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

Write and publish with love and fury.

“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

Filed under: All That Chazz, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author Blog Challenge 20: What writers owe (and an insider secret is revealed)

Garley the Persian cat

Garley the Persian cat (Photo credit: arash_rk)

I used to dream that when I finally became an author, I’d write a short acknowledgements section to myself. “Screw you all!” I’d scream. “In your face! I did this myself and I don’t owe anyone anything! Ha!” Then I’d retreat to my hermetically sealed office under a volcano within my island fortress guarded my my loyal ninja monkey assassin clones. I’d have a monocle and a white Persian cat to stroke while I ordered Hellfire missile strikes to rain down upon my enemies. As you can only imagine, that’s almost exactly what my life is like except for the thing about acknowledging people who have helped me on my publishing journey. Unexpectedly, I have the attitude of gratitude. I’m happy to have a deep stock of Hellfire missiles to protect my tropic realm and I’m grateful for all those people who have assisted me in putting out my books.

Yesterday, after my big free promo day, I sat down and wrote a little letter to a bunch of people who have been helpful along the way. Somebody slipped me some dough so I could keep going. Someone else helped me with formatting the first time I attacked the beast. Others were consultants about suitable explosives…”Um, for my crime novel’s plot!” he added hastily.

A lot of people have the wrong idea about self-publishing.

They focus on the self part.

Hitchcock said that a painter only needs a brush and a writer, a pen, but a film director needs an army. These days, indie writers need small armies, too, and many of them are volunteers. 

The key thing is: self-publishing is still publishing. You either need a graphic artist or you need to be one. You need to learn a lot about tech and promotion as well as craft. You can write a good book, but if it has a lousy cover, no one will read it. (The converse is also true, of course.) That’s why I prefer the term “indie” to “self-published”, though to the consternation of a few angry people, I do use those terms interchangeably as a concession to common parlance.

My Beta readers are volunteers. I’ll pay them in lollipops, acknowledgements in the book, a copy of the paperback and, when they’re ready to go indie, I’ll be a resource for them, too. I’m confident each of those readers could write a book if they decided to do so. I’ve thanked them all, for what that’s worth. So far all they’ve received is a book they enjoyed for free but I’ll be sure to get those lollipops to them.

I did find an unusual way to make one person’s day though. If you’re writing a book, you may wish to consider doing this (with their permission.) A great buddy of mine is undergoing treatment for cancer. It’s been a scary time that he has handled with a calm and class that I am sure I could never muster. This guy is one brave SOB. As I was writing the first draft of Bigger Than Jesus, I used his name for one of my characters.

Funny story: I called him up on Skype to ask him if I could keep his name in the book. His microphone wasn’t working. He could hear and see me but I could only see him. However, that worked out for the best because he pantomimed his approval. When somebody is that sick and you can make them laugh and smile as much as he did by putting him in your book? Why wouldn’t you? He loved the idea and showed lots of energy in giving me a thumbs up that made me laugh (and, truth to be told, a little weepy, too.)

I talked to him on the phone the other day. Things are looking up and we’re optimistic that one way or the other, he’s beaten it. Not only will he live a long life, but in a way that is tiny and totally useless except for good feelings and a funny exchange on Skype, he’s  immortalized in literature, too. I’m very grateful my buddy will be around to enjoy all the novels in The Hit Man Series and everything else I write. I’m most happy about that.

If you’re reading the Bigger Than Jesus,

my buddy is the guy wielding the SPAS-12.

Sh. Keep it to yourself.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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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Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , ,

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

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

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