Mock crime scene a highlight of Killer Nashville writers’ conference

by G. Robert Frazier

One of the coolest things about the Killer Nashville writers’ conference happening this weekend is the mock crime scene that participants will have an opportunity to solve. Not that crime is cool, of course, but playing amateur sleuth definitely is. And since mystery writers love to make up deadly scenarios with which to challenge their readers, it’s only fair that the tables are turned on them.

Dan Royse, who has many years of experience processing real crime scenes in law enforcement investigations and has overseen the mock murder scene since it began during Killer Nashville’s second year, is again laying out the puzzle pieces for this year’s conference. Like last year’s mystery, the crime is an original creation and not based on actual, true life events as they have been in the past.

Killer Nashville logoRoyse explains part of that has to do with Killer Nashville’s move last year to the prestigious Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville.

“We used hotel boiler rooms, parking garages, mechanical rooms, stairwells, etc. – essentially areas that we were able to clean up afterwards with a mop,” explained Royse, who is assistant director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “When the venue was changed to the Omni, I had to adapt to the available space, which was a meeting room with very specific rules about keeping the space clean. Since the location always dictates what you are able to do with a mock scene, I had to come up with something that was cleaner, and more about the investigation than the actual crime scene.

“So, it will be original rather than ripped from the headlines, but still interesting,” he promised.

Royse will introduce Killer Nashville attendees to the particulars of the crime beginning at 9:35 Friday morning in Broadway Ballroom E & F at the Omni. The crime scene will open at 10 a.m. in Cumberland 4, where attendees will then have an opportunity to examine, sketch, and search for physical evidence. A series of mock witness interviews will also be available.

Attendees-turned-amateur-sleuths will be able to draw their own conclusions and form a hypothesis of what happened, who they think is responsible for the crime, and what evidence will prove it. Solutions must be turned in by 12:45 p.m. Saturday, when the crime scene will close. One lucky attendee with the right answer will be declared the Dupin Detective Award winner at Saturday night’s dinner and awards banquet.

As a former newspaper journalist who used to pound the police beat daily and as an avid reader of mysteries, I am particularly excited about the mock crime scene. Hey, if Jessica Fletcher, the beloved fictional writer of the hit TV show Murder She Wrote, can outwit the crooks, so can I. Maybe.

While the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference caters to readers, writers, and law enforcement professionals, it is open to anyone who wants to attend. If you’re in the Nashville area this weekend, you can still get in on the action. Tickets to attend the day-long panels and parties can still be obtained at the door. For more information on prices and a schedule of events, visit http://www.killernashville.com.

 

 

 

Review: Medical thriller Fatal Complications best left in the waiting room

By G. Robert Frazier

Believable characters – and what motivates them to do what they do – are the key to any great story. If the reader can’t buy into the character’s actions, then the story is going to fail no matter if everything else is done well. Unfortunately, Fatal Complications (Oceanview Publishing, Dec. 1, $26.95) by John Benedict is lacking in this area.

IMG_20151027_132424480 (861x1280)A medical thriller set in a small hospital, the novel follows anesthesiologist Luke Daulton who discovers things aren’t what they appear to be. An operating room emergency leads him to suspect that his surgeon boss, Dr. Katz, is behind some kind of nefarious scheme.

The FBI is also suspicious of activity at the hospital and has planted a spy within its walls to ferret out the truth. When the spy discovers damning evidence and is about to bring it in, Katz and his right hand man, a giant Russian orderly, knock him out and dump his body into the hospital incinerator.

But, Gwen, who is the girlfriend of another hospital worker, has seen the whole thing. She also happens upon a piece of paper in the trash at her billing office with some strange numbers on it – it’s a Sudoku page, go figure — and immediately makes a leap that it has something to do with our dead FBI guy. She passes the paper on to her boyfriend, Ron, who passes it to Luke, who passes it to his wife, Kim, who has a knack for puzzles. (See how this all makes sense?)

Rather than call police, Gwen confronts Katz directly in an attempt to blackmail him, while Kim deciphers the message on the Sudoku puzzle and learns that Katz is trying to kill a state senator who is in the hospital for gall bladder surgery.

Did I mention that Katz is completely off his rocker? His son died in a house fire fifteen years ago and ever since he’s developed a thorough hatred for God. He lets evil consume him while he plans “the complete domination of mankind.” But before he implements those plans, he takes on the job of killing the state senator, because you can’t rule the world without money, right?

By now, you have probably figured out what’s wrong with this novel. Too many coincidences, contrivances, and implausible motivations. I.e., a lack of believable characters.

It’s a shame, really, because outside of all of that Benedict proves to be a capable wordsmith. His action scenes are strong, his descriptions vivid, and his medical knowledge is clearly evident. Benedict is a board certified anesthesiologist in private practice in Harrisburg, Pa., according to the book’s notes on the author. He is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Penn State University College of Medicine where he completed a cardiac anesthesia fellowship, so he certainly has the credentials in medicine to write with authority in his medical scenes.

As a reader, you do feel like you are there in the operating room with the main character. But it would be best to leave this book in the waiting room.

Review: When Clowns Attack a silly, but serious survival read

by G. Robert Frazier

Just in time for Halloween comes an indispensable survival guide, When Clowns Attack (Ten Speed Press,  $14.99). The slim hardcover book by Writer’s Digest advice expert Chuck Sambuchino may sound silly, but it treats its topic as deadly serious. (Hey, clowns might look like they are having a lot of fun, but that’s part of their way of luring you in for one of their patented bozo attacks!)

When Clowns AttackFollowing on the heels of the popular Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks and his own How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, Sambuchino exposes a far more credible threat and ways to deal with it in his killer clown opus. Zombies may be scary, but clowns are real, OK?

Clowns, he explains, are simply not what they appear to be. You never know their real names, they gallivant about in size 22 shoes, purposefully wear oversized pants in which they can hide all manner of weapons, seem impervious to pain, and have a fetish for children, who they routinely kidnap and indoctrinate into their colorful lifestyle.

Sambuchino speaks from personal experience: both his grandfathers suffered at the hands of these deranged jokers years ago, he tells us in his introduction. As a result, Sambuchino founded the anti-clown group Red Nose Alert and its mission to dutifully arms readers for every  eventuality when confronting crazed clowns, explaining what to look for (from their facepaint to their clothes), how to outrun a clown (throw imaginary objects at them to distract them!), and how to defend yourself in an attack (make a fart sound and they will double over in hysteria) .

The book is full of colorful photographs of the felonious jokesters, though many are stock images. It would have been more exciting to see photos of such crazed clowns as Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J from Insane Clown Posse, or Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show, but obviously copyrights would probably have been difficult to obtain.

Still, the book is a fun diversion overall and, who knows, could prove useful in the event of a clown attack. At the very least, you could smack the book over the head of a clown. So there’s that.

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

 

 

 

 

Review: Devil’s Pocket offers YA action, intrigue

In today’s society where everyone gets a trophy no matter how you finish, it’s no wonder that kids get so excited about do-or-die worlds like The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, or The Maze Runner. The imaginary free-for-alls that make those books and movies so popular seem to provide kids with an outlet for their competitive spirit… At least in a literary kind of way.

Devil's PocketAuthor John Dixon’s latest young adult novel, Devil’s Pocket, rides that trend with its own kill-or-be-killed funeral games. The novel focuses on 16-year-old Carl Freeman, who has been technologically enhanced by a chip in his head, and hundreds more throughout his body, turning him into a lightning-quick, lethal super soldier. Along with two other members of Phoenix Force, he will be pitted in the squared circle against the best young fighters in the world in a deadly competition. At stake: $10 million, bragging rights, and their very lives.

But as the body count continues to grow, Carl becomes more and more disillusioned by the game he’s been forced to play. Barely able to keep his temper in check, he and former girlfriend Octavia, who represents an opposing team, begin to plot their escape and the demise of the Few, a collection of masked overlords who run the games for their own nefarious purposes. The tension boils over into an explosive climax reminiscent of a James Bond movie.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: The Dead Student is exciting, psychological thriller

New York Times best-selling author John Katzenbach knows how to get into people’s heads, whether it’s in the psyche of his characters, or the minds of his readers. His newest novel, The Dead Student (The Mysterious Press, Oct. 6), is a perfect example.

KatzenbachThe Dead Student wastes no time shaking things up for his protagonist, Timothy Warner. A PhD student better known by his nickname “Moth”, Timothy is a recovering alcoholic who battles the temptation to sink into the depths of drink and despair every day. Even with ninety-nine days of sobriety behind him, Moth knows he is one glass away from falling into a devastating abyss.

When his AA sponsor Uncle Ed is found dead, that yawning pit opens beneath Moth. It is only through a concerted effort, and the help of his AA group, Redeemer One, that he sobers up long enough to realize that his uncle would never kill himself. But gut feelings like his aren’t proof enough for police, who appear more than comfortable with their suicide theory.

Read the full review
 at Killer Nashville.

Review: Constance Kopp a heroine worth waiting for

Author Update (9-28-15): Author Amy Stewart promises a sequel in the Kopp sisters story due in 2016. Also, movie and/or TV offers in the works. Read more at http://nurph.com/LitChat/chats/2481

by G. Robert Frazier

Constance Kopp could be just the leading lady Hollywood has been waiting for. She’s independent, resourceful, intelligent, brave, and she won’t back down from any man. While we wait for the inevitable movie adaptation and for the dust to settle over which A-list actress should portray her on the big screen, readers can whet their appetite for Constance’s adventures now in the pages of Girl Waits With Gun, the new novel by Amy Stewart (available Sept. 1 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27).

Girl Waits With GunSet in 1914, the novel wastes no time as Constance, along with sisters Norma and Fleurette, are nearly killed in the opening pages in a horrific collision between a motor car and their horse-drawn buggy in Paterson, N.J. Both Constance and Norma escape the mishap with minor scrapes, though Fleurette, who is the youngest of the three at just 16, suffers a badly injured leg.

Making matters worse, the driver of the motor vehicle, silk factory magnate Henry Kaufmann, has no remorse for what’s happened and lays the blame for the wreck on the Kopp sisters. When he tries to drive off, Constance promptly shuts the car door in his face and demands his name so that she can send him the repair bill for the wreckage to their buggy. Right away readers cannot help but cheer for Constance Kopp and want to keep reading.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville

Reading and Writing Around the Web: The Nonfiction Edition

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles, tips, and just great reads. Most of what I’ll share concern reading or writing, books, movies and TV, because that’s what I’m into. If you see something worth reading or care to discuss a topic, just leave a comment.

I may not be a paid journalist any longer, but I still appreciate interesting news stories that are timely, well-told, or that inspire debate or critical thinking. Here’s a roundup of some articles that caught my eye in the past week:

The New York Times had an interesting report about Amazon’s bruising workplace culture. But even the Times was at odds with the story, as its Public Editor Margaret Sullivan pointed out what she felt were flaws in providing complete fairness in the article. There are numerous links in her opinion piece to additional takes on the article, both in favor and against. The article and its fallout-over 5,000 comments on the Times article alone—has the attention of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. And Fortune offers three lessons from the Amazon takedown. Apparently the idea of peer reviews that Amazon uses have been popular for years, according to NPR. Doesn’t make them right, though, if the idea is just to tear down someone else or stab them in the back so that you can get ahead.

Elsewhere, Conor Friederdorf of The Atlantic recently posted his annual list and links to 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism. Says Friederdoft: “This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven’t included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.” Truth is often stranger than fiction, as they say.

NPR posted this story about a library in Sri Lanka after it was gutted in a mysterious fire decades ago and how it has been reborn.

NPR also has a neat story about the first two women set to graduate from the Army’s elite Ranger School.

And this article sounds like that movie The Monuments Men: Nazi treasure train found in Poland.

For those of you who still can’t stop talking about Harper Lee, there’s a forthcoming book that explores the childhood relationship between the author and Truman Capote, “Tru & Nelle,” by Greg Neri, and how their friendship pushed them to write.

There was an interesting discussion between Liesl Schillinger and Benjamin Moser in the New York Times earlier this month about the so-called death of the novel. Of course, the novel is anything but dead. If anything, it is continuing to evolve with the advent of both self-publishing and ebook publishing, but the article is definitely worth a read.

For young adult authors out there, here’s an interesting article from NPR about cultural touchstones that today’s youth have never had the pleasure of knowing.

And, sadly, here’s an interesting story about the late actress Yvonne Craig, and her heroic battles onscreen as Batgirl and offscreen as an advocate for workers unions, free mammograms and equal pay for women.

Read anything good lately? Articles, books, or otherwise. Post your list (and links if you’ve got ‘em) in the comments below.

Reading and Writing Around The Web: The Author Edition

Welcome to another edition of Reading and Writing Around the Web. This time, I thought I’d take a look at some authors who have been in the news and share some interesting articles about each.

Go Set A Watchman and Harper Lee

Go Set A WatchmanEveryone seems to have a take on Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. I’d love to join the conversation, but alas I’ve yet to read it (it’s on my list!). In the meantime, here’s some of the more interesting articles I’ve read on the book this week.

Blogger Jacob Brogan points out what the debate over Harper Lee’s two Atticuses reveals about our literary culture. “Arguments about Atticus have largely supplanted the earlier, more important moral quandary about the new book: the question of whether or not we should be reading it at all,” he says.

Horror novelist Anne Rice counters that Go Set A Watchman is really a story about Jean Louise, who she describes as a strong adult heroine who stands up to Atticus Finch. “I find it discouraging that there is so much talk in the mainstream press about the character of Atticus — is he a bigot or isn’t he —– and so little about the the powerful heroine of ‘Watchman,’” Rice says in her review of the book, posted on amazon.com.

Amazingly, I read Monday that a Michigan book store is offering refunds and apologies to readers who bought Go Set A Watchman, which isn’t quite the “nice summer novel” everyone thought it would be. The bookstore’s full online statement suggests the book be considered as academic insight only. “It is disappointing and frankly shameful to see our noble industry parade and celebrate this as Harper Lee’s New Novel,” the bookstore states.  “This is pure exploitation of both literary fans and a beloved American classic (which we hope has not been irrevocably tainted.”

I think, and John Mullan of The Guardian seems to agree, most book buyers are pretty savvy people and knew what they were buying when they plunked their money down for Watchman, so the bookstore’s refund offer seems a little overboard.

Finally, here’s an interesting article on Harper Lee’s editor, who was the invisible hand behind To Kill A Mockingbird.

The End of the Tour and David Foster Wallace

Another novelist generating discussion is the late David Foster Wallace, the subject of the new movie The End of the Tour.The End of the Tour

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on the film, the author, and his life here.

Julie buntin, who had the real-life David Lipsky (portrayed in the movie by Eisenberg) as her MFA professor, shares her take on the movie. Here’s an interesting interview with Lipsky about the original tapes made with Wallace on his 1996 book tour.

Here’s a roundup of other recent articles on DFW. This article provides a list of David Foster Wallace’s formative reading list. New Yorker critic John Wood shares his thoughts on what he’d change about his review of Wallace’s Infinite Jest now that time has allowed him to reflect on it. And Vikram Murthi, in an article on Criticwire, says The End of the Tour renders David Foster Wallace “just like one of us,” but what made him great was that he wasn’t.

James Russell Clark of LitHub asks if anyone has actually read Wallace’s  Infinite Jest? At almost 1,100 pages, he admits it is intimidating, but no more so than George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. Infinite Jest is one of 10 such books to make this dubious list of books people pretend to have read, though they actually should.  I came across the book at Books-A-Million over the weekend and flipped through a few pages. I’m curious and may read it some day, but I’ve got such a large reading list already I’m not in any hurry. Congrats to those who have waded through it, but this may be one of those books where I’ll just catch the movie (though I don’t relish the thought of sitting through another  performance by Jesse Eisenberg).

Meanwhile, here are seven must-see movies about writers.

Mycroft Holmes and Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Mycroft HolmesI’m looking forward to this book, Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yes, you read that right, the basketball player. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan anyway, so even though this one focuses on his brother I expect it to be a good read. Here’s an interview Crimespreemag.com did with Abdul-Jabbar about the book, which hits shelves Sept. 22.

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I prefer my Holmes stories to be set in his rightful 19th century Baker Street digs. So, I’m excited to see the TV show Sherlock planning a special episode in the Victorian era this fall or Christmas (an air date hasn’t been announced yet.)

Children’s Literature and Dr. Seuss

The new Dr. Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?, saw record-breaking first-week sales numbers. According to an article What Pet Should I Getfrom Publishers Weekly, readers bought up 200,000 copies in its first week, making it the fastest-selling picture book in Random House Children’s Books history. Here’s a story about how Dr. Seuss reinvented children’s literature.

While we’re on the subject, here are 10 books every child should read before they leave school. I don’t know if I agree that Harry Potter should be on the list ahead of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. And instead of Pride and Prejudice, let’s go with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! (OK, that was a joke. But I do love zombie novels!). What books do you think children should read in school?

Other news in books

Time lists the 10 best books of 2015 so far.

Love spy fiction? The Strand Magazine lists the top 10 spy novels of all time. Bond and Bourne are, of course, on the list, along with author John Le Carre, and some novels new to me that would definitely be worth checking out.

For those interested in horror fiction, editor Ellen Datlow shares her thoughts on the nature of horror and editing horror anthologies.

And finally, Fantasy author Ed Greenwood is launching his own publishing group.

What’s on your reading list? Mine just grew…again.

IMG_20150806_135631185

My reading list just grew by two books, courtesy of the folks at Killer Nashville.

First up is Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart, a historical suspense novel about one woman’s efforts to defend her family and way of life against a silk factory owner.

Next on the reading block is Minute Zero, a thriller novel from Todd Moss, who is a former deputy assistant secretary of state. The novel follows State Department crisis manager Judd Ryker on a tale of espionage and intrigue in Zimbabwe.

Looking forward to reading and reviewing both books in the coming weeks. Stay tuned…

What’s on your reading list? Anything you’d recommend?  

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/31

Every day I scour the web for interesting articles, writing tips, and just great reads. It’s all part of my ongoing effort to learn more about the craft of writing. A lot of these come from email newsletters I subscribe to or from my Facebook newsfeed. From time to time I may also throw in my two cents about the topic at hand. Not because I’m an expert, mind you, but because I feel like sharing. I encourage you readers to also chime in if you have any insights or thoughts about the topic. Just leave a comment.

Today’s roundup looks at some stories behind the stories, and, specifically, the authors.

Vacation poster (214x317)The new Vacation movie is now playing, but without the humor magazine’s name in the title. Here’s an interesting story behind the death of National Lampoon magazine.  And, better yet, here’s John Hughes’ actual Vacation story that appeared in National Lampoon and effectively launched the movie franchise. Sadly, the new movie is only receiving mediocre reviews so far. I don’t typically spend money at the theater for a comedy since there aren’t any special effects to ogle over. But, as the original Vacation is a favorite and I can use a good laugh, I’m planning to catch this one this weekend.

You can’t please everyone… Did you know Emily Bronte never knew how successful she’d become, according to this article from Time. (By the way, scroll to the bottom of the Time article for a list of the 100 best young adult books of all time.)

Did you know the newest issue of The Strand Magazine includes an unpublished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Here’s a neat little story about Andrew Gulli, the man who discovered the unpublished work. Go get a copy.

1933-KING-KONG-009

While we’re on the topic of famous authors, here’s another interesting read. This one is a book review about the life of Edgar Wallace, the author who created that most cinematic of giant apes, King Kong. I wasn’t aware of how prolific an author he was, so I checked Project Gutenberg, and sure enough, there are more than a dozen of his stories available to download to your e-reader.

MidianUnmadeCover (198x300)Clive Barker fans should be plenty happy right now. Not only do they have a new book from the author to read set in the Hellraiser mythos, The Scarlet Gospels, but also a new anthology of stories in tribute to his Nightbreed/Cabal universe. Co-edited by Joseph Nassise and Del Howison, the book is titled Midian Unmade. I didn’t realize this, but Howison happens to own an independent horror bookstore called Dark Delicacies in Burbank. Next time I visit my brother in Burbank I’ll also make it a point to visit the store.

Got any good stories about authors to share? Post ‘em in the comments section below!