When I think of heroes, I naturally migrate to the Marvel and DC comic book heroes of my youth (or to today’s comic book heroes on the silver screen). An avid comic book collector, I often thrilled to the exploits of Captain America, Thor, The Uncanny X-Men, Superman and Batman, to name a few. Comic books were a fascinating, four-color medium filled with fantastic images that sometimes masked poignant and thought-provoking stories. So, when I had the opportunity to read Max Brooks’ new graphic novel, The Harlem Hellfighters, I leapt at the opportunity. 

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

Of course, Brooks’ tale doesn’t involve super-powered do-gooders in tight-fitting spandex suits and capes battling equally colorful maniacal super-villains. A black-and-white graphic novel, it takes on a color and tone of a different sort, but one that is equally heavy on heroics. The story revolves around a little known black troop of soldiers taking up arms during the first world war. It is rife with racist conflicts of the day and moral challenges for its characters. 

But at its core, it is a story about heroes. No spandex or capes needed. 

Like the black troops that fought in the Civil War immortalized in the movie Glory, and the exploits of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, The Harlem Hellfighters follows the story of a black regiment. Brooks does a fine job of weaving the soldiers’ emotional journeys within the action and adventure of the greater war itself. As a reader, it was easy to become immersed in the historic events, moral quandaries and heroic struggles within The Harlem Hellfighters. 

Brooks, who is known for his books World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide and The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, has effectively made it known that he is not a one-trick writer. Zombies are not the only thing he does well, and it will be fascinating to see what Brooks does next. 

I would be remiss not to mention the great artwork throughout the book by artist Caanan White. Any comic book or graphic novel, in order to be effective, must incorporate images that enhance the story being told by its author. White does that, and then some. His images, in stark black and white, are powerful and expressive. 

All that said, the one thing that always bugs me about stories of this nature is that they do follow a pattern: the soldiers are recruited, go through training, get involved in the fighting, etc. That’s how it happened, of course, but it does become a bit predictable after a while. Still, it is one small complaint among dozens more reasons to give this book a read.   

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

Other articles:
A Conversation with Max Brooks 

Anyone who has tried this thing called writing knows how easy it is to fall out of the habit. So, I’m particularly thankful that here in Nashville there is such a vibrant writing community.

The Nashville Writers Meetup offers a number of groups for writers of all levels to participate in each month. There is a group for novelists, one for sci-fi/fantasy writers, a mystery/thriller writers group, speculative fiction writing group, poetry group, writers chat group, young adult group and so much more.

After missing a few meetings over the past couple months for a variety of reasons, I managed to attend several meetings this month. On Tuesday I joined my fellow writers at the sci-fi/fantasy group, and Saturday I brought pages from my work in progress to the novelist group. Between those meetings, I even found time to attend the Tennessee Screenwriters Association’s weekly meeting on Wednesday.

All three meetings were great, as they have helped reinvigorate my writing efforts. Being able to sit down with other writers and having the opportunity to discuss our craft, as well as read, critique and learn from each other’s works is amply rewarding. Not to mention that there is always a new face or two at each meeting to connect with.

I’ll admit, you do have to bring an open mind to the table as you never quite know what you’ll be reading next. The sci-fi genre especially seems to bring out some rather inventive and, sometimes, complicated works to consider. But, that’s the adventure of it. That’s what’s so cool.

I sincerely appreciate each and every writer who dares to bring their material to the groups for review. And I especially appreciate their candid responses and input into my own works in progress.

If you live in or near a big city, do yourself a favor and investigate whether there is a writing group you can join. Or consider a book reading group, as you can learn about the craft that way too. You’ll be glad you did.

It’s a simple enough line of dialogue: “You don’t have to do this.”

But it’s also one of the most common and, perhaps, overused lines of dialogue in today’s movies and TV shows as well. Listen for it, and you will hear it uttered more often than not.

The line exists for one reason only: It represents a decision point.

The main character has one last opportunity to consider his or her course of action. Do they take on the bad guy even though it puts them, their family, their career, etc., at risk? Do they choose the action even if it goes against every moral fiber of their being?

Of course, the character faced with the choice always does move ahead. If not, the movie or TV episode would fizzle on the spot. The goal would go unfulfilled, the viewer would leave unhappy.

It’s unfortunate, however, that so many screenplays telegraph this choice in such a way. It’s not very original in terms of writing, and it sounds cliched. But there it is, time and time again. It’s clearly an audible cue to the viewers that this is an important decision to be made. It is a moment that everything in the film has been building towards. In other words, the big payoff is at hand.

I’m not sure if this line of dialogue has its own chapter in the many how-to screenplay books out there, but it should. Your story, your screenplay, is nothing without it.

 

 

There’s an interesting discussion going on over on Linked In among journalists about whether, if they knew what they know now about the industry, would they do it all over again? Would they still become journalists if given the chance to do something else?

As a journalist who has been out of work for a year now, the profession has left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth and my  initial response to the question is a resounding HELL NO! But a more rational response would be: No, but let me explain why.

Here’s why:

First, let’s start with why I got into the business in the first place and its many upsides. As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, I’ve always loved to read and I dreamed of one day writing my own novels that would fly off bookstore shelves into the arms of loving readers. I imagined my name, G. Robert Frazier, on the spine of books between the likes of authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Grisham. Many times I would put my finger in the space between books in the store and say, “That’s where my book is going to go.” (I still do that from time to time, even noting whether the space is on a shelf that’s eye-level or on the bottom row.)

With that goal in mind, I wrote my first three novels while in high school. I used reams of notebook paper, bought for the purpose of doing homework, to scribe my novels instead. My study periods and lunch periods became my writing periods. I wrote all the time. (I don’t know if this is a blessing or curse, but I didn’t have many friends in high school to speak of since we moved around a lot as a family. I went to three different high schools. So, instead of friends, I had my books.)

And, yes, I wrote with a pen. Not a typewriter. Not a word processor.

As graduation neared and thoughts turned to what I wanted to study when I entered college, writing was clearly the answer. I worked on the newspaper while in high school and enjoyed writing stories about people and events. I enjoyed seeing my byline. So, it became clear that one way to write and make a living writing was to study journalism. That way, I would be doing something I like while getting paid and I could write my novels on the side.

I didn’t know then what I know now.

Journalism is a grueling task master. It is work. Hard work. Long hours. Low pay. And it is largely a thankless business.

Yes, there were numerous times that the work excited me. Where else could you interview U.S. senators, governors, and celebrities? What other job gave you access to major sporting events and concerts, simply in exchange for a short article about the event? Over the years, I covered everything from government budget meetings to elections, from business openings to closings, from murders to burglaries, from Bonnaroo to Mule Days, from NASCAR to college sports. My byline in the early days ran the gamut, to be sure.

I sometimes lamented about the long hours and the piss-poor pay, but I was good at what I was doing. I built a solid reputation of fairness and accuracy in my reporting. I was a respected and award-winning journalist among my peers. What’s more, I was writing important stories that mattered to people.

The profession eventually took me into the editor’s office where I eventually became a managing editor of the newsroom. Now, instead of chasing stories and writing them on deadline every day, I was working with reporters on their stories. I assigned stories, I edited stories, I coordinated story layouts with designers, etc. And the pay was substantially better than when I was a reporter.

Throughout this, I continued to grow with each new role.  I picked up new skills along the way. Editing. Layout and design. Management and personal skills.

Incredibly, I worked even longer hours. And when I got home, my mind was still working. I watched and devoured the news. I constantly looked for new stories, new angles, new things to do and how to bring those things down to a local level. Even when I was on vacation, my mind was at work. I was obsessed with emails and press releases and news, news, news. It was my life. I hated it, and I loved it at the same time.

And then, of course, the bottom fell out.

The industry took a turn, thanks in large part to the great recession of 2008 and big corporations’ love affair with the digital future. I somehow survived round after round of personnel cuts for several years.

Until last year.

It was my time. Middle managers like myself were being eliminated left and right in the name of restructuring. The newspaper industry had become enamored with the idea that it could make more money by posting more videos to its websites than it could with good, old-fashioned investigative stories. Reporters were being asked to not only write stories for the newspaper, but for the website. They were expected to shoot their own pictures with their smart phones. They were told to shoot and edit videos. They were even told to edit their own stories. (All for the same lousy pay, mind you.) And with reporters doing all that, there simply was no room for so many editors at the paper, especially the ones making good money.

I should make mention here that during this entire career, aside from a short stint in the early 2000s, I was not writing any fiction. My dream of becoming a published novelist had been shoved aside by my career. I was making a living, yes, but I was also drowning in my work.

Now that I’ve been out of the profession for a year (the layoff happened one year ago this month), I’m happy to be free of it. I’m happy to finally have a chance to do what I’ve always wanted to do: write fiction. I’m working on a mystery-thriller novel. I’m writing short stories again. And I’m actively learning the craft of screenwriting. I have several ideas in the works.

So, now back to the big question. Given what I know now about the profession of journalism, would I do it all over again?

While there are numerous reasons to say yes as I’ve described above, there are also ample reasons to say no. I sincerely wish instead that I hadn’t let journalism become my life. I wish I had devoted more time to my own writing dreams. The long hours, low pay and heartache that is the world of journalism is something that I would not wish upon anyone. Some people may have the notion that they are doing good, valuable things as a journalist. That’s true, to an extent. But the question is, is it what you really, really want to do?

In my case, the answer is no. I don’t lament the real-world experiences I’ve gained. I’ve met fascinating people and written incredible stories. Some of that is likely to inspire my fiction. So in that sense, it was time well-spent. But, if I had to do it over again? Nope. I’d stick to my original guns. I’d write.

The layoff from my job has given me a chance to do just that. I’m writing. I’m not turning back.

What about you? Given what you know about your profession and your dreams, what would you do different if you had a chance to do it over again? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

As a practicing screenwriter, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to dialogue that sparkles in TV and movies.

I have to say that the following exchange of dialogue from Maleficent  is one of the most chillingly effective exchanges among all the big movies released so far this year:

 

Princess Aurora: I know you’re there. Don’t be afraid.

Maleficent: I’m not afraid.

Princess Aurora: Then come out.

Maleficent: Then you’ll be afraid.

Here’s another great exchange from Amazing Spider-Man 2:

Harry Osborn: It’s been 10 years. What have you been up to?

Peter Parker:I do some web designs.

 

This one from Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a cool exchange:

 

Natasha Romanoff: You do anything fun Saturday night?

Steve Rogers: Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead. So no, not really.

 

Any memorable movie quotes from this year’s movies stand out to you?  Heck, you can even share your all-time favorite movie quotes too.  Share them in the comments section!

It’s a time suck, I know. But it’s also one of the most rewarding  inventions, too.

It’s the Internet. The World Wide Web.

My bane. My curse. My favorite resource.

Think about it. At just the touch of a few buttons, a few strokes of the keypad, you can open the door to a world of news, education, and entertainment on the Internet. Yes, there is a lot of nonsense and a lot more distractions and, unfortunately, I am prey to them just as much as the next guy. But I try not to let myself get carried away by the nonsense.

The key is to be selective and to be mindful of the time you have for surfing.

In many cases, just glancing at a headline is enough to glean all you want about a subject. If you must read further, there’s nothing to say you have to read it right then and there. I often bookmark the page and put it in a To Read folder. Then, if I find I still want to read it at some point, I know where it is and I can call it up at a time more suitable to my schedule.

I think part of what I like best about the Internet is the chance of discovery it represents. The breadth and scope of stories on the Internet provides an endless buffet of ideas and information to be devoured. I say ideas because oftentimes that’s how I look at what I am reading: as a potential idea to inspire a new short story or novel. In recent weeks, I’ve been inspired by articles about  beached whales and noise-canceling headphones. Both topics are potential story ideas that I am working on.

James Franco

And then there is the pure education factor of the Internet. Where else can you log on and get access to free columns, advice, tips and even webinars on virtually anything? In my case, I am constantly finding fascinating, informative articles and videos about writing and screenwriting, many of them right here on wordpress.com. Today, for instance, I found several great posts by blogger MJ Wright about essential writing skills. I stumbled upon a blog by Steve Feek on how to Write A Screenplay in 70 Days. I also came across a cool series of video lessons from writer-actor-director James Franco on writing a short screenplay. And there’s an online film festival where you can watch free shorts and even vote on them throughout this month.

Time suck?

Yes, if you allow it to be. But if you set a limit on your online time, say thirty minutes or an hour each day, you can still learn a lot and still have plenty of time for writing. Like I said, bookmark what you can’t get to for another time. If you don’t return to it, maybe you weren’t really interested in it in the first place.  Time has a way or re-prioritizing what’s important.

How do you feel about the Internet? Time suck or invaluable resource?  Is it an endless distraction to writing? How do you keep it from getting the better of you? Share your thoughts in the comment section. 

 

I’m getting a late start today (I slept late). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Last night was a wildly productive night. I used up one ballpoint pen and another is nearly spent of all its ink. I have page after page of hastily scrawled notes relating to my work in progress, or, more specifically, the main character of my work in progress.

What’s interesting is that I thought I had all this hammered out previously. I mean, I knew who my main character was. I knew what his job was, I knew what inciting incident was about to befall him, I knew he was facing a plethora of challenges that were about to make his life miserable.

But somehow, last night more pieces of the puzzle just clicked into place.

I think that comes from having spent much of the past few days, or weeks, reading about characters, character flaws and character arcs. I’ve been outlining my novel for months, trying to come up with plenty of scenes and situations to throw at my main character. I have a pair of small corkboards I bought at Walmart that I’m using to organize my scenes on, using sticky notes.

I’m approximating needing sixty scenes or chapters, averaging about 1,500 words each, to reach my 90,000 word novel. However, I noticed that I still have a number of gaps on the corkboards: missing scenes or scenes yet to be discovered. I also realized that while I have an exciting plot, I didn’t really have a great character arc.

Now, I believe I do.

Everything sort of coalesced last night. I woke up three times in the middle of the night and grabbed the notebook each time. The words spilled onto the page and with each new word my character’s flaw and arc began to take shape. I think I already knew this information, somewhere in the back of my mind. Yet, here it was flowing out of me onto my notebook, suddenly complete and completely logical.

Somehow, seeing it all on the page like that is immensely rewarding in itself. I feel like after my months of struggles and self-doubts over whether this story would work, my questions have been answered.

I’m determined to start pounding out the words now. I won’t call on luck to help guide me through the process. I don’t need it. I will instead call upon persistence.

So, excuse me if you will. I’ve got a book to write. Talk to you later.

 

Today’s Daily Post asks: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?

As you might suspect from the title of this blogsite, writing is my passion. I was an avid reader as a child (still am) and often dreamed about writing my own stories and books, and even movies. My heroes ranged from Sherlock Holmes and Ellery Queen to Conan the Barbarian and Batman. In the ’80s, I became a huge comic book fan, reading just about everything Marvel and DC had to offer. I even started writing and drawing my own comic book one day (though I never finished it). I wrote three novels, mostly handwritten while in school. The novels are in a file cabinet in my closet, waiting for me to one day dig them out and relive them.

When it came time to go to college and choose a course of study, writing was a natural pick. Unfortunately, I may not have thought it out as well as I should have. Instead of choosing a path toward a degree in fine arts (and a potential teaching job), I chose to learn journalism. Here, after all, was a profession in which I could learn how to write and make money writing. I sometimes wish I had chosen the former path.

As I’ve stated elsewhere on this site, journalism is a bear. It’s certainly rewarding in that you do get to meet fascinating people, you get to write about intriguing and newsworthy events, and you do get to see your byline in print. A lot.

Sometimes the sources were uncooperative. Sometimes they were just plain rude, or even stupid. Most of the time they were very cordial and our discussions/interviews went really well.

Sometimes the stories were difficult to pull together. There were so many facts or angles to the story, it took a while to figure out how to tell it in a compelling fashion. But other times, the stories just flowed.

I especially liked it seeing the finished product in print the next day, along with a neat headline, a grainy black and white photograph, and, of course, my byline. I appreciated it when my sources thanked me for my efforts and my attention to accuracy. Such feedback seemed to make my efforts worthwhile and knowing that what I was doing was having an impact was rewarding.

It hurt deeply if I made a mistake. I hated making typos. I hated it if I used wrong word or added up numbers wrong. I hated it if I ever misquoted someone (very rare, but it did happen). I hated having to write corrections.

I hated the long hours. I hated having to work nights and weekends. I hated bossy editors. I hated the low pay.

I enjoyed later on becoming an editor, but it had its own downside. Here, I was able to work with other reporters and shape the news of the day, from story planning to editing to publication. My skills as a writer and editor grew each and every day, and the end product always gave me that same thrill of accomplishment and pride. I liked my paycheck better as an editor, too.

But for all of that, I hated that fact that all of the above kept me from my one true passion: writing fiction.

I’m no longer a working journalist, thanks to corporate downsizing. It’s taken a while to get used to that fact, and the loss of that regular paycheck. But the positive is that now, more than ever, I am able to focus on my true passion. I am writing fiction. I am learning about screenwriting. I will finish a novel this year. I will finish a screenplay this year.

My journey of transformation, my journey to realizing my childhood dream, is getting closer and closer to fruition.

The Daily Post here on WordPress posted this writing prompt today:

A Pulitzer-winning reporter is writing an in-depth piece – about you. What are the three questions you really hope she doesn’t ask you?

Whenever I’ve gone on a job interview, the typical “where do you want to be five years from now” question has always bugged me. Obviously the interviewee wants to know about your aspirations and your commitment to the company. So you give some answer that you think they might be excited about. You certainly wouldn’t say, “I sure as hell hope I’m not here, hahaha!!!” Although, you may secretly be wishing it the whole time. Just be thankful you’re not strapped up to a lie detector when you are answering it.

Another question that always bugs me is the “what is your greatest weakness” question. Here, you are supposed to humbly acknowledge that you are not perfect, but that you have taken such and such steps to strengthen your skills or abilities regarding your weakness. This shows the interviewee that you can overcome adversity with commitment, training and resourcefulness. If you want the lie detector answer, I’d say one of my greatest weaknesses is lying. I just can’t do it. I can’t keep a straight face.My mom brought me up right.

How about this one: “Do you have any questions for us?” Oh, yeah. How about, “whose ass do I have to kiss to get ahead in this company?” Hey, you need to know what the office politics are like in any job, don’t you?

Characters are at the heart of every story and as an author you need to know them inside and out. One of the coolest things about being a writer is creating a profile sheet for your characters. Such character bios offer a glance at who they are, where they came from, what influenced them, what events shaped their lives, etc. Yes, you need to know all the basics about them: a physical description, family lineage, what their childhood was like, education level, work history, goals/aspirations,  likes/dislikes, etc.

But today’s  prompt got me thinking about some questions to ask that could further peel back the layers surrounding my characters. For instance:

  • Have you ever fantasized about killing anyone, and if so, what stopped you?
  • What’s the biggest mistake you made in your life?
  • Who or what are you most loyal to, and why?

Here’s a bonus question to ask your character:

  • If you could do things all over again, what would you do differently?

Questions like those above, while twisted, may lead to answers that deeply enrich your characters and, as a result, the story about your characters.

What questions do you ask your characters?

Rock ‘n’ roll stories are great to read, but it’s great hearing them too.

On  Friday, I joined hundreds of Nashville area music lovers in an unseasonably cold wind outside the Vanderbilt Barnes & Noble for a book signing event. As the author of the book was none other than rock ‘n’ roll icon Paul Stanley, the 90-minute wait was worth it. Not only did I get an autographed copy of the book, I got to share a fist bump with him and got a picture taken with him.

The frontman for KISS, Stanley’s recently released autobiography Face the Music debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list.

The crowd waiting for the event were clearly KISS fans, with many coming dressed up in KISS T-shirts and jackets. As there wasn’t much to do for 90 minutes, it was the perfect opportunity to share KISS stories.

A gray-haired lady  in front of me had a pair of KISS guitar picks dangling from her ears. She explained that she got the picks, one each from Stanley and KISS bassist Gene Simmons, at a live show after they were tossed into the crowd. She said her friends like to say she plowed over a security guard to get them. She said KISS was her son’s favorite band before he died and because of that she has a connection with the group.

Nearby, a teenager wearing a KISS shirt mentioned that she had never seen the group perform in concert before and was looking forward to this summer’s tour with Def Leppard.

A young boy wore his own Starchild costume, drawing applause from others in line.

One person in the crowd talked about how he’d already been to one of Stanley’s book signings in another city, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the singer again and get another autograph.

Another fan was excited to get a copy of the book, but sadly admitted his concert-going days were over as he was just too old. Another lamented that the prices for KISS tickets these days was just too excessive to keep going year after year.

I caught my first KISS show in 1981 and have only missed one of their visits to Nashville since then (because of an ice storm on the night of the concert.) I also attended the KISS Convention in Nashville prior to their reunion tour with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss in the 1990s, caught them live in Las Vegas as part of a WCW Monday Nitro episode in which they were the guests, and traveled to Knoxville to see them perform. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve seen them.

I was ecstatic when the fans voted KISS into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame this past spring, even though KISS isn’t keen on the Hall itself. To me it was validation (not that it was really needed) that this is one hell of a rock band that has given me countless hours of joy and excitement over the majority of my life. No other group has ever excited me more and I doubt ever will.

Stanley’s book signing was just the latest chapter in my own KISS life. I can’t wait til this summer’s KISS/Def Leppard show for another chapter.

As a former journalist and a writer, I’m always interested in stories. The KISS crowd was a cool way to hear some stories being shared from a wide array of people, from young to old. Who knows, some of the personalities and stories could make for great fodder someday in my own autobiography after my writing career takes off.