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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writing: Tics and traps to consider

We all have tics in our writing that show up as we revise our manuscripts. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said we shouldn’t use, “all hell broke loose,” and “suddenly.” I actually don’t see a problem with suddenly, but because Elmore Leonard didn’t like it, I’m too chicken to use it. I also think adverbs get a bad rap, though I use them sparingly.

Here are some more things that get repeated in manuscripts you should consider leaving out for a faster, easier and clearer read.

1. When you can say it in fewer words, do so. (General guideline. No, this doesn’t mean all novels should be reduced to their three-paragraph summaries. Yes, we’d all be better read, but it’s about the journey.)

2. When you can use a simpler word instead of an unfamiliar one, consider that. I use some Latin and unusual words in This Plague of Days, but all is explained and it all has a point.

3. The house across the street or right across the street? In Nova Scotia, we said “right across” often, which technically connotes “directly,” or “nearest.” But across the street will usually do. “Right over there,” becomes “Over there.” Nothing lost.

4. Eliminate gerunds where possible. This often accompanies a manuscript packed with “was.” “He was working on the plan”? Will “He worked on the plan,” serve your purpose with a more direct and muscular verb?

5. Felt. He felt this. He felt that. I’m not saying eliminate it completely. But showing is generally better than telling (though not always) and doing is better than feeling (often.) Feeling is passive. Demonstrate how he feels that his wife walked out and took the beloved dog he brought into the marriage.

6. Up and down. I go through my manuscripts looking for “up” because that’s my tic. He stood up? He stood is the same. And “she sat down in the purple chair”?  “She sat in the purple chair,” communicates the same thought, right?

7. Began. “He began to think about…” How about, “He thought about…”? Once you start thinking, you’re already into it, right?

8. Then. “She then lit the match. Then she lit the fuse and then it began to burn.” Things happen in sequence in the order you put it down  write. Then is often unnecessary.

9. And at the beginning of the sentence. It’s not that it’s wrong. Some of my old-school English teachers went hardcore on this point. It’s when it’s used too often, it becomes a placeholder that delays the action by three little letters. It’s often unnecessary.

10. So at the beginning of a sentence. It’s not wrong, but it’s a common tic. It’s often the writing equivalent of “um” in public speaking. “So, how are you doing?” versus, “How are you doing?” This can be a stylistic choice. In dialogue, maybe it’s a subtle cue to the reader that the speaker is attempting to appear casual or isn’t sure what to say.

BONUS

Look for opportunities to vary sentence length. It makes for an easier read. Run-on sentences intimidate, confuse and frustrate readers. 

~ Robert Chazz Chute is revising Season 3 of This Plague of Days. Season 3, and This Plague of Days, The Complete Series is scheduled for release June 15th, 2014.

Haven’t started Season 1 and Season 2, yet? There’s still time. Grab them here.

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

#NaNoWriMo: The key tip to write a much better book

When we plunge into writing a book, there’s lots of enthusiasm on the front end of the challenge. But how will we fill all those pages, especially in that saggy middle where we really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen? How will we give our story verisimilitude? How will we make readers care about our characters and give the book depth? Where will all the conflict come from? How will we sustain our enthusiasm all the way to the end of NaNoWriMo?

There is a solution that many writers shy away from to their detriment. They want their protagonists to be likeable so they make them Christlike figures. This saps a lot of juice from your book. Here’s why you must make your characters more flawed:

1. With flawed characters, there’s much more to write about. A former writer on Seinfeld said recently that stories that focussed on Jerry were always the hardest to write because he had the fewest flaws. George and Kramer and Elaine had plenty of neuroses and quirks, so that allowed the writers plenty of material with which to play. Give your detective an obsession or a hobby that doesn’t help him. Nero Wolfe had the orchids upstairs. Monk has OCD. Everybody has a blind spot or maybe even a fatal flaw that your plot can turn on.

2. Flawed characters have an interesting past that has a bearing on the present and future. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Then Jesus was abducted and abused as a child. Those scars interfere with his love life now. He wears very expensive suits and can’t stand to have sex without his clothes on because he has emotional scars. He also doesn’t want a lover to see the physical scars across his chest. His psychological quirks go deep, dealing with PTSD, addiction and his relationships with women. He falls in love too quickly always searching for a woman he can idolize and worship. Or is he really looking for mom?One of my favorite chapters in Higher Than Jesus is the one in which my hit man goes to group therapy (and fails miserably at it.)

You don’t want to stop your narrative cold with flashbacks too often, but if you can weave those flashbacks into the story well — and if those flashbacks are compelling enough — you’ve got a tool to give your readers a much richer story.

3. Flawed characters create tension. Your plot should spring from character. For instance, Jesus Diaz is prideful. If there’s a problem, he feels he has to handle it. Other circumstances conspire to make him feel he can’t simply call the police to handle his issues, but his resolve is key to that plot point. Higher Than Jesus would be at least a third shorter if Jesus solved problems the same way normal people solve problems.

4. Flawed characters have more conflict with their world. Jesus has a hard time relating to anyone else as a “boss”, for instance. He’s not a guy who is meant for the 9 – 5 world, especially with his limited skill sets in finding people, his inability to work in law enforcement because of his shady history and the creative uses he finds for super glue. Tension and heat increase from friction so be mean to your protagonist and make at least some of his problems his own damn fault.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

5. Readers relate to flawed characters. A novice writer asked me to read a chapter from her paranormal romance. The hero was very heroic — blandly so — and had an impossibly heroic name. The heroine was everything you’d expect from a heroine and more. They’d never done anything wrong and never would. They were always right, always predictable and always relatively safe because they were amazingly capable. Meanwhile, most readers think they should get to the gym today and most of us won’t make it. When you write your hero as if he’s Superman, he’s boring and you have a book the length of a comic book with just as much believability. Go Batman. In the ’60s comics, he was written as The World’s Greatest Detective, kind of Sherlock Holmes in a cowl with a cool car. The character’s real surge came when writer Frank Miller tuned into the underlying subtext of Batman’s vibe: He’s a billionaire with Daddy issues who trains himself to become a psychotic badass vigilante who won’t kill, but he’s no boy scout, either. That’s much more interesting than relentless virtue.

My hit man is obsessed with movies (just like me). Movies are our society’s touchstone, so Jesus has seen the same movies you’ve seen and sees the world through that Hollywood prism. He not only wants the Happily Ever After ending; he thinks he deserves it. Through movies, I make readers share a common interest and knowledge base with a hit man.

Consider Elmore Leonard’s characters: They’re often a bunch of criminals doing crazy things you’d never do, but some of their traits remind you of your crazy, racist Uncle Larry or that nutty girl you shared a room with in second semester before she dropped out to go to Art School. Flawed characters are people we know and believe because we’re surrounded by people who are flawed.

Resist the urge to make your characters better than human. In fact, we’ll like and believe them more if they aren’t perfect.

For more tips, inspiration and motivation for National Novel Writing Month, check out Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, on sale now.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Self-help for Stoners, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

BONUS:

A fresh podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com which explains how you can get free ebooks. 

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

Video book reviews, secrets and policies

 

LMB stars

LMB stars (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Recently I posted a video review on Amazon. If you can do it to help a book, I recommend it. Novelty gets attention (even with my ugly mug.) Since posting the video review, more authors have contacted me to read and review their books. My TBR pile is taller than I am and my kindle is just about full, so it’s not easy to get to it all (nor even physically possible.) That’s not a complaint. I’m excited at the possibility of discovering a book that pulls me in and makes me think or laugh. I prefer both. I love books. Of course I want to read everything. Since I can’t and now that I’m getting more of these requests, herein lie the secrets that make me want to review your book favorably:

 

1. I have writing deadlines for my own books and I have a lot to read, so please be patient. I don’t guarantee when I’ll get to it. As you’ll see, I might never get to it, but you’ll prefer my reasoning for not reviewing your book.

 

2. I don’t give one, two or even three-star reviews. Somebody reading this just threw up their hands or their lunch, but bear with me. This goes beyond the fact that I find most one-star reviews mean-spirited, often nonsensical, sometimes borderline illiterate and they usually treat writers of bad books like their crime is genocide. Even though they probably got it free or for less change than sits under their couch cushions, you won’t find much forgiveness, wit or transcendence in most one-stars.

 

But it’s not just that I couldn’t bring myself to do that to another writer unless the title actually is Mein Kampf. It’s simpler than all that. If a book is not to my taste, I don’t finish it and I don’t review what I haven’t read. Life is too short and reading something that’s not for me takes too much time. Pointing out good books is more of a service to readers, and a better use of our time, than warning people away from books we don’t care for.

 

Reviews that are dire warnings are kind of like taking the time to tell me what’s awful on the menu when I’m hungry and anxious to order. I want to hear about your few extra-delicious recommendations and get on with the dining experience, not a litany of what the cook screws up. Or have you ever tried to schedule an appointment with somebody who only tells you when they can’t make it? I want to kill those people. (Okay, I admit it. I have killed those people.)

 

On a related note: Books that aren’t to my liking will be the best book someone else has ever read. Really. Go check on reviews of books you love on any popular site. See those books that whisked you off to magic realms and changed your life? Now see all those reviews warning you off them? Corollary: Try clicking on a book you despise. See all that five-star, hyperbolic love? Nope, they can’t all be friends and family. Families aren’t that big and writers don’t have friends. We have ex-friends we betrayed and cannibalized to put into our books. All those reviews you disagree with are simply people who are different from you. Weird, isn’t it? I mean, you’re awesome. Why doesn’t everyone want to be exactly like you? Inexplicable! I’ll ponder the problem. In the interim, let’s not take reviews too seriously then, shall we? 

 

3. If you gift me the copy on kindle to review, you get credit for the sale and it’s also easier for me to wirelessly download it. Easier is better. (Yes, I have Calibre but frankly, not a big fan.)

 

4. I’m primarily a suspense writer, so mostly I read non-fiction that feeds my other obsessions, mystery, thrillers and some horror. I’ve read a good sampling of many genres, but not everything is for everybody. I don’t and can’t read everything (at least until I get the time machine fixed or become immortal) so please don’t be upset that I must refuse to read your steampunk novel. Even though it’s great, but I haven’t read enough steampunk to create an informed review.

 

I enjoy William Goldman, Chuck Palahniuk, Thomas Harris, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Lawrence Block, Cormac McCarthy and (swoon!) Elmore Leonard. I’m not into Wodehouse. I’ve probably read more romance than you (my first jobs in publishing were at Harlequin in the Canadian Gigolo Department) but that was for pay and I’ve had my fill of impossibly handsome, rich and capable heroes named Rollo seducing women who are, despite their age, curiously sexually innocent.

 

5. A four-star review is a compliment, too, and, with all the distrust of five-star reviews, a happy four-star review may be even more useful to you than a five-star. However, I also believe that all that distrust is now way overhyped. If I’m that high on your fiction, you’ll get a five-star review. Ratings should reflect the tone of the review. It’s weird and confusing when the review is full of superlatives but the rating doesn’t show that same enthusiasm, isn’t it? Also, to hold back on a five-star rating for credibility’s sake alone cheats the author and that would be gaming the system, too, wouldn’t it? No one’s talking about that. Some readers within the echo chamber are afraid they’ll get fooled by fraudulent reviews when they could be reading a sample to alleviate those unbearable terrors.

 

6. I’m nice. I’m acting as a reviewer, not an editor. The review is not about me and this is not a teaching opportunity. I do not scold or lecture authors.

Some bad review habits are egregious. I don’t do things like this: “I wish the story had gone in a different direction,”; “I would have done it differently,” (of course everyone would do it differently!); “Too much swearing!” (that’s usually the realism leaking out); “The level of sex bothered me” (unless it’s BDSM in a children’s book, someone else enjoyed it); tiny grammar niggles; minor factual quibbles; and, finally, rest assured that my world doesn’t collapse when I spot a few typos. I don’t count them in a review. I find that petty and off the mark.

 

Also fitting under this category, let’s walk through what I think is on the mark: Some readers worry that writers are too nice to other writers. Sometimes the opposite is true simply because writers read as writers. We’re not enjoying the flight and looking at the clouds. We’re thinking about the workings of the engines that bear us aloft and how that knocking we hear is going to make the plane crash into the ocean. That attitude can suck a lot of joy from the reading experience, as any enlightened first-year English Lit students will tell you. Most readers don’t read like that! They aren’t as stringent nor are they strident. Most people really just want a good story and that’s what I’m looking for when I read a book to review it.

 

7. What does bother me: Fiction that requires the characters act like idiots for the story to work (e.g. incompetent henchmen and goals too easily achieved); stories that don’t work within their worlds unless I’m an idiot; deus ex machina; not enough conflict and tension; fiction without non-fiction ideas (your grade eight teacher called them themes); and clichés that aren’t twisted. (A twisted cliché makes something new and unexpected out of something worn out and expected.) 

 

8. What I like: I enjoy snappy dialogue and a sense of humor if it suits what you’re trying to achieve. Often at least some levity is exactly what even the most sinister stuff needs to switch up the mood and avoid the drone of a monotone. Try to induce a range of emotion. Ups and downs make roller coasters.

For example, one of my WIPs is a dystopian novel about an autistic child in the middle of a plague that kills most people on earth. That doesn’t mean I don’t make some jokes. For a slightly better known example (ha!), The Dark Knight Rises, as good as it was at times, needed a little more of Joss Whedon’s lighter touch from The Avengers. DKR had elements of opera at its high points and long funeral lows. I prefer stories with more range.

 

I enjoy fiction that achieves what it set out to achieve. For instance, you won’t hear something silly from me, like a complaint that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is “not historically accurate.” Yes, even a professional reviewer did that and, oh my Thor, if I have to explain why that’s upside down, please stop reading now and go watch Honey Boo Boo. Please!

 

9. I do not include spoilers. A good review doesn’t recount the plot and suck the joy of surprise and discovery out of the work for potential readers. I say what I liked and how I reacted to the characters and setting. I say how the story affected me emotionally or intellectually. I react to the experience of reading the book and what makes it interesting to me and unique. (Unique often doesn’t work, but when it works, swoon!)

 

10. Most reviews will be pretty short. A video review longer than a minute is not watched. If I review a book, I’m sharing my enthusiasm and yes, I’m unabashedly trying to sell your book to potential readers. I made it through the reading and reviewed it, so naturally I’m sharing and spreading the joy of your work with readers who enjoy your genre.

 

For me, reviews are about finding the like-minded. There are plenty of good and even great books out there. Let’s go find the good ones and focus our energies on spreading that good news. 

 

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

Author Blog Challenge 21: My Top 20 Best (Worst?) Advice for Authors

Обкладинка книги "Над прірвою у житі"

Обкладинка книги “Над прірвою у житі” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Be weird. Draw outside the lines. Live larger. Be different. If you can’t dare to be a little strange, or stranger, you sound too much like everyone else and there’s quite enough of that. Does your book’s title sound like all the other titles in its genre? Yes? You’re already boring me, mate, and I say that with love. Be three times more daring and ten times more clever.

2. Don’t write what you know. If we all did that, where would science fantasy be? Instead, write what you care about. You’ll get enough research to fill in the holes if you care enough to give your story verisimilitude. It’s always more about relationships, characters and action than it is about the guts of your ship’s stardrive engines, anyway.

3. Lose your thesaurus. You don’t need more words to tell me the story. The right words are the ones that come to you right away. If you use the word “epigonation”, you’re showing off and annoying your reader. A stupid thing to do, especially when you wanted to sound more intelligent. That must have been your aim because, unless you are sending your books back through a time tunnel to the time of Christ, you certainly weren’t trying for clarity in your reader’s mind.

4. Spam me. I don’t mind you telling me about your books one bit. I might be interested and I like to know what my options are. If you hit me over the head too much, of course I’ll ignore or unfollow you, but that doesn’t mean you should be silent. That means be clever and funny and engaging and giving most of the time. Lights are not for hiding under bushels. Light that bushel on fire and throw illumination.

5. Get into fights on the Internet. If you are getting along with everyone all the time, you’ve either got nothing to say or you’ve got no spine. Neither attribute attracts me to what else you might have to say within your book. I’m not advocating douchebaggery or fighting for fighting’s sake. Instead, have the courage to disagree with idiots while pretending to be civil and acting as if you don’t want them dead. We all know the truth.

6. Tell, don’t show. I know, I know. Somebody’s head just exploded and no amount of repainting ever covers up that mess. However, in grown up writing class, we encounter circumstances where telling is sometimes more appropriate. It saves the reader time and skips over stuff the reader doesn’t care about so we can get to the good stuff. Be more Elmore Leonard. Be less mime. Tell when you need to. Show when you need to. There aren’t rules, only guidelines. Learning all the rules before you break them? Sounds like a waste of time on a detour, doesn’t it? Instead, just write what works and stop mucking about.

7. Strangle your strict inner grammarian. If you write for clarity, that will cover most grammar rules, anyway. Some people are still holding on to stuff from eighth grade simply because it’s what they learned in eighth grade. The rest of us are splitting infinitives with wild, naked abandon, ending sentences with prepositions and using the word “hopefully” like a normal human (i.e. technically historically wrong) — and we don’t care. And sentence fragments? Rock! Common parlance trumps grammar. If it didn’t, none of us would communicate the way we do now. Strict grammarians fantasize about a language that isn’t organic and instead is frozen in amber from Dickensian England. They’re nuts. If language could freeze (and therefore die), we’d all still be angry cave people, grunting and pointing like New Yorkers in a Brooklyn deli.

8. Stop rewriting. I’m talking about your first chapter. You’re never going to get your book finished that way. Plunge! Get your atomic turbines to speed, Batman! Write and keep moving forward. Write like I’ll chase you in my Mustang with a twelve-gauge full of rock salt if you don’t finish two chapters tonight. (Because I will.) Rewriting is for later. A first chapter, endlessly written  and rewritten to perfection, does not a book make. Rewriting too soon is a formula for you, drooling on your deathbed, wondering if you should have taken out that comma on page three, and then put it back one more time before all trace of your existence is erased and there’s no book as evidence you ever were, you zero legacy stiff!

9. Stop reading old classics and start watching more movies and reading more comic books. Your english professor thinks Hemingway is the shit because that’s what he was taught in 1980. This is generational data lag. If you insist on classics, read: Crime and Punishment (so dates will think you’re deeper than you are); Hemingway’s short stories (not his novels); Portnoy’s Complaint to instil the value of a sense of humour in literature (a rare thing, that); A Confederacy of Dunces (for douchebag cred with hot Lit. majors at the dean’s cocktail parties and the nerdy chick at the bookstore) and Catcher in the Rye (in case the writing thing doesn’t work out and you turn to the next logical career choice: serial killer.) And nothing at all from Ayn Rand. Nothing! You have nothing to learn from her unless you’re going for what not to write, do, think or be.

Why movies and comic books? Because you need to make your storytelling more visual. (Hint: If most of your “action” takes place in a suburban living room much like your own, think harder. If you’re writing a certain kind of literary fiction that demands domestic ennui and the reader’s patience (yes, the reader — as in one reader — your mom), at least spice it up somehow. Make your main character do their sensitive contemplation by the river (so they can fall in or throw themselves in or get thrown in by a helpful plot enhancer). Or put them in the kitchen, next to the handy knife block so we get a sense that something might actually happen. Events must occur!

10. Stop writing huge, ambitious books. Write shorter books and make it a series so you have hope of making some money.

11. Write for the money. You think love and passion will get you through a whole book? No. There will come a time when you hit a wall, figuratively and literally, with your manuscript. Maybe you won’t want to do one more draft or you won’t have the energy to get up early and write another chapter. Screw that weak, loser talk. If you’re writing with the hope you’ll make some money some day, you get up. You’ll go the extra clichéd mile to yank out the clichés from your manuscript like black, seething tumours. Your kid wants to see Disney before she’s too tall for the rides. Your other kid wants to finally get an iPod for his birthday since he’s the last of his friends to get one. (Ooh, that one hits close to home.) Write for money because you need it. Write for money because, if it’s just a pleasant hobby, what’s at stake when the going gets rough?

12. Pay attention to how much better every other indie author is doing than you. Get angry, envious and jealous of those talentless, lucky hacks. The reasons are similar to #11. Take your ugly motivation wherever you can find it. (Notice I just told instead of showed — #6 — and you didn’t mind.)

13. Put references to popular culture in your books. Traditional publishers always eschewed that in manuscripts.  That’s why you have to infer so much about pop culture from old novels instead of knowing specifically what people paid attention to. The worry was that contemporary references to movies and issues would date the book. I can’t imagine why. What’s modern now will be a period piece in the future. So what? They might sell more books if they paid attention to what served the story and what was most entertaining instead of sticking to rules from from Lit. 101. (See #9) It works for John Locke’s readership.

14. Stop confusing process with product (Part 1). Neo-Luddites who wax poetic about the feel of a paper book are fetishizing the medium of dead trees over the book’s content and are possibly high on glue from all that sniffing. For people who claim they value the written word so much,  they seem overly concerned about the package it’s wrapped in. It’s fine to prefer a paperback to an ebook, but expect to pay more for the privilege and, by Thor’s hammer, stop whining to authors of ebooks about your fetish! When’s the last time you went out of your way to tell a used car salesman you think he’s shifty even though you weren’t buying a car from him anyway? What purpose does complaining serve if you never intend to buy our books? If you don’t want ebooks, then don’t buy them and don’t feel you have to tell me about it. We’re getting creeped out. (Alternative: buy my paperbacks, too.)

15. Stop confusing process with product (Part 2). Last week somebody called someone else a hack because he advocated writing fast. (No, it wasn’t me who was called out, though I have advocated writing faster if you’re up for it.) It’s the writing snob’s equivalent to a George Carlin joke: “Anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac!”

The mistaken subtext here is to think that anyone writing more quantity than you must be suffering in the Quality Assurance Department of the Writer’s Brain. Consider that A. Slow writing is no guarantee of quality, either. B. What counts is the end product, not the speed with which it arrived. (The slow writing advocate in this case admitted she hadn’t actually read any of The Speedy Author’s books, so she was letting her ass talk too much, wasn’t she? C. If someone else can write faster than you and you resent them for it, that might be jealousy talking. (See #12) Or D. Maybe you just aren’t as smart as The Speedy Author, you prejudiced dummy.

16. Wait for inspiration before you write because less competition would be great for me. Oh. For you? Not so much.

17. Offend your family. Disguise them, but use them. If they didn’t want you to use all of that useful childhood trauma, they should have been nicer when they had the chance. That time you got locked in the closet after the unjust beating? That’s rich writerly soil, right there. Rename your brother Larry so he’s Harry in the book. That ought to do it. Larry’s a moron.

18. Start building your author platform long before you need it and don’t whine that it’s hard. Your book is a loudspeaker. Without a platform, your loudspeaker is pointed at empty stands in a cavernous stadium. You don’t want to do this. Why do you think that matters?

19. In fact, hey, that’s another rule! No whining, period! Nothing worth doing is going to be easy. Besides, it’s unattractive. I once stopped watching a blog because a writer felt people weren’t grateful enough for her words. Gratitude is great (see yesterday’s author blog challenge post, below) but demanding unending thanks when you really haven’t done that much in the first place is petty narcissism. Writing professionally is about generous narcissism.

20. Stop reading Writers Digest and Publishers Weekly. There’s nothing in a paper magazine you can’t get in pixels faster and cheaper. WD is a holdover from traditional publishing and that’s why their advice is still weighted toward agents and the New York cadre. Those are lengthy pursuits with questionable ends that eat up your life. It’s procrastination in the guise of relevance and productivity. It’s patriarchal, systemic paralysis by matriarchal, editorial analysis. Chasing slush pile dreams is what my friend, author Al Boudreau, refers to as “dinosaur hunting”. (Brilliant, yes?)

As for all that crap in Publishers Weekly that spouts everything you need to know about traditional publishing? That’s all stuff you never need to know before you have a book written and probably not even then. What possible difference could knowing the industry make when they only ever talk to themselves? They talk too much about trad publishing because that’s where the ads come from. It’s incestuous, out of date and out of touch. If you want to know something about publishing that’s not out of date, read Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith and Passive Guy and Russell Blake and Jeff Bennington or even (for the love of Thor) this blog’s curations for that matter.

BONUS TIP: Instead of listening to the dinosaurs who refuse to see the meteor coming, be a contrarian. Contrarians are more interesting.

Wait.

What do you mean, you agree? What kind of contrarian are you, listening to some twit you don’t even know telling you, “My Top Twenty Best (Worst?) Advice for Authors”? As if I’m preaching the bloody sermon on the Mount! What kind of nonsense is that? Go ahead and write and make your own mistakes and write your own rules.

This blog post was for, as they say, “entertainment purposes only.”

Does anybody really learn anything much from another person’s mistakes?

For anything that really matters, you have to make those life altering mistakes for yourself.

I’m not your dad. I’m another writer, tap dancing for change.

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

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.

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

Author Blog Challenge Writing Prompt: Describe how the idea for your book first came to you

English: The entertitle of Buffy made on Paint.

English: The entertitle of Buffy made on Paint. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My books come to me in different ways:

With Self-help for Stoners, I saw that I could fit stories of suspense into a framework of a self-help book made of fiction. When Director Kevin Smith inspired me to quit my day job and pursue my writing dreams, I realized that I could put together a fun, genre-bending bathroom book that would defy expectations. It came together quickly as a wild mix of the unexpected melded with observations, parables and exhortations (to get off the couch.) It’s a book that’s very different but somehow familiar. The feedback has been great, though I’m often surprised when people debate, is this pro-drug or anti-drug? I tell them it’s neither. It’s suspense that asks you to draw conclusions about your compulsions. It’s pro-freedom and freedom of speech. Yes, it’s important to have a label so people can find you and your book, but in this case, pigeon holes are for pigeons. It was quite a thrill for me to hand Kevin Smith his own autographed copy of the book and he was happy about it, too.

Sex, Death & Mind Control is the book that came so slowly, it’s appropriate to use the word evolution. I wrote short stories over several years before attempting longer fiction. Two award winners are included in this collection and it’s suspense that can be creepy and surprising. I don’t care for gore and it’s not at all pornographic, but sex and death are outcomes of the key factor through all the stories: various forms of mind control (magic, persuasion, mind games, coercion, trickery and self-delusion) form the book’s theme.

I’m fascinated by mind control. When powerful forces use it on us, we are in danger.

When we gain control of our minds, we will win.

The Dangerous Kind is closest to my heart. It’s a novella about escape. The place it is set (Poeticule Bay, Maine) is fictional, but the setting draws on places I lived when I was a kid and the town is almost a character in the plot. Anyone who has felt small-town claustrophobia will recognize and feel the resonance. There’s a deer hunt, intrigue and an inheritance between brothers on the line, but it’s really about complex relationships and the friction that comes from people who live too close together and only think they know each other. That certainly reflects my small-town experience.

I wrote several stories where I found myself drawn back to run over the same demon roadkill on the back roads around Poeticule Bay so one of my WIPs is all about the place. I’ll run those demons down, exorcise them or make them dance for my pleasure.

Finally, Bigger Than Jesus, my crime series, springs from my dim world-view. I commented on another fiction writer’s blog recently that the criminal world is so like the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In Joss Whedon‘s series, vampires and monsters run amok, but the normies somehow look past all the mayhem to maintain the illusion of stability in their lives. Vampires attack the school and the principal says it was druggies on PCP. Victims suffer and die by night as people go about their business in sunlight. Organized and disorganized crime is just like that. I’ve spent some time hanging out in courtrooms as a reporter and researcher and the stories that unfold there are by turns tragic, comedic and horrific. Homelessness, drugs, violence, confrontation and small, surprising acts of mercy: People would be amazed what happens in cities across the world, much of the stuff bubbling from underneath is never reported in the media. When I’m writing this stuff, I’m often reminded how the Cohen brothers and Elmore Leonard have it right. A lot of bad things can happen on the easy and wide route out of town.

I don’t know if twisted and dim world views and angry childhoods are required for all writers,

but those elements help me come up with my ideas for my books. 

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

Spooky weirdness and the books on my desk

A little story about writing and intuition

Once upon a time, as a healer, I engaged in counselling someone in a spiritual quest to free them from pain. It’s a long story I will not indulge today, but I will say that before each of those appointments, I meditated. I did that then. ow writing is the only meditation I seem to need. Before each of those appointments, I went to my bookshelves. I’ve collected books for years, so I have several thousand waiting to be rediscovered. Each time, one of those books would call to me. I felt a change in energy through my palm as I ran my hand along the shelves. I would then open the book at random…or seemingly at random. Something always arose in the client’s session that related to the passage from the chosen book. The woman I worked with used to be trapped in an electric wheelchair. She walks, drives, travels and lives a full life now. She became a healer and took my place. Make of that what you will.

When I’m stuck or need a nudge or a connection to an epiphany, I still go to my bookshelves. Call it inspiration, weird, or the hypnogogic state, pattern recognition, divine intervention or neural connection through confirmation bias. Call it nonsense if you want. I’m conflicted about it myself. Nevertheless, it worked. It still works. When I need it, that intuition can propel my narratives forward.

I’m now revising one book while writing another. As I survey my extra desk (spreading out is such luxury), there are several piles I either reference or keep close by just to stay on track. I thought you might be interested to know what I pulled from my bookshelves to draw from as I go through my process:

For my crime novel:

The Pool Bible by Nick Metcalfe (as in nine ball), Mobspeak, The Dictionary of Crime Terms (Sifakis), Writing the Private Eye Novel, Cause of Death A writer’s guide to death, murder & forensic medicine (Wilson), How to Write a Mystery (Larry Beinhart), New York City Day by Day and Frommer’s New York City.

For Editing:

The Artful Edit (Susan Bell), The Subversive Copy Editor (Carol Fisher Sailor).

For Inspiration:

Brother (William Goldman), Best American Crime Writing 2003, When the Women Come out to Dance  and The Hot Kid (Elmore Leonard), Small Town (Lawrence Block), This Year You Write Your Novel, (Walter Mosley).

NEXT POST: Pantsing versus Plotting

Filed under: ebooks, Editing, getting it done, My fiction, publishing, What about Chazz?, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Drop the rose-colored glasses.Typewriters are gone.

The Underwood Touch-Master 5 was among the las...

Image via Wikipedia

The last typewriter manufacturer closed last week. Unless you’re Cormac McCarthy or Elmore Leonard, you’re not exactly at a loss. And yet…

Some people feel the pull of the past strongly. They are experiencing the past again, but this time without the White Out, carbon copies and numerous typos. It’s nostalgia for a time when newsrooms and typing class were full of the chatter of these wondrous machines. I miss that sound (although I’m sure you can download a program somewhere that will mimic that sound for your keyboard.)

But nostalgia is all it is. We fetishize the past, romanticizing earlier times and forgetting the problems and annoyances. The past wasn’t better because it was a better time. The past is better because you were younger and still had hope. (I kid! I kid! Your best times could still be ahead of you, but if that’s going to be true you better take your pace up from a walk to a jog.)

Typewriters were great. Are computers better? Yes. no. Maybe. Computers are different (and a different tool) and come with their own problems and advantages. But the medium is not the message. The device is beside the point. What matters is what is communicated, not how

I can communicate much more with my keyboard than I ever could with a typewriter. So for me, typewriters suck and computers rule. (Look it just got meta because it’s happening right now.) However, for all the bellyaching over computers, there are other writers who never gave up on the warm flow of ink on the page, calligraphic pens and parchment. (Then they type it on a computer so someone will see it.)

Technology is always destines to become outmoded at least until technology outmodes us in a fiery ball or the last plague. I love ebooks, but ( paper book  lovers brace yourselves) ebooks are transitional devices, too, and I’ll embrace the next wave of tech after they go. Tablets are next, better smart phones with expandable screens, contact lens screens and eventually chip implants as The Singularity makes us cyborgs.

I’m not looking back fondly at a past that never was.

I’m looking forward to an exciting future

that I hope won’t suck. 

Filed under: e-reader, ebooks, Rant, Writers, , , , , ,

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.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,916 other followers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

%d bloggers like this: