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

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

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

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

Did you know the newest issue of The Strand Magazine includes an unpublished story by F. Scott Fitzgerald? Go get a copy.

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

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

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

I recently came across this interesting article about bargain ebook buyers, who they are, what they’re reading and so on.

Take a moment to read it, I’ll wait….

OK, back with me? Good.

kindle screenPersonally, I fall in the category of “see a good bargain, snatch it up, read it later.” In my case, “later” may be a ways off since I have so many print books to catch up on, and you already know I prefer print books over ebooks. But still, if I see an ebook that looks promising, and it’s at a good price, I’ll pick it up. (I especially like the free ones. Check out BookBub or Robin Reads).

One of the coolest things about ebooks is the exposure you get to new authors. I’m not afraid to try a new author here or there. I’ve got plenty of favorites, but every once in a while I want to try something new, something different. That’s one of the things I like about Blogging for Books, which sends you new books (in either digital or print formats) in exchange for honest reviews. I likely would not have read any of the authors in their stable if it weren’t for this program. I’m glad to say I’ve come across some authors I’ve enjoyed, including Andy Weir, Tom Cooper, and Peter Clines.

I used to be the same way with music. I’d always buy some obscure group at Best Buy or Media Play (anyone remember Media Play?) rather than the more popular, well-known band, because there is nothing like discovering a new favorite just by taking a risk. Hell, I bought Motley Crue and Guns n’ Roses before they were cool! I was the same way during my concert-going days. I’d always go early to catch the opening acts, even though the venue would be half empty and everyone else only seemed to care about the headliner. But, how else do you get the thrill of discovering an up and coming band that can in turn become your favorite new band if you don’t give them a try? My brother and I (and half of Nashville, mind you) were recently blown away by Vintage Trouble, the opening act for The Who at the Bridgestone Arena. So good! But if we hadn’t gone to the concert early, we may never have experienced the joy that is this band. (Although, I rather think it won’t be long before the rest of the world catches up in learning what a great band Vintage Trouble is!)

Bottom line, if you don’t like the unheard of author, close the book. But who knows? You may be reading the next best-selling author. Or, you may just find the book an enjoyable change of pace from the ordinary. You won’t know if you don’t try it. And, get this, if you like the author, you can always pass the word. Heck, you can help make or break careers, when you think about it.

(Now, getting past the covers of some books, especially those in the self-published pile, is another matter entirely. If the cover looks silly or amateurish, or the back cover copy is sloppy or poorly written, you can bet the inside of the book will be too. So, yeah, I do judge books by their cover. Don’t you?)

But, getting back to the matter of ebooks…Another encouraging aspect about the above post is that the ebook readers are serious readers looking for a good read, and they are willing to put down good money in search of that read. That’s good to know. So, even though I personally prefer print, I will make every effort when the time comes to make certain all of my stories are available in whatever format my readers are most comfortable with, including ebooks.

Do you really own your ebooks?

On another related topic, those ebooks you think you’ve been buying? They may not belong to you after all. Read this to see why, then come on back to read the rest of this post.

So, not only do Amazon and other ebook companies know what you’re reading and how far you’ve read, but they can take your ebook away from you if you violate their terms of service.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think they should be allowed to do that, no matter what the terms are. Once you buy something, it’s yours. Plain and simple. Take something away from me after I’ve put real money down for it,  I’ll take you to court for theft.

In other ebook news, the city of New York is now partnering with Amazon to bring school text books to students in the form of ebooks.

Finally, if this topic has been too serious for you and you’ve made it this far, here’s something fun you can’t do with ebooks.

Do you read ebooks? Do you buy the bargain ebooks or go for more established authors? Feel free to start a discussion in the comments section.

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I only occasionally purchase Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. Not because I don’t want to, mind you, but because I’ve got so much other material to read already (including back issues I still haven’t finished yet.) But, obsessed with reading as I am, when I saw a recent online offer for a dozen double-sized magazines for a measly $16, I couldn’t resist. If you’ve never tried either magazine, and you love a good mystery story, you can’t go wrong with either publication. Some of today’s top authors are featured routinely in the pages of either magazine, and I’ve set my sites  on both magazines for my own short stories to appear one day. (Hey, to be among the best, you have to read the best!).

Do you read short stories? What are your favorite sources for new short stories? Share in the comments section below…

Today we’ll celebrate three icons of the written word in Reading and Writing Around the Web.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, originally published 1944. This edition by Pocket Books 1977, 50th printing.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, originally published 1944. This edition by Pocket Books 1977, 50th printing.

First up, Agatha Christie fans will be excited to know that Lifetime is partnering with BBC One on a miniseries adaptation of the best-selling crime novelist’s And Then There Were None. The cast includes Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson. Coincidentally, the book is one of 10 Agatha Christie books every mystery lover must read, according to BookBub.com. 

With another Dr. Seuss book out this week, it’s only natural that we learn more about the man and The Washington Post steps up with Who was Dr. Seuss? How a rebellious frat boy reinvented children’s literature.

Here are 7 lessons learned from Dr. Seuss books.

And lastly, Seattle true crime writer Ann Rule has died at age 84. One cannot browse the true crime section at your local bookstore without seeing one of her 30 books staring back at you. Oddly, I love crime fiction but I’ve always stayed away from true crime novels. I figure I can get enough of that from my local news. But there’s no question that Rule set the bar when it came to writing about the real crimes that have gripped our times.

For those of you interested in writing about true crime, either as an author or as a journalist, here are Ann Rule’s 9 tips for studying courtroom trials. I have personally covered a number of criminal and civil trials in my former role as a reporter or overseen coverage as an editor for several Middle Tennessee newspapers. The trials can oftentimes be tedious affairs with hours of testimony covering what seems like the most basic, rudimentary aspects of an investigation, but they can also be highly charged, highly emotional affairs when hearing the testimony of victims and witnesses. It takes a certain skill to capture the emotions of the trial while also being fair and balanced in reporting pending a verdict. And, as the saying goes, the truth is often stranger than fiction.

And, as a bonus read, here’s an interview from Crimespree Magazine with J.T. Ellison about her new book, What Lies Behind.

Seen any good reads about reading or writing on the web? Share them in the comments section and I may include them in an upcoming roundup.

It seems like everyone wants a piece of Amazon. Or at least to blame Amazon for their writerly woes. The Interweb is full of articles bemoaning Amazon’s Kindle author pay policy, customer review policy, and more.

Here’s just a few articles I came across recently:

The Authors Guild is urging the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for what it calls “anti-competitive behavior” in book sales.

Bestselling authors make roundabout arguments that it’s in readers’ interest for big publishers to collude on high prices.

Amazon recently debuted Amazon Follow, a special tab on its Amazon author pages that allow you to follow news and publications as they happen by your favorite author, including instant notifications when new books drop.

Amazon’s also come under fire recently for its customer review policy, in which it prevents friends from leaving comments about friends’ books on the site. Blogger Rachelle Gardner points out Amazon’s Customer Review Guidelines outline a number of things that are not allowed. They specifically disallow reviews “by or on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product.” Here are a couple of older articles about it: Forbes and New York Times.

Do Kindle countdown deals work? Here’s one take.

Speaking of Kindle and ebooks, did you know Amazon could wipe your slate of ebook purchases clean? Apparently,  it’s happened and it’s all in the fine print of the company’s terms and conditions. Just one more reason why print beats digital!

And in case you missed it elsewhere on my site, here’s my take on Amazon’s pay per page plan.

All of this wouldn’t be in the news if it weren’t for the fact that Amazon is a force to be reckoned with in the book publishing world. Simply put, Amazon has changed the game and the traditional publishers, as well as brick and mortar stores, are quaking in the wake of this marketing juggernaut.

So, what’s your take on Amazon? Love ’em or hate ’em? Leave your comments below.

I’m apparently not the comic book fan boy geek I used to be.

Antman movie posterOtherwise, I should have loved Ant-Man, the latest Marvel super-hero opus gracing your local Cineplex. But, for all of its efforts, I was bored, annoyed, and just plain uninspired by the film.

Oddly, it’s getting pretty decent reviews from most of the entertainment media and critics. Not the incredible rave reviews that Guardians of the Galaxy fetched last summer, but plenty of kudos nonetheless. A number of critics have stated the film is fun and features a terrific third act.

After watching the first two acts, it desperately needed something to save it. I can’t speak to whether the third act did the trick or not, though, because after 90 minutes of the dreck that is Ant-Man I walked out. Mind you, I don’t normally walk out on movies, so that says a lot right there.

For starters, Ant-Man is already a hero you can’t take seriously. Even Saturday Night Live once lampooned the character in a skit featuring Garrett Morris as the diminutive hero at a gathering of heroes. When asked about his power, he replies: “I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.” To which The Flash (Dan Ackroyd) replies: “Oooh, that’s really impressive. Size of an ant with human strength. You must be able to clean house on those other ants, huh? Hey, Hulk, check this guy out. .. He’s got the strength of a human!”

IMG_20150724_153513431 (950x1280)So, to be fair, I didn’t give the movie much of a chance right out of the gate. The previews had left me less than excited and Ant-Man was never one of my favorite comic book heroes. How could he be when there are heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor around?

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the movie in the mood I was in. Did I mention it was my birthday and I was feeling old? But, I was bored at home alone and I wanted to do something to mark my special day. And, it wasn’t like there were a lot of alternatives at the theater to see. Well, there was Minions 2…

In any case, you’re probably wondering, what’s wrong with Ant-Man? Why didn’t you like it?

I think, in part it has to do with the mood or tone of the movie. I couldn’t tell if it wanted its audience to take it, and its little hero, seriously, or yuck it up for laughs. I mean, who is the target audience of this film? If it’s comic book fan boys, OK, parts of the movie should have satisfied them. References to the Wasp, the fight (if you can call it that) with the Falcon, and its continuity within the Marvel world of movies were all points to savor. But, on the other hand, it was chockfull of silliness you’d expect from a Disney film. (Oh, wait, Disney owns Marvel now, right?). Paul Rudd, as one critic put it, is “laughably unheroic” in the role.

The film also plays all the right notes when considering its story structure, following the hero’s journey/character arc from reluctant no-good conman to redeemable superman by the end. There are parallels of father-daughter subplots between Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter and between Scott Lang (Rudd) and his daughter. There’s the slighted pupil turned evil bad guy against his mentor (Pym).

But for all of that, the film seemed flat and boring. All the plot points seemed to come about more by rote (as in, story structure says such and such an event must happen next) than through the organic growth of the characters and plot. The result was a very dry, predictable romp for the first 90 minutes of the movie. I kept waiting for the movie to surprise me, and it just didn’t do that.

Favorite quote:

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man): My days of breaking in places and stealing stuff are over. What do you want me to do?

Michael Douglas as Hank Pym: I want you to break into a place and steal some stuff.

What other critics are saying:

So, have you seen Ant-Man? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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.

 

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!

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!

Taylor Stevens has created a tough, intelligent action hero in the character of Vanessa Michael Munroe, one in whom many readers will want to spend time with. Munroe’s sharp wit, keen mind, and physical abilities are all evident in Stevens’ new novel, The Mask ($24, Crown Publishers). All of Munroe’s skills come into play as she is thrust into the role of investigator and savior of her lover, Miles Bradford, who is accused of murder while acting as a security consultant for a Japanese firm. With Bradford locked up and awaiting indictment, Munroe is his only hope of getting out of jail. But to find the truth, she must go deep undercover – disguising herself as a man to infiltrate the corporate, male-dominated Japanese society. (Hey, if Bruce Jenner can run around pretending to be a girl named Caitlyn, why not?)

The MaskIt’s an intriguing premise and Stevens does a good job of weaving elements of the Japanese culture into the narrative. Munroe goes from dogged investigator – digging through video surveillance and documents – to all-out action hero as she engages Japanese thugs sent to silence her. The climax sees her taking on more than a half dozen goons on her way to exacting her own brand of justice on the real perpetrator of the crime, making that last twenty pages an exciting payoff for sticking with the book until its end. You don’t want to take on Munroe alone, or at all, for that matter, if you know what’s good for you.

All of that said, the overall experience from reading this book is, it could have been better. The Mask is the fifth book to feature Munroe, although the publishers promise you don’t have to read the others to enjoy it. For the most part that’s true. The case at hand isn’t related to anything that has gone on before; the situation and the villain of the piece are both new to Munroe. But, it’s Munroe herself that seems devoid of personality. First-time readers really get no sense of who she is, how she came to possess the skills she has, what her own personal goals or motivations are. We aren’t privy to how Bradford and Munroe became a couple, why they have such loyalty to each other, or what they may have gone through to reach the state they are in, in this novel.

Backstory usually reads as boring stuff in an action/thriller, but no backstory or deep characterization results in a disconnect for most readers. That was the case here. Of course, readers interested in such things could scurry out to get the first four books in the series (The Informationist, The Innocent, The Doll and The Catch), and maybe that’s by design. I’m sure Stevens and publishers wouldn’t mind that at all. But that sort of defeats the claim that this is a standalone book, then, doesn’t it?

And while the final twenty pages were exciting, along with Munroe’s other encounters with the goons sent to silence her, the in-between bits were decidedly not. Too often I found myself skimming over the pages, looking for more action. Munroe spends far too much time buzzing across town on her motorbike to parking garages, apartments, the airport, coffee shops, and board rooms, supposedly while on the trail of the truth. At other times, Stevens spends page after page with Munroe in deep study of documents or videos in search of clues. The reader, meanwhile, just has to take her word for it as all of this unfolds in a dry, tell-tale format.

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