on the carpet and the chandeliers in the conference rooms were impressive.

All in all, I’d say Killer Nashville 2015 killed it.

More on Killer Nashville:

Anthology commemorates 10 years of Killer Nashville – BookPage

Killer Nashville shiny, bright – Mudpies and Magnolias

An interview with Killer Nashville author C. Hope Clark – The Reading Frenzy

A Conversation with Killer Nashville author Maggie Toussaint – Omnimystery News

Killer Nashville: Mystery, suspense all about setting the pace

Killer Nashville logoby G. Robert Frazier

The pace with which you approach your work, as well as the pace of the work itself, emerged as a common theme at Day 2 of the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference Friday.

Running through Sunday at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Nashville, the conference brings together hundreds of writers and book lovers for four days of educational seminars, lectures by best-selling crime authors, agent and editor roundtables, and social networking.

Today’s lineup for attendees includes Guest of Honor speakers John Gilstrap, M. William Phelps, and Robert K. Tanenbaum, culminating with Killer Nashville’s annual banquet and awards ceremony. The public can get in on some of the activities at no charge as part of the conference’s first-ever BookCon, where they can meet Gilstrap, Tanenbaum, Phelps and Murder She Wrote authors Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain. A full lineup of events is available online at www.KillerNashville.com

But remember to pace yourself, because you’ll want to stay all day.

Writers on hand Friday, including myself, learned firsthand about how pacing plays an important role in any novel. Panelists Ken Vanderpool, David Bell, Don Helin, and Sharon Marchisello provided tips on how to turn up the tension and keep readers turning the pages in your novel.

Shorter sentences and chapters, cliffhangers, rapid-fire dialogue, active voice, short hard-edged sentence fragments were just some of the tactics shared to create a quicker reading experience. The opposite techniques are useful in slowing down the pace of the novel, allowing your character, and readers, a chance to catch their breath.

But perhaps the most important element, Helin noted, is the emotional connection authors strive to create between their characters and readers. If the reader can be drawn to empathize with the character and his/her plight, then they’ll be swept along for the ride, experiencing each high and low the character experiences.

Pacing in the first few pages of any novel also emerged as a key component during editor-agent roundtables throughout the day. Publishers want to get hooked by writers right away, without a lot of boring and unnecessary backstory. There’s time enough for that later, but a quick jump out of the starting blocks is crucial. Anything less could be the difference between obtaining representation, book deals, and readers who want to come back for more.

Killer Nashville packed with informative panels, best-selling authors

Killer Nashville logo

by G. Robert Frazier

This weekend’s Killer Nashville writer’s conference, which actually gets underway Thursday, promises four days of education, networking, and fun for mystery and thriller writers.

Now that I’ve decided to attend (and catch the Austin Film Fest next year), I’m faced with another set of choices. Like many conferences, the event features a number of panels running concurrently with one another, which means I will have to pick and choose which ones to attend and which ones to skip.

Not exactly an easy task, I might add.

Continue reading

Decision made: Killer Nashville this year, Austin next year

A few weeks ago I had something of a dilemma: Attend the Austin Film Festival or the Killer Nashville writer’s conference. Both are coming up this weekend.

The big difference between the two is that Austin’s writer’s panels focus on screenwriting while Nashville’s is a novel writer’s conference. I’m more than interested in both avenues of writing. I’m working on a mystery-thriller novel and I am writing a couple of screenplays. In other words, I desperately want to attend both conferences.

Austin Film Festival logoMany of my friends suggested Austin as the better of the two, and I certainly was leaning that way as well. It’s been around a lot longer and it’s a much more prestigious conference. I also had earned a conference badge to attend all four days of panels and events at Austin for my work as a reader in its script competition over the summer. You can’t beat free admission, right?

Well, as it turns out, I guess you can.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on attending Austin’s fest this year. I only got the gig reading for the fest thanks to a surprise recommendation from the folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I also am a script reader. I was initially asked to read just twenty scripts in exchange for a one-day conference pass, but I wound up reading over fifty scripts in a two-month period. The folks at Austin upped my reward to a full four-day pass. It was an unexpected privilege and an incredible opportunity, and there began my dilemma.

Killer Nashville logoUntil then I had my sights set on attending the Killer Nashville conference. In fact, I nearly bought my Killer Nashville registration back in the spring (if I had, the whole debate would already have been settled). I held off, partly because I wasn’t sure what my plans would be by the end of October and I didn’t want to make a commitment I wouldn’t be able to keep. And partly because of the cost of admission in the first place. Writer’s conferences aren’t cheap, as you may well know.

Well, as noted above, the decision ultimately boiled down to affordability. Even though admission to Austin was free, I’d still have to find cheap air fare and an inexpensive hotel. But if I stayed too far off the beaten path from downtown, I was afraid I would miss out on a key part of the Austin experience.

The Nashville gig, on the other hand, is right in my backyard. No hotel, no air fare to worry about on short notice. What’s more, there are plenty of panels, a bookcon, agent/editor roundtables, and parties to attend.

I suppose I could have made Austin work with some thrifty shopping, scrimping and saving. Fortunately, AFF competition manager Matt Dy has already extended an invitation for me to read again next year. With that in mind, I feel a bit better about skipping Austin this year. I can plan ahead and make certain I get to Austin next fall.

So, decision made, and one that I am comfortable with. Killer Nashville, here I come.

 

 

Review: Devil’s Pocket offers YA action, intrigue

In today’s society where everyone gets a trophy no matter how you finish, it’s no wonder that kids get so excited about do-or-die worlds like The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, or The Maze Runner. The imaginary free-for-alls that make those books and movies so popular seem to provide kids with an outlet for their competitive spirit… At least in a literary kind of way.

Devil's PocketAuthor John Dixon’s latest young adult novel, Devil’s Pocket, rides that trend with its own kill-or-be-killed funeral games. The novel focuses on 16-year-old Carl Freeman, who has been technologically enhanced by a chip in his head, and hundreds more throughout his body, turning him into a lightning-quick, lethal super soldier. Along with two other members of Phoenix Force, he will be pitted in the squared circle against the best young fighters in the world in a deadly competition. At stake: $10 million, bragging rights, and their very lives.

But as the body count continues to grow, Carl becomes more and more disillusioned by the game he’s been forced to play. Barely able to keep his temper in check, he and former girlfriend Octavia, who represents an opposing team, begin to plot their escape and the demise of the Few, a collection of masked overlords who run the games for their own nefarious purposes. The tension boils over into an explosive climax reminiscent of a James Bond movie.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: The Dead Student is exciting, psychological thriller

New York Times best-selling author John Katzenbach knows how to get into people’s heads, whether it’s in the psyche of his characters, or the minds of his readers. His newest novel, The Dead Student (The Mysterious Press, Oct. 6), is a perfect example.

KatzenbachThe Dead Student wastes no time shaking things up for his protagonist, Timothy Warner. A PhD student better known by his nickname “Moth”, Timothy is a recovering alcoholic who battles the temptation to sink into the depths of drink and despair every day. Even with ninety-nine days of sobriety behind him, Moth knows he is one glass away from falling into a devastating abyss.

When his AA sponsor Uncle Ed is found dead, that yawning pit opens beneath Moth. It is only through a concerted effort, and the help of his AA group, Redeemer One, that he sobers up long enough to realize that his uncle would never kill himself. But gut feelings like his aren’t proof enough for police, who appear more than comfortable with their suicide theory.

Read the full review
 at Killer Nashville.

Book review: Dragonfish weaves noir, memoir into thrilling read

Review by G. Robert Frazier

Dragonfish, like Gone Girl, is two interconnected stories in one – and both are thoroughly engrossing. Written by Vu Tran, the novel is part noir-crime thriller and part literary memoir.

DragonfishAt the heart of both stories is Suzy, a Vietnamese woman haunted by her past and her own inability to find true happiness with either of the men in her life. Her mood swings—from attentive and loving wife to sullen and mysterious stranger—baffle both men, Oakland police officer Robert Ruen and Vietnamese gangster Sonny Van Nguyen, neither of whom can let her go once she decides to leave them. Robert’s off-duty investigation takes him into the seamy warrens of casinos and gambling dens of Las Vegas, with Sonny’s sadistic son “Junior” shadowing his every move.

The story takes on a grim tone of mystery, lost love, and the slim hope of atonement for Robert, who is forever remorseful for having struck Suzy during one of their arguments. That tone is reflected further in Suzy’s own story, told in a collection of letters to her daughter, recounting her journey of discovery from a refugee camp in Malaysia after the fall of Saigon to her life in America.

Read my full review on Killer Nashville’s website.

Additional reading: The immigrant story as noir: Vu Tran’s artistic obsesscions

Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines are a steal

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I only occasionally purchase Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. Not because I don’t want to, mind you, but because I’ve got so much other material to read already (including back issues I still haven’t finished yet.) But, obsessed with reading as I am, when I saw a recent online offer for a dozen double-sized magazines for a measly $16, I couldn’t resist. If you’ve never tried either magazine, and you love a good mystery story, you can’t go wrong with either publication. Some of today’s top authors are featured routinely in the pages of either magazine, and I’ve set my sites  on both magazines for my own short stories to appear one day. (Hey, to be among the best, you have to read the best!).

Do you read short stories? What are your favorite sources for new short stories? Share in the comments section below…

Review: What You Left Behind sometimes thrills, sometimes frustrates

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on events in What You Left Behind, the new novel by Samantha Hayes, she throws you a curve. That’s normally a good thing in a mystery-suspense novel. The twists and turns should be enough to keep readers glued to the pages, but in this case it backfires.

What You Left BehindThe book ($25, Crown Publishers) starts on a thrilling note as a pair of thieves out for a midnight joyride on a stolen motorcycle lose control and careen into a tree. The female passenger, who narrates the chapter but is never identified, manages to slip away into the night. The male rider is killed. A suicide note found in his belongings, the fact that he wasn’t wearing a helmet, and the lack of skid marks at the scene, lead police to conclude that the wreck was a suicide.

Rather than follow the story of the rider who walked away, and why she didn’t come forward, the novel takes the first of many turns. Instead, we are introduced to detective inspector Lorraine Fisher and her daughter Stella as they spend their vacation visiting with Lorraine’s sister, Jo, in the rural village of Radcote. After a second apparent suicide, Jo and others in the community worry that the death may be another in a spate of suicides of its young people, similar to one that occurred there two years ago. Lorraine eventually begins to suspect otherwise and begins a plodding investigation that really doesn’t go anywhere. She pesters the local police, particularly a former associate she despises, to reopen the investigation.

But even this plotline gets shuffled to the background. Hayes begins another tangent involving Freddie, the depressed teenage son of Jo, who is the victim of cyber bullying. Freddie keeps it all to himself and eventually runs off with a stolen laptop. The laptop contains compromising photos of a pair of locals. Freddie witnesses the murder of another teenager, who, you guessed it, police determine died as a result of a suicide. Lorraine thinks otherwise and her investigation is back on again.

Meanwhile, there’s an autistic man, Gil, in town who sometimes jumps to the fore of the story by narrating several chapters. The reader is led to suspect him of being behind the rash of foul deeds in another red herring from Hayes. Gil even holds Freddie against his will in the latter stages of the book. I won’t give everything away, but Freddie’s life is put on the line in an exciting series of chapters near the end, leading to the eventual truth behind things. Or, so we think, until the epilogue where Hayes adds one final twist.

It wouldn’t be a mystery without a false lead or two and several twists, so in this arena Hayes succeeds. Where she goes astray is in maintaining a constant thread tying everything together. On several occasions it seemed like certain plotlines were simply forgotten for long stretches of time. Lorraine’s so-called investigation pales in interest to Freddie’s story, but Lorraine is supposed to be our protagonist of the tale. By the time everything is tied together at the end, it seemed rushed and somewhat contrived.

And, what’s more, one of the most fascinating plot elements – the cyberbullying of Freddie – is completely ignored. It has nothing to do with anything. I don’t know if that’s a red herring or just a blatant mistake. In either case, I was dissatisfied with the outcome of that plot element and its relation to the rest of the book, especially considering how much time was devoted to the cyberbullying.

Hayes demonstrates she can write with power and authority. The scenes where Freddie’s life hangs in the balance – literally – are top-notch. Unfortunately, the many plotlines, subplots and rabbit trails in the rest of the book complicate and muddle an otherwise entertaining read. Sometimes, simple is better.

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.