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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Downsizing: A dire warning for writers

I finally saw Downsizing, a (black?) (comedic?) sci-fi movie with Matt Damon on Netflix. Anyone who writes should see it. It’s a clinic in how a story can go terribly awry.

There are so many approaches to writing. I’m not usually so Judgy McJudgypants. Someone objected to my use of foreshadowing in one of my series, for instance. You know what? Hop on the bus, Gus. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover…um, I mean, there are lots of ways to write and they aren’t all for you. That said, Downsizing is really bad. 

(Warning: very mild spoilers follow.)

The movie is so bad it’s fascinating. It can’t decide what it is. Kristen Wiig is in it for a hot minute and you’ll soon miss her. I like Matt Damon in most any movie. Christoph Waltz is being Christoph Waltz, for God’s sake! That almost always works! The cinematography is pretty, the actors are able and the premise gets lots of points for originality. This is a watchable mess. However, you’ll soon understand why the film wasn’t a hit. The marketing couldn’t hit a target because the plot was so incoherent.

This movie falls down in the writing and directing departments. At first, the story fails because the plot takes too long to get going. The show starts 10 years before the action begins! They invent a science (and hey, look, I’m sympathetic. That’s hard. I just did that in my latest book.) Sadly, the plot has no destination once it’s finally on its way. This thing is all over the road. Is it a goofy marriage story? Sci-fi utopia? Sci-fi dystopia? Cli-fi? Apocalypse? A mid-life crisis? Is it about a person finally asserting their personhood and making some decisions, daring to be selfish…or unselfish? The director didn’t know, either. You’ll be left a little baffled.

(For a much better movie about a mid-life nebbish figuring out how to take control of his life, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. Or the original with Danny Kaye, for that matter.)

When we’re talking novels, it’s often a good idea to “come in late.” In other words, you plop the reader into the action. No info dumps. Get the story up and moving and sift the needed detail and character development amid the action as needed. This is not always so. A common trope in the zombie genre: They don’t show you how the apocalypse begins. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and BOOM! Zombies! Same with a movie I love, 28 Days Later. Swimming against that tide, I devoted the first book in the Plague of Days trilogy to the fall of civilization. It’s interesting to me to see how things come apart when societal norms and services break down. In AFTER Life, Inferno, my new zombie apocalypse, we start in media res and get right to the action.

Necessary ad: AFTER Life, Purgatory was just released. 

This post continues below.

AFTER LIFE COVER 2

In the end of Downsizing, the main character arrives at a decision. This is the confusing climax of the movie. You really don’t know what to root for. Did Matt Damon win or lose? You will not understand whether his decision is a brave choice or if he’s just being weak and caving again. (At least I wasn’t sure. They even make the mistake of undermining the global emergency. You won’t even be sure how serious the peril really is. What are the stakes? Who knows?)

Your parents can be a wonderful example or a serve as a terrible warning about what you don’t want to become. So it is with Downsizing. As a writer, you probably won’t like it but you could learn a lot from it. I did.


~ Robert Chazz Chute sometimes comes off as crotchety. He’s really Canada’s sweetheart. Sorry, eh? Check out his latest releases at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , ,

What Birdman got right (and what it says about writing books)

If you haven’t seen Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, you’ll find no spoilers here. It’s a very unusual film and there is a lot to love in it, not least of which is the cinematography. It’s also one of those rare films I’ll need to see again before I can figure out how much I like it.  Today, I want to talk about what I loved (and how it might apply to writers and books.)

1. The movie is a tutorial in acting without self-consciousness.

Many of us are too self-conscious to try something bold in our writing. That’s too bad, I think. I like bold choices in books. The expected is too ordinary and easy. The expected is…expected. You’ll also love the instruction on the power of motivation, emotion and brevity.

2. The film is comfortable with ambiguity.

As much as I enjoyed the summer romp that was Guardians of the Galaxy, there was no need to discuss it by the time we got to the parking lot. Birdman leaves so much ambiguity, you’ll find a lot of people arguing over clues in the film. What happened and what did it all mean? That could irritate you, or you could decide it’s finally a film worthy of discussion.

3. Birdman is working on several levels.

You can take it for what it is or you can take it for what it might be and, no doubt about it, this is a story that demands some patience from its audience if they decide to try to decode it. I like books that are doing one thing while you think they’re doing something else. That’s the rich depth I look for in my reading and writing, no matter how superficial an entertainment you might expect. (For instance, shocker: This Plague of Days is less about zombies and more about you.)

4. Birdman is Art (capital A) that defines its audience.

If you’re an optimist, you’re going to want to interpret the story one way. If you’re a pessimist, you may have less fun in the movie but you’ll enjoy the discussion over coffee after the movie.

5. Pop culture references.

The movie is front loaded with some contemporary references that are pretty funny. The movie isn’t afraid to define itself by a particular time with those pop culture references. Publishers have long run screaming from books with such references for fear readers won’t get it and the book will be dated too fast. Here’s what I’ve found (especially from feedback about my crime novels): Lots of readers love pop culture references and readers don’t scare off so easily when you’re showing them a good time. Will it get dated? No. That’s just a label and what you call a thing is not the thing. (Don’t buy that? Okay. How about this: eventually, everything is a period piece.)

6. The movie talks a lot about what it means to make Art and struggle with commerce.

What we all do as artists is kind of a brave thing to do. Maybe not storming-the-beaches-at-Normandy brave, but we’re taking risks and putting ourselves out there. It’s nice to see that affirmed somewhere instead of mocking entertainment as an effete thing to do when you could be out drinking and brawling or doing nothing. I believe Art matters. So does Birdman.

7. The movie criticizes and acknowledges the power of social media.

That’s surprisingly evenhanded and grounds for more discussion about what matters and how to get to what matters. Many of us are divided on the power of Twitter and the distracting lure of YouTube. I don’t think the answer is an either/or binary, so, through the ranting, the movie has a very thoughtful core.

8. Any artist will appreciate the critique of the role of the critic: how easy, risk-free and shallow it can be.

I heard a couple of professional critics mock this aspect of Birdman. Clearly, they weren’t listening closely or their egos got in the way. Whatever else you may dislike about this film, if you’ve written a book, you’ll love that exchange.

9. Birdman is, in part, about legacy and relevance and striving.

We can all relate to that, can’t we? If you can’t, get out. You’re taking a squat in my church.

10. By turns, Birdman looks like a French art film somebody dragged you to in college, one of those movies only film students pretend to like while they’re really thinking about Star Wars.

Then Birdman does something different. In other words, if it were a book, it would be cross-genre. It’s a film that isn’t easy to categorize and define. Therefore, it’s harder to sell. They made it anyway.

Filmgoers have been crying out for films that are refreshing and different. Audiences have been moaning at Hollywood for years, “Oh, for God’s sake, give us something besides another empty sequel and come up with an original thought!” Well, you asked for it and Birdman is what the answer to that request looks like.

You know what? I take it back. Now that I’ve written this list, I can see it now. I did like Birdman a lot. I think I might love it.

 

Filed under: movies, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The World’s End…and our beginning

TPOD season 1 ecoverFor most, the last milestone of summer just slipped by. Labor Day’s demise means the end of bikinis, bikini dreams and the return to indoctrination centres. But Time’s notches are  artificial milestones, like New year’s resolutions, your anniversary or waiting to start your new diet on Monday morning. If you need to begin again, now is the time whenever now happens to be.

For instance, don’t wait until it’s your anniversary to send flowers. It’ll mean more because it’s not a special day. Any day can be made special, momentous or mundane. Our choices make it so. Let’s take a moment to think about those important choices and a fun Simon Pegg movie.

I saw The World’s End today.

Mostly, I liked it, especially when it didn’t take itself seriously. However, between that and the trailer for Last Vegas, a depressing theme returns. Last Vegas is old guys “getting the band back together” for one last blowout party before making funeral arrangements.

Even the last Bond movie explored mortality’s dark territory. Note to Hollywood: James Bond getting old is something no Bond movie should ever explore. Bond is timeless, cool and indestructible, just like we wish we were. We want a vicarious thrill ride with babes sporting unlikely names, not a vicarious prostate exam.

Comedies that pound on mortality? That’s a hard target. Getting old and worrying about mortality are what doctor’s appointments are for. When I’m guzzling overpriced popcorn, I don’t want a reminder that my time is limited. If the best is behind us, why go forward unless it’s merely out of habit? (Insert Jack Nicholson impression here: “What if this is as good as it gets?”)

So let’s focus on the positive.  

Defy the forces of Time. Ignore Time’s dictates. Do what you want to do. Often, when we aren’t doing what we want to do, we’re forgetting:

  1. our dreams from childhood.
  2. that our time is limited.
  3. who we are.

Reality check: But most of us can’t do all we want to do.

As per my last post, I have to start another business to shore up Ex Parte Press. But I haven’t forgotten childhood dreams, mortality or who I am. Simon Pegg (whom I love, but geez, man!) wouldn’t let me forget, even as I tried escape into a movie to forget my problems for a couple of hours. It’s not Simon’s fault, though. I identified too much with the film’s immature main character crying out, “We want to be free!” and “They told me when to go to bed!” 

I’m still working toward my dreams and freedom. I’m still writing brain tickles and suspense. I hope you’re undeterred and writing madly, too.

If not, don’t wait.

Begin again.

Now.

Live a life full of new beginnings and you can ignore what happens just before the credits roll.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of a bunch of books. His neural net fires into the dark wildly. He does not wear collars. He eschews ties. If you want an easier, happier life, those are bad bets but a jerk’s gotta do what a jerk’s gotta do.

 

 

 

Filed under: getting it done, publishing, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NSFW: Make stuff

As you regular readers know, I love Kevin Smith. Here’s another reason.

(And yes, this applies to books, too.)

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

Ultimate Blog Challenge: The Dumb Reviewer’s False Standard Failure

There’s a certain sort of critic who really bugs me. As much as I enjoy the Slate Culture Gabfestpodcast, there’s an issue

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane.

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that crops up from time to time which itches like pink insulation on a sweaty naked body in a summer attic. It’s a response that tries to intellectualize the visceral and make a good thing into a bad thing. Here’s the quote that gives me headaches:

“We liked it, but should we like it?”

So much waste of tuition money is revealed in that reaction. It’s a response to art that tries to detour around the heart and isolate the brain. It’s a dishonest afterthought. It’s snooty and, in trying to sound intelligent, is stupid.

I enjoy the movie Roadhouse, for instance. By some people’s standards, I suppose I shouldn’t. However, turn it on and try not to get sucked in. It’s not in the “So bad, it’s good” category, though some movies overshoot the runway and actually manage that. Roadhouse is fun and ridiculous and has a lot of funny lines, mostly intended. It’s just so watchable. It’s a visceral reaction. Can’t I enjoy it without the self-appointed cultural elite’s disapproval?

Art that achieves what it set out to do and entertains its audience is good art.

So says me, anyway. I could list dozens of silly movies and books that demanded little of me that I still enjoyed. The latest victim of this critical chaos appears to be Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  I just read fellow blogger Jordanna East’s takedown of a bad review here. She’s not the only one to point out misguided reviewers complaining about historical inaccuracy in the movie. Good critics go to action movies with the expectation that it’s not meant to be a historical document. If it’s not a French movie in an art cinema, do not review it as if all movies are French movies in art cinemas!

That said, I’m all for elevating material. It’s a treat to run across sparkling dialogue that mocks expectations. (See the movie The Guard with Don Cheadle, for the best of that phenomenon in movies.) In my book, Bigger Than Jesus, I set out to challenge expectations, too, and not just in terms of plotting and surprises and reversals. I’m talking about getting at real emotion. There are consequences spread amongst all those jokes. The heroine’s fascination with the life of Salvador Dali means something to her, to the story and ultimately to the reader. I set out to make my roller coaster travel through unexpected places without slowing the pace. Elevating material can be done. It doesn’t have to happen all the time for everything, though.

Dalton’s reply to the big bad bouncer in Roadhouse serves equally well for bad reviewers. The bad guy turns up his nose and says, “I thought you’d be taller. You don’t look like much t’me.”

Patrick Swayze, as Dalton, smiles wide and says, “Opinions vary!”

Then bop ’em in the nose if you want to.

~ Like my flavor? Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. I’m podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)

Get Bigger Than Jesus

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Your Thursday afternoon reward

Photo of Greg Proops.

Image via Wikipedia

This week is so busy, it already feels like Friday. Tomorrow guest blogger Rebecca Senese will show you how to use Smashwords to publish your e-books. I can’t top that, so this afternoon, it’s time for an early reward post.

People ask what I listen to for fun and illumination and to escape the aching hell that is the mundane. (I can’t do laundry or go to the grocery store if I’m not armed with my iPod.)

I’m a podcast junkie. Hop over to iTunes and check out my top ten podcasts:

1. Hollywood Babble-on with Ralph Garmin and Kevin Smith: Filthy, funny pop culture.

2. Best of the Left Podcast: A political theme-based podcast that’s a survey course on what’s wrong with Republicans. It’s stimulating, irksome and often funny.

3. I Should Be Writing with Mur Lafferty: Solid writing advice.

4. The Joe Rogan Experience: Explicit, funny and philosophy on weed. If you only know Joe as “The Fear Factor Guy”, you don’t know Joe. He often hosts excellent guests who are either hugely funny stand-ups and or the uber-intelligent. Or both.

5. Slate Spoiler Specials: This is movie reviewing after the fact. The reviewers assume you’ve already seen it so they aren’t coy about spoilers and discussing everything about the move in-depth.

6. Writing Excuses: Each 15-minute episode tackles a theme about writing to help you improve your craft.

7. Irreverent Muse: I just discovered Mike Plested’s podcast this week and now I have 49 more episodes to catch up on. Oodles of publishing advice.

8. The Smartest Man in the World: Greg Proops freestyles his unique brand of comedy. You’ll feel a giddy, hallucinogenic effect listening to him bounce effortlessly from topic to topic.

9.  Smodcast: This is the Kevin Smith/Scott Mosier podcast that started the Smodcast network of podcasts. Funny stuff that’s just bent. Lots of personal stuff and then strange digressions that involve Hitler and the judicious use of time machine technology. If you’re looking for a funny Kevin Smith podcast that’s a bit more grounded, try Plus One, the podcast Kevin does with his wife Jennifer. When they talk about their kid growing up I think of my own kids and get misty right along with them.

10. Slate Political Gabfest: It goes up each Friday afternoon. I find the gabfesters are often a snooty bunch but the topics are often interesting. (I find American politics riveting, unlike just about any aspect of Canadian politics.)

Related Articles

Filed under: Intentionally Hilarious, Media, podcasts, Top Ten, web reviews, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

News Flash: Allan Stratton’s sales are about to go way up (even more)

Cover of "Chanda's Secrets"

Cover of Chanda's Secrets

This e-mail just in from my friend Peter:

The film Life Above All based on the lovely book Chanda’s Secrets by the
lovely Allan Stratton is on the Oscar nom short list. Fingers crossed!

Go see the movie and better yet go buy the book and see if you don’t blat before you finish!

I’ve met Allan Stratton and can confirm that he is indeed lovely. We had dinner at Garlic’s and then went to the Grand to see one of his plays. Lots of lovely all around. Yes, indeed, read the book! See the film!

For more information, follow the link from the press nugget below:

LIFE ABOVE ALL (CHANDA’S SECRETS) has made it into the Oscar finalist
pool of nine films from which the five nominees will be selected for
Best Foreign Film. Nominees announced tomorrow.
http://www.allanstratton.com
http://allanstratton.blogspot.com

Filed under: authors, links, Media, movies, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Writers, , , , , , ,

The Existential Horrorist

Two movie moments hurt me in deep dark places:

In Run, Fatboy, Run Simon Pegg’s character tells his young son that you can’t run away from problems and must push through. The little boy looks up at him and says, “Is that what you do, Dad?” The look on Simon’s face is the same you make when you’re slapped across the face with a stop sign.

Then in Night at the Museum, Ben Stiller’s character tells his son that something good will soon happen with his career. His big moment is coming. He can just feel it. His boy gives him a worried look and says, “But what if you’re wrong? What is you’re an ordinary guy who just needs to get a job?”

Shit. Back to the keyboard! Back! BACK!

Filed under: movies, , , ,

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 10,166 other followers

Brain Spasms a la Twitter

%d bloggers like this: