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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Top 5 reasons to join the Ultimate Blog Challenge

Last month I completed the Author Blog Challenge. I blog anyway, so why another blog challenge? 

1. Daily writing prompts help me keep posting. I don’t always follow them, but when you’re stuck, it makes blogging easy, or at least easier.

2. A commitment to blogging every day helps Search Engine Optimization so the blog readership grows.

3. Community. I look forward to discovering new bloggers and I’m hoping more new bloggers (and readers) will discover me.

4. Networking. The Ultimate Blog Challenge encourages tweeting links so profiles are raised.

5. Momentum. I just completed a blog a day for all of June written by The Magic That is Me. Why not take a break? Some people take being tired as a reason to ease off. But it’s precisely because I am tired that I should do this challenge. It’s energizing (and commitment is so sexy.) When you blog every day, you get on a streak and it makes you want to continue. As long as the quality stays high, I’m okay with the quantity of the output. I write all the time. Deadlines are my friend.

Most important, I have a writing career and a readership to build.

Now is not the time to rest.

This is just the beginning. This is number 1.

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AB Challenge 25: The 10 Worst Book Acknowledgements. Ever.

Available soon on Amazon!

I’ve thanked the usual suspects for their contributions privately in emails and publicly on my acknowledgements and dedication pages for all my books. With that attitude of gratitude well established, I’m going to take some liberty with the Author Blog Challenge writing prompt to acknowledge (not thank) a few of the elements that have contributed to my books:

1. Thanks to the elite secret military organization in which I attained the rank of Commander at the age of six. I kept talking to myself in the mirror, and addressing myself as Commander, until my late 20s. Hey, I grew up in a small town. Whatever gets you through the tough times. More despair = more talking to myself.

2. Thanks to the bullies who fuelled my revenge fantasies. My work is full of a lot of revenge fantasy and you started me on the path. Sorry about those groin injuries, boys.

3. Thanks to my Hapkido instructor for showing me the ways of skilled violence. I know what chipped teeth, broken bones and a smashed nose feel like. My experience of combat is not theoretical.

4. Thanks to the small town in which I grew up. In my fiction, you are Poeticule Bay, Maine. You can sample my small-town claustrophobia in The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, coming out this week on Amazon. The town almost becomes a character in the Poeticule Bay stories. A bad character.

Paranormal persuasion and scary stories.

5. To my third grade teacher. I murdered you in my mind a thousand times. After the first couple of hundred delightful excursions in blood and righteousness, I explored more clever and fantastic ways to achieve a satisfactory death for you. Now in my fiction, people sometimes die in unorthodox ways. In death, you contributed to literature in a lasting way that you never equalled in your role as a teacher.

6. Thanks to Anger. (You got me through when I had nothing else left but #7.)

7. Thanks to Sadness. When I told my mother I was depressed at age thirteen, she replied, “You are not!” (Loop back to #6.)

8. Thanks to Sex, Movies, Books and TV, which broke me out of that awful #6/#7 loop.

9. Thanks to Fear, you ugly son of a bitch. Go ahead. Keep chasing me. You are my motivation.

10. Thank you to all my enemies. I will crush you in everlasting literature. If I haven’t gotten around to you yet, wait. You are on The List. Buy my books and keep an eye out for clues.

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Author Blog Challenge 19: Choose how to grow your author platform

The Author Blog Challenge writing prompt was: What are the three most important things you are doing to grow your platform? This is such a good question and everyone has so many different answers. I don’t have an answer. I have a survey of what I do. How to grow your author platform? Eh…I have a menu of stuff from which to choose. Choose to do what you’ll enjoy so you can be effective and sustain it.

Just today I read a fellow indie author opine that one day a week of concentrated social media, pumping and pimping, hadn’t helped him a bit. Mind you, his sample was a bit too small. He was only talking about a month, which translated to four workdays. However, he’s not alone in the complaint. You can do a lot of work and still not move the needle in a measurable way, and measurable is really what counts. I suspect what was missing was connection. You have to be interested in people and what they’re doing. Interacting is better than spouting (he spouted.) Failing earnest interaction, when you just can’t bear to rip your heart out of your chest again for another blog post or comment thread, do what I do and make more jokes about strangling mimes.

I’m really very consistent in establishing my web presence. I do something every day and here’s what I’m active in: three Twitter accounts (though the main one is @rchazzchute); Facebook pages; a podcast broadcast two times a week; the author site (AllThatChazz.com) and, of course, this site. I even do a little bit of Google Plus. I always think of G+ last, but I know I picked up a new reader (who promised to review my book!) through G+ today. I know that’s a lot. This is part of my full-time job, no whining. The rest of the time, I’m writing, and no, there’s not time for much of anything else. Most people can’t devote the amount of time I do to marketing and promotion, and yes, I realize I’m very lucky to have such a supportive spouse in She Who Must Be Obeyed.

When you do a lot of social media, you do risk annoying people. I certainly risked that today. My Amazon free promo day was plastered across my podcast, my Twitter and retweeted across at least 50 other Twitter accounts. I emailed some people and reached out a bit through Facebook. Somebody must have thought, “Yeah, yeah, we get it. You’re excited about your book but I got a sammich here!” Even as I was promoting, I noticed a fellow author got cussed out severely on Facebook for his pleas. In my defence, everyone who tweeted me got my support, too. I share. They share. Some would say that adds up to a lot of noise and signal degradation. On the other hand, my novel rose from a dark place in my skull a couple of days ago to #545 on the general Amazon list last I checked (UPDATE: and #73 in Mysteries & Thrilers! Yay!) Self-help for Stoners shot up 140,000 places as a collateral benefit so something’s selling in addition to all those free books.

I curate a lot of helpful information for indie authors. On the one hand, this blog brings me a lot of traffic, but they (well…you) aren’t necessarily interested in reading suspense, funny and weird self-help in the form of fiction, strange humour and crime novels. Some people say writing about writing is a complete waste of time. I say write what you’re passionate about and you’ll never run out of blog posts. I don’t want to blog about animal husbandry. It’s icky hanging out with naked animals.

When I joined Klout, I had assumed most of my influence came through this blog or Twitter. Klout says it’s Facebook where I make the most impact (though my Ex Parte Press page only has 37 likes and my personal page only 177 friends. That’s lousy, though it’s almost 177 more friends that I ever had elsewhere.) I doubt Klout, but it’s hard to say. Besides, maybe that’s too reductionist. In layered marketing, you do a lot of things in order to appear to be just about everywhere at once, like The Flash or herpes.

So what are the three things I do that are most effective? I’m sorry. No easy answers. I couldn’t narrow it down that much. I think my podcast, though small, helps me reach out to new people around the world and when the podcast went up at 6 pm this evening, listeners snapped up the free promo. Triberr is effective. World Literary Cafe Tweet Teams help. I’m exploring new ways to advertise on a tiny (to zero budget) like Masquerade Crew, Kindle Nation Daily, and Kindle Book Review. I have to reach out to book reviewers to get noticed. I have to find crime novelists or suspense writers willing to give up a blurb for Bigger Than Jesus.

There’s only one thing I am sure will help me sell more books: I have to get the next book up. And the next, and the next and so on until I am discovered, die or you decide you want you r kids back with all their thumbs attached.

What to do?

Do what you can. Do what you love. Get the writing done first. Nothing should cut into your writing time.

How do I do it? I don’t sleep much. It’s like cramming for finals every day and night.

It would be hell, except I’m having fun.

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Author Blog Challenge 12: How to not write your book

Good thing I wrote a self-help book full of motivation in the form of fiction or this post would really bum me out.

Today’s Author Blog Challenge prompt is:

What’s the most challenging part of your book process?

1. Facebook has some pretty cool memes, I bet. I better check before I settle into the real work.

2. My podcast helps me market my books, so that’s sort of like writing, right?

3. Can I really start the day without watching my recording of last night’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart first? If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right, baby!

4. What can I do about my book while still listening to my favorite podcasts: The David Feldman Show, The 40-year-old Boy and The Joe Rogam Experience? Oh, and look, there’s a new Best of the Left and The Jimmy Dore Show! And, oh, look, it’s bedtime.

5. Reading is research, right? I should read another book before I write another chapter. Just to be safe.

6. I hear food screaming up in the kitchen. It’s in distress and I need to smother it with my colon to put it out of its misery.

7. I could do some laundry or feed the skinny pig or make even more coffee.

8. If I don’t get the dishes done before She Who Must Be Obeyed gets home, she’ll give me The Look.

9. Maybe I should go take care of some errands because once the kids get home it will be too late. (For what, I’m not sure.)

10. I wonder if there’s anything else on the Internet? And what time does Twitter close today exactly?

The most challenging part of my book process is everything but my book process.

Oh, look! There’s that helpful fear of cataclysmic failure! That train is always on time. 

Gotta go write.

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Author Blog Challenge 9: The key to a great critique group is… (plus a funny bonus)

English: Smith & Wesson 686 6" .357 Magnum

English: Smith & Wesson 686 6″ .357 Magnum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*If you’ve just popped in for the funny (and insightful!) bonus, you’ll find the link to the Writing Critique Group Decoder at the bottom of this post. Thanks for visiting ChazzWrites.com and please do subscribe.

Today’s Author Blog Challenge writing prompt is: Have you participated in a critique groups? If so, how did it work out for you? If not, why have you avoided them to this point?

True story:

I visited a writing group and much of the discussion was dominated by an imperious woman who was keen to get a critiquing group started. Only she pronounced it: “Kr-eye-teaking.” Then she said, “Kudos to you!” But she pronounced it “KA-doos“.

I didn’t want to be part of her critique group.

Then another writing group invited new members and I checked it out.

Nice folks, but they were light on writing experience and didn’t read the genres in which I write. Worse, one guy (who would have been 25% of the group) spoke at great length about the book he would someday write. It was sci-fi, which was fine, but he was too invested in theory and he didn’t have a story. He had a wacky setting which took half an hour to explain. It would be hard to get invested in a story where the characters were inert alien rods…unless we’re talking about the aliens behind Third Rock from the Sun. (That’s kind of funny if you remember the details of that sit com.)

I didn’t join that group, either. We didn’t have enough in common in what we liked to read and write and if I had to hear another word about this amazing civilization living in the rings of Saturn, I would have had to shoot myself in the face.

But I do have a critique group and that’s working out great. Well, not exactly. They’re my beta team.

For my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I needed a beta team to proof my manuscript and find bugs. It was the betas that reminded me that Dirty Harry didn’t carry a .357 Magnum. It was a .44. The beta team caught that the Coen brothers of movie fame don’t spell their name with an h. (I guess I was thinking of the Cohen brothers of legal fame.)

The key to finding your critique group, or beta team, is: Choose wisely. Say no. Don’t settle.

I found a great team in a SWAT trainer, an ex-military buddy, a teacher, a psychologist, two fellow writers and the funniest woman I know who also happens to be a voracious reader. They’re all getting signed copies of the paperback with a spot in the Acknowledgements section and help with their books when they decide to write them. And lollipops.

*BONUS:

A while back I wrote The Critique Group Decoder as a service to writers uninitiated in the dance. Click for the laughs. Stay for the reality.

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Author Blog Challenge (plus a sneak peek podcast*): Outlining, pantsing, spilling & sprinting

If you just popped in for the suspenseful sneak peek podcast, click here to hear The First Fiction Friday Edition of my podcast.

The Author Blog Challenge prompt asked how I stay organized as I write. My methods have changed over time. I used to come up with plots on the fly early on. Then I got scared off from that strategy when I got deep into a dreadfully long novel and found I had to backtrack fifty pages. Hitting a dead end is, well, death. It’s a waste of time and energy and I hate it.

I started outlining because I was writing big books and I didn’t want to lose whole sections of my book in which I was already invested. When you write 80 – 100,000 words or (ye gods!) more, an outline helps. I didn’t write an outline with Roman numerals and all that formal, high school nonsense. Instead, I planned the book one cogent sentence at a time. I described the actions in each chapter to plot the arcs of A and B stories. I looked for where those paths would logically cross, discover the beats and suss out the high and low points. Index cards got to be too much to keep track of, so in the end my outline was just three pages with a numbered list. I read and reread the outline and then I didn’t look at it again. That got me through the big books pretty well.

Recently I read Run by Blake Crouch, and as Blair Warner used to say on The Facts of Life,

“I just had another one of my brilliant ideas!”

It’s about speed. I resolved to write a crime novel with the same furious pace as Run — a book I couldn’t put down. Yeah. I know it’s a cliché, but this cliché is both apt and true in the case of Run. (Great book. Buy it.)

I resolved to do the thing I love with stories. The chapters would be relatively short. They would skip along. There would be lots of twists and turns to my racetrack. I wrote Bigger Than Jesus in about a month, one chapter a day, roughly 2,000 words each. There was no outline. Instead, I wrote with the expectation that I’d get my hero into a troubling cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. If I wrote myself into a corner in the process, too bad. I’d be clever and write my way out of it and keep moving forward. Writing like this is as fresh and as exciting as walking a tightrope naked in a high wind over a crowd of angry TSA agents with a new shipment of polar mint rubber gloves.

Many nights I went to bed thinking that I had no idea what I would write in the morning, but I trusted that I could figure it out. I believed in lightning strikes. The juice kept flowing and with it came a high level of complexity. It’s a crime novel so people lie a lot. If I’d taken longer to write it, it would have necessarily been less complex because I’d be afraid of losing track of the threads. There’s shocking emotional depth, too. Nobody, including me, foresaw the strange and sad angle on my main character’s childhood. It sneaks up.

Why did this work?

1. I knew the opening chapter and the last line so I had a target at which to aim. I’m also a more confident writer than I was with those early attempts, I suppose.

2. If I didn’t know what was going to happen next, the reader wouldn’t be able to guess, either.

3. Speed. The book is not especially long and I wrote it all in a short space of time so I could keep it all in my head at once without getting lost.

How else do I keep organized? 

In the Point File, I note things like street names I’ll use twice and aspects like eye colour so they don’t change from the beginning of the book to the end. I did mess up in having twin brothers as bad guys with names that were awfully similar. I had to go back to make sure I was talking about the right brother at the correct stage of the book.

I always have a Spill File handy so if I do write something that I end up dumping, I save it for later. I might change my mind about how useless it is or I might use it another time in another story. In Bigger Than Jesus, the writing went so quickly and breezily that I never had anything to pour much into the Spill File. I wrote fast and then went back to the stage of writing where I’m always sure I’m a deluded idiot: revisions. I cut, prune and delve. More of the jokes come clear on the second pass, too. Typically, by the third pass, I begin to feel good about the book again. Bigger Than Jesus was just about as easy as writing a blog post a day, actually. Maybe easier sometimes because what dictated the action was logic and surprise. When in doubt, surprise!

Some writers labor under a notion that I once shared: To be good, you must write slowly, perhaps even at a glacial pace, and the serifs are where your heart and soul get squeezed in and choked for blood. There are books I have tinkered with for years. One short story went through many incarnations over a year before I felt I nailed the landing and deserved 10s from all the judges. However, Self-help for Stoners came together quickly and everything worked out well with that.

Bigger Than Jesus will be released in the next week or so and all the feedback I’m getting from the editorial team tells me I’m glad I didn’t buy into the idea that it had to come slowly to be worthy. I think that’s true sometimes, but not always — not for every book and not for every writer. That’s good news because I’m using the same strategy with the next book in the series. It’s coming fast and well and I do enjoy the danger of not knowing what happens in the next chapter. Those angry TSA agents are actually spurring me to succeed.

*BONUS:

Please take a few minutes to enjoy my latest podcast on the author site. It’s The First Fiction Friday Edition! 

It’s a sneak peek at Chapter 8 from my first novel in the Poeticule Bay Series:

An old woman is lost with her tiny dog in the Maine woods and snow is on the way.

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Author Blog Challenge: Writing to Love

Wikipedia

Wikipedia (Photo credit: Octavio Rojas)

The latest prompt for the Author Blog Challenge asks what we love to read and how does that feed our writing? Good question. I read voraciously, and the resource that feeds my writing most these days is…wait for it…Wikipedia. How did writers write before Wikipedia? I think they actually had to go out the front door and into the  world and, let’s face it, no one wants that. At least I don’t and I don’t understand those who do. I’m cozy in my fortified writing bunker, thank you very much.

I’m one of those weirdos who gets lost in dictionaries and encyclopedias. (If you read this blog, you probably are, too.) I look up one thing and get distracted by all the other delicious stuff in there. As I was researching my crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, I consulted The Mob Dictionary, documentaries, a friend who trains SWAT, an ex-military friend and various books on the mob. It was Wikipedia that yielded my main character’s background and contributed to the verisimilitude the story demanded.

I wanted Jesus to be an enforcer who wants out of  the mob.  I had to give him a back story that made the reader understand why he is the way he is. I needed him to be an outsider, so he’s a Cuban among native hispanic New Yorkers. His journey to Florida is sad and, once he arrives, his story becomes more tragic. The key to the character was his childhood and it was Wikipedia where I happened upon more information about the Cuban migration to the United States. Truth gave rise to more believable lies as Fate (um, I am Fate) dumped Jesus from the roaster into the (mostly) proverbial fire. He’s a smart ass, but not as smart as he thinks. He’s more funny, clever and desperate than he is tough. Wikipedia was the seed that led me to understand why the character worships the love of his life the way he does. Like dominoes, one idea leads to another idea which leads to another idea which reveals a pattern which gives rise to a plot. Powered by curiosity, simply traipsing through Wikipedia gave me a book that will be a series I’m really excited about. The last edits are arriving and the graphic designer is working on the cover as I write this. Hoo-bloody-ha!

If you’re stuck, blocked or just noodling, use non-fiction to amp up your fiction and go wander Wikipedia.

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The Author Blog Challenge: My Earliest Memory of Writing is the Typebrighter

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter ke...

The “QWERTY” layout of typewriter keys became a de facto standard and continues to be used long after the reasons for its adoption (including reduction of key/lever entanglements) have ceased to apply. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve accepted Marcie Brock’s Author Blog Challenge to write a fresh post from now until the end of June. The first writing prompt asked what my earliest memory of writing was. It started with my sister’s manual typewriter, an old Underwood. When my sister Cathy went off to college, she left her typewriter behind. As a loner, I’d found something I could do besides playing with little green plastic army men, drawing superheroes and army men and reading books about army men. (How’d I turn out to be such a peacenik, anyway?)

I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, but I do remember spelling typewriter the same way I pronounced it:

T-Y-P-E-B-R-I-G-H-T-E-R

(You just said that out loud to test it out, didn’t you?)

I also had a fondness for cliches that would give me hives now. Check out this from when I first spidered my fingers across the Underwood’s keys:

“Meanwhile, back on the ranch, while searching for a needle in a haystack…”

(At least my comma placement was correct.)

I came up with my own system for typing that isn’t nearly as good as working from the home keys on the QWERTY keyboard and typing properly. Typing class would have been the single most useful thing I could have gotten out of high school, but I couldn’t take it because it wasn’t considered an academic credit (Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!). However, my crappy typing method got me through journalism school and didn’t deter me from working in newspapers, mags and publishing. The (somewhat) great Canadian journalist Pierre Berton was a two-finger, hunt and peck guy who could type pretty fast. Yes, that’s how I rationalized being lame. Still do.

I have taken keyboarding courses (online and in person). When I practice, I do speed up and get more accurate. However, in the heat of composition, I fall back on the habits of that little kid who discovered his sister’s typebrighter. The thing she left behind was her greatest gift to me.

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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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