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.

Review: Herman Koch’s The Dinner a tasty good read

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.

The DinnerOriginally 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.

Review: Questions posed in Powerless linger well after novel is finished

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).

PowerlessAt 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

Book review: White Leopard a gritty, graphic PI novel

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).

White LeopardGuillaume’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.

Around the Web: Bond, Star Trek franchises endure with new movies, books, series

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.

Spectre movie poster (886x1280)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.

supergirl-01

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.

Around the Web: Bazaar of Bad Dreams has everyone talking about King again

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:

The Bazaar of Bad DreamsIf 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.

Review: Neil Patrick Harris’ autobiography a hilarious diversion

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.

Choose Your Own AutobiographyTypically 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.

Related reading:

7 Things How I Met Your Mother Can Teach About Writing