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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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?, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Question: What words bug you (that shouldn’t)?

Specifically, are there words or phrases you might encounter in an Amazon book description that turn you off the book immediately? Are these annoying words or phrases arbitrary?

This is an original work, based on internation...

This is an original work, based on international road sign design. It symbolizes the question "Where do we go from here" and is also a play on the words "Right of Way". (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me, it’s the word cuppa. “Would you like to come in for a cuppa, Miss Beasley?”

Oh, god. Spare me. Hate it. I can’t tell you why because I don’t know. Maybe I associate it with a low-class colloquialism that sounds like a warning of cliched, filler dialogue ahead, but I’m just guessing.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s something about writing the word weight with a calligraphic pen that is so enjoyable, I have written it down a page while doodling, over and over. Is this a weird, unexplored cul-de-sac of OCD? What are the words that make you want to grind your teeth? Or does this just happen to me?

Filed under: rules of writing, What about you?, writing tips, , , , ,

What writers can learn from House

Chronology of Enderverse stories, showing wher...

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Fans had an interesting response to last week’s episode of House. I’m not going to spoil anything for you. Let’s just say some people loved it and some people hated it. As far as I could tell, celebrants and detractors were pretty evenly split. Many agreed the episode was a heartbreaker but they drew different conclusions about the success of the story: people loved it and hated it for the same reasons.

This is why you don’t arrive at your story by committee.

The episode was, by any measure, a success because people cared. The web was full of passion about House and lots of amateur advice about what should and what should not have happened.

The worst response to your fiction is not a negative reaction. The worst response to your story is, “Who cares?” As you write your story, listen to your instincts. And know that if you try to please everyone, you will fail.

Take risks.

And if it plays, it plays.

Filed under: rules of writing, television, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Editing Part V: The Dead Grammar Rules Freedom Manifesto

William Shatner photographed by Jerry Avenaim

Image via Wikipedia

Certain grammar guidelines have changed. The classic one everyone knows is the death of the split infinitive rule. When I was a kid, some teachers were still strict grammarians on this point. I call that generational inertia (wherein one espouses the rules of the previous generation even though old rules no longer apply. Generational inertia shows up everywhere but has been particularly egregious in the publishing industry on the subject of digital books. (Chazz now dismounts from the usual hobby-horse and goes on with dead grammar rules. Ahem.)

William Shatner singlehandedly killed the split infinitive rule in the late 60s. At the opening of the original Star Trek, it was he who spoke the immortal split infinitive: “To boldly go where no man has gone before!” Patrick Stewart updated the phrase over the opening credits of Star Trek: The Next Generation with “To boldly go where no one has gone before!” The captains of the Enterprise changed things up from the proper, traditional (and stiff): “To go boldly.” After Star Trek, everyone eased up and some grammarians will still tell you that was an early sign of the decline of civilization.

Heavy-handed grammarians amuse me. Sometimes it seems like they fetishize the rules without respecting the point: effective communication. Usually traditional rules serve us well. However, rules shouldn’t get in the way of creativity just as expression shouldn’t get in the way of communication.

When expression doesn’t respect the reader’s right to clarity, it better be doing so intentionally for a particular effect. For instance, Michael Ondaatje or Maya Angelou write in complex skeins that require double espresso and a very quiet room to appreciate. Chuck Palahniuk wrote Pygmy in a distinctly ungrammatical style so you see America through the odd mind of a tiny immigrant assassin who speaks English as a second language. (That worked great for me though, usually, if something isn’t clear it’s probably because it sucks.)

I once heard an ancient grammarian with a very plummy British accent (it was as if  Central Casting sent over The Stereotypical English Professor) complain about how fast and loose modern teenagers were with language. (He brought to mind Socrates whining about “these rotten kids today!”) Plummy Accent Guy spoke as if he wanted to freeze the language at about 1901. But languages are organic.  (Look! I just started a sentence with a conjunction! My eighth-grade teacher would rap my knuckles with a ruler right about now.) Conventions change and grow and a mid-eighteenth century grammarian would be appalled at Plummy Accent Guy’s use of language. (They’d also cringe at my overuse of the parenthetical in this paragraph but to make a stale subject even vaguely entertaining, I think it works. So there.)

Just last summer I watched an author wring his hands over texting. “Text abbreviations dumb kids down,” he said. Yeah? I don’t think there’s any real scientific support for that view and he came off sounding stuffy and quaint. Kids are reading more than they ever did, they’re just doing so on screens. It’s not that they are losing the English language. It’s that they are learning another text-based language.

True, our literacy rates are awful. But that doesn’t mean drumming old grammatical rules into kids is the cure. Things change. School programs used to spend a lot of time teaching beautiful handwriting. If you’ve ever seen letters from before mid-last century, much of the handwriting looks so precise in its swoops and curls you’d be forgiven for thinking it was produced by a machine. However, elegant calligraphy is out. I loved it and my calligraphic pens made note-taking on intolerable subjects more interesting but it’s gone with the art of letter writing. Even simple handwriting isn’t a high priority in the educational system, either. The way the world has gone, teachers want to move on quickly to teaching kids how to type and cursive writing is a low priority. Your kids will be able to write with a pen but they’ll probably write by hand in block letters.

Lots of old assumptions are out. In fact, studies show that, despite what your momma told you, spelling isn’t all that important. Try this: Can you raed tihs snetnce? You can probalbly raed tihs amlst as fsat as you wold nromally raed. Studeis sohw taht as lnog as teh fisrt letr and teh lsat letr are corect, yuo wll unerdstnd my maening prefctly.

And people mistype ‘teh’ for ‘the’ so often,

it’s been suggested ‘teh’ should be an accepted alternative to ‘the.’

Remember, for a very long time there was no universal standard for spelling so Old English spelling was all over the map. There were no dictionaries so our greatest philosophers spelled idiosyncratically and phonetically. I’m not proposing we spell poorly. I’m saying ease up on rules whose basis is somewhat arbitrary.

The key for grammar rules now is: Respect the writer’s voice and the reader’s mind. And time. That’s right. Time. Serial commas are out (unless you need to keep them in particular sentences for clarity.) Serial commas often introduce pauses and separation where none are needed. If I write “apples, oranges, and plums,” I’m not letting the conjunction ‘and’ do its work. The reader doesn’t need the comma before the ‘and’ because the reader gets it.

Same with the conjunction ‘but’: “He chose the oranges and apples, but not the plums,” contains a pause after apples that you don’t need. You can do it if you want, but that’s a different point I’ll slap down five paragraphs hence. (Also, unless you’re trying to strike a particularly arch tone, stop using hence, boon and behooves. Old words die and new ones are born every day. Stop keeping outmoded words on life support as if they’re a regular part of the lexicon. It annoys your reader if it’s apparent you’re using a thesaurus or if you expect them to run to a dictionary every few paragraphs.)

Stop throwing fits over verbed nouns. I’ve heard stick-up-the-butt English majors grouse about ‘Google’ as a verb (still! Really!) And some still haven’t gotten over impact as a verb. Let this impact you: Nouns become verbs because books shouldn’t use humans. It’s supposed to be the other way around as long as we’re at the top of the food chain and until our robot overlords rise to sentience.

Also, lose the double space after the period. That’s a holdover from typing class when people used typewriters. There are far fewer typing teachers now. Instead computer programs like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing do that job. (And now they call it keyboarding class, by the way, presumably because it’s not just about the letter and number keys anymore. It’s about keyboarding shortcuts and formatting.) From a design perspective, the double space after the period leads to what are called rivers in the text, distracting routes of white space that  pull the eye down instead of across the text. (Okay, Elmore Leonard still uses a typewriter. If you’re Elmore Leonard, do what you want. If you’re Elmore Leonard, you can strangle a hobo on live TV and just about everyone would forgive you.)

Design questions sometimes factor into grammatical decisions. For instance, at Five Rivers — the publishing company for whom I’m Editor-at-large — we put spaces around em dashes (like I just did.) Lorina Stephens, the publisher, likes that look. It gives an airy look to the text on the page. For ’emphasis’ of a word, single quotes are used where I might otherwise switch to italic. As long as it’s consistent, makes sense and makes Lorina and her authors happy, it’s right. Internal consistency rules.

Have you read a book without quotation marks yet? I read Suckerpunch last year (a mostly excellent YA novel, nothing to do with the coming movie.) No quotation marks. I didn’t miss them a bit.

With the wave of more self-published books, you’re going to see more rules loosened. Grammar is supposed to be the servant, not the master. As the self-published author, you’ll set the rules you prefer for your book (hopefully with respect for the reader’s mind and time.) The Chicago Manual of Style is an excellent standard to fall back upon, as is AP Style. For language quirks and questions, you can’t go wrong with Eats, Shoots and Leaves and the Grammar Girl book and podcast.

Just remember that grammar rules are made by humans. They can and will change.

As long as your preferences are logical and consistent, you can get creative with your book in ways that would outrage strict grammarians.

BONUS:

Please don’t ask me to edit your book if all the dialogue is dialect. This is my personal preference and it has been done effectively, of course. However, it’s such a slow read, I have to say it just annoys the shit out of me and I am not up to that task!

Please do write a book in the second person. I loved Bright Lights, Big City and, with that notable exception (from the 80s!), traditional publishers have pretty much bricked ‘You’ away behind their arrogant Wall of Acceptability. If you’re indie, you can do it without asking for a gatekeeper’s permission.

Please do put your novellas and short stories up for sale. E-books are a perfect venue to do what paper can’t: bring back the power of short form fiction!

Take a risk. I recently edited a novel coming out from Five Rivers that combined a novel with a screenplay format. It works.

Suck on that, Mrs. Wilson!

And don’t be comin’ round heah wid no ruler or

Ah’ll rap y’knuckles so hard y’eyes’ll bleed.

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, publishing, Rant, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

Editing Part IV: Wording to avoid, uh, Words to avoid

This is a game of Snatch in progress. Snatch i...

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I’ve talked about editing out words to watch out for. Here are some more:

Use says or said for dialogue tags. Don’t use claim unless you want to cast doubt on what the speaker is saying.

Watch out for too qualifiers. They have their place, but when around, about, a bit, somewhat, sort of, and kind of crop too much, you’re hedging. and the Your reader will pick up on your Readers notice waffling.

Avoid tautology: actual facts, adequate enough, stand up, sit down, mix together, gather together. One right word is better than two words that repeat the same an idea.

That got meta.

 

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, rules of writing, writing tips, , , , , ,

Writers: Two mavericks to follow (plus a surprising original)

Monkeys Blogging

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Are you indie? Are you non-indie but want to increase your awareness of what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing industry? Here are two blogs to follow:

Dean Wesley Smith takes the publishing industry’s engine apart, looks through all the pipes and valves and gives you the goods on what you need to know.

And you need to know what Kristine Kathryn Rusch has to say about making your way as a writer.

BONUS:

There is a guy who got into blogging early. You know him. You’ve seen him. He’s cooler than you thought. And he’s showing others they can self-publish, too.

Click here to find out who I’m talking about.

Filed under: authors, blogs & blogging, Books, DIY, ebooks, links, publishing, Rant, rules of writing, self-publishing, Useful writing links, web reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Edit Point: One another versus each other

Book cover (Dust jacket) for the 15th edition ...

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“The pair looked at one another.”

No, they didn’t.

Editing is often intuitive. I could tell you, for instance, which usage is correct, but I couldn’t tell you why. It came up with a project and I got curious. Then I went to the Chicago Manual of Style. Here’s why for this one:

When two people are involved, the best way to write it is, “They looked at each other.” When it’s more than two people (or things, for that matter) use “one another.”

The distinction becomes clearer with things: “His eyesight was so poor that when he looked to the bowling pins standing at the end of the lane, they were just a soft white mass. Dave  couldn’t distinguish one  from another.” (That’s right.)

“Each other” in a group hits the reader’s eyes and ears wrong and they may not know why. (This is one reason reading aloud as you edit can be such a powerful trick of the trade.)

It’s not a big deal unless you’re a word nerd or getting paid to edit something. However, usually, if you write a passage that hits the reader wrong or makes them go back, there’s something quirky there that needs another look.

Filed under: Books, Editing, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

Editing: How to take advice

qestion mark and exclamation mark

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Mostly people follow the advice that appeals to them. If five people give them the same uncomfortable advice, they’ll keep asking until lucky advisor number 15 tell them what they were hoping to hear. That’s not the way to progress.

Blogging about writing and publishing can be a quixotic adventure. For instance, I went through an entire short story one time and showed the writer precisely how he could improve his writing. These were very straight-forward craft issues that got in the way of readability. The next piece he sent me had the same problems.

Not everyone has to write like I do. However, since he was so enthusiastic about my original suggestions, I wondered if it was a question of the writer needing more time to absorb the information and practice.

In a writing critique group, you can spot the defensive people quickly. They write Stet! beside each suggestion (including that tell-tale exclamation point.) Defensive writers spend a lot of time talking when their critique group colleagues ask questions or are confused. Instead, they should be listening. Any writer is free to disregard suggestions, but not during the explanation of the concern.

Is advice all for naught? Sometimes. But professional writers take advice most of the time. They aren’t so attached to their writing that they expect it will be 100% perfect on the first draft. That’s crazy-talk. Professional writers respect writing too much to make that assumption.

Just remember: an editor’s focus is the text. They’re trying to help you.

However, if you sense an editor is looking at it as a game where they’re tracking points, zeroing in on every error as if it’s a moral victory…well. Delete them.

Also, I have to mention that sometimes the advice is just bad:

At Psychology Today I found a great post called 11 Types of Bad Writing Advice.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rejection, rules of writing, Writers, , , , , , ,

Writers: Five editing tricks and tips (plus editing marks)

 

1. Editing onscreen is more difficult and less accurate than printing out your manuscript and attacking it with a pencil. Unless you’re well-practiced at editing pixels, print it out.

2. As you read your manuscript, read aloud. You will pick up more problems that way and if you run out of breath, it’s probably a run-on sentence.

3. Some experts tell you to read your manuscript backwards, one word at a time, to catch more typos. Though it is true this technique works, you must have a form of OCD to act on it. This is advice editors give, but never do themselves. If you don’t believe me, try it with any book-sized manuscript. (Wait! First make sure there are no sharp objects or firearms nearby!)

4. As you edit, read slowly. Your brain is wired to skip over mistakes when you read quickly.

5. Farm it out. You need someone else’s fresh eyes on your manuscript to see the thing you are missing. Hire editors. (Here’s one!)

Filed under: authors, Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

All the dark fantasy fun of the first three books in the Ghosts & Demons Series for one low price.

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

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.

Write to live

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

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