Southern Festival of Books a slice of heaven for book lovers, writers

By G. Robert Frazier

One of the biggest challenges presented by events like this weekend’s 28th Annual Southern Festival of Books in Nashville is determining which panels or sessions to attend. It’s a good problem to have.

2016-sfb-poster-1Presented by Humanities Tennessee, more than 150 authors—from literary giants like Winston Groom to up and coming stars like Yaa Gyasi—will descend on Nashville’s Legislative Plaza for the three-day event, beginning Friday.

Author readings and panels run nonstop from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. As many as 12 discussions can be going on at once across the various venues, from the meetings rooms below the plaza to the nearby War Memorial Auditorium to the Nashville Public Library.

As soon as one panel ends, another begins. Some even overlap with the panel next door by a half hour.

If you’re a book lover or a writer, it can be heaven or hell. Hell in that no matter what you do, you won’t get to see every author you want to see. Heaven in that no matter what you do, you are guaranteed to see critically acclaimed authors no matter where you look.

I’ve spent several hours—yes, hours! —studying the lineup of authors and sessions in an effort to map out my days. More than once I’ve revisited my selections and picked a different session altogether. I know I can’t go wrong, but at the same time I don’t want any regrets.

I basically wound up picking events and authors who most reflect my own personal interests, namely, crime fiction or thrillers and history. But, I also included some big names among literary circles because, well, they’re big names.

Authors on my must-see list include Robert Olen Butler, John Hart, Winston Groom, Megan Abbott and Sean Patrick Flanery. I’m also looking forward to seeing a few Nashville writer friends again, like Erica Wright, Jaden Terrell, Jennie Bentley, Phyllis Gobbell, Lisa Wysocky, Dana Chamblee Carpenter, and Linda Sands.

I’m particularly excited about meeting author Thomas Mullen, who I will be interviewing for an article in BookPage. Mullen is the author of Darktown, a crime thriller about the first black police officers in Atlanta.

Another session that looks particularly interesting is Brian Allison’s talk about crimes and mayhem in Nashville’s past.

An interesting aspect of this year’s fest is several sessions follow a pair of tracks: one concerning the Pulitzer Prize in literature and the other on race and ethnicity in America. Fortunately, a number of the latter sessions will be broadcast on Book TV (C-Span2) Saturday. I’ve set my DVR accordingly to watch the sessions later in the week.

With dozens of book vendors, entertainment, and fellowship with friends, new and old, the Southern Festival of Books really is like being in book heaven.

Book TV on C-Span 2:

Saturday (10 a.m.-5 p.m. CT; re-airs at 11 p.m. CT Saturday)
* National Book Award finalist Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
* Beth Macy, True Vine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest – A True Story of Jim Crow
* Adam Hochschild, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War
* Patrick Phillips, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America

Sunday (noon-4 p.m. CT; re-airs beginning at midnight Monday)
* Joseph Beck, My Father and Atticus Finch: A Lawyer’s Fight for Justice in 1930’s Alabama
* Kelly Oliver, Hunting Girls: Sexual Violence from Hunger Games to Campus Rape
* Andrew Maraniss, Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South
* Marjory Wentworth, Herb Frazier, and Bernard Powers, We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emmanuel Thomas

 

 

 

The Festival has always been a free event that offers readers and writers an opportunity to interact, to create a public community around a festival that promotes and celebrates the joy of reading and of lifelong learning. Each year the Festival brings to Nashville approximately 200 of the nation’s and region’s most prominent authors, from legendary mystery writers to critically acclaimed debut novelists, from poets to biographers, from chefs to children’s authors. Every author on the program takes part in a session, either a solo reading or a panel discussion, followed by a book signing in our Author Signing Colonnade. Books by all the participating authors are available for sale at Festival book sales area where proceeds support the Festival.

In addition, the Festival hosts popular book exhibitors and programs three performance stages throughout the event. The Artober Performance Stage highlights readings and other dramatic literary performances. The Music Stage features music by some of the area’s most talented songwriters and poets. Special events for children take place on the Youth Stage including appearances by favorite characters, musicians, artists, and storytellers.

 

Books: Donaldson’s novel recreates flavor of Justified

The More They DisappearIf there’s anyone out there still lamenting the absence of Elmore Leonard’s “Justified” on TV, you can get your fix of small-town Kentucky criminals in Jesse Donaldson’s debut thriller, The More They Disappear.

The novel starts with the shocking assassination of longtime Kentucky Sheriff Lew Mattock at his own re-election campaign barbecue and quickly escalates into a thrilling manhunt for his killer.

Chief Deputy Harlan Dupee steps up as acting sheriff to investigate the shooting, following a trail of dark secrets amid the townsfolk he only thought he knew. Along the way he discovers his former boss wasn’t as upstanding a lawman as he believed. At the root of everything is a prescription drug trade that has its hooks in everyone, from the town’s most innocent children to even its most prominent citizens.

Read the full review now at BookPage.

Around the Web: Tennessee authors make lists, make news

Compiled by G. Robert Frazier

Every once in a while I like to pass along links to some interesting reads I’ve come across in the book industry or writing world. Hey, it’s what I do. So, herewith are some articles and missives to entertain and inform you at your leisure.

Nashville author and bookseller Ann Patchett, along with the staff of her Parnassus bookstore, offered her take on the 75 best books of the past 75 years. in Parade. “What we discovered in the process is how wildly we disagree about everything, except how much we love books,” she said. “We wanted novels, sure, but we also wanted picture books, science books, histories and young adult novels.” Download a printable checklist of Ann Patchett’s 75 books

Tennessee author J.T. Ellison posted this list of ten essential books for aspiring writers in The Strand Magazine.

Nashville’s Lee Conell is the winner of the Chicago Tribune’s annual Nelson Algren Award for short fiction with her story, “The Lock Factory.” Conell leads writing workshops in high schools, libraries and hospitals. She was a fiction fellow in Vanderbilt University’s Creative Writing MFA program and is working on a story collection and a novel.

The LA Times talks with author Neil Gaiman about his new book, “View from the Cheap Seats.”

Netflix is adapting Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace”, an historical crime novel. Atwood’s 1996 novel is based on the real life of Grace Marks, a 19th-century Irish immigrant who was convicted of brutally murdering her employer and his mistress. Earlier this year Hulu announced it was working to adapt her classic feminist dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale

LitHub columnist Emily Barton explores plot. “Any reader can tell you that this bias against plot is nonsense. Books depend upon plot. It is the armature upon which everything hangs.”

Novelist Edna O’Brien Explores the True Nature of Evil in this article for Smithsonian Magazine.

Wendy Werris, in a column on Publishers Weekly, provides an inside look at what it’s like working for a national book store chain, which she describes as  formulaic and counterintuitive. Looking to future, B&N puts is faith in brick and mortar: On the way, smaller stores with expanded cafes that will offer table-side service, wine and beer.

Anyone who bought an ebook from Apple, Amazon, Barne & Nobloe or Kobo between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012 could soon receive a credit or check as part of a payout to U.S. customers in the final stage of the long-running ebook price-fixing dispute that ultimately forced the tech giant Apple into a $450 million settlement. So far I haven’t received any word from Amazon concerning a credit and I don’t know if I will. I know I purchased a few ebooks here and there over the past several years, but I’m not certain if I was ever a party to this class-action suit or not. Anyone receive word on this yet?

Seen a good article from the publishing world in your internet travels? Post a link to it in the comments section!

 

 

Around the Web: More advice and articles for writers and readers

by G. Robert Frazier

Every once in a while I like to share some of the stories and advice articles on writing I come across in my wanderings around the interwebs. So, for better or worse, here’s this month’s collection of links for your reading pleasure:

Columnist Riki Cleveland offers six habits of prolific writers and how to make them yours on litreactor.com.

“Writing is an act of thievery,” according to Khalid Hosseini, author of Kite Runner. “You adapt experiences and anecdotes for your own purposes.” For both the memoirist and the novelist are inevitably inspired by the people they have met, and will make use of them to suit their purposes. This may not strictly be plagiarism, but it is similar territory. Read more about how writers will steal your life and use it in this excerpt from How to Write Like Tolstoy (Random House) by Richard Cohen for fiction here.

Everyone’s heard of the self-publishing success by authors such as Andy Weir (The Martian) and Hugh Howey (Wool), so it’s also refreshing to see a literary agent like David Fugate taking note of self-publishing books. “I’m a huge fan of self-publishing (in all its myriad forms) and what it has done for both authors and readers. I think it’s amazing that it’s no longer a question of if your work will be published, but how,” he said in a recent interview with Reedsy. “My advice for anyone who wants to self-publish first is: do it well. And if you’re unsure about whether you want to traditionally publish or self-publish my advice is often to try traditional publishing first. If you approach it the right way, you can figure out very quickly if it will work with a traditional publisher. And if not, you can always self-publish and all you’ve lost is a little time. However, for anyone who wants to self-publish their book first, the key is to make sure you really go for it. Don’t just put it out there and hope that readers will somehow discover it. Have a marketing plan and pursue it with more of an entrepreneurial mindset. That can be difficult for some authors, but given the amount of noise out in the market, if you want to really give your work a chance to do well, you have to do what it takes to let readers know it’s out there.”

What Walt Disney knows about storytelling

The 2016 O. Henry Prize Stories are out. Some of these stories are available to read online (just follow the links), while others will have to wait for September’s publication of the annual O. Henry anthology. Speaking of the O. Henry Prize Stories, reader Kelly Luce shares some insights gained from reading every short story published in 2014-15 in search of the top twenty for the anthology.

Apparently, in New York, in the latest transgender equality law, you can be fined by not calling a person by the pronoun they wish to be called by. If a person wants to be called “ze,” for instance, instead of he or she, and an employer or business professional refuses to honor that wish, they can seek legal recourse. This could make for some interesting written exchanges in your stories and screenplays.

If you weren’t all that thrilled by Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and a lot of people apparently weren’t, you might want to seek out the books on this list of Superman comics you must read.

Author Matthew Norman posted a column that’s gotten a lot of attention from authors: What to do when no one shows up to your reading. I haven’t had the pleasure of that situation yet, but one thing I would do is try to work the bookstore crowd beforehand. Approach the book buyers and give them a bookmark and ask them to come to your reading. At least that’s better than just sitting in your car twiddling your thumbs hoping someone shows up.

The most enlightening article I’ve read on what makes fiction literary, as explained by author and literary agent Donald Maass (who else!).

And, just for a laugh, novelists warned about drug-resistant strain to writer’s block.

Lithub is now aggregating book reviews from across 70 sites into a sort of Rotten Tomatoes, called Book Marks. Here’s how it works.

Columnist Jane Friedman puts recent news about declining ebooks sales in favor of print into perspective with this column. Buyers who are shunning higher ebook prices from traditional publishers, an increase in adult coloring books, and the rise of indie publishers and self-publishers are the keys to the fluctuating numbers, she says. Nielsen reports that about 12 million coloring books were sold in 2015. Compare that to just 1 million in 2014. The increase is so dramatic that coloring books alone can account for the increase in print sales in 2015.

The WGA (Writers Guild of America) has unveiled a new diversity database. Writers can opt to identify themselves by race, sex, age, languages they are fluent in, and, of course, sexual preference. There’s even an opt in to identify whether they have a disability. Producers or filmmakers in turn can search the database to find writers matching their needs. The whole idea is in response to the continuing outcry over the lack of diversity in Hollywood, both on screen and off screen. Not everyone is rushing to embrace the “list,” however. TV comedy writer Susan Hurwitz Arneson tells ScreenwritingU Magazine that she’s not about to “out myself on something that may be perceived as a negative, or might prevent me from getting staffed.”

The first books in James Patterson’s new Bookshots series of shorter, more digestible books are hitting stores and available to purchase online now.

Author Erik Larson recounts how he looks for fascinating, complex real-life characters to bring his historical books to life.

The Atlantic published an interesting article this week on why women are writing the best crime novels.

Feel free to add any links to writing and reading articles you may have come across in the comments section.

Never-Open Desert Diner evokes mystery, suspense

by G. Robert Frazier

Hidden in plain sight, in the wide open expanse that is the Utah desert, lie mysteries best left alone.

DThe Never Open Desert Dinerelivery truck driver Ben Jones, for the most part, heeds that warning and largely respects the privacy of the desert’s oddball collection of characters on his route near Price, Utah. That is, until he encounters and becomes enamored by the mysterious woman hiding in an abandoned model home.

That’s the setup for James Anderson’s suspenseful debut novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner (Crown, $26).

The colorful cast—including a roadside Jesus, a motorcycle-loving hermit, and a pair of brothers lying low the law—are as unique as the setting itself. Each has a past and secrets to keep as they eke out their existence under a hot desert sun, far removed from internet and TV and other modern conveniences of life.

Ben typically keeps to himself as much as his customers, but his infatuation with the new woman on his route, Claire, changes everything.

Part love story, part suspense-mystery, Ben is drawn to Claire like no one else in his life. Everything about her mystifies and entices him to learn more about her, despite his better judgment.

Naturally, her past—an overbearing husband and her role in the theft of a priceless cello—threaten to catch up to her. Before long, Ben is swept up in a dangerous game of hide and seek.

Anderson crafts simple yet eloquent prose as he delves into Ben and Claire’s growing relationship and slowly ramps up the suspense as Claire’s husband closes in. A few subtle twists take the novel in a surprising new direction and ups the ante for the misanthropic cast.

Somewhere along the way, the story gains some of its intrigue from a terrifying secret at a once famous desert diner, now closed, and the lonely hermit who lives there.

The book evokes a powerful sense of place that echoes the loneliness and loss of the main players. Sometimes lyrical, sometimes brutal, Anderson recounts events with color and verve, making this a unique and largely satisfying page-turner.

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

Book Review: McGorin ‘Dusts Up’ more trouble for Detective Carrick

by G. Robert Frazier

Detective Doyle Carrick is a magnet for trouble. The hero of Jon McGoran’s latest novel, Dust Up (Forge Books), Carrick is at home with his girlfriend when a complete stranger appears frantically pounding on his front door, only to be shot down in cold blood.

Dust-Up_Cover-copy-200x291Homicide Detective Mike Warren embraces the easy way out by wanting to peg the crime on the victim’s wife, Miriam Hartwell, whom Carrick saw driving away from the scene. Fortunately for readers, the truth is a lot more complicated, as is often the case with Carrick’s adventures.

Carrick is urged to back off the investigation and let Warren handle things, but it’s not that simple. Miriam seeks him out again and fills him in on a biotech cover-up of a tainted food program in Haiti.

McGoran keeps the action moving at a frantic pace in a series of tautly written chapters that will have you turning the pages long into the night.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Coben, Robotham, Laukkanen, Leslie present summer of thrills

By G. Robert Frazier

I’ve been a bit remiss in posting reviews to this site, though I’ve been actively posting on other sites. So, let’s catch up on some of my latest book reviews, shall we?

Fool Me Once – Harlan Coben

Maya Stern was a firsthand witness to her husband’s brutal murder by a pair of thieves, so how is it possible that he would be seen days later, playing with her two-year-old daughter, on footage captured by a nanny cam? Finding the answer, and perhaps even her husband, propels the riveting narrative of Harlan Coben’s new thriller, Fool Me Once (Dutton, $28).

Fool Me OnceWhen the picture card inside the nanny cam goes missing, Maya has no evidence to back up what she saw, and anyone she tells is more than reluctant to believe her. But Maya, a former Army captain with plenty of command experience, isn’t one to just let things go.

She naturally takes it upon herself to get to the truth, following a trail of clues past and present, uncovering new twists in the puzzle along the way.

Fool Me Once is the first of Coben’s 25 novels to be told entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist, resulting in a new experience for longtime fans and an excellent jumping-on point for new readers.

Read the full review at Bookpage.com

Close Your Eyes – Michael Robotham

You won’t want to close the book on this one. The new thriller by Michael Robotham, Close Your Eyes (Mulholland, $26), is reason to stay up late.

Close Your EyesClinical psychologist Joseph O’Laughlin is reluctant to once again take on the role of detective—after seven previous adventures, he thought he’d given it up to live out a peaceful retirement—but when a former student, Milo Coleman, calling himself “the Mindhunter,” begins to jeopardize the police investigation, he can no longer stand by idly. With his reputation in danger, Joe sets out to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the police and to calm a groundswell of public anger over the brutal unsolved murders of a mother and her teenage daughter.

The mystery and suspense is reason enough to keep reading, but Robotham ups the ante with a rousing family drama that adds an emotional complication to his lead’s life.

Read the full review at Bookpage.com

The Watcher in the Wall – Owen Laukkanen

Words can hurt, and in the case of Owen Laukkanen’s compelling, thought-provoking new thriller, The Watcher in the Wall (Putnam, $26.95), they can be enough to kill.

The Watcher in the WallsLaukkenen’s recurring FBI agents Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere pursue an Internet troll who encourages fragile teenagers to commit suicide, while recording their final moments via webcam for a black market on the dark web. The case takes on a deeper meaning for Windermere, who continues to berate herself over a past mistake in which she stood by as a fellow classmate was bullied in school to the point she one day never came back. Catching the predator in this case serves as a chance, however slight, for redemption.

Laukkenen’s fast-paced prose and short chapters pull readers along on a cross-country pursuit to identify the predator behind the online suicide forum and stop him before he can rack up more victims.

Interestingly, in the acknowledgements, Laukkanen admits he also dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts as a teenager, making the book even more deeply personal.

Read the full review at Bookpage.com

Cracked – Barbra Leslie

If it weren’t for the unexpected death of her twin sister, Ginger, Danny Cleary—the heroine of Barbra Leslie’s new novel Cracked (Titan Books)—might still be holed up in her apartment mindlessly wasting away on crack cocaine. Sadly, her sister’s death is just the shot in the arm Danny needs to kick the habit—at least for a chapter or two—and seek vengeance on the person who killed her.

CrackedLeslie has created an anti-hero to root for in the vein of Walt White from Breaking Bad: a tormented, down-on-herself woman who would much rather seek solace from the fumes of her crack pipe than deal with people face-to-face, or with life in general. But when her sister’s own twin sons are kidnapped as well, Cleary abandons the relatively safe confines of her half-life to embark on a trippy, vigilante-styled quest for vengeance that takes her from the streets of LA to Toronto to a family cabin in the Maine wilderness.

Leslie piles on enough twists and turns and action-packed shoot-‘em-ups to keep readers turning pages late into the night.

Read the full review at KillerNashville.com

 

 

 

Around the Web UPDATE: TN governor vetoes plan to make Bible official state book

By G. Robert Frazier

From time to time, I like to share and/or comment on interesting stories about writing and reading that I come across on the web. Here’s a few such stories to chew on:

UPDATED: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed legislation that would have made the  Bible the official state book. Had the measure been approved, Tennessee would have been the only state in the country to name the Bible as an official symbol. Critics argued the proposal is unconstitutional, since the Constitution calls for a separation of church and state. The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says it is “a thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions” and urged Haslam to veto it. But proponents cited the “historical and cultural significance” and noted the importance of Bible publishing to Nashville and the book’s use as a genealogical record. Harper Collins Christian Publishing is headquartered in Nashville.

The Hollywood Reporter says a long-running feud between John Steinbeck’s heirs and Hollywood has prompted a new court filing. The battle over copyrights may affect Stephen Spielberg’s planned adaptation of Grapes of Wrath.

Best-selling author James Patterson has been selected by AASL President Leslie Preddy as the 2016 Crystal Apple recipient. The honor is awarded to an individual or group that has made a significant impact on school library programs and students. A staunch school library advocate, Patterson has dedicated both time and funds to promote the ways school libraries transform a child’s educational career.

Patterson is launching a new line of short novels that he hopes to sell at supermarket checkout lanes. There’s a growing trend for shorter works, thanks to the attention-starved world we live in now. I’m actually not against the notion. Some of today’s bestsellers that number in the 500- to 600-page range or more are just grossly overwritten.

DBW features a great interview with author Hugh Howey on the state of publishing and the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. While many people still look at traditional publishing as the means to legitimacy, authors like Hugh Howey are proving that self-publishing today is making huge inroads in that regard. More control over your works, the ability to publish quicker and the lure of bigger royalties over traditional publishing are certainly factors to consider. But regardless of which route writers choose, there better be a damn fine book to read in the end. That’s how writers will ultimately make a name for themselves.

Read any good articles lately? Share a link in the comments section.

 

Around the Web: MFA offers bragging rights, but will never replace my ‘MBS’

By G. Robert Frazier

Every once in a while I like to share some links to interesting articles about reading and writing I’ve stumbled across on the “interwebs.” I haven’t posted any in a while, so let’s catch up a bit with this offering:

The Atlantic recently weighed in on the debate over the value of obtaining an MFA in Creative Writing. It seems the biggest advantage to having an MFA is simple bragging rights on your resume. People see that MFA and think, well, that person must know how to write… or, he has an MFA, so he can teach others. I don’t have one and I don’t believe at this point in my life I’ll be spending the time or money to get one. I’ll just stick with my MBS: Master of Bull-Shittery, thank you very much.

Do you keep a reading journal? Writer’s Relief extolls the benefits of analyzing what you’ve read and how it can help improve your own writing. I publish book reviews on several sites, including this one, and keeping a journal is part of my routine. Sometimes it just helps to keep track of all the characters and storylines, since I know I will be referring to them in my book reviews.

If you struggle with writing authentic dialogue, you’re in luck. BookBaby recently offered a series of free instructional videos on how to strengthen speech in your stories and books. It’s a bit elementary, but also good reinforcement for anyone in the writing biz.

The old journalist in me found these articles interesting: What Happens to Older Journalists and  How Facebook Swallowed Journalism. The Charlotte Observor held a wake of sorts recently as it bid farewell to its old digs in favor of smaller space because of downsizing. The Dallas Morning News says it’s reinventing itself by starting over, but what it’s really doing is the same thing Gannett has already done with all of its newspapers: Buying out or outright firing its long-term, experienced journalists and hiring a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears Millennials who supposedly have more digital-savvy skills but in reality will work a whole lot cheaper than the veterans. Ten or twenty years from now those employees will be out the door for another younger generation of suckers, if the “paper/website/app/whatever you want to call it these days” is still around.

If you’re a writer, I’m pretty sure you don’t need any added stress. You’ve got enough to worry about already. This article by Susannah Felts sort of sums it up, doesn’t it? I try not to worry about everything she worries about, but I do worry about her lack of paragraphs in the article.

If you need inspiration after that worrisome post from Susannah, you should read this column from writer Skyla Dawn Cameron.

And here’s some bad advice from writers you may want to ignore.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent loss of author Pat Conroy. I hate to admit that I have never read any of his works, so I welcome your recommendations. Conroy recounts his lessons and passions for writing in this article for The Writer magazine.

Seen any good reads lately? Post them in the comments section!

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.