Around the Web: A curated list of book news, writing tips and more, because, well,…books.

By G. Robert Frazier

So, I read somewhere that bloggers like myself shouldn’t waste time with these sorts of curated lists. The argument is that it doesn’t say anything about you, the writer, and it potentially sends readers away from your site. I can see the point of that argument, but I don’t entirely agree. For one, I think the following lists say a lot about me. The links below clearly show my interests in the industry and my support for other writers. If I see an industry-related article that might be entertaining or useful, I’ll share it. That said, here are some articles I’ve come across in the last few weeks you may find interesting:

The Authors Guild has now opened up member services to new and unpublished authors, as reported by Digital Book World. The $100 per year Emerging Writer Membership includes a quarterly newsletter, access to liability insurance in case you get sued for plagiarism or libel, marketing and social media advice (that you can get all over the internet), invites to seminars, workshops and writing events (not discounts, mind you, but invites!), access to their writer’s resource library of helpful articles and tips on publishing and promotion of your work. For a complete list of Emerging Writer Membership benefits and details on how to join, visit authorsguild.org/join/emergingwriter. Seems like most of these things you can get now for free by just doing some Google searching.

Amazon has made more changes to its review policy. This time it’s banning so-called incentivized reviews, which are reviews for products, including books, given away in exchange for “honest” reviews. The argument is that those doing the reviews aren’t being entirely honest since they are basically being “paid” for the review by way of a free book. As a result, there are more five-star reviews from incentivized reviewers than your routine readers. Read about it here.

The 2016 National Book award-winner will be announced Nov. 16 in a ceremony in New York City. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is among the five finalists for the honor. Parnassus Books co-owner Ann Patchett, during her booklaunch for Commonwealth in Nashville, said she believes Whitehead will win all the big awards this year, including the Pulitzer. As something of a Civil War buff, I already had plans to read the book. But when he came to Parnassus, I made sure to be there and get an autographed copy. I’ve still got a lot of books ahead of it in my must-read pile, but I’m hoping I can get to it before the year is out.

LitHub recently shared Junot Diaz’s introduction to the Best American Short Stories of 2016, all about his fascination with the literary short form.

Here’s Benjamin Percy on the books he wants to write, a combination of the best of genre and the best literary stylings. I’ve always enjoyed genre novels and never really had room for the so-called literary masters of the craft as I considered them boring and long-winded. I craved action and adventure, thrills and chills. Still do. But, lately, I’ve found myself picking up books I normally wouldn’t. Books like Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington, El Paso by Winston Groom, and the aforementioned Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Books that are literary, but combine action, mystery, and intrigue within their pages. It’s not that my tastes have changed, but that perhaps they have matured. On the one hand, I believe the more I read of such books, the more exposure to their style of fine writing and sentence structure and vocabulary, the more it will rub off on my own writing. In the end, it can only elevate a simple genre tale to a more impactful, meaningful story. Maybe I’ve come to this realization a bit late in my writing career, but I’m willing to explore it. I’m willing to expand and broaden my horizons. That, folks, is how you constantly learn and better yourself. Challenge yourself. Step out of your comfort zone. Explore your potential. Hopefully, in the months ahead we’ll see if my new reading habits are reflected in my writing.

The Hollywood Reporter ranked the movie industry’s 25 most sought-after writers, with several novelists making the list.

Jennifer Blanchard shared a handy guide explaining 5 Ways to Plot Your Novel, just in time for National Novel Writing Month.

The always insightful Jeff Goins highlights what professional writers know that amateurs don’t.

As it is approaching Halloween, you may enjoy reading Laura Miller’s introduction to The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which was reprinted by LitHub. It’s a somewhat lengthy treatise about the book, its ghosts and its characters, and Jackson. Once you’re done with that, you may find yourself wanting to read Jackson’s book again. I’d actually love to, but I’ve got a backlog of other books to get to. Maybe next Halloween.

While we’re on the subject of horror, you’ve no doubt heard about all the alleged evil clown sightings. Publicity stunt or urban legend, it has admittedly made for some chilling reading. Naturally, LitHub took the opportunity to share this fascinating story on “The Literature of Creepy Clowns.”

Otto Penzler has a penned the introduction to The Big Book of Jack the Ripper, out this year from Vintage Crime. I’m adding it to my Amazon Christmas list.

And if you are still looking for a horror-themed fix, Kevin David Anderson offers these terrifying episodes of Star Trek as a guide to horror among the stars.

Harlequin is about to cash in on the commercial women’s fiction trend by launching a new imprint to its trade program, Graydon House Books. The books will focus on family relationships and “run the gamut from light-hearted humor to emotional tear-jerkers.”

There are some surprising numbers in regard to ebook sales in the October Author Earnings Report. Despite the fluctuating numbers, one thing is clear: Digital books aren’t dead. If anything, they are making another resurgence for your reading attention. Kensington Publishing, for example, has plans to add two digital-first imprints to its Lyrical Press romance line. And, Comixology is debuting a line of exclusive digital comics. Amazon, meanwhile, is now offering free digital books to Prime members as part of its Prime Reading program. The selection is somewhat skimpy compared to what’s out there, but there are a number of potential good reads included in the program. The freebie program is obviously an effort to get folks to dust off the Kindle. Best thing is there’s nothing to lose if you pick a book and don’t like it, ‘cause it’s free. I personally don’t like reading digital books and prefer a physical book to thumb through, and I’ve got more than enough of them on hand already.

I recently saw an advance screening of Deepwater Horizon and thought it was a well-done, though very grim movie. Screenwriter Peter Berg recently related the fascinating account of the challenges encountered in bringing it to the screen.

I recently saw The Girl on the Train at the theater and was a bit disappointed. The movie dragged in many places, the main character was irritating, and the climax wasn’t worth the slow buildup. The Guardian’s latest film blog says the film heralds the return of the Hitchcockian thriller, but I think it falls short of such platitudes. Hoping the book, which I haven’t read yet, will be better.

Podcasts

BookRiot compiled this handy list of 30 podcasts for writers, but, dammit, who’s got time to listen to podcasts when we should be writing!

And finally, there’s this: the new trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Just ‘cause, you know, Star Wars.

‘Til next time…

Review: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz a study in do-overs

The Passenger

Have you ever wanted to just run away and start over as someone else? The main character in Lisa Lutz’s new novel does just that — time and time again.

You can read my review now at BookPage.

Review: Buckle up for Philip Donlay’s latest, Pegasus Down

by G. Robert Frazier

Before you crack open Pegasus Down (Oceanview Publishing), the new novel byPhilip Donlay, you better buckle up: You’re in for a hell of a ride. This action-thriller soars from start to finish with page-a-minute suspense and thrills to keep you riveted to your seat, just like an on-screen summer blockbuster.

Pegasus DownDonlay drops readers, and one of his main characters, right into the fray in his opening chapter as a CIA-operated Learjet crashes behind enemy lines somewhere in Eastern Europe. On board are Special Agent Lauren McKenna, code name “Pegasus”, and a recently liberated American scientist who possesses technological plans for a new stealth jet capable of delivering a nuclear device.

McKenna manages to swim free of the wreckage, and must immediately go on the run from foreign forces and a terrorist group that will stop at nothing to obtain the technology.

Read my full review at Killer Nashvillle.

Review: So, Anyway . . . I’ve got this complaint about this John Cleese book

By G. Robert Frazier

So, Anyway . . . I read this autobiography by Monty Python alum John Cleese, and I laughed. But certainly not as much or as hard as I hoped I might.

So, Anyway ...To be honest, the book is a bit dull at times. It’s not that Cleese’s life isn’t interesting. It is. I mean, the guy is wildly entertaining in his numerous classic sketches and standup routines on Python, and he’s starred in a few modestly funny movies. He can tell a pretty darn funny story.

Translating that humor from the small screen to the written page – or pages in the case of his book, aptly titled So, Anyway . . . (Three Rivers Press, $16) – is another matter. Sure, there are funny anecdotes here and there. And there are references to the brilliantly hilarious Python sketches he is renowned for. But they are few and far between.

I suppose that’s to be expected in an autobiography, where a lifetime of experiences are recounted to provide insight into who this man becomes. It is always interesting to learn more about the people who entertain us, but sometimes all we really need are the juicy bits.

Cleese instead regales us with his life story in a somewhat dry chronological blow-by-blow account that never really gets to the good bits fast enough. In fact, by page 255 of the nearly 376-page tome he still had not joined Python’s Flying Circus or recounted those experiences.

This is one autobiography where, for the sake of the reader, a little nonlinear storytelling would have gone a long way to increasing the readability, and laughability, of the book. I expected more from the man whose comedic genius gave us not only the popular TV series but films like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and the sitcom Fawlty Towers.

I guess I’ll just take my complaint over to the Complaints Department.

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

 

Around the Web: A roundup of articles on reading and writing

by G. Robert Frazier

As you know, I occasionally like to list a roundup of interesting articles about reading and writing. I’ve been meaning to add a new list for a while but have been busy writing, so the list just kept getting bigger and bigger. Herewith, then, is my latest collection for your reading enjoyment. Feel free to comment about any of the items that strike you or post links to articles you’ve come across. 

President Obama will nominate Carla D. Hayden to be the Librarian of Congress; Hayden would be both the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position.Speaking of diversity, blogger Jenny Bhatt wrote this interesting article on

Speaking of diversity, blogger Jenny Bhatt wrote this interesting article on diversity in publishing. The publishing industry should certainly encourage and promote diverse authors when it can, especially based on the statistics, but what we don’t need is a box on submission forms asking the writer’s color or sexual preference. Let’s let our words speak for us, not the color of our skin.

James_Patterson

The LA Times Book Prizes will honor U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and novelist James Patterson. Additionally, five finalists were announced in 10 categories. Patterson is currently sponsoring a contest in conjunction with his online master writing course in which he pledges to co-author a book with the winner of the contest. The catch is it costs $90 for the course and your chances of winning are probably as good as winning the next Powerball jackpot. Still, could you imagine what it would mean to have your name on a book alongside Patterson’s? Talk about a career highlight! I am very tempted to give it a shot. It’s only money, right? And, at the very least, you do get the benefit of learning in his writing course.

The Horror Writers Association has announced its final ballot for its annual Bram Stoker Awards. I so want to read all of these books. But more importantly, I want to be on this list some day. I’ve got a horror novel in the works that I hope to dust off in the next few months.

While we’re talking about genre, which is more important? Literary or genre fiction. Join the debate here. Personally, I’m a genre writer. I like characters that do things, action and mystery. I feel you can explore plenty about the human soul by putting your characters in unusual and moral situations while still being entertained.

The PassengerNPR talks the latest trend in crime thrillers: The ‘Girl’ in the title. Even more interesting are the comments at the bottom of the article, so be sure to read through. I just finished reading a “Gone Girl” type novel called The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz. See my review at BookPage.

If you missed it when it was first posted, here’s Christopher Walken reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The New Yorker recently cited T.S. Eliot as offering this advice on What Makes Great Detective Fiction.

Here’s a great way to get to know your characters. Interview them and ask these probing questions that CEOs sometimes ask on new hire interviews.

I’ve been saying it all along. There’s just something more to like about an actual print book than a bunch of digital letters flashed on your e-reader. According to a recent study, 92 percent of students agree.

Any sci-fi writers reading this? If so, have you ever wondered what it means to be a science fiction writer in the 21st century? That’s what author Charlie Jane Anders asks in this article over on io9.gizmodo.com.

Author Jo Nesbo has the perfect writing room. He never uses it.

To the sensory cortex in your brain, reading is the same as doing. The words you choose not only have the power to change your readers’ minds. They can also change their brains, according to new neurological research.

Publishers Weekly posted a different sort of list recently: 10 books about loneliness. The cool thing being that in examining loneliness, they also serve as an antidote to it.

Here’s a take on the ever-raging debate of pantsing versus plotting from The Atlantic. It’s from a 2013 article, but still plenty relevant for writers wrestling over how best to approach their craft.

The battle lines have been drawn again against The Huffington Post over its policy of not paying writers for their work. Some interesting reads on the subject (and make sure you read the comments as well to further the debate) at Writer Unboxed, from Chuck Wendig, and Huffington Post UK editor in chief Stephen Hull.  For more on writers getting paid for what they do, check out Kristen Lamb’s blog.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these roundups, and a week since this happened, but it’s fitting that we pay tribute to Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, who both passed away recently. In memoriam, BookBub posted seven timeless quotes from Harper’s book, while Eco left this advice for writers.

Have you come across any interesting reads for writers? Share a link in the comments section.

Around the Web: More websites for writers, advice, and stories to read

By G. Robert Frazier

Regular readers of this blog know I sometimes like to share interesting stories I come across on the web. Some of these are about reading, some about writing. The more you know, as they say…

The Writer’s Life released its 100 Best Websites for Writers on Monday. The list is conveniently broken into seven categories, which is extremely helpful in finding just the site that suits you. Categories include: Blogging, entrepreneurship, creativity and craft, freelancing, marketing, publishing, and writing communities. I’m excited and a bit depressed to see so many different sites here that I have not visited before. Excited because I like discovering new things and reading new voices, especially if it can be helpful to me in anyway. Depressed because I really don’t have time to go exploring a bunch of new websites and keeping up with them. Hey, I’ve got writing to do!

CNBC posted an interesting article last Sunday about three publishers who are changing the comic book industry. And no, none of them is Marvel or DC. The article spotlights Dynamite, IDW and Boom publishers. I still collect comic books – a hobby I started in the late 1970s – but over the last decade my love of Marvel and DC comics has eroded. I no longer pick up books from either publication unless they are reprinted oldies that can fill gaps in my collection. I long ago grew tired of the endless crossovers, the over-proliferation of titles, rising prices, and deteriorating quality of work by the Big Two. My tastes have largely gone to the pulp side of comic books, as I follow new adventures of old favorites like The Shadow, Doc Savage, Tarzan, The Spirit, Conan, and Red Sonja. I also read Mars Attacks, James Bond, and The X-Files. I’ve always dreamed of someday writing comic books but never really attempted it, but thanks to a new Meetup group in town devoted to the comic book medium I’m actually in the process of fleshing out an idea and script for a graphic novel.

If you’re writing a memoir or true-life story, you might want to bookmark this Writer’s Digest guide to defamation and invasion of privacy. Guest blogger and attorney Amy Cook, who has focused on intellectual property and publishing law issues for more than 20 years, offers several constructive tips to help avoid potential lawsuits as a result of your writing that you’ll want to follow.

Texas Monthly featured an in-depth profile of author Joe R. Lansdale in its pages this past week. This was a really well-written story and an interesting look at the author. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series of books is about to debut on the small screen as a TV series March 2 on Sundance.

If you’re a writer, you are probably a procrastinator. Always putting off the writing for some other important project or another, like vacuuming the living room carpet, washing the dishes, reorganizing your book shelf, etc. The Atlantic has an interesting read about why writers are such procrastinators that you should read. Of course, the article was published in 2014 and I am just getting around to it.

Anyone watching the new BBC miniseries adaptation of War and Peace? You might want to read this story from The New Yorker. I’ve got a copy of War and Peace on my bookshelf but I’ve never read it. I’ve got the first couple of episodes of the miniseries on DVR to at least watch later.

Read any interesting articles about reading or writing lately? Share a link in the comments section.

Note to readers: This blog’s going to get a lot more interesting

by G. Robert Frazier

The name of this blog has been something of a misnomer, I realize that.

Most of what I post here are my book reviews or the occasional Around the Web column, wherein I include links to cool reads and resources either reading or writing related. I don’t actually post a lot about my own writing adventures, but I plan to change that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to abandon my book reviews and my web roundups. I have good reasons for keeping those a part of this blog. (Or, at least I tell myself I do.)

For starters, writers are always told to read, read, read. Everything and anything. The more you read, the more it rubs off on your own writing. I sincerely believe that. What better way to study story structure, character arcs, effective description and dialogue than by learning from published authors?

It doesn’t hurt that I’ve always loved to read, whether it’s a mystery, a fantasy epic, or a cool sci-fi story. Put a book or a magazine in front of me and I’ll read it. My book review gigs – I currently read for Blogging for Books, Killer Nashville and BookPage – are a natural extension of that. They give me a chance to discover new authors I would not otherwise hear about. And, I don’t have to pay for the books. Win-win, as they say.

My web roundups are another extension of my reading habit. I scroll around various websites or web feeds each day for articles about the craft. Admittedly, I sometimes get carried away and spend too much time on the web. I’ve amassed a huge collection of bookmarked sites to read later when I have more time (as if!).

But, if I read something and am entertained or learn something useful, then I figure I may as well share it with my fellow writers. If nothing else, maybe it will save you time in searching for good reads and resources.

See what a great guy I am?

So, all of that said, it’s time to get to the gist of this post. (About time, right?). And that is, I plan to write more posts about my writing life: what I’m working on, what I’m struggling with, what’s working, etc.

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to turn this blog into another how-to site by any means. There are plenty of sites that already do that and do it quite well. However, if I come across a rule, if I learn a new technique that I can apply to my writing, then I’ll share. In some cases, I may disagree with said rule or piece of advice and I’ll wax not so eloquent about that. I may also occasionally dramatize said adventure in the form of a story, because, hey, it’ll be more fun that way.

I’m not going to pledge to post on certain days, either. Sorry. Such promises are too hard to keep when I’m already trying to meet my own self-imposed writing deadlines. I will post more often, but just don’t hold me to a schedule because, you know, life.

Bottom line: This blog is going to get a lot more interesting. Thanks for following and I hope you enjoy what’s to come.

Around the Web: Advice and trends for the writer

by G. Robert Frazier

I peruse a lot of online articles about writing and reading every day in order to further educate myself on the craft as well as stay up on recent trends. Some of the articles also provide entertaining reads. Because I’m such a swell guy, I occasionally like to share what I’ve come across in this blog. Herewith are some writing-related missives to fill your head:

I came across this interesting blog from Annie Neugebauer, who attended last year’s World Horror Con and asked some of the biggest horror authors in the game what scares them.  I have to agree with Jack Ketchum that Alzheimer’s is a scary disease to contemplate, both for the person experiencing the disease and for family members. But from a writing standpoint, losing all my stories to some computer virus or hard drive crash would rank right up there. Thank God for the Cloud!

Speaking of horror, the Horror Writers Association released its 2015 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot this week, with its members voting through February. Should be interesting to see which books rise to the top and eventually make their way to my never-ending reading list. Naturally Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams made the list, as did Clive Barker’s latest Hellraiser opus, The Scarlet Gospels, two books I am looking forward to reading.

If horror’s not your thing, the 2016 Edgar Award nominations were also announced this week. Winners will be announced at the 70th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 28.

Electric Lit featured this look at the debate about including cultural pop references in your novel versus trying to set your novel in the eternal present.

Any short story writers reading this? Here are some inspiring quotes about the art of the short story to fuel your head.

One of the most common pieces of writing advice you’ll come across is to write every day. But in this article, author Daniel Jose Older takes issue with that advice and believes that what stops more people from writing than anything else is shame. “That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be’, ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.” Older believes that “no one can tell you how to manage you’re writing process.” Everyone has to figure that out for themselves.

The Washington Post recently published an article about how used book stores are making a comeback. But author/blogger Kristen Lamb argues in a recent post that buying used essentially “robs” authors from getting paid. Salon responded that Lamb isn’t seeing the bigger picture of used book sales. As a writer, I can definitely see Lamb’s point. Writers don’t make much money as it is and for their work to be resold through used outlets with no remuneration doesn’t seem fair. But Salon’s point is also valid in that it could potentially lead someone to purchase other books in your canon. Personally, I buy new print books whenever I can as they are more presentable on my bookshelves, they don’t smell bad, and the pages are germ-free. But, from time to time, I will buy used, especially if a book is out of print or otherwise impossible to come by. I occasionally resell some books I’ve read at discounted prices on eBay, but I always try to sell them in a like new condition rather than one with bent covers, creases in the spine, or marked pages. The author might not be getting any kickback from the resale, but I don’t mind a few extra bucks going in my pocket here and there.

Finally, you know what they say about how writers should just type and not let their internal editor get in the way of their writing? That the best thing to do is just get your words down on paper as fast as you can? That a shitty first draft is to be expected? Well, here’s something else to consider: According to a research study at the University of Waterloo, if you want to improve the quality of your writing, type slower.

They may have a point, but I haven’t got time to type slower. I’ve got far too many ideas in my head that I’m trying to get down on paper. I’ll worry about prettifying my prose when I do my rewrites.

Garth Risk Hallberg, on the other hand, who wrote the giant 1,000-page City On Fire, maybe should have taken their advice to heart. If he had, maybe he could have avoided these truly cringe-worthy sentences that you just have to read to believe.

Around the Web: Supergirl, NaNoWriMo and words to live by from … Wil Wheaton?

by G. Robert Frazier

Every day I scroll through my news feeds, Facebook pages, and favorite websites in search of interesting articles about books, writing, and anything else that might inspire me. Because I’m such a swell guy, from time to time I feel compelled to share these articles with you. Here then are some interesting reads from the past couple of days:

The new Supergirl TV series premiered Monday night. I haven’t had a chance to watch yet, but I’m eager to see how they’ve approached the character and whether it is a series I will want to keep watching. Entertainment Weekly did a decent interview with show producers Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler about the politics of making a female superhero.

While we’re on the topic of entertainment, I must pass along this item from the New York Post:  “The Force Awakens” is not the experience you’re looking for http://nyp.st/1PDG0yu.

The Atlantic magazine posted an interesting article Sunday about Why reader fees are a bad idea. The article points out an alarming trend among literary magazines to charge writers a fee for reading their work. The submission fee is designed to help cut down on the number of unsolicited submissions facing their editors and encourage readers to submit only their best work. But in doing so, the magazines are ostracizing poor writers (which is just about everyone) as well as their own efforts to be more diverse.  As if literary magazines didn’t already have an elitist attitude when it came to what makes good writing…

Publisher’s Weekly posted an in-depth interview with author Umberto Eco about his new novel Numero Zero (Houfhron Middlin Harcourt) and other topics.

Author Garry Craig Powell offers an interesting article about writing to the craft versus writing with inspiration. All the writing books and colleges teach craft, and they teach it very well, but he says what sets apart the best fiction is the inspiration that authors put into their works.

For writers out there preparing to take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing a book in a month, K.M. Weiland offers some advice on setting and meeting realistic goals in this article. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors website is one of the best around if you are looking for useful articles and advice on everything from story structure to scenes to character arcs.

Finally, if you are looking for an inspiring article, Wil Wheaton (yes, he of Star Trek The Next Generation fame) tells us how to reboot your life. Some really eye-opening thoughts about life, writing, and more. To go along with that, here’s a video from Wil in which he talks about his personal battle with depression and mental illness and his quest for a happier life.

Seen any good articles online to share with your fellow authors? Post a link in the comments section!

Around the Web: Dirty dancing, kinky robots, fear of family spark changes

Every day I scour the Internet and my news feeds for story writing tips and advice. But every once in a while I come across some stranger than fiction articles that compel me to read further. You never know, some of the articles or ideas may just become fodder for a story later on.

Just when you thought you’d heard of everything…

A Gorham, Maine high school announced this week it will no longer hold student dances because of today’s tendency by students to participate in risqué dance moves, also known as grinding. The sexually suggestive dirty dance moves are making parents and dance chaperones uncomfortable. The ban follows on the heels of a similar ban by Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts last year.

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