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

The publishing revolution already happened.

What Birdman got right (and what it says about writing books)

If you haven’t seen Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, you’ll find no spoilers here. It’s a very unusual film and there is a lot to love in it, not least of which is the cinematography. It’s also one of those rare films I’ll need to see again before I can figure out how much I like it.  Today, I want to talk about what I loved (and how it might apply to writers and books.)

1. The movie is a tutorial in acting without self-consciousness.

Many of us are too self-conscious to try something bold in our writing. That’s too bad, I think. I like bold choices in books. The expected is too ordinary and easy. The expected is…expected. You’ll also love the instruction on the power of motivation, emotion and brevity.

2. The film is comfortable with ambiguity.

As much as I enjoyed the summer romp that was Guardians of the Galaxy, there was no need to discuss it by the time we got to the parking lot. Birdman leaves so much ambiguity, you’ll find a lot of people arguing over clues in the film. What happened and what did it all mean? That could irritate you, or you could decide it’s finally a film worthy of discussion.

3. Birdman is working on several levels.

You can take it for what it is or you can take it for what it might be and, no doubt about it, this is a story that demands some patience from its audience if they decide to try to decode it. I like books that are doing one thing while you think they’re doing something else. That’s the rich depth I look for in my reading and writing, no matter how superficial an entertainment you might expect. (For instance, shocker: This Plague of Days is less about zombies and more about you.)

4. Birdman is Art (capital A) that defines its audience.

If you’re an optimist, you’re going to want to interpret the story one way. If you’re a pessimist, you may have less fun in the movie but you’ll enjoy the discussion over coffee after the movie.

5. Pop culture references.

The movie is front loaded with some contemporary references that are pretty funny. The movie isn’t afraid to define itself by a particular time with those pop culture references. Publishers have long run screaming from books with such references for fear readers won’t get it and the book will be dated too fast. Here’s what I’ve found (especially from feedback about my crime novels): Lots of readers love pop culture references and readers don’t scare off so easily when you’re showing them a good time. Will it get dated? No. That’s just a label and what you call a thing is not the thing. (Don’t buy that? Okay. How about this: eventually, everything is a period piece.)

6. The movie talks a lot about what it means to make Art and struggle with commerce.

What we all do as artists is kind of a brave thing to do. Maybe not storming-the-beaches-at-Normandy brave, but we’re taking risks and putting ourselves out there. It’s nice to see that affirmed somewhere instead of mocking entertainment as an effete thing to do when you could be out drinking and brawling or doing nothing. I believe Art matters. So does Birdman.

7. The movie criticizes and acknowledges the power of social media.

That’s surprisingly evenhanded and grounds for more discussion about what matters and how to get to what matters. Many of us are divided on the power of Twitter and the distracting lure of YouTube. I don’t think the answer is an either/or binary, so, through the ranting, the movie has a very thoughtful core.

8. Any artist will appreciate the critique of the role of the critic: how easy, risk-free and shallow it can be.

I heard a couple of professional critics mock this aspect of Birdman. Clearly, they weren’t listening closely or their egos got in the way. Whatever else you may dislike about this film, if you’ve written a book, you’ll love that exchange.

9. Birdman is, in part, about legacy and relevance and striving.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? If you can’t, get out. You’re taking a squat in my church.

10. By turns, Birdman looks like a French art film somebody dragged you to in college, one of those movies only film students pretend to like while they’re really thinking about Star Wars.

Then Birdman does something different. In other words, if it were a book, it would be cross-genre. It’s a film that isn’t easy to categorize and define. Therefore, it’s harder to sell. They made it anyway.

Filmgoers have been crying out for films that are refreshing and different. Audiences have been moaning at Hollywood for years, “Oh, for God’s sake, give us something besides another empty sequel and come up with an original thought!” Well, you asked for it and Birdman is what the answer to that request looks like.

You know what? I take it back. Now that I’ve written this list, I can see it now. I did like Birdman a lot. I think I might love it.

 

Filed under: movies, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reviews Part 1: This publishing train isn’t going where I thought it was going

I read a review of a friend’s book that bothered me. The reviewer objected to his use of the second person. It’s actually a common objection and, in my view, kind of a silly one. The common objection is the reader couldn’t “get past” all that “you, you, you.” And yet the ubiquitous use of “I, I, I” in first person narration is no problem.

What bothered me more is that reviewer seemed to address the author in a way that made the negative review more personal. “I’m sorry, NAME OF AUTHOR, but nobody does it.”

Nobody does it? Really?

I do in my crime novels and it’s part of the psychology of the hit man’s character. Jay McInerney did so famously in Bright Lights, Big City. There are plenty of novels that challenge convention.

But I’ve blogged about the use of second person before and I don’t want to repeat myself. The above is a reiteration for new visitors to this blog.

And here’s what this post is really about:

Convention. Art challenges it.

This is not to argue that anything is Art simply because it’s weird. “Weird” is a word that stands in for, “outside the reader’s experience.” This is to say that I enjoy books that are uncommon, that challenge the status quo, that defy expectations. This Plague of Days has a subtext of psychology and philosophy underlying the action. Its design is unusual and that’s done on purpose. 

That was the other thing I objected to when I read some reviews of my friend’s book. The writing was executed in such a way that it played with readers’ expectations. It was well done though it left some readers off-balance. Then a couple of reviewers complained that they didn’t know if it was the author’s skill that accomplished that feat or if he merely missed the mark.

I have an answer for them:

The author knew exactly what he was doing. He did it on purpose and it took skill. It takes a lot of skill to propel a narrative across the expanse of a book. They are entitled to their opinion, of course, but perhaps a more careful reading by the reviewers was in order. All the elements were there and it wasn’t the author’s fault that a couple of readers missed it. I was irritated that a couple of people took the time to review my pal’s book, but they didn’t seem to pay attention in the first place. Worse, despite staying with his story to the end, they opted to question his intelligence in their reviews.

A fluke doesn’t keep going for 250 pages. Writers know this. Perhaps that’s one reason why our reviews tend to be kinder.

In Part II of this essay, I’ll discuss why it’s becoming more difficult to sell books the way some of us used to write them. My suspicion is that next time, perhaps my friend won’t write such a brilliant book and, sadly, he’ll probably sell more of them.

That’s a down note to end a post on, isn’t it? It’ll probably get worse in Part II.

Filed under: author platform, Rant, readers, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Ha-ha-ha-nope! This post is about you.

This Plague of Days OMNIBUS (Large)It is easy to be cynical and you can spot the practice everywhere. In watching the unfolding developments of the Hachette versus Amazon dispute, some people ascribe motivations to actions even though we’re still working in a low information environment. Support Amazon? Somebody’s going to call you a moron. Support Hachette? Someone will call you a shill.

  • As if you’re saying what they said you said.
  • As if you can’t think critically and everyone must align with one ideology (forever).
  • As if the only choice is a binary, up/down, yes/no.
  • As if standing up and stating your opinion is wrong.
  • As if our opinions will affect the negotiation’s outcome. (Ha-ha-ha-nope!)

Both sides arrive at the same conclusion: Writers will be hurt if the other side wins.

We tend to see the world as we are. We project. People who think, do and say nasty things expect others to react the same way they’d react. Same is true of many optimists. (I don’t have a lot of experience with optimism, but I have seen that happen.)

So let’s consider who we are as writers. I invite you into my warm pool of quiet reflection…

Do you believe in the power of Art?

Do you believe in your Art?

Do you believe you can change people’s minds with your Art and grow a base of readers?

Do you believe readers will find you or are they only interested in hot authors in other genres?

Do you believe in your capacity to improve your chances of success, learn new skills and change the future?

Do you think you can change yourself and your future?

Does your success depend on you or is it only luck? Or is it some luck but you’re the only variable you can control?

Are you hoping one corporation or one business model will make or break your career?

Or do you own the company that will make or break your career?

Do you believe that mistakes are forever or are situations fluid and correctable?

Does the universe arc toward or away from justice?

Are you a helpless leaf on a current or are you prepared to go find your ideal readers? A little bit of both or neither?

Robert Chazz Chute This Plague of Days: Season 3Where are you on this continuum?:

Adapting to change is a

  • catastrophic problem or
  • an inconvenience or
  • possibly an opportunity? 

This post isn’t about supplying answers. Only you can do that. However, I hope you find your answers reflect a confidence in yourself, your books and your readership. Artists should be bold. Writers should feel committed to the fun of what they do, forsaking all others and rejecting panic. Isn’t our work too big for us to act small?

Don’t let an Internet storm blow your authorship off course. Storms rock the boat. Be the writer who rocks harder. 

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I’m a suspense novelist. Last night I saw my mother for the first time in several years. She’s been dead a while so I was somewhat surprised by the encounter. When I was a teenager, it drove me crazy that she frequently used the word “kooky.” I thought that was terminally uncool and embarrassing.

Last night, I held her and asked her to say the dreaded word. She kept her unblinking gaze fixed on the horizon and refused to even acknowledge me. I begged her to smile and say it one more time. She remained stiff and silent and unmoved.

And I wept.

Kooky.

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , ,

NaNoWriMo isn’t bad. You are.

One neurotic fellow worried, in public, about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) 

Worry 1

“If it goes really well, I’d be embarrassed to admit the published book started with NaNoWriMo.”

Yes, this was actually a concern. That sounds silly to me, but putting aside the snobby subtext, let’s answer that. More than 100 published novels have emerged from NaNoWriMo beginnings and I’m sure the authors are grateful for the kick start NaNo supplied. If you need a kick in the pants, NaNoWriMo can help make a solitary pursuit feel more gentle with the support of an enthusiastic community. Whatever helps you get past the time management hump and into actually writing is peachy with me. Starting is hard.

I’m working on a novel that emerged from a short story in Murders Among Dead Trees. That happens a lot. Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus were born from a short story in Self-help for Stoners.

Book ideas come from lots of places. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about process. Instead, embrace what works for you. Otherwise, you get lost chasing your tail. If you must be embarrassed about something, worry about how much autobiographical source material you’re using from that series of bad decisions you made in Vegas.

Or, how about this answer? Don’t be a poo.

Worry 2

“The problem with NaNoWriMo is people think they’ll have a novel at the end of it.”

No, they don’t. NaNoWriMo has warned about this syndrome from the beginning. Most people write to join in the fun and to share support they have no other month of the year. Most people know what these moralizing purists refuse to acknowledge: 

A. Non-writers, novices and aspiring writers are often (oh my Thor!) just as smart as any purist.

B. Writing is the opposite of rocket science. It’s an associative process of making neural connections in new ways that expresses a basic human capacity for creativity. There are good writers and unskilled writers, but ignorance does not equal stupidity. Take the Art seriously, sure, but writers should not take themselves so seriously. It’s supposed to be fun and engaging and many people can do it.

C. Critics of NaNo poop on the participants and say they’re wasting their time. Are all the hobbyist painters wasting their time, too? It’s their time to enjoy wasting. Stop being nasty to NaNoWriMo. You don’t sound noble and professional. You sound insecure about competition from upstarts who dare to pick up a pen, just like you must have done once. 

D. We all know this is just a quick, first draft that will later be expanded, rewritten, pummelled and edited. In most cases, it won’t be submitted or published anywhere, ever. It’s just a start, a challenge, an experiment. Its value is that you can’t edit and improve what isn’t on the page.

This straw man is trotted out for burning each November when oh-so-serious people who write in one way (i.e. like they’re constipated and too fascinated with their leavings) insist that everybody have the same process.*

Yes, some people refuse to acknowledge that their first draft is not great. I’m sure there are even a few people who fire off their first draft of 50,001 words to an agent. But so many people participate in NaNoWriMo, there are bound to be a few novices too sure of their greatness who refuse to follow instructions.

Let’s stop being mean, have a laugh and have a go if you want.

The first time I attempted NaNoWriMo, I didn’t make it to 50,000 words and I was left with a partial manuscript I didn’t like. The second time, I did complete the challenge. Now I don’t do NaNoWriMo because I write no matter what, at least 2,000 words a day. Nothing against NaNo. It’s simply that participating fully would add a stovepipe to my outhouse and the days are short.

Now, on to more troubling questions:

What’s with all the toilet analogies, Chazz?

*This post is based on actual objections to NaNoWriMo. Not all critics of NaNoWriMo deserve the thrashing I’m pointing at one particular critic. If it’s simply not for you, that’s peachy, too. In defence of NaNo, I wrote the inspired imagery with the word “constipated” in it the first time, without revising a word.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , ,

Top 10 How to be happy (oddly, this will infuriate people it’s meant to help)

This is probably the sort of topic where, if you get it, you don’t need it. If you don’t see it, you probably never will. (Then why blog about it? Because I don’t see any windmills! Now gimme that lance! Let’s go tilting!)

Change can happen though.

A bureaucracy, that shall remain nameless, gave off a lot of bad hoodoo. They’re infamous for holding the people they serve in contempt. The way they related to people led, in part, to the installation of bulletproof glass in their place of business. (I’m not kidding.)

Recently, they responded to the wails from those who paid their salaries. The video they sent out stopped short of an apology, but they did acknowledge they needed to set a new tone. They promised to work on changing their corporate culture.

I was one of their most strident critics. If they’re sincere, I’m surprised how willing I am to forgive and forget. The changes I see so far are free and subtle. I dealt with them again recently and a few pleases and thank yous was all it took to ease my wariness. It seemed, in the span of a few short paragraphs, that they weren’t trying to make me feel like a dirtbag. Refreshing.

Which brings us to blogging and relating to people.

I’ve found myself skipping past the blog titles that say, “Here are X number of reasons your blog sucks.” Maybe there’s good information in there, but I’m an author with an Irish family on one flank and teenagers closing in on the other. I’ve got enough negativity in my life. I already have a dim view of the world and I enjoy it in fiction. Less so, when someone harangues me.

I attended a webinar that made me sad.

The guy was knowledgeable, but the way he communicates needs to soften. The louder he talked, the less we heard. He then confessed that a big business opportunity fell through because of “conflicting styles and interpersonal stuff.”

I think I know the problem. It was the abrasive guy. “Go-getter” and “jerk” don’t have to be synonymous. The adage is not that you get more flies with corpses.

Which brings us to Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com.

My friend, supporter and sounding board, Kit’s a graphic artist who is a great resource for any publisher. He works with all of us, big and small. But that’s the least of why you should do business with him.

He knew I was feeling down the other day. He took the time to write a kind note that hit me at just the right time. Clearly, if you’re an author or publisher, this is the sort of person with whom you want to work. He does great work and his portfolio is impressive. You’ll get great covers and he’s not done until you’re happy. Work with Kit Foster and you’ll sell more books.

But many people can deliver book covers at a reasonable price, right?

Sure, I guess. But how many will bother to send you an email that makes you feel better when you’re down?

For a lot of people, anytime they see you’re down is when they start kicking.

How can we make more people like Kit?

1. Go back in time and get nicer parents, smoke helpful medicines or be Scottish, I suppose. I’m not sure what makes Kit the way he is.

2. Some medical schools use actors to teach doctors what compassion looks like so they can fake it. I don’t know if that sticks. I’ve often said the only thing I learned from Survivor was that jerks and psychotics can’t fake being nice for a month, even for a million dollars.

3. We can practice random acts of kindness and see if that elevates our mood. Happier people are nicer people. This doesn’t apply to people who get happy for the wrong reasons. If you’re one of those psychos, seek professional help before the rest of us rise up and throttle you.

4. We can practice gratitude (I guess I’m doing that now.) It sounds kind of hippie, but there’s science that shows the more thankful you are for what you already have, the happier you will be.

5. If you can’t manage these suggestions, professional scuba diving limits your ability to damage the rest of us, so take one for the team and go scream at fish. 

6. Use Kit’s services at KitFosterDesign.com. Maybe exposure helps by osmosis.

7. If you’re angry at somebody, make sure you know why you’re really angry.

Here’s how you’ll know you’re angry or sad about something else besides the target of your ire: You should have a range of emotional responses. If you review a book with the same level of vitriol that should be reserved for skinning live puppies? You’re Monty Burns and you have a problem, no matter how catchy the tune you sing about making fur coats.


8. If you’re already happy, spread it like fertilizer. Maybe it will grow. A bookstore employee told me she didn’t aim for happy. She aimed for contentment. Ironically, that suggestion made me happier.

9. Exercise. Meds to treat depression and disorder. Talk therapy. Total gene and personality transplant or personal tragedy that leads to an unlikely transformation. I don’t recommend leaving the problem so long that the solution is that last option.

10. Take Joe Rogan’s suggestion and pretend a documentary film crew is following you around, recording the lost time, outbursts and ill temper. Do that for one day and you might decide it’s time to change all your other days.

When you look up to find you’re surrounded by happy, creative, productive people and you don’t resent them for it?

You’ll know then you’re on the right track.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I am not happy all the time. I am working on improvement. Check out my books and podcasts at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: author platform, getting it done, publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Breaking Bad and making better storytelling choices

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

When you’re in the trenches (and by that I mean when you’re at your keyboard) you must stay true to your vision. There are artistic choices to be made that will challenge some readers’ expectations. Choose more conflict and damn the torpedoes.

For instance, at the beginning of This Plague of Days, the protagonist’s sister, Anna Spencer, isn’t particularly likeable. She’s not over the top, but she is a hormonal teenager whose brother is on the autism spectrum. She calls him Ears because he has big ears. She loves her brother, but she can be mean. She’s jealous of the extra attention he gets because of his challenges. She treats him the same way many siblings treat each other in their formative years. If you’ve ever had a sister, or been one, you’ll recognize her turmoil as she matures. Now add the plague apocalypse (and later, scary, infected cannibals) and you’ve got tense family relationships facing a storm of trouble raining down evil doers and crazy cakes.

Readers who only read Episode One might not care for Anna much.

Impatient readers will never get to see how badass she gets. (I’m revising Season Two now and she’s nicer, but still working her way to badass.) If they quit reading at Episode One, they’ll never find out how circumstances and time transform her into an interesting, brave and responsible woman. Anna Spencer has an arc. All my characters have arcs and their own stories to tell. To have those stories, and the complexity I insist upon as a storyteller, the characters can’t begin as static, happy stereotypes.

This Plague of Days has nuance. Some characters you think are good now may surprise you with what they’re willing to do later. Characters you assume are bad may have altruistic motives that aren’t clear up front. Some writers say we shouldn’t even write “characters”. We should write people in all their complexity. The people you write about have to transform, and I don’t mean from likeable and nice to slightly more so.

Think how ineffective Breaking Bad would be if you didn’t watch Walter White’s transformation through the show’s seasons.

He starts off as a nebbish who reached for the brass ring and fell short. A cancer diagnosis turns him from an ordinary Chemistry teacher into a cold and calculating drug kingpin desperate for respect and safety. The cool thing about Breaking Bad is, today’s solution is always tomorrow’s problem. His character arc is entirely logical each step of the way. Throw in a fatal flaw and a few reversals and he ends up in an insane place that is believable over time. 

If Walter White had started out evil, you don’t get grim fun and complexity. You get another stupid, failed TV show (starring cast members who used to be on Baywatch) cancelled and forgotten after half a season.

Another example: Points of view must change.

In This Plague of Days, I made choices to introduce more family strain. This Plague of Days isn’t just about viruses, zombies, fires and firepower. It’s about people under pressure.

The mom is a Christian. The father is an atheist.

Faced with mortality, the mom becomes a Christian with doubts and the dad becomes an atheist with doubts. I believe in readers and I follow the story wherever it leads (i.e. toward more conflict.)

Issues of atheism versus faith are not presented all at once. This isn’t a college seminar. Near the beginning of Season One, the atheist has his say. That may repel some readers who won’t stick around for his confession, feelings of abandonment and transcendence. Too bad those same readers won’t hear the mom’s counterpoint, either. Impatient readers might seize on one aspect in the early going (for or against God, depending on when they stop reading.) I feel it’s an honest, necessary exploration woven into the fabric of a much larger story. (Not that it should matter, I’ve been a believer and an atheist but not at the same time.) I’m not pushing an agenda. I’m pushing for brain tickles. If you want to be pulled into warm marshmallow, read Chicken Soup for Something or Other. I write suspense. Not everything is for everybody.

Readers will draw their own conclusions about religion (or ignore that small aspect of the story completely.) Zombies turn some people to God. For others, zombies turns them away from faith. Put a wife and husband at the edge of the end of the world and I guarantee religion’s going to come up. It’s not my job to make up anyone’s mind. It’s my job to tickle brains and make the debate honest and interesting while the struggle for survival gets harder. Context is everything.

Don’t pander. Follow the Art and the Conflict

People will draw conclusions about you from what you write. Don’t be afraid of that or your story will suffer. You’re a writer, so we already know you’re brave and have an unreasonably high estimation and expectation of the human race. Live up to that commitment with every chapter.

Respecting the reader doesn’t mean that you try to make them like everything they read. However, most readers stay longer with stories that challenge them, make them think and make them laugh. Don’t let it come out as an info dump or a teaching moment. Let it come out naturally. Don’t make your story a seminar on your beliefs. Do let characters have strong, conflicting points of view. Have a spine, but don’t force conclusions. Let the reader do that work for themselves. Always leave room for doubt.

For the Readers

I guarantee, when you read This Plague of Days, you’ll read things you’ve never read before. You’ll learn things you probably didn’t know. (I did!) And you don’t have to agree to anything. It’s a book. It’s not a threat to the tenets of your existence.  

A fun book is a ride at the carnival, an exorcism of fears, a voyeuristic pleasure, an extended brain tickle and a happy distraction, first class on the Crazy Train. All aboard to the end of the line.

Filed under: publishing, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Writers’ Union of Canada Votes to Admit Self-Published Authors | The Writers’ Union of Canada

See on Scoop.itWriting and reading fiction

Robert Chazz Chute‘s insight:

I doubted this would move forward (and it still has to pass by a two-thirds  majority of the membership.) However, things are looking up for recognition of self-published work and indie authors. Their caveats seem reasonable to me.

This is particularly important since I was just listening to the Book Fight podcast (BookFightPod.com) in which one host revealed that universities are very much behind the times. He was told that publication online (where many more people might actually discover and read his work) would count for little or nothing to his credit. It’s still publish or perish, but they would prefer you hide your light under that cliched bushel of paper, thanks very much.

Largely, it seems academia still prefers publication in prestigious literary journals. To put that in perspective, a middling blog has a much larger subscriber base and readership than most any literary journal you could name. Chasing journals kind of sounds ridiculous. You could be using that time and energy building a readership, a mailing list and relevance.

As technology and reality drag neo-Luddites into the 21st century, it’s exciting to see TWUC leading the way and acknowledging that the publishing industry, and the profession of writer, has changed drastically.  (Not will change or is changing. Has changed.) By admitting indies, they expand their revenue, their power in numbers and maintain their relevance.

Good luck, TWUC! I’ll definitely consider joining.

See the press release for details at the link below.

See on www.writersunion.ca

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Was this post helpful to you?

I bought a book today by an author previously unknown to me. At six bucks plus, it was the most expensive ebook I’ve purchased in a long time. (Usually my ebook purchases are from indies, not trad publishers.) I bought this ebook because of one of its reviews. I did not buy because the review raved. The book caught my attention because the review’s tone was so damnably condescending, I had to make the purchase. This wasn’t a case of pitying the author. There were good reviews, too. Also, it helped that I suspected this was a book I would enjoy. It sounded smart and sure and people who liked it said it elevated and challenged its genre.

Whatever the book’s merits will be, the key component for the purchase was that the reviewer was too much of a jerk. What is it about bad reviews that so often reveal more about the reviewer than the book being reviewed? I emailed the author to tell him I bought his book. It sounded interesting and I wished him success with it. I look forward to reading it, but what can the rest of us take from this?

Take this post as a small salve to authors’ bruised egos.

People will love your work and others will hate it, but I want you to know that readers are generally intelligent people. They often see through the reviewer’s veil more than you might think. Readers divine intent when they read over-the-top malice and subtract value from a nasty review. Yea or nay, readers like thoughtful reviews. They get it when a reviewer sounds disrespectful or less than literate. Good readers (people who buy a lot of books!) aren’t easily impressed by cheap shots and snarky remarks. When a review is especially egregious, you might even get a sale out of it. 

I’m not saying bad reviews are better than happy ones, but don’t take the bad ones too much to heart. Also, when you spot a really nasty one that goes at the author personally instead of the book? Be sure to click “No” beside the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”

Filed under: reviews, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers, Writing and When to Swear

TPOD 0420 2

Apocalypse Art for This Plague of Days by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

As I work on This Plague of Days revisions, there’s a big difference: This is the first of my books my 13-year-old daughter is allowed to read. No one is swearing in TPOD and any sex is PG-13, at most. Sometimes I think this serial (to be released at the end of May) could be suitable for Young Adult. However, I’m also not pulling back on elements of horror that range from Hitchcockian allusion (The Birds) to classic horror (a gross-out or three). It’s a post-apocalyptic world and things aren’t pretty. 

Crass Commercial Considerations

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

I’ll admit it: I want This Plague of Days to sell to a wide audience. I want it to go huge! Multiple translations and audiobooks and mass consumption. I want this serial to be made into a movie or a franchise with TPOD lunch boxes and T-shirts at conventions. I don’t want to return to a day job and a very popular serial without cursing will help me toward that goal. I watched an interview with director Kevin Smith recently in which he breaks down the movie market. The same principles apply to us: R sells less than PG-13. Soften the blow. Make more money.

Yes, I know Fifty Shades of Gray is bondage porn that makes a ton of money off a wide audience. However, this isn’t that. This Plague of Days is about an autistic boy who is a selective mute. A plague spreads across the earth and as the mayhem goes up, society spirals down. Bad things happen. However, the story revolves around the boy and, though it’s third-person limited omniscient, much of it unfolds through the boy’s filter. His special interest is English dictionaries and Latin phrases. Nothing is lost if I don’t make TPOD a cursefest and I’ll gain more readers.

The Irony I Frankly Don’t Understand

Many people are comfortable with just about any depiction of violence but get squeamish about certain words and sex. We’re downright weird about cursing. It’s in mainstream media and on any school playground, but in print, daily newspapers put in coy asterisks like this: f***. As if our brains don’t just fill in the word automatically. Swearing is ingrained in everyday conversations, but we pretend it’s not.

Watching a show like Dexter on a non-Showtime channel, censors ensure the dialogue sounds silly. “Mothertruckers?” Really? (The practice was played to great comedic effect when, in the latest Spider-Man movie incarnation, our beloved hero blurts, “Mother Hubbard!“)

Meanwhile, I get queasy about certain entertainment that is considered mainstream even though it’s extremely violent. I’ll never see Jodi Foster in The Accused and I refuse to watch A Time to Kill. Frank depictions of sexual assault and child rape are not something I want to

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

see. I can’t watch CSI or its many iterations. That whole Special Victims Unit thing feels way too voyeuristic and definitely not for me. (I’m not campaigning for a cleansing, by the way. I don’t want art censored. What I don’t like, I don’t watch, read or listen to and that solves my problem nicely.)

Ever since I had kids, I’m generally more queasy about violence that’s too realistic. I’d rather keep my violence diet to thrillers like Bigger Than Jesus. Though there’s plenty of death and even allusions to Jesus’s abuse as a young teen, it’s treated carefully, not graphic, and balanced by the hero’s sense of humor. The funny makes the horrible feel safe, somehow. 

This Plague of Days’ post-apocayptic genre puts the story into a realm that isn’t ours…at least not quite yet. 

Sex and Curses Have Their Place: Serving the story

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

My crime novels are funny but still gritty and hardboiled. The swearing in the Hit Man Series is a need. It would have been unnatural to write workarounds for simple, salty language. Acting too coy would have drained too much realism away. 

As for sex, in Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz is constantly running for his life. The book plays out like a long chase scene. Beatings and murder don’t put the hero and heroine in the mood, even for a quickie. There is a great romantic love interest in Lily Vasquez, but her intimacy issues with the hit man aren’t about sex. Lily and Jesus’s drama deepens character and shows the impact of his awful history on his life. Through their interaction, the reader understands Jesus more and sees why he’s so screwed up (particularly about women). The reader ends up empathizing with a guy who kills for money. As for Higher Than Jesus, the sex scene with Willow Clemont and Jesus is both integral to the plot and erotic. Sex raises the stakes.

The Balance:

Despite any commercial considerations and the joy I feel at being able to show my daughter what I really do,

story has to come first.

Gee, I hope she likes it.

~ Chazz has new websites: CoolPeoplePodcast.com, onlysixseconds.wordpress.com, DecisionToChange.com. In the latest podcast at the author site, AllThatChazz.com, there’s some swearing (in a funny rant) and a fresh reading from Higher Than Jesus.

Filed under: book marketing, Genre, Horror, rules of writing, This Plague of Days, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mashable asks for your best #Vine art

Mashable asks for your best #Vine art

Stopmotion, beautiful views, clever designs, dynamic art. Many viners can do amazing things with the Vine app. Spread the word and share the Vine art you love most. Personally, I love anything from yelldesign on Vine. Always crisp and clever. Look ‘em up!

Filed under: publishing, , ,

You never know what's real.

Available now!

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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