by G. Robert Frazier
It takes a top-notch writer to be able to capture the essence of a classic William Shakespeare play and present it in an entertaining way for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson pulls off that feat with her new book, The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), an update of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.
Winterson is aptly able to spin a parallel tale of love, jealousy and forgiveness with a cast of characters stretching from London to the United States and back again. Her writing is at times lyrical while also whimsy, realizing the absurdity of the tale needs a bit of self-conscious ribbing in order to not be taken too seriously.
For the uninitiated, The Winter’s Tale presents the story of a king fueled by jealousy who believes his best friend and his wife have had an affair, leading to his daughter’s banishment and his wife’s death. By a series of coincidences, they are ultimately reunited. Winterson faithfully follows the script of Shakespeare’s play as she presents each act of her novel, beginning with the jealous rage of her main character Leo and following it up with his daughter Perdita’s discovery of her true identity in Act 2. She brings them together in the final act where they are able to forgive each other, as the gap of time since his initial outburst has given Leo time to reflect and Perdita a chance to grow on her own.
If that sounds a bit complicated and contrived, so be it. That’s Shakespeare. But, it works in an entertaining way.
Winterson weaves in enough humor, emotional angst, and unique characters to give the tale a fascinating life of its own. Nor are we confined to just one limited point of view, as Winterson gets into the heads of all the major characters to give us their perspective as the complicated plot unravels.
The story, as in the play, ends on a happy note as Leo is reunited with his daughter and she forgives him for abandoning her. As a modern day reader, however, I was longing for a more classic tragic outcome as Shakespeare popularized in his earlier plays. The happy ending in this story seemed almost as contrived as the coincidental nature of the plot.
Jeanette Winterson has written ten novels, children’s books, nonfiction works and screenplays. Perhaps it was fate that led her to craft The Gap o f Time.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
G. Robert Frazier is a writer living in La Vergne, TN. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23.
by G. Robert Frazier
What starts as an investigation into a fatal stabbing takes a twisted turn when James’ recurring hero, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, uncovers a child exploitation ring on the Dark Web, a cyber world hidden away from the regular internet, where anonymous clients barter and trade in sexually explicit photographs of minors for their perverted pleasure and the profit of a mysterious cadre of webmasters.
James hooks readers right from the start, as within the first few pages Bowers is attacked at the crime scene in a Manhattan high-rise. Bowers manages to fend off his attacker, but before he can get anything out of him, the man jumps off the balcony to his death, leaving behind a key and a cryptic clue to an even larger conspiracy.
Read the full review at Killer Nashville.
by G. Robert Frazier
The main course of Herman Koch’s The Dinner is deliciously twisted, and so too is the dessert. After reading this compulsively addictive novel, you’ll want to make it the topic of conversation at your next dinner with family and, perhaps, for many meals to come.
Originally published in the Netherlands in 2009, Hogarth – an imprint of Crown Publishing – has served up a new Extra Libris printing of the New York Times bestseller for connoisseurs of fine reading, with a reader’s guide as well as a behind-the-scenes essay and conversation with Koch. And it’s worth every juicy morsel.
The Dinner introduces readers to a pair of brother-and-wife couples during the course of an evening meal at a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. But as the night wears on, the conversation – like the dinner itself – takes on a meatier tone. Masked beneath the gentle dab of a napkin and the fussy attentions of the restaurant’s manager (and his obtrusive pinky finger) is a family secret that threatens to spoil the couples’ friendship, their reputations, and very livelihoods.
Koch masterfully draws readers into the conversation, spoon-feeding tasty nuggets of information to us as if we were sitting at a nearby table eavesdropping for gossip. Much of the story takes place during a single evening, but Koch weaves in numerous flashbacks to deepen and enrich the characters’ feelings and relationships to each other like appetizers before the main meal.
The further we dig into the story the more we also learn of the narrator’s own secrets and the less trustworthy he becomes, adding a bit of spice and bitterness to the tale in the same sort of vein as Gone Girl’s unreliable narrators.
Ultimately, readers are left to chew on one insatiable question where it concerns not only the story’s main characters but in their own lives, and that is: how far would you go to protect your loved ones?
Koch is the author of eight novels and three short story collections. The Dinner has been published in twenty-five countries. Just desserts indeed.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.
by G. Robert Frazier
If you’ve never given a thought as to what to do in a disaster, you’ll probably change your mind after reading Tim Washburn’s terrifying debut novel Powerless (Pinnacle Books).
At the very least, you’ll find yourself taking an extra long look at those survivor magazines at the grocery store checkout lane, or setting your DVR to record those doomsday prepper shows. You may even feel compelled to go a step farther by purchasing a gas generator for your home, nonperishable foods by the pallet, and cases of bottled water. You might want to get a gun or two as well–one for hunting and one for self-defense.
Because when the power goes out–for good–you’ll need all of it sooner rather than later.
The characters in Washburn’s debut novel learn that lesson the hard way when a massive solar flare wipes out electricity across the northern hemisphere, plunging the entire US into complete chaos.
Read the rest of this review on Killer Nashville.
by G. Robert Frazier
Whether it’s shooting thugs in the kneecaps, punching them in the solar plexus, or chopping off their hands at the wrist, author Laurent Guillaume doesn’t pull any punches in his gritty and graphic English-language debut, White Leopard (Le French Book, $16.95).
Guillaume’s anti-hero Souleymane (Solo) Camera is a tough-as-nails private investigator making his living in arid Bamako, Mali, in West Africa after running from a dark past in France, where he was a former drug force detective. Solo’s cases typically involve chasing down and photographing cheating husbands in divorce cases, although he has handled a few higher profile criminal cases, netting him the title’s nickname from police. (He’s part French, part Malian, and reviled by both.)
A simple case—“buying” the freedom of a woman arrested on drug charges by offering a bribe to the local magistrate (apparently an all-too common occurrence in corruption-rife Mali)—takes an unexpected turn when the woman is brutally murdered upon her release. The sister of the victim, who hired Solo in the first place, boasts that he will bring the killers to justice, which only serves to make Solo the next target for the thugs.
Read the rest of this review at KillerNashville.com.
by G. Robert Frazier
Every day I scour the web for interesting articles about writing, reading, and other fascinating stories. I occasionally share those in this space, just because I’m such a cool guy. Today’s roundup consists of two movie franchises with huge fan bases, and no, I’m not talking about Star Wars. Both are fascinating looks at the past, present, and future of characters that have endured no matter the medium. As a bonus, I’ve included an article about a superhero now appearing on your not-so-small home television screen. Enjoy.
There was an interesting article on Variety this week about several Bond films that never made it to the screen, including one from Alfred Hitchcock. The new James Bond movie Spectre hits theaters this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited. Bond was one of my mom’s favorite movie series. Even though she had every Bond movie on DVD, she’d still watch Bond whenever it came on TBS. I’ll be thinking of her when the lights go down and the Bond theme song cues up. I know she’ll be watching with me in spirit. I recently read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming as a way to psych myself up for this new Bond movie, and I have to say I am suitably psyched up. Here’s a review of Spectre to help get you excited. As Rich Gold pointed out in his 1962 review of Dr. No, “As a screen hero, James Bond is clearly here to stay. He will win no Oscars but a heck of a lot of enthusiastic followers.” There’s even a new Bond novel out there, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz, that drags Bond firmly into 2015 with a live-in girlfriend, Pussy Galore, and a gay friend. And, finally, a long lost Bond novel, Colonel Sun by Kingsley Ames in 1968, is finally being reprinted as a paperback in January.
In case you might have been sleeping under a rock and haven’t heard, CBS All-Access will showcase an all-new Star Trek series beginning in January 2017. In a bold move, perfectly fitting for a series that goes where no one has ever gone before, the digital on demand subscription platform makes perfect sense. Rather than airing the show on broadcast TV and praying for a particular set of ratings each week, the show will have an opportunity to thrive online instead. The series will be executive produced by Alex Kurtzman and will introduce new characters seeking new worlds and new civilizations, while exploring dramatic contemporary themes. Believe it or not, there’s actually a campaign to cancel the Star Trek series before it begins. The folks behind the campaign apparently fear, and with good reason based on the latest movies, that CBS will only screw up the franchise even further. I’m excited to hear about the new series and am hopeful of the new stories yet to be told. Let’s boldly go forward. The exciting news for writers, meanwhile, is the return of Star Trek’s Strange New Worlds writing contest. I’m hoping to enter, but so far I’m drawing a blank on what, or rather, whose story to write.
Is anyone watching the new Supergirl TV series? It’s clearly targeted towards teens and young adults, but as a comic book fanboy I’ve watched the first two episodes and will likely watch more. The special effects are a little on the cheesy side, but so far the story has been entertaining. I do hope she doesn’t have to keep contending with former Krypton criminals and Phantom Zone menaces, however. Let’s explore something other than the usual, huh? For those of you wanting to know about Superman’s cousin, bamsmackpow.com has put together A Beginner’s Guide to Supergirl. Check it out.
Superheroes on the small screen are all the rage right now. Gotham, which tells the story of Gotham City Police Detective Jim Gordon and a young, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, has really ramped up the action and intensity this season. The Flash and Arrow are both going strong over at The CW, and NBC has rebooted Heroes Reborn. I’m even enjoying iZombie.
by G. Robert Frazier
Every day I scour the web and my newsfeeds for interesting articles about reading and writing. Because I’m such a swell guy, I then like to share the links to the best stories and most helpful advice I come across. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve seen and read this week that may also interest my fellow writers:
If you haven’t noticed, Stephen King has been all over the news this past week in conjunction with the release of his newest collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. King is a god among authors so anything he does demands attention and further study. At the Killer Nashville conference this past week several of the panelists referenced King as a major influencer of theirs while also citing his popular book on the craft, On Writing. Novelist James Smythe shared 10 things he’s learned from Stephen King in a recent article on The Guardian’s website. The New York Times did an interesting interview with him this week, describing him as not just the guy who makes monsters. If you still can’t get enough Stephen King, check out this article and video clips from the Dick Cavett Horror Roundtable in 1980 in which he hosts King, Peter Straub, Ira Levin and George A. Romero. And after you read his latest book and reread On Writing and have learned all you can from the master, you can enter the Stephen King Short Story Contest.
While we’re on the subject of horror stories, check out this Art of Stories article on plotting a great ghost story. There are several links to ghost stories to read and other articles on writing ghost stories.
Speaking of short stories, Literary Hub shared an interesting piece from the introduction of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore on why we read and write short stories.
I keep saying I’m going to start a writing journal and this article about John Steinbeck’s writing journal is further reason why I should.
Finally, here’s an interesting video discussion between writers Alan Moore and John Higgs, describing HP Lovecraft, horror, and 20th century America.
Read anything interesting about writing on the web? Share it in the comments section.
by G. Robert Frazier
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (Three Rivers Press, $16) was a fun little diversion from the usual high-octane thrillers and hard-boiled detective novels I like to read. Every once in a while you need something a bit more light-hearted to sort of decompress. This fit that bill nicely.
Typically I wouldn’t bother with anything about Neil Patrick Harris, let alone an autobiography. Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a talented actor and he’s certainly making a name for himself following his post-Doogie Howser M.D. fame. But I was never a big fan of Doogie and … wait for It … I never got into How I Met Your Mother either. The best thing he’s been in of late was Gone Girl, and maybe I only liked it because (SPOILER ALERT!) he got killed in the most grisly fashion. (What’s that say about me?)
Bottom line, I don’t really regard him as someone I need to know about in great detail. At least not at this point. Maybe after he is elected president someday … maybe.
But at this point, I’m more than content with a short article in Entertainment Weekly or Variety about him than reading an entire book about his life. I think part of that is he’s still so young and he just hasn’t done enough yet to pique my curiosity further.
I think, somehow, Harris knows this about himself too. It explains why his autobiography is really nothing more than a series of snippets or vignettes from his life collected together as a sort of best of moments. Almost like they are funny stories he’d tell if he were a guest on a late night talk show or as if they were brief flashes of memories from his life. (And isn’t that the way all memories are anyway? I mean, who really remembers their life in a linear timeline?)
There’s no real narrative or arc binding the vignettes together, so to make things even more interesting, Harris allows the reader to pick which vignette to read next by offering a choice at the bottom of each. The idea is brilliant in that regard and immediately makes for a more engrossing and interactive reading experience. It also allows you to read the book in spurts, without having to keep track of an over-arching theme. If you want to read something else in between chapters, so be it. No harm done, because every entry is self-contained.
To keep you on your toes, he throws in some hilarious “what if” scenarios that usually end badly for him.
Admittedly, several of the more truthful vignettes were also amusing diversions and fascinatingly good reads. Some more so than others. Depending on how you choose you can actually get to THE END in no time flat, which is what I did. I reached the “final page” so quickly that I actually found myself going back to other chapters I knew I hadn’t read yet to see what I’d missed.
If anything else, the book makes you wonder “what if” your own life diverged in different ways. What adventure would you rather choose if you could?
Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.
The Killer Nashville writers’ conference has come and gone, I’ve had a day or two to decompress, and now it’s time to share some takeaways.
Overall, the conference was an enjoyable and educational experience. Kudos go to conference founder Clay Stafford, Jaden (Beth) Terrell, staff and volunteers. Everyone was especially friendly and helpful. The conference included three days of panels (as many as five panels running simultaneously every hour or so), breakout sessions, roundtable pitch sessions with agents and editors, guest lectures, autograph signings, and social gatherings. There were a few last-minute changes of rooms and panel lineups, and even a few technical glitches with the in-room audio systems, but somehow they managed to pull it off without too much confusion or frustration to the attendees.
A highlight of the event was the book launch for the first-ever Killer Nashville anthology, Cold-Blooded. I managed to get autographs from most of the authors who attended. (Somehow I missed you Paula Benson!) Can’t wait to read all the stories and setting my sights on being a part of next year’s anthology!
I met a lot of other writers in attendance, “friended” their Facebook sites, and followed their Twitter accounts. (If you’re reading this and I didn’t get to you, just like me on Facebook and follow me @grfrazier23 and I’ll return the favor.) I encourage everyone to stay in touch. Writing is a lonely business and we can all use each other’s support and encouragement.
The conference’s guests of honor -– best-sellers John Gilstrap, M. William Phelps, and Robert K. Tanenbaum — were each fantastic. Clay Stafford did a great job interviewing each of them and getting them to share wonderful stories about the business of writing.
Phelps opened the conference with the talk: “Crime Pays: Books, Television and Film – The Explosion of the (Serial) Killer Genre,” sharing insights into the true nature of serial killers contrasted with the entertainment world’s depiction of such killers. He also provided attendees with the true story behind his hair (it’s about branding and marketing, ways to make you stand out in a crowd)!
Gilstrap provided the most moving and uplifting speech of the weekend with his “Dare to Dream” segment. He said the secret to finding writing success is to persevere. Keep believing in yourself even when others don’t.
Gilstrap also had the best, most memorable quotes from the weekend:
- “The smartest conversations you will ever have is with writers.”
- “I’m of the belief that we don’t value dreaming enough.”
- On Hollywood: “You count your fingers after you shake hands.”
- “Every success is preceded by rejection and failure.”
- On writing: “The act of stopping is the act of surrendering.”
The award for friendliest authors has to go to Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain, co-authors of the best-selling Murder She Wrote series. My mother was a huge fan of the Murder She Wrote series and loved the books. The Bains signed a copy of their newest book in her memory and I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with them about the series.
Robert K. Tanenbaum was by far the best-dressed author. Believe it or not, this was his first-ever conference appearance!
Best-hair belonged to M. William Phelps.
Following are some other highlights and observations, as well as my personal rankings on the panels and events I attended (one star being fair, two stars being good, three stars being very good and four stars being excellent):
- Get A Literary Agent**** with literary agent/best-selling author Sheree Bykofsky. A great kickoff to the event on Thursday, Bykofsky provided practical advice on how to write a query letter and how to make a verbal pitch to agents. She was knowledgeable, encouraging, funny, and, perhaps above all, approachable. Plus, I won a free book from her for my “elevator” pitch.
- Pacing Your Novel*** — The panelists here had a lively discussion about tips and tricks to keep your thriller novel moving. As panelist Don Helin pointed out, “Emotion is what drives real suspense.” Panelist Ken Vanderpool said he ranks each chapter he writes by the amount of tension it creates on a 1 to 10 scale, so that when you then look at a series of chapters together they should resemble a heartbeat graph with ups and downs along the way. And hey, they even had handouts! I love handouts.
- Crime Scene/Dupin Detective Award*** — Dan Royse, assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, created a mock crime scene for participants to solve, complete with evidence to log and process, video interviews with “witnesses,” and a floorplan/grid on which to outline the murder scene and evidence found. The sheer amount of clues and information to be processed was remarkable in itself and gave me a new respect for the true men and women of law enforcement. All those TV shows fail to capture the true details that go into solving crimes.
- Getting it All Done: Time Management for Writers**** — Another great panel, focusing on how to keep procrastination at bay and how to shut off your internal editor as you write. Author/panelist Jonni Rich suggested always ending each writing session on an upbeat note so that you’re excited when you get back to it. Lynn Cahoon suggested using apps like Freedom and Self Control to keep you off the internet until your writing session is over. “It takes courage to open that word document,” she said. “Your book has to take priority.” This panel proved to be time well spent.
- How to Write A Thriller*** — Author David Bell described the thriller as stories of “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.” “It should engage the heart as much as your head,” he said. Bell is a proponent of outlining because it gives no excuse for writer’s block. Recommended reading from the group: any John Sandford novel or early Robert Ludlum. For young adult genre writers, visit the Better Novel Project for a breakdown on how to write YA.
- How to Write Effective Scenes*** — Philip Cioffari did a great job of breaking down scenes into their core elements and showing how writers can craft the best scenes possible. One trick: be aware of what’s going on in both the foreground and background of your scenes. It’s stuff most writers have encountered before, but served as good refresher material and good introductory material for writers just starting out. I was disappointed to have to leave the session early because of an agent roundtable I had scheduled.
- How to Write Speculative Fiction** — This panel never really found its footing. I was eager to hear from writer about writing in the horror, sci-fi, paranormal genres, but they spent the first half of the session addressing more routine matters, such as outlining or “pantsing.” At that point I left to find a panel that was more on topic.
One astounding fact was that nearly everyone in attendance was already published. Whether with a traditional publisher, indie publisher or self-published, they all had books for sale or to talk about and they all managed to get onto a panel. It was discouraging in a way for anyone unpublished, but also encouraging in that if all these people can get published, there’s no reason anyone just starting out can’t too. The Killer Nashville folks recorded all the sessions and plan to make them available to attendees. I’m eager to see and hear what I missed.
Neither of the ticketed bonus sessions I attended were worth the extra money. (Lesson learned for the next time I attend.) The final event, in fact, was a big disappointment. It was supposed to bring together six of the agents attending the conference for a panel on what agents really want, but only half of them showed up. The others went home early. Not good when you’ve paid extra money for that session and you only get half of what was promised.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the venue. The Omni Hotel in Nashville was spacious (maybe just a bit too large) and clean, convenient to downtown, and elegant (and a bit cold). There were plenty of spaces to relax outside of the panel rooms to catch up with other authors or to just sit and unwind. The art adorning the walls was spectacular to look at, as were the views from the large windows. Even the patterns on the carpet and the chandeliers in the conference rooms were impressive.
All in all, I’d say Killer Nashville 2015 killed it.
More on Killer Nashville:
Killer Nashville shiny, bright – Mudpies and Magnolias
An interview with Killer Nashville author C. Hope Clark – The Reading Frenzy
A Conversation with Killer Nashville author Maggie Toussaint – Omnimystery News