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The publishing revolution already happened.

The Way of the Hack: Writers, you might be a hack if… (plus death threats from space)

Long before computers, a hack was a worn-out horse used for pulling tourists around parks. You know, because before you propose marriage to your sweetie in Central Park, you need to build up your courage by bathing in elderly equestrian flatulence. Then unimaginative comedians were dubbed hacks in the fifties, after a decade of tired jokes (mostly about hateful mothers-in-law.) I wish it stopped there. Writers get called hacks, too. Let’s dodge that fate (and, as you’ll see, you’ll also get one last chance to avoid dying by giant rock). Those two things seem equally important, so read on.

For writers, “hack” is a pretty bad insult.

Recently, on a podcast I’ll never listen to again, the host asked, “So, do you write about zombies or are you a serious writer?” Dude! Dangers, betrayal, and ordinary people facing grim existences and horrific mortality? That (and rampant, grisly cannibalism in line at the post office) is what we’re all facing every day! A book’s subject matter doesn’t make the author a hack. Failure of execution makes the hack.

To avoid becoming a hack, do not follow The Way of the Hack:

1. Tired subjects with no fresh takes. Ever read a book and somehow you’re reminded of a disappointing salad, measly on the croutons with brown lettuce? You might have been reading a hacky book.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

On the other hand, ever read a zombie story with an autistic hero, whales, evolutions of numerous cannibalistic species and Shakespearian trees, all in three books called This Plague of Days? I think you see where I’m going here: this is a blatant plug so you’ll buy This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. Season Three, and the conclusion of the serial, hits this spring. Very well, on with the helpful, preachy bits…

2. Don’t write stories that look, feel and sound like a ton of other stories. Sometimes you can spot a hack book by its cover. You want your cover to convey what genre it’s in, but you don’t want potential readers to think they must have already read it. That’s why you should consider the services of my buddy Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Your book needs a distinctive cover. Okay, no more sweet little commercials for my friends and me (today).

My point is, there are no new stories, but there are still plenty of ways to surprise readers, even the jaded ones. Hit your readers in the brainpan and adrenals. Read any novel by William Goldman if you aren’t sure how. (Okay, that was sort of a plug, but he’s not a friend. I just wish the most underrated, living American novelist was a drinking buddy, that’s all.)

3. Clichés. Hacks love them. Don’t. And why would you? It’s so easy to take a familiar cliché and give it a new twist. Don’t avoid clichés “like the plague.” Avoid them “like a stampede of zombie office workers, oddly indistinguishable from non-zombie office workers.”

4. Hacks lack complexity in plotting. If the story is too easy, the subtle message to the reader is the author is too stupid to create something more interesting. Or possibly the subtext you convey is, the author is a smart, lazy hack who thinks readers are stupid. Either way, readers won’t like the book and they’ll really hate you. So be like Batman — always be Batman — and be complex.

5. Villains who are just bad because they’re bad are hacky. Everybody, even psychos, have reasons and rationalizations and justifications. Don’t be lazy about their motivations. Writers who aren’t hacks take the time to construct origins and context so we understand why they broke bad.

6. Heroes who lack any flaw are hackneyed, boring cartoons. Or Superman. (But I repeat myself.) Protagonists without flaws and weaknesses have it too easy.

For a better example, watch the movie The Rainmaker. It’s about a young lawyer taking on what should be impossible odds and…things go incredibly smoothly for him. You’ll think, that’s it? He just had to show up and obstacle after obstacle falls down and his path is cleared? Really? It may be a good book. I haven’t read it. The movie appeared to be written by a hack who had one eye on the clock and the other on a ham on rye. 

For contrast, a great courtroom drama is 12 Angry Men. You’ve no doubt seen it. Watch it again. Henry Fonda slowly convinces eleven other jurors there is room for doubt. It seems such an unlikely outcome, but every minute of that film is riveting as you watch the dominoes fall.

7. The free online dictionary defines a hack as “One who undertakes unpleasant or distasteful tasks for money or reward; a hireling.” (Whoa! That’s most anybody with a regular job, isn’t it? But I digress.)

If you aren’t finding any joy in the writing, you might be a hack. No fun for you? None for the reader.

8. Some snobs conflate “hack” with “commercial.” Wrong. Those are two separate issues. A book can be commercial and not be the work of a hack. JK RowlingThis Plague of Days Season 2 is one of the most successful writers ever. Who but the most dedicated troll would dare to call her a hack?

Also, just because a book fails commercially doesn’t mean it was hacky writing. Moby Dick was never a commercial success in Herman Melville’s lifetime. Lots of good books fail. Don’t let The Way of the Hack be the reason for your book’s commercial failure.

I’m hoping the reason for my books’ commercial failure is everybody dies when a rogue asteroid hits Earth…but don’t worry, there’s still time. Just click here and buy my books so I can succeed and we avoid the grisly alternative near-future where the world’s population chokes to death in fire as the planet’s oxygen burns away in the ugly celestial calamity to come. Hey, it’s all on you now. Please don’t think of this as an ultimatum. It is, but please don’t think of it that way. And thanks for contributing to the Arts. Congratulations on having children and grandchildren and having another February.

9. Lack of research. If you’re banging out your manuscript to make a word count without care for details, you might be a hack.

10. Lack of humor. When a book has one unrelenting, dour tone, I begin to suspect the author just put his or her head down and said to themselves through gritted teeth, “By all that is unholy, I will get through this and grind it out.” You miss opportunities for non-linear thinking when you’re rushing to a deadline like that. Slow down, Speed Racer! Enjoy the ride more. Give it another read and look for new angles, holes and opportunities to deepen and lighten the tone and give that prose roller coaster more hills and valleys. Take the time to threaten your readers with certain death once in a while. Carpe noctem!

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: just $4.99.

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: only $4.99. Shake out the couch change.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. Today I have plugged my books, garishly, but I tried so very hard to be polite about it. Later on I threatened genocide by giant burning rock from space. Clearly, you need to buy Murders Among Dead Trees, The Little Book of Braingasms, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and, of course, This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. They are each on sale at a special low price for January 2014. Now is the time. Or an asteroid kills us all. Those are the only two possible outcomes. But, like I said, It’s up to you, killer. Yeah, let’s just click here, ‘kay? Again, thanks so much.

If more than 70 happy reviews don’t convince you, learn more about This Plague of Days and how a boy on the autism spectrum could possibly fit into the plot, at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

For podcasts and more about the books and the author, check out AllThatChazz.com. I’m starting to feel needy now, so I’ll stop.

Filed under: Amazon, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Top Ten: Becoming a healthier writer

Remember when this blog was about publishing?

It still is, but I’ve got to talk about the author and publisher and our mental and physical health. Without us, there will be no books.

As I write this, I am battling a bad infection. On Tuesday, I find out about some medical test results. In short, things have been tough lately, emotionally and physically. I have a plan to deal with this mortal coil (more on that in a moment) but in the meantime, not much writing is happening. A little, yes, but at George RR Martin speed (i.e. glacial). Once this latest problem gets sorted out, I hope to be free of health scares for a good long time. Sickness and fear is draining. Life, as I have failed to organize it, is draining.

And here’s where the mental game comes in…

This last three weeks has been a series of blows. Most of that problem is mental. I’m not dealing with stress properly. I’m obsessive. I’m negative. I’m focussing on what not to do instead of focussing on what to do. If you spend your energy in the present on what you know you should do, you won’t lose time with regret and anger. I know this because I’ve lost too much time already.

The short story is, I allowed an energy vampire into my lair and he shat in my living room. Two days ago, another energy vampire attacked. I dealt with the problem faster this time, but it still ruined an entire day while I obsessed over what else I wish I’d said to cut him off. When I was younger, I wasted a lot of time being furious. The rage monster is back. I’m not punching walls or anything silly like that. Just seething. That can even be useful when I channel that energy into Misericordia, the beastly vampire in This Plague of Days. It’s less helpful when I argue everything in my head again and again. (At least the revenge fantasy with the torch, the knife and the bag of rats is fun.)

But here’s the paradox:

Writing makes me happy and yet I haven’t been writing enough. A friend asked about my strategies for dealing with negative emotions. For two years, I was free of all this nonsense. Those were the happiest two years of my life. Guess when that was. Yes, it’s when I was at home writing and only writing. Running two struggling businesses at once is a time management problem, though proper use of a calendar and a stopwatch alarm should get that sorted out.

There are many components and variables to health and everyone has to deal with these issues at some point. This is where I make my stand. Turmoil and rage is not a successful life strategy.

Living the way I have been isn’t working.

Underneath the anger is fear, just like Yoda says. I’m afraid of failure and a short life and I’m even more scared of a long life in which my brain and body abandon me. Sometimes, I cry a little and wish I could cry more to let it all out. Mostly, I want to take all the bad in the world into my arms and squeeze until it’s tiny and dead and dust. I want justice and just desserts. I want us to live in a better world and I think, through fiction, we can come at solutions sideways. Even if we can’t save the world through Art, we can save people by giving them harmless vicarious thrills and joyful distractions. Stephen King calls books “escape hatches”. That’s exactly what they are. We write about heroes and heroes affirm our humanity in the face of Darkness. We need these myths as a starting point for our aspirations. There is wisdom and honesty in good writing. With our fiction engines running hot, we can make the hopeful lies true.

I know what to do for myself and these latest health problems are reminders that, yes, I really have to deal with this stuff STAT.

Here are my strategies to protect my brain, body, energy and mood:

1. A diet of plants with some protein on the side. Vegetables are the main thing.

2. Daily movement. It could be dancing or Fight Club or running from bears or chasing criminals through the night in my cape. But keep moving.

3. I built an incredibly cheap treadmill desk ($100) but I find it difficult to compose while walking. A friend gave me a pedal treadmill for Christmas (to use while sitting at my desk). I hope to do better with that.

4. No aspartame. As little processed food as possible. Stevia or xylitol in small measures, okay, but the chemicals I can’t pronounce have to be cleared out.

5. Tracking. The same friend who gave me the desk treadmill gave me a FitBit Flex because (a) he’s awesome and generous and (b) that which is not measured cannot be improved. Everything I eat and do goes into tracking. From graphs and math come course corrections and healthy habits.

6. Closer contact with my doctors. I go for regular physicals, but we’re going to do closer monitoring to make sure I’m on track as I make more lifestyle changes.

7. First drink of choice is water. Then more water. Thankfully, coffee is still in, though less than I have been drinking.

8. More sleep. Early mornings are fine, but the late nights have been too much for too long. I took workaholism as par for the course to get things done. Now I think it’s a stupid ego thing and a result of impatience and poor planning.

9. Be more social with friends and invest in those healthy, positive relationships. Cut rude people off faster and destroy any hope they have of being casually destructive to my energy reserves. Psychopaths don’t lurk behind every rock and tree, but they’re out there. I’m not going to engage these people. I’ll simply delete them or throw them out.

10. Write. For me, it’s as important as exercise, if not more so. When I am writing I am most myself. When I am writing, I disappear from the stresses of this world. In that world there are psychopaths waiting, too, but I know how to deal with them better. I’m very unkind to the bad guys in my fiction. They get to think they’re winning for a while, sure. Then? They burn.

11. Every day in this world, I am kind. I make a point of it. The day isn’t done until I can find a way to do someone a solid if it’s within my power. But I have to be kinder to me, too. That’s why I’ve got 1 – 10. Your strategies may not be identical to mine, but I hope you have some that work for you.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all my readers!

My next entry on ChazzWrites.com will be in the New Year. As you can see, I have to take some time off to organize for lifestyle changes, rest, recharge and, of course, write. Let’s all have a healthier and happier 2014. We need each other for the fight.

Be well.

~ Chazz

PS If you have links, books, or green smoothie recipes to share about how you take care of yourself, please leave them in the comment thread. We all need to know.

Filed under: Rant, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Saving Money and Making It (Part 1)

This week we’re going to talk about writers and money.

Mostly, we’ll talk about not having any because that’s reality for most of us.

Forget the clichés about how writing in a garret or a ditch lined with beer-vomit fuels us creatively. Poverty sucks. Worrying about income and outgo all the time drains us creatively. As a guy who’s basically been unemployed for two years, I have a lot to say on this subject, but let’s start by saving you $1,200 a year or more with one phone call.

You use the Internet for research (I hope). Call whoever supplies you with TV, Internet and your phone. I did this last week. I started the conversation with, “When I leave Bell, do you guys come get the satellite dish and leave holes in my shingles or how does that work exactly?”

“Why would you want to leave Bell, sir?”

“Because I just found out a buddy of mine in the same neighborhood with roughly the same services is paying $100 less a month than I am!”

This is true, by the way. This isn’t about scamming any company. It’s about solving the problem of being overcharged.

The guy I spoke to in Billing was befuddled as to what to do with me so I took the direct approach and said, “You want to transfer me to the Retention Department now.” That’s where the magic happens. The people in Retention are authorized to massage your bill and squeeze out money and happiness for you. The communications market is becoming more competitive and they don’t want to lose a customer.

Next I spoke with a helpful fellow who went through my communications package with me. I was paying for ten features on my landline. I don’t even know what those ten features could be. I dumped all but voicemail and caller ID.

If it were up to me, I’d dump the landline altogether, but we have to keep it so obnoxious telemarketers can harass us about buying gold and cleaning our air ducts. I also dropped my long distance plan. Use Skype for long distance. Skype is free. 

We’re on the net constantly so there were no services to reduce. However, Retention guy “put a promo on it”. That means he knocked $6/month off the price because I bothered to call. That’s $72 a year on one component of the monthly bill, just because I said my bill was too high (which it was.) We also edited down the satellite package. Everybody gets a lot of channels they don’t watch. Kill them.

We haven’t noticed any loss of services or channels, but that one phone call (which took about half an hour) knocked those bills down precipitously. I haven’t got the first bill yet, but I will save about $1,600 in the next 12 months. Your mileage will vary, depending on how much you’re getting screwed to the wall by your service providers already.

In Canada, we no longer have pennies. Sure, a penny saved is a penny earned, but I’m talking about a significant amount of dough. I “earned” $1,600 in half an hour. Make the call.

Part 2 of this week’s series for writers will be about Writing and The Day Job. Stay tuned.

For an article about gratitude, readers and sneak peeks of This Plague of Days, click here.

Meanwhile, if you’re reading This Plague of Days as a serial, Episode 3 is out now!

Episode 3 of Season 2 (not Season 3 yet!) is now available. Click on the right sidebar to grab the complete Season One and Two.

Episode 3 of Season 2 (not Season 3 yet!) is now available. Click on the right sidebar to grab the complete Season One and Two.

Photo on 12-05-23 at 4.39 PM~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote a couple of books about an autistic kid versus the zombie apocalypse. Sure, that sounds ridiculous, until you understand that it’s also an international thriller and a Latin primer. This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two have both achieved bestseller status. I’m still broke, but that will change.

Filed under: authors and money, Rant, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

Defying expectations: When going the other way works.

Season Two is out today! To learn more about This Plague of Days, please head over to ThisPlagueOfDays.com. 

To order the book from Amazon, please click the affiliate links in the right sidebar at AllThatChazz.com. Thanks.

Now, on to some wicked confessions of incompetence, poor judgment and a sad lifetime of reflexive defiance.

Defying expectations has not, in general, worked well for me.

At an old job, I was joking with office staff one day. I’m a funny guy. I thought I was killing. Then I looked up and a waiting room full of clients gave me that look. You know that mean look? I smiled and said, “I’m sorry. I was showing too much personality again, wasn’t I?” I wandered away wondering why boring people get to control everything. Yeah. Bad attitude, I’m sure, but don’t boring people run the world? And look what they did with it!

And so it is with books. I have a defiant streak I’d probably do much better without.

Self-help for Stoners is a funny little book of short stories with a few preachy moments. I might have sold more books if I’d ditched that title. But I might have sold less, too. My thinking was, at least I’ll hit an identifiable niche. Try it, for stoners and non-stoners alike.

I was so flummoxed that Self-help didn’t sell more, I compiled my big book of short stories. I put together my award winning stories and, desperate to be taken seriously, made some “serious” fiction. Pathetic lack of confidence on my part. Murders Among Dead Trees has a lot of gems in it. I’m especially proud of the three-star review that acknowledged the great writing but said it’s full of violence and “bizarre themes.” Sounds like a winner to me! It sells worse than “the stoner book.”

With crime fiction, I called the books Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus.

In crime fiction, titles that have to be explained! (It’s pronounced Hay-soose.) Worse? Funny crime fiction! Worse than that? The hero is a Cuban hit man, not a detective. Readers tend to have certain expectations and I defied them with quirky titles that may offend some people at first glance. We usually don’t get a second glance.

I still think those books are fun, fast-paced thrill rides and the people who like them, like them a lot. A pity there aren’t more of those readers, but I’m sure the charm of Jesus Diaz will be discovered over time. In fact, I have several more books planned in the Hit Man Series because apparently I don’t know when to cut my losses. (Try them. They’re damn funny.)

But it turns out having trouble with Authority isn’t bad all the time.

I lost/resigned from another job because I would not bow my head. It’s okay. It was a lousy job and that incident became fodder for Season One of This Plague of Days.

I switched to suspenseful horror with an unconventional zombie serial and lost some rebel cred.

Zombie fans might have hated it because it wasn’t what they expected. Instead, it became a bestseller on Amazon. I made it a serial to further handicap myself, but serialization seems to have worked for me.

A comedian I love by the name of Mike Schmidt named one of his enterprises “The Success is Not An Option Tour”. I love a guy who’s the underdog and Mike’s turned “underdog” into a profession with The 40-year-old Boy Podcast, a CD and flying across the continent to perform his one-man show to a loyal fan base.

I’m not as brave as Mike. I’m make stuff up in a bunker, afraid to go outside. I didn’t set out to proclaim that success is not an option, spit Life in the eye and try to make a living out of attracting chaos and making fine comedy out of it. When I wrote my books, my reasoning was, “That’s weird and different enough to grab eyeballs.”

How weird and different? In Season One, it’s a slow build. I didn’t start in the middle of the action. I showed how the plague began and developed and it didn’t even start with a zombie virus. It started with a world flu pandemic. All the zombie action remains in Europe until Season Two! (Out now. Did I mention that? Right. Good.)

You want weirder? I’ll give you weirder.

The protagonist is a boy on the autism spectrum. Most heroes in zombie books are gun-totin’ ex-military types. Instead, Jaimie Spencer is a selective mute who’s fascinated with words and dictionaries, especially Latin dictionaries! Also, all the chapter titles? They make up one long, dark poem with twisted clues to the future of the story. Poetry! In a zombie book! The survivors argue about God and struggle with finding compassion and worry about losing their humanity. Not much gun totin’ in Season One.

Hm. Maybe I was setting out to fail and screwed it up. That premise sounds ridiculous!

And yet…writing something unconventional worked this time.

Which takes us back to novelist and screenwriter William Goldman who said of Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”

I sure don’t. I was just being me. I was just writing the story that pleased me. I followed the Art.

What readers want?

That’s too nebulous, has too many variables and it’s a moving target. I write for me first. I could try to play it safe, but I really don’t know how. Until they perfect personality transplants, I gotta be me. I’m not bragging. I think it would be easier being somebody else.

Filed under: This Plague of Days, What about Chazz?, What about you?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Plague of Days: What I brought back from the dead

When I worked in traditional publishing, author Anne Rice made vampires huge in popular culture. It seemed everyone was reading Interview with the Vampire (and then all her other books). Soon after, many agents and editors burned out on vampires. Vampires were done to death. The professionals were ready to put a stake through the heart of the phenomenon, so it must be so, right?

Episode 3 launches today! If you've been holding back on jumping in, now's the time!

Episode 3 launches today! If you’ve been holding back on jumping in, now’s the time!

Foolish humans.

After the pros declared vampires were finished, the next wave came: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Twilight series, endless graphic novels, fan fic and True Blood.

If you live long enough, you begin to see patterns repeat. It happens in products and news cycles and franchises. Interesting things don’t go away. They get made anew.

The challenge in resurrecting any subject is to make it fresh: Cheerleader versus vampires in a world secretly packed with demons; vampires that sparkle in sunlight, more sex and whatever else it takes to make the old seem new.

Today I ran across an interesting blog entry. The author is tired of zombies. Good news! Zombies are still undead, too. Whether it’s new fans discovering old material in new forms (e.g. the World War Z movie), zombies as love interests, or my new serial (This Plague of Days), fresh takes abound for new fans and for those who think they’ve seen it all.

For more video and to read the rest of this article at ThisPlagueofDays.com, click here.

Filed under: publishing, rules of writing, This Plague of Days, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I lost a job over the end of the world (and how I tried to fix it)

Episode 2 of This Plague of Days launches today!

Contagious diseases that threaten to end civilization as we know it have already affected me personally. (You know, besides the Not Wanting to Die Part. We all share that.)

I wrote the bulk of my horror serial, This Plague of Days, two years ago. I was definitely inspired by The Stand. However, the scariest book I’ve ever read is The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (and it’s non-fiction, by the way). That plays a large part in my story’s inception. The Hot Zone became much more personal when its warnings  became real to a family member. My sister-in-law has a very important job in a Toronto hospital. SARS hit Toronto hard and she was in the middle of the crisis in 2003.  

A coronavirus that may cause SARS. (transwikie...

A coronavirus that may cause SARS. (transwikied from en.wikipedia.org) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SARS made a huge impression on me. Helplessness came first.

Vancouver could have been hit as badly as Toronto. However, one astute nurse averted a worse disaster. She identified the symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome immediately. She spotted a patient in an ER waiting room and isolated the infected person to avoid an outbreak. You’d hope that best case scenario would happen every time. Toronto wasn’t so lucky.

My sister-in-law and many healthcare workers were in danger. However, they did the job they signed up for and did so bravely. As a result, several of those killed by SARS were health care workers.

Though I’d never worked in a hospital, I was in danger, too.  

Through my research, I knew the agency I worked for planned to facilitate the government’s plan to make me and my colleagues in hospitals in the event of an outbreak. The bureaucrats, without consulting the membership they said they served, were ready to give me up, volunteer me and put me and my family in harm’s way. With two young children at home, they weren’t merely ready to put me in danger. Their emergency plans put my kids in danger. (I’d have to go home sometime after being exposed to contagious diseases against my will.)

Those same bureaucrats plan to hide in their homes during an outbreak while sending me and my colleagues into the thick of it. This is especially egregious when you grok this: Where I live, doctors and nurses refused to pledge that they would report for work during a pandemic. The medical experts understand that when the world flu pandemic arrives, isolation from contagion is the surest way to save the most lives. Staying home is the best chance to avoid an ugly death in an overcrowded hospital. 

You could say I was annoyed by these policies. One bureaucrat in charge of emergency planning told me “This is the government. They can do what they want.” (I thought the point of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was…oh. Never mind. We live there now.)

And yet the doctors’ and nurses’ unions found a spine, maintained their dignity and refused to sign the government’s proposed pledge because (1) their membership at least got consulted, and (2) many felt the government’s plan was stupid at best. 

When humans are in charge, they make mistakes. Some mistakes are deadly.

A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in bot...

A chest x-ray showing increased opacity in both lungs, indicative of pneumonia, in a patient with SARS. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Were you aware that with budget cuts in many hospitals, the first to be sacrificed are the people who cost the least money? Expensive upper management is rarely cut, but the cleaning staff has to go first? Those are the people who disinfect the elevator buttons and clean computer keyboards. SARS can survive (and wait for you) a long time on an elevator button.

You know those powerful toilets you’ll find in any hospital? They can aerosolize disease really well when flushed. There’s a factoid to keep you up nights.

During SARS, hospital cafeterias were closed. That sounds like a good idea until you realize medical staff have to eat, too. Nurses ate close together in cramped nursing stations.

Respiratory masks are hot and uncomfortable.

For relief, you drink more coffee. It’s not just to deal with the stress and exhaustion. It’s to get a break from the mask. Worse? A properly fitted hospital mask that’s tested and certified will protect you from many pathogens for maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. When it gets wet, and it does simply with respiration, it doesn’t protect you from possible contagion anymore. You read that right. To screw up most masks, all you have to do is breathe. We don’t all get HAZMAT suits.

I had to go to an ER at the height of the SARS crisis for a health issue.

The medical staff all wore masks and took proper preventive measures. However, when they gathered in a tight huddle to consult each other, they  pulled their masks aside.

How the truth set me free (of a job)

With all this in mind, I attended a meeting with representatives of that governmental agency I alluded to. They told us we’d be safe with any old mask at all. However, a carpenter’s mask keeps out sawdust, not viruses. A hospital-safe mask is fitted individually and tested with noxious smoke. If you cough during the test, the mask doesn’t fit and has to be refitted. (Bonus points for shortsighted and stupid: This test costs money, so it’s often skimped on or not done at all.)

At the meeting, I stood up and objected to the cavalier policy on masks. I thought I was a helpful and worried hero of the people. Nope! I’d become a problem. Problems are things to get rid of.

The next Monday morning my supervisor called to “discuss my contract.” They told me I’d challenged them in a public meeting. (I challenged them, but the meeting was in no way public.) They said I sounded angry. Um, yeah. With me and my family’s health on the line? I was angry. But there’s a difference between righteous indignation and ranting. I thought I hit the right balance. They didn’t agree. (And not for nothing, the highest ranking officer on the phone sounded more angry than I was. I have the tape.)

They said I was free to hold my opinions, but I couldn’t work for them at the same time and express the truth. They didn’t want to risk any “dual messages” getting out.

They questioned my integrity, but I’d done my job well so I guess they couldn’t fire me. They said if I wanted to continue, closer monitoring would be necessary. (I have no idea what that means, but collars make me itch.) I believe it’s simpler than that. They didn’t like me when I wasn’t nodding my head. I wasn’t happy with them anymore, either. I resigned because I thought that was what integrity looked like.

Now I wonder if they took that as some kind of admission of guilt. Then I get angry again. As far as I know, the government’s emergency preparedness plan has not changed an iota. The danger, and loss of personal choice, is no less real.

When you can’t find your opponent’s brain, stab for the heart.

So I wrote a book about the plague that’s coming to kill us. I write about how society reacts to the threat and how civilizations fail. Then 28 Days Later types of zombies show up. Interesting Latin phrases appear for the word nerds and serious lovers of literature get some existential contemplation between zombie attacks. There’s something for everybody.

In Episode 2 of This Plague of Days, released today, I include a chapter that shows exactly how bureaucrats like my former employers could kill someone like me with the same bad decisions. Will the bureaucrats read my demonstration of the worst-case scenario? I don’t know, but I’m sure they’ll keep an open mind. (I crack myself up.) However, maybe an emotional demonstration will resonate more than a defiant lecture. At least those potentially affected by these policies might get and spread the message so next time I won’t be standing up alone.

If you still think it’s a crazy, paranoid and unlikely scenario, have a look at today’s links to real-life events on MERS in “Related Articles” below. Also consider that epidemiologists are clear: we’re long overdue for another terrible disease outbreak.

Read This Plague of Days. And please, wash your hands frequently.

This Plague of Days, Episode One (99 cents)

This Plague of Days, Episode Two (99 cents)

or

just grab

This Plague of Days, Season One

for $3.99.

Filed under: author platform, Books, My fiction, What about Chazz?, What about you?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rebelmouse Review: How to Gain Readers and Listeners with a Collage of You

Click it to grab it. Just 99 cents!

Click it to grab it. Just 99 cents!

My author platform is a sprawl of social media. I’m bringing my voice to a more effective public address system with Rebelmouse.

Recently a social media expert told an author to bring two blogs together, amalgamated to one site for better SEO. That way, more people would discover her awesomeness. The problem resonated with me. I have (deep breath) three WordPress blogs, two podcasts, three Twitter feeds, a tumblr site, a Facebook page, Google+, a Pinterest board and occasionally I send out a SONAR pulse from my one-man attack submarine. I wondered, how could I possibly bring everything together without becoming some expensive programmer’s buttockal pain? I wanted to curate all my content so my readership and podcast listeners could hit the highlights in one convenient place and receive one harmonic signal. Tough problem. I now have an easy answer, and it doesn’t include hiring a programmer I can’t afford. In fact, the solution was free. It’s me on Rebelmouse.

Showcase pics and vids

You’ll notice at the top left there’s a new Rebelmouse follow  button. Please click it for The Full Chazz Experience. It’s free and ready for your unending delight. As for signing up to curate your own stuff, you can pay for premium services at Rebelmouse (starting at $9.99 a month). I opted for free now and may upgrade later. When you go to my page, it looks remarkably like a Pinterest board. The difference is, Rebelmouse pulls the feeds from the far reaches of my book and podcast empire (mmmkay, tiny kingdom) so you get the latest from the All That Chazz podcast, The Cool People Podcast, ChazzWrites.com, AllThatChazz.com, my primary Twitter feed (@rchazzchute), Facebook and Pinterest. I even added a few videos from YouTube, which, until now, most of my readers were unaware I even made. That’s the power of Rebelmouse.

Advantages for selling books

The move to Rebelmouse was especially important to me so I could show off the work and play I do with the Vine app. I make announcements about my books and podcasts on Vine amongst quick videos of our skinny pigs chattering and having fun as a six-second comedian. I wrote an instant ebook about Vine (Six Seconds, The Unauthorized Guide to How to Build Your Business with the Vine App). I wanted to draw more attention to the book and show the fun I was having with the app all in one place. Potential readers could see what I was so enthused about in Six Seconds and I could help them with the decision to buy my book and join up by showing them vines (that’s videos made on Vine). Traffic to AllThatChazz.com shot up since I joined Vine so there’s definitely value there (and the book’s just 99 cents on Amazon, by the way. Please and thank you.)

Pros

I’ve already noticed another increase in visitors since adding Rebelmouse. One easy curation page obviously makes it much easier for readers to consume my content. You can also share your offerings on Rebelmouse back to your networks. When visitors arrive to check out one offering, they can quickly check out what else is on display and get my flavor. That’s a funnel and funnels are valuable in building an audience and getting fans who buy all your books.

The front page on Rebelmouse even has further curation options. You can click on the tabs at the top so you only see the podcast page, books page or Pinterest page. (These pages were suggested by Rebelmouse based on the tags in my feed content.) Comparisons to Pinterest are obvious, except it’s a collage of the Magic that is You instead of a collage of the things you like. The beauty of this solution is an attractive page with everything in one place that’s easy to take in. When you click on the link, you’re whisked back to the original page. Not many authors are on Vine yet and very few are on Rebelmouse (I noticed Jane Friedman is there, for one). The time to get in early on these tech solutions and enhance your author platform is now.

Cons

I did have a glitch or two when I put the page up but I figured it out pretty quickly. Be careful about which feeds you authorize and be hesitant to hit the auto-update when it is offered. That got overwhelming when everything came in at once. I clicked on auto-update and then couldn’t figure out how to switch it back. I also changed the name of the page to my name (rather than confuse readers with another All That Chazz page.) That change messed up my first announcement link so eager readers got a “404, Page not found error” when they tried to follow. That fixed, I’d say most of Rebelmouse’s interface is fairly intuitive and I really like the page now.

There are certain posts I’d like to be sticky at the top, but that might be a premium feature in my future. The Pinterest look is effective, but if you never or rarely use pictures or video on your posts, it won’t work so well for readers. Like Vine, Rebelmouse is a visual medium first and text comes second. That’s fine. We’re visual creatures. Your future boyfriend or girlfriend across the dance floor might have a great sense of humour and a powerful intellect, but your first impression is eyes, hair, cheekbones, build and how well they fit in those jeans as they do the funky chicken.

Conclusions

Rebelmouse looks great for authors, photographers, musicians, graphic artists and anyone who wants a more social pitch site (compared to a pricier, upscale, hard sell, sales site like Crushpath). As we continue to search for new ways for authors to find readers (and help readers find us), Rebelmouse is one easy way. It’s the free solution I was looking for to create a magazine experience of all that I offer in one convenient page.

Book promotion and marketing is damn tough. It just got a little easier to curate ourselves in a happy way.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, podcasts, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, rebelmouse, Vine, web reviews, What about Chazz?, What about you?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I screwed up. I’m going to need a bigger boat.

I screwed up

I had a publishing schedule and a plan. I committed to ship books on time. As Seth Godin says, “Artists ship.” This is business, so make a good plan and Cool+People+Podcast+Finalstick to it. But what if the plan sucks?

Time to adapt

Adaptation is what a small company can do that a big company often can’t. Big companies have committees and hierarchies and approval processes. I’ve got me and a couple of freelancers and an ad hoc committee of friends and allies I bounce ideas back and forth with. All the decisions, blame and reward go to me. It’s time to take blame and make new plans.

The Excuses Not to Ship

Six+Seconds+copyI had stalled out on writing fiction for a couple of weeks because of time management issues and sickness: My daughter got sick; I started a new podcast; I wrote a book about Vine. All those things were necessary to deal with and I have no regrets. I’m rather fond of the sick kid, so there’s that. I’m excited about adding another podcast (the Cool People Podcast!) to my tiny empire. Six Seconds, The Unauthorized Guide to How to Build Your Business with the Vine App, was a fun exercise that could actually help people get more attention to their brands with a new social media tool. Diversifying helped my other books’ sales, too. As diversions go from the main war plan, these are pretty good ones. However…

The Reasons to Adapt

My production plan was off target because I need to launch a new series to get more attention to my other books. I try not to think too much about all that I have planned for this year. If I try to grok it all at once, my cerebellum pounds my brain pan until I lie down clutching an Advil bottle.

The core issue is the crime fiction I write is hardboiled, but funny. That’s a tough nut to crack. Many would call sardonic neo-noir Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindlea forgotten niche. The reviews of the Hit Man Series (Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus) are great, but I realized I had to diversify to get the whole line of books more attention.

Self-help for Stoners, for instance, sells the best consistently, but it’s also been around longest and by some people’s lights, it’s experimental fiction, too (or at least weird and maybe challenging). The Hit Man Series would be considered experimental by some. I don’t agree. In fact, I think that’s a bit silly, but who cares what I think when I have numbers to evaluate? I have to diversify to get the tide to raise all the boats.

The Original Plan

I was going to write the third book in the Hit Man Series, Hollywood Jesus, next. I’m already more than halfway through it and I love that character and his story. The book after Hollywood Jesus will be a real twist, too. I’m going to revisit characters from the original book. My pitiable assassin, Jesus Diaz, will share the book with…ahem…no spoilers yet…but the twist will make that series achieve lift off in a huge way, I’m sure. I can hardly wait. However, in publishing Six Seconds, I’ve seen how one book can help other books in surprising ways. By giving new readers a surprising book that delivers in a more conventional way in a comfortable genre, I’ll open them up to trying my other brands of inspired lunacy.

The New Plan

Higher than Jesus Final NEW copyI have a post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age plague thriller that’s already written. It took me a year to write. I’m revising it now. It’s 125,000 words and ripe for serialization. This book has some strange elements to it since much of the action is seen through the eyes of a boy with Aspergers. I’m going to publish the Aspergers/plague book next, instead of Hollywood Jesus. Though the subject matter can be strange and wonderful and scary and terrible, it’s an adventure story told in third person, limited omniscient. In other words, it won’t scare anyone off because it feels “experimental”. Strange at times, sure, but it’s ultimately about a family and family relationships strained by a crisis. In the Hit Man Series, there’s a lot created to make you laugh. In this series, you’ll take me seriously.

I will deliver the plague thriller in two months. Anybody who wrote me off as too weird for them just because I write stuff that challenges preconceptions of how stories should be told? Buckle up. I’m coming for you and I won’t even have to shanghai and coerce you up the plank to my party cruise. You’re going to want to be a passenger on my pleasure boat. I’m making it bigger, just for you.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

Game on.

~ Chazz’s author site is AllThatChazz.com where you can find out more about his books or check out his rants and author readings on the All That Chazz Podcast. His new website is CoolPeoplePodcast.com. The first episode features horror author Armand Rosamilia in conversation about zombies, The Walking Dead and writing more books, faster (among other things.) Check it out. 

Filed under: book marketing, Books, ebooks, podcasts, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, What about Chazz?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

VIDEO: Pantsing versus Plotting (plus the cutest skinny pig on earth)

How about you? Do you prefer outlining first or just diving in and trusting the Force, Luke?

(That animal at the end is Piggle, the cutest skinny pig on earth.)

Click to check Sex, Death & Mind Control here.

Check out Scrivener here.

Filed under: Books, Video, What about Chazz?, writing tips, , , , , ,

Spooky weirdness and the books on my desk

A little story about writing and intuition

Once upon a time, as a healer, I engaged in counselling someone in a spiritual quest to free them from pain. It’s a long story I will not indulge today, but I will say that before each of those appointments, I meditated. I did that then. ow writing is the only meditation I seem to need. Before each of those appointments, I went to my bookshelves. I’ve collected books for years, so I have several thousand waiting to be rediscovered. Each time, one of those books would call to me. I felt a change in energy through my palm as I ran my hand along the shelves. I would then open the book at random…or seemingly at random. Something always arose in the client’s session that related to the passage from the chosen book. The woman I worked with used to be trapped in an electric wheelchair. She walks, drives, travels and lives a full life now. She became a healer and took my place. Make of that what you will.

When I’m stuck or need a nudge or a connection to an epiphany, I still go to my bookshelves. Call it inspiration, weird, or the hypnogogic state, pattern recognition, divine intervention or neural connection through confirmation bias. Call it nonsense if you want. I’m conflicted about it myself. Nevertheless, it worked. It still works. When I need it, that intuition can propel my narratives forward.

I’m now revising one book while writing another. As I survey my extra desk (spreading out is such luxury), there are several piles I either reference or keep close by just to stay on track. I thought you might be interested to know what I pulled from my bookshelves to draw from as I go through my process:

For my crime novel:

The Pool Bible by Nick Metcalfe (as in nine ball), Mobspeak, The Dictionary of Crime Terms (Sifakis), Writing the Private Eye Novel, Cause of Death A writer’s guide to death, murder & forensic medicine (Wilson), How to Write a Mystery (Larry Beinhart), New York City Day by Day and Frommer’s New York City.

For Editing:

The Artful Edit (Susan Bell), The Subversive Copy Editor (Carol Fisher Sailor).

For Inspiration:

Brother (William Goldman), Best American Crime Writing 2003, When the Women Come out to Dance  and The Hot Kid (Elmore Leonard), Small Town (Lawrence Block), This Year You Write Your Novel, (Walter Mosley).

NEXT POST: Pantsing versus Plotting

Filed under: ebooks, Editing, getting it done, My fiction, publishing, What about Chazz?, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

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

Write to live

Publish, conquer your fears, inspire others

Build your brand 6 seconds at a time

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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