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.

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.

Review: A Better Goodbye takes look at gritty underside of L.A.

by G. Robert Frazier

A Better GoodbyeYou know how they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of A Better Goodbye (Tyrus Books), this is one instance in which you certainly could. The cover of John Schulian’s debut novel depicts a brilliant yellow and orange sunset over the dark and gritty cityscape of Los Angeles. It’s a perfectly fitting image, as it represents the murky lifestyle Schulian paints beneath the brilliant sparkle and glamour of the movie capital of the world.

It’s in this milieu, right on the fringes of tourist-friendly Hollywood, that we find Schulian’sunforgettable cast of down-and-out characters. They’re not the sort of characters you’d want to associate with, but you can sympathize with their plight. And like any good noir novel, the lives of Schulian’s characters are irrevocably intertwined and destined to come crashing down in a bloody finale.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

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.