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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

For Anyone Who Has Been Pushed Around

Writing book descriptions is difficult, especially when your novel crosses genres. Mix apocalyptic and literary, for instance, and you’ve got a marketing problem. (And by you I mean me.)

Boil any premise down to its bare bones and it often sounds ridiculously stupid. You’ve seen the meme for The Wizard of Oz? Girl gets swept up in a tornado and kills a witch. Meets three strangers and goes off to kill again. How about Iron Man? Rich dude becomes a turtle to save the world repeatedly. Or The Metamorphosis: Salesman wakes up to discover he’s transformed into a cockroach. Nothing else much happens.

Endemic is set in a decaying New York after multiple rounds of the viral apocalypse have ravaged the United States. To cater to certain genre expectations, I gave readers the broad brushstrokes. Survivalists who respond to the title will get some tips they’ll like. Decoy gardens, solar stills, and compost toilets will intrigue that group of readers. But it goes much deeper than survivalist tips and doomsday prepper fantasies. The subtitle is Within Each of Us, A Power and a Curse.

Though Endemic is a dystopian novel, what’s it really about?

Amid the action, this is a deeply psychological novel. It’s about getting bullied and standing up to bullies. Ovid Fairweather is a highly sensitive person, an introverted book editor unsuited to dealing with marauders. And yet, with the help of her dead therapist, she grows and changes. She becomes a survivor thanks to her quirks, her strange obsessions, and the voices in her head. What’s her power and her curse? Memory. It’s the basis for all her regrets and all her potential.

Ovid has almost as much trouble with her abusive father as she does with the meanies out to steal her food. Several readers have contacted me to say (a) they love the novel, and (b) it reminded them of when they, too, were bullied. Resonance is great, but it’s not always comfortable. Events beyond her control force Ovid to adapt. In these troubled times, that’s a challenge we all face no matter who we are.

Writing Endemic was therapeutic for me. Through fiction, I got the weight of real angst and anger off my chest. That may not be what the survivalists who read apocalyptic fiction came for, but I’m betting the larger audience will dig it. (I’ve played this balancing act before in This Plague of Days, AFTER Life, and Amid Mortal Words.)

If you want great ROI your accountant will respect, write a long series to a particular niche with consistent and narrow branding on your graphics. That’s a more dependable approach to the business of writing. Alternatively, you could write across genres, defy expectations, and write a standalone book. It’s riskier, but I’m glad I did it. Your mileage may vary.

For anyone who has ever been pushed around.

Against those who do the pushing.

The DEDICATION of ENDEMIC

Filed under: Genre fiction, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

All of Us Are Wondering

The pandemic has altered our perceptions of what makes society’s gears turn. At their wit’s end, many people are exhausted of the fight against COVID-19. Not all changes are bad. I think the Great Resignation is a hopeful indicator that we’ll see more activism by labor in the future. However, the pandemic has also laid bare ignorance and institutional vulnerabilities. Watching the occupation of Ottawa, multiple failures have given birth to something ugly in the zeitgeist. I guess that ugly subtext was always there, but now that it’s out in the open, I wonder how these grotesqueries will change what we create in the next few years.

In my 20s, a friend often called me Mr. Cynical. After witnessing how a large contingent prizes convenience over the safety of others, I wasn’t cynical enough. A friend once insisted that people would come together in an emergency. Most will answer that call, sure. Others are too selfish to protect the vulnerable. I was cynical, but I did have higher hopes for us. George Carlin nailed it when he said, “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”

What does this mean for writers and readers now?


I have a new book out, and like Endemic, the world at large has influenced my writing.

Our Alien Hours is about how humans react to the arrival of interstellar conquistadors. My editor made an interesting comment. “This is an unusual move for you. It doesn’t offer sunshine and lollipops.” She has a point. I always offer a bit of hope at the end of the journey and there are usually lots of jokes in the mix of action, suspense, and adventure. Always, that is, until Our Alien Hours. Offering too rosy a vision of alien invaders didn’t ring true to the scenario I posed. Resisting attackers who have the technology to cross the galaxy sounded so optimistic it was silly. Getting grim made more sense in this case. It’s that feeling you get when you watch the Korean sensation, All of Us Are Dead: Oh, no! Not her, too!

(Hint: The first episode of All of Us Are Dead is a hurdle, but after that, the series really picks up. They take the zombie genre in unusual directions that will be familiar to lovers of This Plague of Days and AFTER Life. I gotta love that.)

You’ve seen the memes. Does future lit have to be dumber?

“Zombie books of the future must have a scene where people run toward the zombies to get bit as they proclaim it’s all a hoax.” And, “We owe horror movie writers an apology. When the killer is breaking down the front door, a certain percentage of victims will definitely run upstairs instead of out the back door.” Heck, the human inclination to wish our problems away is the whole point of the Oscar-nominated Don’t Look Up! Given all we’ve seen, it’s hard to shake the feeling that plenty of idiots are in charge, or at least our leaders are willing to cave to the mob’s whims.

We want our fiction to ring true, but when there’s no one to cheer for, I’m out. I just don’t care for that at all. As writers, we’re going to have to strike a balance even as we endeavor to provide authenticity and a context of verisimilitude.

Here’s how one franchise failed in my estimation:

I find The Walking Dead‘s tone so relentlessly grim that survival seems pointless. I abandoned watching it because it seemed like so much rinse and repeat. It left me wondering why the survivors were fighting so hard to live since doing so seemed so joyless. There is a follow-up to TWD. It’s basically, TWD, The Next Generation. I couldn’t detect any fun to be had in that enterprise, either.

Train to Busan is brilliant, and the staging makes for an awe-inspiring film. However, if you stretched it over eleven seasons like TWD, it would surely wear out its welcome, too.

What are our options as writers?

Well, we could give in to despair, steer into the skid, and admit that the inspiring utopian Star Trek future we dreamed is beyond our reach. I don’t think that’s the way to go, though. Of course, in horror, readers demand the icy finger of grim reality delivering shivers down their spines. Those readers aren’t looking for Margaret Atwood-level character development from the villain. The maniac who dips his victims in hot wax isn’t that complex or worth knowing beyond a gesture toward a bad childhood. We’re in the entertainment business and that market wants to know how the victims react. Horror villains from Jason to zombies to vampires are rarely real characters. Instead, they usually represent Mortality itself as a force of nature. The entertainment value is measured differently in that genre. We don’t need to know the complexities behind the killer clown in It. We resonate with the kids he drags into the sewers.

Note to all fiction writers about educating readers versus entertaining them! Please, whatever you write, set out to entertain first. If your primary goal at the keyboard is to educate, stick to writing textbooks. Thanks!

Now, where were we?

Next option:

Balance out the horrors of grim reality with happy escapism. Write more romances where quirky people somehow get married to their frenemy accidentally. Ooh, the storm is here, the bridge is out, and golly gee! This romantic little B&B only has one room left and look at that queen-size bed! Romance has always been the most reliable powerhouse of genres. To get us past the pandemic so we finally arrive intact in the New Roaring ’20s, writing fiction that looks the other way is a sure bet. A hundred years from now, if there are any historians left, they won’t be combing old romances for clues to how we dealt with COVID-19. And that’s a good thing. I’m all for getting your comfort wherever you can find it.

Don’t forget hopepunk. It’s not a big genre, probably because it is so difficult to execute with authenticity. Go this way and who knows? To counter the difficulties of the pandemic, it could be the genre that explodes in the next couple of years.

Or, we could reflect reality.

Remember The War of the Worlds, the Tom Cruise movie from 2005? It’s an alien invasion story, but it’s really about how war affects refugees. Both the film and the book explore our foibles, failures, and vulnerabilities. Survival is the goal, but the journey rotates around heroism, family, commitment, and communication.

In Our Alien Hours, I didn’t look away from doom. The book is about communicating the experience of facing death and danger. Heroes and fools both make interesting choices. The phrase “the human condition” has always sounded empty to me, but after writing Our Alien Hours, that’s not true anymore. The outcome may sound grim, but the trip offers noble and true moments as we face mortality together.

My next book will offer more hope for the human race, but it won’t get there dishonestly. Salvation must be earned. I hope by the time I publish my next book, we’ll be at the other end of this pandemic. We have a long way to go yet.

~ Our Alien Hours just launched. For a gritty but not gory alien invasion, you can pick it up here.

For links to all my books, head over to my author page at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: pandemic, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NaNoWriMo is not a bad thing

NaNoWriMo is a good thing.

We’re coming up on the halfway point of November already (which scares the rabbit pellets out of me because Christmas is coming fast. I wasn’t going to do National Novel Writing Month this year, but changed my mind at the last moment. I enjoy their metrics and I’m a little ahead of the pace so everything is chunky hunky.

Some authors are down on NaNoWriMo, but I have to say their arguments against it are often made of straw and soggy bran cereal. It’s not just for novices who’ve always dreamed of writing a book. I write every day anyway. That doesn’t mean NaNo doesn’t give me a boost. A little friendly competition can get me started earlier and makes me write a bit longer than I might have otherwise. 2479 words last night!

NaNo is so big, sure, there are inevitably a few people in the mix who think they should fire their first draft off to an agent. However, most people are sane. The vast majority won’t commit that sin. NaNo doesn’t encourage that kind of slapdash approach, either, so ease off of those worries and enjoy a chocolate chip cookie.

Some question the word count. Why 50,000 words? Isn’t that too short for a novel? It didn’t used to be. Those word count conventions are a bit dated considering that the numbers are less of a factor with ebooks. More to the point, the originators of NaNoWriMo chose 50,000 words as a suitable goal for good reasons. It’s not too short for veterans nor too long for first-timers. It also happens to be the approximate word count for The Great Gatsby.

There’s a little Apocalypse Now energy around NaNo that I find helpful. I’m Martin Sheen at the beginning of the movie whispering, “Every minute I’m in this hotel room I get weaker. Every minute Charlie is out in the jungle he gets stronger.” Then I break a mirror because someone out there somewhere is writing.

Then I write.

~ The newest novel from Robert Chazz Chute is Endemic. Highly sensitive, bookish, and alone, Ovid Fairweather is bullied by her father, haunted by her dead therapist, and trapped in the viral apocalypse.

Get Endemic now. It’s about to go viral.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, writing, , , , , , , , , ,

Dexter, My Panic Attack, and You

Michael C. Hall is reprising his most famous role in Dexter, New Blood. That this limited series is back is remarkable. The original series ended in 2013 and it did not end well. A bit about that, then let’s talk about The Bounce and how it applies to you and me.

In 2013, I listened to a podcast that was all about Dexter. This pod went deep, right down to the music cues. This was for hardcore fans who obviously loved the series. Most viewers agree that the show peaked at the end of the season with John Lithgow (no spoilers here.) This podcast was for fans who stuck with it to the bitter end. Count me among that hardy crew of diehards.

That so stipulated, the podcast had two letters shows wherein fans wrote to express their final thoughts. The overwhelming evidence was that most people were terribly disappointed. Let’s be real about this: endings are hard.

Evidence

  1. Kim’s Convenience’s end was anticlimactic and seemed mostly pointless, as if they didn’t know what to do with it. And don’t get me started on the end of the second-last season, where I thought my TV cut out prematurely.
  2. The Sopranos end is memorable for the wrong reasons. I thought the bartender Tony beat up several times should have come back to kill him for personal beef, not mob business. That end seems fitting since he was such a shitty person.
  3. Breaking Bad was fantastic, but they missed an opportunity when he meets his end without ever sampling his own product. That’s my only complaint there.
  4. I didn’t see the final season of Game of Thrones for a while. I heard it was terrible. When I finally did see it, honestly, I couldn’t figure out what everyone was complaining about. Was the end really that bad. I found it quite consistent. It seems bad is the consensus since so many fans have disavowed it and GOT disappeared from pop culture so thoroughly.
  5. How I Met Your Mother met with outrage at the end. They tried something and I applaud the experiment. The problem with the execution was it was a comedy that managed to land as a downer rather than achieving romance. That’s not why fans tuned in for so many years.

    Let’s first acknowledge there is such a thing as toxic fandom. If you’ve written a book, eventually some reviewer who thinks they’re helpful will try educate you on how you should have done it better. Even though the longest thing they ever wrote was three paragraphs of a sour review, they’re very confident they could have saved you if only they’d sat on your shoulder and told you what to do. Note to those reviewers: better not to do that. Like it or don’t like it. Write your own. You’ll probably find it’s not as easy as you think.

The Triumph of Hope Over Experience

Most famously, the fans brought Star Trek back to become a fantastic franchise with so many iterations it’s a disappointment again. Firefly returned as a movie because fans campaigned for it. It is generally acknowledged that the space western got short shrift from network execs who couldn’t find their ass with both hands. Similar story with Family Guy. The network canceled the series, but after three million DVD sales, brought it back to great success. FOX cancelled twenty-nine other shows in the meantime, so when it came back from its hiatus, Family Guy mocked them for it. Twenty-nine! The Winston Churchill joke comes to mind: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else.”

Finding the Way Back

The return of Dexter is a little different from other risings from the grave. They’re coming back to fix it. The final episode was so ill-conceived and ill-received, it was not relegated to the dustbin of TV trivia. It failed so hard, they’re getting another kick at the can. That’s what I call The Bounce. And you know what? It’s a good thing. We can learn from this,

I know it can be frustrating to see old ideas get recycled. It often seems like there are no original ideas in Hollywood. Perhaps your book should be made into a movie or a popular TV series. I know several of my books deserve to be made into films to stir the soul and make boffo box office. However, Dexter was very good before it went sour and it was always watchable. It’s taken a weird circuitous route to get to this place, but I think it deserves another chance to entertain us. Let’s be happy about it. Skepticism is understandable, but cynicism isn’t fun and hey, stay real. The stakes are low.

I miss Dexter living in Miami. I miss Angel Batista being sweet and kind and utterly oblivious to Dexter’s serial killer ways. Masuka was hilarious as comic relief in the original series. But there are new and fun characters to enjoy in this new iteration. I’m glad Dexter is back, and I enjoyed the first episode.
Welcome back, buddy!

What does The Bounce have to do with us?

As writers, you are the studio. If a book fails, you can kill the series or resurrect it in a new iteration. You have the freedom to edit it again, to add or delete chapters, to relaunch it. You don’t have to appeal to a network or suck up to a committee. You’re free to bounce back as many times as you can stand.

Last night, I had a panic attack. Those Bookbub ads I was experimenting with only worked on the first-in-series of AFTER Life, the one I give away for free. Three or four problems hit me all at once and I spiraled down. I couldn’t catch my breath. Caught up in catastrophizing, I felt like I was drowning and maybe dying.

This morning, I’m back to writing. I’m in NaNoWriMo and the word count is on track. I’m happy with what I’m creating. I am committed to bouncing back.

Lots of things fall apart for many reasons. You can’t control all the variables that lead to failure or success. As a writer, you are positioned to steer your own ship. If you steered into the rocks, you can fix the hull or jump onto another ship. It’s okay. We’re going to be okay.

The old joke is that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. Art is a different story. Every book launch is full of hope. Every writer tends some small fire that signals they’ll “make it” (whatever that means to you.)

Make art. Just make art. Try not to panic.

Filed under: writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Show me you are a writer

You know this meme:

Tell me you’re X without telling me you’re X.
It just occurred to me that this is another version of a good writing guideline: Show, don’t tell.

Good fiction exploits resonance and a certain amount of circuitousness. Don’t tell me your heroine is brave. Let the character demonstrate her bravery. Book readers want to meet the author halfway to achieve an immersive experience. They don’t want a telegram.

Of course, there are times to tell, not show. When dialogue is interesting and clever, let it be said in quotes. If the dialogue is merely informative and delivers zero bam-pop-pow, then it’s time to tell instead of show.

Telling:

He asked me if I wanted a coffee before the interview, and I declined.

Showing:

“Fancy a hot cup of java?”

“No offense, sir, but I make it my policy to never accept any beverage from a person of interest in a poisoning case.”

~ Robert Chazz Chute shows and tells appropriately. His killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics deliver lots of bam-pop-pow. Check out his books on his author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Finding the Genre Vibe

When you’re writing, understand the tropes of your genre even if you don’t adhere to them closely. Lean into those and you’ll make your readers feel comfortable that they’re getting what they expected when they clicked the buy button. It’s a truism: People want the same thing, only different. Avoid cliches, sure, but tropes are often helpful in getting a reader and keeping a reader.

I must admit, I have not always stuck with what’s expected. My two zombie trilogies colored outside the lines. This Plague of Days is vastly different from a lot of books with “Zombie Apocalypse” in the subtitle. It’s a slow burn that builds and builds and relies heavily on supernatural elements and a mute hero on the spectrum. AFTER Life has plenty of zombie action, but the nanotechnology involved places the trilogy firmly in the techno thriller and least science fiction categories.

It may seem simple, but there are plenty of niches to drill down to and you don’t always know. When I published This Plague of Days, I thought I was writing straight horror. Then I got a Bookbub, and their marketing experts helpfully informed me I was writing science fiction. I suspect the success I had with TPOD was in part because of its contrast with other zombie books.

Now, when someone asks, I follow Stephen King’s example and say I’m a suspense writer. Mostly my backlist is suspenseful sci-fi. Other times, it’s crime fiction, but it’s all suspenseful. I’m a big fan of twists and turns. As I write this, my trusty Editrix Supreme, Gari Strawn of strawnediting.com, is working on my newest big book. It’s called Endemic, a survivalist thriller set in New York during the viral apocalypse. It does not have zombies in it, but there are infected people who are zombie-adjacent. The protagonist is a 38-year-old woman who is a very unlikely heroine. I like unlikely protagonists. If someone is prepared for their mission, the stakes are lowered. Will Endemic be different enough, or too different? We’ll see.

In the Meantime

While I wait for the final edits of Endemic, I cranked out a pop-up anthology. There was a time when I thought I was done writing short stories. However, I can produce them quickly and I enjoy writing them. Anthologies don’t sell as well as full novels, but I can use it for other purposes, such as creating an IP that leads to other IPs. Need a reader magnet to boost your newsletter? Short stories can give subscribers a sense of your style without the time commitment of a full free novel.

Leaning In

I’ve been reading a couple of gurus who are very deep into writing the same thing, only different. It can be profitable catering to a particular niche. If you’ve read X author and had a good time, you’ll probably read the rest of her books to get a similarly joyful experience. Browsing around, you’ll find successful authors who do this and their branding shows it. They have no shortage of entertaining stories their readership loves. Perhaps their biggest worry is burnout or that their graphic designer will die and they’ll have to find another who can create the same style of cover art. It is a good strategy and I do not disparage it.

For this coming anthology, I’m doing something I haven’t done before. I’m leaning into the zombie/horror tropes and giving readers more what they expect from the genre. That is not to say there won’t be twists and turns. I still offer plenty of those. However, there are no sci-fi elements. I just want to scare people for Halloween (and beyond).

Meaning

For all my writing, I look for meaning. The characters have to be relatable. Even if the good guys and bad guys are wading into the Wondrous Pool of the Fantastic, it’s important that readers find resonance. We all understand jealousy, anger, and fear. Tapping into our common human experience triggers the empathic parts of our brain. That’s when the world of the book envelops the reader.

You can accomplish that state by telling an entertaining story readers expect, or you can do it while pushing at the boundaries of their expectations. The trick is to do it in such a way that you reel them in instead of freaking them out.

Please note: Some minority of readers will always freak out.

Example: This Plague of Days has zombies and vampires in it. Some readers will never accept those genres colliding. They’ll take zombies, but introduce a smarter bloodthirsty killer, and suddenly they’re breaking the spine of the book and yelling, “Bullshit!” My thought was, what’s a sentient zombie? A vampire. Never mind that evolution, and never mind if you get a few reviewers who kick back against any genre-bending. That’s okay. Everybody gets an opinion. Relax and write your book.

There’s always someone who will say, “I would have done x, y, and zombie differently.” To which I reply, “Great! Go write that. Express yourself! Then somebody can try to educate you as to what they would have done differently. Then you’ll understand me better. Heh-heh-heh!

To put it crudely, meeting reader expectations does not make any writer a hack. Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution of the story you choose to tell that will elevate the work in readers’ minds or fall short of their expectations. I like blowing through their expectations, but it can be fun to play the game within restrictions, too. As Hitchcock said, a limited budget makes one more creative.

Endemic is a big book that will defy expectations because the protagonist is older, nerdy, and neurotic. She and I share several of the same neuroses, in fact. Our Zombie Hours is a small anthology playing to readers’ expectations of the horror genre. I’m oddly optimistic each book will find a readership.

To go deeper on writing, reading, and marketing that resonates with more readers, I suggest you check out 7 Figure Fiction: How to Use Universal Fantasy to Sell Your Books to Anyone by T. Taylor. It’s an enjoyable, quick read that will get you thinking about adding butter to your writing recipe and boost reader engagement with your words.

It’s all about resonance. Do you dig my vibe?

~ Robert Chazz Chute occasionally writes about himself in the third person (like right now) to encourage you to read his books. He writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Browse them all at his author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: book marketing, This Plague of Days, writing, writing advice, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Apocalypse in the Middle of an Apocalypse

When I started publishing books in 2010, my pace got faster as I refined my processes. Take a couple of books through the editorial process and you identify quirks, mistakes, and inefficiencies you can avoid with future projects. At one point, I wrote five books in one year (and that was while I still had a day job). I took three days to format my first book. Back when I serialized This Plague of Days, I refined that formatting process down to a few minutes. Some things get easier with experience, feedback, and repetition. Then along came a killer pandemic and all my routines and expectations got torpedoed.

Trouble writing? This bud’s for you, bud.

Not Coping with COVID-19

The last book I put out was a thriller called The Night Man. That was Christmas, 2019. Almost two years later, I’m finally about to publish again. For several reasons, I took my time with my new book. This apocalyptic tale is a compelling experience that, in part, explores how we respond to disaster (or don’t). Endemic asks, “What happens when a pandemic never ends?” It’s not a short read, but the pacing will make it feel that way. I put so much of myself into this book that, despite its grand setting and sweeping scenes, the story is a relatable cautionary tale about what happens when variant storms strike. I wish the story wasn’t so relatable. The immediacy of viral dangers affected my writing routines negatively. What follows are my suggestions if you have been similarly afflicted.

How to Write (or not) in the Middle of an Ongoing Disaster

  • Put yourself on a social media diet. If the TikTok warning comes up suggesting you go outside to smell the roses, you know you’ve been on the app too long. It’s easy to get sucked into doom scrolling. I sure did. Though the news might give you ideas, it can just as easily suck away writing energy. So much of the news is repetitive that listening to a third epidemiologist in one day is counterproductive.
  • Self-care. Maybe that means remembering to take a shower. Perhaps exercise is missing from your day. Look at what’s missing and fill that need.
  • Writing sprints with a willing writing buddy work.
  • Setting a timer and writing your first draft as fast as you can in short bursts works, too.
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.
  • Think of each chapter as a short story instead of setting your sights on a huge word count. “I am going to write 500 words before the top of the hour,” sounds reasonable and doable. “I’m going to knock out a massive epic of 150,000 words by the end of the month,” is intimidating.
  • Tell stories you feel a great need to tell. Passion alone may not take you all the way to the end of the project, but it should give you some inertia. Hacks don’t have passion. Business considerations are for before and after the writing session, not during. Write the story.
  • Abandon unreasonable expectations. If you’re writing 200 words a day, don’t torture yourself with promises to craft 10,000 words tomorrow morning.
  • There is no rule that says you have to produce x number of books a year. Things change. Your response can change. Do what you can do and want to do. What you think you need to do can’t be bigger than what you can do.
  • Avoid martyrdom. I’ve pulled my share of all-nighters as a writer. I don’t do that anymore because I know if I push myself too hard for too long, I’ll get burned out. I want to write useful pages. Longer hours might just give you more mistakes to fix.
  • You are a writer, not a robot. Accept that now isn’t necessarily your time to accomplish x, y, or z. The rise and grind ethos is fine if you can stay healthy working at a blistering pace. Some people get energy from that approach. It’s not for everyone, though. Is anything?
  • Many go-getters and gurus will encourage you to “get back to normal.” The pandemic is not over and, to me, such admonitions feel like celebrating a touchdown at the 30-yard line. I understand the inclination to pretend this disaster isn’t ongoing, but it is. These are not normal times and not everyone is okay. Not everyone’s losses or ability to respond to challenges are equal. Be kind to yourself.
  • Some writers have found the lockdown experience energizing to their work. I know of no stats that suggest what and where that split is. On the other hand, many people have quit their jobs. Writing is a job you can turn your back on. You can quit and focus your energies elsewhere. If it’s not good for you right now, be honest with yourself when you need to walk away.
  • Professionalism? Sure, I’m all for it. Set a schedule. Have a dedicated work space and show up. Establish flowcharts of your action plans for writing and marketing. Measure and record your quantitative output. Keep an eye on the quality of your input. Do the thing … as long as it’s helping you, not hurting. Writing is supposed to be fun, remember?
  • Hydration, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, and exercise are all important. However, these are not panaceas. When people need help with physical and mental issues, some well-meaning cheerleaders will appear to tell you to go for a walk in the sunshine. That’s fine as far as it goes, but if your pancreas is merely serving a decorative function, you’re going to need more intervention than nice thoughts and meditation. If you need professional help, get it.
  • Another’s writer’s success can be motivating. That’s not true for me, though. When Amazon tells me an author I follow has come out with their fourth book in four weeks, I don’t feel good about myself. Besides, there are too many variables to replicate another’s path precisely. Do not compare your output to anyone else’s production schedule.
  • Procrastinate productively, whatever that means for you. If you need a nap and can do so, enjoy that nap. If you want to clean up your workspace, go head. However, don’t tell yourself you’re going to write “sometime” today and end up torturing yourself with I-should-haves. If you’re going to take the day off from writing, choose to do so consciously and choose early in the day. The worst writing days are the ones you tell yourself you were supposed to have had and didn’t execute.
  • A caution about procrastination: Are you one of those travelers who pack your entire wardrobe for a weekend getaway? When traveling, take half the clothes and twice the money. When writing, no, you don’t need to do so much research. Research to achieve verisimilitude is encouraged. Research that pushes your deadline back a month is procrastination.
  • Rely on social support. We have all grown more isolated in the last year and a half. Break loneliness. Talk to friends on the phone. Enjoy a Zoom call. Reach out and text someone. Share another cute dog video. Think of it as physical distancing, not social distancing.
  • Prioritize. That sounds like I’m scolding, so let me rephrase: Be lazy about the right things. Say no to the right things and yes to the write things. For instance, me to She Who Must Be Obeyed: “I got a lot of words down today, but I didn’t mow the lawn. It’ll keep another day.” Or, “I’m sick of the Sunday Bean Soup I made. It’s the fourth day in a row. Wanna order pizza?”
  • Writing, but you’re not feeling that last scene? Maybe it’s time to reward yourself with a short story to submit to an anthology. The right change can boost your creative energy. Taking a break can mean going for a swim. It might mean putting your energy into that mystery you’ve always dreamed of. You know, the one where the orangutan escapes from the zoo and solves heinous crimes with his sidekick, a Mormon sign language interpreter with a penchant for exotic cheeses. Do you, boo!
  • Blocked? Start writing about that. What does that frustration feel like? What childhood affront does that pain remind you of? Thinking about writing and not doing so is pain. Starting to write about anything, primes the pump and gets the juices flowing. Write fast, write now, and edit later. Silence your inner critic and dive in. Soon you’ll look up from the page and discover you’ve been at it a while and now you have something to work with. Blank pages are notoriously difficult to edit.
  • Read something that inspires you. You can read as a writer and analyze the narrative. I’d suggest you read like a reader instead. Remember the joy of reading? Let that feeling percolate so you’ll come back to your love of the written word.
  • Find what motivated you before you lost your mojo. There aren’t any wrong answers. Love, spite, competition, proving your ex wrong? Whatever gets you back to the writing mindset.
  • Aim for excellence, not perfection. Perfectionism is self-hatred. Some writers speak of putting out “minimum viable product.” I’m nervous about that wording and how it can be twisted. However, if it helps to get you writing, consider that there are plenty of successful writers entertaining legions of happy readers. Not all of them are solely focused on writing The Best Thing Ever Written. They are writing to entertain without the burden of a subjective and snobby literary standard.

What helped me most?

I faced challenges to my mental and physical health over the past couple of years. Chronic insomnia robbed me of many productive days, for instance. What I needed was time. I wrote a little, poking at my WIP. I didn’t manage to write every day. The best I could do was four days out of seven. When I allowed a limit and told myself it was okay not to write on a certain day (or series of days), the stress headaches went away. Taking my time with the story fueled my creativity. Patience made for a richer, more layered novel.

Writing a little at a time, I got where I needed to be. This month, I’ll release my first book in a long time. I’m healthier these days. My mojo and ambitions are rising again. There will be a hardcover, paperback, and a podcast of Endemic. Next year, expect an audiobook. Endemic holds echoes of my most successful series, This Plague of Days. I took my time. Endemic was worth the wait.

~ For all my killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics, please do check out my links at AllThatChazz.com.

http://www.AllThatChazz.com

Look for Endemic on Amazon later this month. To get your heads-up about when it’s available, sign up for updates at AllThatChazz.com.

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The I of the Eye

When I’m not working on my latest apocalyptic WIP, I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s guide to writing. Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything was Different is a humdinger. Each short chapter mines his success and ends with simple, direct advice: “If you were my student,” I’d tell you X. From craft to how to run a writer’s group and how to make author readings extra interesting, he shares wonderful experiences and solid tips for writers at all levels. I admire his writing and bold story choices. His cynical worldview delivers on dark, perverse fun and a rich subtext of social commentary.


As a fan of Fight Club, Survivor, Choke, and Lullaby, I was curious about his writing process and what he considers good writing. I once thought I was a minimalist writer. As a former journalist who read Hemingway, I even identified as such. I was wrong, but Chuck Palahniuk is a real minimalist. Stuff happens, but he goes to great lengths to avoid judgments. At all costs, Palahniuk eschews telling readers how they should feel about plot events, no matter how disturbing. His fiction style is influenced by what straight journalistic reportage is supposed to be.
For instance, X and Y happened. Draw your own conclusions. Even better if readers draw different conclusions so they can argue with each other over their literary takeaways.

Where We Differ

Recently, I followed a guided meditation in which each meditator was asked to adopt a mantra that reflected some facet of their base state. For instance, hands over heart, you could say to yourself, “I am a compassionate person dedicated to helping others.” My mantra that night was, “I explore consciousness.” In the writing context, that would send up red flags for Mr. Palahniuk.

To contrast his approach with my own, plenty of events happen in Endemic, my next novel. However, the neurotic protagonist indulges in internal commentary. Off medication and arguing with the voices in her head, Ovid Fairweather needs therapy and it shows. If you’re unfamiliar with my work, I admit I dare to do this sort of thing often. In The Night Man and AFTER Life, the main characters are conflicted souls. Ernest Jack has PTSD, a physical disability, and a fraught relationship with his criminal father. Officer Dan Harmon battles a killer artificial intelligence and brain parasites while doubting his career choices. (You ever notice that, in fiction, cops are always full of certainty they shouldn’t be off somewhere else painting watercolors? That’s not Dan in AFTER Life.)

I acknowledge writing about feelings is dangerous territory. It can drag the words too far from the plot. Every writing guide advises writers to delete “I remember…” or “I felt…” Delete the I of the eye. Be imaginative and descriptive, but don’t tell us, show us. Evoke feelings in readers instead telling them how to feel. Good advice, but there are exceptions and I do gravitate toward guidelines rather than rules. Mama Chute certainly didn’t mean to, but she raised a rebel.

What Dreams May Fail

Palahniuk advises writers to avoid dream sequences. His argument is that reality has plenty of drama and weirdness without resorting to fanciful sleep adventures that lower the stakes. I see what he’s saying and, in general, I agree. I often draw on a context of real life happenings to cushion the fiction in verisimilitude.

I can also say I’ve broken that no-dream rule on numerous occasions. To good effect, I think. (Consider This Plague of Days, Wallflower, and especially Dream’s Dark Flight). The trick to making those scenes work is to have dream life collide with reality. In real life, dreams mean nothing at all, or at least nothing to anyone other than the dreamer. If you use them in fiction, probably do so sparingly and definitely make them relevant. Inception made the use of dreams work, sure, but that’s the end of the shortlist.

How people react in stressful situations fascinates me, but if a novel is crammed with reactions alone, the story is weakened and skids to a dead stop. People can have feelings and dwell on them, but avoid pounding the reader into the ground. For example, if you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you know the television show devolves into annoying self-parody each time Rick returns to the same drawling speech, “Things have chaaaaaaaanged!” Yeah, things have changed in the Don’t-Call-Them-Zombies Apocalypse. We get it. Move along, please.

The Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence


Endemic will be my most personal novel yet. After a furious writing session, I had to sit back and recover when I realized several true stories from my childhood fit perfectly in an adventure about desperate people trying to survive a viral apocalypse. I’m confident I’ve sifted, intertwining action and reaction sufficiently that the story is propelled forward with each new twisty revelation. My hope is that, as screwed up as my protagonist is, Ovid remains relatable. She’s an ordinary person trapped in extraordinary events, much like all of us have been trapped through the pandemic.


Warning: If your book reads like therapy for the writer alone, you’re five knuckles-deep in the Rancid Pickle Jar of Self-indulgence. This September, when Endemic is unleashed upon the world, you’ll decide if I’ve found the balance. Until then, I heartily recommend reading Chuck Palahniuk’s book on writing. You’ll undoubtedly find engaging advice that will enhance your writing and your writing life. It’s so good, I might even cowboy up and try to take all his advice with my next novel.

Until then, I’m conflicted and arguing with myself about it.

~ For links to all my books, head over to AllThatChazz.com for killer crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics. Thanks!

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Reading and Writing Distractions


Once upon a time, two of the most recognizable figures were Muhammad Ali and Ernest Hemingway. They could go anywhere in the world, and they would be recognized in the street. You know what Ali was famous for. Hemingway was famous for writing, of course, less so for boxing. Being a savvy multiple streams-of-income author, Papa advertised liquor, too. Since the media revolution, all entertainment and infotainment markets are fractured and fragmented. We went from three TV channels to…how many streaming services are there now? I don’t have enough fingers and toes for high math.

But our problem, Dear Writer, is not just about too many things to track. You’re being tracked. Within the strict parameters of our media consumption algorithms, consumers tend to stay in their lanes. If you’re into K-pop, you’ll be fed more K-pop. If not, not. Data-driven platforms are watching and if you buy one toilet seat, they’ll serve up ads for all the toilet seats, bidets, and cushy tushy accoutrements you ever imagined and never needed.

Which brings me to publishing

There are more choices now and that’s great for everyone except when it’s not. If you dare to seek out the unknown, there’s plenty of it. However, the unknown will tend to remain so to those lucrative masses we dream about reaching when we’re penning a new masterpiece. To earn money writing books instead of some more likely venture, every publishing guru recommends drilling down in your genre. Romance is too broad a category. Mercenary/kidnapping/rescue romance caters to a specific audience. Cultivate that garden and you’ll have less competition and a smaller yet defined audience to seek out, advertise to, and serve. Within those fences, write at least two or three series with on-brand sexy covers and repeat until you’re sick of it, but sick of it on a yacht.

Westerns are out. Weird western gothic love triangles featuring murder by ouija board, a hotshot lawyer/city girl obsessed with maple syrup, a hot illiterate cowboy who sees ghosts, and a tough but tender rodeo clown into bondage? That’s in!

Ahem. These are just examples of drilling down, folks. Don’t jump on these frivolous examples as if it’s the military sci-fi trend kicked off by Chris Fox when he wrote Write to Market in 2016. Many writers didn’t take his advice to research a popular-yet-not-overcrowded genre they enjoy and write for it. They took his research seriously, though, and jumped on the military sci-fi bandwagon. That’s why there are so many covers of spaceship ass on Amazon. (Shout out to the excellent Six Figure Authors Podcast for the spaceship ass reference.)

Meanwhile, if you’re still querying agents, they still don’t know what they want, but like the infamous ruling on pornography, they’ll know it when they see it. They demand to be delighted and each agent has vast swaths of queries they’ll dismiss out of hand with a sneer. Research your agent first so you don’t end up as a sad example they mock to entertain strangers on Twitter. You don’t want to see your manuscript get this hurtful and unprofessional treatment: “Some pathetic creature dared to send me his heartfelt memoir of divorce and the loss of his parents as the Sandwich Generation suffers on! Har-har-har! What an asshole!”

In short, competition is stiff, so choose your targets carefully.

In independent publishing we are no longer subject to gatekeepers and, yes, in most ways there is no better time to be a writer than this moment. Just don’t underestimate the competition for eyeballs. The same distractions that keep you from writing are keeping your potential audience from reading. Gird your loins, guard your mind, write well, and write something that will distract your target audience from their crying babies, eating, and the fact that the world is on fire.

~ Hey, in case you don’t know me, I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write killer crime thrillers (try The Night Man) and apocalyptic epics (read AFTER Life right now!) You’ll find links to all my books on my author site, AllThatChazz.com. And thanks, that’s super cool of you, you sexy undistracted butterfly.

Filed under: publishing, Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

But wait, there’s more!

You’ve all heard about the COVID “19” (as in pounds added during lockdown). In an effort to stay off a ventilator, I’ve been basically vegan since June. However, I needed to get even more serious about losing weight and improving my fitness. I have a blood test and physical coming up and I’m weirdly fixated on passing tests and impressing my physician. However, I did not expect how much my lifestyle would affect my writing life.

Margaret Atwood advises writers to exercise because many hours at the keyboard can mess with your body. From posture to pain, getting out in front of future problems is always a good idea. We all know healthy body, healthy mind. That’s not woo-woo. It’s about blood flow. I know we’re all focused on our next book launch, but there are also happy and helpful endorphins to be released in the meantime.

If you’re not up to a run around the block, that’s okay. The opposite of sedentary is not exercise, it’s activity. We need to move in whatever way we can. 10,000 steps a day is my minimum, but I also work with weights and do bodyweight exercise. I won’t go near my old gym at the moment. However, there are plenty of ways to get a sweat on quickly that don’t cost a thing.

You’ve heard it all before. No surprises here. I’d heard it all before, too. But then I felt it. It’s one thing to know something intellectually. It’s another to feel it move you deeply. I found myself moving more and liking it. I have more energy and my mood is definitely elevated.

The other night I went on a rare excursion to a grocery store. (TIP: Go late on a Saturday night and nobody’s there. The few staff outnumbered the customers.) While shopping for healthy choices, I started talking to myself, joking around in an outlandish English accent. “By Harry, those oddly shaped mushrooms are positively beastly! Percival! Unhand those biscuits at once! How dast you? My word, what cheek!”

I was happy for no apparent reason. That’s…well, let’s just say that’s uncharacteristic. Mama Chute done raised herself a dark spirit when she brought me into the great, dirty world. But there is a reason, of course: lifestyle change. There’s less shit gumming up the blood and no one (i.e. me) chucking wrenches in my biological gears.

But wait, there’s more!

My sleep disorder has improved markedly, and my hypochondria has eased. I have more energy to exercise and deal with life. A lightbulb went out last night, and I changed it immediately instead of thinking about it for a few weeks or months. All this newfound energy is translating to more keyboard time. I’m making progress on my next novel. Yes, I did peck away at it slowly in the past year, but I also spent too much time vegging out mindlessly, playing Sniper Elite, and trying not to think about the killer pandemic too much. Stressed, depressed, anxious, pissed off, worried about my low and forgotten place in the universe: I’m the whole darling package.

I am a work in progress. I’m still the before picture, but I haven’t been so optimistic about my after picture in over a year. Whether it be my health profile or my writing life, the trend is hopeful. 2020 was rough for everyone. 2021 will be better. We can make it so.

And now, back to working on Endemic.

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

Filed under: writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , ,

http://mybook.to/OurZombieHours
A NEW ZOMBIE ANTHOLOGY

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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