As an author, I welcome the opportunity to reach a wider audience by publishing in multiple formats, including audio, print and online. But as a reader, I clearly prefer being able to hold a physical book in my hands.

Of course, I am biased.

I was born in the sixties and fell in love with reading at an early age. I always had a book in my hands as a child, whether it was a comic book or a paperback Ellery Queen mystery. I’ve got hundreds – nay, thousands – of books in my personal library. So many, in fact, that I know I will never be able to read them all in my lifetime. And I still find myself buying new titles every month to add to the collection.

A few years ago my mother bought me a Kindle reader. It was an obvious solution to my growing book storage problem. Instead of killing more trees, I could load up the Kindle with digital words.

Digital reads are dirt cheap as well. There are half a dozen sites out there promoting ridiculously cheap novel downloads, along with a number of free reads available each day. If you sign up for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, you get even more free books to read.

Thing is, I still find myself preferring to read an actual book than sitting down with my Kindle. (I can also read on my desktop or my tablet, but neither of those has managed to upend my book-loving habit either.)

My book reading preference became evident this past month. I’ve been reading about a book every 10 to 14 days over the summer. But at the start of the month I decided to read a digital novel I downloaded. I raced through the first several chapters in one night and believed, yes, I could get used to this.

But, more than two weeks later, that book remains unfinished. What’s more, I haven’t even thought about picking up where I left off. And no, it wasn’t because the book was bad. It actually had a decent premise and it was well-written. For some reason I just don’t want to read on the tablet or Kindle.

Maybe it’s because I like being able to see how far I’ve read, or how far I’ve yet to read. Maybe it’s just the feel of the words on the page. The texture, so to speak. Maybe it’s being able to look at the cover and the spine and read the back cover over and over again.

Whatever the reason may be, I prefer print. And I guess I always will.

How-to articles on the writing craft are a dime a dozen. They’re all over the internet, in my email’s inbox daily, on my Facebook feed, and in the dozens of Writer’s Digest magazines and writing books in my personal library.

And everyone is an expert, or so they claim.

Today, I read an article sent to me by Writer’s Digest about finding time to write. I’ve been struggling with getting to the computer to actually write. This past summer was traumatic on a personal level for me with the loss of my mother, and the past month has been stressful as we try to put her affairs in order. So, writing has sort of taken a back seat to everything else.

When I saw the link to the article from Writer’s Digest, I clicked on it hoping to find some new spark of advice or inspiration to help me get writing again.

Instead, the article was more of a rehash of the same old advice: Take a notebook with you everywhere, because you never know where the urge to write will hit you; take time to day dream ideas during lulls in whatever else you do; plan beforehand/manage your time wisely.

Sound advice, yes, but nothing really new in it.

What was surprising when I reached the end of said article was the about the author blurb. The article was written by a 13-year-old. Out of curiosity, I followed a link to her book page. The blurb for her book was sloppy. It was comprised of typos and sentences that didn’t make a lick of sense.

The book, naturally, was self-published.

I typically respect and appreciate Writer’s Digest for its wealth of articles on the craft. The magazine often cites professionally published, best-selling authors and includes invaluable tips and information to reference time and time again. I also admire the magazine for promoting the works of young authors and encouraging a range of voices, from novice to expert.

I wish nothing but success for the writer of today’s article, but I was disappointed in her article overall. When I learned the age of the writer and then learned the writer was clearly an amateur, I felt I had been duped by Writer’s Digest.

Lesson learned: From now on, I will read the about the author blurb on any article first. That way I will have some idea of whether the source of the article is someone I can trust and put my faith in. Because apparently I can no longer trust Writer’s Digest to do that for me.

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About me: I’m a former journalist who has written about local government, business, schools, crime and edited thousands of stories for print and the web. I’ve had two short stories published in local anthologies and I have dozens of unfinished stories waiting for me. I am working on a novel and screenplay.  I don’t profess to be an expert on anything.

Besides The Walking Dead, there’s one show I’m looking forward to more this season than any other: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow.

The first season, in which Colonial soldier Ichabod Crane finds himself thrust into the present to do battle with the Headless Horseman and other no-goodniks, was both smartly written and refreshingly fun entertainment.

Sleepy Hollow coverSo, I was more than excited to recently receive a copy of Keith R.A. DeCandido’s new paperback original set in the Sleepy Hollow universe, Children of the Revolution. The novel was the perfect thing to tide me over while waiting out the summer doldrums and the start of the new tv season next week.

Fortunately, DeCandido does a great job of capturing the essence of Crane’s character and his cast of supporting characters, while weaving an exciting tale about a coven of witches seeking to resurrect their long dead leader, Serilda. I won’t say much more about the plot to keep from spoiling the story, but suffice to say there is plenty of action, gore, scares, and humor that comes from being a soldier out of time while fighting supernatural bad guys.

As with the tv show, the book blends historical fact and fiction to perfection. The afterword includes a fascinating historian’s note about all the facts and not-so-facts that make up the adventure.

Capturing the essence of a tv show in a novel isn’t easy, but readers of many a TV tie-in have come to expect no less from the author. DeCandido, according to the book’s author page, has made a living by scribing adventures in others’ universes, from Firefly to Star trek, from Stargate to Leverage, and more. He was even awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (who even knew there was such a thing?).

Children of the Revolution fits seamlessly between the first-season Sleepy Hollow episodes “The Golem” and “The Vessel.” The 283-page novel unfolds at a breakneck pace and I could easily envision it unfolding on the tv screen like any other episode.

Of course, the inherent drawback to writing in anyone else’s universe is that you know gong in not much is going to change for the characters. The author can only take these characters so far, lest he infringe on what’s unfolding on the screen. Even so, DeCandido makes it a fun read in any case.

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

Earlier this year I began work on a mystery/thriller novel. I created character sketches and bios. I filled up a corkboard with sticky notes describing key scenes and character arcs. I invested in Scrivener and learned enough about it to actually start using it. I wrote about 18,000 words.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

Mom got sick. Real sick.

And the writing just didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Nothing but helping mom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver two months, mom went from a fully functional, independent woman in her 70s to a hospital bed, to a rehab program, to a short-term rehab center, to a nursing home. She never made it to a hospice program because for some reason hospice said she didn’t qualify, even when the doctors only gave her two weeks to live.

My brothers and I were by her bedside almost constantly. When we weren’t by her side, we were taking care of the house, her dog, her bills, etc. We dealt with doctors, nurses, therapists, and a pushy social worker who kept reminding us that she was about to go on vacation so could we hurry up and get mom’s paperwork signed.

We immersed ourselves in online crash courses in Medicare, cancer, brain tumors, hospice, rehab facilities, nursing homes, radiation, chemo, oncologists, powers of attorney, living wills, and last wills and testaments. We took turns caring for her dog, who was more confused and alone than almost any of us.

On Aug. 17, Mom closed her eyes one last time.

We’re still grieving. We’re still dealing, each of us in our own ways.

But we all know we must soldier on. We all must pick up where we left off.

There’s work and there are bills.

There’s that thing called life.

Only, it’s not that easy.  

In my case, I have to wonder: How do you return to a cast of characters and a storyline you left two months ago like nothing happened?

The story I started earlier this year seems so distant now, so pale in comparison to all that has transpired. The story seems only vaguely familiar, yet oddly unfamiliar after all this time. The characters seem like old friends, yet strangers at the same time.

Are they worth revisiting? Are they worth getting to know all over again?

Is the story worth finishing?

And if so, how do I begin to reacquaint myself with them? How do I pick up the pace, the flow of things, so that it feels fresh, yet natural? Like I’d never left them? Do I start over? Or do I pick up where I left off and just hope for the best?

I ask, but I already know the answer to my questions. I think I just had to write it here and make it official. To reaffirm my answer to myself, if nothing else.

I will carry on. I will write on. I will pick up where I left off. I will finish what I started.

It’s what Mom always taught me: Never give up.

I love you, Mom.

At the end of chapter 2 of Peter Pan Must Die, the new Novel by John Verdon, one of the characters makes a bold statement as he tries to convince his friend, former NYPD Detective Dave Gurney, to take on one more investigation:

“The Spalter case has everything — horror, gangsters, politics, big money, big lies, and maybe even a little bit of incest. You’re gonna fuckin’ love it.”

Peter Pan-large

As a reader, my first thought was: Wow, what a promise. And my second thought: Would Verdon live up to the promise?

After reading the last fifty pages today, I can answer that with a definitive yes!

The 440-page novel from Crown Publishers (Random House) is the fourth in Verdon’s series of books following Detective Gurney, but you don’t have to read the other three to jump on. Verdon does a good job establishing Gurney’s world and backstory without making the reader seem like he has missed something. Before long, the reader is comfortably following Detective Gurney’s investigation of a seemingly impossible murder – impossible in the sense that the deadly shooting seems unlikely to have happened the way prosecutors say it went down. Further investigation uncovers more oddities, including a possible cover-up of obvious evidence to the contrary.

Gurney questions everything – and I mean everything. He reviews his list of questions several times with his cohorts, sometimes annoyingly so, saving up the answers for the end. Readers, in that regard, will have to be patient. But, in truth, the answers to everything are not as far away as you may think. In fact, if you put your mind to it, Verdon allows the reader to know everything Gurney knows every step of the way. It’s just a matter of piecing it all together in the end, reminiscent of those old Ellery Queen TV episodes.

Despite a lull in the middle, where not a whole lot happens other than more annoying pondering by Gurney, Verdon sprinkles in enough mystery and intrigue to keep the pages turning. More important, perhaps, he delivers a high-octane finish with plenty of action, drama and bloodshed at the scene of a county fair.

If there is a major complaint it is that the antagonist, uber assassin Petros Panikos, aka Peter Pan, seems to come to a rather easy (albeit grisly) defeat. For a professional killer that’s baffled international police for decade, one would expect him to put up more of a fight (although he certainly does go out with a bang).

Overall,  Verdon comes through on the promise he made in chapter 2 with an action-filled ending, making this read more than worthwhile.

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

If the book cover for The Good Suicides hadn’t billed the novel as a thriller, it might have left a better impression with me. The book, the second to feature author Antonio Hill’s inspector Hector Salgado, features a snarling dog on the cover and the words A THRILLER in the bottom corner. By thriller, I expected to be reading a lot of action, namely in the form of heart-pounding chase scenes or shoot ‘em ups between characters and a battle against the clock to avoid some sort of impending doom.

Not the case.

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill

Instead, the book was more of a straightforward police investigation into a series of suspicious suicides among employees of a cosmetic company. Salgado isn’t even the main character here. Much of the novel features his subordinate agents pursuing clues or interviewing witnesses while Salgado awaits updates. Or, in the interim, we get chapters following his assistant Leire Castro as she tries to unravel the mysterious disappearance of Salgado’s wife Ruth, which apparently happened in the previous book in the series, The Summer of Dead Toys.

 Okay, so setting the cover blurb aside, the premise is an intriguing one. Each of the suicide victims has received an emailed photograph of dogs hanging from a tree along with the warning: “Never forget.” There is a deep-rooted mystery here and one that begs to be solved before another employee falls victim.

Unfortunately, the investigation proceeds at a snail’s pace. Hill does the reader a favor by providing numerous chapters from the point of view of several of the employees, hinting at their deep secret/cover-up, but never divulging the whole truth until near the end. But as a reader I never really cared whether any of the surviving employees were in danger of meeting their own fate. Nor did I care if Salgado solved the case in time to save them.

Hill sprinkles in some fine writing along the way, though it’s not enough to save this novel from its mediocre pace and not-all-that-shocking finale.

The Good Suicides clocks in at 352 pages and is published by Crown.

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

 

 

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.