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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

The Real Writing Life

To be an author requires a lot of patience and not a little audacity. You spend many hours working alone, charting your own course and assuming someone will want your art. Of course, to bring your creation to market, you’ll need help from editors, proofreaders, beta readers, and graphic artists. I’m speaking here of all the time you face the blinking cursor and the blank page. I was reminded this week of the joys and frustrations of sailing solo.

The Obstacles in Your Way

The Movies That Made Us (on Netflix) has a great behind-the-scenes breakdown of what it took to get Elf made. When the primaries were brought together to create a modern Christmas classic, none of them were considered bankable. Even Will Ferrell wasn’t considered leading man material. The amazingly talented director, Jon Favreau, wasn’t money yet. The writer was unknown, but what they did have was vision. Film is a collaborative medium, and in this case, the creative team were all on the same page. It was the studio that stood in the way, even going so far as to try to edit it down to something it wasn’t. The higher-ups just didn’t “get it.”

Fortunately, a more ambitious artistic vision won out over the cynical studio execs. Favreau’s vision won out and commerce was served without compromising a film with real heart. Working by committee is difficult. Hollywood is full of stories of great scripts that got squashed, derided, or ignored for years before somehow making it to the screen and becoming a triumph. There’s a great book titled Afterwards, You’re a Genius. Looking back, everybody says, “Of course, it’s a success!” Going forward, people aren’t so sure.

Do anything, and plenty of naysayers will emerge to helpfully inform you what you’re attempting won’t work. Often, the people who say they’d do it differently don’t do anything at all. Sometimes I wonder how anything great makes it to the big screen.

And then there’s Paterson

The tiniest movie I’ve watched in a long time is Paterson, starring Adam Driver. It’s so low-key, you’ll watch it thinking, Where is this going? It’s a small, meditative film that flirts with the surreal. It’s a fairly uneventful week in the life of a bus driver who loves poetry. That’s it. No explosions. No action sequences. I can’t even say there’s a plot per se. However, it does have charm, and it offers an experience where the quotidian is the point. If you’re a Fast & Furious devotee, you might find this one soporific. I found something to love, though.

First, it’s kind of amazing this movie exists. No matter how small the movie is, big money and an army of participants are needed. Remember when a movie only required one production company? Now, movies are so expensive, I get tired and irritated just slogging through the opening credits as we get a slew of title cards and logos. (For example: A production of A Working Title Films, in association with Armchair Studios, a film by Lawrence Blahdiblah, with Fade in Innovators, and The Super8 Incubator and oh my God, get to it, I’m already out of popcorn!)

Second, Paterson is about an artist trying to create while dealing with the day-to-day struggle to survive. He writes poetry for the experience itself. Money must be made, and that’s what the day job is for. However, passions must be fostered and he draws on the mundane to create something beautiful.

The bus driver steals precious moments from the beginning of his shift to jot down a few lines in his notebook. His partner stays at home, painting everything while dreaming of becoming a country music star who’s also hoping to become a cupcake entrepreneur. The bartender aspires to win a chess tournament while a rapper works on spitting rhymes in a laundromat.

Meeting the rapper, the bus driver looks around the empty laundromat and says, “This is your lab?”

“Wherever I am,” the rapper replies, “that’s where it happens.”

That’s the creative spirit, always on duty, always practicing and perfecting, taking in everything to feed the muse.

Despite the surreal undertones, Paterson does not happen in an alternative universe. This is the world of any artist in our world. We create because something within urges us to do so. Most of those efforts will go unheralded. There is only one Jon Favreau, but we’re all out here, doing our thing. Most of us couldn’t tell you why. We just love words and stories. We’re trapped in the amber of the everyday, but we dream of more. We create worlds.

This sounds like a romantic notion, but it’s not. Yesterday, I completed final edits on my next big book. I think I’ve created an apocalyptic classic in Endemic (to be released early November). At 390 pages and 100,000 words, it’s an ambitious story about a neurotic book nerd facing down marauders in a plague-ravaged New York City. I was elated to send out the ARCs and excited to finally get the graphics set up for the hardcover and paperback. This has been two years in the making, so I could barely contain myself as my ARC team replied with their excitement and congratulations.

Pop the champagne, right? Um, no.

While still in the throes of self-congratulation, I had to go get winter tires on my car. Due to a miscommunication on my part, my son had taken the car to work. I stepped onto an empty driveway and panicked a little. I had to run to his workplace to pick up the car. Meanwhile, my laptop has failed and my desktop is iffy, too, so I’m struggling with how to afford to buy a new dream machine.

And that, my friends, is the writing life. Toil in obscurity, do the dishes, get your ass back in the chair in front of the keyboard. Maybe you’ll win an award, but that’s one night and then it’s back to work. Maybe you’ll make it big and have assistants to fetch you scones and coffee one day, but probably not. There’s only one Jon Favreau, but there are millions of writers across the world doing their thing because…I don’t know. Just because, man. We have to.

~ Check out my apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: the writing life, , , , , , ,

Do Not Drop Those Dogs

Remember last year, early in the pandemic, when everybody jumped on the craze of making sourdough bread? Yeah, I did it, too. I’m not even sure why. My results were mixed, but it just became the thing to do. I got “Mother” going, feeding her and tending to her. I made a lot of bread and there’s nothing wrong with that…but….

Okay, here’s the deal:

We can only live our lives in a forward motion, or possibly static. Since the pandemic began, admittedly, I’ve been in a holding pattern quite a bit. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have been writing a new apocalyptic novel, but I’ve been going at it very slowly. What else did I do? I listened to far too many virologists and immunologists as I fretted over the pandemic. It’s good to be informed, but my doom scrolling took hours out of the day and night. I obsessed over US politics because, wow, welcome to the circus, right? Love it or hate it, it was quite an exciting show with lots of twists and turns. I lost a lot of sleep, too. Netflix seemed to dominate my daily agenda. I hid in my blanket fort and stared into the existential abyss. The abyss stared back, but didn’t have anything to say. It wasn’t a meet-cute situation.


Here’s what I wish I’d done:

As a person with a few compounding co-morbidities to be paranoid about, I wish I’d used the time to take better care of my health. The sedentary nature of the writing life is bad enough without retreating into the couch and eating all the comfort food.

Her: What do you want to eat?
Me: Everything. All of it.


I am hypervigilant due to health anxiety, so I took precautions, of course. Trapped in a hotspot in perpetual lockdown (still!), I hardly went outside. When I did venture out for necessities, I double-masked. I wiped down groceries in the freezing cold, used hand sanitizer, and washed my hands obsessively as many others did. However, working out wasn’t really on my agenda. I told myself I didn’t have the energy for it. The gym was closed. At most, I tried to get 10,000 steps a day. If that’s all you can do, that’s fine. I could have and should have done more besides feel sorry for myself.

Last spring, we started a vegetable garden and that wasn’t all bad. The winters are harsh where I live. Since I hate Nature when it doesn’t offer a beach and palm trees, I was reduced to walking and sometimes running in circles inside the house. It was not a happy time. I contemplated ventilators a lot.

But things are changing.

The gym is still closed and we are in a situation where society will open up only if certain vaccination targets are met. I trust science, but I do not trust other people. Therefore, I’m going to be masking up for a very long time. Fortunately, the closure of the gym is no longer a barrier. In fact, I’m going to give up my gym membership. Instead, I’ve taken to working out at home using very little equipment. I got on an app called FitOn and it’s become part of my daily routine. It’s like having fitness and wellness coaches in your own home without the horror of actually having them in your home.

I had already changed my diet to be far more plant-based and that was good. A former athlete who has long since become apathetic about doing strenuous shit, I’m finally exercising again. I don’t have to go out and the workouts are very efficient. My cardio, strength, and flexibility are all improving. Using FitOn is much cheaper and more convenient than the gym I can’t currently attend. I’m a convert and, yes, I do feel a note of missionary zeal creeping into this post. I will only add that, despite some recent ongoing challenges, I think my mood is elevated, too. I carry myself differently now. I’ve been so consistent, my body composition is already changing in a good way.

If you’re a writer who is already getting regular exercise, please do continue. If not, you might look into the FitOn app. Failing that, there are plenty of other options, including programs you can enjoy on YouTube or that old Jane Fonda tape that’s still stuck in your dinosaur of a VCR. Whatever works to get you working on you.

Writers focus a lot on marketing. Frankly, I’d like to see a little more attention paid to craft. However, none of us will have long writing careers if we don’t take care of our health better. Write, but take frequent breaks to get up and move. Use a standing desk. Try a treadmill desk. Sit on a Swiss ball instead of a chair. Walk more, move more, juggle your Wire-haired Terrier, Pug, and Doberman while you enjoy interpretive dance. Whatever you can do, please take care of yourself
(and don’t drop those dogs).

I knew better and I didn’t take care of myself enough. I let the viral apocalypse get me down, but I’m working on it. Physically, things are getting better. Mental improvement is sure to follow.


~ Check out my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Note: AFTER Life, Inferno, the first book in my nanotech-zompoc trilogy is now permafree everywhere. Find AFTER Life, Inferno by Robert Chazz Chute wherever you get your ebooks and enjoy the free roller coaster ride as brain parasites plus artificial intelligence give the human race a makeover.

Filed under: the writing life, , , , , , , , , ,

When Everything Falls Apart

10 years of writing and publishing.

To my great surprise, I looked up from my keyboard last night and realized I started Ex Parte Press ten years ago. Wow! That decade went fast! And so many books! Cool! In theory, I’d like to celebrate. However, given the state of the world, I’m not in that sort of mood. I picked up a little bottle of yeast that will not expire until 2022 and said, “Sure, you’ll be alive in a couple of years, but what about me?”

I had such big plans for 2020. We all did. We’re at the halfway mark and, for me, the last six months were a write off. Oh, I often seemed busy. I messed around with some marketing objectives. My tasks, no matter how small, often expanded to the time allotted. There was always more research to do and preparations to make. I did a little of writing here and there, but I didn’t lay down my usual decent word counts. I was out of my writing routine and this Stella could not seem to get his groove back. I completed a book doctoring project for another author at flank speed. It’s often easier to honor our obligations to others than it is to take care of ourselves.

COVID-19 was and remains an enormous distraction. I suffer health anxiety, so I’ve spent a lot of time on issues beyond my control. I’ve washed my hands raw, lost sleep and, at odd hours, pulled out the Lysol wipes to cleanse doorknobs, banisters and…well everything. That’s one form of self-care, but stress management and mental hygiene are important, too.

Past time for a change

I decided it was time to focus on what I can control. My office is a mess and the household chores are overwhelming. Each day, I put something away, recycle, throw something out, or clean something new. We have a quarantine garden so I’m taking care of that. I’ve always regarded gardening as an old man chore, but I was wrong. I get it now. It is calming to grow what you eat, and more interesting than I expected.

I walk as much as I can and, in fear of the ventilator, I have to get my BMI down. I went vegan again and have lost 7 pounds in three weeks so far. As I write this, I’m scheduled to speak with my doctor on Monday morning to talk about some blood test results. That doesn’t help my health anxiety one bit, but I taught relaxation techniques for years. I just have to practice what I preached:

Focus on what you can control.

I’ve become more conscious of how I spend my time and what I think about. Call it mindfulness. When the fear rises, I watch it roll in, as if I’m an outside observer, taking in my reactions instead of wallowing in the anxiety. It’s hard to maintain and I do have my moments. However, by eliminating needless tertiary stress, my anxiety is usually manageable.

And I’m writing again.

I pared down my overly ambitious plans to manageable goals that are time-specific. I haven’t published since Christmas. However, I have two book projects I’m very excited about that are in varying stages of production. One is Crime and Punishment in the middle of an apocalypse. The other is a prequel to This Plague of Days. I hope to have them both out in late fall.

I’ve noticed that since I’ve become more aware and regimented about what I eat, I’m more mindful of everything else. Yes, everything fell apart. It doesn’t have to stay that way. I’m putting it back together and re-engineering it.

I think I’ve proved a well-known rule again:

How you do one thing is how you do everything.

~ If you want to see what I’m eating (and a bunch of other book stuff), follow me on Instagram @robertchazzchute.

Check out my books and subscribe to my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: getting it done, pandemic, publishing, the writing life, , , , , , , , , , ,

Help for the Anxious Writer

If your book idea feels thin at first, consider that Ice Road Truckers barreled on for 11 seasons and found an audience. If you’ve got a grand idea for a novel, but it’s not springing onto the page fully formed, I have some suggestions. If you’re unsure of yourself as a writer, I’ve got ideas about that, too.

When you lack confidence:

  • You don’t have to stop where you are today.
  • If you write more than one book, each level of success will vary. Think in terms of moving forward instead of dwelling on failures.
  • Go deeper into characters’ back stories to find the way forward.
  • Elucidate motivations and deny what each character wants. When desires conflict, you’ve got drama.
  • Do you have the basics? Who, what, where, why, when and how.
  • Play to your experience and strengths, but it’s not necessary to write what you know. Write what you care about.
  • Go deeper on specifics without beating the reader over the head with your deepest research.
  • Get the details right. For many readers, procedurals and process are porn.
  • Set the scene to give the reader a sense of time and place. Don’t forget the smells and feels, the sense and impact of the location, but don’t go too hard on the weather report.
  • Find the next step in your plot by finding a logical move, but don’t succumb to the first easy answer that springs to mind.
  • Discover the logical surprise twist. Defy the reader’s comfort in thinking they know how the story will unfold.
  • Smooth out the bumps later so it looks like you planned the entire narrative from beginning to end.
  • Too much editing as you go will impede progress. You’ll have a sharp Chapter One with no Chapter 2.
  • Make your characters distinctive. Giving one twin a porkpie hat he adjusts and readjusts for 200 pages isn’t special enough.
  • If two characters sound alike and perform the same function in the story, they might as well be one person.
  • Put the manuscript aside and give it more thought so you look like a genius later.
  • Put it aside and don’t think about it. The answer often appears when you come back to it fresh.
  • Don’t put a manuscript aside for too long.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed or too precious about storytelling. Plenty of half-drunk half-idiots sitting around campfires have told entertaining yarns for thousands of years.
  • Focus on the A to B to C in the first and second draft. Action flows from character and is character.
  • Themes will emerge later. Don’t set out to write a theme. A manifesto has no plot.
  • Entertainment is Goal #1. Don’t set out to educate with a novel. That souffle will fall flat.
  • Your main character needs a fatal flaw or they’ll be boring. Too perfect is boring and inhuman.
  • Your protagonist needs more obstacles in their way. Heroes and heroines have to be smoked in the oven a long time before they’re done.
  • Your villain needs the complexity of nuance and a purpose they believe is noble. No one thinks they’re the villain.
  • No character should feel like a red shirt, easily sacrificed. Henchman #3 has a family and feelings, dammit!
  • Don’t allow a smart person to do a dumb thing just to make a plot work. That’s the sound of gears grinding in a rusty machine.
  • Avoid a story with one tone, particularly if it’s one grim tone.
  • Heroics and horror both have room for humor when the wit is well-placed (but if you aren’t funny, don’t force it).
  • Fight scenes and sex scenes are similar: they both need to acknowledge the breath, heat, emotion and effort involved.
  • Read more in the genre to make sure you’re hitting the tropes without surrendering to cliche.
  • Drop the boring parts and concede that not every idea is worthy of a novel. Your idea for a full-length novel might make a better novella or short story.
  • Make your characters more relatable but don’t succumb to the critic who says, “People don’t act like that.” This character, your character, acts like that.
  • Decide your protagonist is unchanging and the series is episodic (e.g. Sherlock Holmes) or decide on a story arc that allows for character growth. Ignore reviewers who demand your character be fully actualized immediately. They don’t have the patience to understand what you’re doing with that character in the next book.
  • Dare to write a bold plot point, but too many coincidences are death.
  • Disguise your deceptions until the big reveals strike.
  • Contextualize the fantastic with normality to enhance the suspension of disbelief.
  • Read your manuscript like a reader, not like a writer.
  • Pick your allies carefully. Writers are much harder to please than casual readers and their motivations are sometimes suspect. (Hint: most readers are of the casual variety looking for distraction and escape, not an argument over comma placement.)
  • Let go of what isn’t working. Harvest wheat, cut chaff.
  • Go deep to create an immersive page turner. Make a movie in their heads.
  • Find an editor you trust who is out to help you, not tear you down. Some editors get into this biz for the wrong reasons.
  • The right length is the word count that gets to the end of the story.
  • Rely on feedback from your real readers, not randos.
  • Rewrite to make the reading experience richer.
  • Revise for clarity.
  • Edit to get where you’re going at the right speed, avoiding detours, potholes and plot holes along the route.
  • Drop the ten-dollar words but don’t talk down to your audience.
  • Do not overwrite character descriptions. You’ll interfere with the movie in their heads.
  • Have fun. If you’re having fun, readers probably will, too.
  • Are you getting up from the desk often enough? Moving? Getting some air and enough sleep? Feed the body, energize the brain, charge up Ole Ink Hill.
  • The only reason you dislike your manuscript might be that you’ve reread and rewritten it too many times. Your personal draft limit will vary. Send it to your editor when you hit the wall.
  • Cute can work. Too twee? Less so. So much depends on what you’re writing. Consider the variables. Listen to your heart when you write. Listen to your brain when you revise. Listen to your editor before you publish.
  • These are broad guidelines. Sometimes it is better to tell rather than show. If it plays, it plays.
  • Some write like they talk. When done well, it will sound natural.
  • Some try to write as if they’re 17th Century British nobles.
  • Let the words come from you. With revisions, You the Writer will come across smoother than You the Person with Cookie Crumbs Down Your Shirt.
  • Stop being so precious about writing. This is art, not a procrastination project. You want it to be excellent, not perfect.
  • Lives do not hang in the balance, not even your life.
  • Finish.
  • Edit.
  • Proof.
  • Publish.
  • Some will love you no matter what you do. Some will hate you no matter what. Most don’t give a shit. Let go of demanding that your family care about your high calling. Stop caring about anyone outside your target audience. What does your brother know, anyway? He’s obsessed with golf and foot fetish porn.
  • Don’t depend on one book to make you famous.
  • Write another book.
  • Somebody’s going to hurt your feelings. Nobody hits a home run every time and not everyone’s opinion gets equal weight. Look for support in the right places.
  • You’re not writing a novel. That can feel overwhelming and possibly a terrible waste of time. Instead, you’re writing a little short story each day (or most days of the week, anyway). Each short story just happens to connect to the next short story. These stories are your chapters. Writer 45 to 55 or so, and behold! A book! See? Easier than it sounded at first!
  • Relax. Enjoy telling your stories. Focus on process now, not outcome.
  • With enough at-bats, you have a better shot at hitting home runs.
  • Don’t talk about writing more than you write.
  • Don’t give up unless you hate writing.
  • If you hate writing, there are plenty of other things to do that probably pay more.
  • If you love writing, there’s not much else to do.

    *If you prefer outlining, there’s nothing wrong with that and you might end up writing faster with fewer hiccups and less anxiety. Your mileage may vary and that’s a blog post for another time.

    ~ If you enjoy apocalyptic epics or killer crime thrillers, I’m your guy. Find all the books by Robert Chazz Chute at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: the writing life, writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Brain, Porch, Rifles, Aliens

Huzzah, word warriors! What’s up? How are you holding up? Getting a bit of exercise. Even in a cramped apartment, there’s room enough to get into plank position long enough to wish you hadn’t.

Short update this week: I think I might be on the upswing personally. Still have to get taxes done and the garden in, but I’m feeling like it’s time to shrug off the funk and get more words down. The keyboard is right there, looking up at me. It appears decidedly judgmental.

This week at my author site, AllThatChazz.com, you will find an interesting video about doing the dopamine detox. It sounds more interesting with its other title. How I Tricked My Brain to Like Doing Hard Things.

For a quick feel-good story sure to warm the heart of any writer, meet Andrew Butters on my front porch through The AFTER Life Meet-up.

And for a good, long read, listen in on an uncomfortable conversation about taking the wrong lessons from disaster fiction. You’ll find it at my other blog, ThisPlagueOfDays.com. It’s called The Apocalypse Problem.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, try to stay safe. I noted that in my area, the premier tells us he thinks we’re past the peak of COVID-19. Not to be a downer, but we may be past this peak but it’s only a peak. Continue taking precautions wherever you can. Stop licking handrails and bowling balls. Watch the skies for meteors and aliens, instead.

Cheers!

Robert

Filed under: the writing life, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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 can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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