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

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

When you are blocked

We are surrounded with things to write about, enough to fill all the novels you could write in a long lifetime. If you are feeling blocked, go down into your feelings. Mine your emotions and reactions to inform your characters.

We don’t have just one epidemic. Besides COVID-19, we have epidemics of:

  • loneliness
  • existential angst
  • ignorance
  • willful ignorance
  • plain old stupidity
  • fear
  • poverty
  • frustration
  • anger
  • sadness
  • grief
  • loss
  • claustrophobia
  • emptiness
  • loss of identity
  • feeling our best times are behind us
  • helplessness/lack of power

For drama to arise from conflict, before your narrative arrives at love, renewed love, redemption, or resolution, you’ll probably have to go deep on the lack of those ideals.

Name your poison. Write about it.

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out all his books at his author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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

A Warning for Writers

I’ve used Google Docs to work with editors and beta readers for most of my books. Not anymore.

In addition to working as a suspense novelist since 2011, sometimes I take on book doctoring projects. I’m collaborating on a paranormal series with the Armand (The Great) Rosamilia and working with Gari Strawn of strawnediting.com on something right now. All of these book projects depend on the use of Google Docs. I got a nasty surprise recently and, if you’re a writer, you need to know about it.

I had just completed my second round of edits on a book project for another author when I discovered that Google docs had failed me. I doubted myself, at first. Then the realization set in: I’d made edits and corrections but the changes I thought were saved came back!

This set off a wave of disappointment, irritation and not a little anxiety. I thought I was nearly done with the project. I’d already pulled my trusty editor, Gari, into the mix. However, the truth could not be denied. We had worked from one master file in Google Docs and we couldn’t trust it anymore.


You can’t trust Google Docs, either.

What to do? What to do? To quote Ed Harris in Apollo 13, “I believe this will be our finest hour.” Gari and the project manager were understanding and supportive, focused on solutions.

I had no choice. I had to switch to an alternative immediately. There are several alternatives to Google Docs. Some are free or have premium options. After reading a recommendation from another book publisher, I decided to try Zoho.

I went with the premium version since I’m managing book projects for myself and others. Fortunately, I could make Gari part of the Ex Parte Press team through the app but the Zoho Writer app is free.

Signing into Zoho, I was a bit frustrated at first. I found the interface a bit clunky and non-intuitive. All I could think about was how I had to get past this problem to meet my deadline. Time was of the essence and I didn’t want to have to deal with a steep learning curve.

Unsure Zoho would be a smooth transition, I tried the free Microsoft’s free online platform. They needed confirmation that I wasn’t a robot so I clicked the button for them to send an email confirmation to activate my free subscription. That email never came. Neither did the text to my phone. While I was waiting or Microsoft to get their act together, I figured out Zoho.

Zoho wasn’t so bad after I did a little bit of checking, experimenting, and googling. Perhaps my initial disorientation was because I was so used to Google Docs. Zoho isn’t terribly expensive for the power user, but it is a primarily a business application. That means it has the mojo for major collaboration, but it’s not built with writers and publishers in mind. (To be fair, neither was Word. Plenty of people used Track Changes in the old days. I always hated Track Changes. Reading those little red squiggles, I thought I’d go blind.)

Because of its orientation toward formal communications in the business world, Zoho’s correction engine throws up a lot of flags you won’t need. It’ll question contractions, for instance. Possessives, like “parent’s house” got a squiggle under it, too. I wish Zoho was integrated with Grammarly. It’s not. If I could make one change, that would be it.

For comments and collaboration, Zoho is better than Google Docs and Word. You’ll get a lot of false positive flags of foreign words, for instance, but at least the notations are clear and easy to resolve. If you leave the browser too long, you’ll have to reload, but reloading is quicker than Google Docs. I found the application was much faster, allowing me to bounce around the document.

There are other alternatives besides Zoho you could choose. (Here’s a link to alternatives to Google Docs.)

Whatever you choose, be aware that the changes you make in Google Docs may revert or fail to save. You could lose a lot of time and effort that way. I sure did. This setback came late in our editing workflow, so I’ll be pulling all-nighters through to the end of June to get back on track.

Fair warning.

~ You write books. Do you read them, too? I recommend that. I recommend you read my books. I’m a suspense novelist who writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out the glories and a whole lotta whatnot on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Looking for more work/life balance? Me, too. More of that on today’s post about the writing life, how I’m battling insomnia, losing weight (and winning).

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

Should Writers Double Back?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how things change. Before the pandemic, I would eat up book publishing podcasts like a fat guy scarfing down fudge donuts. I had to retreat for a while before I could move forward again. Dark paths through the woods are like that sometimes. I’ll get back to those podcasts, but I had other things to do for a while, like wonder when COVID was coming to kill me and losing sleep over nightmares of talking panthers (which were also trying to kill me). Not a joke. Happened last night. Talking panthers with green teeth are unnerving.

A few other things have changed (besides permanently giving up on writing at a coffee shop).

  1. My first anthology was Self-help for Stoners. I’d won a bunch of short story contests and SHFS was my first self-publishing experiment. I had a few dry runs before I figured out the publishing process. Inspired by director Kevin Smith and Joe Rogan, I dedicated that book to them. I’ve met Kevin and he could not have been sweeter. He liked the book, too. However, his movies over the last few years have disappointed me. The guy who broke into Hollywood with the clever writing in Clerks has fallen into reiterating his cult films now. Red State was okay, but that was 2011. He can’t get back to doing anything as compelling as Chasing Amy or as original as Dogma. Creatively, he’s stuck in park. That’s less inspiring.

    As for Rogan, I used to listen to all his podcasts. Now I listen when he interviews a scientist. My politics don’t jive with many of his guests and he sometimes spreads misinformation. I’m more a past fan than a current enthusiast. He also gives Alex Jones way too much rope. This is not me “cancelling” Joe Rogan. He’s got the most successful podcast on the planet and who gives a shit what I think? The point is, were I to write that book today, he wouldn’t be included in the acknowledgments. Things change.

    Note: If you’re looking for a thoughtful and funny podcast where the hosts listen to Alex Jones so you don’t have to, I recommend Knowledge Fight. They break down his claims in humane and surprisingly serious ways that show how deeply that man needs help.
  2. When I began writing This Plague of Day’s back in 2009, Aspergers was among the preferred nomenclature. Now “on the spectrum” seems generally preferred (though individuals on the spectrum have their personal preferences, of course). I would say and write “on the spectrum” now. Diagnoses of autism have such a wide range of implications. What it means for the individual and their families is a vast continuum. On the spectrum is perfect in the diversity the phrase reflects. I wasn’t ahead of the curve on the vocabulary a decade ago. This is not an apology. It’s an acknowledgment that I do not own a time machine.

    On the plus side, I have heard a lot of positive feedback from many readers on the spectrum. They and their families appreciate that I touched on the issues of diagnosis, labels, and the varied coping skills possessed by parents, siblings, and caregivers. It’s a very small part of a huge zombie apocalypse trilogy, but since the protagonist is on the spectrum, those issues came up naturally. The mother and father did not deal with their son identically, but I portrayed their viewpoints sensitively. I know that because everybody loves the mute hero of the apocalypse, Jaimie Spencer. Despite their differences, nobody hates his parents or sister, either.
  3. Since I wrote This Plague of Days, health professionals have largely changed how they feel about masks, too. Years ago, I served in healthcare and was part of a meeting about planning for the emergency measures we’re dealing with right now. The expert advice was different then. Hell, the expert advice was different at the beginning of this year! Remember when massive global pandemics that affected everyone were a thing of the past? Good times.

    The consensus when I wrote TPOD was that, due to moisture in the breath, a mask did not protect the user after about 20 minutes because the barrier would soon be compromised. Look around now! You can’t get into a Costco without a mask and you know what? I’ve changed, too. I accepted the new expert advice readily and wear a mask whenever I venture out beyond the walls of my blanket fort. Not that I get out often. I stay put unless my mission to the Badlands is essential.

    Is there a next step?

    The logical question is: Should I go back and revise history to fit the present day? First, the blanket refusal, then the nuance.

    In my current circumstances, I have neither the time, energy, resources or bandwidth to go backward. So no, I won’t be combing through huge books I wrote a decade ago to ensure they vibe with a tiny number of people who might choose to be graceless in their reading. However, I am writing a prequel to This Plague of Days so I will update what I can in the new book.

    I would need a really good reason to double back. Besides, would I have to change it when the medical vocabulary changes again? The nuanced answer is: possibly. If I live long enough for words to be too far outdated, I would consider editing again if I had the capacity to do so. I never used it, but as a for instance, the term idiot savant used to be common parlance. That is unfortunate. So is the misuse and offensive use of the word retarded. I have not used that term unless I’m talking about fire prevention.

    In any case, I doubt I’ve written anything worthy of cancelling me. Might someone on the planet be offended? Of course. This isn’t my first day on the internet. What alarms me about some outlying readers is their demand that a fictional character’s experience reflect their own reality identically. That’s simply not possible and, not for nothin’, I’m writing entertaining novels aimed at making a splash and a wide appeal, not a boring biography for each reader.

    (Hint: Some ghost writers get paid big bucks to write those biographies for no one to read.)

    I do my best to get details right, of course. Authenticity in the contextual nitty-gritty provides the thrust and lift that allows the more fantastic aspects of a narrative to fly. There is also creativity and artistic license. One rather condescending reviewer gave me high marks creatively, but berated me for not using real street names. She suggested I was lazy. I’d named her city and she demanded it be represented accurately.

    To which I say:

    Fuck, no. Yes, of course I know what Google Maps is. I made conscious choices for good reasons which became apparent later in the series. With my artistic license, I can drive anywhere. No kibitzing from the cheap seats is required. She’s entitled to her opinion, but I don’t write novels by committee. I wouldn’t have been offended, but it stuck in my craw that it wasn’t a casual reader calling me lazy. It was another author. I’m sure she knows what artistic license is, so I guess that leaves being bossy.

    As for Kevin and Joe

    I used to like what they did so much more. I might again. I don’t think they’re bad people and everybody gets to like what they like. I expect others to show some grace, so I’ll aspire to transcendence, too. The dedication stays. They don’t inspire me now, but they did. They might do so again.

    Everybody ease up. We’ve all got enough to worry about. I’m really focused on trying not to die right now.

    ~ Feeling existential dread? Need a break? How about a rallying cry for some positive societal upheaval? I recorded a story from my anthology All Empires Fall. It’s called The Face of Victory and you can listen to my reading of it on my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: COVID19, publishing, Rant, updates, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Help for the Anxious Writer

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

When you lack confidence:

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

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

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

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

Not Writing but Coping

We want to accomplish great things, but what happens when we don’t want to do a thing? Managing energy is one key to productivity and energy doesn’t come from an infinite supply.

Do you ever stop in the middle of some chore and think, wow, these sure are odd times in the Upside Down? Remember the Before Times? Barely.

Not long ago, most of us had no idea how much or how fast the world would change. Worse, we don’t yet know how or how much things will change in the future. Oh, yeah. There’s also that…you know…existential dread thing.

If you’re still adjusting, that’s okay. If you are lonely, reach out. If you are struggling, seek support. I know our culture is often very oriented toward achievement. Do more! Be more! Succeed more! And particularly among our tribe: Write more! Aspiring to achieve is fine but under certain circumstances, head-down grinding and striving become pathological tyranny.

Rugged individualism can only go so far and, in times like these, it’s a dangerous myth. Not everyone is up for our usual workload. Stress tolerance, support, responsibilities, and advantages are not distributed equally. Maybe you’ve turned your energies to something soothing with a short-term outcome, like baking bread. Perhaps your focus has to be homeschooling your kids or taking on the role of a caregiver. Darker: There’s a chance you’re sick or in mourning.

If you aren’t writing now, I want to tell you it’s okay. We cope how we cope. Some will write more, some less and some not at all. Are you eating more? Eating less? Sleeping more or less? Under stress and such strange circumstances, why would anyone expect our appetite for writing should vary?

I recently had a chance to take a marketing seminar. I signed up for it, but as the date approached, I looked at the cost-benefit analysis. I decided I didn’t have the energy to devote to it. I’m not getting a lot of writing done just now. After I deal with taxes and prepare a garden, I think I’ll be able to throw myself into writing more. Until then, I’m prioritizing what has to be done now and managing my energies without too much shame. (A little shame, yes, but not too much.) After I deal with the highest priorities, I expect writing will be a comfort again.

We will each react differently and with varying degrees of patience. What’s not a panic today may vary with time. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Things are stressful enough, aren’t they? I’m not saying wait for the muse, but you may feel too tired to go hunting for the muse.

The coronavirus needs hosts to spread. If you are isolating, please take some solace knowing that every successful day in isolation means more lives saved, fewer carriers, and fewer people falling ill. If you are essential, thank you. I hope you will be safe, receive hazard pay, get better recognition for your service, full health coverage, and better benefits long after this crisis passes.

I’m not going to tell you to stay strong. Instead, I’ll ask you to forgive yourself when you don’t feel strong enough to do something optional.


Recommendation:

The latest podcast from Cracked.com features an interview with Jason Pargin. It’s called Common Beliefs that Make Disasters Worse. It’s an interesting and excellent take on what people and governments get wrong amid disasters (and how we might do better).

The interview is based on Pargin’s article, 5 Common Beliefs That Make Disasters Worse.

Whether you prefer print or audio, both are highly recommended.

Speaking of audio, a reminder:

Lie back and train your body to help ease your mind. You might not want to, but you may need to. Try the audio of my short relaxation exercise with How to make your nervous system less nervous.

Next step:

If you’re on the edge of writing again, but the energy is not quite there, it might be time for a dopamine detox. Check out a video about that. It’s called How I Tricked My Brain to Like Doing Hard Things.

Whatever your state of mind, you’re loved and needed. Take care of yourself.

Be safe. Much love,

Chazz

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Check out all his work at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: All That Chazz, COVID19, writing, writing advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Deciding to Jump


Remember that summer feeling of standing on the edge of a swimming pool, convincing yourself to jump? The water is warm, but it’s colder than the air so it’s going to be a short shock. The swim will be great, but you still hesitate to make that leap. That’s my experience staring at a blinking cursor just now.

I just woke up from a nap. I can’t wait for the next nap. Do you find your sense of time is thrown off? March lasted eight weeks. It feels like April 1st was a month ago yet Friday whipped around again quickly, didn’t it? My internal clock is confuzzled and I’m having trouble getting things done.

I’m no Farmer Jones, but concerned about the security of the food supply chain, I started a garden. I’m waiting for seeds to arrive. I made cornbread this morning. I play Scrabble and Boggle on my phone a lot. The days slip away and each evening arrives as a fresh surprise. Where did the day go?

I did manage to write 2,000 words yesterday. I feel good about doing that much (or that little). I’m working on a prequel to This Plague of Days. For all the pages I’ve not written yet, I’m giving myself a break. We’re all in extraordinary circumstances. Whatever you do to cope, it’s more or less okay to accomplish more or less. Circumstances are stressful enough without piling on more stress.

For me, getting started on a writing session is the hardest part. Once I take that leap and start swimming, I feel much better. It’s wonderful to lose yourself to a story. I love to read and write. Books make the world go away. Maybe framing the work that way will help to make that jump into creativity a little easier.

For your entertainment and edification, here are this week’s updates from my author site:

My Movie Moments

Preparing for a Post-pandemic World

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes apocalyptic epics and killer crime thrillers. Find your next escape from the world at AllThatChazz.com.



Filed under: COVID19, getting it done, pandemic, This Plague of Days, Writers, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing: Pet Peeves

The following post appeared on my Facebook fan page. Thought it might be of interest here, too.

Last night I told you I didn’t care for characters doing dumb things to create artificial drama in a story. It’s fine if the characters are already dim. It’s annoying when they’re supposed to have bare minimum intelligence but act like morons to get to the next plot point.

Classic example:

The slasher victim runs upstairs where she’ll be trapped instead of sprinting out the back door. They’re often athletic cheerleaders in those movies. My daughter’s a cheerleader and tumbler. She could backflip away from a masked killer with a knife faster than he could run.

What else makes reading a chore?

1. Big blocks of text, run-on sentences and sentences that are not varied in length.

2. Exhaustive physical descriptions of characters. Readers usually fill in those details based on a few broad brushstrokes.

3. Cruelty for its own sake. Jesus Diaz has endured torture, but it does not devolve into torture porn. Instead, the dialogue is witty and clever, and the scene advances the plot. He’s a hitman, but he often talks and cons his way out of trouble.

4. Footnotes. I’m reading a novel called Dietland at the moment. The descriptions are fresh. (“My heart fluttered like a moth caught in a lampshade.”) However, the footnotes are a superfluous gimmick meant to lend credulity to the fiction. No need.

5. Chapters that go on too long.

6. Ending the story forty pages short of the end of the book.

7. Getting bogged down in so many technical details that the reader is beaten over the head with the writer’s research.

8. A story with one grim tone. I want a roller coaster ride where I can cry one minute and laugh the next. I slide lots of jokes and irony in amongst the horror. When done right, it doesn’t spoil the tone. It enhances the reading experience. Talk to any nurse, funeral director or cop. Gallows humor abounds in the face of horror.

9. Lazy writing turned The Walking Dead from somewhat interesting into a hilarious hate watch. Lazy writing asks you to overlook too much and makes the adventure too easy.

Another example is an old legal drama called The Rainmaker. The premise is a young, inexperienced lawyer takes on the system and wins. The problem with the screenplay is things go far too smooth and easy for him at every turn. He breezes through the plot unopposed. It’s a win without a triumph if the bad guys fall over just because you show up.

10. An unsatisfying ending. Hate ’em, but there are all kinds of endings.

I can do happily-ever-after. (Citizen Second Class yields an unexpected kind of happy-ever-after, for instance.) Sometimes it’s happily-ever-after-for-now. Triumph that comes at great sacrifice is good. I like to offer slivers of hope for the future, even amid chaos. I enjoy Twilight Zone endings. I don’t mind a good cliffhanger at all as long as I see it coming. (Hence, This Plague of Days, Season One is called This Plague of Days *Season One*, just like a television series should leave you breathless for the next season.)

What’s an unsatisfying ending? Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was a triumph of special effects for its day. I guess that’s why no one noticed that screenplay was missing a third act. It’s kind of like how Johnny Cash was a great success but he didn’t sing so much as talk.

Johnny Cash, the original white rapper. (Did I just blow your mind?)

What are your pet peeves?

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I write killer crime thrillers and a lot of books about the end of the world. Check out all my books at my author site, AllThatChazz.com.

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

Forget 2018. Write more books in 2019.

THE NIGHT MAN COVER

(This is the cover for my next thriller. It’s coming out next week. Excited yet? Me, too! And now, on with the show.)

As the last hour of 2018 winds down, here are my offerings to writers to start off 2019 right:

  • Resolutions are forgotten. Work on habits instead.
  • Pop quiz, hotshot: If you have a plot problem and you aren’t coming up with answers, you’re asking the wrong questions. (This principle applies to lots of things.)
  • Plan. Plan for the plan to go awry. Have a plan B. Shoot the hostage.
  • Do not compare your progress to others. That way madness lies.
  • Listen to your editors and trusted beta readers. Don’t pay too much attention to reviewers and don’t write by committee. You don’t know those people. I just read a review that made me think, “It’s called character development. I have no regrets.” And I don’t. Movin’ on.
  • Go get some exercise. It’s good for your brain and writing is hell on the body.
  • Dump what’s not working. “Never quit,” is a well-meaning but brainless strategy.
  • Don’t expect everyone to love everything you do. I gave up sending my books to my Dad. I’m not his taste and I don’t dig his library, either. That’s okay.
  • Don’t check your reviews so much. We need them but I’m weaning myself off checking them obsessively. Every time I feel the urge I slap myself hard. Some teeth are getting loose but I shall persevere.
  • Don’t check your ads too quickly, either. The data you see isn’t actionable immediately. Give it a bit of time. Go write some more.
  • Working with a solid graphic designer is great. Check out their pre-mades. You may find treasures there. I sure have.
  • When you find a good editor, stick with them and consult them if they’re open to that kind of contact. I’ve never met my editor in person but we’re friends.
  • Get more sleep and pay attention to the ideas that hit you as you wake up. Those are often the best of the day.
  • Pay attention to your energy patterns. I write best if I write early. If I write late, my brain is overstimulated and I get insomnia which messes with tomorrow’s writing.
  • Listen to these podcasts: The Book Marketing Show with Dave Chesson, the Novel Marketing Podcast, the Sci-fi & Fantasy Marketing Podcast and The Prolific Writer.
  • Write often, not necessarily daily. Everybody’s got varied commitments and their own speed.
  • Start a mailing list ten years ago. Or today, if you must.
  • Don’t doubt someone’s quality because they appear to write faster than you. Or slower. Just give it up Judge Judy and cut the string Chatty Cathy.
  • Do write quickly enough that you keep the whole book in your head, just like the reader will.
  • Research before or after. Don’t slow down to research during the writing session. Put in XXX, figure it out later and fill it in later.
  • Writing sprints will probably make you write faster. If you can’t stand the competition, beat the clock and use the Pomodoro technique. (Pomodoro apps are everywhere. Really, Check under your couch cushions and behind the stove.)
  • Get Grammarly or ProWritingAid. Don’t depend on them exclusively but proofing software will save you and your editor time.
  • Consider using Vellum to format if you can. Otherwise, outsource. (I’m not so keen on Scrivener for formatting anymore.)
  • Longer isn’t necessarily better. Avoid the saggy middle and tighten. No one but that one pedantic reviewer is fixated on word count. Real readers want plot, characters, and to feel something.
  • Don’t be overly fixated on the price to word count ratio. Readers appreciate talent as long as you aren’t cheating them of story or milking them with too high a price point. They could afford to buy a tablet, a phone or an e-reader so don’t price everything as if it’s a fire sale.
  • Themes emerge. Don’t plan them up front or the story will be boring. Let that happen organically, between the lines and out of the mouths of your characters, not you.
  • Someone will assume they know you because of what you write. They have no fucking idea but smile and don’t bother trying to dissuade them unless it gets far too presumptuous and insulting. “Why, yes, mum, because I do write crime thrillers, therefore, I am a serial killer. And the research for all that erotica? Goodness, it is exhausting but strangers I meet at bus stations are very helpful!” (I don’t know why that voice in my head is British but no matter. There’s a choir bouncing around my skull all the time.)
  • Actually, never tell anyone how much you make. It’ll either be too little or too much. Don’t give them an opening. Keep your dukes up. Some people have decided to be transparent about their book earnings. I applaud them for sharing specifics and trying to encourage others but be ready. Somebody’s going to be snarky about it no matter how pure your intentions.
  • Help another writer if you can. If you’re being helped, don’t take too much of their time. We’ve all got shit to do and lots of it.
  • Join 20BooksTo50K on Facebook. Read the FAQ. Learn, learn, learn. 
  • Try for a BookBub. Keep trying. You probably won’t get it but the fun of anticipation is almost as good as purchasing a lottery ticket.
  • Avoid paralysis by analysis. It’s not helping.
  • Subscribe to Chris Fox’s YouTube channel.
  • Subscribe to Dave Chesson’s YouTube channel.
  • There is nothing at all wrong with writing in coffee shops. Some writers and civilians get their asses out of joint on this point. However, it’s great to go to a place where you don’t trust the wi-fi. It allows you to write without the temptations of distraction. The ideal gift for a writer is a gift card for more caffeine. 
  • If you do access the internet in public places, invest in PureVPN software so hackers can’t pinch your secret pork roast recipes.
  • Don’t sit so much if you can help it and take movement breaks. Pushups and situps really break up a day and make you glad to get back to writing. If you’re going to get a standing desk, wear comfortable shoes and get a good mat or you won’t use it.
  • Punctuation is for clarity. Comma placement can be idiosyncratic. Your book’s style guide is what you say it is. Be consistent.
  • Talk about your novels less. Write more.
  • Enjoy the writing life. This is supposed to be fun and it sure as hell beats roofing.
  • Someone will try to kill your dream and stifle your joy in writing. Stab them in the neck with a #2 pencil. Metaphorically. Probably. Then move on.
  • Writer’s block? Get the pen moving by writing about your block. Usually, it’s just about getting started. Then you’re off and running.
  • Every day you procrastinate is another day closer to zero book sales. When there are no book sales, you’re closer to the day you start selling your shoes or murdering old ladies for a little bit of the inheritance money. Stop procrastinating. Save a little old lady and your dignity.
  • You might get a review that kills your passion for a series. Be prepared for this and go ahead anyway. What do they know? It is preferable to finish. However, if lack of sales tells you it’s a waste of time to write that next book in the series, consider the sunk cost fallacy and move on. We are not immortal. Time is angry, short and it flies fast.
  • Some write for money, some for art’s sake, others for spite. Doesn’t matter what your motivation is as long as you can say you wrote for the reader when you’re done.
  • Somebody’s going to hate you and they’ll make it personal. Block. Mute. Hire thugs. Move on. (If that third thing comes up in court, we never had this conversation.) Success and support from your team is your shield. I, for instance, have a team of thugs on standby.
  • When someone asks if you can make any money as a writer, tell them, “My good man, that is an impertinent question and you have forgotten your manners. If you must know, I make all the money and I’m buying an island next month. Why do you ask? How little money do you make?” Hey, they were rude so you can lie all you want. (British again. Hm.)
  • Stop worrying about things that are beyond your control. Do the things you can. Get a hug, give a hug. (Make it consensual but get one. We need them. It’s a cold world.) Buy a homeless guy a cookie. I do that each Saturday and he’s come to expect me. That’s one of the highlights of my week and it seems to cheer him up, too. No, I’m not kidding.
  • Go for a walk when the plot is not working. Cruise Wikipedia for inspiration. Dance with a dog. Catch an episode of Derry Girls and enjoy the musicality of Irish people swearing with abandon. Play poker with a raccoon. But not for long or all that wool-gathering is really just more wallowing in the Pit of Procrastination. Don’t fall in.
  • You will write something brilliant, something you consider your best work. It will not catch on. That doesn’t mean you were wrong. It very well might be your best work. Best does not necessarily equal sales. The premise is flawed because writers only talk to other writers. All we talk about is craft and quality and marketing and how nothing’s working. Readers don’t necessarily have our high standards. You only hear from the ones who love you or hate you. Most readers just read, appreciate your books or not, and then go read something else. Their analysis is not so granular. They’re just trying to distract themselves from the inevitable heat death of the universe and the utter meaninglessness of our existence. Oh, sweet Christ! (And again, the British accent. Hmm.)
  • Yes, it has all been done. So what? It hasn’t been done by you in your unique fantabulous way.
  • If it’s too unique, it probably sucks unless it’s Into the Spiderverse, a movie that will inspire generations of creatives.
  • Sometimes I do book doctoring and book project management. That has a certain set of parameters. Please don’t ask me to write your vague ideas for you. You’re looking for a ghostwriter, not a book doctor. I would ghostwrite if I could type faster.
  • Learn to type faster in any case.
  • Don’t write diversity for diversity’s sake. Write diversity because diversity reflects our world and is more interesting.
  • Don’t use fuck too much. Fuck! (See, that second one was rather gratuitous.)
  • Don’t rely on swearing to punch up dialogue. That’s lazy. It’s fine for comedic effect or to reflect reality. When I accidentally dropped caulking gel into my wife’s hair, she did not say, “Golly!” That would have undersold the emphasis she meant to convey.
  • You don’t necessarily have to get someone else to write your ad copy but at least ask someone else to read it before you use it.
  • You have to give away and/or sell one metric shit-ton of books to get 8 grams of reviews. (Measures are approximate.)
  • Read Mastering Amazon Ads by Brian Meeks.
  • Read This is Marketing by Seth Godin.
  • Read Writing Without Rules by Jeff Somers. (Too many silly footnotes but a good book.)
  • Read great fiction. (Find it here.)
  • Watch old episodes of Hogan’s Heroes on YouTube and marvel that somebody made a comedy out of a WWII POW camp. Suddenly your plot twists don’t seem so undoable and ludicrous, do they?
  • I don’t feel the need to crush all my enemies. Mostly, ignoring them will do nicely.

You’ll find more scintillating posts on my author site at AllThatChazz.com at these links: 

Is this the end of the Apocalypse?

This post is about the bad news for post-apocalyptic and dystopian writers. It’s a genre in decline.

I met a Christmas Angel

The event that gave me hope (and I’m not generally a hopeful sort.)

This is your Apocalypse

2018 was something awful, wasn’t it? 2019 won’t be much better. The ship is sinking and in this rant about the real-world challenges we face in the year and years ahead, I encourage everyone of like mind to start bailing fast. This post is not for the faint of heart.

To arrive here I crossed all Seven Seas

 

A little excerpt from my upcoming thriller, The Night Man.

And that’s it for 2018. Fuck that year. Let’s go make a better one.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute and I write suspenseful crime thrillers and apocalyptic epics. If you dig my sling, read my novels. If that grabs you, join the newsletter at AllThatChazz.com or join my Facebook Fan page here. It’s all great fun, I swear to Thor.

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

Books as Milestones of Life

I just started reading Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, one of my top three favorite Canadian writers of science fiction. In the Acknowledgments, he mentions that he hadn’t published anything for three years due to the loss of his younger brother to cancer. That sad note got me thinking about my life’s milestones for reading and writing. Reading is an escape and a reward for me. Sometimes it’s a job. Through it all, I associate certain books with my development as a person. I wonder if you feel the same.

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, made me grateful not to be born earlier in history. I didn’t think I could do better than the Hardy Boys Series as a kid. Later, Ian Fleming fed macho dreams of becoming a killer spy. Growing up in rural Nova Scotia, I couldn’t wait to escape to big cities. Books and movies fueled my teenage dreams of doing something different, of being someone different. I wanted a life that offered more choices and I was sure that, somehow, the life of a writer would make that dream come true.

A boy trained by Martians in Stranger in a Strange Land taught me more about theme than any dry book report at school. That book also taught me that fiction can reach beyond being merely entertaining. Stranger in a Strange Land is about how to view the world through clear, innocent eyes. 

Hanging out in Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon taught me science fiction doesn’t have to take itself too seriously. I met Spider a few times when we both lived in Halifax. Nice guy. He is his fiction. He tells fun, optimistic and humane tales. (Callahan’s Law: “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.”) Optimism isn’t quite my thing but I do try to hit hopeful notes or else, what’s the point? Even my apocalyptic stories have a lot of jokes.

In my first year of university, I enrolled in a survey course about the philosophies of history. It was like a year devoted to Wikipedia, speeding from the Bible and Gilgamesh to Dante to interpreting the art of the Renaissance and well beyond. I learned a lot. The experience also gave me a humbling inkling of how much I didn’t know.

I read a lot of American authors in university. Holed up in my dorm, I had so much time to read. I wish I had that kind of time now. Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Mickey Spillane’s I, the Jury and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood made me think I could write killer thrillers one day. (I did and do.)

At 20, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior felt like a revelation. Seven years later, it would feel trite. I couldn’t sense the magic anymore. I’d like to go back to enjoy Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus. However, it’s a rare book that I read twice with the same level of enjoyment. You can only read Fight Club once for the first time.

At 22, I moved to Toronto. I stayed with a friend for my first month in the city. I should have devoted all my time to the job and apartment hunt. All I wanted to do was read The Stand and It. And then everything else by Stephen King.

Reading Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom and Story of My Life, I wanted Jay McInerney’s career. American Psycho made me think Bret Easton Ellis’s fame would be fun, or at least interesting. Working for a publisher, I sold American Psycho to bookstores when it came out. (Oh, the arguments we had about freedom of expression. Some of those dainty cocktail parties came close to devolving into a melee.)

Though I’d trained in journalism, my education about writing novels began with William Goldman. I was on the 28th floor of my apartment building on a summer night. I thought I was safely in the dénouement. Goldman ambushed me with a killer last line. I threw that book across the room as I shouted, “He got me again!” You know Goldman wrote The Princess Bride and many famous movies. Please read his novels. He’s the most underrated American novelist still living.

Working at Harlequin, I read a lot of manuscripts, both vetting and proofreading them. One romance about three lottery winners stands out in my mind as a really great story. Honestly, I’ve pretty much forgotten the rest of that year and a half of romances and men’s adventure novels except for this one awful line: “She bounced ideas like balls off the walls of her mind.”

Unhappy and angry at a rude co-worker, I began writing a short story. It was pretty much a silly revenge fantasy. A quarter of the way through I tore it up and threw it away. I didn’t want to be that guy. I gave up on all writing for years. Depressed and frustrated, I didn’t dream of becoming Jay McInerney anymore. At 28, it was too late to be a Boy Wonder. I told myself it was all too late. Find something else to obsess over, Rob. I still had no idea I would write thirty books by the age of 53.

I went back to school. My reading diet was non-fiction, entirely medical. Anatomy suggested to me there might be a god. Pathology told me there had to be a devil, too. I learned a lot but read nothing for pleasure. Coming out the other end of that training felt like coming off a starvation diet. I got back to reading voraciously. I started writing again, too. I did some freelance work writing magazine articles, columns, and speeches. I also submitted short stories to contests and won a few. (Several of those stories wound up in one of my first self-publishing efforts, Murders Among Dead Trees.)

A long trip across Canada made me appreciate fiction in audiobook form. I’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing once but I’ve listened to it twice. I wouldn’t have enjoyed A Song of Ice and Fire if I hadn’t stuck it in my head via audio. (Too much heraldry for me to slog through on the page. However, the audio performance is truly a master class in voice acting. Audio was my way in when the printed word felt like work.)

I got something out of the books I didn’t like, too. The pace of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was too slow for me but I loved Oryx & Crake. I don’t write off authors simply because they wrote one book that wasn’t for me. I love Kurt Vonnegut’s work and the man so much I made him a character in Wallflower, my time travel novel.

I’ve read almost everything Vonnegut wrote but I couldn’t get into Galapagos. Sometimes you’ll see pissy proclamations that promise, “I’ll never read anything by this writer again!” Okay, but that suggests that might be a reader who wants the same book over and over again. (If you want to go deeper on this, I recommend the latest Cracked podcast about fandom, both positive and toxic. It’s a great and funny episode.)

I make time for reading because I love it. As a writer, reading is part of my job, too. The joy of good fiction is that it makes a movie in my head. One Christmas when I was very young, I received Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. As a snowstorm raged, I crawled into bed with that book and a tall canister of Smarties. I ate the candy and read about an inventor, his children, and their magical car. I felt warm and safe and transported reading that book. Every time I read or write, I’m trying to get back to that same feeling, that retreat from a raging world.

Our world often feels broken and rageful now. It’s a relief to step back into fiction and get shelter from the storm. My teenage dream came true, by the way. I’m writing full-time. With a few adjustments and compromises, I’m pretty close to being the person I meant to be.

And now I offer shelter.

~ Robert Chazz Chute just released a new apocalyptic trilogy called AFTER Life. Check out all his books at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Books, My fiction, publishing, robert chazz chute, Science Fiction, Writers, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Downsizing: A dire warning for writers

I finally saw Downsizing, a (black?) (comedic?) sci-fi movie with Matt Damon on Netflix. Anyone who writes should see it. It’s a clinic in how a story can go terribly awry.

There are so many approaches to writing. I’m not usually so Judgy McJudgypants. Someone objected to my use of foreshadowing in one of my series, for instance. You know what? Hop on the bus, Gus. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover…um, I mean, there are lots of ways to write and they aren’t all for you. That said, Downsizing is really bad. 

(Warning: very mild spoilers follow.)

The movie is so bad it’s fascinating. It can’t decide what it is. Kristen Wiig is in it for a hot minute and you’ll soon miss her. I like Matt Damon in most any movie. Christoph Waltz is being Christoph Waltz, for God’s sake! That almost always works! The cinematography is pretty, the actors are able and the premise gets lots of points for originality. This is a watchable mess. However, you’ll soon understand why the film wasn’t a hit. The marketing couldn’t hit a target because the plot was so incoherent.

This movie falls down in the writing and directing departments. At first, the story fails because the plot takes too long to get going. The show starts 10 years before the action begins! They invent a science (and hey, look, I’m sympathetic. That’s hard. I just did that in my latest book.) Sadly, the plot has no destination once it’s finally on its way. This thing is all over the road. Is it a goofy marriage story? Sci-fi utopia? Sci-fi dystopia? Cli-fi? Apocalypse? A mid-life crisis? Is it about a person finally asserting their personhood and making some decisions, daring to be selfish…or unselfish? The director didn’t know, either. You’ll be left a little baffled.

(For a much better movie about a mid-life nebbish figuring out how to take control of his life, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. Or the original with Danny Kaye, for that matter.)

When we’re talking novels, it’s often a good idea to “come in late.” In other words, you plop the reader into the action. No info dumps. Get the story up and moving and sift the needed detail and character development amid the action as needed. This is not always so. A common trope in the zombie genre: They don’t show you how the apocalypse begins. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and BOOM! Zombies! Same with a movie I love, 28 Days Later. Swimming against that tide, I devoted the first book in the Plague of Days trilogy to the fall of civilization. It’s interesting to me to see how things come apart when societal norms and services break down. In AFTER Life, Inferno, my new zombie apocalypse, we start in media res and get right to the action.

Necessary ad: AFTER Life, Purgatory was just released. 

This post continues below.

AFTER LIFE COVER 2

In the end of Downsizing, the main character arrives at a decision. This is the confusing climax of the movie. You really don’t know what to root for. Did Matt Damon win or lose? You will not understand whether his decision is a brave choice or if he’s just being weak and caving again. (At least I wasn’t sure. They even make the mistake of undermining the global emergency. You won’t even be sure how serious the peril really is. What are the stakes? Who knows?)

Your parents can be a wonderful example or a serve as a terrible warning about what you don’t want to become. So it is with Downsizing. As a writer, you probably won’t like it but you could learn a lot from it. I did.


~ Robert Chazz Chute sometimes comes off as crotchety. He’s really Canada’s sweetheart. Sorry, eh? Check out his latest releases at AllThatChazz.com.

 

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

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

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

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