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

Write and publish with love and fury.

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

#NaNoWriMo: How to make writing a novel easier than it looks

I write drafts for my novels at a rate of 1,000 words per hour. I can string more of those hours together if I plan ahead with a general outline, but I usually pants it rather than plot it. 

I think of my writing time in terms of word count and hours. Here’s why:

When I wrote This Plague of Days, I didn’t think in terms of hours then. I didn’t budget my time or work to a word count like it was a job. I just put my head down and wrote and revised many times, stealing time here and there without a real schedule. I can’t tell you how long it took to write that epic saga because I went through so many revisions. Also, because my approach was haphazard, I wrote slower then. Though I worked from an outline, the project took longer than it could have.

I was buying into the meme that slow cooker writing was the only way, despite Stephen King’s suggestion that three months ought to do it (and look at the size of his books!) If I wrote that series now, the first draft would take about 300 hours of actual writing time. That’s less impressive than saying it took me years to write TPOD, but it’s more accurate.

(By the way, I just found out the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition has advanced to the second round in the Writer’s Digest Self-published Ebook Awards! Yay!)

When someone says it took them two years to write their first novel, that’s not true.

Two years equals 17,531.62 hours, including time spent sleeping, showering, goofing off, playing with children and pets and holding down a job, and procrastinating etc. Authors can write as fast or as slow as they’d like and each process is unique. However, there is no direct correlation between speed of production and quality. In fact, for the first draft, quality is nigh irrelevant.

Quality comes with subsequent drafts.

I find most of the jokes in the second revision and the plot problems to be fixed become clearer by the third revision.

Take NaNoWriMo, for example…

I’m planning 55,000 words for my current WIP. That means 55 hours for the first draft this month. As my current schedule allows, I’ll be done well before the NaNoWriMo deadline as long as I continue to protect my writing time.

Fifty-five hours sounds much less intimidating and more realistic, doesn’t it? What’s one work week to you? Forty-four hours? I approach my writing like a job. It’s a job I love, but there’s no waiting around for inspiration to come to me. I hunt inspiration down. Inspiration and efficiencies are habits learned by writing more and doing so consistently.

Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

For my crime novel, Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes, I’d planned on looking for the exit to the book around 50,000 words and topping out at 55,000 words. It took me an extra 17,000 words to wrap it up neatly at 67,000 words. Still, 67 hours to a first draft sounds like much less drama than saying it took me a month. That’s just 16.7 hours per week to come up with a first draft. (For a while in the ’90s, that’s about as much time as I committed to watching television.)

I’d give you a measurement of editing and revision times if I had them, but that varies too widely depending on the book. For instance, I’m putting my time travel novel on hold because I’m not happy enough with it yet to release it. I’ll come back to it in 2015. However, I expect to have my current WIP out in time for Christmas (assuming I still love it when I’m done.) 

Write as slow as you want to or as fast as you can. It doesn’t have to be a job. Hobbies are good, too, so write at the pace you choose.

My point is, we don’t have to be drama kings and queens about the writing process. When you hear of writers putting out a lot of books fast, that’s not really quite as hard as many would lead you to believe. Writing is a time management issue first. The other skills required come into play after we commit to investing the hours.

But it can’t be good because it was written too fast!

Writers who cherish writing slowly have my utmost respect until they insist others write at their pace (and many people write much faster than I do.)

On the Road, Casino Royale, The Gambler, A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and As I Lay Dying were written in less than six weeks. I wonder if any of those famous books were actually written in less time than that if the authors had tracked their hours.

Fast writers manage fear because they think about each book project in terms of a formula:

Word count goals + hours x perspiration (divided by distraction)

Prolific writers manage their time, that’s all. No drama. Inspiration usually arrives at the keyboard at about the same time we do.

Write. Revise. Edit. Enjoy throughout. (Now don’t tell anyone how easy it is to get to big word counts or they might start to think that writers aren’t special snowflakes!)

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I just published my 15th book. Imagine how many more I could have written if I hadn’t been sucked into the vortex of “Must See TV” back in the day. 

Filed under: My fiction, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The very nearly here, not quite yet, Post-review World

Once upon a time an author named Hale stalked a book reviewer, wrote about it in The Guardian and…well, things got crazy. I haven’t weighed in on this because you’ve no doubt read plenty about this debacle. Besides, I didn’t have anything new to say. I still don’t have anything new to say about that particular incident. It was a bad idea to respond to a negative review and there’s no need to pile on.

I do understand the urge. Oh, yes, every writer knows that urge to respond and demand an apology or…something. Instead, I stay indoors, never go anywhere, and write scary, funny books. It’s a better use of my time and the right thing to do.

So let’s talk about reviews more generally.

We all want them. We can’t promote our books effectively without a minimum number of happy reviews. But there are problems:

1. If you get a lot of happy reviews, someone who didn’t like your book will accuse you of having lots of friends and family shilling for you. Ha! I wish! It’s very difficult to get any reviews on anything and I don’t speak to my family. The point is, some people (I have no idea how many) think five-star reviews shouldn’t be trusted. However, if you didn’t have any five-star reviews, those same people would slay you for it. Crazy, huh?

2. Some people can’t help themselves. They condemn authors for their books and pedophiles for their despicable actions with nigh equal vehemence. Well…I assume so, anyway. I mean, I’ve read some vitriolic reviews where, once you dial it up to eleven, there’s no place to go, is there? But (silver lining) no one really takes one-star reviews seriously anymore, either. They are, with few exceptions, troglodytic. We read them for sick entertainment value, not for direction as to what to read.

3. Some people put spoilers in reviews without warning. That’s not a review anymore. That’s a spoiler and it’s a shitty thing to do. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean others won’t and spoiling a work that was years in the making in one ill-considered paragraph? Yes, that’s bad. What’s worse is Amazon lets it happen and allows those spoilers to remain posted without warning.

4. Likewise, authors have been libelled in reviews. Once again, Amazon does nothing if you complain. Unacceptable, and yet we are, at the moment, powerless. It’s the Internet. We’re supposed to shrug and hope the happy reviews drown out the unhappy ones (and eventually, mostly, they do.)

There’s a study somewhere that shows how unreliable reviews can be in an odd way. If the first review that goes up is negative, ensuing reviews tend to be more negative than they would have been otherwise. That’s less about the book, I suppose, and more piling on, hoping to be seen in agreement with whoever spoke up first. Weird.

5. Here’s where it gets weirder: Authors shouldn’t respond to reviews. Goodreads doesn’t even want authors to thank anyone for a nice review. That strikes me as forcing authors to be rude, but it’s their site policy so I abide by it.

Pretty much everyone accepts the No Response to a Bad Review Policy as a given, but no one knows who established this all-encompassing edict. Other industries routinely respond to reviews, hoping to ease their unsatisfied customers’ fury. We don’t. The argument goes that reviews aren’t for authors (true) but we aren’t even supposed to respond when reviews are misleading. We’re supposed to, as Hugh Howey so aptly put it once, “enjoy the burn.”

But wait. If we’re writers who should be thick-skinned and stoic since we put something out in the world…aren’t reviewers putting stuff out in the world, too? How come their writing is exempt from criticism but mine isn’t? Hm. No. Stop thinking about it. Nothing good can come from following the logical conclusion of that reasoning.

I am not arguing for responding to reviews.

The system is broken when reviews allow spoilers, libel authors or when so many people seem to distrust reviews.

Someone at The Passive Voice recommended we tell people, “If you liked it, please tell a friend,” in lieu of reviews. I kind of like that, but that’s what reviews were supposed to be anyway, right? Telling people what you liked so they can share the experience of an interesting, entertaining or enlightening book. I encourage people happy with my books to review them on Amazon. A review anywhere else (except perhaps a busy book blog) doesn’t really get more people to my books.

When I worked in magazines, we rarely gave negative book reviews (or the negative reviews were significantly shorter) because the point was to direct readers to the good stuff. The prevailing opinion was, the good stuff is too hard to find to waste time talking about the stuff we don’t like. I feel the same way. I may find commonality with reviews that tell me what they liked and why. What they dislike often seems more idiosyncratic (and some reviewers can’t seem to bring themselves to like much of anything.)

Maybe hoping for organic discovery through old-fashioned social networks is the way to go. But not quite yet. The apparatus for book discovery is broken. I still need happy reviews to get a Bookbub promotion going. That’s one of the few book promotion services that seems to have muscle and mojo behind it. I also suspect people don’t talk about books enough. I’m unwilling to rely on chats over fences with neighbors to spread word of my literary heights efficiently. Podcasts might be a better answer.

So what to do?

Stop stressing about reviews. Beat up a punching bag. (Reminder from Mom: human beings are not punching bags.)

If necessary, stop reading reviews. Read more books. Write more reviews.

Keep asking for reviews because, hey, that’s all we can do for now.

Don’t stalk book bloggers or book reviewers. Do not go near their homes or places of employment. And if you do (which you definitely shouldn’t!) don’t tell anyone. Jeez!

Cry quietly and not in public.

Treasure the many good reviewers who don’t mistake snark and disrespect for intelligence.

Read your four and five-star reviews obsessively to get your energy and esteem up. Read the negative reviews once, if you feel you’ll have something to gain from them (a murder plot, perhaps?) But never read them twice. That’s just masochism and revenge fantasies.

But there’s a better reason not to respond to negative reviews:

It takes time and energy that you could use to write your next book. And frankly, if someone hates your book, they won’t change their mind. If you try to use your best politician’s smile and the it’s-all-part-of-the-game clap on the shoulder, they won’t buy it. They know. You hate them. They hate your book and therefore they hate you. People will tell you this is wrong. Shit’s about to get real.

Yes, you’ll read lots of crap about how writers should separate themselves from their books. It’s a book, not a baby. Except it is. It’s the product of your mind and anyone who hates the book is calling you feeble in the brain. Be real. People tell you to be thick-skinned, but nobody really is. Many of the most successful writers, actors and entertainers on the planet confess that they remember every word of every bad review. You’d have to be a robot sociopath to be so far above the fray when someone criticizes something you put so much of yourself into.

However…when you write more books and get some success, it does hurt less. You become less invested in each book because you know you will write many. Just like having children, if you make enough of them, a few start to look expendable. (It’s a joke, for Thor’s sake. Relax.) 

Anyway, when the happy reviews drown out the negative reviews, that one-star review starts to look silly. You can also take some solace in knowing that if a reviewer hates you enough, they won’t feel the need to come back for more and you’ll be rid of them…if they actually read books before they review them, of course. Oh, yeah. There’s another reason so many people don’t trust reviews anymore. Sigh.

So, to sum up:

Write books and pretend you don’t bleed.

Don’t be a dick. Be nice. Play nice. Pretend you’re nice. Fake it and kill offenders in your next book. (I did.) Cover your tracks so they’ll never recognize themselves.

Pretend you’re happy all the time, especially when you’re not. Rant to a friend if you must. (Mental note: get a friend.)

Try to keep some perspective. You won’t, but it’s true that a review is merely one person’s opinion. It is not a scary diagnosis from a stone-faced internist.

We’re in the entertainment business. Entertain. Seek out entertainment. Don’t be so damn serious.

Remember that no matter how good your book is, someone will say they don’t like it. Don’t let them discourage you from following your star and writing, though. If that happened, then a bad review would really matter.

Until a new way to discover genius books is found, this is the way we live now.

Keep having fun. Don’t forget, this is supposed to be fun.

~ I forget sometimes.

 

 

Filed under: reviews, web reviews, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , , , ,

A Quick Top Ten: Make revisions painless

Books in progress litter my desk. As I revise manuscripts, there are certain words I watch for. When I see them I ask, “Who cares and who needs it?”

Here are some of those watch words and cautions:

1. Sentences that begin with “And…” (It’s not that it’s wrong or bad, but it’s often not necessary.)

2. Sentences that begin with “And then…” Sentences are sequences and usually work without this tip to the reader.

3. He felt, she heard, he sensed, she saw… Just describe the scene. Not “She saw a crocodile rise from the swamp.” Instead, “A crocodile rose from the swamp.”

4. Was. This crops up a lot in most writers’ first drafts. “She was fighting,” becomes “she fought.”

Gerunds are passive and they are not our friends, especially when overused. I don’t use adverbs much, though I don’t ban them. It’s a novel, not a telegram. Besides, I’m suggesting crafty guidelines here, not edicts about what not to do.

5. Look out for: just, own, up, down, so, it. These are words that we add to sentences that sometimes fail to add meaning. 

Just surfaces a lot. We can often do without “just.” Or we might use only or merely. 

“He sat down in the chair,” becomes “He sat in the chair.”

“So, he murdered the butler,” becomes “He murdered the butler.”

“Their own boat,” becomes “Their boat.”

“It” often replaces the noun you should probably use. “It’s up to you,” could be, “This caper is up to you,” or “The fate of guinea pigs everywhere is up to you.” See how it’s better? I mean, see how specificity improves clarity?

6. Careful of exclamation points that hype excitement that does not exist.

7. Semi-colons have fallen so far out of use that they now stop readers cold. Punctuation should be visible, yet not visible. Punctuation marks are the life-preserver under your seat on the plane. You know it’s there, but you don’t want to pause a moment to think about why it’s there. 

8. Use dialogue tags besides “said” sparingly. Let what is said carry the weight of the message.

9. Empty pleasantries are death.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Good.”

This trite exchange is what we do every day. In a book, it’s a waste of time. Also note that those four lines possess no conflict. A better way to go would be to answer “How are you?” with “You’re late.”

Or try, “He greeted her at the conference room door with an officious sneer and ushered to her seat without a word.” 

If the dialogue isn’t clever or funny, or if the exchange fails to reveal character or advance the plot, skip it and go to the action.

Don’t count on readers’ patience. Tell the story.

10. Everyone watches for run-on sentences. We break those up, of course. Also consider varying sentence length.

Sentence length is not something many readers will register consciously, but lots of short sentences together can feel stilted and staccato. (This device can be used to great effect in an action sequence or to make a point, however.) Many long sentences in a row tire the reader and can feel like a drone.

This problem is easier to recognize when you read your manuscript aloud. If you run out of breath before the end of a sentence, it might be too long. Or you need to do more cardio.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute hates to tell anyone what to do. Ever. He’s also a fan of the sentence fragment, so this isn’t about being the grammar police. It’s about helping writers and editors make books more readable. These are guidelines. The only rule is, if it plays, it plays.

FYI, the third book in the Hit Man Series is Hollywood Jesus, Rise of the Divine Assassin. This funny, gripping crime novel launches October 1, 2014. Early feedback says it’s the fastest pace to an adventure since you fell off your bike and got road rash when you were a kid.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The Omnibus will be launched at the same time.

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

 

Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We are not gambling writers. We are working writers.

I saw it again, today. Too often, people take the extreme end of an argument and generalize back to the middle to suit their worldview. It’s not logical. It’s bubble poppin’ time!

Example 1: Amazon’s trying to tell Hachette that it should sell the next Stephen King ebook for $9.99 or less. 

There are a couple of problems with this statement.

First, Amazon has categorically stated that some ebooks should be priced higher. Though Amazon’s statement on contract negotiations was short, lots of people missed that crucial detail:

“Is it Amazon’s position that all e-books should be $9.99 or less? No, we accept that there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles to be above $9.99.”

If an author has lots of fans who won’t wait for a price drop, the exemption for authors at that level of success makes sense. The math will reveal which way to go. For most of us, lower prices are the way to go. Amazon speaks unusually clearly on this point:

“The author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. And that 74% increase in copies sold makes it much more likely that the title will make it onto the national bestseller lists. (Any author who’s trying to get on one of the national bestseller lists should insist to their publisher that their e-book be priced at $9.99 or lower.)”

Amazon beat Hachette’s argument to death with math. Everybody makes more money by charging less than the inflated ebook prices Hachette wants to set. By “everybody”, it’s obvious we mean everybody but Stephen King and a handful of the 1% authors who are doing really well because that’s where the analysis of sales points us.

The default author we should be concerned with is not anyone at the extreme end of success. It’s you and me. There’s hope for us, but probably not the fictional Mansions in Tahiti Level of Hope. Which brings me to the other argument I see far too often…

Example 2: People say, “Hugh Howey is an outlier and most self-published authors will not equal his success.”

Hugh says himself that he’s a lucky outlier. (Talented, smart, likeable and writing solid books helps immensely, too.) Most self-published authors know they won’t become millionaires. That’s an aspiration that non-self-publishers often put on us as they sneer. We’re not stupid. We know the odds. We’re look at our sales stats seven times a day. We know! 

What some of self-publishing’s critics don’t seem to get, though, is that there are many author/publishers who are making a living by selling at lower prices for a 70% return. They aren’t millionaires, but they are meeting their financial obligations, paying mortgages and getting by. Some are doing even better than simply getting by. They are not rich. Few writers of any ilk ever make it to rich. However, writing is their job. They’re frequently doing better financially than traditionally published authors. (I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad. I am saying I’m tired of all or nothing thinking among the mathphobic and terminally cranky fact-allergic.)

Still, there are those who refuse to acknowledge that, since the creation of the ebook market, the authorpreneur is a growing possibility for those with middle class aspirations. Not a probability, but a possibility. If you doubt that’s possible, I have evidence from The Passive Voice.

The role of writer has rarely paid well, but it’s a better deal for more of us now than it has ever been. We are not hoping to be lottery winners. We’re hoping to sell the next book at reasonable prices for a growing audience of enthusiastic fans. (There’s also never been a better time to be a reader, by the way.)

If I make it to middle class, that’s awesome. But it’s not about the money, Lebowski. It’s about the writing. It’s always been about the writing. I wrote books for years and never submitted them anywhere. I just wrote for me. Writing is an obsession. Obsessions don’t change whether I make seven figures or a single, dirty dime.

I write. So do you. Let’s keep it real out there. We don’t do it for the money. We do it for love.

Filed under: Amazon, author platform, Books, self-publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

The Revolutionary Writer’s Manifesto: Ride that moose!

There is a myth a few really believe. It is the Myth of Originality.

Let’s pop a bubble. There are no new stories. I’ve seen a few stabs at a truly new story, of course. Those experiments are often bloody awful and unrelatable adventures amongst amoebas dwelling in the rings of Saturn. Screw amoebas.

Plots round the same bases all the time:

1. Good versus Evil.

2. Boy gets Girl (and variations thereof).

That’s okay. When a reader complains a story is unoriginal, they probably really mean that it is derivative. Unoriginal and derivative are two different things. It’s derivative if it overshoots homage, feels too much like something familiar while falling short of plagiarism. No story fails on unoriginality alone or all movies of the last few years would be failures.

What readers want is originality in execution, a unique voice and an uncommon angle or viewpoint. You’ll either give it to them or you won’t, but don’t be a weathervane, spun by the whim of the latest review.

This Plague of Days, my apocalyptic saga, has been criticized because it started out in one plausible place and ended in another, rather magical place. That place is not derivative. It is merely unexpected and I make no apologies. I confess, I’m a little flummoxed by folks who find zombies plausible but roll their eyes when vampires show up.

Anyway, why should I apologize? The reasons given why a few don’t like my story choices are the same reasons the majority love it. If, amongst the action, we take a chapter to deal with the origins of good and evil in the universe, that’s my choice. The metaphysics chapter is my favorite…well…that and the many chapters where a horde of the infected attack Wilmington, Vermont.

Write for you, the writer.

If it doesn’t sell, that one was always just for you. At least you’ll be happyish with it. If you write for the crowd you imagine, you’ll often write for no one. Some people manage it well. They make a good living writing similar books and plumb expected veins. If that’s you, you do you and I won’t complain if you’ll let me do my thing, too. In fact, congratulations and good for you!

For instance, I don’t read Dan Brown, but millions do and they love his work. I bet he achieved that by writing for himself. Yes. Let’s not be cynical. He’s not writing by committee and poll and he’s entertained millions. Consider JK Rowling, too. Harry Potter started a copycat industry, but what she was doing wasn’t popular when she began. She wasn’t chasing a market. She was chasing her dreams despite being told by so-called experts that children’s literature would never give her a big payday.

Follow your vision. As we say in the snowbound depths of Canada ten or so months of the year, “Break trail. Ride that moose!”

The Feedback Tightrope

I’m not advocating that anyone operate in an echo chamber. I do get feedback from beta readers and I’ve altered choices because of that valued feedback.

However, some people seem to think they should have more input into those choices. “I wouldn’t have written it that way.” To which I say, “Go write your book. I wasn’t trying to read your mind through a time machine when I wrote mine.”

The Statute of Limitations

I’m not going to give you solid numbers on what or when anyone can use a recognizable device again. There is no number. All I ask is reasonableness.

If This Plague of Days feels too much like The Stand to you, my reply is:

1. Thank you for the compliment! I love The Stand and it’s a big favorite among Stephen King fans. I’m not copying it but I recognize the similar elements, sure. I regret nothing.

2. “Similar elements” does not equal derivative. My characters are unique. It’s a different story in the same genre, that’s all.

3. The Stand was published in 1978. If not now, when am I allowed to write This Plague of Days or any other book that has any commonality with any other book you’ve read? Keep in mind that I’m almost fifty and not as fit as I should be. I can’t wait forever.

About Unconventional Choices

1. My crime novels are written in second person. Recently I read some twit announce that no book written in second person could have literary merit. Ev-er. “Too much you, you, you,” I guess. And yet, first person is all “I, I, I…” Somehow, we manage to soldier on with our lives and no link has yet been found between second person POV and killer tornadoes.

2. Bright Lights, Big City was published in 1984 to great acclaim in second person POV. Another author, (me, for instance) will get permission to use that POV again…when? From the curmudgeons? We’ll never get permission, so I’m not asking.

I need no one’s permission and neither does any writer.

That felt daring and liberating, didn’t it? But really, what’s the point of being in charge of what you publish if you can’t steer the ship where you want to go? Nobody gets into publishing for their health or to be safe. If you want safe, get into an industry that’s too big to fail: guns, drugs, banking, sugar, corn syrup or manufacturing lies for politicians.

The danger

I know this sounds dangerously close to the “I’m not here to make friends,” defense. (That’s what mean people on TV pseudo-reality shows always say. That and, “I’m not a dick, I’m just brutally honest.”)

Not every reader will agree that you should ignore them and simply follow your instincts when you write. They’ll punish you by not buying your next book. But really, is your autonomy and vision for sale for a couple of measly bucks? Is that the whorish vision of yourself you really want to embody? I doubt it. Besides, you’ll flourish when you write what you love. Follow your love and you’ll write more books. Only hacks write what they hate.

I’m not looking for 10,000 true fans by trying to be what they want.

That’s a moving target, and fickle. I’ll be me. Surely, somewhere out there, there are 10,000 people who are enough like me that they’ll dig what I’m doing. Right? Right? Oh, dear gawd! (Shoulda gotten into running guns and drugs for lying politicians!)

Doesn’t matter. I only know my mind. I’ll write for that audience and hope you appreciate my flavor. It’s okay if you don’t, by the way. No one is drafted into my army. I only take volunteers and my people do not clutch pearls or get the vapors easily. We’re here to escape the status quo, take the world and bend it to our will. Or fail. But we’re not here to be pushed around.

If I’m wrong, I’ll be wrong but happyish.

~ With the loss of a treasured friend, I had a tough week last week. It’s not really getting easier. One thing that has provided some solace is the number of people who have wished me peace here and on Facebook and Twitter. In my grief, I wrote. So many readers responded with kindness. I appreciate it so much. Thank you again. 

Filed under: author platform, My fiction, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

In each chest a clock, its spring wearing

Tonight I thanked a friend and said goodbye for the last time.

It is a grim ritual, this business of the last goodbye. My friend didn’t look like the man I knew. He appeared as a sleeping wax figure, an ill-conceived doll imitating the man, the fingers too long and too thin. He was a poor approximation of the funny, vibrant, fit fellow named Wayne. He brought joy wherever he went and now he is dead at 56. Fifty-six used to seem old, but I was very young then.

I write horror that is an escape and a distraction. This is real life and it is often horrific in the end. When such good people disappear from our lives so suddenly and unexpectedly, this is the Slow Rapture of the Taken Too Soon. I’d be furious if I didn’t feel so empty.

By now you’re wondering why on Earth I’m telling you this.

Wayne was a bucket list man. Beside his open casket, there were many pictures: Wayne in marathons; Wayne playing golf, canoeing, cycling; Wayne with his loved ones on trips and fishing with his boys. He was immune to stress. He laughed easily. He made others laugh often and strangers soon became friends.

The visitation was a huge crowd as impressive and varied as the photos from his short life. I was privileged to know Wayne well. He was a positive force for good in the universe whose heart suddenly shut down without warning a couple of days ago and I am utterly devastated.

When I’m stuck for a plot point or searching for the hidden joke, I close my eyes and I wait for the right question. When I have that, the right answer will appear. So…why am I telling you this? Does this belong here? Maybe not…

But then the answers flood in:

Because I wish Wayne was a writer so I could open a book and still have his cheery voice in my head.

Because Wayne did a lot of good things with the time he had.

Because my friend knew the power of the bucket list.

Because if you’re waiting to do something, like fulfilling your dream of writing and publishing a book, I need to ask you to stop waiting. Please.

When I told Wayne I was taking a leave from my day job to dedicate all my time to writing, he smiled and said, “It’s your bucket list.” Wayne knew men in his family often didn’t make it out of their 50s. He knew the value of time.

There isn’t time to procrastinate. That’s why I’m telling you this. Do what you need to do. Your life is more important than your writer’s block. Push through. Every clock is ticking down, some fast, some slow, but there is always less time.

This is not a threat or useless fury or powerless sympathy card verse. This is me, in grief, searching for the meaning and the inspiration to move forward. Last night, I wept for the loss of my friend. I did not write. Wayne would not have approved.

Tonight, I’m back to writing my book about a guy with a time machine trying to correct the mess he’s made of his life. Sadly, it’s fiction. We can’t go back. The clock ticks in one direction. Wayne’s clock has wound down, but if he were here, he’d tell me to get on with my obsession. He’d smile again. I so wish I could see his easy smile again.

Each book we write is that time machine, taking us closer to what and when and where we need to be. That’s one place we can often make strangers smile. Through intelligence and imagination and creativity, together we’ll find the answers to all those desperate wishes, whether it’s writing stories to distract readers from pain or breaking cruel diseases’ grip on our mortality.

Today, for you, do more than the dishes. Work in the bucket list. Work on your bucket list.

Goodbye, Wayne. Thank you so much for being you. I’m changed because you came this way. I won’t forget.

My screen is a watery blur now.

And we write on.

 

 

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

So you want to be the next big thing?

Odium The Dead Saga cover

~ Guest post by Claire C Riley

Most writers start out on this crazy train wreck of a journey with one thing in their mind: to tell a story. Okay, so maybe they have two things on their mind.

Tell a story, and have people read it.

Oh, wait. Maybe three things if they are feeling especially ambitious.

Tell a story, have people read it, and maybe, if they dare to dream…earn a living doing it.

Throughout my journey, I’ve met many different types of writers, all with different ambitions when it comes to their words/books/stories/novels whatever. Some dream big. They write a great novel and wait for it to be snapped up and make them their millions. Others write a great novel, work their socks off to get it traditionally published, and sit back and wait for their millions to roll in.

And then there are those who are more realistic about it all.

They write a great book. They want it to be read by people, and maybe they pimp it out to the big five, maybe they don’t, either way, that book gets published. And then they…write the next damn book!

Because to be a writer, that’s what it takes. Not one great book, but several. Readers don’t like investing in one book, because that’s a shoddy investment, and it’s not the book that they are investing in—it’s you, the author. They want to know that if they fall in love with your work that there is more to come. More ready for them to buy, more for them to look forward to. Just more.

I’ve met a lot of authors who are waiting.

Waiting for sales, waiting for fans, waiting for…who the hell knows what they’re waiting for, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t sit up at night wondering when the big bucks are going to roll in.

As a reader I like to know that there’s more after I turn that final page—or slide the final page if I’m reading with my kindle. And I hate waiting for a year for a sequel.

So as a writer, I don’t. I try to get out several novels a year, both full length and novellas, and in between I like to write short stories in anthologies. That way I get to keep drip-feeding my readers my words, to keep them interested and hungry for more, and yes, invested in me. Because surely I owe them that much? After all, they took a punt on me by reading my book. And in return the more they read my stories, the more they talk about them, and the more word spreads, thus increasing my reach to potential new readers.

So for me being the next big thing isn’t about that traditional publishing contract, or making a million on my first book (though, of course that would have been nice.) It’s about continuously moving forwards, listening to feedback and improving with each book, making my readers happy, and maybe, just maybe, the next book will be the next big thing.

But I’m not waiting around to see, I’m too busy writing my next book.

Claire C Riley profile photo~ Claire C Riley is the author of “Limerence,” “Odium. The Dead Saga,” “Odium Origins. A Dead Saga Novella Part One,” “Odium II The Dead Saga” “Odium Origins A Dead Saga Novella Part Two” a contributor to several zombie apocalypse anthologies, including the upcoming ‘Fading Hope’, ‘State of Horror Illinois’ and a proud contributor to the charity anthology “Let’s Scare Cancer to Death.”

Odium. The Dead Saga is a top #100 dystopian selling book on Amazon.com for 2013, ‘Indie book of the day’ winner December 2013 and ‘Indie Author Land 50 best self-published books worth reading 2013/14’

Limerence was a featured book in the ‘Guardian newspaper for best Indie novel 2013’ and is currently a finalist for the eFestival of Words ‘best novel’ category.

Odium II The Dead Saga is a #1 Best Selling British Horror book.

She can be stalked at any of the following.

http://www.clairecriley.com

https://www.facebook.com/ClaireCRileyAuthor

http://bit.ly/clairecrileyamazon/

https://twitter.com/ClaireCRiley

https://www.google.com/+ClaireCRiley

Filed under: author platform, Books, publishing, 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, , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 10,074 other followers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

%d bloggers like this: