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: Bazaar of Bad Dreams has everyone talking about King again

by G. Robert Frazier

Every day I scour the web and my newsfeeds for interesting articles about reading and writing. Because I’m such a swell guy, I then like to share the links to the best stories and most helpful advice I come across. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve seen and read this week that may also interest my fellow writers:

The Bazaar of Bad DreamsIf you haven’t noticed, Stephen King has been all over the news this past week in conjunction with the release of his newest collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. King is a god among authors so anything he does demands attention and further study. At the Killer Nashville conference this past week several of the panelists referenced King as a major influencer of theirs while also citing his popular book on the craft, On Writing. Novelist James Smythe shared 10 things he’s learned from Stephen King in a recent article on The Guardian’s website. The New York Times did an interesting interview with him this week, describing him as not just the guy who makes monsters. If you still can’t get enough Stephen King, check out this article and video clips from the Dick Cavett Horror Roundtable in 1980 in which he hosts King, Peter Straub, Ira Levin and George A. Romero. And after you read his latest book and reread On Writing and have learned all you can from the master, you can enter the Stephen King Short Story Contest.

While we’re on the subject of horror stories, check out this Art of Stories article on plotting a great ghost story. There are several links to ghost stories to read and other articles on writing ghost stories.

Speaking of short stories, Literary Hub shared an interesting piece from the introduction of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore on why we read and write short stories.

I keep saying I’m going to start a writing journal and this article about John Steinbeck’s writing journal is further reason why I should.

Finally, here’s an interesting video discussion between writers Alan Moore and John Higgs, describing HP Lovecraft, horror, and 20th century America.

Read anything interesting about writing on the web? Share it in the comments section.

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.

IMG_20151030_114738104 (1280x721)

  • 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

Mock crime scene a highlight of Killer Nashville writers’ conference

by G. Robert Frazier

One of the coolest things about the Killer Nashville writers’ conference happening this weekend is the mock crime scene that participants will have an opportunity to solve. Not that crime is cool, of course, but playing amateur sleuth definitely is. And since mystery writers love to make up deadly scenarios with which to challenge their readers, it’s only fair that the tables are turned on them.

Dan Royse, who has many years of experience processing real crime scenes in law enforcement investigations and has overseen the mock murder scene since it began during Killer Nashville’s second year, is again laying out the puzzle pieces for this year’s conference. Like last year’s mystery, the crime is an original creation and not based on actual, true life events as they have been in the past.

Killer Nashville logoRoyse explains part of that has to do with Killer Nashville’s move last year to the prestigious Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville.

“We used hotel boiler rooms, parking garages, mechanical rooms, stairwells, etc. – essentially areas that we were able to clean up afterwards with a mop,” explained Royse, who is assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “When the venue was changed to the Omni, I had to adapt to the available space, which was a meeting room with very specific rules about keeping the space clean. Since the location always dictates what you are able to do with a mock scene, I had to come up with something that was cleaner, and more about the investigation than the actual crime scene.

“So, it will be original rather than ripped from the headlines, but still interesting,” he promised.

Royse will introduce Killer Nashville attendees to the particulars of the crime beginning at 9:35 Friday morning in Broadway Ballroom E & F at the Omni. The crime scene will open at 10 a.m. in Cumberland 4, where attendees will then have an opportunity to examine, sketch, and search for physical evidence. A series of mock witness interviews will also be available.

Attendees-turned-amateur-sleuths will be able to draw their own conclusions and form a hypothesis of what happened, who they think is responsible for the crime, and what evidence will prove it. Solutions must be turned in by 12:45 p.m. Saturday, when the crime scene will close. One lucky attendee with the right answer will be declared the Dupin Detective Award winner at Saturday night’s dinner and awards banquet.

As a former newspaper journalist who used to pound the police beat daily and as an avid reader of mysteries, I am particularly excited about the mock crime scene. Hey, if Jessica Fletcher, the beloved fictional writer of the hit TV show Murder She Wrote, can outwit the crooks, so can I. Maybe.

While the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference caters to readers, writers, and law enforcement professionals, it is open to anyone who wants to attend. If you’re in the Nashville area this weekend, you can still get in on the action. Tickets to attend the day-long panels and parties can still be obtained at the door. For more information on prices and a schedule of events, visit http://www.killernashville.com.

 

 

 

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

Review: Medical thriller Fatal Complications best left in the waiting room

By G. Robert Frazier

Believable characters – and what motivates them to do what they do – are the key to any great story. If the reader can’t buy into the character’s actions, then the story is going to fail no matter if everything else is done well. Unfortunately, Fatal Complications (Oceanview Publishing, Dec. 1, $26.95) by John Benedict is lacking in this area.

IMG_20151027_132424480 (861x1280)A medical thriller set in a small hospital, the novel follows anesthesiologist Luke Daulton who discovers things aren’t what they appear to be. An operating room emergency leads him to suspect that his surgeon boss, Dr. Katz, is behind some kind of nefarious scheme.

The FBI is also suspicious of activity at the hospital and has planted a spy within its walls to ferret out the truth. When the spy discovers damning evidence and is about to bring it in, Katz and his right hand man, a giant Russian orderly, knock him out and dump his body into the hospital incinerator.

But, Gwen, who is the girlfriend of another hospital worker, has seen the whole thing. She also happens upon a piece of paper in the trash at her billing office with some strange numbers on it – it’s a Sudoku page, go figure — and immediately makes a leap that it has something to do with our dead FBI guy. She passes the paper on to her boyfriend, Ron, who passes it to Luke, who passes it to his wife, Kim, who has a knack for puzzles. (See how this all makes sense?)

Rather than call police, Gwen confronts Katz directly in an attempt to blackmail him, while Kim deciphers the message on the Sudoku puzzle and learns that Katz is trying to kill a state senator who is in the hospital for gall bladder surgery.

Did I mention that Katz is completely off his rocker? His son died in a house fire fifteen years ago and ever since he’s developed a thorough hatred for God. He lets evil consume him while he plans “the complete domination of mankind.” But before he implements those plans, he takes on the job of killing the state senator, because you can’t rule the world without money, right?

By now, you have probably figured out what’s wrong with this novel. Too many coincidences, contrivances, and implausible motivations. I.e., a lack of believable characters.

It’s a shame, really, because outside of all of that Benedict proves to be a capable wordsmith. His action scenes are strong, his descriptions vivid, and his medical knowledge is clearly evident. Benedict is a board certified anesthesiologist in private practice in Harrisburg, Pa., according to the book’s notes on the author. He is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Penn State University College of Medicine where he completed a cardiac anesthesia fellowship, so he certainly has the credentials in medicine to write with authority in his medical scenes.

As a reader, you do feel like you are there in the operating room with the main character. But it would be best to leave this book in the waiting room.

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.

Review: The New World excites, then settles into a lull

by G. Robert Frazier

Welcome to the New World, Jim Hawkins; it’s savage, untamed, and wholly unpredictable. Hawkins, the son of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more renowned Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island fame, and his companion Natty get a rude introduction to life in North America courtesy of author Andrew Motion’s The New World (Crown Publishers, $25).

the new worldPart action-adventure part literary memoir, the novel picks up on the heels of Motion’s earlier unofficial sequel, Silver, with a violent shipwreck off the coast of Texas. Jim and Natty are among the only survivors, though their true ordeal is only just beginning.

Before they are able to gather their wits about them, the pair are beset upon by a tribe of brutal Native Americans who take them prisoner while plundering the debris of the shipwreck and its lost treasures The only other survivor of the ship, Mr. Stevenson, is quickly shot to death by the Indians’ arrows, immediately upping the tension for Jim and Natty.

The death of Stevenson is symbolic in a way of how this book deviates from the more action-oriented fare of the original author. After being taken into captivity, The New World morphs into a more introspective-laden memoir, detailing Jim’s every thought and nuance during his ordeal. There is considerably less emphasis on action and more attention given to Jim’s thoughts and feelings on everything from his life with his father to life with Natty to the lives of his captors.

Motion aptly hooks the reader with his forceful prose, then allows the lulls in the action to express himself in a more lyrical voice. His love of words and their sing-song quality — he is one of the UK’s most renowned poets and was actually poet laureate for ten years – is clearly evident.

That’s all well in good, for literary readers. For those who favor the swift action of a genre story, however, the sudden shift in styles and contrast in the story’s tone is a bit of a letdown. After a bold, action-packed start, the novel segues into moody memoir and colorful description. The action only briefly reasserts itself late in the novel when Hawkins must face his Indian captors in a final showdown in the bustling port city of New Orleans.

The New World lacks the sense of fun and danger that its classic predecessor managed to instill, instead taking on a darker, more serious tone. Nor is Hawkins’ antagonist, Black Cloud, remotely as interesting as Silver in Treasure Island. His companion, Natty, is unfortunately a totally unlikable character from the start.

Overall, The New World races out of the gate, but crawls to the finish line.

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