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.
- FAQs: How to write books agents will hate (but readers might love) (chazzwrites.com)
- Writers: Are you sitting on the money? (chazzwrites.com)
- This Plague of Days, Season 2: Almost there. What now? (thisplagueofdays.com)
- This Plague of Days: Influences on Season Two (and me!) (thisplagueofdays.com)
- I Read Too – the Nice Guys Zombie Novel (fingersofthunder.wordpress.com)