Review: Constance Kopp a heroine worth waiting for

Author Update (9-28-15): Author Amy Stewart promises a sequel in the Kopp sisters story due in 2016. Also, movie and/or TV offers in the works. Read more at http://nurph.com/LitChat/chats/2481

by G. Robert Frazier

Constance Kopp could be just the leading lady Hollywood has been waiting for. She’s independent, resourceful, intelligent, brave, and she won’t back down from any man. While we wait for the inevitable movie adaptation and for the dust to settle over which A-list actress should portray her on the big screen, readers can whet their appetite for Constance’s adventures now in the pages of Girl Waits With Gun, the new novel by Amy Stewart (available Sept. 1 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27).

Girl Waits With GunSet in 1914, the novel wastes no time as Constance, along with sisters Norma and Fleurette, are nearly killed in the opening pages in a horrific collision between a motor car and their horse-drawn buggy in Paterson, N.J. Both Constance and Norma escape the mishap with minor scrapes, though Fleurette, who is the youngest of the three at just 16, suffers a badly injured leg.

Making matters worse, the driver of the motor vehicle, silk factory magnate Henry Kaufmann, has no remorse for what’s happened and lays the blame for the wreck on the Kopp sisters. When he tries to drive off, Constance promptly shuts the car door in his face and demands his name so that she can send him the repair bill for the wreckage to their buggy. Right away readers cannot help but cheer for Constance Kopp and want to keep reading.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Review: Author Todd Moss counts down to excitement in Minute Zero

by G. Robert Frazier

 In the life of every country, at a moment of extreme national disruption, there is a brief period of breakdown, when everything is uncertain. That is the moment to act, to shape events how you want them to go. That is Minute Zero.

Minute ZeroState Department Crisis Manager Judd Ryker is thrown into the midst of just such a scenario in Minute Zero, the new book by Todd Moss (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27). Inspired by actual events, the novel highlights the chaos of a national election gone awry in the African country of Zimbabwe. Rudd is tasked with helping steer a political outcome that will benefit the United States, but, unknown to him, he is just a pawn in the political game being played out around him.

The election pits longtime Zimbabwe leader Winston Tinotenda against upstart rebellion leader Gugu Mutonga, and early signs point to a possible victory by Mutonga at the polls. Ryker’s investigation unveils a money trail and secret US support behind the candidates, as well as a scheme to uncover a high-grade uranium mine that could put the weapons-grade material in the wrong hands.

But as the election draws to a close, the country is rocked by a series of events.

Read the full review here.

Trigger warnings on textbooks, novels border on ridiculous

by G. Robert Frazier

I don’t mean to sound insensitive or cold, but this whole push for trigger warnings on virtually everything is ridiculous.

According to the Washington Post article, four students, who are members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, say trigger warnings are needed on certain texts dealing with Greek mythology, of all things. “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background,” the students write.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor, we would often include a note to readers — a trigger warning, if you will — at the beginning of stories about sexual violence. It was just good public policy to let parents know the article’s content might not be suitable for children to read. It was the same idea as ratings for motion pictures and comic books.

Trigger warnings take the idea a step further, by seeking such warnings on topics ranging from racism to classism to sexism and every -ism in between. And not just for the benefit of parents trying to monitor their childrens’ reading, but for the reader who may take personal offense to any of the issues or content within said article.

Continue reading

Review: Gray Lady a unique, warm story of family, friends, life

Home is where stories happen. Where lives, young and old, come together. Where lives are celebrated, changed forever, mourned, and remembered. Where birthdays are observed, Christmas presents opened, children conceived, marriages endured or shattered. Where the events of the day are witnessed, recapped, debated, and put in perspective. Where laughs and cries are shared.

If walls could talk, oh, the stories they could tell.

That’s the premise behind author Maura Satchell’s new novel, The Gray Lady of Long Branch, (coming Aug. 25 from Four Pillars Media, $14).

IMG_20150730_151821939 (625x1024)In this case, Satchell’s novel focuses on the lives of those coming and going at a grand Victorian beach house in New Jersey. Built in the 1910s, the house serves as the unique setting and narrator (yes, narrator!) of more than a dozen vignettes within its walls, taking readers on an emotional journey through time. The stories relive milestones in the lives of the DiStefano family who owns the house, friends, and visitors who rent the house for weekend getaways or vacations.

The stories are often warm and uplifting, and sometimes sad. Satchell excels at drawing readers into the lives of her characters and making you care about them. The characters, and their experiences, are all easily relatable to our own stories, our own personal triumphs, challenges, and tragedies.

“I was staying at the beach home of a prestigious songwriter, a little jewel of a place on the Florida Panhandle, she’d escape to and compose music and lyrics. I was there, along with my husband, my laptop and some serious rain and red tide that kept us more housebound than we’d planned,” Satchell says. “It hit me that that wonderful little place must have some stories, and maybe a soul.”

Even after a hard drive crash in which she lost everything she’d written, the beach house and its stories called to Satchell.

“I thought that was the end of it, but after five years, the characters kept beckoning and reminding me of their existence,” she says, and thus her newest novel was written again.

Satchell goes on to note that “a message emerged organically from this and I only discovered it near the very end of the writing, and that is the empowerment of women in the past several decades. It came out unbidden, but I’m very pleased how it’s revealed.”

And in case you can’t suspend your disbelief that a house can act as a narrator, stick with it. All will be made clear in the end.

“The other thing I hope readers take away from this is the possibility there is more to life and to this world than what can be seen by the naked eye,” Satchell says.

Satchell has always had a knack for telling stories in a compassionate way and for letting the passions of her characters define them, and that skill is evident here. Prior to crafting fictional stories as a novelist, she chronicled real-life stories as a reporter for The Tennessean in Nashville and other area newspapers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

The author is also a talented artist; one of her paintings graces the cover of the book.

The Gray Lady of Long Branch is due to be released Aug. 25 and will be available at the publisher’s website – www.fourpillarsmediagroup.com – in both paperback and digital formats. It will also be available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and other online retailers, and by request at bookstores and libraries everywhere.  Four Pillars is offering a 30 percent advance discount for books purchased before the release date at their website using the code GL30Advance. Pre-purchased books will ship before Aug. 25.

Note to readers: Maura and I were co-workers in our other lives as newspaper journalists for several years. I’ve tried to be objective in my review of her book. It’s not my usual genre, but stories well-told transcend artificial boundaries. This is one of those.

Get to know author Maura Satchell: 

Reading and Writing for the Web 7/22

Every day I scour the web for articles on reading and writing to further my education about my craft and try to share the best of those articles with you here. Today, I thought I’d focus on reading.

One of the most common, reiterated pieces of advice for writers of any sort — be it novelists, memoirists, poets, or screenwriters — is to read. But don’t just read for entertainment — although that works too – you need to read with a critical eye toward learning. Reading is one of the best, if not the best, ways to study your craft in action, to see what works on the page, how it moves you, and how emulating another author’s style of writing can elevate your own writing. Read widely, read voraciously, read with a critical eye.

One way to do just that is to write book reviews. I came across Blogging for Books some time last year and have been reading and reviewing books for their website and this blog ever since. I’m averaging about one book per month. I also started reading books this month for Killer Nashville, an organization dedicated to the mystery/thriller genre. My first review (of Chris Knopf’s Cop Job) is slated to appear on their website on Sept. 1. One of the neat things about both sites: free books! And, as an added bonus, exposure to new authors whom I otherwise would not have picked up. Both sites are looking for additional readers, so check them out.

I’m also a first-round reader for entries in this year’s Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. The gig came about thanks to a referral from the fine folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I’ve read scripts for the past two years. If you are interested in screenwriting, reading screenplays is one of the best ways to learn the ins and outs of the craft.

Speaking of reading, I came across a cool online sweepstakes where you can enter and possibly win a collection of 80 Penguin and Penguin Classic titles. I’ve already got or have read a few of them, but there are a lot more on the list of books you could win that I don’t have. (Not that I will ever have time to read them all, but, hey, if it’s free…).

Finally for today, let’s all bid a fond farewell to an influential author, E.L. Doctorow, who passed away Tuesday. Doctorow was the man who brought us the critically acclaimed, award-winning novels Ragtime (which inspired the hit Broadway musical), Billy Bathgate (which became a hit movie starring Dustin Hoffman), and The March, to name just a few.

Remember, if you come across any interesting articles on reading or writing, you can post them in the comments section.

 

Review: Action heroine peels back secrets, kicks ass in The Mask

Taylor Stevens has created a tough, intelligent action hero in the character of Vanessa Michael Munroe, one in whom many readers will want to spend time with. Munroe’s sharp wit, keen mind, and physical abilities are all evident in Stevens’ new novel, The Mask ($24, Crown Publishers). All of Munroe’s skills come into play as she is thrust into the role of investigator and savior of her lover, Miles Bradford, who is accused of murder while acting as a security consultant for a Japanese firm. With Bradford locked up and awaiting indictment, Munroe is his only hope of getting out of jail. But to find the truth, she must go deep undercover – disguising herself as a man to infiltrate the corporate, male-dominated Japanese society. (Hey, if Bruce Jenner can run around pretending to be a girl named Caitlyn, why not?)

The MaskIt’s an intriguing premise and Stevens does a good job of weaving elements of the Japanese culture into the narrative. Munroe goes from dogged investigator – digging through video surveillance and documents – to all-out action hero as she engages Japanese thugs sent to silence her. The climax sees her taking on more than a half dozen goons on her way to exacting her own brand of justice on the real perpetrator of the crime, making that last twenty pages an exciting payoff for sticking with the book until its end. You don’t want to take on Munroe alone, or at all, for that matter, if you know what’s good for you.

All of that said, the overall experience from reading this book is, it could have been better. The Mask is the fifth book to feature Munroe, although the publishers promise you don’t have to read the others to enjoy it. For the most part that’s true. The case at hand isn’t related to anything that has gone on before; the situation and the villain of the piece are both new to Munroe. But, it’s Munroe herself that seems devoid of personality. First-time readers really get no sense of who she is, how she came to possess the skills she has, what her own personal goals or motivations are. We aren’t privy to how Bradford and Munroe became a couple, why they have such loyalty to each other, or what they may have gone through to reach the state they are in, in this novel.

Backstory usually reads as boring stuff in an action/thriller, but no backstory or deep characterization results in a disconnect for most readers. That was the case here. Of course, readers interested in such things could scurry out to get the first four books in the series (The Informationist, The Innocent, The Doll and The Catch), and maybe that’s by design. I’m sure Stevens and publishers wouldn’t mind that at all. But that sort of defeats the claim that this is a standalone book, then, doesn’t it?

And while the final twenty pages were exciting, along with Munroe’s other encounters with the goons sent to silence her, the in-between bits were decidedly not. Too often I found myself skimming over the pages, looking for more action. Munroe spends far too much time buzzing across town on her motorbike to parking garages, apartments, the airport, coffee shops, and board rooms, supposedly while on the trail of the truth. At other times, Stevens spends page after page with Munroe in deep study of documents or videos in search of clues. The reader, meanwhile, just has to take her word for it as all of this unfolds in a dry, tell-tale format.

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

Book Review: The Accident makes mistake of being too wordy

I like short, snappy sentences and paragraphs.

And lots of white space.

Stories read faster.

Your eye swiftly races through the action, reading from left to right, from top to bottom, the pages turning.

James Patterson novels are a perfect example. Most of his books feature paragraphs of two or three sentences, and short, tight chapters. You can’t help but keep flipping through the pages to see what happens next.

The downside is the prose is very simple, minimalistic. The details are more sparse, the settings more arbitrary. The dialogue and action take center stage. It’s usually a compromise I’m willing to live with as I prefer the action and quick pacing to the slow, methodical buildup.

So, at first glance, I didn’t think I would like The Accident by Chris Pavone.

The Accident - coverIn The Accident, an author thought to be dead has scribed an unauthorized, anonymous biography about media mogul Charlie Wolfe. The novel recounts a deadly deed from Wolfe’s past that, if published, would threaten to topple Wolfe and his media empire and his connections with the CIA, which in turn could have worldwide implications. Both Wolfe and the CIA are intent on keeping the manuscript from ever seeing the light of day, to the point that they are willing to kill anyone who comes in contact with the manuscript.

Pavone’s book – a New York Times bestseller – includes lots of chunky paragraphs throughout. Or, should I say, lots of chunky sentences? Pavone details everything. And not just with a word or two, but with several words. Dozens of words, sometimes. I counted in excess of two hundred words alone in one sentence. To put that in perspective, from the viewpoint of a former newspaper journalist, if a reporter wrote a sentence with more than thirty words in it, we editors would usually cry foul. And here’s an author writing two hundred-plus word sentences!

Certainly, with all those words to work with Pavone can and does paint a vivid picture of his settings, characters, and situations. There is no need for the reader to fill in the blanks. It’s all laid out right before us. There’s little left to the imagination.

An example: There’s one sentence where a character goes to hang up the telephone and we get a detailed description of the “accordion-like” phone cord and the big push buttons on the phone cradle.

All the articles I’ve read on writing stress less is more. I’m pretty sure that Patterson would have simply written: She hung up the phone. And I’m sure if I brought a story to my writing group to read in which I described the phone cord and push buttons on the phone, I’d be told to cut it.

Pavone was probably trying to make a point about the phone call, the shock that followed for the caller. But still, that much detail seems excessive. There were many more instances while reading The Accident in which I was of the mindset: Okay, I get it. Move on.

Still, Pavone compensates by putting his prose in the present tense rather than past tense, like most novels. By doing so, the story of The Accident churns swiftly for the reader and the pages do keep turning. I read the 381-page book in six days. (Not bad, since I generally only have time to read fifty pages a day).

I read somewhere that Millennials actually prefer to read stories in the present tense. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m used reading stories in the past tense, and writing in the past tense, that’s all. But I’m always open to new experiences, especially if they work.

The Accident works, but it would work better if Pavone tightened his prose and quit trying so hard.

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

Today’s adventure in writing begins …

I thought I might chronicle my day today to see just how I spend my time. I’m hoping to finish editing a short story today so that I can submit it to L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. So, here goes:

Monday, March 31: 9:50 a.m.

Woke up about five minutes ago and ate a little something, then fed the cats. Will now make a quick run-through of my e-mails and Facebook, then hit the showers. I never feel fully awake until after I’ve showered and changed.

11:35 a.m.

Back at the keyboard…

Found some interesting articles while surfing Facebook feeds and Twitter. One is about a Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles and book written by a pair of journalists exposing police corruption in Philadelphia. The article interests the former journalist in me as well as the novelist in me, as I am working on a thriller involving a corrupt sheriff. I’ve bookmarked the site to read later and added it to my “To Read” list I keep near my computer.

I also came across an interesting blog post from Bare Knuckle Writer here on WordPress about those “inane” Buzzfeed quizzes you see all over the Internet. You know, the ones where you take a quiz and it reveals what type of super-hero or Star Wars character you are. I generally regard the quizzes as a total time suck that keep me away from what I should be doing, which is writing. But BKW makes a good point on how the quizzes could be useful by putting yourself in your character’s shoes. How would your character answer the quiz, and what would the quiz in turn reveal about your character? Neat idea.

OK, I’ve got to pay a couple of bills online now and then set my DVR to record the Red Sox season opener (to watch this evening when my brother gets home). Then I’ll start on my short story edit.

4:17 p.m.

Making good progress on editing my short, I think. Probably about halfway through. Story is coming along nicely, I think. I shouldn’t have any problem submitting it in advance of Hubbard’s midnight deadline. (Knock on wood).

I stopped for a short lunch break, started a load of laundry and the dishes, strolled to the mailbox and even took a 10-minute nap. Back at the keyboard again …

2:02 a.m.

Yeah, I’m still up. I’m a night owl. Stay up late, sleep a little later. It’s how I roll.

Anyway, I finished the edits to my short for the WOF contest and submitted it around 8 p.m. So, mission for today accomplished.

Am I happy with the story? Well, let’s put it this way…I like the idea of the story. It’s unique and it’s kind of a fun “what if” type of story.

Will it win or place? Honestly, who knows? Depends on the competition for the quarter. Depends on whether the judges believe I pulled off an effective story. I think I did, but we’ll see.

Short stories are tricky and I haven’t had much luck with them as yet. I feel like I’m learning from each new short I finish and submit, though, so that’s got to be a win right there. Time and perseverance, as they say, will tell.

I rounded out the day by watching the Red Sox lose their season opener to the O’s (Boo!), and by taking in a couple of my Monday evening shows (The Following and Intelligence.) The Black List and Bates Motel will have to wait ’til later tonight. Some time during the course of the afternoon and evening I even managed to do a first run-through on my taxes and my brother’s taxes.

So, what’s next on the writing block, you ask? I’m going to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo and kick my novel into high gear. I’ve been plotting and character-building  off and on for past five months, so ready or not I’m diving in. We’ll see where this story takes me and if I can manage a mad-dash month of writing without letting my finicky inner editor intervene.

Anyone else taking part in the novel-writing free for all this month?

 

Take note: Writing things down helps you remember

I just read an interesting info-graphic on lifehack.org about how writing affects the brain. One of the elements of the graphic mentions how writing information down stimulates a certain area of the brain to help you remember. I always thought that was the case, because taking copious notes always seems to help me remember things better.

When I was a journalist just starting out, I wrote down everything someone would tell me in an interview as quickly as I possibly could. The biggest problem was simply keeping up with them since I didn’t know shorthand. (I still don’t, though I have my own version that seems to work.) The notes were vital to helping shape the story later on, especially if you had to do something in between that delayed the actual story writing.

As I grew more experienced as a journalist, I began to listen more than I began to take notes. I listened for key phrases, quotes or information, and that’s what I wrote down. I knew all the extra stuff, while interesting, probably wouldn’t make it into the final story. I listened for context. I remember some of my sources telling me how amazed they were that I took so few notes and yet ended up with a story that was spot-on.

These days, I’m back to taking a lot of notes.

For instance, when I attended the Writer’s Digest and Screenwriters World Conference in Los Angeles this past summer, I took a notebook to a lot of the sessions. I scribbled notes into it at a fast and furious clip, even though I knew I would get the audio recordings sent to me at the conclusion of the event. I was among only a few people doing so, as many other participants simply sat and listened. Call me a geek, if you will, but I  wanted to get the most I could from the experience. Taking notes in my own way, in my own format, is just what works for me

When a thought flies into my head I try to jot it down. If it’s a story idea or an idea to add to a story I am already working on, I have to jot it down if I want any chance of remembering it later on. I don’t know if that’s because I’m on the verge of early Alzheimer’s or if it’s just because I’ve got so much on my mind. (I’m always working on a couple or three projects at a time, which might explain things.)

Are you a note-taker? Do you find yourself jotting down notes at seminars and workshops? What methods work best for you in remembering key information?