C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

What we aren’t reading that might help our writing most

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“Poetry: the best words in the best order.”

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

How does poetry help your prose? Why is poetry still important even though so few people buy it? Here’s why:

1. To paraphrase comedian Greg Proops: “Because George Bush and Dick Cheney. That’s why.” Poetry is a salve for our minds and times.

2. To take off on the Coleridge quote: Poetry is the least words in the best order. Capture a scene with fewer brush strokes and the reader will appreciate the efficiency of your storytelling.

3. From “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost: 

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words.

To capture images with imaginative language that illuminates the scene in the reader’s mind, practice by reading and writing more poetry. So much prose is linear to the point of telegraphic minimalism. I love a spare writing style, too, but there’s room for art as long as the story remains unobscured. The point is not to make the reader work harder to see the picture you’re painting, but to grasp it all in a pleasing way. Many readers won’t notice how you’re doing it, but they’ll feel what you’re doing. Prose shows, true, but poetry engages.

4. I have a penchant for dark poetry. It’s fun and I found a way to integrate it into my zombie apocalypse. Sure that sounds insane, sure, but here’s what I did:

All the chapter titles in This Plague of Days make up a long, dark poem with clues to the plot. There’s a secret in This Plague of Days no one has yet guessed. I’ve offered to name characters after the first three people who guess right. So far, the secret remains undiscovered. (To see the entire poem for each season, you can find all the verses in the paperbacks. In the ebooks, search “Table of Contents”. If you care to guess, DM me on twitter @rchazzchute and keep the secret so Season 3 remains spoiler-free.) Here’s a piece:

TPOD season 1 ecoverMiles away in the Last Cafe,

We count every cost, each rueful day, 

But knowing will not lessen the surprise

when you see the truth beneath the guise.

The puzzle is not Death, but Life Neverlasting.

The answer is under the stars and moon shadows casting

Now in paperback!

Now in paperback!

Light, revelation and fearful truth

The stuff of old age and disappointed youth.

In dreams we find the connection to what will last, 

what won’t survive and what’s best left in the past.

~ from Season 2, Episode 2 of This Plague of Days

5. Read poetry for the pure love of language.

The more you read, the more sensitive you become to the sound of rhyme and the beat of meter. Power lies where the syllables fall and ring. Poetry doesn’t have to be dense, flowery or meaning-adjacent, communicating only by approximation. Poetry’s gift is in its precision. Poets choose their words carefully. Writers of prose can, and should, choose their words carefully, too. Do it right and even a grisly dismemberment can reach high lyricism.

6. Play with words because it’s fun. Unless you insist, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme.

Work it right and find the time

to light up your readers’ minds.

With a little poetry to your prose,

fans will love the words you chose.

7. Poetry doesn’t have to be dusty and academic.

Check out a poetry slam on YouTube sometime. You’ll see, hear and feel raw emotion communicating points and pictures. When I want to hear a modern poet who writes imaginative rhymes that fit together, tight and smooth as puzzle pieces, I listen to Eminem rap.

That’s the sort of poetry that still sells, but I love it all no less.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of a bunch of horror, a couple of crime novels (so far) and a lot of suspense. To check out all his books (many of which are on sale now, awaiting your anxious clicks and happy reviews), find them all here. For his podcasts, check out AllThatChazz.com and CoolPeoplePodcast.com. For more on This Plague Of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: Poetry, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Is your fiction “just made up”?

Recently I heard an author complain about a poet because she hadn’t done any research. The poetry was about prostitutes, their struggles and how they reacted to being raped. No interviews! No research! Worse, the poet had made the (hyper)critical error of not actually being a raped prostitute herself. The poet simply made up a story for her poem based on her own imagination. No, I haven’t read the poems, but I don’t think I need to know the details of particular human tragedy to extrapolate the feelings of violation that must entail. I’ve read a lot of fiction that was clearly “just made up”, but the writers I love still strike a common chord of humanity that spur me to cry, get angry and get engaged.

The writer was disgusted with the poet because she “just made up” her fictive poetry.

“Beyond the pale!” she said.

I’m skeptical of proponents of research, especially if it falls into the category of “exhaustive.” It’s not that knowing your stuff is a bad thing. It’s that knowing your stuff can often lead to recording instead of creation. (Sometimes military thrillers beat you over the head with the research so hard, you’d think the serial numbers on the missile casing is more important than the nuclear warhead exploding over Miami.) For me, the authenticity of the enjoyment of the writing — the feelings stirred — trump the details of the particular brand of cigarette available in certain cities at certain times. Which is a fancy way of saying I don’t give a shit as long as the story is plausible within its own world. For instance, do all prostitutes read Proust? It’s probably not required reading, but you could easily convince me one prostitute reads Proust if you can write a convincing context.

Is it necessarily better fiction because it springs directly from the real world? Kevin Bacon went back to high school for a day before filming Footloose, for instance. Do you think that was crucial to performing what was already in the script? And if the writer of the script hadn’t grown up in a repressed town that outlawed dancing, would Footloose be any less awesome? (I refer here, of course, to the original Footloose. There’s a remake, but I decree it shall not be discussed and anyone associated with that abomination can go shoot themselves in the face…I digress.)

There is a dangerous trend in fiction that many writers think is required. It goes like this: If you’re going to have anything to write about, you have to go have a lot of experiences, many of them bad. That’s the dry, sterilized version. In practice, it’s more like this: You can’t write about rehab unless you’re an alcoholic or a junkie first. Terrible life choices make for great writing, assuming you don’t kill yourself in stage one of the writing process in which you’re actively pursuing bar brawls each night. Unless you’ve experienced what you’re writing about, it’s not authentic enough.

And I call bullshit. It’s fiction. Make it up but make it seem real enough that I can suspend my disbelief. We all have human experiences and we can imagine pain and transfer it to the page. You’re experience doesn’t have to be exactly what you’re writing about. Otherwise, you’re not even writing fiction. That’s memoir.

About fictive memoir (since this case inevitably springs to mind): Some people bought into the overhyped nonsense around A Million Little Pieces because James Frey fictionalized some of his “memoir” of addiction (after first shopping it around as a novel.) Nobody gives David Sedaris a hard time for doing the same thing to very humorous effect. Also, a lot of people also said that A Million Little Pieces helped them kick their addictions, even though some of it wasn’t real. Placebos often work on people, even when they know it’s a placebo, so what’s the harm in a book that’s 80% correct to the facts of one junkie’s life and 100% true to the feelings of thousands?

I have censored myself when my fiction didn’t pass my personal standard for believability. I admit I have recently dumped two short stories involving military personnel because, though I grew up around the military, I’ve never been in the military. I just wasn’t confident enough that I had the details quite right. I was writing about people, but I didn’t think the environment they swam in was there to deftly suspend disbelief. However, I have written stories from the perspective of old Asian men, a little girl, an autistic boy, adult women and a gay dinosaur.

For the record, I have never been a gay dinosaur

(not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

A few years ago a group within PEN Canada insisted no one could write about the minority female experience except minority female authors. I think that idea kind of fizzled because of the unrealistic limits (and ghettoization) such a policy could lead to. First, it was censorship, which most writers are against and (Thank Zeus!) there wasn’t a way to enforce the decree, anyway. Second, its logical conclusion was that black women could never write about white men. We would all have to conform to our stereotypes and human beings are way more variable than our stereotypes. After a short hullabaloo, the idea lost traction. Shakespeare, after all, was not Italian and never saw Verona.

We’re often told “write what you know.” That would leave a lot of sci-fi and fantasy out of our lives. Instead, I suggest you write what you care about. Write what you can make me believe. If someone doesn’t think you did a good job of recreating their real experience, they can go ahead and write their memoir so the heroine smokes the authentic brand of cigarette (good for Writer 1, but I’m fairly certain I still won’t give a shit.)

Fiction is a work of the imagination.

It’s our job as writers to make it believable.

It’s our job as readers to get into the spirit of the art instead of looking for things to bitch about.

Filed under: authors, censors, censorship, movies, Poetry, publishing, Rant, Rejection, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

The Charles Bukowski Quote

Charles Bukowski

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From the novel, Hollywood:

The screenplay went well. Writing was never work for me. It had been the same for as long as I could remember: turn on the radio to a classical music station, light a cigarette or a cigar, open the bottle. The typer did the rest. All I had to do was be there. The whole process allowed me to continue when life itself offered very little, when life itself was a horror show. There was always the typer to soothe me, to talk to me, to entertain me, to save my ass. Basically, that’s why I wrote: to save my ass, to save my ass from the madhouse, from the streets, from myself.

~Charles Bukowski, Hollywood, p. 88, 1989, HarperCollins

He’s an ordinary guy who transcends ordinary. His poetry inspired me to write poems (that he would hate.) His prose reminded me how easy writing should feel, even if I don’t share his ease at the keyboard all the time. He was a bewildered, unapologetic drunk. He didn’t write from his brain or his heart. Bukowski wrote from his balls. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, I recommend it (whether or not you enjoy the image of writing that seems to originate from the genitalia.)

Hollywood takes a delicious stab at Jack Kerouac for whom Bukowski obviously had no respect. It’ a fun read, especially when Norman Mailer shows up in a disguise so thin you can imagine Bukowski giving you a funny little wink.

Bukowski is the uncle you’re supposed to hate, but you can’t bring yourself to think he’s unredeemable. There is an innocence there, like a child unaware of social norms that define good behavior.

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Filed under: authors, Books, Poetry, Writers, , , , , ,

Writers: The Secret to Writing a Bestseller

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The only thing you can do to ensure

you come at all close to writing a bestseller is:

Write your book!

After that? I hate to disappoint you, but there is no secret.

There is information you should consider, however, like acting on the things you can affect (factors) and refraining from making yourself crazy trying to change things that have a negative effect on you (variables.) 

Don’t focus on variables.

Focus on factors you can control:

1. Write the best book you can.

2. Build your audience (Teach, review, tweet, blog, network, learn, connect etc.,…)

3. Get your book to market (trad or indie publishing—that’s a different post.)

4. Do it again.

You’re going to want to come back to and act on 1 – 4 again and again.

The rest is explication.

I can already hear howls of protest about the title of this post. However, if you get an email from someone claiming they have insider secrets to making your book an instant bestseller, you can safely move on. There are some wacky claims out there, so let’s unpack and debunk.

First off, there are far too many variables that are out of your hands for any one person to direct you to bestsellerdom. In the publishing process there are a lot of variables. All of them have to fall into place for your book to be sold, but even if that were to happen, there are no guarantees your book will climb the charts…even if it’s good.

There are a lot of good books. Sadly, that doesn’t mean we’ve heard of them.

Consider Chuck Palahniuk‘s Fight Club and Choke. They both became movies, but just before it was announced Brad Pitt was going to do the Fight Club movie, I saw it in the remainder bin. They got whipped out of there when his book got the movie deal and the newest hire had to peel off all those stickers that read: Marked Down. The author wrote a great book in Fight Club, but he was headed back to anonymity before the lucky break. (He’s proved his worth since over and over, too; he’s prolific and, weirdly, I even saw a major review that didn’t even mention Fight Club.)

His case is a perfect example of something falling into place that was totally out of the author’s control. If Antonio Sabato Junior had played the role instead of Tyler Durden and Lindsay Lohan had played Marla instead of Helena Bonham-Carter, you would never have heard of Palahniuk’s books (because that’s a lot of stink to overcome.) Antonio was good in the few minutes he was in The Big Hit, but generally, if you see a movie poster with Lindsay and Antonio, you don’t think,  “Ooh, gotta see that!”

The most important reason you can’t just follow set rules and write a bestseller is that what William Goldman said about Hollywood also applies to publishing. “Nobody knows anything.”

That’s why there are sleeper hits. I wandered into Fargo and Highlander, didn’t know what to expect, and was blown away. Margaret Atwood snuck up and surprised me with The Year of the Flood—okay, maybe other people expected great things from Atwood every time, but that’s the book that turned me around on that author. (Can’t wait for the third in the series!)

When manuscripts go up for auction to big publishing houses, acquiring editors bid because they want a hit. Even when books go for big money, that’s no guarantee of great success. In fact, if the author doesn’t earn out that big advance, it’s a very public failure. That blemish on their record hurts authors when they try to sell their next book.

It’s a subjective business. If agents and acquiring editors really knew much beyond their own taste, then every book they bought would sell very well. Look at the bestseller lists. There are only so many spots in the top ten lists. Then look at the book store shelves packed with midlist titles. That’s a lot of books, and those are just the books the stores stock. There are many more books published than ever make it to bookshelves, yet somebody thought each book would earn out its advance.

Nobody’s betting on losers on purpose. The bestsellers are the frontlist. The books that aren’t expected to do as well are the midlist. Midlist authors are still generally expected to earn out their advance, however. Remember: it’s business, not charity.

Hm. Somebody’s going to object that there are exceptions (and, of course, there always are. Can we say much at all without some generalizing?) So I must admit I did know a publisher who bet on losers pretty much exclusively. Maybe he was noble and doing it only for the art (and government grants) or maybe his judgement was just galactically poor. He’s out of business now so no more art. (Last parenthetical, I promise: And if you publish poetry, nothing is frontlist or midlist because no one pubishes poetry expecting to make money.)

Back to the book store: See all those dogs in the remainder bin? Somewhere, someone bet a lot that each one of those books would sell really well.

Some books aren’t a surprise when they do well, but for those books, that’s not the game anymore. When a publisher buys a Sarah Palin book, they aren’t so concerned whether it will sell. Their concern with a book like that is, how much and how fast will it meet higher expectations and sell more? When a book succeeds, the publisher has to time the next printing right and gauge how much promotional money should go into the publicity campaign to push it as far as it can profitably burn.

Publishers concentrate their limited resources on the few books they think will have a shot at bestsellerdom because they will take a loss on most of their catalogue. Some don’t believe it and authors lament it, but publishing is a business. And it’s a business with very small margins.  

Even when publishers get books on the shelf, it’s not even over then. The sell-through is what’s important. Unlike any other business, publishing’s tradition—blame Simon & Schuster—is that books that don’t sell may be returned for credit. It’s a tradition that may eventually be dropped, especially when there are fewer book stores around.

I’m dying here! Give me some good news, Chazz!

Okay. The good news is that when you get rejected, you can take comfort in the knowledge that nobody knows anything. Maybe the guy who rejected you also rejected JK Rowling, so what do they really know anyway? Maybe you are destined to be a sleeper hit.

Do better than that, Chazz! I said I’m dying!

Sorry. How about this? Contests, bestseller lists, critics and reviews might help an unknown author, but it’s really word of mouth that makes a book popular. (Or a big movie deal.) The antidote to your angst is to keep writing and pitching. Find your audience and put yourself out there to be found.

How?

Go back to Factors 1 -4 at the top of this post.

Better? Now go write.

Filed under: authors, Books, Editors, getting it done, links, Poetry, publishing, Rant, Rejection, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , ,

A little poetic satire on publishing to enjoy with lunch

Quatrain on Heavenly Mountain, quatrain poem a...

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Literary Agent Richard Curtis’s year end poem on the Publishing Industry

I enjoy satire. We don’t get enough satire in poetic form. I’m imagining Jon Stewart riffing on Dr. Suess.

I am alone in that.

Filed under: agents, Poetry, publishing, , ,

Disturbing Poetry

 The following is not for the easily offended. Or the sane. But you? Yeah, sicko, you might groove on this. Now take your medication.

Behind you

I focus on the space between people,

never seeing eye-to eye.

My position is always peripheral.

People say I’m way too shy.

But I am watching

especially when you think I’m not.

I’m stealing smiles and taking names

and trying not to get caught.

I’m surfing the net and hacking your man.

I stay to the shadows, surveilling things,

watching you undress and making plans.

 It’s like dead to alive, the rush that brings.

You should leave him

or you’ll wish you had.

I’ll treat you right, hardly ever bad.

I’ll help you get there and make you see.

That man is doing very bad deeds,

worse even than me.

He disgusts me, knelt behind you,

sweating and gritting and looking grim.

Lucky for you, I’m just behind him.

I know you’ll understand my sweet thoughts

and why he really had to be stopped.

He only wanted you for your body

and doing things real ladies know are naughty.

Please don’t scream and stop the cursing

or my transgressions shall certainly worsen.

What do you mean you don’t know who I am?

I’ve rung up your filthy purchases again and again.

Pepsi and condoms and personal lubricant.

Don’t say you didn’t flirt with the drugstore man!

You looked me in the eyes

and didn’t look away.

You gave me a smile and said thank you.

What else was there to say?

You sent me coded messages in sheer blouse fashion.

Now we’re together forever in crimes of passion.

You have bound me in irredeemable love.

I proved it by the sticky blood on my gloves.

And I have bound you in duct tape and leather

one garroted boyfriend on the floor

and a four-poster awaits our mutual pleasure.

Too much has been done

for any more to be said.

Now lick your lips, darling, red and wet.

I’ve come for your head.

 

Filed under: Poetry,

Enough

I will never be enough.

I will never be perfect.

I will never make enough money.

I will never have enough toys.

I will never be a best-selling author.

I will always be found wanting.

I will always want more respect.

I will never have enough to satisfy my father.

I will never be enough to satisfy my mother.

I will always be up on this cross.

I will always be down in this hole.

I will always be hungry.

I will always be empty.

Every unkind word buries me.

Every thoughtless comment drowns me.

Every harsh remark casually dropped from your stupid mouth

pierces my heart.

I am sadness.

I am rage.

My loser tattoo is indelible.

You will never see me as more than this.

Worse, I will never see me as more than this.

And I will never be happier.

Any happiness I do manage to scratch up won’t last longer

than the next chocolate chip cookie

fresh from the oven

but cooling fast.

Then the next ugly thought kills me again

and again

and again

forever.

So there is a hell after all.

You know what’s best about youth?

It isn’t the vitality, though that’s good.

It isn’t zero responsibility, though that was awesome.

It’s the road that stretches out before you

and you can’t see beyond the horizon.

You could be anything

(even the successful writer you dream you could be.)

But the best thing about youth is when you look

in a girl’s eyes and she sees the man you wish you were

and,

best of all,

you haven’t fucked up yet.

Filed under: Poetry, ,

For Mom ~ Last One Out Turns Out the Light

120 pounds…

The lymphoma took over her body,

110…

replacing her with each tendril and metastasis.

 102…

She slipped in and out

98…

through drugs and exhaustion.

95…

She knew it was coming.

90…

Two days before dying she recited

“Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands…”

87…

She saw the bullet coming at her in slow motion.

85…

And three seconds before her light went out,

she waved goodbye

and was gone.

82 at age 82.

Did she really wave goodbye

or flick a switch

to welcome the darkness?

Filed under: Poetry

You never know what's real.

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Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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