+Horror Library+ Vol. 1 is edgy, cringe-worthy, glorious fiction

What does horror mean to you? Is it the loss of a son or a daughter or loved one to some tragedy? The stranger on the street? The person you thought you could trust, only to learn they’ve betrayed you? The deal you cannot rescind? Is it the monster under the bed? The dark unknown?

Not everyone is afraid of the same thing.

Horror is subjective, our fears deeply personal. Sometimes even irrational.

Eric Guignard

Naturally, you may not be terrified of all the stories served up in the +Horror Library+ series, but you’re virtually guaranteed to cringe from some of the selections. First published by Cutting Block Books and editor R.J. Cavender, the seven-volume series has been re-edited, redesigned, reformatted and reissued under the Dark Moon imprint from two-time Bram Stoker Award winner Eric J. Guignard, who promises to keep the best contemporary indie horror alive with a forthcoming volume.

He was kind enough to send me e-books of each volume in the series to date to review, so let’s dive in!

Volume One

First, know that none of the authors here are household names.

That doesn’t mean they are not talented wordsmiths with vivid, and sometimes twisted imaginations that will make you quiver, gasp, or flinch in fear. A search on Amazon reveals some have gone on to publish additional works and, if you pick up enough horror literature, you are bound to see their names crop up every once in a while on the table of contents pages.

You never know what you’re going to get in a non-themed collection like this – there are thirty stories alone in Volume One — whether it’s a bizarre alien encounter with sluglike beasts or a grisly story of dismemberment and torture.

Fair warning: Some works are exceedingly graphic and tackle any number of taboos from sex to torture, incest to child abuse, and more.

Cavender makes an unusual decision in leading off the book with one of its grisliest, unnerving selections, “Palo Mayombe in Matamoros” by Boyd E. Harris. The story offers one possible, terrifying scenario accounting for the 1,100 random deaths of taxi drivers throughout the world over ten years beginning in 1997 in what’s touted as a piece of creative nonfiction. Harris, who goes on to co-edit a later volume in the +Horror Library+ series, pulls no punches as he graphically depicts the torture and dismemberment of the story’s main character. With no plot to speak of and no escape for the main character, it’s a torture to read.

In fact, if you were not a stalwart reader of horror, you’d close the book here. But in doing so, you would miss much more interesting and haunting stories – and authors — deserving of your time.

As odd as it may be to admit, that’s part of the fun of a collection like this: reading an adventure that challenges your sensibilities or morals, forces you to confront your fears, and dares you to look upon the darker side of humanity.

Just remember, if you don’t like one story, skip on ahead to the next.

The Highlights

Like many anthologies, some stories naturally stand out more than others.

Take, for instance, “Oren’s Axe” by Jed Verity, in which the titular character discovers a grotesque oddity at his doorstep in the dead of night. Wracked by disgust and fear at the sight of the thing, Oren is moved by its plight and surprises the reader by showing his compassion for the thing, first by snipping away a set of sutures over its lips, and second by giving it fresh water to slake its thirst. But as noble as his intentions are, as often happens in the case of horror stories, he is shocked by the thing’s sudden, unexplained outburst of violence toward him.

Or, consider “Little Black Box” by Eric Stark, in which the seemingly innocent appearance of a small black box in place of the daily newspaper heralds a mysterious, inescapable invasion. The fear comes not so much from the boxes themselves – they don’t do anything other than grow in number – but in the unknown origin of the cubes and the stark realization that there is nothing anyone can do to escape them. “Who’s afraid of a little black box?” his lead character asks. Who indeed?

A simple mosquito bite leads to another unforgettable calamity in John Rowlands’ entry, “One Small Bite.” The ensuing outbreak is eerily reminiscent of the current pandemic’s spread. It hits a little too close to home during these harrowed times, but that’s what makes it so powerful.

“The Mattress” by John Peters is another story that will linger long after reaching the end. It’s a modern-day update on an age-old story of a succubus whose unyielding sexual assaults makes a long-lasting impression upon her victims. At the very least, you’ll think twice about ever buying a “slightly” used mattress again.

“Flamenco Amputee” by Paul J. Gitschner offers up a strange audition by prisoners willing to risk life and limb to impress a panel of judges to earn their freedom.

A shadow-like spider skulking around a mother recently risen from the dead is an eerie Creepshow-like tale of love and family sacrifice in Mark E. Deloy’s “Momma’s Shadow.”

Marcus Grimm entertains readers with a cautionary tale when making the deal of a lifetime in “A Hell of a Deal,” while eerie wishmaster Heman Black solves problems in a unique way in “Dark and Stormy Wishes” by Bailey Hunter. And in “The Exterminators,” Sara Joan Berniker reminds readers to read the fine print on their contracts.

A Boy Scout learns sometimes virtuous deeds are not worth that little badge in Curt Mahr’s shocker, “Helping Hand.”

The main character in Kevin Filan’s “The Remembering Country” is forced to recall an incredible secret about the beast within him.

And, in one of my favorites, M. Louise Dixon leaves readers in awe with a tale of giant worms in “Las Brujas Del Rio Verde.”

Sleep with the lights on

Oftentimes, there is little in the way of explanation for what transpires in each story, which is what makes short horror like this so incredibly weird and exciting. The answers are left to the readers’ own imagination.

By the same token, most stories end on a shocking or tragic note. These are not tales where the final girl prevails in the end, nor should they be.

These are tales that will make you go to sleep with the lights on, if you dare sleep at all.

Next time: +Horror Library+ Vol. 2

Skipping Killer Nashville conference a difficult choice

Some devious and cunning minds will gather in Franklin (TN) this week for the Killer Nashville writing conference. I wish I could be with them, but this whole Covid pandemic thing has convinced me otherwise.

I’m fully vaccinated (although apparently a third shot is in the cards), and KN organizer Clay Stafford promises the conference and hotel are taking precautions, but I’m not comfortable taking any chances. Heck, I’m still masking up everywhere I go and I’m still using Walmart’s pickup service for my groceries until this all blows over.

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford poses with guests Joyce Carol Oates and David Morrell.

Killer Nashville is one of my favorite events every year, which makes missing out so difficult.

The four-day event held each August (this is its 15th gathering after skipping last year because of the pandemic) attracts some of the best authors from across the globe for informative, educational, and entertaining panels on writing mystery, crime, and thrillers across a variety of mediums, including novels, short stories, and screenplays.

Anne Perry

The event is typically headlined by a few best-selling authors. Past guests have included Jeffery Deaver, William Kent Krueger, Joyce Carol Oates, Otto Penzler, Max Allen Collins, Anne Perry, and Janet Evanovich, to name just a few. This year’s conference honors guests Walter Mosley, Lisa Black, and Tennessee’s own J.T. Ellison.

In addition to a nonstop slate of panels presented by attending authors and other guests, the event features an awards banquet for best published and unpublished novel in numerous categories, a mock crime scene to test your deductive skills, and pitch meetings with agents and editors.

But perhaps one of the best aspects of the conference is just meeting and networking with folks. I’ve met numerous authors and am fortunate to call them friends. The writing community at Killer Nashville is just that – a community of writers who genuinely support and encourage each other in all phases of their writing journey.

Clay Stafford

The event, of course, wouldn’t be the success it is without the vision of KN founder Clay Stafford (there’s a great interview with him here) and dedication of his staff. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside each of them over recent years as a book reviewer, Claymore contest reviewer, and volunteer. I even served on a panel one year, which still blows my mind.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing Week in Review

My co-writer Jay Wright and I finished some revisions to our crime feature script Kings of Mississippi and submitted it to the Finish Line Screenplay Contest. We got some excellent feedback on our first read through from one of their readers that strengthened some of the emotional elements of the script. Now we wait and see if the revised script makes the quarterfinals cut.

I also tweaked a short horror script I wrote called Kurupira and entered it in the Fresh Blood Selects contest.

My other short horror script Skin, which just narrowly missed the Finals stage in the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition, failed to even make it to the quarterfinals in The Script Lab’s Free Screenwriting Competition. Sigh. Of course, there were 13,000 entries overall and only the top 1,000 made the first round of cuts. I’m sure Skin must have been right there knocking on the door, though, probably at No. 1001. Yeah.

And I made a little more progress on my spec script episode of What We Do in the Shadows. If you’re familiar with the FX show, you know it’s about a trio of vampires living in Staten Island. In my episode, Nandor and his familiar Guillermo attend a “Vampires Anonymous” meeting, while Laszlo and Nadja go to a Little League baseball game. To coin a phrase, hilarity ensues.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I had planned to start on my feature script Jerry Lonely, but I’m still outlining it. Hopefully, I’ll have all the major plot points worked out and be ready to do the actual writing in September. The title has piqued the interest of several readers who want to know more, but all I will say about it at this point is that I’ve been watching The Godfather movies as prep work.

Which brings me to: My writing calendar.

Every couple of months or so I revise and prioritize my list of ongoing writing projects. I have a list of screenplays (shorts, TV pilots, and features) and other writing projects (shorts stories and novels) that I try to juggle. I try to match it up with upcoming contest or submission deadlines and then go from there.

Often, my plans go to hell, and I find myself having to reconfigure them a couple months later. But at least I’m trying.

I plan to use these weekly blog posts in part to help hold myself accountable to my writing plans by posting updates on my progress each week. My goal in the week ahead is to finish the first draft of the What We Do in the Shadows script and outline a TV pilot script. Check back here next week and I’ll let you know how I did.

What I’m Reading

Last week, I posted about the importance of reading and I’ve been making progress on my to be read pile.

I read the pilot script for the Emmy-nominated Hacks and listened to a streaming panel with the creators and actors, courtesy of Deadline’s Contenders series. There are more than a dozen other panels with the creators and stars of other Emmy-nominated shows on the platform, all free to view online.

I also finished reading a screenplay from one of my fellow Tennessee Screenwriting members and will be sending him some notes after I post this.

Meanwhile, I’m reading Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger, which I should finish by the weekend. I’ll then start on The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. I’m reviewing both books for BookPage.

Until next time…

Read everything, read always

Welcome to another weekly installment of my blog.

Since I updated you on my writing efforts last week, I thought I’d take this week’s space to write about my other passion: reading.

They really go hand in hand, of course. If you’re going to be a great writer, whether it’s a novelist, screenwriter, playwright, or journalist, you need to be well-read. You need to not only keep up on your respective industry’s news and highlights, but you also need to read what others are writing. And, more importantly, you need to study.

“People like to say that the best advice they can give to writers is to read a lot. And that’s true, of course. But you shouldn’t just read literature. You should read life. Read movies, and art, and people. Read everything around you, very critically. Then build your method out of that process.”

— Anthony Veasna So

I know, it sounds like work. But if you’re passionate about it, like I am, then reading is a pleasure.

When I first ventured into screenwriting, I really didn’t know much about the craft at all. I bought a few books about screenwriting to learn about the basics: character arcs, story structure, format, and so on. (The folks over at Script Reader Pro have put together a great list of the 12 Best Screenwriting Books to Read in 2021, if you’re interested. And as if that isn’t enough, they also have a nifty list of the 8 Best Non-Screenwriting Books That Will Help You Become a Better Screenwriter, focusing on such topics as fear of failure, productivity, creativity, motivation, the ego, stress, sleep, inspiration and more.)

Of course, there’s only so much you can get from a book on the craft. To really experience the nuances and intricacies of screenwriting, you must read screenplays. The more you read, the easier it is to recognize how other writers…write. What they do well, how they do what they do.

When I first ventured into the screenwriting game, I enlisted as a script reader for the Nashville Film Festival’s screenwriting competition in 2014. After an introductory session on what to look for in a good screenplay, I was off and running. I think I read over a hundred scripts in my first year! I even got to serve as a judge one year.

The folks at Nashville appreciated me so much, they recommended me as a reader for the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition. I’ve read for them for several years now, although I haven’t read nearly as much over the last two years. For one thing, I’ve been writing more so I’ve had to limit my reading output. And, secondly, I’ve focused more intently on reading screenplays from produced shows and movies. Instead of reading with a mindset of looking for what not to do, I’m reading with an eye toward what screenwriters did to make their scripts sing.

Scott Myers, who writes the daily Go Into the Story blog, has compiled this list of 30 screenplays to read. And if that’s not enough, there’s more here. He even has a seven-part series on How to Read a Screenplay for structure, characters, themes, style, and more.

Reading the scripts for Academy Award nominees and Emmy-nominated scripts has been a new priority for me. These are supposed to be the best of the best scripts, so I try to give each of them a thorough read. Fortunately, there are numerous sites online that make the award-nominated scripts available. Every time I see one listed, I immediately download and save it to my cloud server. (Scripts tend to disappear from the internet after a while, so it’s best to save them when you can.).

I’m currently reading this year’s crop of Emmy-nominated scripts (including the pilot episodes for Ted Lasso, The Queen’s Gambit, Lovecraft Country,  The Crown, and many others) ahead of the awards show in September. I admit, I haven’t seen a lot of the episodes – I’m limited to what’s on Amazon Prime and DirecTV – as there are too many streamers out there. But reading the scripts can be equally as educating and entertaining.

The Script Lab has a great library of screenplays of produced movies you can download and read. And if you want to read what some of the best unproduced screenwriters are writing, you can check out some of the top winning scripts from The Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship.

I’m also always happy to read screenplays from screenwriting peers and provide feedback. The Tennessee Screenwriting Association meets each week to read and critique scripts from members.  I recently read fellow member Elvis Wilson’s Driving Top Down, which is a semifinalist in the Vail Film Festival screenwriting competition, and Bob Giordano’s new script, Southern Draw.

I also recently had the pleasure of reading the hilariously entertaining How to Make it in Hollywood by Christopher O’Bryant and Shia LeBeouf Won the Wrong Mutherf*ckin’ Screenwriting Competition by Kevin Nelson, both of whom I came across on Twitter (I’ll write about networking, another important aspect of the screenwriting game, another time).

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

— Dr. Seuss

If I’m not reading screenplays, I’ve more than likely got my nose in a book. I read and review books regularly for BookPage and Chapter 16 (click the links to see my reviews). I used to get a lot of ARCs (advance reader copies) of books before they hit the shelves, but since the pandemic started the books have largely migrated to electronic versions (which I don’t prefer, although I do have a Kindle and tablet). I favor physical copies, but I make do as best I can. I’ve even been “reading” some audio books for BookPage (another topic for another day).

I’m currently reading a pair of mystery/crime thrillers, Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger and The Good Death by S.D. Sykes. And waiting in the wings, Don Winslow’s City on Fire. (Sadly, Winslow just announced he’s delaying the release of the book until early 2022 because he’s canceling his book appearances this fall due to the pandemic. He was slated to be at this year’s Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, but will hopefully reschedule for next year’s event.)

I’m also making my way through the recently re-issued seven-volume Horror Library series of books from Dark Moon Books, which I’ll be reviewing on this and other sites.

And finally, I scour the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and my e-mail for tips on the craft of writing as well as industry-related news. I’ll pass along links to some of the more interesting and useful articles in future blogs (something I used to do here quite often).

But I’ve rambled long enough. Let me know what you’re reading in the comments!

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