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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Step One in Book Cover Design: Find a Wonderfully Mad Genius…

Striking covers are more important than seeing the author’s whole name. Your name is with the listing of the book, so don’t sweat that. What’s more important? Choose a cover designer with skill, confidence and experience who is easy to work with. For me, that’s award-winning designer Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com.

Thanks for two great covers, Kit. You’re one of Scotland’s national treasures.

I’ve spoken with some of my mastermind group about my omnibus for This Plague of Days and the Hit Man Series. Readers seem to love binge reads these days more than they love serialization. I know some authors are turning to serialization again with the changes that Kindle Unlimited has wrought, but I think you’ll see more omnibuses and box sets as the writing community adjusts, and possibly writes faster than they have done in the past.

Or read the trilogy all at once for one low price.

Read the trilogy all at once for one low price.

~ For more of my mad genius, please subscribe for updates about new books, podcasts and more at AllThatChazz.com. Thanks!

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Sanity: Another reason to write more books

Do you ever feel like you’re reaching for success and someone is slapping your hand? Does every Monday feel like Thwart Day?

I just had one of those days that drains energy. I read a review from a guy who apparently thinks I believe in the supernatural because I often write about it. (Fiction, people! Fiction!) A cop stopped me today. He was unnecessarily dickish. That put me in a dark mood. I haven’t been feeling great so I had to go for some medical tests. A nurse was in a panic over my paperwork and apparently trying to panic me, too. I’ve got a big birthday coming up which I’m not excited about. I feel pressure. Sometimes, despite my big plans, it seems time is running out and the news for indie authors seems to be all whoa and woe at the moment.

Therefore, it’s not time to give up.

It’s time to put the hammer down (because I was thinking of doing terrible things with that hammer) and remember what’s working. To review:

This Plague of Days OMNIBUS (Large)

I got this letter today:

“This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition was awarded an Honorable Mention for Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published e-Book Awards in Genre.”

Whoo. Also? Hoo!

Check out the Top 100 Kindle Short from my coauthor Holly Pop

Check out the Top 100 Kindle Short from my coauthor Holly Pop

I’m collaborating with several authors and a publisher in 2015. The first was Holly (Pop) Papandreas, author of Ouija

We wrote The Haunting Lessons. In this fun and dark fantasy, a girl from Iowa discovers she has amazing capabilities. The world is a richer and more dangerous place than she ever imagined. Parts of it may remind you of This Plague of Days, but the tone is lighter and the pace is lightning quick. Don’t miss out on 81 lessons to survive Armageddon. I like you and I want you to live.

Just released for Christmas reading!

Just released for Christmas reading!

My friend and author of Butterfly Stitching, Sher Kruse, has invited me to participate in a non-fiction anthology.

51bbcGqD3aL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

More on that in 2015.

I’ll be contributing to a horror anthology for a publisher and working with another author friend of mine on a secret book project to take paranormal readers by storm. I also have big plans for several books in the Ghosts and Demons Series, a big standalone book and more Hit Man books.

It’s been a big building year for me. I put together six books in 2014, so Mom and Dad will have to take back those accusations that I’m too lazy to live. 

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL
It’s so fun and gritty and fast, I’m very happy with Hollywood Jesus, the third adventure in the Hit Man Series. The John Leguizamo joke alone makes it for me!

"Perhaps the most underrated crime novel of all time." ~ Robert Chazz Chute

“Perhaps the most underrated crime novel of all time.” ~ Robert Chazz Chute

 

And, maybe best of all, I wrote my criminal autobiography!

That's one adorable bear holding that bloody knife.

That’s one adorable bear holding that bloody knife.

And I’m part of the Horror Within Box Set with some very heavy hitters in horror fiction.

Horror Within Box Set

In other words, it’s been a productive year. It seems I have a lot to live for, after all. I can’t wait to get more of my ebooks into print, too. So stay busy. It will keep you out of trouble. Works for me. When you’re feeling down, write another book. That’s what I do. I’m all nerves a lot of the time, obviously. Writing soothes me and keep me from acting on impulses to hammer things.

Writing works that way for many people. Writing or reading, I hope you find escape, as I do, in imagination.
Merry Christmas.

If you had mixed feelings about 2014, let’s make 2015 better, hm?

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How to twist a psychological thriller into something new and different

If you’ve read This Plague of Days, you know I go for unique takes on familiar genres. This is how I cut new grooves in an old record and made new word music.

IVBT FINAL 2D cover

 

1. There are no new ideas, but I have novel ideas that play with reader expectations. Always do the unexpected (usually within the confines of the genre, but certainly not always.)

2. Make it meta, commit and have fun with it.

3. Break the fourth wall and talk to the reader. Sure, Italo Calvino did it plenty. Why not you? (But not so much there is no story.)

4. Focus the psychological in psychological thriller on the protagonist. Done right, the reader will share in the pain and therapy.

5. Be the main character (yes, you!) and put ’em through the Poisoned Corridor of Shame and Rusty Carrot Scrapers. 

6. Sift in some weird facts readers won’t think are true (but are.) Realistic context makes fiction feel like non-fiction. Cover your tracks and always let them wonder a bit what and how much to believe. Being a writer is a fine thing. Be a magician, too.

7. Give regular readers some Easter eggs with crossovers from other books. (New readers won’t notice, but the regulars will love it.)

8. Make the confrontations with self and others real and honest. There is underlying truth that’s bigger than mere facts.

9. Stir in plenty of action to push readers along.

10. Add pop culture references, nostalgia and funny dialogue to pull readers along. Make room for jokes. Be different enough to be memorable, but not so different readers hate you. Stay weird, but not for the sake of weirdness. For the sake of the readers who dig doing the daring.

BONUS

Add a secret link and password at the end of the book so readers can find out more about what’s true and what isn’t. Slake their thirst, but don’t tell them everything, either. You don’t want to dispel too much magic in case there’s a sequel.

This is what I did. I called it Intense Violence, Bizarre Themes, The Autobiographical Crime Novel. I hope you like it.

 

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A Quick Top Ten: Make revisions painless

Books in progress litter my desk. As I revise manuscripts, there are certain words I watch for. When I see them I ask, “Who cares and who needs it?”

Here are some of those watch words and cautions:

1. Sentences that begin with “And…” (It’s not that it’s wrong or bad, but it’s often not necessary.)

2. Sentences that begin with “And then…” Sentences are sequences and usually work without this tip to the reader.

3. He felt, she heard, he sensed, she saw… Just describe the scene. Not “She saw a crocodile rise from the swamp.” Instead, “A crocodile rose from the swamp.”

4. Was. This crops up a lot in most writers’ first drafts. “She was fighting,” becomes “she fought.”

Gerunds are passive and they are not our friends, especially when overused. I don’t use adverbs much, though I don’t ban them. It’s a novel, not a telegram. Besides, I’m suggesting crafty guidelines here, not edicts about what not to do.

5. Look out for: just, own, up, down, so, it. These are words that we add to sentences that sometimes fail to add meaning. 

Just surfaces a lot. We can often do without “just.” Or we might use only or merely. 

“He sat down in the chair,” becomes “He sat in the chair.”

“So, he murdered the butler,” becomes “He murdered the butler.”

“Their own boat,” becomes “Their boat.”

“It” often replaces the noun you should probably use. “It’s up to you,” could be, “This caper is up to you,” or “The fate of guinea pigs everywhere is up to you.” See how it’s better? I mean, see how specificity improves clarity?

6. Careful of exclamation points that hype excitement that does not exist.

7. Semi-colons have fallen so far out of use that they now stop readers cold. Punctuation should be visible, yet not visible. Punctuation marks are the life-preserver under your seat on the plane. You know it’s there, but you don’t want to pause a moment to think about why it’s there. 

8. Use dialogue tags besides “said” sparingly. Let what is said carry the weight of the message.

9. Empty pleasantries are death.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Good.”

This trite exchange is what we do every day. In a book, it’s a waste of time. Also note that those four lines possess no conflict. A better way to go would be to answer “How are you?” with “You’re late.”

Or try, “He greeted her at the conference room door with an officious sneer and ushered to her seat without a word.” 

If the dialogue isn’t clever or funny, or if the exchange fails to reveal character or advance the plot, skip it and go to the action.

Don’t count on readers’ patience. Tell the story.

10. Everyone watches for run-on sentences. We break those up, of course. Also consider varying sentence length.

Sentence length is not something many readers will register consciously, but lots of short sentences together can feel stilted and staccato. (This device can be used to great effect in an action sequence or to make a point, however.) Many long sentences in a row tire the reader and can feel like a drone.

This problem is easier to recognize when you read your manuscript aloud. If you run out of breath before the end of a sentence, it might be too long. Or you need to do more cardio.

Me B&W~ Robert Chazz Chute hates to tell anyone what to do. Ever. He’s also a fan of the sentence fragment, so this isn’t about being the grammar police. It’s about helping writers and editors make books more readable. These are guidelines. The only rule is, if it plays, it plays.

FYI, the third book in the Hit Man Series is Hollywood Jesus, Rise of the Divine Assassin. This funny, gripping crime novel launches October 1, 2014. Early feedback says it’s the fastest pace to an adventure since you fell off your bike and got road rash when you were a kid.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

The Omnibus will be launched at the same time.

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

 

Filed under: Editing, manuscript evaluation, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post-holiday sales and writing stronger characters readers will love (and love to hate)

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis.

1. Good characters have secrets they are trying to keep from the other characters. For instance, there is no major character in my zombie apocalypse, This Plague of Days, who does not guard a secret that’s contributing to the hullabaloo. Plenty of room for conflict there. Secrets are hard to keep and the longer they’re kept, the bigger the explosion when the secrets are revealed.

2. Good characters do not get along. In This Plague of Days, the matriarch is a Christian. The patriarch is atheist. They love each other, despite their differences, but it makes for some friction and they cope with problems much differently. They also begin to come closer to the other’s position, so rather than getting preachy, it’s an exploration of how people cope in a crisis. These details make them relatable so readers care about them.

3. Good characters have competing motivations. In Bigger Than Jesus, my Cuban hit man kills for love. Competing characters want power, sex, money and vengeance. All those characters are after the same thing for different reasons, so tension is built as allegiances are broken.

4. Good minor characters don’t know they’re minor characters. Everyone is the star of their own movie. If your henchmen might as well have the labels “Heavy #1 and #2”, give them more life history. I have a bad guy, a drunken marauder, in Season One of This Plague of Days you don’t really get to know. He wears a wedding dress into battle (stolen from the protagonist’s mother.) It’s a brief brush stroke that lets the reader figure out the rest as to where that guy is coming from while fuelling reader outrage.

Now in paperback!

Now in paperback!

5. Good characters are conflicted and can change. Sometimes, real people do in fact do something uncharacteristic. That makes them interesting. To make this believable, give them good reasons to change their behavior. With enough correct and detailed context, you can make the reader believe an out of character choice is logical at the time. Let a bad guy aspire to be a hero. Let a hero do something petty, just for spite (and the joke.) People who are too sure of themselves are often boring, unimaginative, predictable. I hate predictable choices in plots, don’t you?

6. Good characters, even heroes, make bad decisions that make them more interesting. As with #5, context makes this work. The reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example. You were probably rooting for the human heroes in the show, but they made terrible decisions all the time. Overall, that didn’t make them bad per se. It made them less predictable, more interesting and more human.

So, for instance, victims who are chronically bullied are tragic figures. Push that victim too far and they can fight back believably. If the bullied person overcorrects and becomes a bully or a killer, or fights back and fails, that’s even more interesting. The reader will expect them to triumph. You could give them that happy ending, but don’t deliver it too quickly or in a way they can anticipate.

Click it now to get a huge short story collection of dark fun. On sale now for only 99 cents. Love it? Give it a review, please.

Click it now to get a huge short story collection of dark fun. On sale now for only 99 cents. Love it? Give it a review, please.

In The Dangerous Kind (ahem: my novella found in the huge collection of short stories, Murders Among Dead Trees on sale for a short time for just 99 cents) a boy forms a plan to murder his abusive older brother on a hunting trip. Complications ensue and his resolution comes in a way neither he, nor the reader, expects. No spoilers. Just go read it. You’ll love it.

7. Good characters have conversations. I’m already mentioned Tarantino recently as the apex writer of tangential dialogue, but there are many examples. Think of Tony Soprano’s conversations with his therapist or all the geeky arguments about Star Wars and comics stuffed into Kevin Smith movies.

Bigger Than Jesus, for instance, is stuffed with movie references. I didn’t do that just for the jokes. I did it so readers who were uncomfortable rooting for an assassin would discover they shared a lot of common ground with my luckless Cuban hit man. The Hit Man Series works because, despite what he does for a living, Jesus is always trying to escape his life in the Spanish mafia. He’s actually very funny and loveable. Throw in a tragic childhood and all those little conversations really aren’t tangential at all. They’re the key to the character’s choices. That connects him to readers.

8. Good characters have depth. Anybody can write a scene with two hit men disposing of a body. I’d write that scene with the details you’d expect, I suppose, but I’d have the assassins argue over the Obamacare while pouring concrete.

In This Plague of Days, we learn how a deadly octopus leads to Dayo’s migration to England. When the Sutr virus outbreak hits and Buckingham Palace is attacked by zombies. I want you to know who Dayo is and why she got that way. You don’t have to do a ton of research to give every character a rich family history (and if you do, I don’t suggest you use it all.) Give us just enough to make them feel real and just enough for us to feel like we’re witnessing a friend’s death when you murder them horrifically. (Attention Plaguers: I’m not saying Dayo will die in Season 3. I’m not saying she won’t. I’m not saying. You will find out her last name in Season 3, but that’s all I’ll promise.)

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

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

9. Good characters have physical problems. Most heroes in action movies get a scratch high on the forehead, even after a couple of hours of near misses, crashes and mortal combat. Picture wounds in most any old movie with Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford. All that fighting and not one chipped tooth? Really? Not one broken hand after all those haymakers? That’s why everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s cut nose in Chinatown. He dared to look bad for the camera.

In Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz has the snot beaten out of him from the beginning. I’m trained in pathology, so physical ills turn up a lot as I give characters more barriers to their goals. I made the hero of This Plague of Days an autistic selective mute. In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart’s goals wouldn’t be so tough to deal with if he didn’t have…you guessed it…vertigo. In Rear Window, he’s got a leg in a cast when the villain comes to kill him. Mo’ problems = mo’ thrills.

10. Good characters are familiar, but not necessarily archetypal.

Shiva, in This Plague of Days, is the Snidely Whiplash of the story. She’s a big character who, in the movie, will be played by Helena Bonham Carter or some dark beauty from Bollywood who isn’t afraid to chew the scenery. The whole moustache-twirling bit is archetypal. However, when her secret is revealed, we understand why she wiped out a major chunk of the world’s population and why she thinks she’s doing the right thing as a bio-terrorist. Her motivations are pure even though any sane observer sees her as pure evil. Before we’re done with This Plague of Days, you may even feel sorry for her. Sure, she’s a vain bitch, but so’s your sister and deep down, you still love her.

Crack the Indie Author CodeHere’s the thing about familiarity.

I don’t suggest you do as Larry David did, modelling the character of Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld on an actual person. That sounds like a lawsuit in the making. However, take your crazy Aunt Sadie’s Red Rose Tea figurine collection and make it the fancy of the brutish pro wrestler you saw on TV once. Take information, life experience, Wikipedia and expertise you possess and put it in the blender of your imagination. Find their combinations and permutations. Come up with something new, familiar, yet not clichéd. Don’t make your character recognizable as a family member because Aunt Sadie will sue. She’s crazy, remember?

We are surrounded by fascinating characters. Write them and build something fresh.

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

~ Robert Chazz Chute is a complex character, better suited to minimal human interaction. However, I’m friendly on Twitter. Follow me @rchazzchute. I tweet about writing, books and publishing.

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

More Fury: Haters, Taxes, #Readings, #Podcasts

Higher than Jesus Final NEW copy

FYI: The new edition of the All That Chazz Podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com and it includes:

1. Waiting in shivering anticipation for Liberace.

2. A short, crazed rant on haters and my unreasonable sensitivity.

3. Jesus explains and forgives plus Stitcher issues.

4. Bradley Manning and awesome podcast recommendations. 

5. Scott Sigler on the Joe Rogan Experience (and self-loathing.)

6. Two readings: Chapters 9 and 10 of Higher Than Jesus: Hollow Man and Fight Club.

7. Whining about taxes and railing against my accountant.

 

Listen to the new podcast, More Fury: The Hollow Man Edition. If the show tickled your fancy, please leave a happy review on iTunes because that helps. If you don’t care for All That Chazz, try the Cool People Podcast. Cheers!

~Chazz

PS What am I doing? Editing the same way I do everything: Furiously.

Filed under: podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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

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