Killer Nashville writers’ conference full of inspiration, fun

Best-selling authors M. William Phelps, left, and John Gilstrap, right, and someday best-selling author G. Robert Frazier, center, seen at the 2015 Killer Nashville writers's conference.

Best-selling authors M. William Phelps, left, and John Gilstrap, right, and someday best-selling author G. Robert Frazier, center, seen at the 2015 Killer Nashville writers’s conference.

by G. Robert Frazier

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.

killer nashville bookA 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.

M. William Phelps

M. William Phelps

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.”
Murder She Wrote authors Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain sign a copy of their latest book in memory of my mother, one of their biggest fans.

Murder She Wrote authors Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain sign a copy of their latest book in memory of my mother, one of their biggest fans.

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.

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  • 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:

Anthology commemorates 10 years of Killer Nashville – BookPage

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

Killer Nashville: Mystery, suspense all about setting the pace

Killer Nashville logoby G. Robert Frazier

The pace with which you approach your work, as well as the pace of the work itself, emerged as a common theme at Day 2 of the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference Friday.

Running through Sunday at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Nashville, the conference brings together hundreds of writers and book lovers for four days of educational seminars, lectures by best-selling crime authors, agent and editor roundtables, and social networking.

Today’s lineup for attendees includes Guest of Honor speakers John Gilstrap, M. William Phelps, and Robert K. Tanenbaum, culminating with Killer Nashville’s annual banquet and awards ceremony. The public can get in on some of the activities at no charge as part of the conference’s first-ever BookCon, where they can meet Gilstrap, Tanenbaum, Phelps and Murder She Wrote authors Donald Bain and Renee Paley-Bain. A full lineup of events is available online at www.KillerNashville.com

But remember to pace yourself, because you’ll want to stay all day.

Writers on hand Friday, including myself, learned firsthand about how pacing plays an important role in any novel. Panelists Ken Vanderpool, David Bell, Don Helin, and Sharon Marchisello provided tips on how to turn up the tension and keep readers turning the pages in your novel.

Shorter sentences and chapters, cliffhangers, rapid-fire dialogue, active voice, short hard-edged sentence fragments were just some of the tactics shared to create a quicker reading experience. The opposite techniques are useful in slowing down the pace of the novel, allowing your character, and readers, a chance to catch their breath.

But perhaps the most important element, Helin noted, is the emotional connection authors strive to create between their characters and readers. If the reader can be drawn to empathize with the character and his/her plight, then they’ll be swept along for the ride, experiencing each high and low the character experiences.

Pacing in the first few pages of any novel also emerged as a key component during editor-agent roundtables throughout the day. Publishers want to get hooked by writers right away, without a lot of boring and unnecessary backstory. There’s time enough for that later, but a quick jump out of the starting blocks is crucial. Anything less could be the difference between obtaining representation, book deals, and readers who want to come back for more.

Pop quiz: You’re in an elevator with a literary agent. What do you do? What do you do?

Killer Nashville logo

by G. Robert Frazier

Picture this: You’re a writer attending the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference in the luxurious Omni Hotel in Downtown Nashville, taking part in hour after hour of educational seminars on the craft and opportunities to network with fellow writers.

Suddenly, IMG_20151029_175431362_HDR (793x1280)as you make your way to the fourth floor for another session, you see Sheree Bykofsky, one of the many literary agents on the bill and your instructor from an early afternoon session, rushing to catch the elevator. You hold the door open until she gets in.

The door whooshes shut.

You’ve got her right where you want her. You make your move – and start pitching your novel.

But what do you say? How do you make an intelligent, succinct pitch without making a dreadful, embarrassing mistake? Or moose calls, as she refers to them.

You’ve only got seconds. Maybe a minute at best before the elevator arrives at its destination. How do you gush out 90,000 words of action, emotional twists and turns and characters who you have lived with and breathed life into over the past year or more in such a short time?

Answer: You don’t.

Not exactly. Not plot point by plot point, certainly. That’s not what agents want or anything you can do justice to in such a brief period of time.

Instead, you hit the highlights. You give your book’s title and genre. The premise of your story. What makes it unique. What makes you the best person to have written the story. What makes you the person that can take that story and promote it to an eager audience.

You make your sales pitch, short and simple, in seven or eight well-thought out–preferably well-rehearsed–sentences. Your elevator pitch.

Bykofsky, who is the lead agent with Sheree Bykofsky Associates Inc., shared tips on just how to make an elevator pitch with writers attending the opening event of this year’s Killer Nashville conference Thursday. By attending the session, Bykofsky says the writers immediately have a leg up on late-comers to the conference who may not know what to say when their moment in the elevator comes.

Bykofsky also shared invaluable advice on how to craft a written query letter by analyzing samples submitted by class participants. All needed a little work, but with Bykofsky’s expert input and a little savvy revision on the part othe Complete Idiots Guidef the writers, their query letters will be nearly perfect by the time they are sent into the real world.

But don’t fret. If you didn’t get to attend the session and hear her tips, or for any of those who did and want more on the subject of obtaining literary representation, Bykofsky has shared her wisdom in writing. She’s the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published, Fifth Edition.

Read it. Study it. Rehearse your pitch. And, for the love of God, don’t make any moose calls.

More reading about agents:

Killer Nashville 2015 ran from Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at the Omni Hotel in Nashville.

G. Robert Frazier is an author and screenwriter living in Middle Tennessee. He is a reader for the Nashville Film Festival and Austin Film Festival’s annual screenwriting competitions and a member of the Nashville Writers Meetup and Tennessee Screenwriters Association. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23.

Killer Nashville packed with informative panels, best-selling authors

Killer Nashville logo

by G. Robert Frazier

This weekend’s Killer Nashville writer’s conference, which actually gets underway Thursday, promises four days of education, networking, and fun for mystery and thriller writers.

Now that I’ve decided to attend (and catch the Austin Film Fest next year), I’m faced with another set of choices. Like many conferences, the event features a number of panels running concurrently with one another, which means I will have to pick and choose which ones to attend and which ones to skip.

Not exactly an easy task, I might add.

Continue reading

Around the Web: Supergirl, NaNoWriMo and words to live by from … Wil Wheaton?

by G. Robert Frazier

Every day I scroll through my news feeds, Facebook pages, and favorite websites in search of interesting articles about books, writing, and anything else that might inspire me. Because I’m such a swell guy, from time to time I feel compelled to share these articles with you. Here then are some interesting reads from the past couple of days:

The new Supergirl TV series premiered Monday night. I haven’t had a chance to watch yet, but I’m eager to see how they’ve approached the character and whether it is a series I will want to keep watching. Entertainment Weekly did a decent interview with show producers Greg Berlanti and Ali Adler about the politics of making a female superhero.

While we’re on the topic of entertainment, I must pass along this item from the New York Post:  “The Force Awakens” is not the experience you’re looking for http://nyp.st/1PDG0yu.

The Atlantic magazine posted an interesting article Sunday about Why reader fees are a bad idea. The article points out an alarming trend among literary magazines to charge writers a fee for reading their work. The submission fee is designed to help cut down on the number of unsolicited submissions facing their editors and encourage readers to submit only their best work. But in doing so, the magazines are ostracizing poor writers (which is just about everyone) as well as their own efforts to be more diverse.  As if literary magazines didn’t already have an elitist attitude when it came to what makes good writing…

Publisher’s Weekly posted an in-depth interview with author Umberto Eco about his new novel Numero Zero (Houfhron Middlin Harcourt) and other topics.

Author Garry Craig Powell offers an interesting article about writing to the craft versus writing with inspiration. All the writing books and colleges teach craft, and they teach it very well, but he says what sets apart the best fiction is the inspiration that authors put into their works.

For writers out there preparing to take on the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing a book in a month, K.M. Weiland offers some advice on setting and meeting realistic goals in this article. Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors website is one of the best around if you are looking for useful articles and advice on everything from story structure to scenes to character arcs.

Finally, if you are looking for an inspiring article, Wil Wheaton (yes, he of Star Trek The Next Generation fame) tells us how to reboot your life. Some really eye-opening thoughts about life, writing, and more. To go along with that, here’s a video from Wil in which he talks about his personal battle with depression and mental illness and his quest for a happier life.

Seen any good articles online to share with your fellow authors? Post a link in the comments section!

Time to get serious about writing, exercizing

I finally have an accountability tracker.

After several days – nay, weeks – in which I accomplished nothing of importance and after complaining about my failings over and over again, my brother had enough of it. In response he has created a nifty Excel document that I must fill out every day to track how I spend my time.

Points are awarded based on how much time I put in, in a specific area. I get points for posting book reviews. I get points for reading scripts. I get points for attending writing classes or meetups. I even get points for doing chores around the house.

But the bulk of the points available are earned for each hour of writing and exercising. Getting published is a major goal of mine, as is getting in shape, for obvious health reasons.

Sands of Time (1024x576)

An hour of writing will earn me 16 points. Submitting a short story to a magazine, anthology, or querying a literary agent will garner 10 points.  Posting a book review or post to my blog is worth six points, as is reading and rating scripts for the Austin Film Festival. Chores around the house earn four points. I can earn a maximum of 80 points in a day or 400 points per week. I can “cash in” my points for rewards at the end of the week, or bank the points toward a larger prize later on.

Prizes include movie tickets, books, a steak dinner, concerts, clothes, and more.

By tracking points across all areas I can see how I’ve been spending my time and what’s keeping me from my main goals.

One of the best parts of all this is I don’t need a key fob to be scanned or have to log in to a website to monitor my points progress. Instead, my brother is serving as the guardian/keeper of the accountability/rewards. I must show him proof of my deeds. So if I say I wrote for two hours, I will present him with a stack of pages to read. I’ll even post my weekly point totals on this site as further proof of my accomplishments.

I could have come up with this tracker on my own, of course, but like everything else I kept putting it off.

Now that my brother has devised this system, I have no more excuses.

If this doesn’t put a spark under me to get things done, I may have to resort to more drastic measures. I don’t know what those are yet, but I’m sure my brother will think of something.

What do you do to track your time spent on your  writing goals? 

Reading and Writing for the Web 7/22

Every day I scour the web for articles on reading and writing to further my education about my craft and try to share the best of those articles with you here. Today, I thought I’d focus on reading.

One of the most common, reiterated pieces of advice for writers of any sort — be it novelists, memoirists, poets, or screenwriters — is to read. But don’t just read for entertainment — although that works too – you need to read with a critical eye toward learning. Reading is one of the best, if not the best, ways to study your craft in action, to see what works on the page, how it moves you, and how emulating another author’s style of writing can elevate your own writing. Read widely, read voraciously, read with a critical eye.

One way to do just that is to write book reviews. I came across Blogging for Books some time last year and have been reading and reviewing books for their website and this blog ever since. I’m averaging about one book per month. I also started reading books this month for Killer Nashville, an organization dedicated to the mystery/thriller genre. My first review (of Chris Knopf’s Cop Job) is slated to appear on their website on Sept. 1. One of the neat things about both sites: free books! And, as an added bonus, exposure to new authors whom I otherwise would not have picked up. Both sites are looking for additional readers, so check them out.

I’m also a first-round reader for entries in this year’s Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. The gig came about thanks to a referral from the fine folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I’ve read scripts for the past two years. If you are interested in screenwriting, reading screenplays is one of the best ways to learn the ins and outs of the craft.

Speaking of reading, I came across a cool online sweepstakes where you can enter and possibly win a collection of 80 Penguin and Penguin Classic titles. I’ve already got or have read a few of them, but there are a lot more on the list of books you could win that I don’t have. (Not that I will ever have time to read them all, but, hey, if it’s free…).

Finally for today, let’s all bid a fond farewell to an influential author, E.L. Doctorow, who passed away Tuesday. Doctorow was the man who brought us the critically acclaimed, award-winning novels Ragtime (which inspired the hit Broadway musical), Billy Bathgate (which became a hit movie starring Dustin Hoffman), and The March, to name just a few.

Remember, if you come across any interesting articles on reading or writing, you can post them in the comments section.

 

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/21

Has this ever happened to you? Today I had as many as 16 tabs open on my computer at the same time in my web browser, and, naturally, the browser crashed. Fortunately, when you reopen the browser there’s a neat little tool called Recent Tabs that, once you click on it, will go back and fetch the tabs that were last opened. Of course, I foolishly brought this crash on myself by having too many tabs open in the first place. Hey, I’m doing it all for you, the faithful reader. So, herewith are some cool sites and articles about reading and writing I explored today:

Author Sarah Waters offers up Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, courtesy of the Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

According to Dave King, who is co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and a former contributing editor at Writer’s Digest, “the most effective stories are completely transparent, with readers blithely unaware of the author’s behind-the-scenes manipulations.” Learn more about the art of transparency in your writing here.

Whenever I bring pages to my Nashville Writers Meetup groups, one thing that everyone agrees stands out is my dialogue. That’s enough to encourage me to think about entering this year’s dialogue-only writing contest  by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine. Entrants are asked to create an original story of up to 2000 words composed entirely of dialogue. The magazine’s editors are also good enough to include some helpful tips on writing dialogue. There are even links to past winners in the contest, all of which I intend to read and digest fully. You should too.

Since we’re talking about dialogue, here are a couple more articles from Bang to Write answering the question, “Is good screenwriting about great dialogue?” Join the debate: Click here for Yes or here for No.

Nashville Writers Meetup member Sherry Wilds interviews guest author Ricko Donovan on the art of dialogue on this week’s edition of The Method and the Muse, a weekly online radio show all about the craft of writing.

Now that I’ve got you hooked on this new blog feature, take a moment to read up on why the hook is so important to writing a successful screenplay in this article from scriptmag.com.

Have you come across any great articles on writing or reading? Please share them in the comments section below and I may include them in the next edition of this blog, along with a link to your site!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/19

Welcome to another edition of Reading and Writing Around the Web.

Every day I scour my Facebook feed for interesting articles and tips related to reading and writing. Some of these articles are too good to keep to myself, so I’m sharing my finds here. Bookmark the ones you like, read and discard the rest. And if you see something you’d like to share on the craft, by all means add it to the comments section below.

For those of you contemplating self-publishing your work, here’s some interesting things to consider before you do. Both come from author Derek Haines:

The rush to publish (or better yet, why not to rush!)

An essential list every author should read

Jane Friedman’s website included a couple of posts about SELF-e, a business that helps self-published authors distribute their electronic books to libraries. Unfortunately, authors can’t yet reap any monetary rewards from the program.

Another way to help promote buzz around your book is jump on the Pinterest bandwagon. Here’s how.

And now, for something completely different (to coin a phrase), here are a couple of humorous bedtime stories to enjoy (one for you and one for your little ones):

B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures (all-ages)

Gwar’s Oderus Urungus reads Goodnight Moon (WARNING: adults only!)

If you adult readers still can’t sleep after viewing that last one, this one probably won’t help either (sorry):

The true story behind A Nightmare on Elm Street

You may be thinking about screaming right now. Before you do, here’s what scientists now know about screams.

Good night, all!