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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writers: Who influences you?

NEW THL COVER JAN 2015 COMPLETE

FYI: Grab your free dark fantasy and a free crime novel here. The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow only!


Everything that has ever happened to us goes into our books. Every slight and terrible vengeance, real or imagined, gets poured in. Here are some of my influences:

1. During a podcast, the guest talked about the Hagakure, the book of the Samurai. It had been a long time since I’d read it, but as soon as he mentioned it, I knew I had an empty place for that puzzle piece in the next book in the Ghosts & Demons Series.

2. When John Cleese was a guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jon mentioned the Choir Invisible. Besides being a funny sketch and a great poem, the reference set off fireworks in my mind. The Choir Invisible became a complex secret society that fights evil in The Haunting Lessons. (We don’t read enough poetry anymore, by the way. Lyricism seeps into our writing when we drink enough of it.)

3. William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride (among many other wonderful novels and screenplays) always catches the reader by surprise. When you are sure what is going to happen next? That’s when he’s got you. I love that. I do that. It makes plot development a joy and dares you to stop turning pages, even when it’s late and you have to be at work early in the morning.

4. I studied The Divine Comedy in school. When you’re writing about demons and the fight between good and evil (or bad and evil), a quote from the classics slipped into the narrative makes for a big moment that adds to the depth of the atmosphere I want to achieve in a key scene.

5. I loved the action in Mickey Spillane novels. Film is definitely in the mix, as well. When I’m writing the Hit Man Series, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers and Guy Ritchie are never far away.

6. Stephen King’s structural devices from The Stand and It went into This Plague of Days. Chuck Palahniuk’s appreciation for the macabre is in all the horror. Contextualizing the bizarre with the weird and real is a lesson learned from The X Files.

7. As a disappointed humanist, I want to be Kurt Vonnegut. Not the writer per se, but the man. If I ever release my time travel novel, he’s in the mix in a big way. I miss him.

8. When I’m writing action and suspense, Skrillex, Eminem and Everlast are playing in the background. Visceral goes with viscera. A steady diet of standup comedy balances out the blood. The path between horror and humor can be a knife edge. 

9. Fight scenes and sex scenes: draw on experience and each variety of conquering and surrender is all the more delicious.

10. Director Kevin Smith and comic Joe Rogan inspired me to write my first book, Self-help for Stoners. Chasing that dream long into the night continues to keep me going in the face of adversity.

I write original books (if it can be said there is such a thing.) However, we all have our artistic ancestry. What’s yours? What do you recommend?

~ FYI, one more time: The Haunting Lessons is free today and tomorrow and my first crime novel, Bigger Than Jesus, is also free everywhere. Hit AllThatChazz.com now for the links.

Bigger_Than_Jesus_Cover_for_Kindle

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Author Blog Challenge 18: The Top Ten Reasons You (yes! You!) Crave This Book

Please click here to get Bigger Than Jesus

To whom will Bigger Than Jesus appeal? I have serious and much less than serious answers to this Author Blog Challenge writing prompt:

1. People who like a fast beach read of a crime thriller that’s hard to put down. I got the idea for my pacing from Blake Crouch’s Run. There’s a cliffhanger or an aha moment, or several, in every chapter. The tension only cranks up.

2. People who like old caper movies, like To Catch a Thief, Sneakers or The Italian Job. My fondest childhood memories are getting lost in movies to shut out everything else.

3. People who like Coen brothers‘ movies where simple solutions lead to more and more complex problems and the hero is thwarted again and again. Rock? Meet hard place. And now a badger is chewing your jugular as you try to do your taxes.

4. People who like funny, punchy dialogue, including a debate between two hoods: Who shot first, Han Solo or Greedo? (Yes, that’s one of the serious answers and the question does bear on the action at the time.)

5. People who like a lot of twists and surprises. I modelled my plot after screenwriter and author William Goldman‘s penchant for sucker punches where, just when you think you know what happens next, it goes a different way.

6. People who value clever more than gory. For a book about a hit man trying to escape the mob, there’s a lot of word play and when the violence does occur, it’s realistic yet somehow funny in the same way Pulp Fiction could be. The chapters skip along with logical complexity offset by humour.

7. People who like genre fiction that reaches up. Much of the novel has a lighthearted slant, but underneath, when you discover some of the main character’s history, it’s unexpectedly disturbing and heartbreaking. Are you worried I’ve just spoiled  something? Don’t be. I like magic tricks in all of my fiction. I’m telling you up front that I’m going to deceive you and you’re going to watch to catch me at my sleight of hand. The game is, I’m still going to fool you anyway. “Consider the gauntlet thrown,” he said smiling. I know this will work because I often surprised myself while writing Bigger Than Jesus.

8. Movie buffs with an Elmore Leonard sensibility in their reading tastes. Jesus Diaz, the anti-hero of the novel, is a movie buff and, since movies were a large part of his education, he sees the world through a Hollywood lens. The action is definitely influenced by Elmore Leonard’s take on shady characters having strange dialogue.

9. Readers who like a book that plays with them. The entire book is written in present tense, second-person. I loved Bright Lights, Big City for that and I decided that, after twenty-seven years, somebody should try that again. But it’s not just my personal preference or a gimmick at work. There’s a reason. Late in the novel, you get a strong hint as to why the narrative is told as it is.

10. Readers who enjoy a story that ends up in some unexpected places, like a discussion of Salvador Dali’s life, for instance. Bigger Than Jesus is a fun game and a puzzle box of a crime thriller that packs serious emotions behind it.

Some of the less serious answers to this Author Blog Challenge writing prompt include: Everyone with a Kindle or anyone who gets the free Kindle Reading app for any device, NMD (Not my dad), people who enjoy breathing, gorgeous and empowered Latinas, New York pizza joint owners who bought it thinking it was about Jesus Christ but will get sucked in anyway, criminals plotting to go straight, intelligent people (so if you don’t get it…eh, you figure it out), Beatles fans who also love the SIG Sauer, and the authorities who put me on a watch list for my Google searches because of the research for this book.

The second part of the writing prompt asked: How do I connect with them to market to them?

Um. I’m not sure. Have I convinced you yet?

Click the book cover if yes.

GET BIGGER THAN JESUS

If not, send me your email address at expartepress@gmail.com.

Maybe I’ll come to your house.

Maybe I’ll send you something in the mail.

Maybe you’ll wake up hanging upside down.

We’ll work it out.

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Author Blog Challenge 17: How to talk with your graphic designer about your book cover

Well, not your graphic designer. I can only say how I talk to my graphic designer, but I think new authors might benefit from pulling back the curtain on the process. Everybody’s a little nervous the first time they outsource a book cover, but this guy makes it easy and I recommend him. As you’ll see below, I’m going to come across as a bit of a pain in the ass in this post.

Indie author and graphic designer extraordinaire Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design creates my covers. I can’t create a good cover to save my life, but I can recognize a good one. There are certain things that are pretty easy up front: cookbooks need phat, fat, sexy food (and a thin celebrity chef on the cover); green books don’t sell unless they’re about golf or lawn care; ugly isn’t different in a good way, it’s merely ugly and won’t sell. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies and got so I can recognize a bad dog. That said, I have no idea how Kit does his magic to create covers (magic herbs and tattooed Scottish elves are involved), but my covers look like they could have been produced in a traditional publishing house because Kit is the go-to guy.

I rarely come to Kit with an idea for the cover image. Instead I tell him about the book or send him some chapters or the whole thing (depending what stage I’m at with the book.) I trust Kit immensely because, when I’m in revisions, I really don’t want anyone to see it before I’m done and a red bow is tied around the manuscript.

What follows are excerpts from our emails (used with Kit’s permission, of course) to give you the gist of how the Bigger Than Jesus cover came to be, what I was looking for and how we arrived where we did. There were actually at least a dozen or so emails back and forth over a month because Kit supplied new art for my podcast and whipped up a cover for the non-fiction book I have in the works. Kit will use the new covers to update the banner for my author site, too. He’s a multi-talented fellow. That and we keep each other up to date on how we’re doing. Find allies, folks. Friends and coffee are critical.

My initial email about the Bigger Than Jesus cover:
Hi Kit,
 I finished Bigger Than Jesus. I have some work to do yet on the manuscript. Uncharacteristically, I’m coming to you with an idea that I think will work for the cover and it’s kind of a John Locke cover (or a James Bond book cover from the ’80s.)
 
The story: Bigger Than Jesus revolves around Jesus Diaz, a Cuban hit man who wants out of the mob. There’s gunplay and a lot of duplicity and twists. Every chapter has a twist or an aha moment. At the heart of the story is a key to storage locker #408 with millions of dollars in it which could fuel Jesus’s escape and that of and his girlfriend, Lily Vasquez. Jesus doesn’t just love Lily. He worships her. <Spoilers deleted.> It’s kind of a Coen brothers movie in that whatever Jesus does… at every turn he’s thwarted.
 
She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested this idea for a cover: We need a gorgeous Latina for Lily. In one hand she holds a key (to a padlock) labeled 408. In the other hand, a SIG Sauer 225 (Jesus’s handgun) or a Beretta if you prefer. And around this gorgeous woman’s neck? A big gold cross hanging by a thick gold chain. Think Madonna/High Catholic ornate for this. Title: Bigger Than Jesus. Author tag: Robert Chazz Chute in my usual cherry red. I’ll just need an ebook cover to start but I’ll be needing a full front/spine/back cover for the paperback as well soonish.
 
I sent you a link to an article about making the author’s name bigger. As this is a thriller and I’m trying to build a brand for a series, I’d like to try that. I can always switch it up later, but let’s try big author name up top to make it look more brandy, less indie, more swagger. What do you think of that idea?
Ideas get bandied about. Kit does other work for me. Then:
Hi Chazz,
…as discussed, I’m attaching a few drafts of Bigger Than Jesus (covers) for you to have a look at…Sorry there are so many drafts, but it should at least give you a little variety. Of course, as well, at this stage they’re all pretty rough. As ever, if none of them are suitable, I’m more than happy to go back to the drawing board.
Note: Any of the covers Kit sent me, and there were six in total, would have been pretty great to great, but Kit is patient and doesn’t mind fine tuning. Sorry I can’t show you the other covers to see what I’m talking about and to compare, but the draft covers are proprietary until they’re paid for. My break down gives you a hint, though:
Kit! My man!

Whee! This is exciting! Bigger Than Jesus II.png has a nice Pulp Fiction feel. Bigger Than Jesus III.png is closer to what I was picturing to begin with and the model is awesome. I wish we had the model from Bigger Than Jesus III.png in the pose from Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. Bigger Than Jesus I (blur).png has a movie poster vibe, though I like the colours in the next, more cartoonish variation. But, the winner is…I think we should go with a variation on the last one, Bigger Than Jesus IV.png. 

So here are my thoughts for the variation on Bigger Than Jesus IV.png: 
1. Put my name at the top and bump up the size. Please put the title where the author tag is, not at the bottom. 
2. Love the key. Can we make the key shiny gold? 
3. Love the model. Can we make the cross she’s wearing gold and or bigger so it pops out? Hard to make it out as is. Too bad she’s not wearing red. Do you think we could make the gun gold as well so it pops? (Either that or lighten the background a little so we see the gun better? I’m worried the awesomeness of the cover will be lost at thumbnail size.) I’m playing off the Jesus-thing obviously, but I also don’t want anyone to actually think it’s a religious book. I want them to be intrigued with the juxtaposition of the gun and the word Jesus. As is, I think potential readers might skip over it if the “Jesus” pops out quite as much as it does.
4. Also, with the girl in the centre, can we make her any bigger? I think Bigger Than Jesus III.png will at least be the alternative cover for the future just as it is. 
5. I think the gold accents of the key, the gun and the cross will really make it pop. 
Doable? Thoughts?
Kit sent me the revised draft that was close, but I was still worried:
 
Hi Kit!

 We’re getting there. This looks pretty good, but I’m concerned it’s too dark. Especially at thumbnail size, I don’t think the image will show up well enough. Can we go with a lighter background and make the cross and key even brighter gold so they pop like the gun, please? I don’t mind if the shine is so bright it’s unrealistic (i.e. think Man with the Golden Gun movie poster.) The shinier the better. And a question: When I find someone to give me a cover blurb for this, do we just scale down the title a little bit so we can fit it in somewhere?
 Thanks, man. (Hey, she looks better in the red dress!)
And finally, by Thor I’m hard to please, but Kit is patient:
Hi Kit,

 Better, but I’m thinking the answer for this cover is more contrast. Up for an experiment? What if we make the background white and the text black or maybe cherry red? Can the cross be a shinier gold, or bigger, or both? The cross is still getting lost. I think it will pop more this way.
Success! Though we went for a white background in the end, Kit added a black frame which was not present in earlier drafts. White backgrounds tend to look lost in the retail catalogue if they don’t have a defined edge. Amazon takes .tiffs and jpegs, so Kit sent me a cleaned up version where he edited the fine points on the image I’ll never know about. That’s for the tattooed Scottish elves and Kit to know about.
This was the most protracted back and forth we’ve had over one cover, mostly because I’m picky and kept asking, “What if we made the key and cross so shiny the reader actually gouged out their own eyes to stop the searing pain in their retinas?” By contrast, the art for my book on writing (TBA) came together very quickly. Kit sent me four or five variations of the cover for that book and I pretty much just picked one and that was it, right out of the gate.) If you’re thinking you need a graphic artist for your book, I can’t sing loud enough about the powers of The Kit.
Oh, and here’s the cover. I love it.

Here’s the final draft of the Bigger Than Jesus cover.

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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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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

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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.

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